Thursday, May 10, 2007

OK, I have a confession to make. I went to a wedding just last week, and I saw an old friend, a lady friend. And fine, if you must know, I was completely mesmerized. She asked me to dance. And as far as falling in like, as it were, it was comepletely over at that point. I've been timid these past months with ladies I might be interested in, tired of being on the short end. That is now over. I decided right then I had to find out her status and reconnect. I'm going back to that town this weekend, and I know no other thing to do. I've been dreadfully sick for over a week, and still I thought of her, and whether I was completely imagining all the chemistry I felt. Oh, please don't be a diligent reader of my blog, Wedding Beauty! I called her to say that I'd be in town. I wonder if she cares whether I'll be in town. I wonder if she's always so friendly. But I intend to find out. And I don't really know where this boldness is coming from, but it's a welcome change.

Monday, May 07, 2007

7--1 Corinthians 11:23-30 in Brief

Before beginning the task of exegesis, it seems proper for me to explain my choice of this passage, as well as to establish some possible applications for future ministry. In this, we ought to find the endeavor both stimulating and rewarding.
This particular passage is set in a place in this letter highlighted by the sins of the Corinthians described in the preceding section, verses 17-22. In short, there was a lack of sharing at the common meal that coincided with the Supper, making a mockery of their equality in Christ, divisions, and a general lack of awareness as to the Supper’s purpose. Bruce noted that the verbs in the first part of verse 23 (receive, deliver) indicate the transmission of oral tradition. Also, the words following (and those in Mark’s Gospel) were established parts of the liturgies of churches. That is to say, the occasion of the meal was, in some manner, weightier than other meals the Corinthians might have attended. It was meant to be culturally distinct, defined by the culture of the new community created by Christ and his work on the cross. I think it’s no great leap to suggest then that Paul intended the rest of this section to correct the sins detailed in v. 17-22. In light of that reality, we should expect that the benefits we receive from reflection upon these verses (and observing the Lord’s Supper) will be the direct opposite of the sins of the Corinthians: unity and love instead of division, mutual care and edification instead of humiliation, and reflection upon, and thankfulness for, the faithfulness of Christ in dying for us.
From the first moments I’d heard of the communion rite, I was fascinated. Even before I believed in Christ, I have wondered at its mystery, and was intrigued at the fierceness of the disagreements over its meaning. It seemed logical that those differences must be consequential, if it would cause Christians to avoid communing together. Though I am cognizant of the power of sin, I did not, nor do I now, dismiss the matters as the confused babblings of a squabbling family. Still, the more interesting question is, “What is God’s purpose in giving this ritual to us?” Is there an overarching principle, a thing to hold true, which comes from participating that might even transcend the disagreements? Does communion preach to us in a way that our favorite teaching elder cannot? The answer is emphatically, “Yes!” Or in fact, we can say that faithful preaching of the Word acts in concert with God in the sacrament to the great blessing of God’s people. I happily defer to Thomas Watson on that score.[1] I think observing the meal has three main results, all interrelated, that I have personally observed: first, it is a confirmation of individual and collective identity in Christ; second, it is a reflection of unity in the bond of love; and third, it empowers and clarifies mission, both individually and collectively. Assuming all that is true, I want to get inside that, to see such a thing work itself out in my life, and in the lives of others. I also see, upon reflection, that none of those things can occur without the Holy Spirit. Indeed, these tasks seem uniquely suited to Him. This must be why Watson and other Reformed theologians insist that Christ is present—by the Holy Spirit. If the Eucharist helps us in any way with identity, unity, and mission, the Spirit’s presence is not a paradigmatic afterthought; He’s a necessity. It is a tragedy that a certain love of Holy Communion can become a superstitious observance with alleged salvific import. I assert, however, that we will find Roman Catholic perspectives on the Supper invaluable when we turn to applying the lessons learned to our walk with Christ, alleged dogmatic excesses aside. If my remarks and exegesis aid in a greater appreciation for the Supper, thanks be to God.
