Bioethics and the Body of the Anointed (Day 11 Audioblog: 1 Corinthians 11–12)

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.

There Is Good in Us
“There Is Good in Us.” One of several portraits by artist George Harding of people who guided him through his problems in the grounds of the world’s oldest psychiatric hospital. Learn more.

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?

Letters of Paul small squareThanks 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 FarrinCassandra 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.

3 thoughts on “Bioethics and the Body of the Anointed (Day 11 Audioblog: 1 Corinthians 11–12)

  1. 1 Cor 11, a paraphrase: I thank you for maintaining the traditions as I handed them on — but, know for sure that Christ is the head of each man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God of Christ. To reflect properly on God’s created order, in my opinion it would be disgraceful for a man to wear a head covering in worship and for a woman not to wear a head covering. Nevertheless, in the Lord, men and women are not independent of each other, and our churches do not have individual requirements. I do not commend you in the matter of the Lord’s Supper, as you eat according to your factional divisions, rushing to eat before others arrive, with some actually being denied food. Eating the bread and drinking the cup proclaim the Lord’s death, so when done in an unworthy manner the participants eat and drink judgment on themselves. Are you really so uncaring. The Lord has disciplined many of you with illness and even death.

    1 Cor 12-13:1, a paraphrase: I also need to talk to you about spiritual gifts. Know above all, that the Spirit never prods one to curse Jesus. God is the source of a variety of gifts, services, and activities. wisdom, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, interpretation. We represent many spiritual gifts in the unity of one body. Similarly, the physical body has many members, each cooperating with the other by its own function and importance. The less visible may actually be the most important. But of all the functions of the body of Christ, the most important can be p[racticed by all members: Love.

    Comment: (1) There have been hints throughout this document, such as references to previous written contacts, changes in subject without warning, different opinions in dialogue about the same subject, talking about the same subject multiple disconnected times, which suggest that over time there may have been a basic author, built upon by like minded thinkers, and interpolated by thinkers that weren’t like minded. (2) There are also translation differences: depending on how 11:16 is understood, for example, it could mean that the churches support the practice of head coverings for women, or have established no rule regarding it. (3) Enjoyed the bio-ethics audio-blog; we need a judgment that comes from outside ourselves don’t we – Cassandra, you pointed that out in your discussion of climate change.


  2. It is evident that Paul is dead and long gone when he tells people to be “imitators” of him and wants people to “remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them down to you.” Then comes his veiling of the woman law, which some have said is an interpolation. Modern pundits have missed it, when their primary argument for it is that it is different in treatment of women than other Paulines. Greco-Roman writers of that time who wrote about women were not consistent in their views of women, even in the same writings. That argument doesn’t stand. The second argument, about keeping traditions, is also found in other Paulines and is a good key to dismissing all references, perhaps all letters that speak of this “imitation” of the “foundation Paul laid” that others are building, and so forth, are phony. The third, that it breaks up the flow of the argument, as I have shown, is found elsewhere – indeed, in places not considered by the pundits to be “interpolations. Indeed, this is found in Marcion. The spiel about eating together isn’t as closely related to the end of chapter 10 as many would make it. In the first he is speaking about buying food and whether it has been used as a sacrifice. In chapter 11 he is speaking of the Lord’s Supper and the conduct of that. Chapter 12 is a list of spiritual gifts and the clever idea that all gifts are part of one body, that of the Christos. That is as far as I can get before familial obligations take me elsewhere for a bit. Hopefully will continue in the next two days.


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