Barry Newman's Blog

May 17, 2012

A Table of the Lord (Full Series PDF)

Here is the full series


May 16, 2012

A Table of the Lord (part XIII)

Concluding Thoughts

As Thiselton commented, we are particularly prone to writing back into those texts that we associate with the sacraments, our current practices and beliefs.  Worse, I believe, is writing back into certain texts, sacramental notions of any sort which are not there in the first place.

One might want to argue that “a table of the Lord” is a reference to something like a Holy Communion Table, albeit in primitive form. However, the lack of the definite article in the phrase, though not definitive in itself, the surrounding context which has to do with not eating or drinking idolatrously, the word for table being readily understood as a prime reference to a meal, and the immediate context being a reference to toasting or drinking in honour of the Lord, rather than “drinking from a communion cup”, suggest otherwise.

One might want to see the reference to “table” being not to a physical object but a reference to a meal, albeit a meal that was somehow meant to reflect the Last Passover Meal or similar. But Paul makes no such explicit connection. Additionally, neither the context for chapters 8 to 10, nor the order in which “table” and “cup” appear in 10: 21, nor the lack of definite articles in this verse, support such a notion.

Verse 21 is forbidding the drinking and eating in such a way that allows the gods to be seen to have significance when only the Lord and eating and drinking under his auspices are to be so recognised. The Lord is the only Lord.  There are no others.

May 13, 2012

A Table of the Lord (part XII)

                       1 Corinthians 11: 17 – 34

I should now mention that in a previous blog series I argued that though there is a reference to the Last Passover Meal in Chapter 11 it is not because Paul sees that there was some aspect of their meal that was especially undertaken to reflect aspects of the Last Passover meal.  Nor indeed that he was somehow or another writing about three “meals” in this passage – their meal, a special meal “the Lord’s Supper” and the Last Passover Meal. In fact there are only two meals clearly referred to – their meal and the Last Passover Meal. The passage is fundamentally about what they do when they come together to eat – that is, their meal. It occupies central stage. Additionally he clearly refers to the Last Passover Meal.  But he does this by shifting from their meal to the last Passover meal and then back to their meal as though it were the Last Passover Meal.  In this striking fashion he contrasts the Last Passover Meal and its significance, with their regular meal and its significance, to shame the Corinthians.

Often the host of a formal Greek meal would supply the basic wine and bread.  Under those circumstances the invited guests would then bring the main elements of the first course and then eat what they themselves had brought. This might not matter too greatly if the difference between the background and means of the guests were not too great, as would have normally been the case.

It would appear that the Corinthian believers were now operating the same way. But in their case, because they came together as believers, their backgrounds differed enormously. The result was that those who were poor brought little and ate little while those who well off brought rich fare and ate well. The consequence was that a great inequity was created between the haves and the have nots, though all were believers in the one Lord.  It was not the difference in what they ate that was really important. It was how they were treated differently. All should have been treated as of equal worth. The inequity which should not at all have existed among the people of God for whom the Lord died was considered by Paul to be an offence against the death of Christ itself and deserving of strong language and strong condemnation.   The Lord’s death was not proclaimed by their actions.  The solution he offered to their problem was that when they came together to eat they should share (rather than they should “wait for each other”, as some translations render that part of the text)!!  The passage has Paul dealing with how they conducted their meal – an ordinary though formal meal (they had come together in a formal way, “as church”), how disgraceful that was, and how it had to change.

Furthermore I argued that grammatically, “the Lord’s Supper” (there is actually no definite article) is not a reference to any type of ceremony.  The statement in verse 20 is, “When you come together to eat it is not a Lordly meal”.  That is, Paul is claiming that their meals would not be owned by the Lord (the adjective “kuriakos” is used, not the noun, “kurios”).  The Lord could not associate himself with them.

It should also be noted that there is no immediate connection between chapter 10 and verses 17 – 34 of chapter 11.  The subject matter of 11: 1 – 16 sets a clear divide between the two.

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.

May 8, 2012

A Table of the Lord (part X)

                      1 Corinthians 10: 21

The surround verses for verse 21 have as their main concern that the believers should not in any way being caught up in idolatry.  One should expect this to be the main concern in verse 21.

Whatever one makes of 1 Corinthians 11: 20 and its usual reference by exegetes to “the Lord’s Supper” or similar, there is no mention whatsoever of “the Lord’s Supper” or similar here.  Again, similar to verses 16 and 17, the reference to “cup” comes before the reference to  “table”.  This not what one would expect if Paul is making a comment with the “the Lord’s Supper” or the like in mind.  It is however not a surprise when one considers the dominance of wine in the normal formal meals in the Graeco-Roman world.

