September 25th, 2008, 03:15 PM
Bob DeWaay Resources
The Problems with Personal Words From God
How People Become False Prophets to Themselves
by Bob DeWaay
The Bible tells us that God has spoken, infallibly, finally, and authoritatively through people He chose as mediators of His revelation. This is summarized in Hebrews 1:1, 2: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.” The Bible further tells us that Christ’s words to us were confirmed through eyewitnesses, the apostles. Hebrews 2:2, 3 says, “For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard.” The apostles were responsible for giving us the New Testament that constitutes Christ’s authoritative words to His church—the revealed truths that remain binding on all.
In this article let us consider this question: Can a believer receive special revelations that become God’s personal, revealed will for his or her life? Many believe that this special revelation is real—that God provides it today. I contend that they have not thought through some of the concept’s problematic implications. In this article: I will defend the idea that God, since the days of the apostles, has been ruling providentially rather than through further specific revelation—whether through authoritative mediators or directly to individuals.
Personal Words From God
In considering the issue of God speaking to us, it is helpful to focus on knowledge and divide it into two large categories: that which can be known through observation of the creation using our physical senses, and that which can only be known through revelation. We are free to study and learn what pertains to the first category by using the rational minds God has given us. The second category can be further divided into two parts: that which God has revealed and the secret things that belong only to God (Deuteronomy 29:29). What God has revealed is contained in the Bible. That leaves a second category—the secret things.
With these categories established, then let us consider how to categorize “personal words from God.” These words are not observable aspects of creation (called general revelation in theology1) so do not fall into that category. Therefore, according to our categorization, they are either special revelation from God or unrevealed secret information (the occult). Since nearly every Christian would consider occult knowledge illegitimate, then those who claim special words from God must consider them to be special revelation from God.
Considering personal words from God (throughout the rest of this article PWFG or PWsFG will designate “personal word(s) from God”) to be special revelation is exactly what makes them so problematic. In the last issue2 we showed from Scripture that special revelation came through God’s chosen mediators who spoke authoritatively for God. The only exception was when God gave ordained means of guidance such as the Urim and Thummim (Exodus 28:30). But even those revealed God’s will only because they were ordained by God as spoken through an authoritative mediator (Moses). The truth of God came to the people of God through His ordained mediators. If we take PWsFG to be special revelation, then we are implying that every believer has become an authoritative mediator of special revelation. Now that is really problematic.
I have discussed this matter with people who strongly believe in divine guidance that is specific for each individual. Their answer to my challenge is that they are not claiming to mediate special revelation to the church; they claim these words only as personal words for their own lives. But consider this: Prophets who spoke for God had to be 100 percent accurate (Deuteronomy 18:22). So if indeed PWsFG are specific revelations from God to the individual, are these also inerrant? I have yet to speak with someone who believes in PWsFG who claimed to know that the words were perfectly accurate and infallibly from God. Neither do they claim that these words have the same quality as inerrant Scripture.
If PWsFG are a mixture—some of which may be from God and some of which are in error—then some means of telling the difference is necessary. But what possible means are there? Since these PWsFG are specific to individuals and cover conceivably any aspect of life, they cannot be tested by Scripture. For example, suppose I receive a PWFG that tells me to move to Iowa and start a church. How am I to test it? Some would say to consult other Christians. But this really doesn’t change the problem, it just diffuses it. If the idea of moving to Iowa and starting a church may or may not be a true word from God and it cannot be tested by scripture, since the Bible does not dictate where we must live, then what remains is a group of people who are not infallible prophets of God trying to receive special revelation. The group is no more inerrant and authoritative than the individual.
In practice, people who believe in PWsFG tend to rely on pragmatic tests. One often hears what I call “miracle guidance stories.” Generally someone claims to have received a PWFG, took action and the result was something significant or extraordinary. Some leaders tell so many miracle guidance stories that they convince followers of their special status with God like Moses or Elijah. But when pressed to defend their practice, these leaders usually admit that if a course of action that was taken based on a PWFG did not appear to work out well, the result was no proof their personal “word” was not from God.
Let’s look at a pragmatic test. A person gets a special revelation to take a certain action. This revelation is not infallible, and the person does not claim to be an infallible prophet. The person takes the prescribed action and something great happens, or nothing special happens. In either case they still do not know if the word was an inerrant, authoritative word from God because good things happen sometimes to misguided people, and bad things happen to well-guided people. Pragmatic tests for truth are not valid.
Consider Jeremiah for example. He was an ordained prophet of God and spoke authoritatively for God. But his true guidance brought him a lifetime of continual misery and personal rejection. The whole nation failed to listen to him and in the end he was hauled away to Egypt by people who refused to listen to his true word from God. If judged pragmatically Jeremiah would be deemed a failure. But his true words from God were inerrant and comprise a book of the Bible.
Miracle guidance stories, used to make certain people appear to have “heard from God”, are of no value. They are not the Biblical test for prophets and cannot be because they are not specifically Christian. Psychics and New Agers have their own genre of miracle guidance stories that enhance their credibility. My friend Brian Flynn tells testimonies of how, before he was saved out of the New Age, he gave some very accurate psychic readings that created “miracle” guidance stories for people.3 The requirements in Deuteronomy 18 and 13 are there to protect us from “words from ‘God’” that are not from God. These tests require perfect predictive accuracy and the teaching of correct doctrine about the “God we have known.”
The failure of pragmatic tests means that in the end, once someone has received a PWFG, whether something favorable or unfavorable resulted, the person still cannot be sure that it was truly God who spoke. Such personal guidance is impossible to test. This creates a very troubling side effect. People suppose themselves to be authoritatively bound by a “will of God” that is revealed specifically and personally to each Christian. But the Christian can never be sure that he knows he has found this “will of God.” How can errant, non-authoritative words that may or may not be from God be binding? They cannot. To make them so is abusive.
Someone might counter that if a person thinks a word is from God, then “whatever is not of faith is sin.” In other words, believing something to be from God binds his personal conscience to it; and since his faith is in that word, it would be sin to not follow it. But this means that any person who has placed faith in a misplaced object of faith is bound to stay in that condition. Luther argued against that position, for example, when he claimed that people who took special religious oaths (like monks) had sworn to what is bondage and not from God. Therefore they should renounce those vows as based on lies and falsehood. Lies and falsehood are not proper objects of faith.4
Becoming a False Prophet to One’s Own Self
We have argued in previous editions of CIC that to prophesy is to speak authoritatively for God.5 Special prophets that God raised up to predict the future had to be 100 percent accurate. If they were not accurate to that degree, people were commanded not to listen to them. If we claim to have heard a word from God that He gave in order to direct our lives, then the same standard applies. It is as if we prophesy to ourselves in God’s name. Doing so must meet all the Biblical tests for prophets. If we fail the test, then we have become false prophets to our own selves; consequently, we should not listen to ourselves! If we were wrong even once, then we are unreliable and cannot be trusted to speak for God. Period.
