How Do You Know? Διακρινω!

—Aaron T. Fenker

If someone wants to understand the Lord’s Supper, 1 Corinthians 11 is a very important section in this endeavor. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul recounts Christ’s instituting of the Lord’s Supper. Yet Paul has a stern warning for those partaking of this blessed gift, given for our forgiveness: “He, who eats and drinks judgment upon himself, eats and drinks not discerning the body” (11:29). In the active διακρίνω means, “(1) separate, arrange; (2) make a distinction, differentiate; (3) evaluate, judge [by careful attention]; (4) judge, decide [legally].”1 Moreover, the TDNT speaks in a similar manner about the meaning of the word in the active.2 Most notably, the TDNT cites 1 Corinthians 11:29 under διακρίνω: “‘To distinguish’. . . 11:29: μὴ διακρίνων τὸ σῶμα, ‘because he does not distinguish the body of the Lord (from ordinary bread).’”3 A look at the context of 1 Corinthians helps us to understand what διακρίνω means in 11:29, and what that in turn means for our understanding of the Lord’s Supper.

The word, Διακρίνω, occurs five times in 1 Corinthians, and each of these occurrences is in the active voice.4 If one considers the definitions from BDAG and TDNT above, it is clear that διακρίνω involves functions of the reason. How the word is used in 1 Corinthians bears this out. “So is there no one wise among you who can discern between his brother?” (1 Corinthians 6:5) Here the context is one of judging a dispute for which one needs reason, a very similar use to that of 1 Corinthians 4:7.5 Moreover, 1 Corinthians 14:29,6 which revolves around judging what prophets say, also speaks similarly.

Finally, let us consider διακρίνω as it occurs around the Lord’s Supper in chapter 11. In context, τό σῶμα from 11:29 refers to the Lord’s body given in the Supper. This body of Christ must be discerned lest unworthy eating occur. Such discernment of Christ’s body is on Paul’s mind even in 11:31. It is our reason that distinguishes between the bread and body, the wine and blood—that both are present.

I will certainly be accused of being a rationalist for such a view, but the involvement of reason does not mean that it is reason alone. Clearly our reason has been darkened by sin, but it has also definitely been illumined by faith—faith that trusts the words of Jesus and receives them as he gives them to us. Our faith is not irrational. God, in Christ, has redeemed even our reason that now serves faith. Usus ministeralis7 is not denied. Reason gives voice to what faith believes. Reason confesses the ὅτι of the Lord’s Supper, but does not and ought not attempt to describe the πῶς. Reason serves faith, and so cannot be removed, after all, “That which He did not take up, He did not heal.”8


The Rev. Aaron T. Fenker is currently serving as Associate Pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Bossier City, Louisana.


  1. Frederick W. Danker, Walter Bauer, and William Arndt, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 231.
  2. Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. III: Θ–Κ, trans. Geoffrey Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 946–949. Space requirements for this article limit the discussion of διακρίνω only to the active voice.
  3. Ibid., 946.
  4. Cf., 1 Corinthians 4:7; 6:5; 11:29, 31; 14:29.
  5. “For who distinguishes you? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received [it], why do you boast as not receiving?”
  6. "But two or three prophets shall speak, and the rest shall judge."
  7. Ministerial use, i.e., the ministerial use of reason.
  8. “τὸ ἀπρόσληπτον ἀθεράπευτον” Gregory of Nanzianzus in Martin Chemnitz, Two Natures in Christ, trans. J.A.O. Preus (St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1971), 60.