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In 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 (NKJV) :

27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.

If for this reason many are «weak and sick among you, and many sleep», must be serious. What does Paul mean by unworthy manner?


Related: "What is the referent of "body of Christ" in 1 Corinthians 11:29?"

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I'd tend to look back at 1 Corinthians 10:14-17 (NIV), note the focus on one and unity.

14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

Starting in 11:17 Paul is talking about how a feast that is to demonstrate unity is actually promoting and demonstrating disunity.

It's not a popular answer, but I think biblically speaking a strong case can be made that an unworthy manner is one in which the participant is not recognizing their unity with Christ and the body of believers that he or she is gathered with. And perhaps even recognizing a wider vision of unity of those who call upon Christ as Lord.

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    I gave you a +1, but this answer would be much stronger if you were to present this "strong case" rather than simply saying "I think biblically speaking a strong case can be made". – Jas 3.1 Aug 17 '14 at 20:22
  • @Fred, your answer is intriguing, and I am puzzled why you think it would be "unpopular". You really ought to put more thought into this response, as it gives the impression you think Paul was just concerned about unity among the Christians, when he actually had something much greater in mind, imo. "unity with Christ and the body" puts these two unities as fairly equal in importance. Are they? – C. Kelly Apr 11 '16 at 4:30
  • I'm from a Church of Christ background, and we're just starting the ecumenical movement. For most of my life, the majority of the people I worshiped with thought that we should really only fellowship and think of as brothers those who thought almost exactly the same way we did, and had the same name over the building. I've developed a bit of a subversive way of talking about seeing all those who seek to follow Jesus as brethren. I try to make it clear to those who are ready and not cause those who aren't ready to stumble. My poor attempt to emulate Christ and his parables. – Fred Jun 23 '16 at 10:35
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+25

The word Paul uses here, is αναξιως, a compound word consisting of αν + αξιως. So, it means "not" + "appropriately" or "inappropriately".

In 1 Corinthians 11:24-25, Paul records how Jesus instituted the memorial service. He:

  • gave thanks for the bread

  • broke the bread and invited the disciples to eat it in order to recall his body that was about to be broken for them (flesh torn away by the scourge, etc)

  • gave thanks for the wine ("in like manner")

  • drank the wine and invited the disciples to drink it in order to recall his blood that was about to be shed for them.

It is a solemn memorial service, so any attitude or action that didn't befit the solemnity of the occasion would be considered as behaving "unsatisfactorily", or "unworthily" or in an "unworthy manner".

To shed further light on this word, it is worth investigating Paul's use of αξιως in his letters.

In Romans 16:2, Paul asks in regard to Phoebe:

That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints ...


In Ephesians 4:1, Paul exhorts the church to:

... walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.


In Philippians 1:17, concerning their conversation, Paul commends that it be exclusively:

... as it becometh the gospel of Christ.


In Colossians 1:9-10, Paul prays that the church be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that they:

... might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing.


In 1 Thessalonians 2:12, Paul exhorts those in the church that they:

... would walk worthy of God ...


In 2 Thessalonians 1:11, Paul prays that God count the church:

... worthy of this calling

So, αναξιως would describe any attitude or action that would:

  • not befit the saints -- those who have made a life-long commitment to adhere to God's expectations and Jesus' modeling of such.

  • impede the work that Jesus has called people to accomplish -- to be the salt and light of the world.

  • confound or obscure the Gospel of Christ -- the good news that the treasures of heaven are no longer exclusively available to a single people group, but are available to everyone.

  • project or promote disobedience.

  • This is a fine answer, which allows for a broad range of interpretation and application, as Paul does in his original command, rather than trying to force upon "unworthy" a narrower interpretation such as "disunifying". ++ But don't you think some of the points at which he has rebuked the Corinthians in this and earlier chapters might be subsumed in the word "unworthy" also? – C. Kelly Apr 11 '16 at 4:23
  • Thank you. I employ the KISS principle most of the time, and a focus on the words αναξιως/αξιως allowed for that. For a fuller answer in another place, I agree there is much more that might be drawn out of Paul's letters. – enegue Apr 11 '16 at 4:55
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Paul was warning the Corinthian church specifically about their abusive misunderstanding of The Lord's Supper: "..One remains hungry, another gets drunk" and so on. The results of this travesty was corrective judgment in the form of sickness and death, Paul said. None of us are worthy, but we can avoid partaking in an unworthy manner by "..recognizing the body of the Lord...".