Some may object that people who prophesy in the manner of 1Corinthians 14 (unto edification, exhortation, and comfort) do not have to meet such tests. They speak and the others judge. But this type of prophecy is to bring out implications and applications of Scripture. Everyone has the Bible as an objective means to judge such prophecy. If they have claimed that a certain passage implies that certain actions or attitudes are binding on the church, everyone can judge this because implications and applications are logically connected to the meaning of the text.
But PWsFG are of a different sort. If someone claims that God told him to start a certain business, by what means are the others to judge this? The type of prophecy that is derived from the meaning of the text is controlled by the inerrant and authoritative word from God. So if it is a true implication of Scripture it, too, is authoritative. But subjective words about matters not bound by Scripture cannot be judged in this way, as we showed earlier. These subjective revelations are neither inerrant nor authoritative.
So the person who got a PWFG that really was not from God is binding himself to what God has not spoken. It is a sin to bind what God has not bound, or loose what God has not loosed. Let me give a couple of examples. Consider this passage:
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. (1Timothy 4:1-3)
If someone spoke to the church and forbade marriage in God’s name, clearly he would be a false prophet teaching a doctrine of demons. But what if the person speaks this word to himself? That is he determines to have a PWFG saying he cannot marry. Why is he any less a false prophet than if he said the same thing to the church?
A man is free to marry in the Lord or to not marry. If he chooses to not marry as Paul did (see his discussion in 1Corinthians 7) that is within his Christian liberty. If he marries, it is within his Christian liberty as well (“if you marry you have not sinned” – 1Corinthians 7:28a). But what if a man says, “God spoke to me that I must not marry but remain single”? According to 1Timothy 4:3 he is teaching a doctrine of demons to his own self. The only way to escape the logic of this is to claim that anyone can speak in God’s name to his own self without those words fitting any Biblical test. But that would open the door to any possible error and bondage. This same argument applies to taking oaths such as the oath of chastity that monks take.6 One has bound oneself in God’s name presumptuously.
Let us consider another issue from the passage in 1Timothy 4. Suppose someone spoke in God’s name to the church, forbidding the eating of pork. According to our passage, that is a doctrine of demons. Suppose someone said, “God told me I am not allowed to eat pork.” How is it any less a doctrine of demons when spoken to one member of the church (i.e., one’s self) than to the whole church? Any person is free to not eat pork without recrimination. But if they try to add God’s imprimatur to this they make themselves an invalid lawgiver.
Therefore, PWsFG that are taken to be binding and authoritative, whether given to the church or one’s own self, are false. All words that claim to be God’s inerrant and authoritative word when they are not are false prophecies. Those who speak false words in God’s name to their own selves and thus bind themselves to those words have become false prophets to their own selves. They should quit listening to themselves!
The Difference Between Special Revelation and Providence
Those who teach that PWsFG are to be the normal experience of all Christians often write literature where Biblical characters are used as examples. They argue that if God can speak to Moses, God can speak to us.7 The issue is not God’s ability to speak or God’s unchanging nature, but how God has chosen to speak. As we argued in the previous issue, people under the Old Covenant, like Korah, made the same argument that God could speak to anyone. But God had chosen to speak through Moses as Korah found out in a most horrific way.
God chose to speak authoritatively to the patriarchs, Moses, the prophets, Jesus and the apostles. Their words are God’s words that are binding on all. But, is being the recipient of special revelation normative for all? Clearly it is not. We are bound to pay attention to the words of those through whom God has chosen to speak: “how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will” (Hebrews 2:3, 4). God spoke through them in extraordinary ways and thus the faith was “once for all” delivered to the saints.
Even in Biblical times there were long periods without any record of God giving special revelations. For example, from the time of Joseph through the first eighty years of Moses’ life, there is nothing said about God speaking to anyone. God was fulfilling His promise to Abraham that his descendants would be oppressed for 400 years but afterward come out with many possessions (Genesis 15:13, 14). During those years, God’s purposes were being fulfilled just as fully as they were during the days of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when God spoke directly to them.
Consider the first eighty years of Moses’ life. The story of his birth; hidden for three months, placed in an ark of bulrushes, placed in the Nile, found by Pharaoh’s daughter, given back to his mother, and raised in the royal court of Pharaoh—the story contains not one mention of God directly speaking to anyone. In fact, after Moses killed an Egyptian and fled to Midian, he was there for 40 years with no record of God speaking to anyone until the incident at the burning bush. But everything that happened leading up to that incident was God providentially working to fulfill His promises to Abraham.
Many Christians have a poor grasp of the Biblical doctrine of providence. This leads them to the conclusion that unless they regularly receive PWsFG, God is not leading them or working in their lives. Moses’ mother did not get a word from God to put him in the Nile. But God used it. Consider the book of Esther. God is never mentioned in Esther, but the entire book is about God’s providential working through Esther to save His people. The turning point in the Esther narrative is found in Mordecai’s words: “Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, ‘Do not imagine that you in the king's palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?’” (Esther 4:13, 14). Providentially, God had placed Esther in the place of royalty, so she was urged to take action, which she did. God providentially saved the Jews and preserved the Messianic promises through people who heard no special word from God.
For 400 years—from Malachi to John the Baptist—there were no authoritative prophets in Israel—and they knew it. Several passages in the intertestamental book of Maccabees show that they were well aware they had no prophet. For example, “And they laid up the stones in the mountain of the temple in a convenient place, till there should come a prophet, and give answer concerning them” (I Maccabees 4:46).8 But, in Daniel 11 there is detailed prophecy about what would happen during the intertestamental period. These are given in so much detail that liberal critics claim Daniel must have been written after the events. What this shows us is that God is sovereignly ruling providentially to bring to pass His purposes and that He is able to do so without someone alive who is currently receiving special revelations to guide His people. God brought salvation history forward from Malachi to John the Baptist exactly as Daniel predicted and did so with no prophets during those years.
