What is the context of 1 Corinthians 10:16, 17?
In chapter 8, Paul adressed the subject of meats offered to idols. Either because a converted idolater had such an aversion toward any contact with idolatry or because his past gave him a greater liability to being drawn back into it, a converted Jew could harm his Gentile brother by eating such meats. Personal liberty must be limited by concern for other believers.
In chapter 10, Paul returns to the issue of idolatry (verse 14). Not only does participation with idolatry pose a personal problem for believers (chapter 8), but it poses a collective problem. Just as Israel had corporate blessings (“all,” 5 times in verses 1-4), many (“many” or “some,” 5 times in verses 5-10) invited God’s judgment through their sin. Likewise, the Corinthians expressed their corporate blessings and privileges when they “broke bread,” for “we are all partakers of that one bread” (verse 17). If some of them associated with the same sins as Israel did, they would “provoke the Lord to jealousy” (verse 22). In fact, there may be a connection with “many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (11:30), since their behavior violated the fellowship expressed in the Breaking of Bread.
Is Paul’s reference to the body and blood of Christ related to John 6:53-56?
In John 6:53 and 54, eating the flesh of the Son of Man and drinking His blood are necessary and sufficient conditions for having eternal life. That is describing what took place once; at the moment of conversion, we took the death of Christ to ourselves and received all its benefits. In verse 56, feeding on Christ and His death is characteristic of all who are saved. This, linked by some to Israel’s initial and continued eating of the Passover, is individual. “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Our redemption is individual, as is our appropriation of the Lamb. The annual Passover shares the feature of remembrance with the Lord’s Supper, but, although instituted at the Passover, it does not replace the Passover or fulfill it.
At the Lord’s Supper, the assembly unitedly blesses and partakes of the cup and bread, thus expressing the blessings they share. Being a corporate act, it is therefore distinct from what the Passover expresses and from the personal communion of which the Lord speaks in John 6:56.
In addition, John 6 speaks of eating in a spiritual sense, 1 Corinthians 10 of eating physically.
In this passage, what is the significance of partaking of the cup?
Since God required the blood to satisfy His claims (Exodus 12:13; Leviticus 17:11), the cup of blessing expresses fellowship with God. Those partaking of the cup share a fellowship with God on the basis of shed blood. This corporate act expresses a corporate fellowship, “the fellowship” (Acts 2:42) existing when believers obey the Spirit’s teaching, thus forming an assembly (1 Corinthians 1:9).
This is central to Paul’s teaching about idolatry. By partaking of what was given for idols (“the cup of devils”), they expressed a fellowship with demons (“the table of devils”). By symbolically partaking of what was for God (“the cup of the Lord”), they expressed a fellowship with the Lord (“the table of the Lord”). It is morally impossible to have fellowship with devils (demons) and with the Lord, to participate with the heathen temple and with the church of God. Participating in the assembly requires separation from evil.
What is expressed by partaking of the bread (1 Corinthians 10:16)?
As the cup symbolizes the physical blood of Christ, so the bread symbolizes the physical body of Christ. Partaking of both expresses a fellowship, or communion, with God (the cup) and with believers (the bread). The truth of fellowship with God underlies the teaching of chapter 10; fellowship with believers reappears in chapter 11:17-34.
The bread, speaking of the physical body of Christ, does not symbolize the church, the Body of Christ, nor does partaking of it express the fellowship of that Body. Verse 17 explains the fellowship. The believers who partake of the bread are one, because (“for”) they have all partaken of one loaf. All are one, because all partake. In this context, Paul must be referring to partaking of the physical loaf at the Breaking of Bread. By partaking of this bread, believers in the assembly express that they are one.
The passage cannot teach that all the Body of Christ is one (Ephesian truth), because all partake of the loaf. All believers on earth have never partaken of one loaf, even in Acts 2 when all in the Body were on earth. Furthermore, some in the Body have never partaken of this “communion of the body of Christ.”
In chapter 10, partaking of the cup and bread expresses our fellowship with God and with fellow believers in the assembly. In chapter 11, partaking of these symbols brings to remembrance our beloved Lord, declares the value we see in that death, and anticipates His coming.