1 Corinthians 11:17-34 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. How does the apostle Paul describe the Corinthians’ observance of the Lord’s Supper? See 1 Corinthians 11:17-20 (printed below)

But in giving the following instructions I cannot praise you, because your meeting together is not for the better but for the worse. (18) In the first place, I hear that when you meet together in a church assembly there are divisions among you. To some extent I believe what I have heard; (19) for, indeed, it is necessary for there to be factions among you so that those who are approved may become apparent to you. (20) Therefore, when you are assembled together it is not possible to eat the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-20)

As verse 17 indicates, when the Corinthian Christians came together to observe the sacrament of communion, it was “not for the better, but for the worse.” That is to say, their public assembly for communion did not serve to build up the body of Christ and honor the Lord. On the contrary, as verses 18-20 indicate, their assembly highlighted their divisiveness and was dishonoring to the Lord. When the church assembled, they broke up into a number of individual factions; accepting those who were members of their own group, but having nothing to do with the other groups. The dividing of the congregation into separate and distinct factions made it impossible for them to partake of the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner that would honor Christ.

2. What questions does Paul ask the Corinthians in verse 22 (printed below) and what rebuke does he give them?

What, do you not have homes in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and seek to humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? I cannot praise you for this. (1 Corinthians 11:22)

In verse 22 the apostle strongly rebukes the behavior exhibited by the Corinthians as they came together to observe the sacrament of Holy Communion. He scornfully asks, “Do you not have homes of your own in which to host a private dinner?” They were conducting themselves as though they were using the church facilities for their own private banquets—as one would host a private dinner party at a restaurant. Paul goes on to ask, “Or are you guilty of something worse than selfishness and lack of Christian sympathy?” Were the Corinthians making a conscious effort to treat the church of Christ with contempt; was their refusal to share their food and drink with fellow Christians a conscious effort to treat those particular Christians with contempt?

3. Of what does the apostle remind the Corinthians in verse 26 (printed below?)

Whenever you eat this bread and drink from the cup, you are proclaiming the Lord’s death—until he comes again. (1 Corinthians 11:26)

In verse 26 the apostle Paul solemnly reminds the Corinthians that when Christians partake of communion we are engaging in a sacred act: we are “proclaiming the Lord’s death—until he comes again.” That is to say, by means of the bread that is broken and the wine that is poured out, we are publicly proclaiming Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross and the blessing of salvation we receive from that sacrifice. The fact that we are to continue to observe the sacrament “until he comes again” indicates that we are to always remember that our Lord Jesus has risen from the grave and shall at last come back to bring us into His Father’s kingdom.

4. What warning does Paul give the Corinthians in verse 27 (printed below?)

Therefore, whoever shall eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner shall be guilty of sinning against the body and the blood of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 11:27)

Verse 27 warns that whoever partakes of the sacrament in an unworthy or improper manner shall be held accountable for sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. By abusing the elements of the sacrament (receiving the bread and the wine carelessly, or without understanding, or without faith in Christ), one is guilty of abusing what those elements represent; namely, the body and blood of the Savior in His sacrificial death. Note, “the bread (and)the cup of the Lord” indicate that the Lord Himself is the host at the communion table, and we are invited to be His guests at the table. Therefore, the sacrament is sacred not only because the elements represent the Lord’s body and blood, but because the Lord Himself is the Host who offers the elements to us (doing so by His Holy Spirit and through His ministers).

5. What happened to some of these Corinthian Christians and why? See 1 Corinthians 11:29-32 (printed below)

…anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord, is eating and drinking judgment upon himself (30) This is the reason many among you are weak and sick, and some of you have fallen asleep in death. (31) Now if we had evaluated ourselves, we would not have been judged. (32) But when we are judged by the Lord we are being disciplined, so that we will not be condemned with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:29-32)

In the case of the Corinthian church, the Lord visited the congregation with sickness and in some instances even with pre-mature death. But note that the Lord’s intention is for the purpose of discipline, not for condemnation: His intention is to bring about correction and repentance so that the offenders will be spared from final condemnation. This incident of chastening with which the Lord visited the Corinthian church shows that the Lord will take measures—even severe measures—to safeguard the sacrament if we fail to exercise the self-discipline and self-examination He requires.