1 Corinthians 11 and Paedo-communion (Part 2)

Dr Peter Leithart, Federal Vision advocate and author of  Daddy, Why Was I Excommunicated?

Yesterday, I gave a broad overview of 1 Corinthians 11:17-34; today I want to show how this passage is fatal to the paedo-communion position. But before I do so, I have to explain the paedo-communion position. Simply put, the paedo-communion position sees the question of communing infants and baptizing infants as being parallel to one another, and teaches that the infant of at least one believing parent should be permitted to take part in the Lord’s Table apart from having made a credible profession of faith. Paedocommunion, then maintains that a child’s membership in the visible church is sufficient to admit that child to the Table of the Lord. The Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America (RCA), and the Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRCNA) have all recently acted to permit paedocommunion, and there is a small but vocal support community for this practice in more conservative Reformed and Presbyterian bodies as well.

The reason that 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 merit particular attention is that they are referred to by the Confessional Standards of the Presbyterian Church (that is, the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechism) more than fifty times, and the the warning section twenty times. It is the source for the warnings that are utilized by the Directory of Worship for warning people of their need to discern the Lord’s body. The use of this passage to warn in this general way, and particularly the understanding that young children are excluded by this warning, has been opposed by those who favor paedocommunion. They see the opening section (vv. 17-22), and those mentioned therein, as the controlling factor in understanding the words of warning in vv. 27-29. In other words, they see the warning as being for those who have sinned like, or as grievously as, the Corinthians in verses 21 and 22.

As we say yesterday, there are shifts in the language used between the various sub-sections of this passage, and I believe this is fatal to the paedocommunion argument. Let’s take a look at the Words of Institution (1 Corinthians 11:23-26) and examine their significance.

Paul’s argument in the verse in view is since the abusers are not keeping the tradition which Jesus gave to Paul and which Paul gave to them, he draws their attention back to the institution of the supper.

Ἐγὼ γὰρ παρέλαβον ἀπὸ τοῦ κυρίου, ὃ καὶ παρέδωκα ὑμῖν, ὅτι ὁ κύριος Ἰησοῦς ἐν τῇ νυκτὶ ᾗ παρεδίδετο ἔλαβεν ἄρτον…

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread… (1 Corinthians 11:23, my translation)

He is drawing their attention to the institution by his opening ‘for’ (γὰρ). In giving the institution in Jesus’ own words, he is confronting them with the Lord’s own words and intentions. Paul will then draw on these intention in his general words of warning in vv. 27-29, as is evidenced by the transitional word ‘therefore’ (ὥστε, v. 27).

καὶ εὐχαριστήσας ἔκλασεν καὶ εἶπεν· τοῦτό μού ἐστιν τὸ σῶμα τὸ ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν· τοῦτο ποιεῖτε εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν. ὡσαύτως καὶ τὸ ποτήριον μετὰ τὸ δειπνῆσαι λέγων· τοῦτο τὸ ποτήριον ἡ καινὴ διαθήκη ἐστὶν ἐν τῷ ἐμῷ αἵματι· τοῦτο ποιεῖτε, ὁσάκις ἐὰν πίνητε, εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν.

…and after he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  (1 Corinthians 11:24-25, my translation)

It is important to note that in the words of institution those partaking are charged two times by our Lord to ‘do this’ (vv. 24 and 25).This in and of itself makes a distinction between baptism and the Lord’s Table.

In baptism, especially for infants, the recipient is passive with regard to the water being applied and the the words said about him. Here the recipient is active, he (or she) takes the bread and win and eats and drinks them. Moreover, whereas baptism is once given and received, the Lord’s Table is continually given and received. Baptism symbolizes God’s regenerating work, and is not to be repeated, while the Lord’s Supper is symbolic of God’s sanctifying grace given to us to receive by faith, and thus faith is necessary for those receiving it, and it is therefore to be repeated.

The Westminster divines drafted a statement in the Larger Catechism about these differences between the two rites, and accordingly and appropriately said of the Lord’s Supper that it is to be given “only to such as are of years and ability to examine themselves”, because, as they stated it, “the Lords suppor is to be administered often…, to represent and exhibit Christ as spiritual nourishment to the soul, and to confirm continuance and growth in him…”(Larger Catechism 177).


3 thoughts on “1 Corinthians 11 and Paedo-communion (Part 2)

    • If you want to get (and stay) sharp at Greek, here’s what I’d recommend:

      1. Get a really solid beginning Greek grammar. Personally, I still highly recommend Machen for this sort of thing; regardless of whether or not you use Machen, Black, or Mounce, you can always flip back to the grammar for review.
      2. Get in your Greek Testament every day. Try for at least 15-20 minutes; it’s fine if there are forms and vocabulary you don’t recognize at the first glance. Look them up.
      3. Pick one extended section of Greek and own it. You should know it backwards and forwards. For me, it’s Romans 9:1-23.

      Those are just some pointers that I offer for no charge to a fellow lover of languages!

      • Thank you. These are great tips. My biggest problem is I just don’t devote enough time to it. I’ve keep my plate pretty pretty overloaded — but now that I’ve finished revising a paper that was keeping me bound up for a while, I think I should be able to do some things I want to do. I’m also trying to teach myself Hebrew, but I haven’t gotten very far yet. And keeping my Latin sharp, and re-sharpening my Greek, and work on several historical projects I took on, and research for my thesis…

        If you’d asked me to guess the passage you had picked for close study, Romans 9 is what I would have expected. 😉 I’d love to read your explication of that.

"I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve." (Romans 16:17-18) Please read "The Comments Policy."

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