Barry Newman's Blog

May 11, 2012

A Table of the Lord (part XI)

A table of the Lord

But what does “a table of the Lord” or “a meal of the Lord” mean? These believers, who once saw a meal as under the eye of the gods, a table of demons, probably a meal in some way or another, sometimes viewed as shared with the gods (see below), were of course now to see all their meals as under the eye of the one and only Lord.  He was the one who brought them together and so now he is the one who now rules over them.  The Lord was the one who presided at all their meals.  The believing Corinthians were not meant to see some of their fellowship meals as their own meals and some as the Lord’s, as we might be prone to do! They shared their meal with the Lord not in any physical sense but as a meal enjoyed with each other under his auspices.

Recognising that they were meant to see all their meals this way could probably justify a translation which did refer to “the table of the Lord”.  If that is how Paul meant the text to be understood, “the table of the Lord” would then stand in stark linguistic opposition as well as theological opposition to, “a table of demons”, if that is how the latter phrase was meant to be understood.

Perhaps they were meant to realise that in their fellowship meals there was some reflection of a special meal, maybe even the Last Passover Meal.  Perhaps they were meant to see their fellowship meals as reflective of the great banquet where the Lords’ people would sit at his table. However in chapter 10, Paul makes no explicit mention of the Last Passover Meal, as much as one might wish to write that into verses 16 and 17, nor does he make any mention of the great eschatological Dinner.

A table of demons and a cup of demons

The references to the table dedicated to Asclepius and the table of Zeus earlier are clear examples of tables that were specifically associated with a particular god.  The table of Fortune mentioned in Isaiah 65: 11 “As for you who forsake the Lord … who spread a table for Fortune and fill bowls of mixed wine for Destiny …” is perhaps also a reference to a pagan deity. But note: one table – one demon.  “A table of demons”, could be Paul’s way of saying a table of any demon.  Perhaps more likely it is a reference to the fact that at any formal pagan Corinthian meal, there would be the mention of a number of gods, throughout the whole meal though mainly via the use of wine in toasting them.

For further reflection, according to Cheung, Jews referred to idolatry “with appellatives like ‘table of demons’ even [when this was] apart from a temple setting.”[1] Paul could have simply been adopting the viewpoint and phraseology of his fellow Jews, though it would still seem that the idolatry he would have had in mind was the idolatry associated with eating food that had been sacrificed to idols, whatever the setting of the meal.

It should also be noted that in the Graeco-Roman world, the thought seems to be that the meal was shared with one or more of the gods at least on some occasions. The association of the notion of “table” with a feast of the gods at festive meals does not seem to have been an uncommon one.[2]

The reference to “a cup of demons” could be a reference to a cup of any demon, and some cups were reserved by some people for toasting one god only. And although one could also chose to toast a number of gods from the one cup perhaps it was more likely that only after the cup was “refilled” would one go onto the next toast.

[1] Cheung, A.T., Idol Food in Corinth: Jewish background and Pauline legacy, Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, 1999, p. 204

[2] See Smith, D.E., From Symposium to Eucharist – The banquet in the Early Christian World, Augsberg Fortress, Minneapolis, MN, 2003, pp. 81 – 84.


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