Wednesday, August 16, 2006

1 Cor 10

A question from an email correspondent:

“What does it mean when Paul says eating the Eucharist is a ‘participation’ in the death of Christ? Doesn’t it mean that the act of eating the bread is an act that connects us to Christ’s death on the cross and its benefits (i.e. salvation)?”

I’d just say a couple of things:

1.We can’t lift 1 Cor 10:16 out of context. This is part of a literary unit, extending from 10:1 to 10:22.

Paul draws a threefold analogy:

i) Communion with Christ via the Eucharist

ii) Communion with the dark side via Greco-Roman idolatry (i.e. consuming meat sacrificed to idols)

iii) Communion with the dark side via ANE idolatry, (i.e., the golden calf affair [cf. Deut 32:15-18; Ps 106:19-20]).

What we therefore need is a unified interpretation. An interpretation consistent with the threefold analogy.

For example, if we apply a high church sacramentology to 10:16, can we also apply a high church sacramentology to the heathen analogues?

If we demand a more forceful interpretation of “participation” in reference to the Eucharist than we do for the Pauline parallels, then we lose a unified interpretation. We do violence to Paul’s argument from analogy by turning it into an argument from disanalogy.

So Eucharistic participation in Christ should not be made to mean more than participation in the pagan analogues which, in context, supply a hermeneutical counterpart.

It ought not be more in one case, but less in another, when Paul is using the pagan parallels to illustrate the nature of the Eucharist.

2. To say that communion connects us with the redemptive benefits of the Christ is ambiguous.

Does this mean that communion connects us to the cross by saving us? That taking communion is what saves us?

Other issues aside, that’s hardly consistent with another Pauline analogy in 10:1-4.

Or does it mean that, if one is already a Christian, then obedience to the Lord’s institution carries with it a blessing reserved for Christians alone?

The truth of this is hardly limited to communion. Rather, it’s true of obedience to the preceptive will of God generally, and not to the ordinance of baptism or communion alone.

If you obey the law of God, you will be blest. But if you disobey the law of God, you will be chastened.


  1. Hmm, why can we not apply a high church sacramentology to the heathen analogues?

    Steve, I think you need to examine the word "partaking" in this chapter. I think verse 18 gives us the clue because it uses a similar word, but compares it to what happens in the Jewish sacrifices: “Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants [a form of the same word] in the altar?” What does sharer/participant/partner in the altar mean? It means that they are sharing in or benefiting from what happened on the altar. They are enjoying, for example, forgiveness and restored fellowship with God.

  2. Sorry, but the verse you refer to is more probably an allusion to the worship of the golden calf. See the discussion in Thiselton's major commentary on 1 Cor.

  3. Why would it be wrong to apply a high church sacramentology to the heathen analogues?