27 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.
28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.
31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.
32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.
33 Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.
34 But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come.
wherefore (v.27) — points back to verse 26
in an unworthy manner (v.27) — We are all unworthy based on our sin natures, but this is referring to the specific sins (gluttony, drunkenness) mentioned in v.21.
Many have taken the adverb [in an unworthy manner] as an adjective so that it would define the partakers as being unworthy, and feeling themselves unworthy, they did not dare partake of it. It is not an adjective but an adverb and defines the unworthy manner of eating and drinking of the Corinthian believers; their gluttony and intoxication. — Bultema, page 95
guilty (v.27) = liable to the penal effect of a deed — in this case, a share in the guilt for the death of the Lord
examine (v.28) = prove, test, with a view to approval — examine as to motives and conduct in participation
examine himself (v.28) — each person is to determine his or her own fitness
sleep (v.30) — always used in Scripture for the death of a believer — from the Greek word from which we get our word “cemetery.”
In that day there was still immediate judgment for sin. It has been said that we should not have the Lord’s table any longer, since the judgments connected with it are not found among us any longer, but according to this reasoning we would not have a gospel since the miracles were also once connected with it. The Lord chastised the Corinthians church in that day by inflicting many with weakness, sickness, and death. This immediate judgment and other signs we find connected with the ecclesia of God during all the Acts period when God still dealt with Israel. Only after He had set aside Israel in Acts 28, and the full and final revelation of the mystery had been given concerning the sussoma [body], did these miraculous signs stop. — Bultema, page 96.
It’s a dangerous thing to interpret Scripture based on personal observation, but when theologians tell us something will happen if … and that thing never happens no matter how often the “if” occurs, it’s fair to ask why.
Three of my commentaries on 1 Corinthians take the hard line on this passage, stating that if anyone should partake of the ordinance of the Lord’s supper with any unconfessed sin, he or she is liable to chastisement by the Lord by means of sickness and death. If this was true, churches would be experiencing a much higher rate of sickness and death than they do. The simple fact is that very few, if any, people in the pews skip the bread and juice as they’re passed down the rows, and I simply cannot believe that none of those people have unconfessed sin. I know for a fact that I’ve taken them during times when I wasn’t walking in my faith as I should be.
So what then? First, I’m not sure what we do in most churches today even qualifies as the Lord’s supper as Paul intended it to happen. Not that we can’t take the time to reflect on the Lord’s death — we can and should. But that doesn’t mean we’re doing it right. I still think it might well refer to a meal shared by the church members in which the breaking of bread at the beginning and drinking of wine at the end were intended to be times of focus on the Lord. But I’m not sure of that.
Second, it would be pretty hard to be a glutton on the miniscule bits of bread we use or get drunk on the eye-dropper of non-alcoholic grape juice, so, technically, it would be impossible to take the bread and wine in an unworthy manner as the Corinthians were.
Third, nowhere in the church epistles are we called on to confess in the first place. Paul talks extensively about his own sin nature in Romans 7 and follows it up, not with confession, but with the wonderful truth that there is no condemnation for those in Christ.
This passage was written during the Transition Period between law and grace, when aspects of the kingdom gospel — including the punishments given to Ananias and Sapphira and tongues (as we will see in the next chapters) — were still in effect but fading out. And as I mentioned in an earlier post, Colossians 2 makes it clear that ordinances and the law were both wiped out.
This isn’t my view alone. Three of my commentaries — Bultema, Stam, and to a lesser extent Laurin — all take this position. As with most every passage, there’s nothing like a consensus among the experts, leaving me with the right, and the responsibility, to study it for myself.