Lord's Supper

LORD’S SUPPER (Gr. kyriakon deipnon). This expression occurs once in the NT (1Cor.11.20), but there is a related expression, “Lord’s table” (1Cor.10.21). However, the institution of that which Paul called “the [[Lord's Supper|Lord’s Supper]]” is described in four passages (Matt.26.26-Matt.26.29; Mark.14.22-Mark.14.25; Luke.22.15-Luke.22.20; 1Cor.11.23-1Cor.11.25). On the night before the Crucifixion, Jesus adopted the position of head of a household and ate the Passover meal with his disciples in a room within the city limits of Jerusalem. It is interesting to note that he did not give new and special significance to the special parts of that meal (e.g., lamb and bitter herbs) but to the bread and wine, common to many meals. Distributing the bread he had broken for his disciples, he said, “I am myself this bread.” Later in the meal, passing to them the third cup of the four cups of the meal, he said of the wine, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” Then at the end of the meal Jesus refused to drink from the fourth cup, saying that he would not drink again of the fruit of the vine until he drank it anew in the kingdom of God.

There are two important themes in the words of Jesus. First he was telling them that the cup of red wine represented his own blood, shed to inaugurate a new covenant between God and “the many” (see Isa.52.15; Isa.53.12). He was to offer himself to God as a sacrifice for sin so that a new relationship could be created by God between himself and the redeemed community of believers. Second, he was pointing toward the full realization and consummation of the kingdom of God at the end of the age, when the meal would be resumed in the “messianic banquet.” Thus, it may be said that the Lord’s Supper is eaten in remembrance of his atoning death by which comes redemption and in expectation of the arrival of the kingdom of God in its fullness.

Paul’s teaching is found in 1Cor.10.1-1Cor.10.33-1Cor.11.1-1Cor.11.34. He stressed the spiritual communion between Christ and his body (disciples) and within the body. Even as Israelites were miraculously fed by manna and water in the wilderness, so in communion with Christ believers are spiritually nourished by heavenly food. Therefore, those who eat the body and drink the blood of Christ are not to participate in Jewish or pagan sacrifices (1Cor.10.16-1Cor.10.22), and they are to ensure that when they partake of the Supper, they partake worthily, being in genuine fellowship with fellow believers.

Nowhere in the NT is the Lord’s Supper called a sacrifice. However, the believers are said to be offering spiritual sacrifices to God when God is worshiped, served, and obeyed (Rom.12.1; Heb.13.15-Heb.13.16; 1Pet.2.5). The Lord’s Supper as a part of the worship and service offered to God is thus a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Regrettably the Eucharist (ministry of Word and Lord’s Supper as one service) has often been referred to in sacrificial terms as though it were a sacrifice in a unique sense—an unbloody sacrifice. While the Supper is the memorial of a sacrifice, and is a sacrifice of praise offered to God, it is neither a repetition of the sacrifice of Christ made at Calvary nor a participation in the self-offering that Christ is perpetually making to the Father in heaven as the heavenly Priest. It is a proclamation of the Lord’s death sacramentally until he returns to earth.

Bibliography: A. J. B. Higgins, The Lord’s Supper in the [[New Testament]], 1952; O. Cullmann, Early Christian Worship, 1953; A. M. Stibbs, Sacrament, Sacrifice and Eucharist: The Meaning, Function and Use of the Lord’s Supper, 1961; J. Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, 1966.——PT

LORD’s SUPPER (κυριακὸν δει̂πνον). This expression is found only once in the NT (1 Cor 11:20), where it refers not only to the special Christian rite of breaking the bread and drinking the cup, but also to the love feast which accompanied it.

The expression “breaking of bread,” which occurs frequently in Acts, may be another way the NT had of referring to the [[Lord's Supper|Lord’s Supper]]. (See below.) Certainly it became so in subsequent years of the Church’s history. But later names for the supper such as “Communion” and “Eucharist,” are not used in the NT in any technical sense. The former, however, is derived from 1 Corinthians 10:16 where Paul spoke of the “communion” (κοινωνία, G3126) of the body and blood of Christ; the latter from Jesus’ act of thanksgiving before He offered the cup to His disciples (εὐχαριστήσας, Mark 14:23).


