1 Corinthians 11:17-33 – Discerning the Body in the Lord’s Supper


1 Corinthians 11:17-33


Reports of some getting drunk and others going away hungry at the Lord’s Supper have reached Paul. To instruct the Corinthians in the proper observance of the sacrament, Paul recalls the institution of the Lord’s Supper by Jesus, and he urges the Corinthians to welcome one another and thus demonstrate their unity with one another in the body of Christ.


Paul complains again of factions within the Corinthian congregation. It seems that some people-probably the more wealthy members who are free to begin supper before sundown-are having plenty to eat and drink, while others-probably day laborers who arrive later-are going away hungry. Instead of practicing the Lord’s Supper as an occasion for leveling social status distinctions and other markers of the “wisdom of the world” (1 Corinthians 1:20), the Corinthians are reinforcing the standard social divisions by means of their religious practices.

To speak against their practice, Paul reminds them of the history of the supper and exhorts the Corinthians to examine themselves and to discern the body lest they eat in an unworthy manner and bring judgment on themselves. In this context, “discerning the body” probably means paying attention to the needs of others as much as to one’s own needs. “The body” is the body of Christ, present not only in the element of bread which everyone eats, but also in the social body of believers who gather for the meal. When Paul counsels the Corinthians to “wait for one another” (1 Corinthians 11:33), he is offering advice for how to remove the distinction between those with the luxury of arriving early to eat and drink their fill and those who must arrive later and risk going away hungry.