Friday, January 31, 2014

Corinth's Communion (part 16)

A symposium would be overseen by a “symposiarch,” or a “master of the feast.”  Among the many duties of this person would be making a decision as to the strength of the wine for the evening, and this would depend on whether serious discussions were going to be taking place, or whether sensual indulgences were all that were on tap for the gathering.  The wine would be drawn from a large jar that was designed to be carried by two men, with the wine then served to the guests from pitchers. 

Continuing to learn about this social institution, Paul’s words of the sixth chapter are kept in mind as information is gathered about customary central features of the symposium.  Though free women of status were not allowed to attend such events, female prostitutes were often hired to accentuate the festivities.  This brings Paul’s mention of sexual immorality and prostitutes (1 Corinthians 6:13,15) into play, as Paul’s critique of this church is considered in the light of meal practice and the symposium.  Together with the prostitutes, slaves and boys would also be employed for entertainment and used to provide service, thus drawing attention to Paul’s mention of being “bought at a price” (6:20), which is the language of slavery. 

In effect then, the symposium or convivium was a male-oriented drinking session that would traditionally be held at the end of a meal.  Greek pottery of ancient times, including the time of Jesus and Paul, frequently includes decorations depicting symposium, showing that the range of activities would include drinking, music, singing, dancing, games, and sexual intercourse. 

As one imagines what might very well be the raucous nature of the symposium, and as one holds in mind the vital nature and importance of meal gatherings as demonstrated by Jesus and therefore embraced by the early church, can Paul not be understood to be writing into the context of this type of event (rather than in as a general approbation) when he delivers words such as “Do not be deceived!  The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God” (6:9b-10)?  This makes a great deal of sense if Paul is addressing a church that is engaging in this practice, while they presumptuously and falsely refer to it as their celebration of the messianic feast, which is the very thing that was suppose to signal the in-breaking of the kingdom of the Creator God.   

So not only is one forced to begin considering having “a careful regard for the body” in the mode of the body of believers (rather than the personal body or the body of Christ in terms of the bread of the communion table), but there is also a requirement to deal with the idea that Paul’s delineation of the parameters of the Lord’s Supper, or the communion table, are offered within the context of a grave concern over what is being put on display, or conversely, what is not being put on display by the meal practice of the Corinthian church. 

Paul appears to be quite concerned with the fact that love---true love as demonstrated by compassion and mercy, which should be reflected by image-bearers that are supposedly claiming Jesus as their Lord and living by the precepts on offer by Him in both word and deed and which are part and parcel of the celebration of the communion, is being left off the table.  This is in the wake of understanding the communion as a microcosm of the messianic feast by which it is confessed that Jesus is Lord, and in which the in-breaking of the Creator God’s compassion and mercy for this world is looked to and celebrated, with this having taken place by and through the Christ-event. 

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