The [[Last Supper]]

The Lord’s Supper, by whatever name it was called, began, nevertheless, with that Last Supper Jesus had with His friends before His death. The principal texts dealing with this subject are: Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.

Was the Last Supper a Passover meal?

The Lord’s Supper has been a subject of much recent scholarly debate, with the center of this debate being the relation of the Supper to the Passover meal. No consensus has been forthcoming. The problem arises from the differences existing between the synoptic gospels’ account of the Last Supper and John’s dating of Christ’s crucifixion, on the one hand, and from the description of the Supper itself and of the events surrounding it by the first three evangelists, on the other.

Seemingly the synoptic gospels claim that Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples and that the Last Supper grew out of the Passover meal (Matt 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-20). John, however, has been understood to say that the Last Supper took place “before the feast of the Passover” (John 13:1, 2, 21-30), and that Jesus, therefore, did not eat the Passover with His disciples, but was Himself the supreme paschal sacrifice, put to death simultaneously with the slaughter of the Passover lambs (cf. John 18:28; 19:12-14).

Some scholars assume the correctness of the Johannine account and explain the Last Supper of the synoptic narratives as an ordinary meal, or as a special meal such as those commonly shared by members of a religious association (ḥaburah), but not a Passover. They assume that the synoptic gospels mistakenly linked it with the Passover because of the paschal nature of the supper. These scholars understand the words of Jesus, “I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you” (Luke 22:15) to be an expression of intense desire on His part but not the satisfaction of a realized experience. They note that the synoptic gospels never use the technical term for unleavened bread when they describe the Last Supper. Nor do the synoptics mention the lamb, or the bitter herbs. The gospels speak of a common cup shared by all the disciples, when, allegedly, only individual cups were used at the Passover. They refer to one or two cups of wine only when the Passover ritual included four. It is also pointed out that Paul, although he writes about the Last Supper, does not describe it as a Passover in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, and that the Early Church celebrated the Lord’s Supper once a week, or oftener, rather than once a year only as might be expected had the Last Supper originated as the annual Passover meal (see below). Other objections to the Last Supper being a Passover meal have to do with events in the gospel narrative which seemingly could not have taken place on the festival day, Nisan 15, such as the session of the Sanhedrin and condemnation of Jesus on the same night that the Passover meal was to be eaten. (A. H. McNeile, The Gospel According to St. Matthew [1915], pp. 377ff.; G. Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy [1945], p. 50-52.)

Other scholars, however, side with the synoptics and assert that the fourth gospel is theologically motivated rather than historically accurate. John wished to present Jesus as the Passover lamb par excellence put to death coincidentally with the other Passover lambs. Certainly the synoptic writers intended to say that the Last Supper was a Passover meal. This is most clearly presented in Luke, where the preparations for the supper are located precisely on the day on which the Passover lamb (τὸ πάσχα) had to be sacrificed (Luke 22:7). These evangelists also note that the Last Supper took place in the evening (Mark 14:17), that Jesus and His disciples reclined at dinner (Matt 26:20) in a day when Jewish people regularly sat at table for ordinary meals, that there was a dipping ceremony (Matt 26:23), and that the Supper concluded with the singing of a hymn (Mark 14:26)—all of which are important characteristics of the Passover ritual (see below and J. Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, pp. 14-60, who gives detailed and convincing evidence for the Last Supper being a Passover meal).

