Today, Paul addresses additional problems in the Corinthian community. One of them is disunity that had grown up at services. It seems that services have become sort of a dinner party. Some people are treating it more like a social event than a service. Paul tells them that this should stop and address the Eucharist directly:
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for * you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
Notice, Paul is saying that he received the Eucharist (and the Eucharistic discourse) directly from the Lord! He doesn’t attribute his knowledge of what happened at the Last Supper to the Apostles, other priests or deacons but says it came directly from the Lord. There are really only two possibilities to make sense of this statement. Either Paul considers the Eucharistic supper something that is real and truly present every time it is performed and thus speaks about it in this present sense or Jesus himself convey this information to Paul. In my mind both are true. Now consider, the resurrected Jesus, in selecting this new Apostle to the gentiles thought it important enough to convey this information to him directly.
Can a mere symbol be that important? If one were to be handle a mere symbol unworthy, would the Lord bring judgement upon them to the point where the person becomes “weak, ill … [or] dies.”? Consider what Paul is saying. Some who have eaten and drank the Eucharist unworthily have committed such a grave sin that they have died! These are Christians, they have faith, they are supposed to saved, yet to eat a little bread and wine unworthily brings death. Does that seem consistent with the Jesus we have seen so far? That only makes sense if the Eucharist is much more than a symbol. That only makes sense if the Eucharist is what Jesus said it is, his body and blood. If it is truly the Body and Blood of Jesus then what Paul says would be true, someone who eats it unworthily would be, “be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.”
In this chapter there is something else that Paul says that is truly remarkable. Paul is trying to correct these factions that are in the Church. He seeks unity. However, Paul says even the factions have their purpose:
18 For, in the first place, when you assemble as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and I partly believe it, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.
“There must be factions among you…”! In other words, there will be disagreements about theology. In fact, there have been throughout history. However, these disagreements are for a purpose! They are there, “in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized”. In other words, we learn from our mistakes. In any dispute one way will be correct and others will be incorrect. By disputing theology the correct way will be identified and explained. This fits with Matthew 18:
15* “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
As we discussed before Matthew 18 means that in a dispute, the Church has the authority to decide. This fits with Acts 15, where Paul brought the issue of circumcision of converts to the Church. This fits with the whole history of Christendom, where issues arose in the Church, and councils would meet to resolve those issues and speak definitively. That is how the books of the New Testament were decided. That is how the question Jesus’ divinity and humanity existing in the hypo-static union was articulated. That is how the Trinity was named and defined. That is how the Christian faith has been defined and developed for 2,000 years. And what do all these disputes point to? They point to one Church that is the body of Christ that has authority to speak for him through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit which Jesus said “will lead you into all truth”.