What we see from these examples is that during those periods, without any special revelation other that what had been given previously to others, God worked His plan through people just as effectively as He did through direct revelation. God’s providential rule is not a lesser way for God to care for His people.
Providence includes good and evil. Even wicked kings are “established by God” according to Romans 13:1. Dreams, visions, subjective impressions, etc. are part of God’s providence. They, too, contain good and evil. They are not inerrant specific revelation unless they are given to proven prophets who meet all the tests. Daniel was a proven prophet. His dream (Daniel 7) was authoritative revelation from God, not merely a part of God’s providence. The king of Babylon’s dream was part of providence, but in his case there was an authoritative prophet to interpret it. Had there not been an authoritative prophet he could not have known the meaning.
Since providence contains good and evil, so do subjective impressions that are part of God’s providential rule. Sometimes as Christians we have dreams that we might consider spiritually significant. Sometimes we have subjective impressions that we may think are important. Since we are not infallible prophets, we cannot determine that any particular dream or subjective impression is a specific revelation from God. But we can make decisions that are within the realm of Christian liberty.
For example, in 1971, several weeks after my conversion, I had a dream that I was sitting in the small country church I grew up in. In the dream I was sitting with my brother in the back pew. A young girl was singing and it seemed to me that her song was being used by God to touch people’s hearts. Then it struck me that the people in that church had not heard the gospel in a clear way, so they would not know what God expected of them. So, in my dream, I got up and preached the gospel to them. When I woke up, I clearly remembered the dream and it made an impression on me. That fall I returned to Iowa State University as a junior in Chemical Engineering. On Sunday mornings and Sunday nights I attended a Pentecostal church in Ames, Iowa. I spent a lot of time praying and seeking God. During that time the idea grew strong in my mind that I should go to Bible College and study for the ministry.
During those first weeks at Iowa State I was enrolled in a class on the philosophy of science. In one lecture the professor made the claim that the two ways of knowing truth were divine revelation and the scientific method. He said, “Divine revelation is hogwash.” But concerning the scientific method, this man was a very early proponent of what we now call postmodernism. He claimed that all theories are “true” but that some don’t work so well in the universe we happen to live in. He said there is no “TRUTH” but only theory. So I asked at the end of the lecture, “Are you saying that it is impossible to know the truth?” He answered, “Yes.” That experience made me long to learn what I knew to be true—the words of the Bible. Coupled with other amazing circumstances, I decided to quit the university and enroll in Bible College.
The process partially described above is how I ended up being a preacher of the gospel rather than a chemical engineer. That was God’s providential working in my life. But I do not consider the dream nor any other impression or experience I had that led me to Bible College, inerrant, authoritative revelation. I certainly am not an infallible prophet. But the doctrine of providence describes how God uses all things as He works in us and through us to bring about His purposes. Even our desires are part of providence. We do not have to fear, as we make choices within the realm of Christian liberty, that God’s plan will be derailed because we failed to gain special revelation.
In the books of Acts, we have an example of people giving Paul directional guidance and Paul ignoring it, even though it was from the “Spirit.” Here is the passage: “After looking up the disciples, we stayed there [Tyre] seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4). From Tyre they journeyed to Ptolmais and then Caesarea. There a prophet spoke about Paul’s trip:
As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 21:10-13)
First the Spirit spoke through believers that Paul should not go to Jerusalem and then a valid prophet spoke by the Holy Spirit telling Paul what would happen if he did go. Yet Paul went. If guidance that we know (through the inspired writer Luke) was from the Spirit was not binding on Paul, how much less is subjective guidance that we do not know is from the Spirit binding on decisions that are within the realm of Christian liberty?
The story of Paul’s journey to Jerusalem also invalidates the idea that decisions by the church about what the Spirit is saying are binding on the individual. Earlier in Acts we read: “Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome” (Acts 19:21). Paul’s own decision to go the Jerusalem was not overridden by future words from the Spirit or prophecy from the church. Furthermore, once the church realized that Paul had made his own decision, we read this: “And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, ‘The will of the Lord be done!’” (Acts 21:14). God’s will was not revealed by the Spirit speaking through church members or by a prophet, but by Paul’s decision. Thus God’s providential will in matters of Christian liberty is made known by the decision of the person involved.
We are Safe in God’s Providential Care
One great section of Scripture that every Christian should learn and apply is Romans 8:26-39. It describes the doctrine of providence and various implications of it.9 The most important implication is that all of the Lord’s people shall stay safe in Him and shall be brought to glory and conformity to the image of Christ. There is nothing in the section that requires specific revelations beyond Scripture. Our security in Christ is not dependent on our gaining revelation or personal guidance. In fact that section begins by telling us that we do not know what we need: “And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26, 27). Beyond Scripture, we do not know God’s future, providential will for us. But the Holy Spirit prays for us “according to the will of God.” There is no indication that if we gained PWsFG we then would know how to pray as we should. The Holy Spirit Himself prays for us according to God’s will.
God will not judge us for failing to “obey” PWsFG that we cannot know to be from Him. What God does tell us to do is ask for wisdom: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). Contrary to what some think, as we will see when we examine a passage later in James, this is not a prayer for a PWFG. It is a prayer that God would so work in our lives that we will make wise and godly decisions. This is much like the previous verses in James which teach that trials and testing produce endurance. God gives wisdom for decision making, but we make the decisions. The PWFG approach assumes that God wants to make every decision for us and that we need special revelation of God’s decision. But that produces “reproach,” which James says asking for wisdom does not. Why? Because if one thinks he has a PWFG and follows it, and the result is disaster, he comes under the reproach of assuming he heard wrongly. But when we ask for wisdom which is the result of the fear of God, love for the truth, our developing a Christian worldview and consequently developing Christian values, we make wise decisions.10 There is no reproach because we, within our Christian liberty and in light of our Christian values, made a decision. The outcome of our decision is unknown until God’s providential will is revealed as history unfolds. But there is no reproach because of the way we made the decision.
This brings us to a key passage that shows that making decisions based on special revelation is not God’s normative plan for Christians:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. (James 4:13-16)
This passage provides very important evidence that the PWFG approach is not Biblical. If indeed the Biblical pattern was for all Christians to receive special revelation from God that directs their future plans, then the passage would say, “You ought to have asked, ‘Lord tell us Your will about whether to go into this business.” But it does not. It says they should have said (not asked) “If the Lord wills.” That means they should have not boasted about the future when they did not know what it is. To claim to know what one does not know (God’s unrevealed providential plans for our future) is called arrogant boasting and is condemned. They were free to decide to travel and start a business, but they were not free to claim to know the future outcome.