Serious attempts have been made to harmonize the synoptic accounts with that of John so as to allow each to preserve its particular theological emphasis, and at the same time to be historically accurate. One of the more fruitful attempts is that based on recent information concerning Jewish calendars (see J. van Goudoever, Biblical Calendar [1959]). Apparently in Jesus’ day there were two dates for celebrating the Passover. The people of Qumran as well as other groups followed an unofficial calendar according to which killing of the lambs and the Passover supper regularly fell on a Tuesday afternoon-evening (Nisan, 14, 15), a time deliberately different from the date of the Passover according to the official calendar (also Nisan, 14, 15). If this is so, then it is possible that the high priest and the people ate the paschal lamb on the evening of the day of Christ’s death, a Friday (παρασκευή, G4187, as the Johannine account has it), whereas Jesus and His disciples had already eaten it on the Tuesday before (as the synoptic gospels relate: Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7), in each case on the 14th-15th of Nisan (Exod 12:6; Lev 23:5). Jesus’ reason for celebrating the Passover in this way, apart from the possibility that He may have opposed the establishment at Jerusalem, may have been His desire to observe this ancient ritual of the Passover on a legal day before bringing it to an end by His death on the day of the official Passover. This explanation of the Passover provides additional time (which the synoptic writers telescope) between the Supper and the crucifixion—a factor which helps resolve some of the difficulties of the passion narrative, such as how the death of Jesus could take place on the same day as that of His trial, when Jewish law forbade this from happening. (See A. Jaubert, The Date of the Last Supper [1965], 102, 121.)

The words of institution.

The form of the words of institution.

It is not possible to know exactly what our Lord said when He selected out the bread and the cup of wine after supper from the Passover ceremony for special consideration and reinterpretation. The principal texts relating these words do not agree in every detail (see the texts above). But the bread-saying takes the following form when all of the sources are woven together: “Take (Matt, Mark), eat (Matt), this is my body (Matt, Mark, Luke, Paul), which is given for you. Do this for my remembrance” (Luke’s longer text, Paul). The saying over the cup also is recorded variously by the different writers: “All of you drink from it, for (Matt) this (Matt, Mark, Luke, Paul) cup (Luke, Paul) is my blood of the covenant (Matt, Mark; ‘is the new covenant in my blood,’ Luke, Paul), which is poured out (Matt, Mark, Luke) for many (Matt, Mark; ‘for you,’ Luke), ‘for the remission of sins’ (Matt). Do this as often as you drink it for my remembrance” (Paul). These cup-words are then immediately followed in Matthew and Mark by Jesus’ promise never again to drink of the fruit of the vine until He drinks it new with His disciples in the kingdom of God. The same eschatological hope is found also in Paul, though worded differently, and he too places it after the cup-saying. Luke, on the other hand, couples the promise not to drink of the fruit of the vine with another similar promise not to eat again of the Passover until its real meaning is fulfilled in the kingdom, and places both of them before the sayings spoken over the bread and the cup.

There seem, then, to be essentially two accounts which are independent of each other, (a) that represented by Mark, and (b) that by Paul. Which is the older is difficult to know and perhaps unnecessary, for there are “primitive” elements in both. And in spite of all the minor differences between the accounts, they are nevertheless in substantial agreement with one another. It is sufficient to say that each inspired writer was free to select and arrange the same traditional material so as to present adequately the theological significance of the Last Supper as he was led to understand it.

The meaning of the Last Supper.

The Supper, composed of bread and wine, is a symbol of our Lord’s body and blood, a symbol of his death: “This is my body given,” He said, “This is my blood poured out.” One is not compelled by the present context nor usage elsewhere to give to the verb ἐστίν (“is”) the meaning of “is equivalent to.” Often it conveys merely the idea of “represents,” or “means” (as in the interpretation of the parables, Matt 13:38; cf. also John 10:9, 14). Besides, it would have been almost impossible for Jesus to have equated the bread with His body and the wine with His blood and then to have asked His Jewish disciples to eat and drink. It is much more likely that His disciples saw Him in the tradition of the OT prophets, and interpreted His words and actions accordingly. As those ancient prophets predicted future events by symbolic dramatic deeds (1 Kings 21:11; Jer 19:1-11; Ezek 4:3), so Jesus broke the bread and took the cup as an acted parable to denote His coming death and point out its meaning.

Around this basic idea of the Supper as a symbol of the death of Christ there cluster several ideas. (a) First the Lord interpreted His death as a substitutionary, vicarious self-giving event, universal in its scope: “This is my body given for you”; “this is my blood poured out for many” (note: “many” is not to be understood as a limiting expression meaning, “some, but not all.” It is a Sem. way of contrasting the many with the one resulting in the meaning, “all” [cf. Matt 10:28 with 1 Tim 2:6, and Rom 5:18 with 5:19]).

