the weblog of Alan Knox

The Lord’s Supper as a Meal?

Posted by on Mar 2, 2007 in ordinances/sacraments, scripture | 21 comments

For the last two thousand years, believers have discussed the proper understanding of the elements (the bread and cup) of the Lord’s Supper. Some believe that the bread and cup become the literal, physical body and blood of Jesus Christ. Others believe that Jesus is spiritually present in the elements. Others believe there is no presence in the bread and cup, and that the Lord’s Supper is a remembrance.

All of these understandings of the Lord’s Supper revolve around the meaning of “is” when Jesus said, “This is my body… This is my blood.” (Matt 26:26; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor 11:24-25) Regardless of how we understand the bread and the cup, what about the meal itself? “The meal?” you ask. Yes, the meal. When the Lord’s Supper is mentioned in Scripture, it is mentioned in the context of a meal.

Consider these passages from the Gospels:

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:26-29 ESV)

And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mark 14:22-25 ESV)

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” (Luke 22:19-22 ESV)

Even the Gospel of John mentions the meal, though the elements are not mentioned (unless we count the bread that is given to Judas):

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. (John 13:1-4 ESV)

What about in other parts of Scripture? How is the Lord’s Supper modeled among Christians in the New Testament after the resurrection and ascension? This is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians:

When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:20-26 ESV)

Notice that the Corinthians were partaking of the Lord’s Supper as part of a meal. (This is the only use of the phrase “Lord’s Supper” in Scripture.) Paul does not condemn the meal. Instead, he condemns the Corinthians for not showing concern for others during the meal. From the repetition of “eat” and “drink” throughout this passage, the meal seems to be an integral part of the Lord’s Supper. (By the way, the word for “meal” in 1 Cor. 11:21 is the same word translated “supper” – as in the Lord’s Supper – in verse 20 and in John 13:2&4 and John 21:20.)

Similarly, Jude uses the plural word for “love” to specify the “love feasts” of the recipients of his letter (this is the only use of the phrase “Love Feast” in Scripture):

But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. These are blemishes on your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, looking after themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. (Jude 1:10-13 ESV)

I realize that this is not a very happy passage to consider the Lord’s Supper, but again we see the Lord’s Supper associated with more than the elements. Here Jude warns his readers not to let blasphemers “feast with you” during “your love feasts”.

There are a few more passage that we should consider. In the three Gospel accounts of the Lord’s Supper, the authors use a certain formula that includes “taking”, “blessing”, and “breaking” the bread. These formulae are found in other passages that may or may not indicate that the people are partaking of the Lord’s Supper:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-27 ESV)

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. (Acts 20:7-11 ESV)

As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food. It will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves. (Acts 27:33-36 ESV)

The last passage (Acts 27) is most interesting. It includes all three of the formulaic expressions found in the Gospels. However, it is occuring on a ship, in a storm, with unbelievers. Perhaps this does not indicate a Lord’s Supper, but it does demonstrate how “breaking bread” can be used to indicate more than simply eating bread. Similarly, the passage in Acts 2 shows that “breaking bread” includes “food”, not just bread. There are other passages that use this formula, such as the feeding of the 4,000 and the feeding of the 5,000, in which the people are not partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

There is one more passage that is associated with the Lord’s Supper. This one is also from 1 Corinthians:

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You 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. (1 Corinthians 10:16-21 ESV)

In this passage, the elements of the Lord’s Supper are used to demonstrate our fellowship with Christ. As such, we cannot fellowship with both Christ and demons. (This is the only use of the phrase “Lord’s Table” in Scripture.) Although only bread and cup are mentioned in this passage, Paul mentions the fuller meal in less than a chapter (see above 1 Cor 11:20-26). Also, the word “table” can be used to indicate a meal, not a physical table (see Acts 16:34 where the Greek word “table” is translated “food” or “meal”).

By the way, if you are keeping score, here are the phrases used to describe the Lord’s Supper and their number of occurrencnes in Scripture: “Lord’s Supper” – 1; “Lord’s Table” – 1; “Agape or Love Feast” – 1; “Eucharist or Thanksgiving Feast” – 5; “Breaking Bread” – 8.