If we make PWsFG normative, specific revelation about our plans and the future when in fact these things are unknown and unrevealed, we boast about what we do not know. We are much better off saying “I do not know” or “If the Lord wills” than claiming God’s endorsement of our plans based on supposed personal revelations. We are safe to make plans that fit within the realm of Christian liberty and know that God will use even our decisions to bring about His purposes in our lives.
God never binds people to error or uncertainty. Only inerrant, authoritative, special revelation is binding on all Christians. The only “words from God” that fit that criteria are those found in Scripture. It is abusive to make PWsFG to be special revelations of God’s will either to an individual or to a church. These “words” never have the quality of being “certainly from God.” When we take them to be that when they are not, then we have become false prophets to our own selves or to the church.
God has been ruling only providentially (rather than directly through infallible prophets) for over 2000 years and not giving further infallible, special revelation. God could raise up infallible prophets and apostles that meet the criteria of Deuteronomy 18 and 13, but He has not. Rather than seeking to make errant “words from God” authoritative and binding, we would be better off admitting God has not raised up any infallible prophets and accepting His benevolent providential rule. We are safe in God’s loving, providential care and are not “missing God” by failing to follow PWsFG that fail the necessary tests for being God’s authoritative revelations.
Issue 98 - January / February 2007
Any good systematic theology book contains a discussion of general revelation and special revelation. For example, Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1932 – 1996 combined ed.) 128 – 137. Also, sometimes one hears the phrase “specific revelation” which means the same thing as special revelation.
Issue 97 http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue97.htm
See his book Running Against the Wind available here http://www.onetruthministries.com/
This is different than the case of the weak conscience discussed in Romans 14. The person who is “weak” and eats only vegetables because of that, is not bound by a special revelation from God, but by his own conscience. That conscience can become better informed by the Word of God and may grow stronger. But a “word from God” about eating vegetables cannot “grow” because if deemed to be from God, who cannot lie, that “word” never changes.
See the two articles in Issue 95: http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue95.htm and http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue95b.htm
See chapter 4 of Redefining Christianity by Bob DeWaay that discusses the problems with religious oaths.
One of the more egregious examples of this reasoning is found in Henry T. Blackaby & Claude V. King, Experiencing God (Broadman and Holman: Nashville, 1994).
Other references are IMaccabees 9:27; and 14:41. These are not scripture, but part of Jewish history. They are often cited as evidence for the uniqueness of the canon and that the apocrypha is not the product of inspired prophets.
I wrote an article about this section of Scripture that discusses what it means to be “led by the Spirit”: http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue76.htm
See Gary T. Meadors, Decision Making God’s Way – A New Model for Knowing God’s Will; (Baker: Grand Rapids, 2003) for an excellent description of this approach to decision making.
March 14th, 2009, 09:22 AM
How Banquets in the Bible reveal Salvation or Judgment
A Biblically based commentary on current issues that impact you
1Corinthians 11:27-29: Judgment at the Lord's Supper:
How Banquets in the Bible reveal Salvation or Judgment
by Bob DeWaay and K. Jentoft
"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. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly." (1Corinthians 11:27-29)
If you truly know the Lord Jesus as Savior, you likely have felt too sinful to safely take communion at some point in your Christian life. The irony is that the better we do in regard to sanctification, the more concerned we are about sin in our lives. That being the case, the idea that partaking of the Lord's Supper might put us under judgment can be rather troubling.
The concept of being judged at a banquet found in 1Corinthians 11 is not at all unique but fits a pattern that begins in Genesis and ends in Revelation. The Bible is full of banquets that result in simultaneous blessing or judgment. In this article I will provide a survey of many of these passages to identify the pattern. Having shown a consistent pattern, we will then return to 1Corinthians 11 and see if we can be specific about what Paul was warning against and make application of it.
Mishteh in the Old Testament
The Hebrew word mishteh means a feast or banquet associated with a special occasion, often associated with wine. This is from the Dictionary of Biblical Languages under "mishteh": "meal, feast, banquet i.e., an eating event either as a common meal or usually a special festive dinner, often including much drinking of wine."1 But what has been overlooked by Biblical scholars is the fact that accompanying these events in Scripture are always divisions between people where some are blessed and others are cursed. These incidents are found throughout the Scriptures and are frequent in the Gospels. This concept of simultaneous blessing and judgment at a banquet or feast is a main Biblical theme and we will see how central it is to the message of the gospel. The pattern of mishteh is amazingly consistent throughout the Old Testament.
For example, consider the first use of mishteh in the Bible:
Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. And he said, "Now behold, my lords, please turn aside into your servant's house, and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise early and go on your way." They said however, "No, but we shall spend the night in the square." Yet he urged them strongly, so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he prepared a feast [mishteh] for them, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. (Genesis 19:1-3)
Here Lot entertained the angels by throwing a mishteh. We know exactly what happened on the occasion of this mishteh: Lot and his family were saved and Sodom was destroyed. These were starkly different outcomes.
The term mishteh is used 46 times in the Old Testament, with 19 of those occurring in the book of Esther. In every case we find the same pattern of salvation and judgment dramatically revealed. The entire book of Esther is about the judgment of wicked Haman and the salvation of Mordecai, Esther, and the Jews. Haman's pride and hatred of Mordecai led to his demise on the occasion of a mishteh. Conversely, Mordecai received the honor that Haman desired for himself. Much more can be said about Esther, but the book contains stark examples of judgment and salvation happening at its various banquets.
Going back to early Genesis we see the second use of the term mishteh in the Bible:
And the child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast [mishteh] on the day that Isaac was weaned. Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking. Therefore she said to Abraham, "Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac." (Genesis 21:8)
In that incident Isaac was named the heir of the promise, and Ishmael and Hagar were sent away. There is a division, with the blessing going to one and not the other.
In Genesis 40:16-22 Joseph had interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh's cupbearer and baker while all were in prison. Then Pharaoh threw a dinner party. At Pharaoh's mishteh the cupbearer was restored to his job as Joseph predicted, and the baker was hanged.