Furthermore, it is possible that by his reference to “a cup” and then “a table” he is referring to “drink” and then “food”, or even “drink” and then the first part of a formal meal, consisting mainly of food rather than drink. If that is the case, it becomes difficult to see, in Paul’s usage here, “table” as a reference to a meal as a whole or as a reference to a table or tables on which both the food and the wine were placed. In discussion above and below, I have chosen to use the word, “meal” as though it covered both “drink” and “food” but that may be misleading in so far as my comments relate to verse 21.

Additionally, we need to note again that there are no definite articles in v. 21.  The phrase, “a table of the Lord” and “a table of demons” does not automatically suggest that some specific table, one dedicated, in some sense or other, to the Lord, is in mind.

Earlier I suggested that we may choose between the word “table” being a prime reference to the object, a table, or to what is associated with the table – a meal. Taking this latter view, “partaking of a table” would imply, in normal circumstances, “partaking of the meal that is on that table” or more generally “partaking the meal that has been supplied”.  As has already been stated, Paul’s overall concern in chapters 8 to 10 has been that the believers should not knowingly have any pagan element in what they eat and drink – the drink is never to be used as a toast to one or more of the gods, and the meal is never to consist of food that has knowingly been offered to idols. Hence his statement in verse 21 should come as no surprise – “Drinking a cup of the Lord alongside of drinking any cup of any demon is not on.  Participating in a table (meal) of the Lord and at the same time any table (meal) of any demon is not on.”

May 6, 2012

A Table of the Lord (part IX)

1 Corinthians 10: 18 – 20

I also recognise that 1 Corinthians 10: 18 – 20 is concerned with the offering of sacrifices.  However Paul’s argument is to show that just as those people of Israel who ate of the sacrifices and so participated in the altar – had some connection with the altar and so had some connection with the true God, so those who in any way participate in the sacrifices to demons, though the demons are nothing, also participate in some way with demons.

Paul’s argument is not one intending to convey that in his reference to “a table of the Lord” and “a cup of the Lord” he is also referring to a sacrifice made to the Lord. He is referring in some sense to participating with the Lord but not in sacrificial worship. Verse 14 began with “Flee from idolatry. And now in verses 18 – 20, the sense is – have nothing to do with idol worship and participation with demons.  These are an absolute no no for the Corinthian believers.

1 Corinthians 10: 22 – 30

Verse 22, asks the question, “Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy?” – A very suitable question when one is faced with the worship of other gods! Verses 23, 24 relate to being careful to not lead a fellow brother astray by appealing to something like” Everything is permissible.”  This is a theme he had previously dealt with in more detail beginning in chapter 8 where clearly the concern is with eating meat offered to idols. Verses 25, 26 caution about asking questions concerning the origin of meat when buying it at the meat market and verses 27 – 30 relate to what response should be given by the believer when he is invited to a dinner and someone points out that a certain part of the meal has been offered in sacrifice.

April 27, 2012

A Table of the Lord (part VIII)

                     1 Corinthians 10: 16 and 17

I recognise that verses 16 and 17 of chapter 10 may contain some notions reflective of the Last Passover Meal but the following should be noted:

* The phrase, “the cup of blessing” is not known in the Greek or Mishnaic Hebrew (the language used in the Passover meals) literature before Paul’s letter.  It is found only once before the 4th century (in a letter by Irenaeus) and the full phrase, “the cup of blessing which we bless” is not found in any of the Greek literature until the same century – the 4th. Hence the phrase should not automatically be understood as coming from some traditional liturgy.

*Wine was a feature of formal (and informal) Graeco-Roman meals. It is sometimes referred to as though it were the only part of such meals! Small quantities were consumed during the first part of formal meals but more copious quantities during the second part in which the drinking of wine was often the main feature. This would perhaps explain why Paul refers to “the cup” before “the bread”.  If the Last Passover Meal is meant to form a fundamental background to this section of chapter 10, then one would expect the bread to be mentioned first.

*Bread was a common element of almost all meals and sometimes the only solid food at a meal (see a previous blog series).  The word “arton” (bread) might even have been used, from time to time, as a general way of referring to the solid food aspects of a meal. The bread used in a Passover Meal was special but it was not at all special to have bread in such a meal or any meal.

