I Corinthians 11: 20-22, 33, 34, What Were They Doing?


     In the above alluded to passage and verses, many see all manner of things. Some see authority for the social gospel, turning the church that is essentially spiritual in its work and mission into a feeding and socially placating machine (cp. I Tim. 3: 15). Still others are presently using these verses as authority for their teaching that the Lordís Supper begins with a common meal, consisting of customary food that some how and at some point turns into the Lordís Supper. A number of conservative Christians do not elect to even consider the happening at Corinth, not understanding it and being afraid of what they might have to admit. Some are now using I Corinthians 11: 33 to bind "strict" simultaneous action in the observance of the Lordís Supper, insisting that for a church to offer the Supper at the time of a second meeting but not requiring that all partake (those who partook at an earlier meeting), is sin. Let us first introduce the verses under consideration:

     "20: When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper. 21: For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. 22: What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you notÖ 33: Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another. 34: And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come" (I Cor. 11).

     Some are erroneously insisting that the verses consisting of verses 20 through 34 of I Corinthians 11 only pertain to the Lordís Supper. I submit, however, that the expression, "Öcome together to eat" (Greek, sunerchomenoi tis to phagein) does not refer to the Lordís Supper, but to what they were intending to do but instead, made a mockery out of it. Instead of showing love for one another, especially the poor among them, those who had, greedily consumed their own food. Hence, the attached warning: "Ötarry one for another" (I Cor. 11: 33). To expand his warning and instruction, Paul continues by saying, "And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnationÖ." (I Cor. 11: 34). Hence, verses 33 and 34 are linked with and to verses 20 through 22. Paul is not teaching that on the Lordís Day in partaking of the Lordís Supper, there must be perfect simultaneity or that if one is carelessly late, all others must wait.

     Those of the persuasion that it is necessarily wrong for a local church to offer the opportunity for any desiring to partake of the Lordís Supper at a second meeting on the Lordís Day unless all partake again, are using Paulís teaching in verse 33 to arrive at this conclusion. Again, I do not believe Paul is referring to the Lordís Supper in verse 33.

     What were they intending to do, though? Was it simply a social meal in the church building, supplied by the treasury or the meal of Radical Restoration that is said to constitute the Lordís Supper?

     Let us consider verses 22 through 24 in exposition.

     "20: When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper."

     We are not supplied detailed information as to the nature of "one place." It would appear that where the church at Corinth met was not simply a private dwelling. However, due to what they were doing, they could not eat the Lordís Supper. Regarding the expression, "Öthis is not to eat " (Greek, estin ouk phagein), the American Standard Translation has, "not possible to eat the Lordís Supper." It was impossible to partake of the Lordís Supper due to the perversion of the solemn occasion and the replacement of the emblems, unleavened bread and fruit of the vine, for their own food and apparent drink. Paul next explained why they could not partake of the Lordís Supper in the circumstances.

     Before we advance to noticing the details that rendered them partaking of the Lordís Supper impossible, let us briefly comment on the expression "Lordís Supper." The Greek deipnon kuriakon sets forth the supper belonging to the Lord or as Kittel put it, "The meal consecrated to the Lord" (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 2, p. 34). This meal was introduced by Jesus, proclaims he lived, died, was resurrected, and is coming again (I Cor. 11: 23f.). How appropriately, then, it is that it be termed, "The Lordís Supper."

    Some have erred when they stress "supper" as strictly being the "afternoon meal," after southern tradition. Hence, they believe it a sin for a church to observe the Lordís Supper before afternoon. I believe they are reading more into the Greek deipnon than is there. Deipnon is found sixteen times in the Greek New Testament and is also rendered, "feasts (Matt. 23: 6, KJV). It is true that generally among the Hebrews and Greeks of Bible days, the deipnon was the main and "evening" (when workers came in from work) meal. However, since we observe the church at Troas meeting on the "first day of the week to break bread," it is evident that the only real time emphasis and requirement is the day. Since no time, precisely speaking, on the first day is specified, the time is at the judgment of the local church.

     "21: For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken."

     The food was not the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine associated with the Lordís Supper (vs. 23-32, Matt. 26: 26ff.). Each took "his own supper." Those who had were not being considerate of those in need, "them that have not" (cp. v. 22). Hence, the resultant disparity was "hungry" (deprivation) and "drunken" (excess).

     "22: What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not."