1Samuel 25:2-42 contains the narrative of wicked Nabal and his virtuous wife Abigail. Nabal refused to show hospitality to David's men, and David vowed to destroy Nabal and his men. Abigail heard about this and bearing much food came out to greet David and intercede with him on behalf of her wicked husband. David accepted her request and spared her husband. Then in 1Samuel 25:36, Nabal held a mishteh. The next day Abigail told Nabal about David's threat and her intercession. Ten days later the Lord struck Nabal dead, and Abigail became David's wife soon afterward (1Samuel 25:42). Again, on the occasion of a mishteh one person was judged and another blessed.
A similar incident in 2Samuel 3:20-30 describes David's mishteh with Abner, with Abner being killed soon after it (2Samuel 3:30). This event was the culmination of a process by which David's house was established, and Saul's (represented by Abner) was subjugated.
This theme is consistent throughout the Old Testament. Besides non-literal uses of the term in the wisdom literature of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, whenever there is a mishteh, someone (or more) is blessed, saved or exalted, and someone (or more) is cursed, judged, or killed. Sometimes this is more or less obvious, but there are no exceptions. These banquets are occasions where people are separated based on their status entering the banquet—either by their moral character or by their status vis-à-vis God's purposes (such as Ishmael). To be invited to a mishteh always sounds like a good thing because it is a festive feast with lots of food and wine. But it is only good for some.
The Eschatological Mishteh
Given our concern in 1 Corinthians about the judgment passages connected to the Lord's Supper we should study both passages in Isaiah (5:12-17 and 25:6-9) that use the word mishteh. We will find that both texts point to a great eschatological mishteh. From the Old Testament perspective, eschatological refers to Messianic salvation. From the New Testament perspective, Messianic salvation concerns the first and second advents and the age of grace in which we now live. The Lord's Supper looks back to the work of Christ in the first advent and looks forward to the fullness of salvation at the second coming. There were banquets and parables about banquets during Christ's earthly ministry, and there will be the ultimate banquet at the marriage supper of the Lamb. Communion is a banquet celebrated by the church in the years between those two events. Technically, all of these banquets are "eschatological" from the perspective of Old Testament prophesy.
The first mention of mishteh in Isaiah (5:12-17) describes the proud and wealthy holding a mishteh for themselves. Massive judgment is the result. In verse 14, Sheol opens its mouth, "and Jerusalem's splendor, her multitude, her din of revelry and the jubilant within her, descend into it." The following verses (15-17) describe the contrast; simultaneous judgment and blessing: "So the common man will be humbled and the man of importance abased, the eyes of the proud also will be abased. But the Lord of hosts will be exalted in judgment, and the holy God will show Himself holy in righteousness. Then the lambs will graze as in their pasture, and strangers will eat in the waste places of the wealthy." The outcome of this mishteh is that the proud are abased and God is blessed along with His remnant lambs and strangers, the Gentiles. This mishteh is eschatological and looks forward to the gospel.
Isaiah 25 contains a profound prophesy that envisions a lavish banquet that the Lord will throw for all people, including Gentiles:
And the Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet [mishteh] for all peoples on this mountain; A banquet [mishteh] of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, And refined, aged wine. And on this mountain He will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples, Even the veil which is stretched over all nations. He will swallow up death for all time, And the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces, And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; For the Lord has spoken. And it will be said in that day, "Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation." (Isaiah 25:6-9)
This passage comes in the midst of a long section about judgment. On the heels of a horrific judgment scene (see Isaiah 24:17-23) comes a promise for a mishteh for all people, not just Israel. This passage is pertinent to many of the banquet scenes in the Gospel of Luke. The key issue is that salvation is extended beyond Israel. Gentiles will attend the eschatological banquet.
Key to interpreting the passage is the identity of the "covering" or "veil" that God removes as well as the timeframe in which it is removed. Here's the problem: If we assume all of this happens simultaneously at His second coming, and the removal of the veil (whatever it is) leads to salvation, then the passage would claim that all Gentiles are saved at His second coming. We know from many other passages that this is not true.
To resolve the problem some interpreters take the veil to be a shroud that would be placed over a dead body, and link its removal to "swallowing" death. Others interpret the veil to be the veil of a mourner who mourns death. Others link it to the veil of the spiritual blindness Paul discusses in 2Corinthians.
We propose that a solution to the problem is to realize that Old Testament prophecy often references aspects of both the first and the second advent in one section. For example, Isaiah 61:1-3 is a messianic prophecy. It includes things that happen at the first advent because Jesus cited part of it in Luke 4:18, 19 and claimed that it was fulfilled at that time (Luke 4:21). But in the middle of the Isaiah prophecy is the phrase, "And the day of the vengeance of our God." Jesus did not cite that part because it will not be fulfilled until the time of the second advent. This sort of composite prophecy is found in many passages, such as the one in Joel that Peter cited on the Day of Pentecost.
That means that the removal of the veil need not apply only to the final end time banquet. It might be something associated with Christ's first coming. We will see that banquets during His days on earth were used to portray salvation and/or judgment that comes based on one's response to Christ. If Gentiles are going to participate in the eschatological banquet at the very end, something has to happen before that so that they would be fit for that banquet. We know that salvation became possible for Gentiles because of Christ's death burial and resurrection and the proclamation of the gospel to all people.
Some things Paul said in Acts can help us. In Acts 14 he said, "And in the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness" (Acts 14:16, 17). He means that during the time of the Old Covenant, the Gentiles had only general revelation and providence; they did not have God's word given directly to them like the Jews had. In order to be a part of God's people they had to become proselytes and embrace Jewish customs. But later in Acts, Paul tells how this has changed: "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:30, 31). The "times of ignorance" were the times when they were permitted to go their ways with only general revelation. But when Jesus was raised from the dead (as a sign to all men, Jews and Gentiles), and the message of salvation through faith in Christ was proclaimed to the Gentiles, those times ended. Now the Gentiles have special revelation (the Bible and the gospel proclaimed therein) as well. This is specifically stated in Simeon's Spirit-inspired utterance about Messiah: "A light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel" (Luke 2:32). It is no longer necessary for them to sit in darkness or become Jewish proselytes.
We believe that this giving of the gospel, the evidence provided by the resurrection of Christ, and the possibility of repentance and faith is the removing of the veil spoken of in Isaiah 25:6-9. With Christ's resurrection and its proclamation as part of the gospel message, Gentiles now have a clear and valid invitation to the eschatological banquet. This invitation was foreshadowed in Luke in connection with various banquets and parables about banquets. The actual banquet that Isaiah predicted does not happen until the marriage supper of the Lamb. But the participants of the banquet are being invited throughout the years from Pentecost onward. Those who respond in faith are assured of participating when the final banquet is held. Those who reject the invitation will participate in the horrific events that are predicted in Isaiah 24:17-13 instead. We will see that when we get to the book of Revelation later.
