1 Corinthians, Lesson 19: The Corinthians Bring Heresy into the Lord’s Supper

Jesus, Eucharist, Stained Glass (610x351)Paul now deals with a topic that he had earlier touched on in 1 Corinthians chapter 10: The Lord’s Supper. In this section, Paul was admonishing the Corinthians for straying from what he had “traditioned” to them. “In following the command [the mandate of the Lord’s Supper], I do not praise you… For I received from the Lord what I traditioned to you” (1 Corinthians 11:17 and 23).


Divisive behavior at the Lord’s Supper 

Read 1 Corinthians 11:17

At this time in the Christian Church, Christians met in homes, like that of Gaius (Romans 16: 23), to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. One way in which Christians worshiped was to gather for an evening meal, where each person brought what he could (a bit like a “potluck”). At the end of the meal, the overseer (bishop)/elder (presbyter, pastor) would take bread and wine and use that to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. 

  • Why does Paul not praise the Corinthian congregation?


Read 1 Corinthians 11:18-19

  • What existed in the Corinthian congregation?


  • If “those who are genuine may be recognized among you,” what does that say about their divisive practices (their own tradition) when it came to the Lord’s Supper?


Read 1 Corinthians 11:20-22

Not to eat the Lord’s Supper: In the Greek text, Paul used an infinitive (to …) to describe what was happening at Corinth. Paul was saying that the purpose of their gathering was not to eat the Lord’s Supper, even though that was supposed to be the reason why they had gathered.

  • “When you come together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.” Paul admonished them when he said that. What does that reveal about the purpose of why Christians “come together”?


  • Instead of the Lord’s Supper, what was taking place?


  • What had these factions revealed themselves?


Excursus: Heresy

The Greek word that the ESV translates as “factions” is hairesis, which is the root for our English word, “heresy.” Part of the meaning of hairesis is that—it doesn’t just include false teaching and practice—but also choosing what is wrong over what is right. Hairesis is willfully choosing to carry out a sin, where one’s intellect is active in choosing and carrying out that sin.

So, in his admonition, Paul wasn’t including the “genuine” Christians (1 Corinthians 11:19). Why? It’s because they had used their intellect to choose what was right over what was wrong.

But neither was Paul admonishing those who didn’t have the ability for such hairesis, heresy, for example, infants, children, or the aged with dementia. They lacked in three way to commit hairesis, as Paul related it to the doctrine and practice of the Lord’s Supper:

  1. Intellect: We know this because hairesis involves the intellectual ability to choose what is wrong. But even more, when Paul dealt with the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 10, he specifically referred to those on the receiving end of his epistle as “sensible” (phronimos in the Greek). Phronimos refers to those who have the intellectual ability to follow a line of thinking.
  2. Will: Hairesis is a joining of the will and intellect; when one or both are lacking, it is not hairesis.
  3. Ability: The final part of hairesis is taking the union of will and intellect and bringing that sin to fruition through one’s actions.

Because Paul used both phronimos and hairesis, he was directing his censure and call to repentance to those who had chosen to sin in such a way, not the “genuine” and not those incapable of such hairesis.


Lesson 19, Whom was Paul Censuring


  • How were the wealthier in the congregation treating those who were poor? (vs. 22)


The Received Tradition, the Lord’s Words

Read 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

  • What did Paul receive from the Lord that he had “traditioned” to the congregation at Corinth?


“From the Lord”: The Greek preposition apo, “from” in “from the Lord,” does not imply that Jesus directly gave Paul His words of institution for the Lord’s Supper. If that were so, Paul would have used the Greek preposition para. The sense of what Paul says is this: “What I received as a tradition going back to the Lord, I traditioned to you.”

  • What two meal items are part of the Lord’s Supper? (vs. 23, 25)


  • What is the “this” (as in “do this”) that the Church supposed to do? (vs. 24-25)


  • What does Jesus give us in the Lord’s Supper? (vs. 24-25)


  • Why do we do the “do this”? (vs. 24-25)


  • Earlier, Paul implied that the reason why the Church gathers is to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. How does Jesus’ words of institution teach us this truth, as well? (vs. 25)


In remembrance of Jesus: The Greek word for “remembrance” is anamnesis, which is much more than just remembering something; it is a participation in it. In 1 Corinthians 11:26, Paul wrote, “For as often as you [plural, “y’all”] eat this bread and drink this cup, you [plural, y’all] proclaim the Lord’s death…” The Lord’s Supper is the ritual that Jesus instituted through which His Church [y’all, not “you” as a singular] remembers His death. The Supper itself is the act of remembrance, which the Church in communion [y’all] is to celebrate according to Christ’s institution.

