1 Corinthians Chapter 11:17-34

The last section ended with a discussion about how women should cover their heads in worship, and men should not have long hair.

17 Τοῦτο δὲ παραγγέλλων οὐκ ἐπαινῶ ὅτι οὐκ εἰς τὸ κρεῖσσον ἀλλὰ εἰς τὸ ἧσσον συνέρχεσθε.

And commanding this, I do not praise that you come together not towards (i.e., ‘for the purpose of) the good, but towards (for the purpose of) the worse.

Comment deferred. This will pick up in the next verse.

17 Hoc autem praecipio, non laudans quod non in melius sed in deterius convenitis.

18 πρῶτον μὲν γὰρ συνερχομένων ὑμῶν ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ ἀκούω σχίσματα ἐν ὑμῖν ὑπάρχειν, καὶ μέρος τι πιστεύω.

For, on the one hand, first you having come together in Assembly, I hear there are divisions (schisms) amongst you, and I believe there are factions.

This was what Paul was hinting at in the previous verse; they don’t come together for the good, but for the worse. And, really, this picks up from Chapter 1, where Paul mentioned the divisions, without going into it too deeply. 

18 Primum quidem convenientibus vobis in ecclesia, audio scissuras inter vos esse et ex parte credo.

19 δεῖ γὰρ καὶ αἱρέσεις ἐν ὑμῖν εἶναι, ἵνα [καὶ] οἱ δόκιμοι φανεροὶ γένωνται ἐν ὑμῖν.

For there must be sects amongst you, so that the approved ones become apparent among you.

First, the word rendered as “sects” would transliterate as ‘haireseis’, the root of  ‘heresies’.  Second, this is fairly typical of Paul’s (lack of) logic: that there have to be sects so that the true believers will be more obvious? And the Greek << δεῖ >> is a third person impersonal with strong implications of necessity. Or even Necessity; and it would not be alien to Greek thought to personify (and, in fact, deify) the idea of Necessity.  

This is a place where we could easily make a mountain out of a molehill. The idea here, I believe, is that Paul is trying to make lemonade out of the lemons of doctrinal dissent. I do not think he is saying that there is some Divine Plan to create heretics in order that the true believers will thereby be more obvious; however, these sorts of passages in Paul have been used exactly so by later commentators and theologians, specifically meaning Calvin. John Calvin was, if not the first, then the most forceful and the most successful proponent of Predestination among Christian theologians. He fully embraced the idea of double predestination, whereby God created some individuals with the specific purpose that they be damned, and Calvin uses this passage to buttress this doctrine. Certainly, that is what the passage says, or can be read as saying.  I don’t want to go too far into this doctrine here; the real discussion belongs in Romans.

19 Nam oportet et haereses inter vos esse, ut et, qui probati sunt, manifesti fiant in vobis.

20 Συνερχομένων οὖν ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ οὐκ ἔστιν κυριακὸν δεῖπνον φαγεῖν,

So you having come together it is not for the same thing(,) to eat the lordly supper.

The Greek doesn’t fit all that well into English. Grammatically, it’s the “lordly” supper rather than the “lord’s” supper because it’s an adjective rather than a possessive noun. The Latin is much closer to English.

Substantively, the lack of common ground is a further indicator of division within in the Community. In fact, it would seem to be the best indicator of problems since the “Lordly Supper” became the central rite of the early Church. It is impossible to say that it held such a role of prominence at this early date; however, here are a couple of things to consider. Paul did not mention the Lord’s Supper in either 1 Thessalonians or Galatians. And let’s remember that this is Corinth, a wealthy city where idol sacrifices were common. So, is it possible that it was here that the idea of the Lord’s Meal caught on? Possible? Yes. Provable? Not even remotely. More likely is that it took time for the Lord’s Supper to take hold as a practice. Further discussion on this topic will follow. 

20 Convenientibus ergo vobis in unum, non est dominicam cenam manducare;

21 ἕκαστος γὰρ τὸ ἴδιον δεῖπνον προλαμβάνει ἐν τῷ φαγεῖν, καὶ ὃς μὲν πεινᾷ, ὃς δὲ μεθύει.

For each brings in his individual meal to eat, and on the one hand, (there is) one who hungers, on the other (there is) one who is drunken.

Now this is an interesting insight. The meal was not communal after all. Rather, each brought in a box lunch, apparently according to one’s individual resources. So one goes hungry while another has a surfeit, and gets drunk on top of that. Not exactly an exercise in Community building. 

Etymology lesson: the Greek here is << ἴδιον >>, which I translated as “individual”.  The Greek word transliterates as ‘idion”; this is the root for our word ‘idiot’ as well as ‘idiom’. To the Greeks, an ‘idiot’ was someone who kept to himself, and did not participate in the political assembly. So the meaning is ‘private’, or ‘individual’. And so an ‘idiom’ is something specific a particular individual, or more usually, to a small subset of speakers of a given language. For example, in Rhode Island idiom, a ‘bubbler’ is a drinking fountain.

21 unusquisque enim suam cenam praesumit in manducando, et alius quidem esurit, alius autem ebrius est.

22 μὴ γὰρ οἰκίας οὐκ ἔχετε εἰς τὸ ἐσθίειν καὶ πίνειν; ἢ τῆς ἐκκλησίας τοῦ θεοῦ καταφρονεῖτε, καὶ καταισχύνετε τοὺς μὴ ἔχοντας; τί εἴπω ὑμῖν; ἐπαινέσω ὑμᾶς; ἐν τούτῳ οὐκ ἐπαινῶ.

For do you not at home have towards the eating and drinking? Or, do you despise the assembly of God, and are you ashamed of those not having? What do I say to you? Will I praise you? In this I will not praise.


Do you not have food at home for eating and drinking? Do you despise the Community of god, and are you ashamed of the poor members? What can I say to you? Will I praise you? I will not praise such behaviour.

What Paul seems to imply here is that he is actually discouraging the communal meal. He seems to be saying that it would be better for the wealthier members to eat & drink at home, before coming to the assembly. Otherwise, to bring in a substantial meal and eat it in front of those members who don’t have enough to eat only serves to provoke jealousy and resentment. It’s like the wealthier members are rubbing the faces of the poor members in it. At first glance, I want to point to this sort of social bifurcation as another indication of the pagan influence on the Lord’s Meal, but I’m not sure whether this carries. Somehow I suspect that most Jews were pretty much of the same class-conscious mindset. The prayers of the Pharisee and the Publican in Luke make me suspect that Jews felt much the same way. But then, Luke is held to be from a Greek background; of course, whether that is true is another matter.

22 Numquid domos non habetis ad manducandum et bibendum? Aut ecclesiam Dei contemnitis et confunditis eos, qui non habent? Quid dicam vobis? Laudabo vos? In hoc non laudo!

23 Ἐγὼ γὰρ παρέλαβον ἀπὸ τοῦ κυρίου, ὃ καὶ παρέδωκα ὑμῖν, ὅτι ὁ κύριος Ἰησοῦς ἐν τῇ νυκτὶ ἧ παρεδίδετο ἔλαβεν ἄρτον

For I receive from the Lord, that which I also hand over to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was handed over took bread…(cont’d)

23 Ego enim accepi a Domino, quod et tradidi vobis, quoniam Dominus Iesus, in qua nocte tradebatur, accepit panem

24 καὶ εὐχαριστήσας ἔκλασεν καὶ εἶπεν, Τοῦτό μού ἐστιν τὸ σῶμα τὸ ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν: τοῦτο ποιεῖτε εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν.

And blessing it he broke it and said, “this is my body, which is for you. Do this in my remembrance.

And here we have it: the institution of the Lord’s Meal.

24 et gratias agens fregit et dixit: “ Hoc est corpus meum, quod pro vobis est; hoc facite in meam commemorationem ”;

25 ὡσαύτως καὶ τὸ ποτήριον μετὰ τὸ δειπνῆσαι, λέγων, Τοῦτο τὸ ποτήριον ἡ καινὴ διαθήκη ἐστὶν ἐν τῷ ἐμῷ αἵματι: τοῦτο ποιεῖτε, ὁσάκις ἐὰν πίνητε, εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν.

In the same way he also (took?) the cup after the meal, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, howso often you drink in the remembrance of me.

Comment deferred

25 similiter et calicem, postquam cenatum est, dicens: “ Hic calix novum testamentum est in meo sanguine; hoc facite, quotiescumque bibetis, in meam commemorationem ”.

26 ὁσάκις γὰρ ἐὰν ἐσθίητε τὸν ἄρτον τοῦτον καὶ τὸ ποτήριον πίνητε, τὸν θάνατον τοῦ κυρίου καταγγέλλετε, ἄχρις οὗ ἔλθῃ.

For as often whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, the death of the lord you proclaim, until he may come.

There you are. Having grown up in the Roman Rite, and now belonging to the Episcopalian Church, those are the words of the Consecration. And the nuns used to tell us that the Consecration was the sine qua non of the Mass; if you missed the Consecration, you had not been to Mass. And if you missed Mass without a really good reason, you had committed a mortal sin and were going to Hell unless you confessed it really quickly. 

Aside from the theology, what does this say about the Historical Jesus? Anything? As I was translating these verses, I was sort of wondering if this may have been something that Paul made up. I fully believe he would have absolutely been capable of doing such a thing, and subsequently preaching it good faith, believing wholeheartedly that he had been given the words of the Lord in a revelation. This may sound far-fetched, but it really isn’t. Paul was preaching to people a generation after Jesus died, in a country that had never been aware that Jesus had even been alive. There would have been no way for the Community in Corinth to know what Jesus had actually said and done.

And this is where we, as persons interested in historical process, have to understand what a myth actually is. There’s a Seinfeld episode in which George says “It’s not a lie if you believe it.” And that intimates what a myth is. Perhaps the better one is “if it isn’t true, it ought to be”. A myth is not meant to record historical facts. A myth has nothing do with facts. But neither is it a fairy tale, a nice bit of fiction. A myth is meant to convey a truth; or, rather, a Truth. Or perhaps even just Truth. “Veritas”, as it says over the gate of Harvard, which began its existence as a divinity school. On the one hand, there is no reason to doubt that Paul is faithfully recording the words of the Anointed; on the other, there is every reason to believe that Paul is making this up.

Look at the context: the communal meal has become a source of strife and division, giving rise to schism and sects. (Note: Calvin’s discussion on the different uses of schism and heresy is very interesting.) So then Paul just happens to have a quote from the living Jesus–not from the Anointed, but Jesus, before he died and rose as the Anointed–that will smooth over these differences.  Rather convenient, isn’t it? If Paul had been there, and implemented the communal meal as something begun by Jesus, why did he not tell the Corinthians this in the first place? Why did he not recite for the Corinthians the words from what has become known as the Last Supper? Would that not have been an appropriate time? Why did he wait until later, until the Community is riven by strife? Would it not have made more sense to do it before?

So these are reasons why, I think, we must, at the very least, question whether Paul is reciting words from Jesus, or whether he’s making them up. Much has been made that this is one of the few times that Paul actually quotes Jesus; shouldn’t that be a red flag right there? It should be, if you’re reading this historically, and not textually, or theologically. The fact that these words reflect what is recorded later–much later–in the gospels is taken as corroboration of this quote. But the argument is circular. How do we know the words here are authentic? Because they’re in the gospels. How do we know that the words in the gospels are authentic? Because they’re cited here. (And, BTW, this is the real meaning of ‘begging the question’.)  And here is where having folks with backgrounds in Scripture looking for the Historical Jesus really runs into the shoals. They don’t always ask the right questions.

I went into this passage with the idea that the words were authentic to the historical Jesus. Now, I’m leaning towards their genesis in Paul.

And just to mention, we have the idea of the Lord returning. Given the discussion about the bread and wine, don’t want to go into that here, but note that it was mentioned. Almost casually, almost in passing, which indicates, I believe, that Paul had indeed preached on this to the Corinthians previously. Probably many times.

26 Quotiescumque enim manducabitis panem hunc et calicem bibetis, mortem Domini annuntiatis, donec veniat.

27 Ὥστε ὃς ἂν ἐσθίῃ τὸν ἄρτον ἢ πίνῃ τὸ ποτήριον τοῦ κυρίου ἀναξίως, ἔνοχος ἔσται τοῦ σώματος καὶ τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ κυρίου.

Thus, the one who may eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord unworthily,  he is liable to the body and blood of the Lord.

<< ἔνοχος >> is a bit difficult to render properly without either being unclear, or adding a bunch of words that aren’t there. The KJV does the former: “he is guilty of the body…”; more modern translations choose the latter: “he is guilty of sin against the body…” So take your choice. It’s difficult to argue against either approach. I tried to split the difference, which works if you think of ‘liable to’ in a legal sense, which is one of the primary definitions of the word.

Regardless, the point is clear enough. If you participate unworthily, you sin. So here is one of many places in which we can quibble about exact meanings even though the intent is clear enough. Honestly, since I’ve been doing this, there are have not been that many instances where a shade here or there matters. We have come across them, especially in the other two letters we read. There, we encountered a number of what I came to call “consensus translations”.

Now, having said that, let’s think about this. If we are unworthy, how do we become worthy? Or, does it not mean it that way? Here, I don’t think it does. It’s an adverb, so it describes the action, rather than the moral state of the actor. That’s not a crucial thing to understand, but given where the Church ended up going in the sacrament of Penance, it’s a distinction worth pointing out, however briefly. 

27 Itaque, quicumque manducaverit panem vel biberit calicem Domini indigne, reus erit corporis et sanguinis Domini.

28 δοκιμαζέτω δὲ ἄνθρωπος ἑαυτόν, καὶ οὕτως ἐκ τοῦ ἄρτου ἐσθιέτω καὶ ἐκ τοῦ ποτηρίου πινέτω:

For let the man himself make himself worthy, and in this way from the bread let him eat and from the wine let him drink.

Hmm. Let’s maybe rethink that last comment. We have to take steps, as yet unspecified, to make ourselves worthy. And, while ‘make oneself worthy’ isn’t bad, but ‘worthify oneself’ would be closer to the idea of the Greek verb. English tends to require  that we add ‘make’ or ‘do’ to create the action of the verb; Greek can contain the idea in the verb itself. It doesn’t change the meaning really, but it is a different dynamic and thought process.

So how does one go about making oneself worthy? The injunction, the command is clear. The practice is not. Once again, Paul tosses off something, and the words are left to sit there and grow into something that carried huge implications for future generations of church thinkers.

28 Probet autem seipsum homo, et sic de pane illo edat et de calice bibat;

29 ὁ γὰρ ἐσθίων καὶ πίνων κρίμα ἑαυτῷ ἐσθίει καὶ πίνει μὴ διακρίνων τὸ σῶμα.

For the one eating and drinking (makes a) judgement on himself (by) eating and drinking, not distinguishing the body.

While this is not quite a consensus translation, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher grammatically. Or, maybe that’s just me. Anyway, the idea is that if someone partakes of the bread and the cup–the communal meal–without a bit of self-reflection on the state of her/his own body, then the unworthy partaker has damned (brought judgement) upon him/herself.

Again, I don’t have the background in Jewish practice to know how much of a break this represented from Jewish practice. I suspect not very much, because John was preaching repentance from sins, and this certainly requires self-awareness and self-examination. In the same way, the idea of personal guilt had become pretty much inculcated into the Graeco-Roman worldview, so nothing particularly novel about this.

29 qui enim manducat et bibit, iudicium sibi manducat et bibit non diiudicans corpus.

30 διὰ τοῦτο ἐν ὑμῖν πολλοὶ ἀσθενεῖς καὶ ἄρρωστοι καὶ κοιμῶνται ἱκανοί.

Because of this, in you many are weak and sick, and many have died.

IOW, repent. Wake up and take a good long look at yourself.  Technically, the final verb is “sleeping”; this has often a metaphor for “dead”. And here the verb is passive, which is a bit odd, or unusual. Strictly speaking, I guess it should be ‘are slept’, but the Greek concept of tense does not always correspond to ours. Given all this, I think “have died” is probably appropriate. However, that leads to the even odder implication that Paul is speaking to the dead. How can they make themselves worthy? The answer, likely, is that Paul means this to include ‘dead’ as a category like ‘weak’, in which someone will have trouble taking the necessary steps.

This is, I think, of a piece with a couple of other passages that we’ve encountered, even in this section of this chapter. Either Paul’s thinking, or his dictation, or his amanuensis is a little muddy at times. Given that we ran into situations like that in the earlier letters, I tend to suspect that it’s Paul. We saw this in Verse 19, in which he said ‘it must’, in such a way that John Calvin took this to mean divine institution.  And then the idea of being, or making oneself worthy is not a shining example of clear thinking. And here, it may just be awkward grammar. But it all adds up to a certain opaqueness in Paul’s thought, and the cumulative effect of this can cause–and has caused– some serious problems of interpretation.

30 Ideo inter vos multi infirmi et imbecilles et dormiunt multi.

31 εἰ δὲ ἑαυτοὺς διεκρίνομεν, οὐκ ἂν ἐκρινόμεθα:

But if we judge ourselves, we were not being damned. 

At first glance, this seems like a nicely epigrammatic piece of Greek: succinct, pithy, and balanced by the two forms of ‘krino’. On closer examination, however, the problems appear. First, let’s look at the tenses of the two verbs. The first, << διεκρίνομεν >> is a present indicative active: we judge, with the reflexive pronoun, so ‘we judge ourselves’. The second verb << κρινόμεθα >>, is an imperfect passive. The imperfect is used for continued, or continuous actions in the past: “we used to judge”, or “we were judging”. But it’s passive, and negative, so “we were not being judged”.  This could be something like, “we were not damned repeatedly”,  as in, ‘over the course of time we were not damned by (actor unspecified)”. That is, the unspecified actor could have damned any number of times, but chose not to do so for reasons unknown.

