In a nutshell: Paul has harsh words for people who introduce division into the Lord’s Supper and warns that sickness and weakness result from such activities.
Just as the body has many parts and all of the parts, even though there are many of them, are still parts of one body, so is the body of the Anointed. For we were all baptized by the same power of God into one body, whether we were Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, and we were all invited to imbibe in the same divine power.
—1 Corinthians 12:12–13
This entry is for Day 11, posted early so you have it going into the weekend.
Bioethics and the Body of the Anointed
In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul argues that the Corinthians’ bad behavior is causing them to be punished by God. They are sick and weak, he claims, because they are not carrying out the ritual Lord’s Supper appropriately. This issue needs some focused attention, so I concentrate on chapter 11 today and come back to chapter 12’s theme of gifts and community tomorrow, since that theme continues into tomorrow’s reading with the famous love hymn of 1 Corinthians 13.
In this audioblog, I draw upon biomedical ethics to interpret Paul’s links between sickness, judgment, and communal unity. During our reading of Galatians, I explained that Paul’s definition of “sin” may be better understood to refer to a general condition of corruption that permeates the whole world rather than a personal psychological experience of guilt. In 1 Corinthians 11, weakness and sickness reflect the condition of the corrupt world. When the Corinthians intentionally develop factions and exclude members of the community from their most sacred rituals, they are drawn back into the corrupt world they thought they left behind.
The book I mention in the audio is Clinical Ethics: A Practical Approach to Ethical Decisions in Clinical Medicine by Albert R. Jonsen et al. You can find the clinical ethics chart broken down into more detail on the UW School of Medicine website. The book can be quite technical at times, but its many case studies present an opportunity to think through the fundamental moral principles of beneficence, non-maleficence, respect for autonomy, and justice and fairness.
Questions for the Road:
- Here Paul seems to treat the Lord’s Supper as an act of proclamation not unlike his own traveling work as a prophet of God heralding the coming of the new divine king (“Anointed”) Jesus. The Corinthians’ divisive behavior disrupts that message. If you belong to a particular religious or spiritual community, what is your message to the world, your good news? What activities disrupt that message and weaken the community?
- Can you imagine a scenario in which Paul might have misunderstood the Corinthians’ intentions? Is there any case in which it might actually be a good thing to exclude people from the Lord’s Supper?
Thanks for reading this entry from the #30DaysofPaul reading challenge. We’re reading the seven undisputed letters of Paul in 30 days: 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians, Romans. Why not join us? Download the reading plan, which is based on the work of the Westar Paul Seminar as published in The Authentic Letters of Paul.
Cassandra Farrin joined Westar in 2010 and currently serves as the Marketing & Outreach Director. A US-UK Fulbright Scholar, she has an M.A. in Religious Studies from Lancaster University (England) and a B.A. in Religious Studies from Willamette University. She is passionate about books and projects that in some way address the intersection of ethics and early Christian history.