Feast upon the Word Blog

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Sunday School Lesson #34

Posted by Jim F. on September 8, 2007

Lesson 34: 1 Corinthians 11-16

Recall that in this part of his letter Paul is responding to questions that the Corinthians have asked him by letter. (See the questions for lesson 33.) Chapters 7-15 comprise his response to their questions, and one problem we have interpreting his response is knowing when he is quoting their letter and when he is speaking as himself. For example, in chapter 10, verse 23 (and also in 6:12) Paul says “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are expedient.” Many scholars have argued that when he says “all things are lawful for me,” he is not saying something that he believes. Instead, he is quoting from things that some in Corinth have said and to which he must respond. Some at Corinth have reasoned, “I am made free from the law by Christ’s sacrifice, so I can do anything I want.” In that case, the second part of the verse, “not all things are expedient (or ‘profitable,’ something we should do),” is Paul’s response to their misunderstanding. (Notice how the JST recognizes the problem and makes sense of the passage.)

The Corinthians seem to have asked four major questions: (1) given their expectation that the Second Coming was imminent, what was Paul’s advice about marriage (dealt with in chapter 7); (2) could a member of the Church eat meat that had previously been offered to idols (chapters 8-10 and 11:1); (3) several questions about how to conduct their worship services (11:2-14:40); and (4) how were Christians to understand the doctrine of resurrection (chapter 15)?

Chapter 11

Verse 2: As the footnote in the LDS Bible indicates, the word translated “ordinances” in this verse could also have been translated “traditions.” How might the alternate translation help explain some of the oddities that follow in chapter 11? (Notice that Paul uses a related term, “custom,” at the end of the discussion of women wearing veils, 11:16.)

Verses 17-19: Some early Christians celebrated the ordinance of the Sacrament by having a meal together. Evidently this was the practice in Corinth. When Paul speaks of them “coming together” he is speaking of them coming together to share that meal. What is his complaint in verse 17? The words translated “divisions” (verse 18) and “heresies” (verse 19) are synonyms, and “heresies” is not a good translation. “Factions” would be better. How is their problem with the Sacrament related to the problem that Paul addressed in the beginning of the letter? In verse 19, Paul seems to think that there is at least one good thing that comes from these factions. What is it?

Verses 20-22: They are coming together and they are eating, but why does Paul say they are neverthless not partaking of the Lord’s Supper (the Sacrament)?

Verses 23-25: Why does Paul feel that he needs to tell them how the ordinance of the Sacrament began? What does he mean when he says “I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you” (verse 23)?

Verse 26: What does it mean to “shew the Lord’s death”? Is that related to the fact that Paul preaches “the cross” (1 Corinthians 1:18)? Why does Paul add “till he come”? Why would the Sacrament no longer be needed after Christ returns?

Verse 27: The Greek word translated “unworthily” is the negative form of a word meaning “worthy,” just as is our English word. The Greek word translated “worthy,” originally meant “weighty” or “valuable,” which suggests that to be unworthy is not to be weighty or not to be concerned with weighty things. Given that, how might we understand what it means to take the Sacrament unworthily? How do we take it worthily? If we take it unworthily, why are we “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord”?

Verses 33-34: Is Paul merely correcting the way that the Corinthian saints had practiced the Sacramental meal or is he abolishing the practice?

Chapter 13

This is perhaps the most famous chapter in the New Testament. There are good reasons for that, but one consequence is that we often read it as if on automatic pilot, understanding it through the things we’ve heard said about it rather than directly from itself. So, to understand the chapter itself better, ask yourself why Paul writes this in response to their question about gifts of the Spirit. In other words, how is chapter 13 related to chapter 12, particularly to 12:31: “But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way”? And how is what he teaches in chapter 13 related to what he says at the beginning of chapter 14: “Follow after [i.e., seek] charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy”? (Don’t forget what Paul said about prophecy in 13:2 and 8.) Another way to ask the same question: why does Paul interrupt his discussion of spiritual gifts (chapters 12 and 14) with this discourse on Christian love?

Verses 1-3: Why are each of the actions named here nothing without charity? How is charity different from giving to the poor (verse 3)? Notice that “though I give my body to be burned” is almost certainly not a correct translation of what Paul said, but we aren’t sure what the correct translation ought to be. Most have said that the best alternative is “Though I give up my body so that I can boast.”