Comparing four separate renderings in English (ESV, NAS, NKJ, NIV) gives one a quick glimpse into the difficult choices translators must make in faithfully communicating the author’s meaning while ensuring that the text remains accessible to parishioners in their own language. In the NIV, the verb ‘paredoka’ might be inexactly rendered, ‘passed on’; however, considering the wider context of rabbinic tradition and liturgical development, this was a very wise choice. Another interesting feature of the NIV is how the noun for memorial/remembrance is rendered. Indeed, all four translations give it a verbal quality (which it certainly possesses) and, picking up the preposition ‘eis’ render it, “in remembrance.” This naturally leaves the genitive as an objective “of me”—which I do not prefer. Only a text note on this verse for the ESV dares render it as a noun with a personal pronoun—“my memorial”. Conzelmann, by contrast, wanted to preserve something of the preposition and the noun, translating the whole phrase “unto my remembrance.[2]” There may be little difference in the end, but verses 24-25 demonstrate to me that Jesus is giving his body and blood. That is, he possesses his life, and gives it freely. The rite which proclaims his death belongs to him as well. It may well be a stretch, but I choose to emphasize not the act of our remembering, but the subject of the rite, a point worthy of further discussion later. The NKJ rendering highlights two major textual issues: “Take; eat” immediately preceding “this is my body” in verse 24, and “broken for” immediately following it. The other three do not contain the additions. A significant instance of dynamic equivalence by addition occurs in verse 27 with a word meaning ‘guilty’ or ‘liable for.’ The ESV adds ‘profaning’ there; the NIV adds ‘sinning against.’ The NKJ and NAS did not any words to complete the idea in English. Presumably, the translators felt that the lexical definition and surrounding co-text conveyed the meaning.
Absolutely crucial to understanding the meaning of verses 23-30 in this chapter is the social dimension to the problem in Corinth. Ben Witherington writes poignantly, “For Paul, equality in Christ has more to do with whose one is than who one is.”[3] As we shall see, it is equality of origin and of need that undercuts the things which have made them unequal otherwise. Witherington notes that it was customary to rank guests according to social status. Paul seems to want the one occasion a year (wherein status is set aside) to become normative for the community, according to Witherington.[4] Witherington, in attempting to draw a distinction between the ecclesia as a building (a likely interpretation today) and that of an assembly gathered for a purpose, places sacred space in tension with sacred time and occasion.[5] A very useful distinction, one that nevertheless needs a minor modification: wherever the assembly meets becomes sacred space because of the occasion. And what is the occasion? It is an encounter with God Himself! How then does the covenant relationship, ratified by the very presence of God, bring about a ‘social leveling’? It happens because the event to which the Supper most clearly points is the exodus from Egypt. Consider Ellen Bradshaw Aitken argues that the exodus event typifies Israel as a people; that is, their awareness as a collective is bound up in that event. She writes, “The foundational legend of the cult of Israel is the Exodus [and subsequent events].”[6] In order to understand how an occasion becomes so consequential, the nature of covenant must be unpacked, for it is through covenants that God mediates these sacred occasions.
F.F. Bruce notes that verses 23-26 of 1 Cor. 11 indeed constitute a liturgical tradition.[7] But would the mere recitation of liturgy suffice to make the people aware of their corporate identity? One answer to this lies in the fact that the Jewish understanding of liturgies goes far beyond mere remembrance. Aitken says that the reenactment involves realization in the present, by virtue of ‘you proclaim’ in verse 26.[8] The translation provided[9] herein gives the verb in question a progressive sense because of the tense, and in light of ‘as often as.’ My own speculation regarding the NIV choice of ‘whenever’ for hosautos is that it carries a sense of, “each time you do this…” I chose to translate the verb in v. 26 as ‘you are proclaiming’ because the church is still observing the Lord’s Supper. The practice must continue because of the next phrase, “until he comes.” This leads to a practical point of application: The observance of the Lord’s Supper in 2006 is every bit as bold a proclamation of the death of Christ as any sermon in the apostolic age! That very point is hammered home by virtue of the Jewish nature of this entire passage, whether expressed in oral liturgical cues,[10] or in the typology of Exodus 24 and Jer. 31[11] and the eschatological dimension of actualization in the present.[12] Louise Schottroff argues that the passage is not a liturgical institution; rather, it follows quite closely with the customs of Jewish community meals.[13] However, this is not terribly damaging to the case for a liturgical text, because Old Testament Israel’s identity is bound up with redemptive history; that is, Jewish history is liturgy. The best that can be argued is that Christians did not have an independent liturgy that stood outside Old Covenant typology, which is fairly obvious. One interesting aspect of Schottroff’s argument is that we should not view the problem as one between Paul (and his ‘pure’ cultic practices) and the Corinthians as a whole. Instead, it is important to recognize that Paul was disputing with a group from within the community.[14] Along the same lines as the ‘history as liturgy’ formulation, Schottroff cautions against a separation of daily eating from the community cultic practice.[15] She argues (rightly, I think) that such a dichotomy leads to forgetting the Jewish context of the Supper. This is why Aitken was so zealous in showing the linkage between the errors in 1 Cor !0-11 and those in Exodus,[16] because just as the idolatry of these newly minted covenant people was a collective disregard for shared collective identity, so also was the Corinthians’. It represented a failure to participate in the past, but still ongoing, legend of redemption. The people of God are blessed, and judged as a whole. Continuing the theme of daily life as an affirmation of the covenant, Schottroff says there was a sociopolitical aspect to the death of Christ; his martyrdom was a protest against the prevailing social order, whose means of control was violence.[17] If we do not lose sight of the fact that the Jewish martyr tradition (which gave religious sanction to the rebellions against Rome in those days) is likely animating Jesus’ “This is my body, given for you” we can see why Christ’s death was politically relevant but also countercultural for Schottroff.[18]
