Today the blog continues its examination of St. Paul’s Corinthian correspondence. Previous material on this topic and on Genesis and Mark, can be accessed from my archive. Biblical references can be placed after emmock.com as can particular topics eg. emmock.com John 3:16; or emmock.com obedience. The daily headlines are reminders of the world we live in.
1 Corinthians 10
14 Therefore, my dear friends, run from idolatry! 15 I speak to you as sensible people; judge for yourselves what I am saying. 16 The “cup of blessing” over which we make our blessing — isn’t it a sharing in the bloody sacrificial death of the Messiah? The bread we break, isn’t it a sharing in the body of the Messiah? 17 Because there is one loaf of bread, we who are many constitute one body, since we all partake of the one loaf of bread. 18 Look at physical Isra’el: don’t those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 So, what am I saying? That food sacrificed to idols has any significance in itself? or that an idol has significance in itself? 20 No, what I am saying is that the things which pagans sacrifice, they sacrifice not to God but to demons; and I don’t want you to become sharers of the demons! 21 You can’t drink both a cup of the Lord and a cup of demons, you can’t partake in both a meal of the Lord and a meal of demons. 22 Or are we trying to make the Lord jealous? We aren’t stronger than he is, are we?
23 “Everything is permitted,” you say? Maybe, but not everything is helpful. “Everything is permitted?” Maybe, but not everything is edifying. 24 No one should be looking out for his own interests, but for those of his fellow. 25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26 for the earth and everything in it belong to the Lord.[b] 27 If some unbeliever invites you to a meal, and you want to go, eat whatever is put in front of you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This meat was offered as a sacrifice,” then don’t eat it, out of consideration for the person who pointed it out and also for conscience’s sake — 29 however, I don’t mean your conscience but that of the other person. You say, “Why should my freedom be determined by someone else’s conscience? 30 If I participate with thankfulness, why am I criticized over something for which I myself bless God?” 31 Well, whatever you do, whether it’s eating or drinking or anything else, do it all so as to bring glory to God. 32 Do not be an obstacle to anyone — not to Jews, not to Gentiles, and not to God’s Messianic Community. 33 Just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not looking out for my own interests but for those of the many, so that they may be saved;
Paul has already written about this issue in this letter, but he returns to it, imagining that he has a been challenged by someone who takes the view that all religious ceremonies are without substance and that therefore eating food sacrificed to other Gods is no real problem. Paul recognises that the Lord’s Meal is not an empty ceremony but “constitutive action” in which believers declare themselves to be one with Jesus and with each other. He argues that pagan sacrificial meals have a similar purpose, that of uniting participants with their Gods, whom Paul calls demons. It would be wrong therefore for followers of Jesus Messiah to share in a meal that United them with demons. This argument has the same structure as Paul’s argument against the use of male or female prostitutes: if believers are united to Jesus Messiah how can they also be united with a prostitute?Paul does not accord quasi magic powers to the Lord’s Meal, rather he sees it as a profound declaration of group identity, which includes the personal identification which each believer has already made with Jesus. Such acts of identification can and should in Paul’s view, influence the whole of a believer’s life.
There is nothing in Paul or indeed in the whole Bible that justifies a view of the elements of communion being “set apart from all common use to this holy use and mystery.” It is precisely the dedication of the common food and partnership of the believers which makes it the Lord’s Meal. The Meal declares the Lord’s dedication of his life in bloody sacrifice for the sake of human beings, and the response of a human community of believers in their dedication to the Lord. The difference between the Lord’s Meal and the Demon’s Meal is not in some mystical liturgy but in the identity of the worshipped lord.
Paul then repeats what must have been the slogan of the Corinthian “knowledge people”, namely that if believers are not under the Jewish Torah, “everything is permitted.” Paul merely observes that not everything is helpful to others or to the life of the believing community. Any aggressive insistence on freedom by those who think of themselves as advanced believers will not bring glory to God and may offend the conscience of other believers. Again Paul points to his own priority as an emissary of Jesus Messiah, that of rescuing people from evil and restoring them to the goodness of God. He believes that the whole community of believers should share the messianic mission. There’s simply no place or time for a self-admiring spirituality.
Paul was aware that human lives were always being destroyed through evil done to them or chosen by them and interpreted the messianic mission as a divine act of rescue in which the believing communities were called to share. My own experience of churches is that the healthiest communities of believers are those that have a modest but definite commitment to ministries of rescue.