Verses 4-7: What does it mean to be long-suffering? We use the word “patient,” which means “passive” or “waiting.” What does “long-suffering” connote? (Remember that in King James’ English, “suffering” didn’t necessarily mean that one felt pain; it meant that one endured or allowed something.) What is envy or jealousy and why is it inimical to love? How do we vaunt ourselves (brag)? What is wrong with doing so? Why is it incompatible with love? What is the problem with being puffed up? Does Paul’s teaching about Christian wisdom help us see why bragging and pride are forbidden by love? (Compare 1 Corinthians 1:29-31.) What is unseemly behavior (verse 5)? (See the footnote.) Why would unseemly behavior make one unloving? What does it mean to seek one’s own, i.e., to see one’s own advantage? We could replace “thinketh” in “thinketh no evil” with the word “calculates” and we would improve the translation. When would a person calculate evil? What does it mean to rejoice in iniquity (verse 6)? When do we do that? Here is another translation of verse 7: “It keeps all confidences, maintains all faithfulness, all hope, all steadfastness.” What do you think of saying “keeps all confidences” instead of “bears all things”? Which fits Paul’s teaching better? Another, fairly literal translation, is “covers all things.” What do you think of that translation? If you think that the King James translation makes more sense, can you explain what it means to bear all things? Think about Paul’s teaching and try to make your own “translation” of verse 7.

Verses 8-11: Why is charity eternal when the gifts of the Spirit are not? What is perfect or complete (verse 10—the two words mean the same thing in Paul)? What is incomplete?

Verse 12: What promise does Paul make in this verse? Could that promise also be a warning?

Verse 13: What word could you substitute for “abideth” and retain the meaning of this verse? Why is charity greater than either faith or hope? Can you explain how that teaching accords with Paul’s insistence that he preaches Christ crucified?

21 Responses to “Sunday School Lesson #34”

  1. Cherylem said

    I am preparing this lesson for next Sunday. I hoped to write two or three posts but will satisfy myself for now in commenting here.

    I have been reading Neil Elliott’s LIBERATING PAUL: The justice of God and the politics of the Apostle, and finding it fascinating. Elliott has such interesting things to say about Romans 1, for instance, that before I comment too much on that for the Romans lesson I wanted to see what Jim wrote also, so I’ve ordered your book, Jim.

    Again, for now, my thoughts are that my lesson will center on 1 Cor. 15, the chapter on the Resurrection, and Paul’s doctrine concerning this. But I want to touch on a couple of other things.

    For instance, according to Elliott, the instruction regarding head covering in chapter 11 is actually given to the MEN, who have been inappropriately covering their heads (v. 4). Why is this inappropriate? We know that Jewish men covered their heads, but these were not Jews. Again, why is this instruction necessary to the Corinthian men? Elliott writes (p. 209): “Paul also proscribes one of the most widely recognized gestures of Roman piety when he insists that men may not cover their heads in prayer in the Christian ekklesia, as a Roman would normally do when he came before the gods of the city. Paul declares that this ordinary gesture dishonors their “head,” who is Christ (11:2-16)”

    Elliott argues that to read this passage as concerned with women’s head-coverings makes the passage almost impenetrable: “It has proven just as difficult to explain why Paul, who clearly endorses the women’s right to pray and prophesy in the assembly, should apparently want to subordinate them symbolically to a mascualine hierarchy; or why, for their part, women who had supposedly thrown off such head coverings in an enthusiastic gesture of equality in the Spirit would be persuaded by Paul’s supposed counterarguments about “propriety.”

    Instead, Elliott says, the whole point of the passage is that 1) the head of every man is Christ and 2) “any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head,” that is, Christ (11:4).

    He further explains: “This gesture on the part of a pious man was common enough, indeed ubiquitous, in Roman religion. Pulling his toga up over his head was “the iconographic mark of a sacrificant presidenting over a specifically Roman ritual,” .. . and several scholars have argued this is the most plausible context of 1 Corinthians 11: 2-16.

    Elliott writes quite a bit more about this, more than I can probably quote, but finally he says: “The thrust of Paul’s argument is rather that for a man to adopt in the ekklesia a gesture recognized throughout the empire as the sign of pietas, and thus to emulate the emperor’s own virtue, would dishonor the man’s head, since that “head” is Christ – the one whom Caesar’s subordinate in Judea had crucified. . . . Corinthian images of both Augustus and Nero worshiping with their heads covered invited the channeled wealth and power upward to the emperor; even to feel awe and reverence before the sacred trappings of piety in which the imperium was cloaked. Paul declares such reverence incompatible with the headship of Christ.” (211)

    Further, v. 5 clearly shows that Paul EXPECTS women to pray and prophesy in church, even to lead in this way.

    That’s all I have time for tonight – will address 1 Cor. 14:34-35 tomorrow, and also the passages on sexual morality, specifically against the backdrop of what was going on in Corinth and indeed the Roman empire of the time.

