Category Archives: Supper

The Connection (5)

E.  The connection

In the local context of the Corinthian culture, some during the assembly were still following the drunken behavior of the pagan temple culture of Corinth. They had made the general love feast an opportunity to manifest their pagan temple culture and arrogant attitudes. The love feast, therefore, became a reflection of their unrighteous attitudes and lack of love for one another, rather than a reflection of the united nature of the ekklesia of Christ. Some who were possibly Christian athletes who participated in the Games may have been bringing their competitive spirit into the assembly of the saints.

Paul was harsh in this context with the ungodly behavior of those who competed for recognition during the assembly. The reason for his harshness was in the fact that the Corinthians were attacking the loving nature of the ekklesia of Christ. The members of the body are bound together as one body through love, just as the Father and Son are one (Jn 13:34,35). However, the Corinthian love feast manifested everything but love and unity. Their inconsiderate and competitive behavior was subsequently manifested to the unbelievers who may have showed up at the “love” feast.

Paul’s rebuke was not that they were violating some ceremonial rituals of either the love feast or the Supper. His rebuke was stern because the arrogant and competitive spirit among them were destroying the communal and participatory nature of how Christians are to fellowship with one another as the ekklesia of Christ. Though he initially addressed them as the “church (assemblies) of God in Corinth” (1 Co 1:2), they would cease to be this united body of Christ if they continued in their disruptive assemblies that manifested before the world an unloving spirit.

If indeed the specific assembly about which Paul wrote was a provincial assembly during the Isthmian Games, then we can only imagine what attending athletes would be saying about the Christians of Achaia when they returned home after the Games. This may explain why the Holy Spirit focused specifically on this problem among the Achaian Christians. Their behavior was simply bad advertisement for the early church.

When the love among disciples is lost, as was typical with some in the regional assembly of Achaia in Corinth, then the lampstand of the gospel is taken from the city. The members of a loveless church may continue to meet, but because they manifest an ungodly behavior with which they surround the love feast of celebration and the Lord’s Supper, they no longer reflect the gospel in their assemblies (See Rv 2:4). Paul saw this happening in Corinth, and thus, in his rebuke he identified and corrected such unbecoming behavior among the disciples.

One lesson is strikingly clear from Paul’s revelation surrounding the Corinthian problems: If any assembly of disciples in any area manifests division in the love feast and the Supper, then the members are bad branding examples for the church. The love feast/Supper is the perfect opportunity to determine if each member of the body has the heart of God. If members cannot sit down and eat together in harmony with one another, then they are not together as the one body of Christ. If the members are competitive in their individual ministries, then they destroy the unity by which the organic body must function in harmony.

If the members autonomy from one another throughout a province or state has divided them to the point that they cannot come together in a common meeting in “Corinth,” then they are sectarian. One of the greatest lessons learned from regional love feasts is that such events provide everyone with the opportunity to manifest the nature of the organic body of Christ. Regardless of where each member of the body sits on Sunday morning throughout the province or state, he or she is still a member of the one body of Christ. Assemblies must never be used as an opportunity to divide members from one another. We are all “of Christ.”

[End of series]








The Meal and the Supper (4)

D.  The meal and the Supper

It seems that only the disciples of Achaia had the problems in their assemblies that are discussed in the context of 1 Corinthians 11-14. It seems that they had the problems because the disciples of Achaia had a unique provincial assembly during the Isthmian Games. Paul’s instructions concerning the women keeping silent in this combined provincial meeting would be appropriate. The instructions concerning the women keeping silent in such a combined assembly would answer some of the problems that came from women speaking out of order, and thus causing more confusion (1 Co 14:34,35).

However, in their ordinary weekly house meetings, the women would simply remain in their subjective relationship with their own husbands in the presence of visiting neighborhood families who assembled in their homes on Sunday. It would be unreasonable to think that the wife should keep silent in the home assembly simply when another family stepped into her living room for a time of praise and worship. If indeed a wife was not submissive to her own husband before the assembly, then she would be out of order in her relationship with her husband, as well as with guests, who would be attending the couple’s house assembly (See 1 Tm 2:12).

We are told that the Corinthians in their regular weekly house fellowships came together on the first day of the week throughout Achaia (1 Co 16:2). However, we are not told that the meal of 1 Corinthians 11 was a combined weekly gathering of all the house groups. Throughout Achaia such would have been impossible on a weekly basis.

The 1 Corinthians 11 meeting may have been a periodic regional meeting in Corinth wherein the division that was going on among the individual house fellowships manifested itself in the general love feast that took place in the city of Corinth. Add to this the problem of some disciples in Corinth not waiting for those who came from great distances from throughout Achaia. Their lack of love for one another was revealed by their gluttony of eating all the food before others arrived.

