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James D. G. Dunn on the Lord’s dinner

Posted by on Dec 13, 2009 in blog links, books, community, ordinances/sacraments | Comments Off

Judging from these quotes, I think James D. G. Dunn’s Beginning from Jerusalem will be work perusing:

We should not fail to note that ‘the Lord’s Supper’ was a complete meal, which would begin, we may suppose, in Jewish fashion, with the blessing, breaking and sharing of the bread. Paul’s own description is explicit that the sharing of the cup took place ‘after the meal’, at the close of the meal (11.25). The point is obscured by the fact that the term ‘supper’ in ‘the Lord’s Supper is an old fashioned term and now more misleading than helpfully descriptive. The term Paul uses in 11.20 is deipnon, which refers to the main meal of the day, eaten in the evening; ‘the Lord’s dinner’ would be a more accurate translation, however crassly it may ring in the modern ear. No doubt, a large part of the attractive the churches, as with associations generally, was the companionship (fellowship) and conviviality of these meals (not to mention a share in better food than many might be able to provide for themselves). The complete meal character of ‘the dinner of the Lord’ also carries an important theological corollary: to the extent that we can speak of the Lord’s Supper in Corinth as a sacramental meal – as we can (10.16) – a key consideration is that the sacramental character embraced the whole meal, beginning with the shared bread and ending with the shared cup. Integral to the religious character of the meal was its shared character; for Paul the whole meal was to be shared in conscious memory of Jesus’ last supper and, as in the earliest Jerusalem gatherings, probably in conscious continuation of Jesus’ own table-fellowship. (pg 645-646)

All this leaves unresolved the question whether unbelievers and outsiders were admitted to the Lord’s dinner. The implication of 14.23-24, that such could be present when believers came together as church, may apply only to gatherings for worship. At the same time, we should not assume that the shared meals had a specially sacred character that disbarred unbelievers and outsiders from sharing in them [cf. Rom. 14.6]. Was every shared meal ‘the Lord’s dinner’? Was the bread broken and the wine drunk at every meal ‘in remembrance’ of Jesus (11.24-25)? We have already noted the same ambiguity with regard to Luke’s references to the ‘breaking of bread’. And it would be unduly hasty to assume that the hospitality which a Christian couple like Aquila and Priscilla extended to fellow believers and others would have had a markedly different character (in their eyes) from the meals shared when the whole church gathered in one place. Whether or not the Lord’s table was seen as an evangelistic opportunity in these early years, we can be fairly confident that Christian hospitality did result in many guests and visitors coming to faith in the Lord of their hosts. (pg. 647)

(HT: Euangelion)