A – The Politics of Communal Meals in Hellenistic Greece 1 Cor. 11: 17-22

[17] Τοῦτο δὲ παραγγέλλων οὐκ ἐπαινῶ ὅτι οὐκ εἰς τὸ κρεῖσσον ἀλλὰ εἰς τὸ ἧσσον συνέρχεσθε. [18] πρῶτον μὲν γὰρ συνερχομένων ὑμῶν ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ ἀκούω σχίσματα ἐν ὑμῖν ὑπάρχειν, καὶ μέρος τι πιστεύω. [19] δεῖ γὰρ καὶ αἱρέσεις ἐν ὑμῖν εἶναι: ἵνα [καὶ] οἱ δόκιμοι φανεροὶ γένωνται ἐν ὑμῖν. [20] Συνερχομένων οὖν ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ οὐκ ἔστιν κυριακὸν δεῖπνον φαγεῖν, [21] ἕκαστος γὰρ τὸ ἴδιον δεῖπνον προλαμβάνει ἐν τῷ φαγεῖν, καὶ ὃς μὲν πεινᾷ, ὃς δὲ μεθύει. [22] μὴ γὰρ οἰκίας οὐκ ἔχετε εἰς τὸ ἐσθίειν καὶ πίνειν; ἢ τῆς ἐκκλησίας τοῦ θεοῦ καταφρονεῖτε, καὶ καταισχύνετε τοὺς μὴ ἔχοντας; τί εἴπω ὑμῖν; ἐπαινέσω ὑμᾶς; ἐν τούτῳ οὐκ ἐπαινῶ.

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In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul responds to concerns that the Christian community at Corinth is split into a number of factions.  One of the places where this division is most noticeable is at the sacred meal comemmorating Jesus’ last supper with his disciples.  As he begins this passage, he notes that the Corinthian Chrstians are coming together not for the better, but for the worse.  This is the earliest recorded account of this sacred meal among Christians and Paul makes explicit in verse 23 (παρέλαβον ἀπὸ τοῦ κυρίου ὃ καὶ παρέδωκα ὑμῖν “I received from the Lord what I pass on to you”) that he is passing down the earliest Christian community’s understanding of this meal.

Where did the first Corinthian Christians meet and why might there be divisions among them?  It is quite probable that the location for such a communal meal is in the home of a prominent member of the community who had a large enough space to accommodate everyone (e.g., Romans 16:5).  Based on Greco-Roman dining practices, banqueters were assigned places of honor according to their social rank and wealth, and even particular dishes and quality of food reinforced social hierarchies and caused divisions among participants.  Moreover, “Corinthians and others socialized into hellenistic culture, and with little acquaintance with Jewish scriptures, may well have understood the supper more in terms of Greek memorial feasts for dead heroes” (Horsley, 1 Corinthians, 161).

Review: genitive absolute (Goodell 589590); purpose clauses, general clauses (Goodell 616)