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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It could be a number of things. Paul was known to simplify the deep things of the spirit into ways the everyday reader could understand. So the question then becomes what is an "unworthy manner," at least in regards to communion or the Lord's supper.

1.) Most I believe would say that it means, observing the Lord's supper without knowing Christ himself. I highly doubt that the apostles, especially the apostle Paul, would allow people who didn't have Christ dwelling within them take part in the communion meal.

2.) "This do in remembrance of me." The shere depth of what it means to drink Christ's blood and eat Christ's flesh has became a mere reflection of what it once was. The 11 were there, literally handed the cup from God himself in the flesh saying "Take this and drink, this is my covenant (promise) to you." Which at that time was more or less a marriage proposal in Hebrew custom. That though is a discussion for another day but if interested look up passages about the Church being referred to as the "Bride of Christ."... Point being, if you were going to share in eating the flesh and drinking the blood you were not to do so with unrepented sin, or more importantly a dead spirit. To take part in the communion without being a born again follower of Christ was and is basically slapping Christ in the face and casting down the price He paid on the cross when He shed His blood, and allowed His body to be broken for our sakes.

Other.) Any other issues that could be reffered to as "unworthy" would essentially point back to these, or could the endless debates over the more minor details of the Communion such as: wine vs. juice, time of day, the day in which to take part in the meal, what kind of bread, and various other things.

I hope this helped you. God Bless

  • &Tyler Thanks. One thing I find very interesting is where it says that the bread and cup were picked up "after" dinner. 1 Cor 11:23 He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” – John Martin Jun 22 '14 at 14:44
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From the context, Paul's words "unworthy manner" refer to the particular issue that had arisen in Corinth, described in vv.20ff and 33f:

20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. 21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.

33 Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment.

What makes their eating "unworthy" is their attitude toward the sacrifice of Christ, which the body and blood memorialize. A worthy attitude is one of humility, realizing that through the body and blood of Christ, we are pardoned and made one together with Christ. This unity with Christ isn't just something mystical (though it is also that); it is a union with him in his suffering and death. Those who suffer together have a bond that is often very much stronger than even a familial bond. The realization that we are united together with Christ in his suffering is the true basis for Christian unity; and when members of a church have such a humility and personal union with Christ, discord and contention should cease to exist.

The Corinthian church was noted for its discord. [11:16] An unworthy attitude is one that regards the differences and disagreements as irreconcilable, which cannot forgive others, which cannot think of Christ at all, but looks around to judge or stands up to boast (even during prayer [Lk 18:11]) of one's own good works and uprightness, over against others.

This was part of the problem in Corinth, and Paul urges them to be unified through the memory of Christ's body and blood as they celebrate the Lord's Supper. Not only had they lost touch with the Christ who was being memorialized in the sacrament, they were treating it as an ordinary meal, and indulging in the bread and wine. From the way Paul rebukes them, it seems fair to assume that they were bringing their own bread and wine to the gathering, and instead of having a symbolic meal, were eating whole loaves and drinking excessively, enjoyably, in a celebratory way.

Such an attitude he explains is "unworthy" of the body and blood of Christ, especially when it's no longer "in remembrance of Me (Christ)", but in celebration of me (myself) or us (mankind, our church, our faction).

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Note: This answer leans heavily on interpreting the "Body" - as the the Church, not as a referrant to Jesus, nor one's own body. I have not posted that explanation yet, in this related question : What is the referent of "body of Christ" in 1 Corinthians 11:29?


1. Question Restatement :

In 1 Corinthians 11:27-32, Paul states that a judgment is imputed onto people, who eat and drink of the cup "unworthily". How does one not eat and drink "unworthily"?