Whatever the historical setting, we must be careful that we do not read our modern-day system of institutional assembly behavior into the context. We do know, however, that the Corinthian disciples were continuing the Passover meal tradition through the love feast/Lord’s Supper as part of a celebration feast, just as the disciples in Troas. We assume that they were so committed to the love feast/Supper that they were willing to keep such even during an occasional provincial meeting in Corinth.


Isthmian Games Assembly

C.  The Isthmian Games assembly

If the assembly of 1 Corinthians 11-14 were indeed an occasional meeting of all the disciples in Achaia, then we might wonder from where this tradition originated. Here is a possibility: The Isthmian Games were conducted in the spring every two years in the city of Corinth.   These games originated several centuries before the arrival of Paul on the scene on his second mission journey.   Paul wanted to be present in Corinth in the spring of A.D. 51 because he knew that this was the ideal opportunity to preach the gospel to the world through the athletes who attended the Games. Since athletes from throughout the Roman Empire were gathered for these games, Paul wanted to seize the opportunity for world evangelism. It was during this opportunity that Paul used a diversity of languages to communicate the gospel (1 Co 14:18).

In order to support this view, it is interesting to note the “athletic language” that Paul used throughout the Corinthian letters (See 1 Co 9:24-27; 10:1-13; 15:55-57). He knew the athletic culture of the Greeks and others who prepared for the Isthmian Games. Words as “crown,” “race,” “self-discipline,” “boxing” and “victory” were commonly used words in the competition of the Games. Paul simply coined the words when he wrote of spiritual matters to the Achaian disciples.

It is also interesting to note that there were no public accommodations for the athletes who came from great distances to participate in the Games. The visitors camped in tents in the open fields that surrounded the facilities for the events. Not only did Paul see the Isthmian Games as an opportunity for evangelism, but he also saw them as an opportunity for his tentmaking business. Evidently, Aquila and Priscilla also took advantage of the opportunity, for it was in Corinth where Paul first encountered this couple who had recently fled from Rome (See At 18:1-3). This common tentmaking business in the context of the Isthmian Games explains how Paul could have contacted the other two tentmakers.

It would not be difficult to assume that since the first disciples of Achaia may have been in Corinth for the occasion of the Isthmian Games, that the members of the body throughout Achaia continued the tradition of an “Isthmian assembly.” They possibly had such an assembly every two years in order to take advantage of the evangelistic opportunity that the international event presented. However, in their behavior, they were tarnishing the opportunity.

At least this possibility explains why the gift of speaking in languages would have been so valuable during this biannual assembly. Since there would have been present athletes of different language groups from throughout the Roman Empire, it would have been a tremendous opportunity for world evangelism.   The opportunity was similar to that which was presented by the annual Jewish Passover/Pentecost feast in Jerusalem where the apostles stayed for at least fifteen years after the establishment of the church in Acts 2. The Achaian brethren may have simply scheduled an “Isthmian assembly” at the time of the Games. At least it would have been quite negligent on their part not to have taken advantage of such an opportunity.

The Isthmian Games presented the opportunity for world evangelism as the Passover/Pentecost feast. However, the Achaian brethren were squandering the opportunity for evangelism because of their lack of love and consideration for one another. They should have been manifesting the same spirit of love that the early Jewish disciples did in Jerusalem a little over twenty years before:

“Now all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they sold their possessions and goods and divided them to all, as everyone had need. And continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and sincerity of heart” (At 2:44-46).

The Achaian brethren were portraying the opposite of the above description of the first disciples in Jerusalem. It may have been a Greek cultural problem.   Nevertheless, they needed to learn a great deal from the first Jewish disciples.

When we read the statement by Paul to the Achaian brethren, “if the whole assembly [of Achaia] gathers in one place [in Corinth] (1 Co 14:23), then in the historical context, we would probably be correct to assume that this was a biannual assembly of the saints from throughout Achaia who came together in Corinth for the mission opportunity of the Isthmian Games (See 1 Co 11:18). During their presence in Corinth at the time of the Games, they simply took the opportunity to assemble on Sunday in Corinth, having invited athletes of the games to come to the unique spring Sunday assemblies during the Games (See 1 Co 14:23).

Based on this possibility, Paul asked a specific question concerning the disciples’ chaotic behavior that took place during this regional assembly. We quote his question below with our assumption that his question was indeed made in the historical context of the biannual event of the “Isthmian assembly.”

“Therefore, if the whole assembly [of the disciples from all Achaia] gathers in one place [in Corinth during the Games], and all speak with languages [of the different nationalities that are present during the Games], and there come in the uninformed [who know little or nothing about the church], or unbelievers [who are attending out of curiosity], will they not say that you are mad [if you conduct your assembly in confusion as in the idolatrous temple]?” (1 Co 14:23).

