COMMUNION (κοινωνία, G3126, participation, communion, fellowship, and a contribution). The word “communion” does not appear in the RSV except in marginal notes, but the idea is prevalent in the New Testament. The Greek koinonia and its cognates are used many times; however, modern translation prefer “fellowship,” “participation,” and “sharing,” to “communion.” The concept of communion in its traditional sense primarily bears a Christian connotation, beginning with Jesus and the Twelve. Its precursors may be seen, however, in the family life, tribal life, and religious life of Israel, particularly in feasts like the Passover. Among early Christians there were many acts of communion, most of which became cherished heritage in the church.
Feasting is an age old and universal function of fellowship, from primitive boards to palatial banquets. To dine with family and friends, to partake of the same bread, meat, and beverage, is man’s most intimate means of promoting fellowship. Also dreams, experiences, emotions, hopes, and news, are shared, and personalities nurtured.
In tribal customs an invitation to dine was a gesture of good will, and the eating of a meal together was an act of fellowship. At times social intercourse alone was the objective; at other times matters of great importance were discussed. When Abraham in customary hospitality invited three strangers to dinner, he “entertained angels unawares” (
The Passover was of unique origin, born out of an emergency for necessary nutrition. Soon afterward Moses converted it into an institution of communal activity whereby a great act of God was memorialized (
The Essenes at Qumran ritually ate communal meals, which could be partaken of only by full members who had successfully completed three years of probation. The communal meals did not require the assembly of the whole community, but could be held wherever ten members were gathered, provided one of them was a priest who must say grace, and provided that one member be continuously reading the holy law.
Also, among early Christians there was a common meal, which came to be known as agapē, or . It took place in connection with the Lord’s Supper and eventually became a source of degrading it. True Christian fellowship and sacred communion were thereby disrupted. Both Paul and Jude doubtless in this connection pointed out abuses sometimes made of the Lord’s Supper by heretics or unscrupulous Christians with gluttonous appetites (
To most Christians the Lord’s Supper and Communion are synonymous. It was instituted by Jesus while eating His last Passover supper with His disciples. “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and 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’” (
Common hardship and common purpose encourage pooling of financial resources.
Poverty was a major factor in compelling the Essene community at Qumran to practice communal support, and the Early Church to practice it temporarily. The Essenes had a communal fund into which all property and earnings of full members went. It was mandatory, and any deception relating thereto was considered a serious matter and dealt with by stern measures. The communal fund of the Jerusalem church was spontaneous and voluntary, prompted by a common urge to care for the poor saints. Following Pentecost, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need” (
These early Christians experienced the joy of giving. Not only were the poor and needy helped, but all were drawn closer together. Giving to a common cause enhanced common interest (see
The Church expresses its fellowship through many avenues, assembling, offering, praying, praising, and working together.
An essential nature of the Church is growth, breaking over old boundaries and founding new missions and churches, which is done by cooperative effort. Paul explained the means of bringing former aliens into the church fellowship. “When they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised; only they would have us remember the poor, which very thing I was eager to do” (
Whether mother church or mission church, the life and effectiveness of the local church is dependent on the strength of its fellowship. It is said of the Early Church in Jerusalem that those who had separated themselves “from this crooked generation”; and who “were baptized” and “were added” to the Church, “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (
The fellowship of the Church is exclusive, admitting only the regenerated. Long ago a psalmist sang, “I am a companion of all who fear thee, of those who keep thy precepts” (
The heart of Christian communion is spiritual. By the Spirit man communes with God and Christ, and saints.
Spiritual fellowship originates with God and Christ. “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
ko-mun’-yun: The terms "communion" and "fellowship" of the English Bible are varying translations of the words koinonia, and koinoneo, or their cognates. They designate acts of fellowship observed among the early Christians or express the unique sense of unity and fellowship of which these acts were the outward expression. The several passages in which these terms are used fall into two groups: those in which they refer to acts of fellowship, and those in which they refer to fellowship as experienced.
I. Ac of Fellowship.
The acts of fellowship mentioned in theare of four kinds.
Our information concerning the nature of the fellowship involved in the observance of this sacrament is confined to the single notice in
Paul is making a protest against Christians participating in idolatrous feasts on the ground that such feasts are really celebrated in honor of the demons associated with the idols, and that those who participate in them come into fellowship with demons. As a proof of this point the apostle cites the Lord’s Supper with which his readers are familiar. By partaking of the cup and the bread the communicants are linked together in unity: "We, who are many, are one bread, one body: for we all partake of the one bread." Thus the communion of the elements is a real communion of the worshippers one with another and with Christ. Unless the communion be understood in this spiritual sense Paul’s illustration falls short of the mark.
The term for fellowship as used in
Christian fellowship found a natural mode of expression in almsgiving. This is enjoined as a duty in
A form of fellowship closely related to almsgiving was that of formal aid or cooperation in Christian work, such as the aid given to Paul by the Philippians (
II. Fellowship as Experienced.
From the very beginning the early Christians experienced a peculiar sense of unity. Christ is at once the center of this unity and the origin of every expression of fellowship. Sometimes the fellowship is essentially an experience and as such it is scarcely susceptible of definition. It may rather be regarded as a mystical union in Christ. In other instances the fellowship approaches or includes the idea of intercourse. In some passages it is represented as a participation or partnership. The terms occur most frequently in the writings of Paul with whom the idea of Christian unity was a controlling principle.
In its various relations, fellowship is represented:
(1) As a communion between the Son and the Father. The gospel record represents Jesus as enjoying a unique sense of communion and intimacy with the Father. Among many such expressions those of
(2) As our communion with God, either with the Father or the Son or with the Father through the Son or the
(3) As our communion one with another. "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another" (
It is not to be inferred that the idea of fellowship is limited to the passages in which the specific words for communion are used. Some of the clearest and richest expressions of unity and fellowship are found in the Gospels, though, these words do not occur in them. In fact, perhaps, the most familiar and forcible expressions of the idea are those in which they are represented symbolically, as in the parable of the Vine and the Branches (