1 Corinthians 10:16-17
In the verses leading up to our two-verse reading, Paul tells these Christians from Corinth not to emulate the Israelites who fled from Egypt and wandered in the wilderness. While they “all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink” (v. 3), “God was not well pleased” (v. 5)—because they lusted after evil things (v. 6), were idolaters (v. 7), committed sexual immorality (v. 8), and grumbled against Moses and God (v. 9-10). God punished them for their sins (vv. 5, 8-10), providing a negative example for the Corinthian Christians to avoid (v. 11). Paul advises, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands be careful that he doesn’t fall” (v. 12).
Verse 13 is wonderfully encouraging, and bears memorizing. Paul says:
“No temptation has taken you except what is common to man.
God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able,
but will with the temptation also make the way of escape,
that you may be able to endure it.”
In verse 14, Paul returns to the subject of idolatry, saying, “Flee from idolatry.” We are tempted to imagine those Corinthians bowing down to idols made of wood and stone and think, “That doesn’t apply to me.” However, idolatry can take many forms. “Gold bugs” track gold prices as if gold were a deity. Others covet the images of Washington, Lincoln, Hamilton, and Jackson on one, five, ten, and twenty-dollar bills—or how about Grant on a fifty-dollar bill or Franklin on a hundred-dollar bill or Cleveland on a thousand-dollar bill. Others kneel at the altar of prestige products: Rolex watches, BMW cars, or prestige clothing brands. People also worship (is that too strong a word—I don’t think so) celebrities, whether sports figures or movie stars or authors—even politicians or those who espouse certain political views. Many of those celebrities represent a spiritual culture that is exactly the opposite of the life to which Christ calls us to live.
We would do well to take stock—to ask, “What is it that I believe has the potential to save us?” If we are looking somewhere other than Jesus for our salvation, doesn’t that count as idolatry!
In verse 15, Paul says, “I speak as to wise men. Judge what I say.” In other words, “Pay attention! This is important!”
While verses 16-17 (our reading) don’t mention idolatry, they are surrounded on both sides by Paul’s counsel to avoid idolatry and idolatrous sacrifices. Paul contrasts “the things which the Gentiles sacrifice” (v. 20) with “the cup of blessing which we bless” (v. 16).
1 CORINTHIANS 10:16-17. THE CUP OF BLESSING
16 The cup of blessing which we bless, isn’t it a sharing of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, isn’t it a sharing of the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf of bread, we, who are many, are one body; for we all partake of the one loaf of bread.
“The cup of blessing which we bless, isn’t it a sharing (Greek: koinonia) of the blood of Christ?” (v. 16a). The cup of blessing was the third cup, drunk at the end of the meal and accompanied by a prayer of thanksgiving for blessings received from God. It was probably this third cup that Jesus used to institute the Lord’s Supper. “He took the cup, gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, “All of you drink it, for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28). He commanded, “Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24-25). Paul says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).
“a sharing (Greek: koinonia) of the blood of Christ?” Many people today are familiar with the word koinonia. We talk about koinonia groups, by which we mean small groups that encourage Christian fellowship and sharing. That’s a good use of the word.
Koinonia means fellowship or sharing. Luke says of early Christians, “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and koinonia (fellowship or sharing), in the breaking of bread, and prayer” (Acts 2:42). Paul used koinonia to speak of the fellowship that Christians enjoy with Christ, saying “God is faithful, through whom you were called into the koinonia (fellowship) of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9).
Paul is saying, then, that our participation in the Eucharist puts us into a deep fellowship with Christ and his Passion. It reminds us that Christ suffered death on the cross for our benefit—that he shed his blood for us. It gets very personal!
“The bread which we break, isn’t it a sharing (koinonia) of the body of Christ?” (v. 16b). In like manner, the Eucharistic bread brings us into deep fellowship with Christ and his Passion.
“Because there is one loaf of bread (eis artos—”one bread”), we, who are many, are one body; for we all partake of the one loaf of bread” (v. 17). There is no “loaf of” in the Greek. It is just eis artos—”one bread.” That’s an important distinction, given that most Christians take communion using hosts or wafers instead of sharing a single loaf of bread.
When we eat the bread and drink the wine, that act unites us. We become one body of believers, as Christ intends us to be.
Paul will return to the subject of unity in the next chapter, saying, “I hear that divisions exist among you” (11:18). He then talks about their practice of a supper where the rich ate the plenteous food which they brought—and the poor at the meager food which they had brought—leaving the rich full and the poor hungry. Some even drank too much wine, so that they became drunk (11:20-21). He then explains the meaning of the Lord’s Supper (11:23-26), and warns that those who eat the bread or drink the cup unworthily or in an unworthy manner become “guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord (11:27-29). He concludes, “Therefore, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another” (11:33).
While our reading concludes with verse 17, we need to be aware that Paul continues with further counsel about idolatry. He says:
“Consider Israel according to the flesh. Don’t those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? What am I saying then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? But I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God, and I don’t desire that you would have fellowship with demons. You can’t both drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You can’t both partake of the table of the Lord, and of the table of demons (vv. 18-21).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Barclay, William, Daily Study Bible: Letters to the Corinthians, (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1975)
Barrett, C.K., Black’s New Testament Commentary: The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993)
Chafin, Kenneth L., The Preacher’s Commentary: 1-2 Corinthians, Vol. 30 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1985)
Fee, Gordon D., The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987)
Hayes, Richard B., Interpretation: First Corinthians (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1997)
Horsley, Richard A., Abingdon New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998)
MacArthur, John, Jr., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians (Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1984)
Morris, Leon, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: 1 Corinthians, Vol. 10 (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1985)
Nash, Robert Scott, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: 1 Corinthians (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2009)
Sampley, J. Paul, The New Interpreter’s Bible: Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Vol. X (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002)
Soards, Marion, New International Biblical Commentary: 1 Corinthians (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999)
Copyright 2014, 2017, Richard Niell Donovan