The focus for “in remembrance of me” is not the individual remembering; it’s the Church remembering through her celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Each individual is brought into this remembrance by participating in the Lord’s Supper. Note one of the biblical names for the Lord’s Supper, koinonia, “communion.” Communion means “the common being in unity as one” not “me in union with myself, doing my own thing.”

Jesus instituted His Supper as a ritual through which His Church “remembers” His death. All in the Church are to participate in this collective “remembrance,” just as all God’s people in the Old Covenant participated in a collective remembrance during Passover (Exodus 12:47, 50), a predecessor to the Lord’s Supper. (We’ll get to excluding someone from communion later in this chapter.)

But how do we know this the case? Earlier, in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul took events in the Old Covenant and applied them to life in the New: “Our fathers… all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food” (1 Corinthians 10:1-3). For Paul’s argument to have traction, all in Corinthian congregation had to be baptized and all had to participate in the Lord’s Supper. Further, when we examine our Lord’s words of institution in St. Matthew’s Gospel, which He gave to His Apostles for the Church, we find: “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood…” (Matthew 26:27).

  • Discuss: How does the Lord’s Supper connect us to “the Lord’s death”?


  • How does the Lord’s Supper connect us to His return?


Lesson 19, Proclaim the Lords Death Until He Comes


Warnings against participating in the Lord’s Supper Unworthily

Read 1 Corinthians 11:27

  • If someone eats “the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner,” against whom or what is he guilty?


  • If one is guilty “concerning the body and blood of the Lord,” what does that mean about the body and blood of the Lord being present in His meal?


  • Based on what was going on in Corinth, how were some of them “eat[ing] the bread or drink[ing] the cup of the Lord in an unworthy way”?


  • How then does someone in our congregation become guilty of “eat[ing] the bread or drink[ing] the cup of the Lord in an unworthy way”?


Read 1 Corinthians 11:28

  • In the context of the sins taking place in Corinth, why should someone “examine himself”?


  • What does this examination entail?


  • Who was Paul charging to “examine himself”?


Excursus: Dokimazo

Paul used the Greek word, dokimazo, to call those who were guilty of hairesis, heresy, to repent! The ESV translates dokimazo as “examine.” As Paul used dokimazo, it was not to see if someone had the intellectual ability to be “worthy” of receiving the Lord’s Supper (which is how we often understand what it means for a person to “examine himself”). And so we conclude that since little children can’t examine themselves, they are not worthy to receive the Lord’s Supper. (It’s as if Paul was directing his words for someone to examine himself to little children. Were they the ones sinning against the poorer members of the congregation?)

Intellect or no intellect, no one can make himself worthy enough for the Lord’s Supper! (This should be a no-brainer for Lutherans, who understand that our life in the Church is all by God’s grace.) Jesus makes someone worthy for His Supper, just like He makes us worthy for everything else in His Church.

But, as we see Paul expound, someone can make himself unworthy! That happens when he is guilty of hairesis (see the above excursus on “Heresy”). Thus, Paul’s call for someone to “examine himself” is to see whether he has made himself unworthy—not worthy! Is there any part of this section where Paul talks about someone making himself worthy? No, it’s only about someone making himself unworthy.

When we apply dokimazo to someone making himself worthy, we have just become Pharisees, turning the Lord’s Supper into another avenue of works righteousness. However, when we apply dokimazo to someone making himself unworthy because of his will and intellect joining together to sin, then we understand dokimazo, examine, correctly. Dokimazo is a call to repentance for those capable of, and committing, hairesus, heresy.

Dokimazo doesn’t apply to those without the ability of hairesis, for committing hairesis is what makes someone unworthy. And that’s the group that Paul was calling to repent, not infants, children, or the aged with dementia.

And, just so you know that you pastor isn’t crazy, here’s what Luther about a person examining himself in relation to the Lord’s Supper.

When in 1 Corinthians [11:28] Paul said that a man should examine himself, he spoke only of adults because he was speaking about those who were quarreling among themselves. However, he doesn’t here forbid that the sacrament of the altar be given even to children. [LW 54, pg. 58]

And about someone with mental disabilities or dementia receiving the Lord’s Supper, Luther wrote:

Some have asked whether the sacrament is to be offered also to the deaf and dumb. Some think it a kindness to practice a pious fraud on them and think they should be given unblessed wafers. This mockery is not good; it will not please God, who has made them Christians as well as us. They deserve the same things that we do. Therefore if they are rational [meaning not acting crazy] and can show by indubitable signs that they desire it in true Christian devotion, as I have often seen, we should leave to the Holy Spirit what is his work and not refuse him what he demands. It may be that inwardly they have a better understanding and faith than we; and this no one should maliciously oppose. [LW 35, pg. 110]


To be continued …


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