  2. BrianJ said

    Cheryl—Why couldn’t your comment, as it is, be made into a separate post? I am ignorant of the topic, so I would love to hear what other people have to say (including other scholars). Hopefully others will find your comment here and discuss.

    I think you may have a typo: “Instead, Elliott says, the whole point of the passage is that 1) the head of every man is Christ and 2) “any man who prays or prophesies with his head uncovered dishonors his head,” that is, Christ (11:4).” Do you mean covered or uncovered?

  3. Matthew said

    Cheryl, let me know if you want to move it to a new post.

    This women and head covering topic came up in our sunday school lesson and our teacher did a good job I thought of handling it. Her method wasn’t to deal with the text at all (so it was nice to see how Elliott does that) but rather to talk about how some of her non-member friends had struggled with this in a way that needn’t apply to us given that we believe in modern revelation.

  4. cherylem said

    Brian – it WAS a typo, I fixed it.

    I will make this into a separate post a little later, making it more expansive to cover several of Paul’s topics.

    Matthew#3 – that is a very nice way of handlng this issue. I personally am going to devote five minutes to this topic and two others – Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor. 14 (women should be silent in church) and sexual morality, including how the verses on male-to-male and female-to-female sex have been read and what Paul was really addressing. I will probably spend about three minutes on 1 Cor. 13, and then the rest of the time on the resurrection (1 Cor. 15).

  5. BrianJ said

    Cheryl, #4—I eagerly await your elaborated posts on those topics.

  6. RuthS said

    Well, I really appreciate this information about the head covering. As I looked over these verses it occurred to me that the head being talked about is not the person scalp or hair but must refer back to verse 3 where is says the man’s head it Christ and the woman’s head is the man. So the individual who is the head in the following discussion is the individual not the body part. What Cheyl quoted Elliot as saying makes so much sense.

    Now the other thing that kind of bothers me, maybe you can help,is verse 20.JST changes, “this is not to eat the Lord’s supper.” to, “Is it not to eat the Lord’s supper.”This puts the discussion that follows into a whole new light. According to JST Paul is not talking about a pot luck dinner. He is talking about the misuse of the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, is he not?

  7. Jim F. said

    RuthS: Paul wasn’t talking about a pot luck supper on anyone’s interpretation, but he seems to have been talking about a way of practicing the ordinance of the Sacrament that is different than we do it today, namely having a meal. (Remember that, of course, the original Sacrament was also a meal. There is some reason to believe that Joseph Smith may have sometimes also used a meal as the Sacrament.) So Paul is taking about a misuse of the sacrament of the Lord’s supper in either case.

  8. Steven D. Aird said

    Jim: It seems to me that Paul’s comment “though I give my body to be burned” (1 Cor. 13:3) may be a perfectly reasonable translation. I think he is saying that even if be becomes a martyr for the faith, which would invite the praise and admiration of the faithful, if he has failed to develop charity, he has failed in his central mortal mission of emulating the attributes of our Father in Heaven. In some ways it is easier to do a single big thing than to be consistent in doing all of the little things that manifest a genuine godly love toward others.

  9. Jim F. said

    Steven D. Aird: You’re right that your interpretation is consistent with the King James translation as a whole. However, the problems with it are two:

    (1) Historically, severe persecution of Christians had not yet begun, so speaking of being burned for the gospel would have been odd, though not impossible.

    (2) We are not sure what the Greek text of the verse was. It is a reconstruction from several texts that have so much variation between them that we cannot be confident in what the original text said. However, given what we now know about the Greek texts, including a number of texts unavailable to the KJV translators, it is doubtful that it means “though I give my body to be burned.”

  10. Robert C. said

    I’m pasting JakeW’s question from the Submit a Question page here:

    1 Corinthians 11: 24-29

    24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
    25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
    26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.
    27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
    28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
    29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.

    What does it mean to take the sacrament unworthily? I think it’s a question of humility, but what I hear all the time in church is that you don’t eat the bread and take the water whenever you’ve committed some serious sin, and you’re not worthy to take it until you’ve repented properly. I’ve also heard of a quote by one of the prophets (I think Benson) who said that one time he didn’t take the sacrament because during the passing he was busy watching a bird out the window instead of focusing his thoughts where they should be. So… unworthy; what does it mean? Also, I don’t get verse 29’s phrase, “not discerning the Lord’s body.” That seems to be tied into worthiness as well. Any thoughts?