(b) He further interprets His death as the means of ratifying the new covenant spoken of by Jeremiah (31:31-34). This is observed in His words, “My blood of the covenant” (Mark 14:24), which are almost identical with those of Exodus 24:8 where the ratification of the old covenant with Israel is recorded. But the addition of the pronoun “my” indicates that Jesus placed His blood in counterposition to that of the covenant-inaugurating animal of the OT, and that He viewed His death as bringing the old covenant to an end by fulfillment, and as the supreme sacrifice needed to introduce the new and give it permanent validity.

(c) There are also elements in this Supper account which indicate that Jesus interpreted His death as the consummate act of the [[Servant of the Lord]] described by Isaiah. This is particularly clear in Matthew who adds the words, “for the forgiveness of sins,” to the saying about Jesus’ blood poured out (Matt 26:28; cf. Isa 53:12: “He poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors”).

(d) Perhaps the most obvious meanings attached to the Last Supper are those associated with the Passover, since apparently the Last Supper originated with a Passover. The Passover in Jesus’ day was in reality a celebration of two events: (1) it looked back in commemoration of Israel’s deliverance from the oppression of Egypt (Exod 12:14, 17 Mishnah, Pesaḥim 10.5), and (2) it looked forward in anticipation of the coming messianic kingdom (Mishnah, Pesaḥim 10.6; cf. Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah, Mekhilta, Exod 12:42; Rabbah, Exod 15:1; see Higgins, p. 47). These two themes are prominent in the narrative of the Last Supper. Selecting only two elements from the liturgy of the Passover—the unleavened bread and the cup after supper—Jesus seemed to say, “As Israel was spared from death at the hand of the destroying angel, and delivered from servitude to Pharaoh by the death of the passover lamb and the sprinkling of its blood, so you are spared from eternal death and freed from slavery to sin by my body broken and my blood poured forth.” Hence, the original meaning of the Passover had now been superseded. Christ is the true paschal Lamb (1 Cor 5:7), and by His death becomes the author of a new Exodus, the Redeemer of an enslaved people. Such, at least, was the understanding of the Early Church, an understanding most beautifully expressed in a recently discovered sermon of Melito, Bishop of Sardis (d. c. a.d. 190):

For this one,

who was led away as a lamb,

and who was sacrificed as a sheep,

by himself delivered us from servitude to the world

as from the land of Egypt,

and released us from bondage to the devil

and from the hand of Pharaoh,

and sealed our souls by his own spirit,

and the members of our bodies by his own blood.

This is the one who covered death with shame

and who plunged the devil into mourning

as Moses did Pharaoh.

This is

the one who smote lawlessness,

and deprived injustice of its offspring

as Moses deprived Egypt.

This is

the one who delivered us

from slavery into freedom,

from darkness into light,

from death into life,

from tyranny into an eternal kingdom,

and who made us a new priesthood

and a special people forever.

This one is the passover of our salvation.

(Homily, 67, 68)

The other theme of eschatological expectancy is also here. It is found in Jesus’ promise not to eat the Passover or drink the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God shall have arrived. This promise is not a word of despair but a note of joy. Jesus sees beyond the darkness of Calvary to that time when He would share with His disciples the messianic banquet and enjoy with them the life of the age to come (cf. Isa 25:6-8).

“Thus Jesus offered his disciples in the Supper a full participation in the atoning benefits of his own self-offering on the cross—deliverance from the bondage of this world, remission of sins, incorporation in the new people of God, an inner obedience of the heart to the will of God, and the joy and benediction of his presence and fellowship in the age to come” (Massey H. Shepherd).

The problem of the Lukan text.

