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 11:27-34
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.
Paul gives some final words of warning to the Corinthians regarding Communion. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary, starting with its note for verse 27:
(27) Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord . . .—Better, Wherefore, whosoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord. The entire weight of MS. evidence is in favour of the conjunction “or,” not “and,” which was probably retained in the English version lest the disjunctive “or” might seem to favour the practice of receiving in one kind only. It is, however, clear that if in these early days there was a considerable interval between the receiving the bread and the wine, it would have been quite possible for a partaker to have received one only unworthily, and the Apostle intimates that in either case he is guilty.
Sin was the cause of that body being broken and that blood shed, and therefore the one who unworthily uses the symbols of them becomes a participator in the very guilt of those who crucified that body and shed that blood.
The Pulpit Commentaries also draws attention to the translation issue from this verse:
And drink this cup. This ought to be rendered, or drink this cup. It seems to be one of the extremely few instances in which the translators of our Authorized Version were led by bias into unfaithful rendering. They may have persuaded themselves that the apostle must have meant “and;” but their duty as translators was to translate what he said, not what they supposed him to have meant. What he meant was that it was possible to partake in a wrong spirit either of the bread or the cup. King James’s translators thought that, by rendering the word or, they might seem to favour communion in one kind only. St. Paul’s meaning was that a man might Lake either element of the sacrament unworthily. Unworthily. We are all “unworthy”—” unworthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Christ’s table;” yet not one of us need eat or drink unworthily, that is, in a careless, irreverent, defiant spirit. Guilty of. He draws on himself the penalty due to “crucifying to himself the Son of God afresh,” by “putting him to an open shame.”
The two notes remind us of the value of reading from multiple translations, when doing a study, as well as reading through commentaries at the same time.
As to the point being made by Paul, he does not want anyone to partake of Communion unworthily.
in an unworthy manner = ἀναξίως, adverb [from Sophicles down], in an unworthy manner:
Continuing on to verse 28, in The Pulpit Commentaries:
Let a man examine himself. The verb means “let him test his own feelings;” put them to the proof, to see whether they be sincere or not. He must “wash his hands in innocency,” and so come to God’s altar (see Matthew 5:22, Matthew 5:23; 2 Corinthians 13:5). And so. Soberly, that is; seriously, humbly, and with due reverence.
Unworthily. The word is not genuine here, being repeated from 1 Corinthians 11:27; it is omitted by א, A, B, C. Eateth and drinketh damnation to himself; rather, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself There is reason to believe that the word “damnation” once had a much milder meaning in English than that which it now popularly bears. In King James’s time it probably did not of necessity mean more than “an unfavourable verdict.” Otherwise this would be the most unfortunate mistranslation in the whole Bible. It has probably kept thousands, as it kept Goethe, from Holy Communion. We see from verse 32 that this “judgment” had a purely merciful and disciplinary character. Not discerning; rather, if he discern not, the Lord’s body, Any one who approach? the Lord’s Supper in a spirit of levity or defiance, not discriminating between it and common food, draws on himself, by so eating and drinking, a judgment which is defined in the next verse.
The first note explains Paul’s meaning. Do not take Communion flippantly, or without self-examination and care. The Lord’s Supper should only be partaken of when a person is clear-minded and thoughtful of his or her actions.
The second note, though, refers to another translation issue from the King James Version (see below):
29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
The note explains that the use of “unworthily” here is not from the underlying Greek. The word was inserted by KJV translators to reiterate the context of Paul’s message. It’s something like “in case you forgot to really focus in on verse 27’s use of “unworthily,” we’re inserting the word again in verse 29 to remind you of the textual context.” It doesn’t change the meaning of the verse to do this, but inserting words to provide translation context is something that must be done with care. Note that the ESV translation I quoted at the top assumes you still remember the context from verse 27 and does not insert “in an unworthy manner” into verse 29.
Returning to Ellicott for verse 30:
(30) For this cause—i.e., because you do not regard these feasts, to which the Lord’s Supper is joined as gatherings in a common body, but eat and drink to excess, and so gain no spiritual advantage, but actually physical evil, many are weak and sickly. And many sleep.—Better, and some die. Even death sometimes resulted from their drunken orgies, either naturally, or by God’s direct visitation.
