In 1 Corinthians 11:29 Paul warns about judgment on those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ:

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.

1 Corinthians 11:27-30 NIV (emphasis mine)

What does "the body of Christ" refer to in this text? Is "the body of Christ" referring to the literal body of Jesus (i.e. perhaps in transubstantiation)? Or does it refer to recognizing the symbolism? Or in Chapter 12 Paul uses the "body of Christ" as a metaphor of the church.

To what is Paul referring with the phrase "body of Christ?"

  • 1
    NB for precision, differentiate between "transubstantiation" and "Real Presence". They don't mean the same thing. Commented Nov 9, 2011 at 11:58
  • I don't have time to go into detail, but Catholic theologians would more likely have a "both and" for this type of passage. Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 19:35

8 Answers 8


The context of 1 Cor 11:29 in the Greek does not refer to the body of Christ in general (now comprised of all believers), but to the individual physiological body of the believer in particular.

Bruce M. Metzger, on page 496 of the Second Edition of his very able and critically-panned Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012), clarifies that the organic body of Christ is NOT in view in this verse according to the best Greek sources available.

11.29 πίνων...σῶμα {A}

The meaning of the shorter text, which is preserved in the best witnesses (P46 א* A B C* 33 1739 copsa,bo al), was clarified by adding ἀναξίως (from ver. 27) after πίνων and τοῦ κυρίου after σῶμαc C3 D G K P most minuscules it syrp,h,pal goth arm al). In each instance there appears to be no good reason to account for the omission, if the word(s) had been present originally. (emphasis added)

In other words, Mr. Metzger uses a double negative to say (in the most polite manner) that the Greek adverb "in an unworthy manner" (ἀναξίως) and the Greek adjectival clause "of the Lord" (τοῦ κυρίου) never appeared in verse 29 of the "best witnesses" (Greek papyri, manuscripts, and minuscules). The inclusion of "in an unworthy manner" and "of the Lord" were later accretions or marginalia within some of the same witnesses and other sources, and so errant but well-intentioned copyists made these "helpful edits." That is, the copyists saw that Paul mentioned "in an unworthy manner" (ἀναξίως) and "of the Lord" (τοῦ κυρίου) in verse 27, and therefore they "helpfully" added the same words to clarify verse 29 so as to be parallel to verse 27. They wanted to help convey what they had assumed was Paul's intended meaning.

However, when we eliminate these "helpful" edits, the meaning of verse 29 has a different meaning. The NASB here now provides an accurate translation based upon the best available sources (or "witnesses") according to Mr. Metzger.

29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.

In verse 29 therefore, Paul does not have in view the organic body of Christ, which is now comprised of all believers of all times, but the particular physiological body of each individual believer. Paul is saying that if you do not judge your body as dead to sin (when you partake of the Lord's table), then the Lord will discipline you in the here-and-now.

The Lord's Table therefore is the memorial event that the particular physiological body of Jesus had become the sins of the world (2 Cor 5:7). Our physiological body is therefore "dead" to sin, because the particular physiological body of the Nazarene died for sins. By ingesting his body (broken bread) and poured out life (wine), we "incorporate" his physiological death into our own particular body (Col 3:3). This bread and cup also represent the New Covenant (1 Cor 11:25), which is the escape from spiritual death and access to both the Holy Spirit and eternal life, because sin and its power were "killed" in his body on the cross.

Thus if a believer fails to reckon his body as "dead" to the sins for which Christ had died (cf. Romans 6:11) when partaking of the Lord's Table, then that believer will incur direct discipline from the Lord (1 Cor 11:31-32).


26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.

27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.

29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.

shew - preach or declare.

Eating and drinking the elements preaches the death of Christ and all it's implications.

Therefore an examination of ourselves determines whether our life really reflects that belief. Have we forgiven as we have been forgiven. Do we love as we have been loved. If not, then partaking of the elements without discretion makes one a 'swine':

Pr 11:22 ¶ [As] a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, [so is] a fair woman which is without discretion.

Mt 7:6 Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

Le 11:7 And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he [is] unclean to you.

In this case, the body of Christ is the church as in all other cases. Upon examination of oneself, if you do not discern that you are loving and forgiving, then you have discerned that you are not the body of Christ, and are under damnation.

