1 Corinthians 11:17-22

Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

1 Corinthians 11:17-22

17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.


Paul is not happy here. This section is the beginning of a rebuke concerning the way that the Church in Corinth is partaking in the Lord’s Supper. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(17) Now in this that I declare unto you . . .—Better, Now I give you this command, while not praising you that you come together not for the better, but for the worse. These words lead from the subject which has gone before to another and different abuse of liberty in public assemblies, of which the Apostle is now about to speak. There were evidently three great abuses which had crept into the Church:—1. The discarding by the women of the covering for their heads. This only concerned one sex, and has been treated of in the earlier part of this chapter. The other two affect both sexes. 2. The disorders at the Lord’s Supper. 3. The misuse of spiritual gifts. The former of these occupies the remainder of this chapter, while the latter is discussed in 1 Corinthians 12:1-30. To render the Greek word “I declare,” as in the Authorised version, and so make it refer to what is about to follow, gives a more logical completeness to the passage, but it is scarcely allowable, as the Greek word elsewhere always means a distinct command (1 Corinthians 7:101 Thessalonians 4:112 Thessalonians 3:62 Thessalonians 3:102 Thessalonians 3:12et al.). Others have suggested that St. Paul anticipates in thought the practical direction which occurs in 1 Corinthians 11:34, and alludes to it here in the words, “This I command you.” This view is open to the objections (1) that it completely isolates 1 Corinthians 11:17 from 1 Corinthians 11:16, while the Greek evidently intimates a connection between them; (2) that it is unnatural to separate the statement so far from the command to which it refers. It is better to regard these words as given above—forming a sort of intellectual isthmus connecting the two wide fields of thought which the earlier and later portions of the chapter embrace.I praise you not.—This carries the thought back to 1 Corinthians 11:2, and shows that the commendation expressed there is still the writer’s starting-point, or rather the point of departure from which he proceeds to censure.That ye come together.—Although in the English version the word “you” is inserted (“I praise you not”), it does not occur in the Greek. The passage is not, “I do not praise you because, &c.,” but, “I do not praise your coming together not for the better, but for the worse.” These words introduce the new topic which follows.

The note lays out three great abuses of Christian liberty: 1) the abandonment of head coverings for women – addressed at the beginning of the chapter, 2) abuses of the Lord’s Supper, and 3) abuses of Spiritual Gifts. The remainder of the chapter focuses on the second point, and Paul is clearly angry with what is happening. Continuing on in The Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 11:18 First of all. The “second” rebuke is not clearly stated, but is no doubt meant to refer to the abuses in “speaking with the tongue.” In the Church; rather, in congregation, or assembly. The reference is not to a particular building. The Lord’s Supper was administered frequently (originally every day, Acts 2:46), and often in private houses. Divisionsschisms (1 Corinthians 1:101 Corinthians 1:12). Here, however, he is referring to cliques and quarrels at the love feasts. Partly! cannot think, he says, in a tone of kindness, that these reports are wholly false. There must be some ground for them, even if the facts have been exaggerated.

1 Corinthians 11:19 There must be also heresies among you. It results from the inevitable decrees of the Divine providence. “It is impossible but that offences will come” (Luke 17:11). Heresies. The word does not mean “erroneous opinions,” but party factions. Originally the word only means “a choice,” and is not used in a bad sense; but since the opinionativeness of men pushes “a choice” into a “party,” and since it is the invariable tendency of a party to degenerate into a “faction,” the word soon acquires a bad sense (see its use in Acts 5:17Acts 15:5Acts 24:5Acts 24:14 : Acts 28:22Galatians 5:20; Tit 3:10; 2 Peter 2:1; and Gieseler, ‘Church Hist.,’ 1:149). The mutually railing factions, which in their Church newspapers and elsewhere bandy about their false and rival charges of “heresy,” are illustrating the virulence of the very sin which they are professing to denounce—the sin of factiousness. That they which are approved may be made manifest among you. Similarly St. John (1 John 2:19) speaks of the aberrations of false teachers as destined to prove that they did not belong to the true Church. Good is educed out of seeming evil (James 1:31 Peter 1:61 Peter 1:7). Approved; standing the test (dokimoi)the opposite of the “reprobate” (adokimoi) of 1 Corinthians 9:27.

Paul returns to the original rebuke from this Epistle and again addresses the formation of factions within the Church. He views disunity as a grievous problem. I would remind though that Paul is not making a call for Christians to be unified with evil. He spends much of 1 Corinthians 5 imploring the Church to remove evil from their midst. However, for the rest, he wans them to be unified in Christ. Continuing on in Ellicott:

(20) When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper.—Better, Therefore, when you assemble in the same place, it is not to eat the supper dedicated to the Lord. Regarding 1 Corinthians 11:19 as a parenthesis, the word “therefore” connects this with 1 Corinthians 11:18. There being divisions among you, it is not possible for you when you assemble as a Church body (“in the same place” being equivalent to “in church” of 1 Corinthians 11:18) to partake of that supper which is dedicated to the Lord. The whole meal, or “charity-feast” (Jude 1:12), was distinguished from other meals by being united with the Lord’s Supper. To these charity-feasts the Christians brought contributions of food—the rich of their abundance, the poor whatever they could afford—and the food thus provided was partaken of in common by all. The Greek words in this verse for “Lord’s Supper” are more general (kuriakon deipnon) than those used in 1 Corinthians 11:27 and in 1 Corinthians 10:161 Corinthians 10:21 (kuriou). The whole meal was dedicated to the Lord by virtue of its union with the sacramental Supper of the Lord.