First Advent Eschatological Banquets
In the New Testament, the Hebrew mishteh idea is expressed in various terms, often gamos (wedding feast) or deipnon (dinner or banquet). Sometimes the idea is expressed by phrases such as "reclining at the table" (Luke 5:29; 7:37; 14:15) in passages that have spiritual significance about who is included, blessed, forgiven, or who is portrayed in a bad light (like Pharisees who reject Jesus). Luke has much to say about meals and their spiritual significance. What is not readily apparent to us in our culture, but was obvious to them in theirs, is that whom one ate with revealed their status in society. Luke provides many statements by Spirit-inspired persons that foreshadowed reversal of status. For example, consider this statement from Mary's Magnificat: "He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble. He has filled the hungry with good things; And sent away the rich empty-handed" (Luke 1:52, 53). Often meals are used to illustrate this as unexpected ones are blessed, and those who thought they had status vis-a-vis the kingdom are rebuked by Messiah.
Luke sets this theme early in his gospel where Jesus dines with Levi:
And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax-gatherers and other people who were reclining at the table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with the tax-gatherers and sinners?" And Jesus answered and said to them, "It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:29-32)
This event sets the stage for themes that permeate Luke/Acts, such as repentance, forgiveness, and the eschatological banquet where unexpected people eat with the righteous in the kingdom of God.
A similar event happens in Luke 7:36-50 where a Pharisee invited Jesus to recline at the table. A "woman of the city who was a sinner" enters the banquet and anoints Jesus' feet, wets them with her tears, and wipes them with her hair. Her actions serve as a rebuke to the host, who in their culture was expected to greet his guest with a kiss, anoint his head with olive oil (the woman anointed his feet with costly perfume, which was unheard of) and wash his feet.2 Jesus said that the woman's lavish actions contrasted the Pharisee's lack of hospitality. Jesus said that the woman's sins had been forgiven and then said, "Your faith has saved you" (verse 50). One person is rebuked, the other saved at a meal setting. This is in keeping with the mishteh idea from the Old Testament.
In Luke 13:26-30 the idea of the eschatological banquet is combined with the theme of reversal. Some people will claim that they have a relationship (status) with Jesus because they "ate and drank in His presence." But Jesus will not acknowledge that and says, "I do not know where you are from, depart from me" (verse 27). But the shocking thing (to the Jewish leadership of Jesus' day) is who will attend the eschatological banquet: "There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth there when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being cast out. And they will come from east and west, and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God" (Luke 13:28, 29). Unexpected people will be included, and expected ones will be excluded. We will see from Luke 14 that these unexpected people are the outcasts of Israel—and even Gentiles.
Luke 14:1-24 contains a series of teachings that happen during a Sabbath meal with a "ruler of the Pharisees." The dinner [the Greek word deipnon is found four times in the section and gamos once] serves as an opportunity for Jesus to teach about the proper attitudes that would be pleasing to God; attitudes of humility and willingness to extend invitations to those who cannot repay (verses 10 – 14). The people who think they have status and wish to gain more of it are those likely to lose it.
But Luke returns to his theme of reversals, illustrated by the parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14:15-24.3 Still with the ruler of the Pharisees at the Sabbath meal, someone exclaims, "Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God" (verse 15). According to Kenneth Bailey, this exclamation has an implied, expected response that would be like this: "O Lord, may we be among the righteous and be counted without blemish, worthy to sit with the men of renown on the great day."4 But Jesus offers no such invocation, but rather a parable. In the parable a man invited many to a deipnon or banquet. To do this required two invitations: the first to determine the number of guests, and the second when the banquet was ready to be served. The two-part invitation was necessary in order for the host to determine what livestock he needed to slaughter in order to feed the number of guests who responded to the first invitation. Bailey explains: "Once the countdown starts, it cannot be stopped. The appropriate animal is killed and must be eaten that night. The guests who accept the invitation are duty-bound to appear."5
So when the guests (literally from the Greek), "from one all," gave excuses at the summons to the banquet (the second invitation), there was an obvious collusion designed to ruin the banquet. Joel Green explains, "Whatever one makes of their excuses, their refusal to join the great dinner is a social strategy the effect of which is the host's defamation."6 The excuses (examine land already purchased, test yokes of oxen just purchased, and having been married) are obviously false. No one in the Middle East purchases land without having first examined it, no one buys yokes of oxen without first seeing that they can pull together, and after already accepting an invitation to a banquet it is rude to say that one would rather be with his wife.7
In the honor/shame society of the time, the expected action of the man who gave the banquet would be to seek retribution against those who conspired to stop the banquet and dishonor the man's name in the village. But instead, in the parable, he does the totally unexpected and unheard of! He invites people who would never be invited to such an event: the poor, crippled, blind, and lame. These are the very people Jesus said that we should invite if we put on a deipnon (Luke 14:13). Rather than seeking retribution against those who shamed him, the "master" invites more shame (in the eyes of those in the village) by dining with those of a much lower social status.
But it does not end there! Now the master, having yet room for more, sends his servant out into the highways and hedges to bring to the banquet people from outside the village. They had to be "compelled" because they would never believe that such an invitation could be for real—it was too good to be true. This never happens. Since the parable does not report the servant actually doing this, it implies in Luke/Acts that this happens in Acts through the mission to the Gentiles.8 Furthermore, we agree with Bailey that Isaiah 25:6-9 is the proper Old Testament background for understanding the parable of the great banquet.9 God is going to gather unexpected people for His eschatological mishteh.
The parable finishes: "For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner" (Luke 14:24). The "you" there is plural and is addressed to the guests at the Sabbath meal at which Jesus dined. His message is that those whom they think will be blessed at the end-time Messianic banquet (the people with honored status in their society) will not participate. Clearly Jesus is the one issuing the invitation ("my dinner") and the conspirators who dishonored Him are the Jewish leadership who rejected Him.
Just before the discussion about meals in this section was Jesus' lament over Jerusalem (Luke 13:34, 35). Jesus came to Israel to offer a mishteh. At his mishteh some were saved (sinners called to repentance) and some were judged (the righteous in their own eyes who thought that they had higher status than the sinners Jesus dined with).