*Paul is concerned with the believers not contaminating their formal meals (or any meals) in any way with pagan attributes. That is, Paul undoubtedly writes against the background of what happened in the formal meals of unbelieving Corinthians.

In a previous blog series I concluded that a suitable expanded paraphrase of 10: 16 and 17 could be:

“(When together we drink our wine with thanks it is not offered as a shared toast to the gods.) Is not our thanksgiving cup drunk with thanks by us who share in the Christ who shed his blood for us?  (When we share our meal it is not because we share an allegiance to the gods.)  Is not our breaking of bread, our sharing, a oneness in Christ?  Though many, we are one because we share in the one who is our bread, our sustenance.”

I suspect that the setting Paul has in mind in 10: 16 and 17 is that where the Corinthians came together to have a formal meal as believers. But it was a genuine meal, such as those had by many Greeks when they came together in a formal setting. The Corinthian believers came together to have a formal meal in part because that is what many Corinthians did. Of course the believers at their fellowship meals came from a great variety of backgrounds.  This was quite unlike the situation at most other Greek formal meals. The participants at these often came from the same club or from the same social or political stratum and in the 1st century, except were family was involved, they were mainly exclusively males.

Paul’s concern is that unlike the normal formal Greek meal, the meals attended by the believers when they came together, should have nothing idolatrous, about them. In 10: 16 and 17 he would seem to be arguing against such by stating what in principle the Corinthians do or should do when they come together to eat and drink.

His use of the 1st person plural is interesting. It is perhaps suggestive of his having taken part in fellowship meals with the Corinthian believers, at least in the past, or in similar fellowship meals with other believers generally.

April 26, 2012

A Table of the Lord (part VII)

“A table of the Lord” in 1 Corinthinas 10: 21 (continued)

Contrary to the views outlined so far, the position adopted in this blog series is that “table” is indeed a reference to a meal but that it is not a meal in any way to be associated with a celebration of “the Lord’s Supper” or the like.

I have argued in previous blog series that chapters 8 to 10 of 1 Corinthians reveal Paul’s concern that the believers not knowingly eating meat offered to idols in various settings.  He was concerned that they should not participate in meals as though one could be both an idolater, a worshipper of other gods, at least in the eyes of others, if not oneself, and also a believer in the one true God. In this connection we should note that the drinking of wine receives an explicit mention twice in these chapters as it formed an important part of any Graeco-Roman formal meal and meals in general. See below.

I maintain that one should sift through the various features of these chapters keeping in mind both the eating of meat or any goods associated with idol worship and the drinking of wine in toasting. Eating and drinking in any way which knowingly connected one to the gods either from one’s own point of view or from that of others is the binding context, not matters associated with the Last Passover Meal. That is, one should not automatically expect to see a reference to a celebration of “the Lord’s Supper” or similar, in whatever form, in verse 21 of chapter 10.

It should be noted that leading the way in the concluding verses of chapter 10 is the summary statement, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  Simple eating or drinking in various settings is in mind.

April 21, 2012

A Table of the Lord (part VI)

“A table of the Lord” in 1 Corinthians 10: 21

In the light of Old Testament and New Testament usages and examples from the Graeco-Roman world, “table” in 1 Corinthians 10: 2, given its context, would seem to be either a reference to primarily a physical table, with some sort of meal being associated with it, or primarily to the meal itself, with the word, “table” being used to convey that sense. Whatever the case, the singular “table” could be a suitable appellation, whether there were many tables involved or not. Different courses involving different tables could be served with the diners reclining on couches.  And various dining arrangements could obtain, involving multiple tables, whatever the nature of the “seating” or how the courses were served. It is also a “table” that somehow “belongs to” someone – “the Lord”.

If one sees in the text a reference to a type of table that was involved in a celebration of the “the Lord’s Supper” or similar, then presumably one understands it as a table upon which was located “elements’ such as bread and wine.  It might have been basically a regular meal but a meal explicitly constructed to enable the celebration of “the Lord’s Supper” or the like.  Alternatively, it might have been only part of a normal meal, formal or otherwise, that was so constructed.  As a third possibility “the Lord’s Supper” or similar might have been an adjunct to a normal meal, formal or otherwise.  Whatever the case, the “table”, either a specially set aside table or the regular table or tables upon which the meal was served, would in the understanding of “table” suggested here, have been the physical object upon which the “elements”, token or otherwise would have been set. And it would have been thought of as “the Lord’s table” because the “elements”, token or otherwise, were somehow related to the death of the Lord with references back to the Last Passover Meal. It was a table from which bread was taken and eaten and from which the wine was served and drunk.