2. Clarifying - "Unworthy", "Judgment", "the Body" :

2.1. The Greek, Unworthy :

"Unworthy" - means "undeserved", "unmerited", in a legal sense where someone's actions do not merit a certain consequence.

katabiblon.com, Septuagint, Esther 8:12 - who are unworthily | ἀνάξια placed in authority.

Perseus, ἀνάξιος : ... Soph.; c. inf., ἀνάξιος δυστυχεῖν undeserving to suffer, id=Soph.:—adv., ἀναξίως ἑωυτῶν Hdt. ... 3.undeserving of evil, id=Soph., Eur. II.of things, undeserved, ἀνάξια παθεῖν Eur., etc.

2.2. To Judge or Not to Judge :

A supposed contradiction that Christians should “not judge", (Luke 6:37) or if they are supposed to "judge with righteous judgment", (John 7:24) - rests in not realizing that : although a judge can condemn, a judge can also pardon, (Luke 6:34).

2.3. "The Body, or "The Lord's Body" :

Another complication, arises because of a disagreement in early Greek manuscripts, (See Parallel Greek Texts) :

NASB, 1 Corinthians 11:29 - "eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly". (Codex Sinaiticus omits the word "Lord").

NKJV, 1 Corinthians 11:29 - ... eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. (The Byzantine manuscript, and many others.)

Because of this - it is often taught that one needs to examine if they are discerning that communion represents the "Body of Jesus", or whether they are judging themselves.

But, in fact - Paul clarifies this, showing that "The Lord's Body", and "The Body", both represent a "plurality" - the Church :

NKJV, 1 Corinithians 11:31 - For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.


3. The Context - Passover and Judgment :

There are many "mystical/metaphorical" illustrations of "The Cup" in view of "Judgment" in Scripture.

However - there are two contexts that stand out the most:

  1. The Passion Narrative - Judas, having eaten the bread / cup, ate and drank judgment to himself, (better if he "had not been born”, Matthew 26:24). According to Scripture, as a Passover lamb is silent, and as its blood "covered" for the lives within a home, (Isaiah 53:7), Jesus' obedience to death (not just his death), brought forgiveness, (Philipians 2:8). From Jesus being betrayed by Judas, to being tortured on a cross, Jesus obeyed God by unconditionally advocating for the forgiveness of all, (Isaiah 53:11).

    NASB, Romans 5:10 For if ... we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son ... Romans 5:18, (Interlinear) - through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.

  2. An Adulterous Wife, Deuteronomy 11:5-28 - The Judgment a woman drinks to herself, if she had betrayed her husband.

[Condensed] NASB,Deuteronomy 11:11-31 - 11 ... 12 ...‘If any man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him ... 14 [and] if a spirit of jealousy comes over him ... 16 ‘Then the priest shall ... have her stand before the Lord ... 19 The priest shall have her take an oath and shall say to the woman, “If no man has lain with you and if you have not gone astray into uncleanness, being under the authority of your husband, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings a curse; ... ... and this water that brings a curse shall go into your stomach, and make your abdomen swell and your thigh waste away.” And the woman shall say, “Amen. Amen.” ...


4. Answer - A Judge can Decree Mercy as well as Condemnation :

Only after it is embraced that a Judge can also pardon - then 1 Corinthians 11 becomes clear in the context of the rest of Scripture :

NASB, Matthew 18:33-35 - Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ ... 35 My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

NASB, Romans 5:18-20 - 18 ... and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ ...

NASB, 1 Corinthians 11:24 - 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.”

NASB, 1 Corinthians 11:26 - For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.

NASB, 1 Corinthians 11:31 - But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged.
Note: It is often neglected that one can even judge themselves, as God does - mercifully.**

Summary:

A person who appeals to God under the law of Mercy, is unworthy of that mercy - if they do not also forfeit their own right to accuse, and become unforgiving.

Aside: The next questions that follow are : A.) "How can a person completely forgive from the heart (mind)?" And, the answer is : "By trusting (faith) into the love and mercy of God, more and more", (John 3:16, Romans 4-5). B.) Then, "How can one come to trust in the love and mercy of God?" And the answer is : "By seeing the Body show the love and mercy of God." (i.e., Real/Literal "Communion". See Webster's Dictionary.)