There are other passages that are pertinent and show the same pattern. One is Matthew 22:2-14. In that parable, a king gives a gamos (wedding feast) for his son. The invited guests refuse to come and some even killed the king's slaves. So the king destroyed them and set their city on fire. Subsequently the wedding was filled with whoever could be found on the streets. But one guest showed up without proper wedding attire and was cast into outer darkness. Some were judged, and others honored by attending the wedding feast of the king.
The last meal we want to discuss in this section is the last supper. This was a Passover meal that Jesus ate with his disciples (Luke 22:13-23). But before it even started, Satan entered Judas (Luke 22:3). Jesus explicitly stated that He would not eat and drink with them like this "until the kingdom of God comes." He refers to the eschatological banquet which is the marriage supper of the Lamb. He also instituted the Lord's Supper: "And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me" (Luke 22:19). The Lord's Supper is a supper of remembrance and anticipation. In Jesus' bodily absence, disciples remember that He died for their sins, pouring out His blood for their salvation, and that He promised to return to establish the kingdom of God at which time there will be a banquet where those who know Him will feast. But note well that at the last supper some were blessed (the eleven), and another judged (Judas). The mishteh pattern continues in this key meal.
The Lord's Supper as a Mishteh
In 1Corinthians, Paul discusses the Lord's Supper in chapters 10 and 11. In chapter 10 the issue was improperly assuming that because they partook of the Lord's Supper their status with God was safe—even if they also went to the pagan feasts (meals dedicated to other gods). To counter that false assurance Paul makes an analogy from Israel's history:
O and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. (1Corinthians 10:3-6)
Paul's point is that having "spiritual food and drink" (his analogy with the Lord's Supper) did not keep the Israelites from God's judgment when they committed idolatry, so neither will participating in the Lord's Supper keep the Corinthian Christians from God's judgment if they continued in idolatry. If we are correct in our thesis that the Lord's Supper is an example of a mishteh (deipnon is the Greek word translated "supper" in 1Corinthians 11), then we would expect that those who participate will either be blessed or judged depending on their attitudes and spiritual condition going into it.
To confirm that Paul had participating in the Lord's Supper and pagan meals associated with false deities in mind, he makes it specific later in this chapter:
No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. (1Corinthians 10:20, 21)
They had a serious problem with false assurance. Earlier in this chapter Paul also made a baptism analogy with the wilderness wanderers who were subsequently judged (1Corinthians 10:1, 2). They are warned that if they think the fact that they are baptized and have the Lord's Supper means they therefore have right standing with God no matter how they behaved—they are deceived and may end up with the same status as those who were judged in the wilderness.
This brings us to the topic at hand: What does Paul mean by "eats and drinks judgment to himself"? To understand that, in light of the mishteh idea, let us examine the issues Paul has with the Corinthian misuse of the Lord's Supper. Consider this part of Paul's rebuke to them:
But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper, (1Corinthians 11:17-20)
What we will see is that the Corinthian abuse of the Lord's deipnon "banquet" is along the very lines of the abuses of the eschatological banquets Jesus attended during His earthly ministry. In Luke there were divisions at the meal along sociological lines where the poor were excluded. But in His role of One who brought reversal, Jesus excluded the social elite (those worthy in their own minds) from what He called "my deipnon" (Luke 14:24).
The Corinthians had divisions and factions. In this section, Paul deals with divisions in the church at the Lord's Supper. Paul says "come together" and "come together as a church" in this section to show that Communion is supposed to be a meal that reminds us of our unity as the body of Christ. "Come together as a church" and "divisions" are contradictory. But the reason for these divisions is "so that those who are approved may become evident."
At a mishteh there is always a division between those who are blessed, saved, and approved and those who are cursed, judged, and cast out. We have seen that pattern from the Old Testament and through the gospels. Here we see it in another eschatological banquet—the Lord's Supper. Approved (dokimos) has a range of meanings such as "genuine, honored, and approved by testing." He says that there must (dei which implies a divine necessity) be divisions for the purpose of identifying those who are genuine (dokimos). These divisions, according to Gordon Fee, "separate true believers from those who were false."10 In verse 28 it says that a man should examine (dokimazo_ the verb form of "dokimos") himself to avoid coming under judgment.
The necessary division of which Paul speaks is that between those who are genuine and those who are not. The means of testing is the examination of attitudes that motivate actions. The result is a division between genuine Christians and those with false assurance. The divisions they (not God) create are between the rich and honored and the poor and dishonored. The result is very much like the parables in Luke: those who think they are worthy and deserving special honor are the ones who will be judged, while those who know themselves to be unworthy are saved and blessed.
We can see the nature of their wrongful division in the next section:
for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God, and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you. (1Corinthians 11:21, 22)
Their divisions were along sociological lines, much like those we saw in the parables. Fee explains how the practices of the time likely contributed to this:
First, since the church gathered for such meals in the homes of the rich, most likely the host was also the patron of the meal. Second, archeology has shown rather conclusively that the dining room (the triclinium) in such homes would scarcely accommodate many guests; the majority therefore would eat in the atrium (the somewhat larger entry "courtyard"), which would still seat only about 30 to 50 guests on the average. . . . In a class-conscious society such as Roman Corinth would have been, it would be sociologically natural for the host to invite those of his/her own class to eat in the triclinium, while the others would eat in the atrium. Furthermore, it is probable that the language "one's own supper" (v. 21) refers to the eating of "private meals" by the wealthy . . . perhaps privileged portions that were not made available to the "have nots."11
Paul's strong indictment is that they "shame those who have nothing." The contrast between "hungry/drunk" is probably to express extremes: "The one extreme is to receive nothing to eat, thus to ‘be hungry'; the other extreme is to be gorged on both food and wine, thus to ‘be drunk'"12 The problem was social polarization in the church.
Paul's terminology reveals that the problem was the same status consciousness and social stratification that Jesus confronted in the Pharisees. The terms "private meal"; "hungry"; "despise"; "shame" and "have nothing" make clear that some were being treated with dishonor and put to shame. In an honor/shame society, to "shame those who have nothing" is a serious blow to the unity of the church. It would be to, on economic grounds, withhold honor from someone Christ has added to the church.
