Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Intratheological Study: 1 Corinthians 11:29-30


As I study with this Sunday's text I am engaged in intratheological activity. For example, I'm looking closely at 1 Corinthians 11:29-30, which reads: 29For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.

Commentaries by Fee and Witherington say these verses might have to do with Paul being given prophetic insight into the unusual circumstances of "many" of the Corinthian Jesus-followers being sick and "a number of" them having died. The Corinthians have been taking the Lord's Supper while maintaining the Greek cultural division between "haves" and "have-nots."

Paul is not giving some universal principle that posits a point-for-point correspondence between taking the Lord's Supper in about as wrong a way as one could take it, and illness and death. If that were the case we would then have:
  1. If you take the Lord's Supper while maintaining the cultural division of "haves" and "have-nots," then many of you will either get sick or die (or both).
  2. A number of us are not getting sick or dying.
  3. Therefore, we must be taking the Lord's Supper in the right way.
Perhaps the Spirit has given Paul insight into the hyper-sickness and hyper-death in the Corinthian context.
Gordon Fee writes: "Paul asserts that some present illnesses and deaths among them are expressions of divine judgment on their "divisions," that is, on their "not discerning the body" at this Supper." (Fee, 1C, 538) They are to "test" (dokimazo) themselves (v. 28) so that they will not incur such judgments. There is a divine "testing/sifting" process already at work in their midst. Fee thinks Paul thinks that such divisions are not a good thing but are an inevitable part of the Eschaton, which has already been set in motion by Christ. So, by this evil thing, viz. their "divisions," God is working out his own purposes. Fee says that "those who are truly his, the "tested/approved" (dokimoi – those who have passed the "examination"), are already being manifest in their midst, and presumably they will escape the final judgment that is coming upon the world." (Fee, 1C, 539)

NTW says that Paul has set up a kind of "court scene" to explain why the Corinthians' way of partaking in the Lord's Supper is scandalous, and "how to interpret strange events in the community, including some Christians falling sick and others dying." You and I might this this is weird, but Paul passionately believed that all of life was interlocking. And that "individual and social behavior, belief, and practice could and did have results in other areas of human experience, including health." (N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians, 150) Since the Lord's Table is an event where the future comes to meet us in the present, "this judgment and discipline is brought into focus there, giving us a choice." (Ib., 151) Wright says: "Either examine and 'judge' yourselves, making sure your behavior is appropriate at this meal, or face the scrutiny and judgment of the Lord himself." (Ib.)

Was God judging them? Paul writes that the Corinthians are bringing judgment on themselves. This judgment was, according to Witherington, "both temporal and eternal. Paul even says that because of their failure with regard to the Supper some have died (v. 30). He must have believed that he had some prophetic insight into the situation which we do not have. It was not the food that made them ill, but the judgment that came on them for partaking in the Supper in an unworthy manner." (Witherington, 1 Corinthians, 252)
I'm looking into all of this, studying it, seeking God about it, and seeing what I can make of it. And again, it's intrabiblical activity. I already accept the noetic framework of Christian theism. I believe the Jesus story, both intellectually and viscerally. Within that story I do not understand everything, and I have questions. That is normal. Every person committed to a noetic framework will have intra-framework understanding and questioning.

I love studying and engaging in the deep, rich intratextual world that is the Bible! Persons who do not share belief in that world will find intra-details weird. But that's about the entire framework, and not the details.