Barry Newman's Blog

October 13, 2012

The Sacraments (part V)

Filed under: The Sacraments — barrynewman @ 12:24 am

A Lordly Meal

1 Corinthians 11: 17 – 34 is almost universally thought to contain evidence of a practice that was called “the Lord’s Supper”. There is a reference to “the Lord’s Supper”.  Some words uttered by Jesus at the Last Passover meal are recalled. Reference is made to “eating the bread” and “drinking the cup of the Lord”, “the body and blood of the Lord” and “proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes”.  These are phrases which we closely associate with our celebration of the Lord’s Supper. However we must be careful not to write back into the text, an understanding of these phrases which we have, when we use these words in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The text must be allowed to stand in its own right.

Wycliffe, understood “the Lord’s Supper’ of verse 20 as a reference to what he called “this sacrament”, which is what he also referred to as “the Eucharist”[1]. He was possibly the first of “modern” writers to do so. It might be instructive to note that the term, “Eucharist” was in common usage as early as 110 AD[2] and remained the usual term to refer to, what we might say was something akin to, the Lord’s Supper for centuries.  The Greek words, “kuriakon deipnon”, these days often translated, “the Lord’s Supper” are found only once before the 4th century in a document written in the late 2nd century by Clement of Alexandria[3] In the 4th century the words appear once in a text by Basil of Caesarea[4] and several times in two works by John Chrysostom[5].

We should note however that there is no definite article accompanying the two words and that the adjective “kuriakos” is used, not the far more common noun, “kurios”.  In this part of the Corinthian letter Paul deals with highly objectionable behaviour at the meals the Corinthian believers had together.  Their problem was that they did not share the food that each had brought (rather than that they did not wait for each other). The wealthy ate well, the poor poorly.  More fundamentally, such behaviour was a denial of the reality that in Christ, by his death, they were all one.  Verse 20 should be translated something like, “When you come together to eat it is not a lordly meal.” That is Paul is saying that it was not a meal that would be owned by the Lord, not a meal with which he would associate himself.  “Kuriakon deipnon” is not a title to anything let alone a celebratory practice.  In fact, in vv. 17 – 34 there is no title that one could say was a title to something akin to “the Lord’s Supper”.

In these verses only two meals are being discussed – their meal and the Last Passover meal. In an attempt to make the Corinthians realise how dreadful their behaviour was, in vv. 26 – 29 he treats their meal as though it were the last Passover meal.  The verses can be understood as follows: “So you see, whenever you eat this bread, your meal, (I am reflecting on the bread of the Last Passover Meal) and whenever you drink the cup, your wine, (I am reflecting on the cup of the Last Passover Meal), at your believers’ community meals, the death of the Lord is, or should always be, proclaimed, until he comes again, by the way you behave at those meals.  So, whoever eats the bread, your meal, and drinks the cup, your wine, at your community meals, (meals that you participate in because of the relationship you have with each other through the death of the Lord), in an unworthy manner, is guilty of the death of the Lord. (I refer to his body and blood.)  (He is guilty of the Lord’s death because he has treated the death of the Lord with disdain.) A man, anyone, (but perhaps particularly you the host, as the person responsible for the conduct of the meal) should reflect on what his perceptions are, before he eats the bread, his meal, and before he drinks the cup, his wine.  Because, anyone who eats and drinks without perceiving the true nature of the body of the Lord (his people) eats and drinks in such a manner as to bring God’s judgement upon himself.”

Some will say however, “But Paul’s language is the sort of language that is used in celebrations of the Lord’s Supper” today.  This is true.  However the latter came after the former.  It must not be used to interpret the former.  There is no clear indication that Paul is referring to some special ceremony as though that was their meal or part of their meal or to a special ceremony held after or before their meal.  The solution Paul provides for their problem makes no reference to any such special ceremony.  Rather, he writes, “So then my brothers, when you come together to eat, share with each other” (v. 33).  In this part of his letter, Paul’s language is scathing and he probably ends his comments with sarcasm, “If as a consequence of having to share, some of you feel that you will not have enough to eat, well, eat at home!”  If we are able to avoid writing our present practices back into the text and if we try to allow the text to speak for itself then it becomes at least questionable that it refers to a celebratory practice akin to what we know as “the Lord’s Supper”.

[1] Wycliffe, J. On the Eucharist, 2, (14)
[2] For example, in Ignatius of Antioch, To the Smyrnaeans, 7.1
[3] Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, ch. 2, subchapter 33, sect. 5
[4] Basil of Caesarea, Asceticon magnum sive Quaestiones, vol. 31, p. 1304, l. 33
[5] John Chysostom, In dictum Pauli: Oportet haeresis esse, vol. 51, p. 258, l. 19; l. 20; l. 29; l. 30, vol 61, p. 227, l. 18; l. 28; l. 41; l. 49 and In Sanctum Pascha (sermo 2), sect. 17, l.9

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: