Hebrews Study #10: “The Lord’s Table – Supper or Sacrifice?” – Part 2
How the Lord’s Supper Morphed into Another Sacrifice of Blood
By Richard Allen – May 1, 2023
As we’ll see in weeks to come, the Book of Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus’ death and resurrection brought all “blood sacrifices” to an end, as Jesus made a “Full Atonement for Sin.” Having offered the perfect sacrifice “once and for all,” blood sacrifices were never to be repeated again. Yet two questions remain: “How do many denominations now claim to offer blood sacrifices, supposedly offered by Jesus himself?” A second question we have to ask is: “How did the Church of Jesus Christ turn the Communion Table of Remembrance and Fellowship into an Altar on which to re-offer Jesus over and over again for sin?” First, I’m convinced that the Communion Table morphed into an Altar of Sacrifice because of confusion over Jesus’ finished work on the cross. But secondly, misunderstood passages in the New Testament have contributed to this confusion. So, for several weeks, we’ve been looking at those passages. And once we have an understanding, we’ll return to the Book of Hebrews.
In our Part 1 study of April 17, 2023, we looked at 1 Corinthians 10:14-21, where Paul lamented how the Church at Corinth had been influenced by the superstitious and paganculture around them. Corinthian believers had allowed many pagan ideas to confuse their understanding of the Christian faith, especially eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. And this confusion had even spread to their participation in the Lord’s Supper. Paul had devoted most of his first letter (epistle), addressing these concerns. At the top of his list was their lack of love and care for one another in the Body at Corinth. So, it’s no surprise that their “lack of concern” for one another was affecting how they practiced “The Lord’s Table.”
In this blog, we’ll look at the most confusing passage: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, Paul’s instructions on the Lord’s Supper. Along with the verses we looked at in chapter 10, these two passages are the authoritative Apostolic teaching regarding Communion, that is, the Lord’s Table. Again, it’s my contention that a failure to rightly understand these verses, has caused many to lean toward “mystical views” regarding the Lord’s Table. Many mainline churches believe that the cup and bread actually become the body and blood of our Lord Jesus. This mystical view that the body and blood of Jesus are actually present in the bread and wine, has led many to twist the Lord’s Table into an Actual Sacrifice. IF, as some claim “DISCERNING THE BODY,” means we believe JESUS’ ACTUAL BODY AND BLOOD HAS MORPHED INTO THE BREAD AND WINE, then we are well on the way to OFFERING JESUS AGAIN AS A PHYSICAL SACRIFICE FOR SIN! As I said in Part 1, baptism doesn’t wash us any more than eating Jesus’ actual flesh could give eternal life.
Our passage this week, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, is most often recited when Evangelical Churches celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Starting with Paul’s own words in verse 23: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night He was betrayed,“ Paul does more than just give the Corinthian Church formal wording for the communion ceremony. Ironically, the context of Paul’s recitation of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper was in the middle of his lengthy rebukeof the Corinthians for “how they treated one another within the Church.” So, Paul starts off in 1 Corinthians 11:17-22 by admonishing them at length over the divisions among them as a Church. He dives straight in with both a rebuke and an admonition. In fact, Paul rhetorically says that when the Corinthians come together, it’s not for better but for worse because of their divisions. Then he goes so far as to tell them “When you come together, it is NOT THE LORD’S SUPPER that you eat. FOR in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry and another gets drunk” (I Corinthians 11:20-21). These harsh accusations by Paul show his concern for the poor brother or sister who “has nothing.” Contextually, Paul’s words could not have been more pointed: “On the night Jesus’ life was on the line, He didn’t think of Himself, but rather thought of His disciples. In contrast, look at how you are behaving toward one another while you commemorate this event, THINKING ONLY OF YOURSELVES!”
I say all of this to set the stage for Paul’s following instructions, and his final resolution as to “how the Corinthians needed to behave toward one another during the Lord’s Supper.” Paul gives two rebukes to the Corinthians. Paul first rebukes them for “eating the bread and/or drinking the cup in an unworthy manner, making them guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27). And secondly, Paul admonishes them that they had “failed to discern the body of Jesus Christ,” and ended up “eating and drinking judgment upon themselves” (1 Corinthians 11:29). Here's the whole passage, with those controversial verses bolded and underlined:
“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. 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, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 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. For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. 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. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may notbe condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another, 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” (1 Corinthians 11:17-34).