The idea that the death of Christ has political and social implications should be apparent. But what does Paul use as the bridge between the Jewish cultic practices (where he desires to lead them) and their stratified imperial context? The answer lies in deliberative rhetoric. Nagy suggests three adjectives that describe associations in Hellenistic society—sophoi, people skilled in decoding the meaning of a poet’s message, agathoi, noble ones by virtue of being reared in the proper ethical standards, and philoi, those dear to a poet-leader so that his message is translated in them, or their horizontal relations.[19] How jarring it must have been, with Paul telling them that they failed in two aspects (the ethical, and the affiliative) and thus, could not be wise either.[20] By way of contrast, John Laurence (via P. Henrici) reminds us that “do this in remembrance of me” is an ethical imperative to live loving and serving one another. He writes, “This is an actualization of the saving events that it imitates.”[21] To sharpen the point regarding the unity of cultic practice, and ethical imperative, Laurence borrows from Fritz Chenderlin’s Do This As My Memorial, in which he argues that the Eucharist primarily is a prayer asking the Father to remember Christ.[22] He elaborates that the church is asking the Father in prayer to make us a part of Christ’s saving events![23] Therefore, Paul, by quoting verses 23-26, is (1) Placing Christ as the focal point of salvation history; (2) Reaffirming Israel’s place in that history; (3) reminding the Corinthians that they are living history in the present; and (4) reminding them of the ethical implications of living this long salvation history. In verse 27, we see the results of ignoring history and one’s place within it: the covenant becomes a judge of that one or group. “A man (person) must examine himself, and thus (in so doing) let him eat from the bread and drink from the cup.” In light of all that has been said to this point, “examination” involves, again, awareness of salvation history (God making a covenant with his people of old and with us), a knowledge that it continues in the present, (and I am a part!) and understanding the ethical implications of the covenant (relational love and service). All the members of the body have mutual needs of forgiveness and communion with God. Bruce wrote that examining oneself meant assessing whether one had lived ‘in love and charity with…neighbours’.[24] The meaning of “without discerning the body” becomes more clear, then: seeing the needs of the whole body as a collective, and the needs of individuals in it. Just as Christ is present to ratify the covenant, so also by love and service do the members ratify it among one another! Once again, liturgy and praxis are becoming blurry, since God by his own deeds, gave his people an identity, and gave the cultic practices to confirm the identity.
It has already been stated that liturgy is the link between remembering, and doing. When we understand what God has done, when we participate in covenantal worship, we tear down the wall between the spiritual and the practical. One essay that beautifully captures the merging of spiritual and practical is “Do this”: The Eucharist and Ecclesial Selfhood” by Mark Medley. The “ecclesial self” is one who is so thoroughly immersed in the culture of God’s people that he does recognize the needs, hopes, and identity of the community. Indeed, the people start to see themselves as each other, as a collective. Medley writes, “Moreover, knowing the triune God and learning how to see and act rightly are inseparable from participating in the Christian community and its practices.”[25] Again, we ask how liturgy might accomplish this. Quoting E. Byron Anderson, Medley writes that Christians “practice who we are becoming.”[26] Quoting Anderson, “Christian worship provides a ‘grammar’ of the self through which we interpret our relationship to God and neighbor.”[27] Therefore, if the ecclesial self eats and drinks the life of God mediated through relations and practices rooted in love, the selfish one “eats and drinks judgment on himself.” On the other side, “to indwell the liturgy is to interiorize it.”[28] Some Corinthians had such a fleeting relationship with God’s rule and transforming work that they had no regard for one another. But to learn the covenant narrative is necessarily to learn to love and serve. That is because God, again, is present in worship, and uniquely in the Eucharist. Transformation, says one author here, is the definition of salvation.[29] A final note: if the blessings of communal awareness are so observable and swift, why should we be at all surprised that a disregard for God’s covenant is similarly swift and severe? (v. 30)
So What?