The damnation does not come from taking the elements. You have discerned that you are damned by the examination prior to taking the elements. The cross saves us or judges us based upon whether we are the body of Christ or not. When you discern that you are not the body of Christ and partake of the elements, you are preaching your own damnation.


The broader context to these verses is that when they came together as a church they treated the Lord’s Supper as a common matter, like a regular meal. Not only so but in so doing, they treated it as a party where they ignored the poor, injuring them by their actions. There were ‘divisions’ among them v18. Some of them went ahead with ‘private suppers’. As a result, one person remained hungry and another ate and drank to excess even ‘getting drunk’. v22 Therefore the Apostles says: ‘Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing?’

Therefore to follow the connection of how this ‘unworthy manner’ of practicing the Lords supper with the resulting warning and potential judgment with respect to ‘not discerning’ we do have to decide is the sin principally against the body of believers which has been wounded, the body of Christ in the sacrament which is irrelevantly treated as a common matter, or a combination of both.

The causal conjunction ‘for’ links ‘discerning the body’ to the preceding requirement of ‘self-examination’ that is meant to occur prior to partaking of the elements in the Lord’s Supper. This is our most solid thread that connects self-examination to the Communion. The abuse of the ‘body of Christ’ is only parts of that overall irreverence attached to partaking of the body without discerning the proper meaning of what is being done. In other words their whole conduct was profaning the sacrament. The secondary meaning of the ‘body of Christ’ as the wounded members of the church is not being directly identified as the body from the text. This is why both Catholic and Protestant commentaries generally prefer the meaning as the body of Christ in the sacrament, not the church itself, with exceptions of course.

For example one Roman Catholic Commentary explains the feast being abused was a preliminary meal before Mass but the attitudes were directly linked to how they later partook of the Mass itself. The sin was basically not recognizing the actual body of Christ in the bread and only thinking it was just regular bread (according to the view of transubstantiation):

To convince them that this unchristian supper is no right preparation for Mass, he formally recalls to them the foundation of the Mass and its meaning …‘Not discerning’: ‘not distinguishing’—making no distinction in act between the Body and ordinary bread. Their sin was not unbelief but irreverence. (Rees, W. (1953). 1 and 2 Corinthians. In B. Orchard & E. F. Sutcliffe (Eds.), A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (B. Orchard & E. F. Sutcliffe, Ed.) (1094).)

Calvin says:

He adds the reason—because they distinguish not the Lord’s body, that is, as a sacred thing from a profane. “They handle the sacred body of Christ with unwashen hands, (Mark 7:2,) nay more, as if it were a thing of nought, they consider not how great is the value of it.3 They will therefore pay the penalty of so dreadful a profanation.” (Calvin, J., & Pringle, J. (2010). Vol. 1: Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (389))

Lange has a similar approach:

not discerning the body.—The verb διακρίνειν is translated either, to distinguish—in this case from ordinary food and drink, or, in order to escape the necessity of adopting a different signification from that in ver. 31, to judge., i. e., in regard to the body of Christ, whose symbol he receives;—in other words, to make a careful estimate of its sanctity and importance (Meyer). (Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Kling, C. F., & Poor, D. W. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: 1 Corinthians (239).)

Perhaps the best explanation is from Hodge:

Let a man examine himself. In other words, let him ascertain whether he has correct views of the nature and design of the ordinance, and whether he has the proper state of mind. That is, whether he desires thankfully to commemorate the Lord’s death, renewedly to partake of the benefits of that death as a sacrifice for his sins, publicly to accept the covenant of grace with all its promises and obligations, and to signify his fellowship with his brethren as joint members with himself of the body of Christ. And so let him eat. That is, after this self-examination, and, as is evidently implied, after having ascertained that he possesses the due preparation. It is not essential, however, to this preparation, as before remarked, that we should be assured of our good estate, but simply that we have the intelligent desire to do what Christ requires of us when we come to his table. If we come humbly seeking him, he will bid us welcome, and feed us with that bread whereof if a man eat, he shall never die….where he who eats unworthily is said to contract guilt in reference to the body of the Lord. Not discerning, i. e. because he does not discern the Lord’s body. The word διακρίνω, translated to discern, means to separate, then to cause to differ, as 4:7; and also, judge of, either in the sense of discriminating one thing from another, or in the sense of estimating aright. This passage may therefore mean, not discriminating the Lord’s body, i. e. making no difference between the bread in the sacrament and ordinary food; or, it may mean, not estimating it aright, not reverencing it as the appointed symbol of the body of the Lord. In either case the offence is the same. The ground of the condemnation incurred is, regarding and treating the elements in the Lord’s supper as though there was nothing to distinguish them from ordinary bread and wine. Here, as before, it is the careless and profane who are warned. There is, therefore, nothing in these passages which should surround the Lord’s table with gloom. We are not called unto the mount covered with clouds and darkness, from which issue the signs of wrath, but unto Mount Zion, to the abode of mercy and grace, where all is love—the dying love of him who never breaks the bruised reed.( Hodge, C. (1857). An exposition of the First epistle to the Corinthians (233). New York: Robert Carter & Brothers.)

