1 Corinthians 11:29-30

(29) For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God's judgment upon yourself. (30) That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died.

To me, it seems verse 29 to 30 is causal. And it's very difficult for me to assume that the bold sentence is metaphor. But to assume the bold sentence is literal, raise a question :

  1. Is it really that someone has died killed by God because he/she ate the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ in that time ?

  2. What about in this present time ? Will God kill someone if he/she ate the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ ?

I hope the bold sentence is metaphor, so I don't need to ask the two questions above anymore :). But, if it's metaphor - what does it mean that a few Christians have "died" after they ate the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ ?

Thank you.

  • 2
    Consider also the physical vs spiritual consequences.
    – bradimus
    Jul 22, 2017 at 18:27
  • 1
    from which denominations point of view?
    – depperm
    Jul 24, 2017 at 12:47
  • 1
    it is possible that different denominations will interpret these verses differently, I'd say pick your denomination or one of the larger/more common denominations
    – depperm
    Jul 24, 2017 at 16:54
  • 2
    @Abstractioniseverything, I've edited my question - now it refers to the Reformed denomination. Thank you.
    – karma
    Aug 3, 2017 at 18:01
  • 1
    @curiousdannii, thank you for editing my question
    – karma
    Aug 4, 2017 at 20:09

3 Answers 3


There does not seem to be a clear statement from the Reformed tradition whether the words as written by Paul to the Corinthians are to be taken literally. Most of the Reformed statements concerning this verse are addressed to current believers. In this case, the concesus seems to be that the words are to be understood as spiritual but literal -- that profaning the Lord's Supper will result in condemnation and spiritual death.

John Calvin

We begin with Calvin. His views are not necessarily binding on the Reformed, but it is difficult to ignore his thoughts when discussing Reformed theology. Calvin's commentary on Corinthians shows that he believed the Corinthians were quite literally and physically suffering sickness and death for their actions:

[Paul] now instructs the Corinthians as to the chastisement which they were at that time enduring. It is not known whether a pestilence was raging there at that time, or whether they were laboring under other kinds of disease. However it may have been as to this, we infer from Paul's words, that the Lord had sent some scourge upon them for their correction. Nor does Paul merely conjecture, that it is on that account that they are punished, but he affirms it as a thing that was perfectly well known by him. He says, then, that many lay sick --- that many were kept long in a languishing condition, and that many had died, in consequence of that abuse of the Supper, because they had offended God.

After denouncing the Catholic Church for her practices concerning the Lord's Supper, Calvin goes on to suggest that the Reformed are not honoring Christ in the Supper as fully as they should. He states that current wars, plagues, and famines are due to hypocracy and irreverence concerning the Supper:

Nay even among ourselves, who have the pure administration of the Supper restored to us, in virtue of a return, as it were, from captivity, how much irreverence! How much hypocrisy on the part of many! What a disgraceful mixture, while, without any discrimination, wicked and openly abandoned persons intrude themselves, such as no man of character and decency would admit to common intercourse! And yet after all, we wonder how it comes that there are so many wars, so many pestilences, so many failures of the crop, so many disasters and calamities --- as if the cause were not manifest!

Note that this guilt seems to collectively affect both the innocent and guilty. This seems to be consistent with Calvin's speculation that the Corinthians may have been enduring a plague. However, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion (and this may be seen as a more 'official' stance), Calvin focuses the spiritual effects of eating and drinking the Supper unworthily. These concequences are limited to the unrighteous only in which the condemn themselves:

For, inasmuch as they do not believe that body to be their life, they put every possible affront upon it, stripping it of all its dignity, and profane and contaminate it by so receiving; inasmuch as while alienated and estranged from their brethren, they dare to mingle the sacred symbol of Christ's body with their dissensions. No thanks to them if the body of Christ is not rent and torn to pieces. Wherefore they are justly held guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, which, with sacrilegious impiety, they so vilely pollute. By this unworthy eating, they bring judgment on themselves. For while they have no faith in Christ, yet, by receiving the sacrament, they profess to place their salvation only in him, and abjure all other confidence. Wherefore they themselves are their own accusers; they bear witness against themselves; they seal their own condemnation. (Institutes vi.xviii.xl)

Moving on from Calvin, we focus on some of the classical statements of the Reformed tradition: the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. These documents represent the formalization of the Reformed Christianity as practiced on Continental Europe during the Reformation. They are still respected and used by Reformed groups today. Neither of these can be said to diffinitively rule out a literal physical effect, but a real spiritual effect seems more likely -- more consitent with Calvins Institutes rather than his commentary.

The Belgic Confession

The Belgic Confession explains in Article 35 does not expand much on the effects of receiving the Supper unworthily, but it is consistent with real, spiritual effect:

The wicked person certainly takes the sacrament, to his condemnation, but does not receive the truth of the sacrament, just as Judas and Simon the Sorcerer both indeed received the sacrament, but not Christ, who was signified by it. He is communicated only to believers...Therefore no one should come to this table without examining himself carefully, lest "by eating this bread and drinking this cup he eat and drink to his own judgment."

The Heidelberg Catechism

The Heidelberg Catechism does not say much more than restate Scripture:

Question 81. For whom is the Lord's supper instituted?

