What does 1 Corinthians 11:29 mean?This is a sobering verse, especially for believers who regularly participate in communion. Paul has already warned Christians to examine themselves before taking part in the Lord's Supper to avoid doing so in an unworthy way (1 Corinthians 11:28).
The cup represents Christ's blood, and the bread represents His broken body. The purpose of taking communion is to commemorate and reflect on the sacrificial death of Jesus (Matthew 26:26–28). To do so without "discerning the body" brings judgment on the participant.
The first question this raises is the precise meaning of "discerning the body." Bible scholars primarily suggest two ways of interpreting this, both of which are reasonable, and which can even both be true.
The first suggestion is that this refers to a recognition: that the symbolic parallel to Christ's body in the elements of the bread and cup causes a Christian to see them as different from other food. In other words, the Lord's Supper should not be treated like just another meal used to satisfy physical hunger. It must be approached with respect as something much more meaningful and important. This first view of "discerning the body" would fit with Paul's instructions in the following verses about not coming hungry to the Lord's Supper gathering. The Corinthians were clearly not doing this (1 Corinthians 11:17–22).
Along with that, partaking in communion is "proclaiming" the death of Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:26). If a person proclaims Jesus' death, but is disobedient to the gospel, that person is essentially daring God to judge them (Galatians 6:6–7). Whether by ignorance, arrogance, or simple error, insulting the sacrifice of Christ—even symbolically—is something God takes seriously.
The second interpretive view is that "discerning the body" means recognizing the relationship between Christ's body and the "body of Christ," known as the church. In other words, we must see Christ in our fellow Christians and treat them as we would treat Jesus when we come together. This view fits with what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:16–17.
Whichever view Paul intended, both are necessary.
This leads to the issue of what precise judgment is invited when someone participates in the Lord's Supper in an unworthy way. Paul gives more detail in the following verse.