References, Establishment, Terminology

by Al Maxey

The References

"Apart from Paul and the synoptic gospels, the rest of the NT is virtually silent on the subject of the Lord's Supper. There is no teaching on it anywhere else" (Zondervan's Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 3, p. 982). This scarcity of material in the New Testament writings has led many to begin formulating and promoting their own teachings on the subject. The following are the direct references to the Lord's Supper:

1. -- Matthew 26:26-29
2. -- Mark 14:22-25
3. -- Luke 22:17-20
4. -- I Corinthians 11:20-30
(cf. 5:6-8; 10:16-17, 21)

The bulk of this material deals with the establishing of the Lord's Supper by Jesus Christ at the time of His last Passover meal with His disciples, although the apostle Paul does spend a good deal of time addressing the various abuses of this memorial which had arisen in the city of Corinth. These abuses will be examined later in this study.

The following references are possible allusions to the Lord's Supper found in the New Testament writings:

1. -- John 6:26-58
2. -- Acts 2:46; 20:7, 11
3. -- Hebrews 6:4; 13:10
--- Most scholars agree that these verses have nothing to do with the Lord's Supper. Since a few teach that they do, however, they are listed here.
4. -- Jude 12 (cf. II Peter 2:13)

The Establishment

With regard to the establishment of the Lord's Supper, the above passages reveal the following significant points:

#1 --- It was established by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who made use of some of the elements of the traditional Jewish Passover meal. The Messiah, who is now "our Passover" (I Corinthians 5:7), took these elements and gave unto them a new and deeper spiritual significance. They would become the emblems of a new "feast of remembrance," representative of a new covenant between God and mankind; one established by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.

#2 --- The Bread. Jesus took it and said "This is My body." Jesus is our "bread of life" which has come down out of heaven (John 6). "The bread which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh" (John 6:51). It was unleavened bread, which, in the NT writings, signifies symbolically that it was free of any impurities. Jesus, the bread of life, offered up His body as a sinless sacrifice (I Corinthians 5:8). The bread was broken and then given to His disciples which represents the physical abuse of Christ's flesh before and during the crucifixion. This "broken bread" (our suffering Savior) is given to all who believe in Him (His disciples).

#3 --- The Cup which contained the "fruit of the vine," declares Jesus, "is My blood." It signifies the establishment of a new covenant between God and His people (Hebrews 9:11-12; esp. vs. 16-18). This blood is "for forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28). Because of the presence of the blood of the lamb on the doorpost of the Israelites, God passed over His people and did not strike them with the plague of death. Because of the shed blood of Christ, our Passover Lamb, God passes over spiritual Israel, and the plague of the "second death" will not befall them! The cup, together with its contents (the fruit of the vine, or "the blood of the grape"), symbolizes the shed blood of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.

#4 --- "Do this in remembrance of Me" (Luke 22:19; I Corinthians 11:24). Just as the Passover meal was a remembrance of what God had done for Israel, so also would the Lord's Supper be a remembrance of what God, through Christ, had done for spiritual Israel. "The Lord's Supper is the Christian's memorial of what it cost God to deliver him from the slavery of sin" (David E. Hanson, Introducing The Church of Christ, p. 55).

The Terminology

There are several terms used with reference to the Lord's Supper in the pages of the New Testament writings. There are also a few terms used in the religious world, with which we have all become familiar, which are not specifically & directly used of this event. The following is a listing of these various terms:

#1 --- Communion. This is derived from a word found in I Corinthians 10:16 -- "Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?" (NASB, NEB, LB, NAB, NWT, TEV, SEB, NCV, McCord, Williams). The NIV & RSV have "participation," and the Berkeley Version has "fellowship." The KJV, ASV, NKJV, and Lamsa, however, have the word "communion." This the Greek word koinonia, which means, "association, fellowship, close relationship; the common possession or enjoyment of something; a sign or proof of brotherly unity" (Arndt & Gengrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the NT and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 438-439).

