Sin To Eat In A Church Building?

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It is written:

1 Corinthians 11:22-What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.

Some teach that it is a sin to eat in a church building, based upon this passage of Scripture. Indeed, entire churches have been divided over whether or not it is a sin to eat a ham sandwich in a church building when the church isn’t assembled together.

Is that what Paul is here teaching?

Let’s study.

When Paul wrote his Epistle to the Corinthians, he dealt specifically with the issues of public worship in 1 Corinthians 10-16. Several clues remind us of this, including his use of the phrase en humin, which was his favorite designation to describe “in the worship assembly.’

“Loh. Kol. on 3:16 is mistaken in relating en humin to individuals. En humin ‘among you’ in the community etc. is common in Paul. Of 18 instances in 1 C., 13 plainly have this sense: 1:10 f.; 2:2; 3:3, 18,; 5:1; 6:5; 11:18 f., 30; 14;25; 15:12, and it is implied in 3:16 and 6:19 on the basis of 14:25. In 6:2 the meaning is certainly not ‘within you,’ nor ‘for yourself’ in 11:13.” (Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Theological Dictionary Of The New Testament: Volume VIII, 498 (footnote 63); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company)

With that in mind, consider that in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul addresses abuses of the Lord’s Supper taking place. His prohibition is not against Christians eating together in homes, but in eating together in homes during times of worship, which was causing divisions within the church.

One author explains how this played out:

“The fact that some are wealthy in the congregation and that they are the ones who eat “their own supper” becomes clear when Paul indicates they have “houses” to eat and drink in (οἰκίας οὐκ ἔχετε εἰς τὸ ἐσθίειν). Only the wealthy would have had their own homes. Thus, his comment that people should eat at home if they are hungry is also addressed to the rich (v. 34). What seems to have been happening is that the rich facilitated the Lord’s Supper in their homes where the home churches met. It seems that they may have had separate meals, with the rich eating and others coming later who could ill afford to bring food with them. 6 Murphy-O’Connor has described what these typical, reasonably wealthy houses may have looked like from the archaeological evidence. He shows that people invited to these homes to eat with their hosts would normally have eaten in the dining room (the Roman triclinium), which averaged about thirty-six square meters less any area used for couches. Since these people would have reclined to eat and would have been served their food by servants, it is unlikely they accommodated more than around nine or ten people. When the church gathered together, the rest would have had to sit in the atrium. In that setting, they might not have been served food at all, or perhaps they were served food of a different kind, suitable for people of a lower class or community status. The atrium in such houses might have seated somewhat less than fifty people. 7 There is some indication that even in the dining room itself the food may have been better, depending on how close to the host a guest was reclining. Status was generally an important factor in Roman dining. Thus, as with the matter of “wisdom” and “knowledge,” which were so highly esteemed in that Corinthian society, here too those of status in the society at large found ways of importing that into the church itself. Given that even the servants serving at the table would have been entitled to eat at the Lord’s Supper in the same manner as those they normally waited on, it is easy to imagine what a social upheaval the Christian faith was causing. Given that the poorer classes would have had less time at their disposal, it is likely that they would have arrived later at the host’s house for the Lord’s Supper. Thus, the poorer people would not have been seated in the best room for eating but also would have arrived to find the status-seeking elite already eating or having “devoured” their food. 8 Paul uses hyperbole to make his point as he calls them “drunk.” Since all celebrations of the Lord’s Supper would have been in the larger homes of wealthy Christians, the point Paul establishes is that when the church “gathers together” the space is no longer someone’s home, it is a special space of worship. This is why, as we saw earlier, there may have been some confusion about the hairstyles the women would use—were they at home or in the gathering of the church? Was there in fact any difference for some of them? Paul’s point is that there is indeed a difference. When a home is opened up for worship, then the rules of the gathered community apply as they eat and drink the Lord’s Supper, not the social rules of Roman society. Furthermore, in light of this it is easier to understand why Paul said in v. 17 that “you gather together not for the better but for the worse.” The result of what is happening as the Corinthian church eats the Lord’s Supper is that some are being shamed. Those who have no food are, as it were, having their faces rubbed in it. As they come to worship as equals before the Lord, they find that they are treated as far from equal. In fact, the behavior that marked out those who claimed to be part of the elite is the very behavior that brings God’s judgment upon them (vv. 27–30). The Christian rules, which he will now lay out, come directly from the Lord, reflect some of the attitudes of the Passover, and stand in stark contrast to Roman ideas of status.” (Paul D. Gardner, 1 Corinthians (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 506-508 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan)

1 Corinthians 11:22 is not forbidding eating in a church building: it is forbidding eating common meals during periods of worship in which the church is divided.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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