All of our previous posts can in one sense be said to be a preface to this post. It should be fairly obvious that the ultimate question cannot be settled without a detailed examination of 1 Corinthians 11. There can be no serious doubt that it is the single most important text in the debate. Venema devotes an entire chapter to this passage, and I would highly recommend his careful treatment not only of the passage, but also of the various views that have striven for supremacy in the interpretation of it. I would sincerely hope that all PC advocates would find their position fairly treated. Venema’s treatment of the PC exegeses of the passage certainly jibes with my own reading of PC positions on the passage.
We will start with some more contextual concerns. We can start with this question: what is the situation which Paul is addressing? PC readings have concluded that the situation is one of factionalism, ungodly pride, and humiliation of the poorer members of the congregation by those who are richer. Thus the Supper was becoming a means of denying the unity of the body, which is inherently opposed to the nature of the Sacrament itself. So, if the Supper is supposed to show unity, that happens when everyone participates, with no one excluded. Thus, if children are excluded, that would defeat the very purpose of the Sacrament, which is to show unity in the body. PC advocates point to 1 Cor. 10:16-17 in particular to show that this is the case. Now, certainly we can say that the unity of the body of Christ is of paramount importance all throughout the letter of 1 Corinthians. Paul says it in very many different ways, ranging from the outright condemnation of factions (chapters 1,3), the condemnation of sin in the body for the good of the church (chapter 5), the avoidance of legal disputes (chapter 6), an encouragement to view Paul’s ministry as true apostleship (chapter 9), and the example of OT Israel (chapter 10), the Lord’s Supper (11), spiritual gifts as exemplifying unity in diversity, and especially the metaphor of the body (11), and the discussion of love (13). One can say that the unity of the body is perhaps the main thread that holds all of 1 Corinthians together. However, that fact does not preclude the discussion of who may participate in the Lord’s Supper, nor does unity in the church body as a whole exert some kind of particular pull one way or the other on the participation of the Lord’s Supper. And that is true for this one simple reason: credo-communion advocates do not agree that exclusion of infants from the Supper shows disunity in the body of Christ. This is especially true if the entire church agrees that this is how they should participate in the Lord’s Supper. Unity is more than possible even if not everyone participates in the Lord’s Supper.
The second contextual issue is the beginning of chapter 10, which Venema does not treat. If all participated in baptism into Moses, and all ate of the Spiritual Rock that followed them, which was Christ (no matter what their age), then does this not give prima facie evidence that fundamental continuity should exist between the wilderness wanderings of the people of Israel and the Lord’s Supper? This passage, by the way, is a very difficult passage for credobaptists, since it is a clear instance of “baptizo” being used in the New Testament of infants. Is it true then, that credo-communionists are being inconsistent in their reading of this passage? I would argue that it is not the case. For one thing, as Venema says of another passage, but it could also apply to the first part of 1 Cor 10, “I object to the use of the context to override the clear particulars of the passage.” With regard to baptism, there is no 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 in the New Testament. So, the participation in baptism has continuity with regard to infants in 1 Corinthians 10. And with regard to adult participation of the Lord’s Supper, there is also continuity between 1 Corinthians 10 and 1 Corinthians 11. However, the way in which participation is required in 1 Corinthians 11 means that 1 Corinthians 10 does not tell us that infants have to partake. This will need to be argued more fully below.
And now, to the passage itself. Let us ask a series of exegetical questions which will focus our discussion. First of all, what is the nature of the remembrance in verses 24-25? Should it be translated as an objective memorial, as some PC advocates suggest? Or should it refer to subjective remembering? Advocates of the former reading point to Noah and the rainbow, where God is said to be the one doing the remembering. However, the background connection between Noah and the Lord’s Supper seems to me to be questionable at best. There is a much nearer antecedent of the word “remembering” for our purposes, and one much more likely to be in the background here. It is not the same root, although it is related. But in Exodus 12:24, the memorial nature of the Passover fairly clearly points to human remembering of God, not God remembering of His own acts. The emphasis is on how the people will observe this day, how they will be reminded of God’s activity. The word ἀνάμνησιν can mean either a human remembering, or God remembering, but in the context of Exodus 12, it would seem to me much more likely that humans are doing the remembering. This does not solve the question of who should participate. That much is evident, because in Exodus, the context is that of the first Passover, in which all Israel participated, or at the least, a good case can be made for it. However, the appeal to Noah seems to me quite far-fetched. It certainly does NOT prove that all instance of the word mean a memorial to make God remember, a position some PC advocates seem to put forward. Since the instances listed in BDAG include both meanings, it would seem to me that context must decide. For me, the decisive factor in the context of 1 Corinthians 11 is verse 26, which fairly clearly indicates that the activity in view of proclamation is done by the participants. The “for” at the beginning of verse 26 indicates that verse 26 is an explanation of the remembering in verses 24-25.
The next question is really the most crucial question, and perhaps the best insight in the entirety of Venema’s book: the switch to a generalizing “whoever,” “a man,” and “he” in verses 27-29, which indicate that Paul is now talking about how anyone can participate worthily in the Lord’s Supper. In other words, the focus has shifted from the particular abuses which gave rise to the discussion about the Lord’s Supper. No longer is that paramount in the passage. Instead, Paul moves from that concern to a discussion about how anyone participates correctly in the Lord’s Supper. See Venema, pg. 117. He puts it this way: “Though the apostle began his treatment of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11 with a description of the inappropriate behavior of some members of the Corinthian church, he now moves to a series of general instructions that apply to all members of the covenant community.” In my mind, this is the most devastating argument against the PC position. The exegetical evidence which Venema adduces seems to me conclusive on this point. I have not seen any PC advocate deal with this argument. Instead, they run roughshod over the passage, arguing from the context and ignoring the particulars of this shift that happens at the beginning of verse 27.