This is a difficult thing to imagine, but believers would essentially throw feasts and parties, get drunk, and then partake in Communion. The verse says that people died as a result of this, and the note does not exclude God’s judgment on the participants as an explanation for those deaths. Of course, it might also be the case that people died of things like alcohol poisoning (or other evils brought about directly by their actions.)
The Pulpit Commentaries also credits Paul with asserting divine / supernatural judgment upon those who abused the practice of Communion:
Many are weak and sickly among you. St. Paul directly connects this general ill health with the abuse of the Lord’s Supper. It is not impossible that the grave intemperance to which he alludes in 1 Corinthians 11:21 may have had its share in this result; but apart from this, there is an undoubted connection between sin and sickness in some, though not, of course, in all cases (John 5:14). Many. The word is different from the previous word for “many,” and means a larger number—” not a few,” “a considerable number.” Sleep; i.e. are dying.
The note also indicates that the sickness among the Church in Corinth, resulting from this bad practice, was relatively widespread. Continuing with The Pulpit Commentaries in verses 31 and 32:
For if we would judge ourselves, etc. These verses are very unfortunately mistranslated in our Authorized Version. They should be rendered (literally), For if we discerned (or, discriminated) ourselves, we should not be undergoing judgment (namely, of physical punishment); but, in being judged by the Lord (by these temporal sufferings), we are under training, that we may not be condemned with the world. The meaning is that “if we” (St. Paul here identities himself with the Corinthians) “were in the habit of self discernment—and in this self discrimination is involved a discrimination between spiritual and common things—we should nut be undergoing this sign of God’s displeasure; but the fact that his judgments are abroad among us is intended to further our moral education, and to save us from being finally condemned with the world.” Discernment (diakrisis), by saving us from eating unworthily (Psalms 32:5; 1 John 1:9), would have obviated the necessity for penal judgments (krima), but yet the krima is disciplinary (paideuometha, we are being trained as children), to save us from final doom (katakrima). Unworthy eating, then, so far from involving necessary or final “damnation,” is mercifully visited by God with temporal chastisement, to help in the saving of our souls. “Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord” (Psalms 94:12; Hebrews 12:5-12).
Paul again advises the Corinthians to examine themselves, soberly, before taking the Lord’s Supper. He also indicates that punishment from the Lord, for believers, for things like the abuse of the Lord’s Supper, is different than the condemnation given to those who do not believe. The Church is disciplined, not condemned. Finishing the chapter in The Pulpit Commentaries:
Wherefore. He now briefly sums up the practical remedies for these discreditable scenes. My brethren. Introduced, as often, into a stern passage to show that the writer is only actuated by the spirit of love. Tarry one for another. This would prevent the scrambling greediness which he has already condemned in 1 Corinthians 11:21.
And if any man hunger, let him eat at home. A reminder of the sacred character of the agapē as a symbol of Christian love and union.
Unto condemnation; rather, judgment. In Greek, the same word (krima) is used which in 1 Corinthians 11:29 is so unhappily rendered “damnation.” But even “condemnation” is too strong; for that is equivalent to katakrima.
The rest; all minor details. It is not improbable that one of these details was the practical dissociation of the agapē from the Lord’s Supper altogether. Certainly the custom of uniting the two seems to have disappeared by the close of the first century.
When I come; rather, whenever. The Greek phrase (ὡς ἂν) implies uncertainty. The apostle’s plans for visiting Corinth immediately had been materially disturbed by the unfavourable tidings as to the conditions of the Church.
Paul gives remedies for what they are doing wrong. He suggests that they wait until everyone is pressent before beginning. He also suggests that if someone is hungry that he should eat at home, so that the gathering be more about love and fellowship than about satiating hunger. A hungry mad scramble to eat and drink is not a great environment for promoting love and fellowship. Paul advises that if these changes are made, the Church in Corinth can cease the judgment they have been receiving.
Beginning in Chapter 12, Paul begins a lengthy discourse on spiritual gifts.