So, what can we learn from this? Does Scripture command us to take the Lord’s Supper as a full meal? No. Is there something special about the bread and cup? There seems to be in the Gospel accounts and in 1 Cor. 10-11. But we should also remember that at times Scripture uses “bread” to represent more than just bread; so even there the elements of bread and cup could indicate a full meal. Did the Christians in the New Testament take the Lord’s Supper as a meal? It seems that they did. Could we be missing something if we limit the Lord’s Supper to only the bread and the cup? I guess we’ll all have to answer that one for ourselves. What do you think?


21 Comments

  1. 3-2-2007

    I have never been in a church that does anything other than the bread and the cup … and yes, I think we are missing something when we focus on just the bread and the cup (the “elements”).

    In our church we do the Lord’s Supper differently every time – no two ways are ever the same, but it still is missing something because it has become just a ritual. See? I just realized that I wrote we “do” the Lord’s Supper. I don’t like that, yet that’s how it seems to me … something that we do (as in a ritual), rather than something which we take or that we partake of or share or eat & drink.

    ~Heather

  2. 3-2-2007

    Thanks allan
    Having been in churches where it is done several different ways, I prefer the closeness offered by a meal and fellowship time. I have wondered if in bigger churches if the lords supper could not be done in sunday school. it would be small and relational and have a breakfast meal together. but, I do like how we do it at church where everyone gathers together and there is an emphasis on self examination in the preceeding weeks. The times I have been in churches where we celebrated it in 10 minutes at the end of service in a hurried manner seemed a little compulsatory. It was like, ‘well, we gotta do this, so lets move through it.’ I enjoy the lords supper more when I have time to think and pray and praise God without being hurried by a service time and format. btw – did pretty good on the GRE
    10J

  3. 3-2-2007

    Heather,

    Thanks again for commenting. There is certainly something special about the bread and cup, and we should not forget that. For the last two years we’ve been partaking of the bread and cup as part of a meal. The bread and cup have not lost significance to me, but the meal has added to the significance and meaning of the entire supper.

    Ed,

    Thanks for the testimony. Your Sunday School idea sounds interesting. If “breaking bread” is the Lord’s Supper in Acts 2, then it seems the church in Jerusalem partook from house to house. So, partaking from class to class may be similar.

    Congratulations on the GRE! We sent up a few smoke signals for TenJuices and for SheCleansUpAfterTenJuices. We miss you all.

    -Alan

  4. 3-2-2007

    Alan -

    I apologize if I misrepresented what I was thinking in my comment. I should have used the word “limit” as you did in your original post … The focus is the blood and the body, as you said, but in limiting it to just a wafer and tiny bit of juice I believe we do miss an awful lot.

    ~Heather

  5. 3-2-2007

    Heather,

    Thanks for the clarification, but I think I understood what you meant. I did not think you were belittling the bread and the cup.

    -Alan

  6. 3-3-2007

    Great study Alan,

    I think part of the reason why the Church (for the most part) only partakes in the two elements is because of what Jesus said in Luke 22:19 “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

    Do you think it is likely that Jesus was referring to the whole meal (including the elements) or just the elements?

    Thanks again for the study,
    Lew

  7. 3-3-2007

    Lew,

    That’s a great question. Jesus could be referring to the elements alone or to the elements as part of a meal. One of the reasons that I included as many references to Scripture to show how the Christians in the NT understood Jesus’ words “do this in remembrance of me”. Did they understand “do this” as pertaining to only the elements?

    -Alan

  8. 3-3-2007

    Just to take Lew’s question and “kick it up a notch”, why do we not practice the whole supper? I mean a whole Passover Sedder (at least at Passover?), with the Lord’s Supper following, and wrap it up with a foot washing (after all, that’s a command associated with the Supper, Jn 13:14). I don’t ask this to be controversial, but to ask why we take one part as something that can be adapted, another can be dispensed with, and another as cultural to be reinterpreted (not listed respectively)? I don’t have an answer, except that I would like to experience a seder and love to be reminded of God’s faithfullness throughout the ages. I probably would not be comfortable having a foot-washing as part of our regular services, just because of the association that has to other groups. That’s a pretty lousy reason, isn’t it? Where do we find better reasons for applying/adapting/dismissing scriptural de/prescriptions?

  9. 3-3-2007

    you can definitely count me out on the foot washing thing. time to look for a new church. i barely wash samuel’s feet. the only person i ever did that for was my wife on the day i proposed

  10. 3-3-2007

    Shannon,

    Those are great questions. I have just started looking at the Lord’s Supper, so I certainly don’t have all the answers. I also think it would be interesting to experience a Passover Seder, especially a Seder that celebrates both the first coming of Jesus and looking forwrad to his future return. I’m not sure if Messianic Jewish groups do that or not.