There are questions concerning the correctness of the Gr. text in all accounts of the Last Supper. (For complete information concerning these variants see the chapter on textual data by Kenyon and Legg in R. Dunkerley [ed.], The Ministry and the Sacraments [1937], pp. 272-286.) But the most difficult textual problem in these accounts is that posed by the chief witness of the Western text, Codex D, supported also by a few Old Lat. and Syr. MSS, which omits Luke 22:19b-20 (note: other early trs. rearrange the order of Luke 22:17-20 so that the sequence is 19, 17, 18). The case for the shorter text is best set forth by Westcott and Hort (The New Testament in the Original Greek: Introduction and Appendix [1882], appendix 63, 64): (1) Since the chief characteristic of the Western text is to interpolate, i.e. include everything that looks authentic whether it is or not, the shorter text of Luke, therefore, must be very early, most likely original, for it is not found in the chief witnesses of this kind of text. (2) It is almost impossible to believe that these verses should be stricken from the Lukan text at a later date. (3) It is conceivable, however, that they could be interpolated into Luke at a later time from 1 Corinthians 11:23, 24 and Mark 14:23, 24 to eliminate the cup-bread order which exists when these verses are omitted.

There are some modern scholars who follow Westcott and Hort in rejecting the genuineness of the longer reading (see H. Chadwick, HTR, 50 [1957], 257, 258; R. Bultmann, The History of the Gospel Tradition [1963], 286 n), and two modern trs. which remove these verses from the text and give them a place in the margin (RSV and NEB). But the majority of scholars consider that the shorter text is secondary. It is difficult to believe that a later interpolation could find its way into all Gr. MSS with the exception of Codex D. One notes too that the longer reading is cited by the Church Fathers as early as a.d. 150 (Justin, I Apology, 66). The omission of vss. 19b, 20 can be explained as due to a mechanical error on the part of a copyist, or to a desire to keep secret the inner meaning of Christian worship (although this is hard to believe since there is no evidence for the omission of 19a), or to avoid the inconsistency of having a second cup (see E. Schweizer, The Lord’s Supper According to the New Testament [1967], 18-20, and H. Schürmann, Biblica, 32 [1957], 364-392, 522-541, who gives the most detailed textual analysis of this passage and concludes that the longer text is definitely original).

The interpretation of the Last Supper according to the shorter text of Luke would be quite different from that of the other synoptic writers and from that of Paul, omitting the cup-saying, preserving only the idea that the Last Supper was a foretaste of the coming eschatological banquet, and raising the question about whether the Lord’s Supper always had been observed by the Christian Church from the beginning in just the same way as it is presented by Mark and Paul (see below).

The Lord’s Supper

The scarcity of materials.

When was the Lord’s Supper observed?

One might expect that if the Lord’s Supper grew out of a passover meal, it would be celebrated only once a year, on the 14th-15th of Nisan. A study of Early Church history seems to support this speculation. Epiphanius, for example, observed that the Ebionites, an early Jewish-Christian sect, celebrated the Eucharist as an annual feast, like the Passover, in memory of Christ’s death (Haereses 30. 16.1). And Christians in Asia Minor in the 2nd cent. held a special Eucharist as a parallel to the Passover and at the same time as the Jewish Passover (see Higgins, p. 56, n. 1).

The statement of the early chapters of Acts about the disciples “breaking bread” every day (Acts 2:42, 46), need not refute this idea. For it has been pointed out that the meals in Acts are very much like religious meals found elsewhere in Judaism (K. Stendahl, ed., The Scrolls and the NT [1957], pp. 84-86), and their emphasis is quite different from that of the Last Supper as recorded in the gospels. Whereas that Supper was a remembrance of Christ’s death, these daily meals were joyful fellowships which celebrated His resurrection and continued presence in the Church, and which also anticipated the eschatological kingdom. They, thus, may not have originated in or been connected with the Last Supper, but may have had their source and meaning in the post-resurrection meals that Jesus had with His disciples (Luke 24:30-43; John 21:1-14; Acts 1:4; 10:41. See O. Cullmann, Early Christian Worship [1953], pp. 14-16).

Hence, in the early Jerusalem Church it is probable that there were originally two kinds of fellowship meals: (1) the “Breaking of Bread” which occurred daily, and (2) the Passover which occurred annually, each with its own peculiar emphasis. Only the latter “was directly related to the Last Supper, and only in it was the meal a specific remembrance of Messiah’s death” (E. E. Ellis, The [[Gospel of Luke]] [1966], p. 250). Eventually, however, these two meals were combined into one new feast when the Church moved outside of Jerusalem and the Jewish influence ceased to play a dominant role in the development of Christian worship. The joyful fellowship meal of Acts 2 became the agape-element of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:20, 21), and the annual passover meal became the Eucharist-element (1 Cor 11:23-26; Ellis, ibid.). By this time the new Supper was celebrated neither daily nor annually, but weekly—on the first day of the week, the day of resurrection, possibly at night, pointing back to the passover meal which was partaken of in the evening (Acts 20:7; cf. 1 Cor 16:2; Rev 1:10; Did. 14.1).

