“For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep” (1 Corinthians 11:30).
Many, if not most, come to this verse (v. 30) in the 1 Corinthian 11 version of the Lord’s Supper written by Paul to the church at Corinth (11:23-32), and with little or no exegetical or contextual consideration, nor historical examination, take the “weak and sick” and “a number sleep” to mean the “unworthy” (v. 27) who had partaken of the Eucharist. In other words, they, then, had received some form of judgment (i.e., becoming weak, sick, and worse, die). More specifically, many also take these as non-Christians that have eaten the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. This reading is also used as a rationale to discourage nonbelievers from partaking in the Lord’s Supper during a worship service each week.
There is, however, a better, and more likely, reading of this important text.
1) The reference to “sleep” is a biblical euphuism for Christians that have died, not unbelievers—so, this verse is not a proof-text for non-believers who have “wrongly” partaken of the Eucharist. It is believers who have fallen asleep (died). And as far as I can tell, there is no exegetical reason the "weak," "sick," and the sleeping must be "the unworthy" of verse twenty-seven. Additionally, the term “weak” in Paul’s 1 Corinthian context also, usage-wise, points to believers. (See #3 for whom those who are the "weak," "sick," and asleep are within the Letter context and social location.)
2) The “meal” was a central element in the apostolic church gatherings and was so in the early church period for about 150 years after Pentecost (and continued in some form for another 150 years through about 300 AD).
3) There is a likely famine (or period of severe food scarcity; e.g., Suetonius, Claud. 18.2; Josephus, Ant. 3.320-21) that researchers have discovered or recognized had occurred at the time in the surrounding area, which would have made the meal issue a central concern (especially, if the poor in the congregation was not even finding food for themselves “at church,” let alone on the marketplace).
4) The occasion of the Letter itself is instructive, namely there is an elite-ism (which affirms the Roman social structure and association or social etiquette) that found its way to the meal or banquet component of the church gathering, which would have occurred just prior to the sharing of the cup of remembrance (of the Lord Jesus’ death) and the symposia or instruction time.
5) Verse 33 ought not be ignored in that it directly suggests that some were not allowed or welcomed or accepted or or re-classified to a different "spot" at the meal or simply shoved out of the meal (demonstrating the etiquette of the Empire and not the etiquette of the Kingdom of God). The primary instruction is, not to end the meal component of the gathering, but to wait for all to eat (v. 33) and thus reflect the social etiquette of the gospel. Plus, it is to those who eat before or at the expense of the poorer, less socially acceptable Christians that are told to eat at home (v. 34); still no instruction to end the meal/banquet as a form of the church's gathering for worship, instruction, and fellowship. Non-Christians are not in the purview for the correction and admonition here, but the Christian elites and status seekers.
A more likely reading of verse 30 (For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep) is that the “weak,” “sick,” and the sleeping (i.e., the dead) are, not non-Christians, but the poor and less acceptable Christians of the church at Corinth. There were those in the congregation who were sick and some had passed away (possibly) as a result of the famine, which was only made worse by the pushy elite Christians who stormed the meal ahead of or in spite of the poorer, less socially acceptable members of the body of Christ. If not as a result, then most certainly the reference to the weak, sick, and sleeping are a kingdom-reminder of why table fellowship was of such importance (the poor and marginal received a form a assistance, i.e., in this case food). The fellowship meal in the Corinthian form was not affirming the gospel. This is what Paul is addressing.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.