1 Corinthians, Lesson 20: How to Deal with Heresy and the Lord’s Supper

Last week, we heard Paul’s words of censure to the Corinthian congregation: “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup [of the Lord’s Supper].” Paul had directed those words to those who had committed, or were capable of committing, heresy. “Heresy” requires three things for it to be heresy: 1) intellect (phronimos, 1 Corinthians 10:15), 2) choosing to sin (hairesis, 1 Corinthians 11:19), which includes unrepentance, and 3) trying to, or successfully carrying out that sin. 

Paul directed those words of Law for someone to examine himself—not to see if he has made himself worthy to receive the Lord’s Supper—but to see if he has made himself unworthy to receive the Lord’s Supper. That was how Paul shaped his argument. His words of Law to examine oneself does not apply to someone incapable of heresy. After all, Paul was speaking to those capable of that sin and calling them to repent; he was not calling those who were not guilty to repent of a sin they had not committed.

Paul now continues dealing with the Lord’s Supper.


Discerning the Body

Reread 1 Corinthians 11:27-28 

  • Does Paul believe in “real presence”?


  • Thus, what is the “body” and “blood” to which Paul refers?


  • Those committing heresy were committing that sin against whom, the body of Christ in the Supper or the body of Christ, the congregation? (see 1 Corinthians 11:18-22)


Read 1 Corinthians 11:29Lesson 20, Krino and Diakrino

To understand Paul’s thinking in this verse, and in 1 Corinthians 11:31, we need to understand the meaning of two words: Krino and diakrino.

Discerning: Diakrino. The idea behind diakrino is distinguishing someone or something from another; it’s to judge in relation to that someone or something. Since Paul was admonishing those capable of committing heresy to examine themselves to see if they had made themselves unworthy, this differentiating or judging was to see if they were of a different mind than what Jesus had made His people (the “body,” the congregation) to be. If so, don’t commune; Paul’s words of repentance are directed toward you. If not, commune; Paul’s words of repentance are not directed toward you.

Body: Here “body” refers to the congregation, not the body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. We know this because the heresy that Paul spoke against were sins directly committed against the congregation (that “body of Christ”), not the body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper.

Today, we often use this verse to show that if someone doesn’t believe in Jesus’ “real presence” in the Supper, he is not “discerning” (or recognizing) the body. Paul wasn’t calling the Corinthians to repent for not believing that Jesus’s body was not present in the Lord’s Supper. We know this because when Paul did mention Jesus’ “real presence,” he did so in passing, as if it were an uncontested truth.

But people were sinning against the congregation, that “body of Christ.” And here’s where Paul differs from most Protestant “interpretations” of “discerning the body.” When someone commits heresy against the congregation, he is also doing so against Christ because Christ and His Church are one.

  • Romans 12:5: “we who are many [Paul and the congregation at Rome] are one body in Christ.”
  • Colossians 1:24: “Now I [Paul] rejoice in my sufferings for you [the congregation at Colossae], and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, that is, the Church.”
  • Galatians 3:27: “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
  • Ephesians 5:29-30: “For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the Church, since we are members of His body.”

Further, if committing heresy against the congregation wasn’t also committing heresy against Christ, then there wouldn’t be the judgment that Paul goes on to mention.

Judgment: When someone commits heresy against the congregation, it is also, in turn, committing heresy against Christ—that’s why that person “eats and drinks judgment on himself” in the Lord’s Supper. Paul uses “wordplay” to make that point: The person who doesn’t judge (diakrino) himself in relation to the congregation (diakrino), is krino’ed, judged. That judgment is something bad.


Lesson 20, Discerning the Body


Lesson 20, Not discerning the Body


  • Heresy is the joining of one’s intellect and will to sin, and remaining unrepentant in that sin. Do Paul’s words of censure apply to those who ignorantly receive Jesus’ body and blood?

Note: This does not mean that it’s okay to practice “open” communion. We’ll get to that in a moment. 

Read 1 Corinthians 11:30

  • Discuss: What is the result of God’s judgment on someone in the Lord’s Supper? (Remember Paul’s use of “spiritual” in 1 Corinthians 10:2-3)


  • Discuss: What should our focus be to prevent such judging in the Lord’s Supper?


Read 1 Corinthians 11:31

  • Who is the “we” to whom Paul refers and what does “we judging ourselves” entail?


  • How then does the congregation have a communal responsibility when it comes to communion, the Lord’s Supper?


Lesson 20, Judging individually and communally


Excursus: Paul’s Focus on the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11

“Closed” Communion

In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul’s “default” understanding is that all in a congregation are baptized and commune at the Lord’s Supper. Using Old-Covenant Israel as an example to the New-Covenant Christians at Corinth, Paul wrote:

All were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual [remember Jesus was not yet incarnate] Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. [1 Corinthians 10:2-4]

Later in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul brought out that table fellowship was only to be with:

  1. those who believed what God has given them to believe (1 Corinthians 10:7: The “golden calf,” where improper belief was practiced within the congregation of Israel), and
  2. not at an altar outside the faith (1 Corinthians 10:8: Baal of Peor).

Specifically relating to communing with those of another altar, Paul wrote: “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (1 Corinthians 10:21).

Thus, in the New Covenant, “closed” communion involves not communing those who:

  1. do not believe what God has given them to believe (this is faith, not whether someone can intellectually understand the faith; remember the “all” to whom Paul referred). This includes the doctrine of the real presence: “Take and eat, this is my body. Take and drink, this is my blood,” and/or
  2. those who belong to a different altar outside the faith.

Closed communion also involves not communing at another altar where they:

  1. do not believe what God has given them to believe. This includes the doctrine of the real presence: “Take and eat, this is my body. Take and drink, this is my blood,” and/or
  2. with those who belong to a different altar outside the faith.

Repentance within a Congregation

1 Corinthians chapter 11 does not deal with commuing those who belong to another altar; it is, instead, a call to repent for those who have committed heresy (remember the three parts included in heresy) within a congregation. That’s why Paul tells those who can commit heresy to examine themselves. This is so that if they have committed heresy, they will repent before receiving the Lord’s Supper.

If they do not repent, the congregation is to have established practices in place to prevent someone from communing to his spiritual harm. “If we judged (diakrino) ourselves (diakrino), we would not be judged (krino).”


Read 1 Corinthians 11:32

  • What is the purpose of God judging us?


  • What then is the purpose of the congregation judging itself so someone doesn’t commune to his spiritual harm?


Read 1 Corinthians 11:33-34

  • How do Paul’s words in this verse apply specifically to the congregation at Corinth?


  • Discuss: In our setting, what are some things for us to consider, when we “come together [so] it will not be for judgment”?


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