This note is helpful in understanding this passage. If you read verse 19 as a parenthetical, and connect the thought from verse 18 to verse 20, the passage is much more clear.

Paul states in verse 20 that when they come together, they are not eating the Lord’s Supper. He explains why, blisteringly, in the next verses. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 11:21

For in eating; rather, in your eating. Every one. All who have themselves contributed a share to the common meal. Taketh before other his own supper. It is as if they had come together only to eat, not to partake of a holy sacrament. The abuse rose from the connection of the Lord’s Supper with the agapē, or love feast, a social gathering of Christian brothers, to which each, as in the Greek eranoi, or “club feasts,” contributed his share. The abuse led to the separation of the agapē from the Holy Communion, and ultimately to the entire disuse of the former at religious gatherings. One is hungry. The poor man, who has been unable to contribute to the meal which was intended to be an exhibition of Christian love, looked on with grudging eyes and craving appetite, while the rich had more than enough. Is drunken. “St. Paul draws the picture in strong colours, and who can say that the reality was less strong?” (Meyer). Calvin says, “It is portentous that Satan should have accomplished so much in so short a time.” But the remark was, perhaps, dictated by the wholly mistaken fancy that the Church of the apostolic days was exceptionally pure. On the contrary, many of the heathen converts were unable at once to break the spell of their old habits, and few modern Churches present a spectacle so deplorable as that which we here find in the apostolic Church of Corinth. It is quite obvious that Church discipline must have been almost in abeyance if such grave scandals could exist uncorrected and apparently unreproved.

The note explains that the Corinthians co-mingled their club feasts with the Lord’s Supper, and thus failed spectacularly to actually take the holy sacrament, or at least ot take it seriously. The local church body was split into groups. The Church (as a whole, in all locations) is described as the body of Christ. The Lord’s Supper is (symbolically or literally, depending on whether you are Protestant or Catholic) the consumption of the Lord’s Body and His blood. The failure to practice Communion correctly is thus linked with the evil practice of faction-forming. Continuing with The Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 11:22

To eat and to drink in. The object of the agapē was something higher than the mere gratification of appetite. Though not a sacrament, it was an accompaniment of the Lord’s Supper, and was itself intended to be a symbolical and sacred meal. 

Despise ye the Church of God! The congregation of your fellow Christians. Shame; rather, disgrace, or put to shame. 

Them that have not. It would be natural to supply “houses.” But the commentators found it difficult to suppose that any of the Corinthians had not “houses to eat and to drink in.” Hence most commentators give to the phrase its classic sense, in which “those who have” means the rich, and “those who have not,” the poor. They seem, however, to have forgotten that slaves at any rate could hardly be said to have “houses of their own,” and it is certain that not a few of the Corinthian Christians were slaves. I praise you not. As in 1 Corinthians 11:17, this is an instance of what is called litotēs, a mild expression, suggesting a meaning much stronger than the words themselves. 


He is about to give his reason for thus strongly blaming their irregularities.

Paul is just beginning to explain what the problem here is, though you can intuit some of his follow-up in the next few verses with how he begins here. The Church is not acting in a unified way, Church discipline is lax, and the people in different factions are not showing Christ’s love to each other. Ellicott adds the following note for verse 22:

(22) What? have ye not houses. . .?—Better, Surely it is not that you have no houses to eat anddrink in? This cannot be the explanation of their conduct, for they have houses in which they can enjoy their proper meals. Hunger and thirst, which can be satisfied at home, therefore, cannot be the explanation of their conduct at the charity-feasts. The only other alternative explanation, therefore, is that they despise an assembly which is the Church of God; and they put to shame those poor members, who, no doubt, were the majority, who have not houses in which to eat and drink, and have come together in this common assembly of Christians to share in the food which the wealthier members ought to contribute.The shame which a poor man will feel when the rich come to these feasts bringing supplies for their own private use, and not for general distribution, will arise both from the striking contrast which will come out all the more vividly from his poverty being brought into such direct contact with the wealth of the rich, and from the evident dislike of the rich to partake of a common meal with the poor. Thus those assemblies will, through the misconduct of the wealthier Christians, have precisely the opposite result from that which they were intended to accomplish. It will be an assembly in one place, but not to partake of one supper—even that which is dedicated to the Lord. The Apostle asks indignantly whether such conduct can be included in the catalogue (see 1 Corinthians 11:17) of those things for which he can praise them, and then in the following verses shows how such conduct cannot be worthy of praise, inasmuch as it is entirely at variance with the solemn and sacred circumstances in which the Lord’s Supper originated.

The note from Ellicott helps to paint the picture more clearly as to what was happening at these Corinthian love feasts. The rich are not sharing with the poor, and these get-togethers are becoming more akin to a public meal, between some friends (intentionally excluding even Church members) than a shared Christian community feast. The rebuke will continue for the rest of the chapter.