  11. Robert C. said

    Jake, great questions. As a first pass, I’m inclined to think about what Paul is saying and what current Church practice is quite separately—I think they are ultimately related, or can be related to each other, but I think the relation is rather complicated. So here are a couple thoughts regarding what Paul might have meant. Actually, I think I’ll just summarize what David Garland has to say about this passage in his Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament for now:

    Garland notes three tests that Paul gives for being sure not to take the sacrament “in an unworthy manner,” as the NRSV puts it (which suggests a different emphasis than the KJV, that is, it is more about one’s attitude while taking the sacrament rather than, say, how one is coping with particular sinful habits or somehting…): (1) examining one’s genuineness before God (i.e. partaking sans pride; cf.11:28), (2) recognizing how all Christians, rich or poor, are joined together in Christ (cf. 11:22), and (3) “discerning the body” as 11:29 says (again following the NRSV which doesn’t include the modifier “Lord’s,” presumably since it’s missing in many of the earliest Greek texts, so most scholars assume it was added later…). Garland says scholars have a hard time understanding this last phrase, and he notes three proposed readings:

    (i) “[D]istinguishing the sacramental presence of Christ in the eucharistic elements from the ordinary bread on the table. The problem with this reading is that it doesn’t seem to fit very well with Paul’s primary concern in this passage.”

    (ii) Paul is referring to the Corinthians’ failure “to recognize the church as the body of Christ or Chirst’s presence among his people. (cf. 10:16-17 and 12:26-27). The problem with this view is that it doesn’t seem to fit the basic meaning of the Greek word diakrinein (“discern”).

    (iii) Recognizing the uniqueness of the sacramental meal, esp. Christ’s sacrificed body as symbolized by the bread and wine. to properly discern the body is to, basically, understand the symbolic significance of the sacrament. This is the view Garland seems to favor.

  12. Jim F. said

    I also think that the third possibility is the best. The problem in Corinth is that people are eating the Sacrament as if it were an ordinary meal. They aren’t remembering / recognizing that it is an ordinance and that the bread has symbolic significance, that it represents the body of Christ. The Greek verb translated “significance” is diakrino meaning to make a distinction: they aren’t making a distinction between regular bread and bread that has been consecrated as part of the Sacrament.

  13. Robert C. said

    Jim (#12), you say “The Greek verb translated “significance” is diakrino . . . “—did you mean, instead of “significance,” “discerning” as it’s translated in the KJV in 11:29, or are you referring to a different translation, or a different verse (in 11:31 “judge” and “judged” interestingly come from diakrino and krino respectively…)? Sorry if I’m missing something obvious.

  14. JakeW said

    Thanks, Robert. So let’s say, hypothetically, somebody has committed adultery on a Friday night (or any night of the week, for that matter), and then goes to church on Sunday. Based on what I hear from my local leaders, the sacrament should not be taken under any circumstance, almost like they’re doing their time for the crime. I strongly disagree with that idea, but it’s all I’ve ever heard regarding serious sin like that. Are there any scriptures that point to this sort of practice? I mean, Paul doesn’t even mention the sins of the body in his discourse, only the sins of pride, forgetfulness (sins of the heart, perhaps). Is it right to “punish,” yourself for committing a serious sin by not taking the sacrament? Because to me, it seems like a time when it’s needed the most. It seems counterintuitive to me. In fact, in verse 28, Paul says “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.” We are to view ourselves precisely in our unworthiness to become worthy of partaking of the sacrament itself.

  15. Cherylem #1, thanks so much. This is great & I’ve included it in my lesson notes.–Nanette

  16. Jim F. said

    Robert C: I’m embarassed to say that I wasn’t paying attention. I meant “discerning” rather than “signficance.” It is I who am missing something, not you.

    I understand church leaders’ comments about taking the Sacrament unworthily to be a response to the sacramental prayers. It seems reasonable to believe that it is difficult to have committed adultery on Saturday night and then, on Sunday, to make the covenants that are embedded in the sacramental prayers without doing so hypocritically. Surely some time is required for me, much less others, to see whether I am truly willing to keep the covenant of obedience I make with the Sacrament. I’m not punishing myself by not taking the Sacrament. I’m recognizing that I may not be in a position to commit to what it demands.

  17. Robert C. said

    Jake #14, I agree with Jim’s response (#16). I’d add that although Paul does not seem to deal with sins of the body in 1 Cor. 11, he does elsewhere (the exhortations in Romans 12ff come to mind, 13:14 in particular). But I think this is a rather complicated tension in Paul, the idea that we are to become new creatures in Christ-epoch, and through Christ have the power to overcome the weaknesses of the flesh, and yet we still dwell in the flesh and have weaknesses, “thorn[s] in the flesh” per 2 Cor 12:7. I certainly don’t understand all the ins and outs of this tension, and so as a practical matter, it doesn’t seem wrong to me that particularly hurtful sins require time and ecclesiastical help to obtain forgiveness. Restitution insofar as is able seems to be something that is taught rather clearly in the Old Testament, and although Paul seems to, at least implicitly, emphasize our inability to make full restitution, I don’t see him revoking this OT teaching of restitution.

