Posted by: chuckbumgardner | June 25, 2014

Considerations on the Lord’s Supper (Part 3): Proclaiming the Lord’s Death

Lords-Supper_555I have much of 1 Corinthians 11:23-32 memorized simply because the passage was read at so many observances of the Lord’s Supper during my growing-up years. So the words of v. 26 are very familiar to me: “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (KJV).

What John Taylor pointed out to me through his essay was the significance of the verb καταγγέλλω, translated “shew” in the KJV I heard growing up, and “proclaim” in most modern versions. Taylor points out that Paul arguably always uses this word to reference gospel proclamation to the unconverted (Rom 1:8; 1 Cor 2:1; 9:14; Phil 1:17, 18; Col 1:28).  Typically, of course, verbal proclamation of the gospel is in view, but Taylor sees in 1 Corinthians 12:26 “an extension of the term’s usual sense of a verbal public announcement to a non-verbal act [i.e., eating and drinking]” (3). Thus he explores how the Lord’s Supper acts as such gospel proclamation, arguing the sub-thesis that “evidence suggests that Paul understood or intended the Lord’s Supper to have a distinct and deliberate evangelistic role—to be a missional event” (2).

In a valuable excursus, Taylor explores what sort of unbelievers might “naturally” be at Christian services: unbelieving spouses (1 Cor 7), unbelieving children, unbelieving widows in the household of their adult Christian son or daughter, household servants of a Christian hosting the gathering in his or her home (3-4). As well, Paul clearly sees the presence of unbelievers at a service as a live possibility (1 Cor 14:26, 29; see my earlier post on this); this possibility is heightened by the various venues which could potentially have been used for church meetings other than the homes of wealthy members (Taylor alludes to this possibility; note also the intriguing work of Edward Adams, The Earliest Christian Meeting Places: Almost Exclusively Houses?).

As to the matter of the meal “proclaiming” the Lord’s death, the symbolism invested in the bread and the cup would obviously be significant in this regard. As well, though, the meal itself said something:

Unbelievers are meant to see and experience a meal which is a message, the visible love and unity of the church, the body of Christ, lived out in holiness and without class distinctions. The common meal of the church—the Lord’s meal—is meant to establish it and identify it as a united body, a community which shares in the body and blood (10:16-17) of the crucified and resurrected Messiah, which remembers him, proclaims his death and anticipates his return. (9)

Taylor reaches back to the well-known Acts 2:42-47, highlighting not only the emphasis on the “breaking of bread” in the passage, but also noting that the passage emphasizes they ate meals together; indeed, this sharing of meals (μετελάμβανον τροφῆς) is syntactically the main idea in 2:46-47a: “And day by day, attending (pres. ptc.) the temple together and breaking (pres. ptc.) bread in their homes, they were sharing their meals (impf.) with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising (pres. ptc.) God and having (pres. ptc.) favor with all the people.” This is striking, and Taylor highlights the connection between these common meals and the favor they had with “all the people,” as well as the summary comment regarding those who were being saved.

Given the nature and significance of table fellowship in the NT era (Gal 2:11ff comes to mind), one can see how the Lord’s Supper as a common meal would not only proclaim the gospel symbolically through the bread and cup, but would also highlight the results of the gospel in making diverse and previously antagonistic people one in Christian fellowship.

 

Part 1  Part 2  Part 4

 

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Responses

  1. […] Part 2   Part 3 […]

  2. […] Part 1   Part 3 […]

  3. Any idea why the Didache and many modern denominations insist on restricting the Lord’s Supper to the baptized?

    We need to read Adam’s work with great caution. See my critique here. The church of Corinth met in the house of Gaius.

    Richard.

  4. Hi, Richard.

    Thanks for the critique of Adams’s work; I’ve dipped into it but not read it. His thesis struck me as generally plausible, but I haven’t carefully worked through the evidence he presents as you have.

    At the front end of his historical overview, Taylor looks at the Didache passage (p. 10), noting as you did that participation in partaking of the wine and bread was limited to the baptized. The Didache’s stated reason for restricting the cup and bread to the baptized is καὶ γὰρ περὶ τούτου εἴρηκεν ὁ κύριος· Μὴ δῶτε τὸ ἅγιον τοῖς κυσί. (9.5) (“…the Lord said, Do not give what is holy to the dogs”). I don’t believe Taylor is specific in addressing the “why” of the Didache’s restriction, or the details of what the restriction looked like, but I think he would argue that the Didache dichotomizes between the bread/cup (only for believers) and the associated meal (for all present). He does argue that τῆς εὐχαριστίας in Did 9-10 has reference to the entire meal, hanging this contention on the statement in 10.1 that speaks of those who partake being “filled” (Μετὰ δὲ τὸ ἐμπλησθῆσαι…). Apparently–if the Supper involved not only the bread/cup, but also the meal as a whole–there was an aspect of the meal that was seen as “holy” and thus not fitting for unbelievers to partake of.

    As to the “why” in some modern denominations (including my own Baptist tradition), I believe the typical idea is that since (1) baptism is strongly connected with (the “how” varies in various traditions, of course) entrance into salvation, and (2) participation in the bread and cup strongly express identification with Christ and his people as part of this salvation, then it would be inappropriate for those who have not identified with Christ through baptism (tied to entrance into salvation) to take of the bread and cup as a symbol of ongoing identification with Christ. In my own tradition, baptism and the Supper are understood to be the two “ordinances” to be observed in the church: baptism as a one-time observance tied to and expressing one’s entrance into salvation, and the Supper as an ongoing observance predicated upon the former.