One might also be tempted to see “the Lord’s table” as reflective of “the table of the presence” but in strict opposition to say, any “table of Zeus”.  However in this case one could be looking for some sort of physical sacrifice or offering being made to the Lord by way of at least some elements of the “meal”.  One could appeal to such as “the Lord’s table” – “the table of the presence” mentioned in Malachi 1: 7 and 12 or to the wooden altar of Ezekiel 41: 22 identified as “the table that is before the Lord ” to add support for one’s position. If being involved in some sort of sacrifice is what one thinks happens in, for example, the Eucharist, then one might certainly read that notion back into this text.  I will however not go down that path as I suggest such a position is contrary to the New Testament’s understanding of the once and for all death of Jesus.

The second alternative is to understand by “table” a prime reference to the meal upon the table.

One form of this second alternative would be the view that a celebration of “the Lord’s Supper” or similar was still involved with the meal being token or otherwise with the celebration conforming to one of the various scenarios outlined above.

April 18, 2012

A Table of the Lord (part V)

The “table” in the Graeco-Roman literature

In the Graeco-Roman literature references can be found to tables being used for the conveying of wine and food.  For example, Athenaeus writes, “To quote Nicostratus: ‘Nay let her pour out quickly the “Good Daemon” cup and carry the table out of my way.  I’ve had enough of feeding but I can accept a ‘Good Daemon’.  Take up the table girl and get it out of my way.’”[1]  Again Athenaeus: “Theophrastus in his work On Drunkenness says: ‘The unmixed wine which is given upon ending the dinner and which they call a ‘toast in honour of the Good Daemon’ is taken only in small quantity, just as a reminder, through a mere taste, of the strength in the god’s generous gift … and after making obeisance three times they take it from the tables as though supplicating the god that they may do nothing indecent or have too strong a desire for the drinking.”[2]

A table could also be referred to as being the table of a god.  For example, Diodorus, though speaking of the Egyptians, wrote, “Similar to it (the couch of the god) is the table of the god which stands near the couch.”[3]

Again Athenaeus: “And Philochorus in the second book of his Attic History says, ‘After the mixture to the Good Daemon had been given it was customary to have the tables removed, as is shown in the case of Dionysius of Sicily by his own sacrilege.  For in Syracuse there was a gold table dedicated to Asclepius.  When Dionysius had drunk in his honour unmixed wine of the Good Daemon he ordered the table to be removed’”.[4]  Though a table could be dedicated to a god it was not always a table that could not be used for simply eating and drinking at. Athenaeus quoting Pyrgion in his third book on Cretan customs, wrote, “There was also chairs reserved for guests and a third table at the right as one entered the halls, which they called ‘the table of Zeus, god of strangers’ or ‘the stranger’s table’”.[5]

An interesting comment is also made by Athenaeus concerning what might be referred to by the use of the word, “trapeza”. “The men of ancient times used the word ‘tables’ in a general sense”[6].  He then illustrated this by indicating how “tables” was used to refer to “courses”.

As with the Old and New Testaments, sometimes the prime reference is to the table as an object, sometimes (according to Athenaeus) “table” can be a way of referring to the meal on the table, and a table could be designated as a table “belonging to someone” – a particular god.

One should note that, the word for “table” in the Greek Septuagint is unsurprisingly also “trapeza”.  One should also note that in the LXX, Malachi 1: 7 and 12 uses “trapeza” when referring to the table of the presence but no definite article is involved. Here is an instance where the translation should refer to “the table of the Lord” though the definite article is absent.

[1] in Athenaeus VII, LOEB Classical Library, (trans. Gulick, C.B.), Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1971, xv, 693b, pp. 210 – 213

[2] ibid.,  xv, 693c, pp. 212, 213

[3] Diodorus Siculus, III, Books IV, 59 – VIII LOEB Classical Library, (trans. Oldfather, C.H.), Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1970, pp. 226, 227

[4] in Athenaeus, ibid., xv, 693e, pp. 214, 215 (In note b on p. 215 Gulick writes: “The sacrilege consisted in appropriating for his own use a votive offering”).

[5] in Athenaeus II, LOEB Classical Library, (trans. Gulick, C.B.), Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1987, pp. 156, 157

[6]Athenaeus VI, LOEB Classical Library, (trans. Gulick, C.B.), Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1980, pp. 462, 463

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