The Corinthian Lord's Supper and the Greco-Roman Banquet Tradition
Scholars now recognize that there is no clear evidence to trace the ritual meal in 1 Corinthians 11:17-33 back to the historical Jesus, or to existing Jewish meals. Similarly, evidence is lacking to prove that the ritual meal originated with Paul’s community, or any other first century community. Later church liturgies reflect a variety of forms, making it similarly impossible to trace the ritual backwards through the various Jesus groups. Scholars now suggest that each community developed its own ritual, based upon the rituals, prayers and banquets of their immediate context. In this thesis, the banquets of the voluntary associations are examined in order to provide a socio-cultural context for the Corinthian meal. In finding an analogy for the Corinthian Jesus-meal in the meal practices of the voluntary associations, we note similar honour/shame values typical of the Greco-Roman world. Tensions and divisions are attributable to this code of values and occur both in the Corinthians’ behaviour and in Paul’s attempt to modify the code to reflect more Christian values. Other comparisons between the association banquets and the Corinthian banquet are explored in the expectation that the association banquet traditions may shed some light on the Corinthians’ actual meal practices. Association banquets offer useful analogies to help explain the timing, location, provisions and funding, and the ritual of the Lord’s Supper itself. The banquet rituals of the associations thus prove to be a rich tradition upon which Paul draws in order to create a new social identity for his community, albeit one based upon Christian values.