Answer. For those who are truly sorrowful for their sins, and yet trust that these are forgiven them for the sake of Christ; and that their remaining infirmities are covered by his passion and death; and who also earnestly desire to have their faith more and more strengthened, and their lives more holy; but hypocrites, and such as turn not to God with sincere hearts, eat and drink judgment to themselves.

If we place this question in the context of the one before it we see that the benefits are spiritual:

Question 80. What difference is there between the Lord's supper and the popish mass?

Answer. The Lord's supper testifies to us, that we have a full pardon of all sin by the only sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which he himself has once accomplished on the cross; and, that we by the Holy Ghost are ingrafted into Christ, who, according to his human nature is now not on earth, but in heaven, at the right hand of God his Father, and will there be worshipped by us. But the mass teaches....

The benefits, full pardon and ingrafting, are spiritual. It seems reasonable in lack of evidence to the contrary to understand the consequences are spiritual too.

The Westminster Confession of Faith

Finally we turn to the The Westminster Confession of Faith. This document originated in the Church of England, but is now primarily associated with Presbyterian groups within the Reformed Tradition. Its statements are similar to the Belgic and Heidelberg, it is a little more explicit:

Although ignorant and wicked men receive the outward elements in this sacrament; yet, they receive not the thing signified thereby; but, by their unworthy coming thereunto, are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, to their own damnation. Wherefore, all ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with Him, so are they unworthy of the Lord's table; and cannot, without great sin against Christ, while they remain such, partake of these holy mysteries, or be admitted thereunto.

While the other documents spoke of judgment and condemnation, the WCF states that receiving the Supper in an unworthy manner is a great sin and brings damnation.


The Reformed tradition understands the warnings of sickness and death in 1 Corinthians 11 to indicate serious spiritual death and damnation.

  • 1
    That first part about Calvin is very interesting
    – mi name
    Aug 4, 2017 at 1:39
  • Thanks for the explanation, bradimus. I wonder what does it means of this sentence "the Reformed are not honoring Christ in the Supper as fully as they should" ? What/how which is "fully" according to the Reformed ?
    – karma
    Aug 4, 2017 at 4:27
  • @karma It appears from the quote that Calvin is talking about unworthy people taking the Lord's supper. The question of who the supper is for and how it ought to be observed, according to Reformed theologians, is better asked as a new question, not in comments here. Aug 4, 2017 at 12:25
  • I agree with @Nathaniel -- that's a good follow up.
    – bradimus
    Aug 4, 2017 at 12:37
  • @karma i just realized that you are asking about my words not Calvin's. Calvin was concerned about how the church body was being disrupted by the ungodly lives of some. But it is a good follow-up question.
    – bradimus
    Aug 4, 2017 at 13:04

Looking earlier on in this message of Paul, Paul was pointing out those who got drunk and ate so much for their pleasure. Like you said, it seems literal, and after reading the whole chapter, it seems to confirm its literal talk, but I am saying he was directly talking about gluttons. He may as well of been talking about any that do not eat it honorably as to eat it for hunger only, I don't know, but I know not all got weak, sick, and died. So he could be talking about natural causes of getting too drunk or too full, or he could be talking about God doing something about it, or both.

  • 1
    Interesting answer, Jeremiah. Maybe the illustration will be something like this : because you drive without "honoring" the law, that's why you got an accident. But in reality, there are still some people who drive without "honoring" the law get no accident.
    – karma
    Jul 25, 2017 at 3:35

The bread and the cup are the symbols of a covenant or sacrament.

To accept that sacrament or make that covenant unworthily is to reject the meaning of the same, and therefore to cut oneself off from the giver thereof.

This is separation from the Spirit of God, essentially a state of spiritual death.

Fortunately for us, following Jesus sincerely, believing in Him and letting that faith change us, allows Him to bring us back to spiritual life. That is an important part of what Jesus' call to repentance means -- he is calling us to life.

JBH mentions Ananias and Sapphira, and their story in Acts 5. I don't think Peter was particularly pleased that the sudden recognition of their spiritual state was too much for them to bear physically, but he did want others to recognize the seriousness of the covenant that Ananias and Sapphira had taken half-heartedly.

Both Ananias and Sapphira could have been honest, and avoided the more serious consequences.

Does that happen now?

I think it may, but we should be careful not to judge things that we don't know about. Some people get sick as a punishment. Some people get sick so that others have an opportunity to help them. (James 5: 13-16, but also John 9: 1-3. And remember that praying implied taking care of the sick.)

And there are other reasons for getting sick. We don't know everything, but we can trust God.

  • I'm sorry Joel Rees, I still wonder it's literal or not after they eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ. Thank you.
    – karma
    Jul 27, 2017 at 16:35
  • @karma What I'm trying to say is that, in my experience, it is both literal and not literal. And we shouldn't judge others based on what does or does not seem to happen when we or they partake of the emblems of the covenant. It's between them and God. For ourselves, we never have an excuse to quit talking with God, to quit listening.
    – Joel Rees
    Aug 1, 2017 at 0:56
  • Oke. Thank you Joel Rees. BTW, can it means (indirectly) that the apostle who said the verse is judging others ?
    – karma
    Aug 1, 2017 at 3:49
  • If I have time to later, I'll try to add some reference to the reasons it would be okay for Paul to make a general (not specific) judgment here. In the meantime, you can search the scriptures about the duties of apostles and bishops.
    – Joel Rees
    Aug 1, 2017 at 5:07

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