But, this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I get an inkling that it didn’t make much sense to St Jerome, either, because he started messing with the tenses and voices of the verbs. In the Latin version, as far as I can tell, both verbs are in the imperfect subjunctive, which isn’t impossible, but it’s odd. This would be something like, “if we should have judged ourselves…we should not have been judged…” But, basically, ‘sub-iuncto’ means ‘to attach below’, ‘below’ meaning in a subordinate position. The subjunctive in Latin is most often a subordinate clause, attached in a subordinate (dependent) condition to the main clause. I have scoured my conjugations in Wheelock and other sources, looking for some way that this form is not an imperfect subjunctive, but with no luck. First person present indicative active of ‘iudico’ would be ‘iudicamus’, which this clearly is not. It’s formed from the infinitive form, rather than either the present indicative or the perfect stem. That, and the ‘-emus’ indicate imperfect subjunctive. My conclusion is that St Jerome already found this construction odd some 1,600 years ago.

The modern English translations, starting with the KJV, put the first verb in the indicative present, but throw the second verb into the subjunctive: If we judge…we would/should not be judged… or something similar. We can quibble that the “would be judged” is a conditional, but that’s kind of what the subjunctive is in Latin, especially.

So the end result is that modern translations seem to have settled on a consensus here. I’m not saying they’re wrong; I’m just saying that the passage is unclear. But then, this is Paul we’re talking about.

31 Quod si nosmetipsos diiudicaremus, non utique iudicaremur;

32 κρινόμενοι δὲ ὑπὸ [τοῦ] κυρίου παιδευόμεθα, ἵνα μὴ σὺν τῷ κόσμῳ κατακριθῶμεν.

But we judging under the lord we are chastened, so that not with the world are we condemned.


But we judging (ourselves), we are chastened by the Lord, so that we are not condemned with (the rest of) creation.

The idea being that, if we take care of our own selves, if we are stern with ourselves, we will be saved, while the rest of the world will be condemned/damned.  So the idea of taking care to follow a moral code is pretty much ingrained in the thought. Of course, both Jews and pagans had moral codes, so this is hardly anything novel to the Community of Jesus.

Does this shed any light on the previous verse? I don’t think so. Feel free to disagree. Now, the thing is, I think the overall idea is clear enough: we need to be aware of how we behave in order to pass muster in the eyes of the Lord when he returns. But then, we are saved by our faith, not our adherence to this moral code; the latter term, of course, could be called ‘the law’, or even ‘the Law’. I don’t want to get into this here, but Paul is decidedly ambivalent about the proper course to salvation. Is it faith? Is it what we believe? Or is it what we do?

32 dum iudicamur autem, a Domino corripimur, ut non cum hoc mundo damnemur.

33 ὥστε, ἀδελφοί μου, συνερχόμενοι εἰς τὸ φαγεῖν ἀλλήλους ἐκδέχεσθε.

So, my brothers, we coming together to the eating (of the meal) look for/wait for/expect (each) other.

I’ve begun using the term “Community”, because it’s less charged than “church”, and not as neutral, or as political as “Assembly”, but here we see that ‘community’ is a good term. There is a communal aspect to nascent church, and that sense is wholly lacking from the term “assembly”. 

33 Itaque, fratres mei, cum convenitis ad manducandum, invicem exspectate.

34 εἴ τις πεινᾷ, ἐν οἴκῳ ἐσθιέτω, ἵνα μὴ εἰς κρίμα συνέρχησθε. Τὰ δὲ λοιπὰ ὡς ἂν ἔλθω διατάξομαι.

If someone should be hungry, let him eat at home, so that we do not come together to judge. The rest, when I come, I will organise.

34 Si quis esurit, domi manducet, ut non in iudicium conveniatis. Cetera autem, cum venero, disponam.

The solution is simple: don’t have a communal meal. If you’re hungry, eat before you come.

So why then cite the words of Jesus, about eating the bread and drinking the cup, and doing it in his memory? Is Paul saying that members of the Community should eat for sustenance at home, then come together for the symbolic meal, as Christians who partake in the Eucharist, do today? Frankly, I doubt it.  At first glance, this strikes me as a very  anachronistic attitude. Upon reflection, however, I have to admit that, at some point, the ‘meal’ did become symbolic. By the Middle Ages, when the form of the mass had largely been set, the meal was certainly symbolic, where one is given just a piece of the consecrated bread (but not a sip of the wine. That would be a major point of contention in the later Middle Ages). Is this what Paul is suggesting? It does seem possible, but this is a question perhaps best left to archaeology; what sorts of remains have been found that might shed light on this? 

And notice that Paul is promising to return. He wanted to return to the Galatians, too. Did he ever return? Well, Acts would suggest that he likely did not. The question is whether Acts is trustworthy or not. I suspect it’s not. Maybe Paul did return to some of these Communities.


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on May 4, 2014, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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