This type of problem caused Paul to openly rebuke Peter in Galatians 2:11-14. He began "holding himself aloof" from the Gentile Christians by not eating with them. Paul took this very seriously because refusing to eat with fellow Christians was to dishonor them and imply that they do not belong in the church. Peter shamed the Gentiles whom Christ had accepted into His church and invited to His dinner. They were good enough to eat the eschatological meal with Christ, but not good enough to eat with Peter.
The gravity of this attitude can also be seen when we consider what Jesus taught: "But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous" (Luke 14:13). This same group is invited to the master's banquet in Luke 14:21. Jesus invited certain people to His dinner (deipnon here—eschatological banquet), and the Corinthians who were in charge of the banquet despised and shamed those whom Jesus brought in through His own shed blood.
Let us move on13 to the judgment section that is so often misunderstood:
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. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. (1Corinthians 11:27-29)
The words of institution (vv. 23-26) reminded the Corinthians that communion is for remembrance of the price Christ paid to make them part of the church. Those words also reminded them that this is an eschatological meal that exists between the two advents that looks forward to eating with the Lord in the kingdom of God. But some Corinthians have abused that meal. In so doing, they are putting themselves in a position where, rather than being saved by the once-for-all shed blood they are supposed to be remembering, they are being damned by incurring the guilt of those who rejected Christ and demanded His crucifixion. In other words, they have come to a mishteh not properly clothed and will be cast into outer darkness if they do not repent. At a mishteh some are saved, and some are judged. A deipnon in this context is the New Testament equivalent of a mishteh.
To avoid this horrible fate, Paul cautions them to examine themselves. This passage has been so misused and misunderstood that many think it means the exact opposite of what Paul has in mind. How many saints, aware of their unworthiness, aware of how terrible sin is and that they still have it, have trembled before the Lord they know to be holy, and have demurred from communion in fear of coming under judgment? They examine themselves and decide they are not worthy. Ironically, others who may very well be the ones in danger of judgment, full of self-assurance—like Haman, assuming that of course they are the ones the Lord would want to honor—with no concern about God's holiness, partake with full confidence.
Here is the irony in this: those who are sure they are unworthy are the ones the Lord Himself has invited to the eschatological banquet. Spiritually, they know themselves to be the crippled, lame and blind or so far out on the highways and hedges that they would never be invited to a Messianic banquet. The offer of grace and forgiveness is so fantastic that they must be urged to understand that it is real. These, the Lord's little flock, are those who are the approved (v. 19). In contrast, those who are sure they are worthy because they (like Simon in Luke 7) think they have something going for them are the ones who are eating and drinking judgment to themselves. The one group constitutes the Mordecai-type persons at the mishteh and the other, the Haman types.
The phrase, "does not judge the body rightly" needs comment. Many have linked this to the words of institution rather than the larger context of Paul's correction to this church. By doing so, they come up with the meaning that some do not realize they are "eating the body of Christ in this meal."14 But the context shows that Paul is not speaking about bread being Christ's body or about the significance of the bread symbolizing Christ's physical body. He is speaking of their failure to discern that the church is the body of Christ and must be treated as such. On the term "judge" in verse 29, Fee comments: "No other forms of this verb would be appropriate for expressing the need properly to take cognizance of the whole church that is seated as one body at this meal."15 The church is the body of Christ, purchased by His blood. We need to determine whether we are really part of it now, before it is too late, and we are "condemned along with the world" (v. 32).
Seeing the Lord's Supper as an eschatological mishteh that fits the pattern found in both the Old and New Testaments makes the judgment passage become clear. When one of these banquets is held some are saved, and some are damned. The status of the person going to the banquet determines the outcome. The ones the Lord has chosen, most often those with little going for them in this world (see 1Corinthians 1:26-29; "the foolish things that shame the wise"), are, much to their surprise, honored, blessed, and saved. The religious elite who think the banquet is their prerogative because of their self-perceived higher status are those who come under judgment.
The Final mishteh
The marriage supper of the Lamb is the great eschatological banquet predicted in the passages we examined in Luke. Jesus promised to eat again with the disciples in the kingdom of God. He promised that those He would gather from all over the world would dine with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets. This is the ultimate banquet of Isaiah 25:6-9 that happens in connection with judgment on the world.
The marriage supper of the Lamb is described in this passage:
"Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready." It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, "Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.'" And he said to me, "These are true words of God." (Revelation 19:7-9)
Only those who responded to the invitation to come to Christ for salvation will participate in that great banquet (deipnon). Unlike the ones before, where some who came are blessed and others judged, all at this banquet are blessed. But that does not mean there will be no judgment.
There will be another banquet (also called deipnon in the Greek) that is described in the same chapter of Revelation:
Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which fly in midheaven, "Come, assemble for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great." (Revelation 19:17, 18)
In horrible irony, those who either refused the invitation to Jesus' eschatological meal or showed up without wedding clothes end up at the "great supper of God." They are the meal!
In the end two meals are held, separately but simultaneously: the marriage supper of the Lamb and the great supper of God. Our status and spiritual condition determines the outcome. We need to decide now which deipnon we wish to attend!
The amazing continuity of the mishteh theme in the Bible shows, among other things, the inspiration of Scripture. The number of authors over so many centuries, from Moses to John, could hardly have dreamed up the idea of embedding this material from beginning to end with complete continuity. This is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit, who inspired the Bible.
There is a gospel message in the Biblical mishteh. Being invited to meet God at a mishteh could be a good thing or it could be a very horrible thing. God is holy, and if we show up at the mishteh with our own clothing rather than proper wedding garments (the imputed righteousness of Christ), we will be cast into outer darkness. It is only good news for those who are right with God when God throws a mishteh. The judgment passage connected to the Lord's Supper makes that clear. It is possible that we could be eating and drinking judgment unto ourselves.
So how do we know we are ready? We must see Jesus for who He is: the eternal Logos who existed as God and with God for all eternity who came into this world, born of a virgin. He lived without sin. Christ in His incarnation is fully human and fully God. He died for sins, once for all, and was bodily raised on the third day. He bodily ascended into heaven. We must repent and believe in Him because if we think we have right status with God because of who we are, we will be excluded from the marriage supper of the Lamb. If we know that we are wretched sinners deserving God's wrath, not deserving to be honored at a banquet with the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, trembling at the fact that we are sinners and unworthy, hardly able to believe that the Lord would even invite us to His banquet, but trusting only in His blood that washed away our sins, then we shall recline in the kingdom with the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and saints from all ages. Otherwise there is the supper of God, which we should avoid at all costs.