1 Corinthians 11-14

In the second half of 1 Corinthians, Paul responded to the questions the church had sent him. Having dealt with matters of marriage (ch. 7), and with visiting idol temples (chs. 8-10), Paul continued the sermonic character of his epistle as he addressed concerns about corporate gatherings. For Paul, the Old Testament influenced why and how the church was to gather in Christ.

(1) In 1 Cor 11:23-26, Paul described how Jesus transformed the Passover meal into a commemoration of His death and His presence among His people. The Lord instituted the Passover celebration to remind Israel of His mercy on them as the death angel killed the firstborn of the Egyptians (Exodus 12-14). God intended that the Passover meal would shape the community of Israel. Moses instructed the people that when Israelite children asked the meaning of the blood on the doorpost and the unleavened bread, parents were to respond, “By the strength of His hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt” (Exod 13:14). Jesus transferred the Passover reference. The bread was to be a remembrance of His body, the cup a representation of His blood (Matt 26:26-29//Mark 14:22-25//Luke 22:17-20). Paul rebuked the Corinthians because when they gathered for worship, the wealthy separated from those who were poor. The former were drunk, and the latter had to go hungry (1 Cor 11:17-21). Paul did not condemn the wealth of some in the community (they provided their homes as a place for the church to gather) but that the wealthy shamed the poor by taking their supper in private, before the poor arrived (1 Cor 11:20-22). Divisions in the church contradicted the very purpose of Christ’s death. Paul warned the Corinthians that whoever would partake of the Lord’s supper without recognizing Christ and the importance of Christian fellowship, ate in an unworthy manner (1 Cor 11:29). The reason that some in the Corinthian church died prematurely was because they did not observe the Lord’s Supper with reference to Christ and each other (1 Cor 11:30-32).

(2) In 1 Cor 14:21, Paul quoted Isa 28:11-12 to argue that the church was edified by those who prophesied in a common language, not by those who spoke in tongues. Paul challenged the Corinthians that, rather than displaying their gifts from a foundation of selfishness, they ought to base their spiritual service on an attitude of love (1 Cor 13:1-13). One particularly noticeable manifestation of a lack of love amongst the congregation was their love of speaking in tongues (1 Cor 14:1-40). According to Paul, the gift of tongues had a legitimate role to play in the propagation of the gospel, but it was superfluous to those who already had God’s revelation in their own language. Paul rooted his argument in Isa 28:11-12. In Isaiah 28, the prophet chastised those in Ephraim because they were drunk on their own status. And in their drunken stupor, they cited Scripture. Isaiah prophesied concerning a foreign invasion; he said that the Lord would speak to His people in what they understood as stammering speech and a foreign language. So when, in 1 Cor 14:21, Paul quoted Isa 28:11-12, saying, “By people of other languages and by lips of foreigners, I will speak to this people; and even then, they will not listen to Me,” he commented that tongues were a sign to unbelievers. If then an unbeliever came into a church gathering where all the members could converse about Christ in the same language and witnessed someone trying to speak in an unintelligible tongue, the unbeliever would think the church out of their minds (1 Cor 14:23). What the Corinthians thought would distinguish them was actually a mark of immaturity. While Paul recognized that the Spirit might bestow an ability to communicate the gospel in a different tongue, he condemned the Corinthians for faking it to show off some arbitrary measure of spirituality. In Paul’s mind, the truly spiritual were not those who sought to distinguish themselves from the norm by speaking in unintelligible sounds, but those who prophesied, taught the word of God in a common language, and called the people to an appropriate response. Paul wanted the church to gather in an orderly manner, because structure led to the edification of the body (1 Cor 14:26).