    So, I’m inclined to think of an ecclesiastical leader as the representative of the community that I have hurt though my sinfulness, esp. in cases where I can’t make restitution myself. In this sense, I’m thinking about the scenario you mention along the lines of Christ’s teaching to go make peace with thy brother before coming to the altar to pray. But these are just my speculations, I don’t claim to know the reasons behind this practice regarding the sacrament. (I seem to recall SWK’s Miracle of Forgiveness addressing this; I also seem to vaguely recall Oaks addressing this topic, perhaps in some book he wrote….) Your question makes me think of larger questions about how to think about current Church practices in light of scripture: I guess it doesn’t bother me to think that many things in scripture are context specific (perhaps some of Paul’s teachings about women, head coverings, and marriage are good examples…), so I’m inclined to try and figure out the reasons for particular Church practices, setting aside my own presuppositions as to what I would think makes the most sense (in other words, I agree with you that there’s something rather counterintuitive about denying someone the sacrament when it seems they need it the most!).

  18. NathanG said

    Robert C., there is a chapter discussing church discipline in Oaks’ book “The Lord’s Way” and I was thinking myself of “Miracle of Forgiveness” and the process of repentance.

    I don’t have any particular experience with church discipline, but I’ve talked about the subject with my father who has been involved in several instances. The most important thing (and “The Lord’s Way” supports this) is that the disciplinary council is trying to help the person repent. The removal of temple blessings, sacrament, callings, etc. is not meant to be punishment, but to help someone in their repentance. The severity of the limitations seems to be dependent on how humble the person already is, or how far along they are in repentance. It is not some formula of “You committed this sin, so you must have x, y, and z done.” It’s more are you willingly, humbly confessing? and is the depth of your remorse really what you need to obtain forgiveness and through revelation (my father always went into these fasting) this is what we need to do to help you repent.

    It is interesting to try to gain insights from what was happening with the Corinthians that led to this teaching, and I appreciate the comments already shared. There are, of course, other places where the same thing is taught. One is in 3 Nephi 18. Christ has just taught the sacrament to them and before they could be engaged in any wrong practices, he tells them the same thing about taking the sacrament unworthily. In a subsequent verse he talks about repentance as the key (interestingly he also talks about church membership and keeping them from being numbered for the good of the members). One contrast between the two passages is Paul’s seems to be a personal evaluation, but Christ’s is instruction to the leaders or the church to prevent anyone from unworthily partaking of the sacrament.

    So if someone is unrepentant of their Friday night fling and they take the sacrament, it is done in vain. If they repent Saturday and think they are ready to renew their covenant and expect that they have Christ’s name upon them and are ready for constant companionship of the Spirit, SWK would argue that they don’t have a clue what repentance is and that they have not suffered comparable to the magnitude of their sin.

    I imagine one benefit of withholding the sacrament from them is to help them realize the seriousness of their sin and help them to become more humble, whereas allowing them to take the sacrament may lead them to think that they are back in full fellowship resulting in incomplete repentance.

    From Jake’s original question: I hope that being distracted during sacrament requires me to pass up the sacrament, because every week I’m distracted by my 3 little ones and it’s a wonder I get anything out of church. Actually, the oldest one is getting better, but the younger ones… I wonder if anyone can actually document the story referred to. I have been led to believe that it is a Mormon Urban Legend, but I have not tried that hard to find out if it is true.

  19. Cherylem mentioned the 1 Cor. 14:34- silenced women problem in #1. I’d like to point out that Joseph Smith helped us a lot with this issue in changing “speak” to “rule.” With this slight but significant change the verse points back to chapter 11 where Paul is writing about order and priesthood heirarchy. This is underscored with his last verse in Ch. 14: “Let all things be done decently and in order.” This also comes on the heals of Paul’s writing regarding everyone speaking at once in undiscernable tongues. Clearly the Corinthians were contending for the limelight and the microphone!–nanette

  20. Jim F. said

    Nanette: “The Corinthians were contending for the limelight and the microphone.”

    I think that is the essential key for understanding the whole of 1 Corinthians.

  21. […] The third thing we need to try to understand is context, especially context in terms of the life and culture in which Paul wrote. (This has already been demonstrated in comments about headcoverings, here) […]

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