     It would appear that they had designed to come together to partake of the Lordís Supper, as this was a regular practice (Acts 2: 42, 20: 7). For what ever reason, the purpose of the meeting was changed to providing for the poor. Instead of arranging and executing this provision, they turned it into an apparent out-of-control orgy and exploited the poor among them. Why, in the first place, would the financially prosperous simply bring their food and consume it before those who did not have? This is what they did, Paul said. When we fully understand what they did, such cruelty would be hard to duplicate, whether deliberately or ignorantly done.

     A closer look at what the Corinthians did. There are a number of particulars that would supply full detail that are missing. Therefore, we must be careful not to assume too much or introduce matters into the text that are incongruous to the scriptures. For instance, we know that a clear distinction was made between meeting in the temple for purposes of worship (teaching others) and in simply engaging in meals together (Acts 2: 46). As stated, we do not know any facts as to where these Corinthians were coming together. We do know, though, that the treasury was not being used to provide the lavish food. We know this because, "Öevery one taketh before other his own supper" (v. 21).

     The feasts of charity. "Feasts of charity" (Greek, agapais) or love feasts are mentioned by name in Jude 12 as something that was practiced (cp. 2 Pet. 2: 13). The evident reason they were called "love feasts" was because those who had, shared with Christians in need. This, I suggest, is what was supposed to have been taking place at Corinth (addendum 1). We know very little about these "love feasts." However, while not condemned as such, in all three references made to them, only bad was associated with them. For instance, false teachers used the occasion of the love feasts as a means of working their evil influence on others (Jude 12, 2 Pet. 2: 13). In the case of Corinth, the evident abused love feast was a shameful disgrace and source of humiliation regarding the poor. Due to the problems associated with these love feasts, which were just a means to assist needy saints, I think they simply died out and ceased to be, never having been apostolically enjoined.

     It is totally incorrect to view a love feast of the First Century when not abused as simply a social get together. As seen, the treasury was not used to provide the food in the case of I Corinthians 11. Based on what was supposed to have been a meal done out of love by those who had for those in need, it is a far stretch to see a church having a kitchen and all the accouterments furnished out of the treasury, as many do today, and then all simply engaging in a social activity, use the "love feasts" as authority for their social gospel concepts. These are two entirely different matters.

     Regarding what they were doing, Paul used the Greek word methuo to describe their actions and state. "Öone is hungry, and another is drunken," wrote Paul (I Cor. 11: 21). Methuo is a word presenting excess and satiation. Methuo can be used regarding such a state of excess without any necessary reference to "intoxication," as it apparently was so used in John 2: 10 (for a detailed study of methuo in John 2: 10, see "Jesusí First Miracle"). However, many believe Paul used methuo in I Corinthians 11: 21 to not only describe a state of excess, but also a condition of drunkenness, as is reflected in many translations. The Greek methuo is to be understood as meaning intoxication unless there are influences present to limit the word, as is the case in John 2: 10 (see methuo in I Thessalonians 5: 7, Acts 2: 15, and Matthew 24: 49). Consider Commentary Albert Barnes on methuo in I Corinthians 11: 21:

     "And another is drunken." The word here used. means, properly, to become inebriated, or intoxicated; and there is no reason for understanding it here in any other sense. There can be no doubt that the apostle meant to say, that they ate and drank to excess; and that their professed celebration of the Lord's Supper became a mere revel. It may seem remarkable that such scenes should ever have occurred in a Christian church, or that there could have been such an entire perversion of the nature and design of the Lord's Supper" (Barnes on the New Testament, Vol. 5).

    Some say methuo in Paulís description of what the Corinthians were doing cannot mean intoxication for two reasons. First, they just cannot imagine Godís people possibly doing such a thing. Not only would they not be partaking of the Lordís Supper as they seemed to have intended, but they were abusing the poor and getting drunk. We must remember, though, that the church had with Godís manifest lack of approval, sunk into a number of debasing, sinful practices, even tolerating fornication that Gentiles would not have allowed (cp. I Cor. 5). Some object in the second place by saying that methuo cannot mean intoxication due to if we say this, then we have fermented drink being served for the Lordís Supper or fruit of the vine. However, we have already established that they were not partaking of the Lordís Supper and had brought their own meals.

     Instead of doing what they were, they should have be doing what Paul describes and sets forth in I Corinthians 11: 23-32, the Lordís Supper. (Check out, "The Lord's Supper, The 'Second Serving' Controversy")

     Addendum 1: I see no reason for saying that the "love feasts" by practice preceded the Lordís Supper each Lordís Day, being a prelude to it.