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If we set aside, for a moment, the notion of communion. This "cup after supper" (- the third cup - the cup of redemption)" and the broken bread (the afikomen), as elements of Passover, foretold of Jesus and were being revealed. I would imagine that Paul, as a Jew, understood "the Lord's Supper" to mean the feast of unleavened bread / Passover. Exodus 12:14 says that it is to be celebrated forever. Luke 22: beginning with 14 (and the other gospel Passover accounts) indicate that the Passover was fulfilled in Jesus, that we are now to continue celebrating it in remembrance of Him. Further, he tells us that he will celebrate it again when he returns. Not communion, but Passover - the annual feast of unleavened bread. What, in Paul's understanding, in the context of Passover, would Paul mean by "unworthy"? It would seem to indicate preparation, making yourself ready to receive it. The deeper meaning is found in the preparation of Passover. The sweeping out of leaven - chametz -symbolizing sin. Peter says to Jesus, in response to being told that he can't have a part in the kingdom unless Jesus washes his feet, "wash all of me". Jesus, who has substituted foot-washing for the ritual hand-washing found in the Seder, says that isn't necessary. Having already been cleansed of sin, only the feet need to be washed. We sweep out the leaven. Communion, as we know it, doesn't fully provide an explanation of the verse.

  • Hello Debby. It sounds like you have some light you wish to shed on the subject. Your contribution sounds interesting; however, as it stands now, is more like a comment than a well thought out answer. Answers in this forum need to have a thesis and well supported points that follow a logical progression of thought. Consider re-writing your answer directly in answer to the question rather than in regard to another answer. Write from your perspective, presenting facts. Make clear points and support each with evidence. – user2027 Aug 26 '14 at 13:50
  • Hi Debby, the other answer has been deleted so you need to make sure this one is self-contained (I'm assuming "But it does help to answer the question" refers to the deleted answer). You've really got to spell out your logic here for an answer to be helpful to others on the site, can you try and join the dots for us? – Jack Douglas Aug 26 '14 at 13:57
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Paul's deep roots in the Jewish traditions and religious customs is shining through in these verses. How can anyone take the communion in a worthy manner? No one is worthy to receive the gift that Jesus died to give us. When Jesus walked the earth, he gave to the most unworthy. He did not require any sort of ceremonial cleansing. It is not necessary to do anything, only come to him in complete faith. He demonstrated and taught that over and over in his healings. Paul is reacting to what has been happening at these suppers and how people are looking at them to gorge themselves and making ot about the food, rather than about the sacred remembrance and sacrament, if you will. Today, we do not take communion as a meal nor do we drink cups of wine. We don't have the ability to get drunk or or gorge ourselves because today's communion has been paired down. We have to be careful to fully understand the context in which the writer is writing. Since the consequence of Paul's words state that one who comes in an unworthy manner will be weak and sick, it makes sense that we look to those who were redeemed from weakness, sickness and death. IN these situations, the recipient was only asked if they wanted to be healed and if they believed in who Jesus was and His ability to heal them. Regardless of what Paul meant, the bible illustrates clearly that the only requirement for this kind of grace, is faith. The only unworthy manner would be one in which the recipient of the communion comes without the full faith that they are not just taking steps to remember that Jesus died, but eating the body and drinking the blood. This eating and drinking symbolize accepting the full redemption, both spiritually and physically, that Jesus gives. His striped and pierced body means our sins have been taken up on the cross and are no more seen by God and, in fact, we are restored to our right relationship with God. One must come in faith that by taking communion, together the church body is healed and strengthened as well as the individual.One must see his own sins in the body of our Lord, knowing our own sins have been taken care of , pierced and bled out of our lives, through what Jesus endured and took on for us. In this way, believers can come to the table, understanding what it means. "Unworthy manner" is not the best choice of words as all come as unworthy. Unworthy should be a requirement, not a roadblock. There should be a reminder of the grace and power that all believers should understand and accept and believe in. It's about faith.

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