Unbelieving athletes assuredly attended the assemblies of the saints during the Games. But if they witnessed the rival competition between the tongue speakers and prophets, then they would assume that these people (Christians) were mad. It may have been that some of the brothers brought the competitive spirit of the Games into the assembly of the saints.

It would not be outside the historical context to understand Paul’s teaching concerning the assembly in 1 Corinthians 11-14 with the background of an occasional meeting of the Achaian saints in Corinth.   Such an interpretation would certainly answer a great deal of questions concerning the nature of his instructions concerning the problems that arose during this unique assembly.


Regional Assembly (2)

B.  The regional Assembly

We are not told in the context whether the assembly that was addressed in 1 Corinthians 11 – 14 was a weekly event, or a periodic event when all the house groups of all Achaia came together in one place in Corinth. However, it is more reasonable to believe that this specific disruptive occasion wherein the competitive behavior concerning languages and prophecy that was discussed in the context of 1 Corinthians 11 – 14 was actually an occasional provincial assembly. This is indicated in the statement of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:18: “For first of all, when you come together in assembly, I hear that there are divisions among you.” Or more specifically, “Therefore, if the whole assembly gathers in one place [in Corinth] (1 Co 14:23).

It seems more likely that Paul’s reference to the assembly was not to the small weekly house assemblies, but to something far greater to which everyone in the province was gathered, and during which the problems of 1 Corinthians 11-14 were addressed.

An occasional large provincial meeting was where the “I am of Paul,” “I am of Cephas,” and “I am of Apollos” sectarianism would most likely have been revealed (1 Co 1:12). Such an assembly would present the opportunity for competition between those gifted in languages and those gifted with prophecy in order to teach the multitude who had come together.

It would certainly be unreasonable to conclude that their sectarian behavior was being manifested in the weekly house assemblies throughout the province. Claiming allegiance to a specific personality in a group of 25-30 people would seem questionable, especially since each particular “loyalty sect” may have been meeting in the same house. And the use of the gift of languages (tongues) would have been unnecessary if everyone in the weekly house assembly spoke the same language.

People of a common language throughout Achaia would certainly have met in a group that spoke their particular language. But throughout Achaia, everyone spoke Greek, so the need for the gift languages was not necessary. Only during the Isthmian Games did people come into town who spoke other languages. During an assembly with diverse language groups, there would be the necessity for the use of the gift of languages.

The disruptive behavior that Paul confronts in the context of 1 Corinthians 11-14 seems to fit better in the context of an occasional fellowship assembly of all the Christians in Achaia when they came together in the city of Corinth. It was in such an assembly that favorite personalities divided the one body of Achaia into “loyalty sects.”





The early disciples came together regularly on the first day of the week to fellowship with one another and to partake of the Lord’s Supper during or after a love feast. They celebrated the gospel of Jesus with the bread and fruit of the vine. They celebrated one another during the love feast. In view of these participatory events, we need to approach the context of 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 with the understanding that the love feast was a meal upon which the Supper was based. Seated in the love feast, the Supper of the Lord was observed in order to celebrate the Redeemer of the one redeemed body.

It is in the context of this celebration of the love feast where we discover that some of the Corinthian disciples were reflecting their divisive and competitive attitudes. There is justification to consider that the particular love feast/Supper that Paul addressed in the context of 1 Corinthians 11 was an occasional regional assembly during which rude behavior and inconsiderate attitudes were revealed on the part of some of the participants. In fact, when we consider their rebuke by the Holy Spirit through Paul, we can better understand the purpose of the love feast and Supper encounter for which both were conducted by the early church.

A.  The historical setting:

Many Bible students make an unfortunate interpretive error by lifting the events discussed in 1 Corinthians 11 – 14 out of the historical context of the early church, particularly the church of Achaia. For this reason, we must caution ourselves about reading into the context our own rituals that we traditionally maintain today that surround the love feast/Supper. It is simply our quest to understand the teaching of the word of God and the examples of how the disciples of the first century responded to the gospel. We must do this with the historical background of the early disciples, and not our own.

Since the letters of 1 & 2 Corinthians were written to Christians throughout the province of Achaia, we must understand that the assembly for the love feast/Supper about which Paul addressed was probably an occasional provincial assembly of the Achaian church in the city of Corinth (1 Co 15:16; 2 Co 1:1; 9:2; 11:10).   If we bring the discussions of this chapter into the context of the weekly love feast that was likewise observed by the Troas church in Acts 20:7, then we must understand that the Achaian disciples were in some way locally and provincially coming together in fellowship to eat the love feast and celebrate the Lord’s Supper. But the specific love feast/Supper that gave rise to some unique problems in Corinth was not the weekly event. It seems to be a forced interpretation to assume that the assembly about which Paul addressed was any particular weekly house assembly. He seems to be addressing the dysfunctional behavior of some in an assembly that was much larger than a house assembly.