What did Paul mean when he told us to discern the Lord's body (1 Corinthians 11:29)?


In the passage in question, Paul was addressing the yearly Passover
ceremony. Beginning in 1 Corinthians 11:23, Paul reminded the disciples
of the event when Christ instituted the New Testament symbols of bread
and wine at the annual Passover service (compare verses 23-26). He then

“Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup
of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood
of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the
bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy
manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s
body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.”

Sacrifice of Jesus Christ includes His death for the forgiveness of our
sins, as well as His suffering for our physical healing. While the
symbol of the wine points to Christ’s shed blood for the forgiveness of
sins, the symbol of the bread points to His physical suffering for our
physical healing.

Passages regarding the forgiveness of our
sins, by our acceptance of His supreme Sacrifice, can be found in
Isaiah 53:12; Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 9:11-14; 1 John 1:7; and Romans

Passages regarding our physical healing, by our
acceptance of His supreme Sacrifice, can be found in Isaiah 53:3-5;
Psalm 103:1-3; and Matthew 8:16-17. The symbol of the broken bread,
pointing to Christ’s wounded, torn body and His stripes, stands for our
physical healing.

When Paul talked about the need that we
discern the Lord’s body, he was addressing Christ’s PHYSICAL body which
was beaten for our physical healing. Some have said that Paul was
talking about Christ’s SPIRITUAL “broken” body, the Church. They claim
that Paul wanted to make reference to the broken, shattered condition
of the Church (having in mind many different corporate Church
organizations). They teach that we don’t experience physical healing if
we are responsible for any of the divisions in the different Church
organizations, thereby failing to “discern” the spiritual body of
Christ–the Church. It is true that we cannot expect to be healed, if
we refuse to be spiritually reconciled or “healed” with God and with
His people. It is also true that we cannot expect physical healing if
we don’t repent of our sins and trespasses or refuse to forgive our
brethren their trespasses against us (James 5:13-16). However, this
does not mean that Paul was addressing our discernment of the Church,
as Christ’s body, in 1 Corinthians 11. Rather, he spoke clearly of the
idea that we must consider the totality of Christ’s
Sacrifice–including His broken PHYSICAL body–if we want to experience
physical healing.

Let us again notice the context: Paul quotes
Christ in verse 24, saying that we are to eat bread, “which is [or,
which symbolizes] My body which is broken for you.” We are obviously
not to “eat” the Church, but we are to internalize Jesus Christ in our
lives so that He can live in us continuously (compare Galatians 2:20).
That is why we read in John 6:48-58 that we need to partake of the
annual Passover symbols of bread and wine to have a continued part with
Christ. We are also told in 1 Corinthians 11:26 that we proclaim the
death of Christ until He returns, when we eat the bread and drink the
wine on the annual occasion of the Passover service. Obviously, Paul
was not addressing the Church in verse 26, but the body and blood of
Jesus Christ. Paul continues with the same theme in verse 27: “Whoever
eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy

Again, there is no hint that Paul was suddenly
talking about anything else but Christ’s physical body–it was CHRIST
Who was tortured and killed. Verse 28 continues that we must eat the
bread and drink the cup after self-examination. Verse 29 warns us that
we eat and drink judgment to ourselves, if we don’t eat the bread AND
drink the wine in a worthy manner, “not discerning the Lord’s body.” It
is still the same theme and context; to say that Paul suddenly
addressed the Church as Christ’s [spiritual] body, while still talking
about eating the bread and drinking the wine, is introducing a thought
which is clearly not contained in that passage. After all, if the
“Lord’s body” was suddenly meant to refer to the spiritual body of
Christ–the Church–are we to EAT the CHURCH (verse 29)? And what would
the meaning of the “blood” be in that context (same verse)–as we are
to eat AND to drink? It is obvious that the analogy of Christ’s body
referring to the Church simply does not fit in 1 Corinthians 11:29.

Bible Commentary: Revised agrees: “Every Christian is unworthy, but
Paul defines his meaning as not discerning (lit. not distinguishing)
this bread as signifying the body… of the Lord. Some think body here
refers to the church (cf. 10:17), but a change of meaning from v. 27
seems unlikely.”

Matthew Henry’s Commentary concurs: “The
Corinthians came to the Lord’s table not discerning the Lord’s
body–not making a distinction between that and common food.”

Bible Handbook explains the meaning of the passage in this way: “in an
unworthy manner … means in an attitude of unconfessed sin, and thus
being guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, transgressing against
the very essence of the meaning of Christ’s death… Self-examination
is necessary… to avoid condemnation and consequent chastening,
entailing physical weakness, sickness and even death.”

conclusion, when we partake, during the annual Passover ceremony, of
the bread and the wine (as well as the preceding footwashing ceremony,
compare John 13:1-17), we must understand and accept, in faith, the
supreme meaning of the totality of Christ’s Sacrifice. If we discern
Christ’s body, with the knowledge that CHRIST was severely beaten and
then killed on our behalf, we understand that we can have forgiveness
of our sins, as well as physical healing, because of what Christ did
for us: “…having made peace through the BLOOD of His cross… now He
has reconciled [you to the Father] in the BODY of HIS FLESH THROUGH
DEATH, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His
sight–if indeed you CONTINUE in the faith…” (Colossians
1:20-23). And: “By that will [of God the Father] we have been
sanctified through the offering of the BODY of Jesus Christ once and
for all” (Hebrews 10:10). And finally 1 Peter 2:24: “… who Himself
bore our sins in His own BODY on the tree, that we, having died to
sins, might live for righteousness–by whose stripes you were healed.”

message rings loud and clear: As Christ suffered and died for us in His
own body, we are to discern His sacrifice and let Him live in us, so
that we can live for Him.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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