An alternate view I do not espouse Although I have not included the view that this could be principally referring to the body of Christ as the church (because it seem to be a minority view and I am not persuaded that view is directly taken from the text) here is an example of how it can be taken that way:

In this context it refers specifically to the disunity and factious spirits of some in the church at Corinth (cf. II Cor. 13:5)…“His body” seems to refer not to the physical body (1) of Jesus or (2) the participants, but to the Church as a group (cf. 10:17; 12:12–13, 27). Disunity is the problem. A spirit of superiority or class distinctions destroys the fellowship. (Utley, R. J. (2002). Vol. Volume 6: Paul’s Letters to a Troubled Church: I and II Corinthians. Study Guide Commentary Series (135). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International.)

I do not agree with this ‘from the context’ approach since the context is the Lord’s Supper as has been understood by the majority. Of course the majority is not always right, I only mention them when siding with them as it does put a certain amount of weight that a minority must take greater effort to lift when attempting to correct.

  • Thanks, Mike, for providing a more comprehensive answer here. Incidentally, I do hold the last view.
    – Soldarnal
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 2:02
  • @Soldarnal - I think a hidden part of the exegetical decision is whether one thinks it biblical that disunity potentially triggers punishment by death or publicly disrespecting a church sacrament could potentially bring punishment by death. This assumption significantly effects our view of God's righteous judgment in setting up expected minimum standards in the New Testament.
    – Mike
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 4:02

It means Jesus' body and blood:

1 Corinthians 11:23-30 (DRB)

For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread. 24 And giving thanks, broke, and said: Take ye, and eat: this is my body, which shall be delivered for you: this do for the commemoration of me. 25 In like manner also the chalice, after he had supped, saying: This chalice is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as often as you shall drink, for the commemoration of me. 26 For as often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall shew the death of the Lord, until he come. 27 Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice. 29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord. 30 Therefore are there many infirm and weak among you, and many sleep.


When Jesus said "This is my body" he was holding the Afikomen. I understand it to be after the afikomen has been retrieved since he, as the head of the house said "Take, eat" and you don't eat until after it has been buried and retrieved. To recognize that the afikomen showed forth that Jesus died for our sins and was raised from the dead is, in my always absolutely humble opinion, to "recognize the Lord's body".


English Standard Version 1 Corinthians 11:

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, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body,

i.e., the body of Jesus

which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25In the same way also he took 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.”

for the purpose of remembering Jesus

26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

27Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.

i.e., again the body of Jesus

28 Let a person examine himself, then, 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 on himself.

The "body" in verse 23 refers to the body of Jesus.
The "body" in verse 27 refers to the body of Jesus. It is likely that
the "body" in verse 29 refers to the body of Jesus as well.

Is "the body of Christ" referring to the literal body of Jesus (i.e. perhaps in transubstantiation)?

It refers to the literal body of Jesus but not in the sense of transubstantiation. We were asked to do so for the purpose of remembering Jesus.

Or does it refer to recognizing the symbolism?

Yes, and more than symbolism. We need to recognize the literal reality of His sacrifice.

Or in Chapter 12 Paul uses the "body of Christ" as a metaphor of the church.


To what is Paul referring with the phrase "body of Christ?"

the body of Christ which was sacrificed on the Cross for our sakes.


If I may, it is neither transubstantiation nor symbolic.

