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1 Cor 11.17-34 - Holiness and Justice

1 Cor 11.17-34 - Holiness and Justice

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[JSNT19
(2000) 51-60]HOLINESS
AND
JUSTICE:EXEGETICAL COMMENTS ON
1
CORINTHIANS 11.17-34Luise Schottroff 
Universität Gesamthochschule Kassel, Fachbereich 01/Theologie,Diagonale 9, D-34109 Kassel, Germany
1.
Paul 's Account of the Supper and Jesus ' Last Supper 
No great distance in time separates the account Paul gives of the Lord'sSupper in his first letter to the community in Corinth from Jesus' LastSupper: we can date Jesus' death to c. 33 CE, and Paul's letter to c. 55CE. When Paul says that he 'received' the account of the Supper(11.23), we may certainly suppose that this happened during his firstpositive contacts with Christian groups at the time of his so-called conversion. Thus, this account by Paul brings us closer to the life of thehistorical Jesus than almost any other traditions in the New Testament.We should not conclude from this that Paul's wording is more authoritative than the Gospels' accounts of the Supper (Mt. 26.26-29; Mk 14.22-25;Lk. 22.15-20); rather, the breadth of variations in the transmission shows that oral and written traditions were still flowing vigorously towards the end of the first century. Paul's version offers a veryold snapshot of the oral tradition of the first generation of Jesus' followers. In theological terms, however, this means that immediatelyafter Jesus' death, the Lord's Supper was already the action that createdthe identity of the groups that were coming into being, and hence alsothe locus of belief in the resurrection. The account of the Lord's Supperin the
Didache
(community regulations from 110-20 CE) shows that theaccount of the Last Supper, whether drawn from Paul or from theGospels, did not form part of the celebration of the Lord's Supper in theearly Christian period, as the 'institution narrative' of a rite: the rite of the Supper is essentially identical to the rite of Jewish community
 
52
Journal 
for the Study of the New Testament 
79 (2000)meals The ritual character is determined basically by the prayers of 
 blessing
over bread and wine, it is in this context that the reference toJesus Christ is expressed
The
brief mention of the
blessing
of bread at 1 Cor 11 24, and theeven briefer mention of the
blessing
of the cup at 11 25
('likewise'
includes the
blessing
of the cup too), show that Paul takes for grantedhis own familiarity and that of the Corinthian community with Jewishmeals and the prayers which these involved Paul's verbal quotations inhis account of the Supper concentrate primarily on the reference toJesus Christ, which had been linked to the
blessing
prayers of theJewish tradition According to Jewish tradition, the prayer of 
blessing
over bread (andimplicitly over all the food consumed in the course of the meal) often
ran
as
follows
'Blessed be you, O Eternal One, our God, king of the world you bring forth bread from the earth' ' The meal is followed by aprayer of thanksgiving over the cup of blessing, Paul assumes that this
too
is
well
known, and writes only about that part of this prayer that isrelated to Christ Both prayers of 
blessing
are accompanied in theJewish tradition by ritual actions According to a custom discussed inrabbinic literature, the host or hostess
lifts
up the bread and shares itamong the table fellowship after the blessing, the cup of 
blessing
islifted up and held slightly above the table during the prayer 2
The
Conflict 
in
Corinth
Paul
quotes the Last Supper narrative in order to protest against the
manner 
in which one group of Christians in Corinth celebrated theLord's Supper This conflict is not between Paul and 'the Corinthians', but between groups within the Corinthian community (11 18, 19)Paul's letter takes up the cudgels for one side in this dispute The imageof the apostle and his Opponents' which has left its mark on the history of the exposition ot his letters is ecclesiogenetic it takes for granted asmoothly 
flowing
continuity between a 'correct' Pauline church andtoday's church on the one hand, and a pattern (then and now) ot
1
See Leo
Hirsch
Judische
Glaubenswelt 
(Basel
Victor 
Goldschmidt
Verlag
1978)
ρ 63
here
he
provides
further information about
Jewish
meals
One
should
not
assume
that
this
praxis
was always
and
everywhere
the
same
cf 
also
m Ber 
6
8
and
Paul
Billerbeck 
Kommentar 
zum
Neuen Testament 
aus
Talmud 
und Mid 
rasch
IV 2
(Munich
Beck 
1961) ρ 24
excursus
on Ein
altjudisches
Gastmahl
 
SCHOTTROFF
Holiness and Justice
53
'opponents', 'sectarians' and 'splinter-groups' on the other hand. Thisdualistic antithesis fails to do justice to the plurality of communitypraxis in early Christianity; besides this, it attributes to Paul ¿in absoluteauthority which he did not possess at that period, an authority to whichhe did not even lay claim. He was one teacher and apostle among manywomen and men who lived the gospel together and engaged in discussion and dispute about the correct interpretation of Torah in theirsituation.Exegetical discussions interpret in very monochrome terms theconflict among Christians in Corinth (mostly presented as a conflictbetween Paul and his Opponents'). In keeping with Hellenistic-Romancustom, people bring their own food for the meal. However, there existwide social distinctions in the community (cf. 1 Cor.
1.26),
and thosewho are well off have better food and other customs at table than thehired workers and slaves. The rich do indeed understand themselves aspart of the community, and they come to its assembly, but on the wholethey separate themselves from the others and eat what they havebrought as a private meal
(11.21,
23). They show no consideration forthose who are worse off, who cannot bring much, and whose food isalso of poorer quality. This results in inequality: some go hungry, whileothers are drunk 
(11.21,
22). The rich justify their behaviour by appealing to the hunger they feel (11.34, 22).Other members of the community see this as contempt for the community and for the poor, and Paul shares this view (11.22). It alsowounds the holiness of the body of Christ (11.29). This meal must havebeen a humiliating situation for the poor, whose dignity as children of the one Creator of all human beings was called into question.
3.
Holiness and Justice
Paul writes at 11.30 that this praxis, which he and others criticize, hasalready led to illness and death in the community. Modern thought findsalien the idea that wrong behaviour in the community and in the sightof God can be dangerous, or even lethal, not only for the individualwrongdoers, but also for all the members and for the whole community;but if we are to understand the early Christian meal, it is decisivelyimportant that we trace the importance of holiness for what went on inthe community.1 Cor. 11.17-34 presupposes a property right which we also encounter in Acts 2.42-45 and
4.32-5.11.
The community, as a fellowship

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