The meaning here is "a group of people bound together in a 'communion' or 'fellowship' by what they have in common with each other. The preposition 'of' (in the KJV) does not exist in the Greek text, but is an interpretation of the genitive case. It may also be interpreted to mean 'brought about by' or 'based upon.' Translated in this way Paul is saying, 'The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not (does it not represent) the fellowship which is brought about by the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the fellowship brought about by the body of Christ?' The Lord's Supper, then, is understood to witness to the fact that Christians belong to a special family which includes the Son and the Father (cf. I John 1:3) and is marked by unity and love. It is a communion which required the death of Christ to create, and which is so close that it is as though believers were one body: 'For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread' (I Corinthians 10:17, KJV). Perhaps, then, this was the great disorder in Corinth which prompted what little teaching there is on the Lord's Supper. The Corinthians' sin was in not 'discerning the body' (I Corinthians 11:29), that is, in failing to understand the oneness of the body of which each person was a part" (Zondervan's Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 3, p. 985).

#2 --- Eucharist. This particular word is derived from a Greek word which appears several times in connection with the Lord's Supper (Matthew 26:27; Mark 14:23; Luke 22:17, 19; I Corinthians 11:24). It is the word eucharisteo, which means: "To give thanks; to be grateful." In time, this word came to be applied to the Lord's Supper itself, instead of to the prayer of thanksgiving which preceded it. It first appeared in the writings of the early Christians as a designation of the Lord's Supper in the letters of Ignatius (martyred about 107 A.D.) to the church in Philadelphia and Smyrna. Irenaeus (martyred about 200 A.D.), in his work Against Heresies, wrote that once the official had consecrated the bread, "it is no longer bread but eucharist." Because of this emphasis and usage, in time the prayer of consecration & thanksgiving over the elements became, next to the actual receiving of the elements, the most significant part of the celebration.....even becoming somewhat magical and mystical in nature.

#3 --- The Breaking of Bread. This phrase is found in two passages in the New Testament writings: "And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:42). "And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread....." (Acts 20:7). Thus, the act of breaking the bread before partaking of it had come to be applied to this memorial meal (see: Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; I Corinthians 10:16).

#4 --- The Lord's Table. The apostle Paul warns us that we "cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons" (I Corinthians 10:21). See also: Luke 22:30.

#5 --- The Lord's Supper. This phrase is found only one time in the pages of the New Testament writings (I Corinthians 11:20 -- "Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper....."). The Greek word for "supper" is deipnon, which has reference to the main meal of the day, or to a more formal meal --- a feast or banquet. In the 1st century these were usually held in the evening when the day's work was done and the family was all together. The Greek word ariston signified a lesser meal taken early in the morning before beginning work (our breakfast), or at some point during the work day (our lunch).

Some scholars have suggested that because of this word, and because the early church took the Lord's Supper only in the evening (at least, there is no recorded example of them partaking of it at any other time), and because the Passover meal was required to be eaten between 6 p.m. and midnight, and since it was in the evening that Jesus established the Lord's Supper, that we MUST partake of the Lord's Supper only in the evening in order to truly follow the pattern given to us in Scripture. The Greek word deipnon, however, merely refers to the day's main meal, and has no inherent meaning as to the time of that meal. This is determined more by the culture or circumstances in which one lives. Some cultures have their main meal during the day and a lighter one in the evening. It is the fact of it being the MAIN meal that is stressed, not the time of day in which it might be observed, although in the time of Christ that main meal was observed in the evening.

In the first century, Sunday (the first day of the week) was a regular work day just like any other (it was hundreds of years later that Sunday was officially recognized as a day of rest). Thus, the early Christians were not able to meet together until the evening. At this time they would share a common meal together, and then in conjunction with that meal they would share the Lord's Supper together. Probably if we thought of this event more in terms of our Lord's main meal, than in terms of a "supper," we would come closer to the actual idea being conveyed by this Greek word.

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