First Corinthians 11--Bloodguilt
Jun 12, 2017
Paul concludes his comments on Communion by saying “Therefore…” 1 Corinthians 11:27 says,
27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.
How does one become “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord”? In fact, what does this phrase mean?
It has to do with “bloodguiltiness,” which is the term used in the NASB in Leviticus 17:3, 4,
3 Any man from the house of Israel who slaughters an ox, or a lamb, or a goat in the camp, or who slaughters it outside the camp, 4 and has not brought it to the doorway of the tent of meeting to present it as an offering to the Lord before the tabernacle of the Lord, bloodguiltiness is to be reckoned to that man. He has shed blood and that man shall be cut off from among his people.
This is one of the laws of sacrifice, which points to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and, by extension, to Communion, which remembers that event. If a man sacrificed an animal under Moses, he was to bring its blood to the tabernacle so that the blood could be sprinkled on the altar (Leviticus 17:6).
Anyone can kill an animal for food, but one had to treat it like a sacrifice in order to make its blood effective spiritually. The altar in the tabernacle represented the hearts of all who offered such sacrifices. If a man made a sacrifice but failed to bring its blood to the altar, he was guilty of bloodguilt and was to be “cut off from among his people.”
This law was a type of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. The chief priests made that sacrifice, as the law prophesies, but they did not treat His death as a sacrifice for sin. They failed to apply His blood to their heart-altars, and so, to use Paul’s terminology, they were “guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.”
Further, as Paul indicates, others may also incur bloodguilt by taking Communion unworthily. Communion is a way of ingesting Christ’s blood—that is, applying His blood to the altar of our hearts. But if we partake unworthily, not treating His death as a sacrifice for sin, then we are as guilty as the chief priests. His death, then, is just another execution, insofar as they are concerned, like an animal that is slaughtered for food. If He truly had been just a criminal, as they claimed, then there would be no bloodguilt. But they were wrong. He was the final Sacrifice for sin. By not recognizing that, they broke the law of sacrifice and were then “cut off from among [their] people.”
In other words, legally speaking, they were exiled from the tribe/nation of Judah, no longer considered to be Judahites in the eyes of God and the law. This is why Paul denies that they are Jews in Romans 2:28, for being a Jew is a legal matter, not a racial matter. The law speaks of people being cut off, or excommunicated, or exiled from their people, regardless of their race or genealogy.
Judas was Replaced
Paul’s main example is Judas, who partook of the chief priests’ bloodguilt when he was paid thirty pieces of silver for betraying Jesus. The apostles recognized this when they replaced him, as we read in Acts 1:20,
20 For it is written in the book of Psalms, “Let his homestead be made desolate, and let no man dwell in it;” and “His office let another man take.”
These are quotations from Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8, originally both references to Ahithophel, who betrayed David in the Absalom conspiracy to usurp the throne. Ahithophel later hanged himself, as did Judas, so it is obvious that he did not return to his original position as David’s counsellor. Likewise, Absalom was killed at the second coming of David (2 Samuel 18:14).
So the apostles drew lots and replaced Judas with Matthias (Acts 1:26), for his bloodguilt was evident. Later, as the other apostles were martyred, they were not replaced, for although there were other apostles, none of them were “replaced” as such. The exception, I believe, was Matthias himself, who was a temporary replacement for Judas. We never hear anything more about him, and I believe that he held the office only until God could call Saul and train him as Paul, so that Paul might be the permanent replacement for Judas.
The overall lesson admonishes us not to be like Judas. Not only has Jesus been rejected outright, as with Jewry, but also Christian believers may play the role of Judas in betraying Him, thereby participating in the chief priests’ violation of the law of sacrifice. Paul never advocated hatred or mistreatment of Jews, for it was his “heart’s desire” that they would be saved (Romans 10:1). Nonetheless, Paul had no power to change the law or to excuse Jews from violating the law of sacrifice.
Eating and Drinking Christ
What really concerned Paul was that Christian believers might be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord without realizing it. For this reason, he warned the church. 1 Corinthians 11:28-30 continues,
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, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.
If we “eat” Christ’s body and “drink” His blood, as He instructed us to do in John 6:53-56, then we have life in ourselves. But if we eat and drink unworthily, we partake of judgment and death. When Jesus talked about this, the people grumbled, not understanding the truth in His words. When Jesus asked His own disciples if they wanted to leave as well, Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). But Jesus knew that one of them disagreed with Peter, for John 6:70, 71 says,
70 Jesus answered them, “Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil? 71 Now He meant Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him.
The context shows that Judas had a problem with Jesus’ teaching on eating His flesh and drinking His blood. This is the pattern that other disciples later followed in the matter of taking Communion. Perhaps the key piece of understanding is given in John 6:63, 64
63 “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.
Most of the people were fleshly minded. Hence, they were offended, because the law forbids drinking blood (Leviticus 17:12) and eating human flesh. Their carnality also made them put great stock in their genealogical connection to Abraham, as if this made them privileged above others, or made them immune to divine judgment when they sinned. But God judges all men impartially, as the law commands, and gives equal rights to non-Israelites who come under God’s covenant and join the nation of Israel (Numbers 15:15, 16; Leviticus 19:33, 34).
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:31, 32,
31 But if judged ourselves rightly, we should not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord in order that we may not be condemned along with the world.
To judge is to discern good from evil. We should know the law and the mind of Christ, so that we can discern His will in all things. We need to know what to condemn and what to embrace. If we remain in self-condemnation, we are not judging “rightly.” If we refuse to make corrections in our lives, we again are not judging “rightly.” We must be impartial in our judgments. We need to see ourselves as God sees us through the blood of Jesus—if, indeed, we eat His flesh and drink His blood with spiritual understanding.
1 Corinthians 11:33, 34 concludes,
33 So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you may not come together for judgment. And the remaining matters I shall arrange when I come.
In other words, Paul says to treat Communion as more than a common fellowship meal. The important factor of Communion is not whether we get enough to eat or drink. It is about having the opportunity to fellowship with Jesus Christ. To treat it as just another meal is the equivalent of treating a sacrifice as just another meal. Such Remembrance Meals are supposed to remember His death and resurrection—not simply to satisfy hunger.
What “remaining matters” were there? We are curious, of course, and we wish that Paul could have written more to enlighten us. But in the absence of such writing, we have been given the Spirit who will guide us into all truth (John 16:13).
This is part 57 of a series titled "Studies in First Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.