I know that many reading this essay will be more than confused by most of this information. I ought to at least try to distill this information into a readable summary.
A. Jesus has made Himself the central figure in the Passover story. He has redefined all the covenants of Old Testament Israel around Himself.
B. We must, as a people, have a collective memory. The Lord’s Supper was given for this purpose: to remember Christ, and God’s faithfulness through all generations.
C. God, by His Spirit, is present and ratifies the New Covenant on each occasion of the Lord’s Supper.
D. Given the importance of liturgy to train us to think of God and one another, it should be as Scriptural as possible. We may want to not give in to prevailing cultures’ attitudes in patterning worship, since we are trying to train ourselves in that which is timeless, and transcends every culture.
I would also admit that the Lord’s Supper’s central place and powerful impact caused me to reconsider my views on the elements. We cannot look at what God seems to be doing among us without wondering openly if we have tried to rob Him of power, for fear of falling prey to ‘sacramentalism.’ Though precious little in this essay could be fodder for Eucharistic dogma wars, (I tried to avoid the dogma altogether) let me be bold in suggesting that Protestantism needs to grow closer to Roman Catholic sensibilities in application of Eucharistic doctrine.

Appendix: Translation, 1 Cor 11:23-30

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and after he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is given for you; do this as my memorial. In the same way also, after dining he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant by my blood; do this, as often as you drink (it) as my memorial.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes. Therefore, anyone who eats the bread and drinks the cup in an unworthy manner shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and thus, (in so doing) let him eat from the bread and drink from the cup. He who eats and drinks not discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. Through this, many among you are weak and sick, and have fallen asleep.

[1] Please see, “The Lord’s Supper,” by Watson for a fuller articulation.
[2] 1 Corinthians: a Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 192.
[3] Witherington, “Conflict and Community In Corinth….” P. 239, Eerdmans, 1995.
[4] Ibid. p. 242.
[5] Ibid. p. 242.
[6] The Eucharistic Memory of Jesus’ Words In First Corinthians, Harvard Theological Review, v90, pp. 159-170.
[7] New Century Bible Commentary, 1 and 2 Corinthians, p. 110, Eerdmans, 1980.
[8] The Eucharistic Memory of Jesus’ Words In First Corinthians, Harvard Theological Review, v90, pp. 159-170.
[9] See Appendix.
[10] See note 6.
[11] New Century Bible Commentary, 1 and 2 Corinthians, p. 111, and Sacra Pagina: First Corinthians, p. 427.
[12] The Eucharistic Memory of Jesus’ Words In First Corinthians, Harvard Theological Review, v90, pp. 159-170.
[13] Holiness and Justice: Exegetical Comments On 1 Corinthians 11.17-34, in Journal for the Study of the New Testament 79.1, Sep. 2000.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.
[16] The Eucharistic Memory of Jesus’ Words In First Corinthians, Harvard Theological Review, v90, pp. 159-170.
[17] Holiness and Justice: Exegetical Comments On 1 Corinthians 11.17-34, in Journal for the Study of the New Testament 79.1, Sep. 2000.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Nagy, Pindar’s Homer, 147. (via Aitken)
[20] Ibid.
[21]J. Laurence Eucharist as Imitation of Christ, Theological Studies 47.2, June, 1986.
[22] Chenderlin, “Do This” p. 228-245. (via Laurence)
[23] Ibid.
[24] New Century Bible Commentary 1 and 2 Corinthians, p. 112.
[25] “Do This”: The Eucharist and Ecclesial Selfhood, in Review &Expositor 100.3 (Summer 2003)
[26] Ibid.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Ibid.
[29] Ibid. From Ford.