These are profound verses that raise serious questions that need to be answered. First: What does Paul mean by “eating bread or drinking the cup in an unworthy manner?” Second: What is Paul admonishing believers to do by “discerning the body?” Third: What is the judgment and condemnation that will be visited upon those who fail to partake of The Lord’s Supper in a “worthy manner” or fail to “discern the body and blood of Christ?” I freely admit, these verses can be confusing, but by reading them in the context of Paul’s diagnosis of the problems at Corinth, especially with Paul’s proposed fixes, we’ll be able to see what Paul is admonishing all of us about, not just the believers in Corinth.
Not trying to sound overconfident, the First question is, “What does Paul mean by eating or drinking in an unworthy manner?” It’s actually obvious: The church members at Corinth were being selfish and inconsiderate, “each one going ahead and eating his own meal, leaving some hungry and others drinking too much to the point of drunkenness.” Paul complains: “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?” This is the unworthy manner of eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper as the context clearly shows. In fact, this “failure to love one another” was so serious that Paul says: “many are weak or ill and many died.”
The Second question is a bit more complicated, but still very easy to grasp in context: “What is Paul calling believers to do by discerning the body?” Is this, as Christians from many denominations (including Evangelicals) believe, a need to “envision the suffering body of Christ when we eat?” Or, might this actually be “imagining Christ’s body in a mystical sense in the bread and wine that we hold in our hands, put in our mouths and chew?” Again, let me point out that when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper and told His disciples to “do this in His Remembrance,” JESUS WAS STILL VERY MUCH ALIVE. There were no NAIL HOLES IN HIS HANDS, NOR WAS THERE A GASH FROM A SPEAR IN HIS SIDE! Are we supposed to imagine chewing on Jesus’ dead body as we eat? Or drinking His blood as we drink? While I ask tongue in cheek, I am challenging those who want to mystically imagine Jesus’ suffering body while they eat: “What does it accomplish?” Of course, “discerning the Lord’s body and blood is none of this.” It’s here that I jump ahead to Paul’s remedy to their “eating in an unworthy manner” and their “failure to discern the Body of Christ.” So, here is Paul’s fix, the change in behavior that will resolve the First and Second questions above on “eating in a worthy manner” and “discerning the body and blood of Christ.” Paul exhorts the Corinthians:
“So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another, if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that when you come together it will not be for judgment” (1 Corinthians 11:33-34).
Third, failing to discern the Body of Christ did bring Judgment upon those in Corinth. For those who did not wait or recognize their brothers and sisters in love, or share the Communion Supper, many were getting ill and some had died! Again, this judgment was NOT a failure to mystically envision the suffering Body of Christ, but rather: A failure to see Other Believers as members one of another (Romans 12:5), OR as part of the “One Loaf,” that is, to recognize His Body, the Church (1 Corinthians 10:20). Discerning Jesus’ Body (it doesn’t say blood) IS recognizing the Physical Body of Jesus Christ here on earth, PRESENT INHIS CHURCH! I can’t say this too strongly, we’re totally off-track to think we are remembering the Lord’s death by participating in the Lord’s Supper if we vainly imagine that we are SACRIFICING OR EATING HIS ACTUAL BODY. Trying to imagine the pain He suffered at Calvary is a distortion of gospel truth. One mainline denomination has even recorded their most devout “receiving the Stigmata, that is the marks of the nails and spear.” This is wrong, we conform to Christ’s death by “putting off the Old Man,” that is, our sin nature (Ephesians 4:22-24). So you don’t misunderstand me, it is appropriate that we reflect and remember His suffering and death for “our transgressions.” But if Paul actually wanted believers to imagine Christ’s body and blood to be present in the bread and wine, his final exhortation would have sounded like this (note, this is my translation):
“So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, make sure that you have fasted and done penance the day before, and spend the night preparing in ‘deepest grief,’ envisioning Jesus’ broken body and blood, so when you come together to eat it will not be for judgment, because you failed to see that bread had morphed into Jesus’ body!” (1 Corinthians 11:33-34 – Rich’s Translation Sarcastico).
As I close, let me remind all those who trust the truth of the Scriptures. We are “members one of another.” Failing to recognize and care for your brothers andsisters in Christ within the physical Church, will have serious consequences. Paul clearly warns there will be “judgment” if we fail to “discern,” that is to see and care for our fellow body of believers and to wait for them and be considerate in sharing the bread and cup, especially with those who are poor. The Corinthians’ behavior was a complete contradiction to how Jesus behaved the night He instituted the Lord’s Supper. On the night He was betrayed and given up to be crucified, His thoughts were for His disciples, His body in the Church and not Himself. This is the example we need to follow, that is to share this meal with others in Remembrance of Him. This is the consistent message that Paul carried from 1 Corinthians chapters 10 through chapter 11!
Soli Deo Gloria!