In our Christian experience, there is something called, "spiritual reality". The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of reality (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 John 5:6). And He will lead us into all the reality.

Anything which can separate us from the leading of the Spirit is not reality. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit (John 4:24). Outside the sphere of the Spirit, which is the sphere of God, there is no reality.

Only that which is spiritual is real, and spiritual things can only subsist in the realm of the Spirit. If something is separated from the Spirit, it is dead. If we are to be brought into any spiritual reality, it can only be through our experience of the Spirit of reality.

The Lord's words leaves no room for transubstantiation or symbolism.

Concerning the bread He said, "This is My body," and of the wine He said, "This is My blood." When He referred to it as His blood, He also referred to it as the fruit of the vine. At the same time it is His blood and it is the fruit of the vine. No transubstantiation has taken place. This fruit of the vine is His blood. The one is the other.

Paul quoted the Lord, "This cup is the new covenant established in My blood". It is the cup of wine, but it is still the blood. In 1 Cor. 10:17, "Seeing that there is one bread, we who are many are one Body", we will definitely say that "we" refers to literal people. Then, how then can the "one bread" be figurative? Literal and figurative language cannot be combined in one phrase.

Yet, in our experience when we touch the spiritual reality at the Lord's table, we see the broken body of Christ and His shed blood. But, at the same time, it is the bread and wine.

(I am not making sense, am I?)

  • 1
    Thanks, and welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics. It might help clarify if you explained what Paul intends the Corinthians to "discern." Does it mean to come into contact with the spiritual reality?
    – Soldarnal
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 3:55
  • Erm ... indirectly. Why do I say this? Although the body in 11:24 denotes the physical body of Jesus, Paul uses the expression, “not discerning the body,” in verse 29 to denote also the mystical Body. The Body of Christ is very much related to His administration for the carrying out of His will. To discern the Body is first to realize that Christ has only one mystical Body. So, it is extremely serious to come to the Lord’s table with a divisive spirit and thereby fail to discern the body. Because many of the believers at Corinth (1:10—4:21) failed to discern the body, some became weak.
    – pehkay
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 5:12
  • 1
    Um ... no you're not exactly making sense. At least I am having a hard time following the threads here or even quite clear on what your interpretation has this meaning. Perhaps it would be useful to edit this with more of the actual verses you think are related and show how the 1st Cor text is related. Maybe connecting the dots for us will make it easier to understand where you ended up.
    – Caleb
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 12:15

The Lord's supper is a combination of Israel's Levitical priesthood eating the sacrifices before God, and Israel vowing to keep the conditions of the Covenant (It is tied to the jealous inspection in Numbers 5.) Before the Mosaic Covenant, all sacrifices were whole burnt offerings. The Noahic priests did not eat with God. To do so required a greater ceremonial cleanliness.

So the distinction here, the "discernment" must be rightly judging between sacred food and common food, between the house of God and the homes we live in. For Israel, this was the difference between Passover and Tabernacles. At Passover, Israel was set apart for purification. At Booths/Tabernacles, a purified Israel was called to minister to, to "feed" the other nations. For the Christian, this is the difference between the Lord's table and the love feast. We examine ourselves, eat with God, and will then eat with the unconverted with the right heart, ministering out of God's abundance.

  • 2
    Mike before you go on putting time into answers, we need you to deal with the issues we've raised before. I don't want your time and energy to go to waste, but we do have very specific requirements for answers here involving needing to show your work. A lot of your previous answers are on the verge of deletion. If you keep posting more of the same, they are going to go the same route. I'm sure that's not what you want to have happen to your content, but we insist on answers here showing the interpretive process that they went through to arrive at a conclusion, not just the conclusions.
    – Caleb
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 12:02
  • 1
    See the exchange on this answer of yours for more background, but you have quite a few other answers with this same issue. If there is some part of this you don't understand please feel free to bring it up in chat and we can discuss it. The requirement to show work is pretty fixed but we can help you work into it if you're willing. If you're not willing to work within these guidelines, all your time spent answering is going to end up wasted. Ball 's in your court. What do you want to do?
    – Caleb
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 12:04
  • Well, I thought this one was pretty self-explanatory and unfortunately I don't have the time. It's been fun and interesting.
    – Mike Bull
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 22:14

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