    By the way, I love the new picture.

    Ed,

    I think we should wash your feet at our next Lord’s Supper Fellowship.

    -Alan

  11. 3-4-2007

    Lew,

    It is interesting that in Matt and Mk we see “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread” and then in 1 Cor 11:25 it sais that “…He also took the cup after supper …” So the elements were distributed during the meal.

  12. 8-14-2007

    Alan,

    Thank you for the permission to re-visit some of your old posts. I’ve been pondering “communion” or the “Lords supper” lately.

    What Jesus and His disciples were observing in that guest room appears to be the Passover. The slaughtered lamb used to observe the Passover was a symbol of Christ, the Lamb of God. They, like us, were spared by the blood of the lamb.

    Speaking of the Passover:
    Exodus 12:46 “It is to be eaten in a single house; you are not to bring forth any of the flesh outside of the house, nor are you to break any bone of it.

    Speaking of Jesus:
    John 19:36 For these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, “NOT A BONE OF HIM SHALL BE BROKEN.”
    And:
    Rev. 5:12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”

    The Jews were to do this in remembrance:
    Exodus 12:14′Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it {as} a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it {as} a permanent ordinance

    The disciples were to do this in remembrance:
    Luke 22:19 And when He had taken {some} bread {and} given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

    So my questions are: Was Jesus telling His disciples to continue the Passover after He was gone? Wouldn’t this be considered old wine? It doesn’t fit the character of Jesus to fulfill all rituals and then immediately set up another one. But He was telling them to do something in remembrance of Him. Could it be that Jesus knew humans needed to do two things to survive?(other than breathe) Eat and drink. The two things we must do often.

    I don’t think the people of Jesus time had the luxury of pulling off the path and trotting thru the ride-thru for a fillet-o-fish. They probably carried a sack with a loaf of bread and a wineskin with water or wine in it. They probably nibbled and sipped all day long instead of one meal three times a day.

    So could the, “do this in remembrance of me”, be referring to every time we personally eat or drink anything? Basically remembering Him every day often till we die. We know the members of the body got together frequently to fellowship and eat. Did they practice a ritual or for that matter set aside a specific meal to remember the sacrifice Jesus made? Where does 1 Corinthians 11 fit? Is Paul even talking about a literal bread and cup?

    I don’t expect definitive answers to these questions, but maybe spiritual in-site from you and others.

  13. 6-23-2009

    See the following links for helpful reading on this:

    Read the blog series toward the bottom of this linked page -
    http://www.newcovenantbiblechurchonline.org/teaching.htm (I like this the best. Very well-developed.)

    http://www.ntrf.org/articles/article_detail.php?PRKey=9 (I don’t agree with this group that meeting in houses is required as part of apostolic tradition — as a precept versus a circumstantial practice — but I think their ideas on the supper are biblical. They reach the same conclusions as the previous link and this article is maybe a little easier to read for most people.)

    Hope this helps,
    Rick

  14. 6-23-2009

    Rick,

    Thanks for the links. I’m familiar with NTRF.

    -Alan

  15. 10-10-2010

    What happened to my comments?

    Ralph

  16. 10-10-2010

    Ralph,

    Are you talking about this comment?

    -Alan

  17. 5-15-2013

    I found this interesting.

    Revelation 2:4 “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.”

    G26
    ἀγάπη
    agapē
    ag-ah’-pay
    From G25; love, that is, affection or benevolence; specifically (plural) a love feast: – (feast of) charity ([-ably]), dear, love.

  18. 5-15-2013

    Becky,

    Do you think Revelation 2:4 is talking about meals?

    -Alan

  19. 5-16-2013

    Yes. I do. When I mention that, most people want to assume that I am all caught up with eating, eating, eating. However, I see it as a basis for fellowship. Much as sitting down to supper (dinner) with our families and sharing with them the happenings of our day. I see more fellowship at a carry-in dinner than I do in a typical communion service, or even a church “service”. Even with carry-in’s, I still see much of what Paul reprimanded the Corinthian church for. The common teaching found in scripture is to “consider another’s well-being before your own”. There was a serious lacking of it in scripture and it continues today.

  20. 5-16-2013

    Becky,

    I think those early believers often demonstrated their love and fellowship by eating meals together.

    -Alan

  21. 5-18-2013

    I agree.

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