Dr. Oya Townsley

1 Cor. 11:29-- “For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.”

In 2 Tim. 2:15, God admonishes us to study the Word and to rightly divide the Word. Often, believers and non-believers, alike, take scriptures out of context and misrepresent what the Holy Spirit intended for us to grasp. One such scripture is 1 Cor.11:29.

An erroneous interpretation of 1 Cor. 11:29 pertains to the phrase “unworthy manner”.  Misunderstood, many have taken this phrase to mean that if one renders his/her overall conduct as less than righteous then they should consider themselves as not worthy to partake of the Holy elements and, thereby, spare themselves judgment for doing so.  Little attention has been given to the words “not discerning the Lord’s body” which appear at the end of the same verse and actually clarify the meaning of the words “unworthy manner”.  When we examine the context in which Paul was speaking, we see that he was chastising those who would dare to come to the ceremony of the Lord’s Supper without “properly discerning” it’s significance, as one who is not “in Christ and completely ignorant."  Paul was rebuking the church at Corinth for the irreverent way they approached the observance.  Some were getting drunk. Some were eating to only satisfy their hunger.  Equally grievous was the behavior of those who were eating ahead of others, completely ignoring the significance of breaking bread in unison as one body.

Those who maintain that the phrase “eating and drinking in an unworthy manner” (verse 29) means that one must assess their eligibility to take communion should consider the serious implication of this.

  • First, this interpretation renders vain, all confessions of one’s sins to be cleansed of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9), God’s provision for our sins; and

  • Secondly, such an interpretation renders the blood of Jesus insufficient to atone for all our unrighteousness.

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Ro. 8:1).  It is written that “all fall short of the glory of God” (Ro. 3:23). Therefore, 1 Cor. 11:29 is not admonishing us to assess whether our acts have been righteous enough to partake of the Holy Communion.

Let us rest in the confession of our faith and the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood, once and for all. If you believe in the birth, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, have surrendered your heart to Him, reverence Him and properly discern His body and finished work at the cross as you partake of the Holy sacraments, then you do, indeed, eat and drink in a worthy manner “proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).