  5. […] Part 1   Part 2   Part 3 […]

  6. The Didache seems to contradict itself by denying the Lord’s supper to the unbaptized, since it earlier says “give to everyone that asks…”.

    There were some in the Corinthian church who “had nothing” and “went hungry”. So I have often wondered why this church did not solve this problem by having a “bring and share” supper, instead of a “bring your own”. Surely Gaius, Titius Justus, Stephanas, Crispus, and Erastus could, between them, have provided enough food for all the congregation (which was small enough to fit into one house). Why, then, did they decide that each participant would bring their own food, and that the poor would not be subsidized at this meal? Perhaps they realized that, if they offered free food, too many people would turn up. It would then get very expensive and there might not be enough space in the house. They would then have to discriminate to decide who to let into the house, or who to give free food. The Didache did discriminate by restricting the Lord’s supper to the baptized. If Paul and the church of Corinth were reluctant to discriminate along these lines, their decision to have “bring your own” suppers is explicable. They may have decided that, since it was impractical to offer free food to anyone who arrived, they would offer it to no-one. Is their “bring you own” policy therefore evidence that they (unlike us) did not discriminate at the Lord’s supper?

    The argument of modern denominations that you give is a non sequitur. One could equally argue that when a non-baptized person participates in the Lord’s supper they thereby learn to identify with Christ and his people and that this would encourage them to take the step of baptism.

  7. Thanks for the interaction, Richard.

    The restriction of the bread and cup to the baptized is set forth in 9:5; the instruction “Give to everyone who asks you” is in an entirely different and more general context in 1:5. I suspect the original readers wouldn’t have seen these two items as a contradiction, but would have understood 9:5 to provide a specific exception to the general guidance of 1:5.

    Clearly, Paul was not happy with the way things had been going at the Corinthian observance of the common meal. It doubtless should have been, and was meant to be, a “bring and share” sort of meal. 1 Cor 11:20-21 seems to suggest this; instead of the sharing one would expect at “the Lord’s” supper, each was eating “his own” supper before others ate (that’s how I take 11:21’s προλαμβάνει), presumably (1 Cor 11:33) because they weren’t waiting for them to arrive. The way I understand the situation was that the “haves” were arriving early, bringing plenty, indulging greedily, and leaving little for the later-coming “have-nots”–hence, “one is hungry and another is drunk” (11:21).

    And I actually don’t see the argument for restricting the bread/cup to the baptized as a non sequitur. The NT seems to set forth baptism as the decisive act that indicates one has become a follower of Jesus and wishes to be identified with him. The symbolism of the act suggests (along with cleansing) a death and a subsequent rebirth to a new life (Rom 6:1-4). The words of Christ which Paul sets forth in 1 Cor 11:24-25 speak of taking the bread and cup “in remembrance of me,” which suggests to me participants who have already expressed faith in Christ and embraced the Christian teaching. Additionally, the following verses give clear warnings about examining oneself lest one partake unworthily. It seems to me that one who had not yet expressed faith in Christ and embraced the Christian teaching and identified with Christ and his people via baptism, would be hard-pressed to pass such an examination. Overall, the language of 1 Cor 11 appears to me to point to the bread and cup being restricted to those who are already Christ-followers.

    • Thanks, Chuck. I don’t see a distinction between an “exception” and a “contradiction”, but you are right that the author/editor and the readers probably did not see it as a contradiction.

      Thanks for your comments on 1 Cor 11:20-21. Your interpretation seems consistent with the evidence and you may be right. I still wonder why Gaius, Titius Justus, Stephanas, Crispus and Erastus did not hold back enough food to share with the poorer believers when they arrived. Is this problem best solved by my own contention that Gaius-Titius-Justus-Stephanas was one man, and that Crispus was Sosthenes, who was in Ephesus by then, and that Erastus was travelling with Timothy at that time?

      I still see your argument as a non sequitur. I understand your premise that baptism is “the decisive act that indicates one has become a follower of Jesus and wishes to be identified with him”. And I understand your other premise that the Lord’s supper is meaningful for those who have a commitment to Christ. I don’t see how these premises lead to the conclusion that the meal was (or should be) restricted to the baptized. An act may be meaningful only to a particular group, but it does not follow from this that others should be banned from the act. If non-beleivers in Corinth, or elsewhere, eat the Lord’s supper, what harm is done? And to whom? Food sacrificed to idols has no meaning for the believers, but no harm is done if they eat it.

      In 1 Cor 11:28-32 Paul tells the Corinthians to examine themselves to avoid judgement. This passage is framed by 11:2-22 and 11:33-34, which show that Paul is referring to the practice of some Corinthians of eating and drinking while ignoring the rest of the congregation. In 1 Cor 11:28-32 Paul is therefore not introducing a new subject. He is continuing his discussion of the greed of some of the Corinthians. He is telling them to examine themselves to see whether they are oblivious to the needs of the rest of the assembly. “body” in 11:29 refers to the congregation. So, yes, I do think that a non-believer who was not being greedy would have passed Paul’s test. In any case the test was intended for believers, not unbelievers, since Paul was not in the business of judging outsiders (1 Cor 5:12).


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