How was the Lord’s Supper observed?

This question, too, is difficult to answer, for little is said about it in the NT. But from 1 Corinthians 11:20-34 it is possible to reconstruct the following order: (1) there was a full-blown dinner or love-feast to which each participant brought his own food, and at which it was possible for him to be hungry or drunk (vss. 20-22). This practice was probably a carry-over from the Last Supper when a complete meal took place between the bread and cup sayings. (2) Then came a period of self-examination (v. 28). The form this examination took is nowhere stated in the NT. It may have been strictly personal, or it may have involved individual public confession in the church, or corporate confession as part of a liturgical prayer (cf. Did. 6.14; 14.1). (3) Finally, there was the Lord’s Supper proper, involving only the bread and wine, which recalled the death of the Lord Jesus (vss. 24-26). Acts 20:7-11 indicates that a sermon may have preceded the action outlined above and formed part of the liturgy of the Supper, but there is no indication what that sermon was about. There are no traces in the NT of Eucharistic prayers as are found in the later lit. of the Early Church (Did. 9-10), nor is there evidence here for foot washing forming a part of the ceremony of the Lord’s Supper.

Paul’s understanding of the Lord’s Supper.

The Lord’s Supper has been celebrated continuously by the Church from the time of Jesus to the present day. Yet Paul’s account of it is the earliest in the NT by several years. He says of it that he “received it from the Lord” (1 Cor 11:23). This may mean that Paul learned of the events of the Last Supper and its real meaning in the same way he had earlier received the content of the Gospel: not from man, nor by human teaching, but through revelation of [[Jesus Christ]] (Gal 1:12).

[[Hans Lietzmann]] made use of this interpretation to set up his antithesis between the Eucharist as celebrated in Jerusalem and the Eucharist as celebrated in the Pauline churches. The Jerusalem-type, he said, was a breaking of bread with no wine used. It was a continuation of the fellowship meals which the historical Jesus had shared with His disciples. It had no connection with the Last Supper, and was marked not by any remembrance of Christ’s death, but by a joyous ecstasy over His spiritual presence, and an expectancy of His return shortly. The idea of sacrifice was absent. The other type of celebration Lietzmann saw as coming from the Last Supper and from a special revelation to Paul in which he received new insight into the real meaning of the Supper—a memorial of the sacrificial death of the Lord. By this revelation the original meaning of the Eucharist was radically transformed (Mass and Lord’s Supper [1958], 204-208).

But Lietzmann’s thesis is open to the following objections: (1) The “breaking of bread” meals in Acts, though certainly Christian, may not have been Eucharistic in character (see above). (2) Paul’s statement, “I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you,” can also be interpreted to mean that he understood himself to be a person handing on in unaltered fashion that which had come to him as unaltered church tradition. The words he uses here for “receive” (παρέλαβον) and “deliver to” (παρέδωκα) are equivalents of rabbinic terms for the normal course of reception of tradition and its transmission (Higgins, pp. 25, 26). Paul may have meant, then, that he received the story of the Last Supper and its meaning from the Lord through the apostolic witness. For the Lord was not simply a remembered historical figure but a living Presence in the Church guiding the community into all truth (John 16:13), and seeing to it that this truth was transmitted accurately to each succeeding generation. If this is what Paul meant, he cannot be charged with changing the meaning of the early Eucharist. He was authoritatively handing on that which had been practiced in the Church from its inception. (3) Eduard Schweizer has pointed out that from the start of Eucharistic celebration the two elements of eschatological joy coupled with a sense of Christ’s presence at the table and a hope for His return, and of the proclamation of His death as the means of salvation, belonged together (Schweizer, The Lord’s Supper According to the NT, p. 25). Paul combines both of these ideas in a single sentence: “You proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26).

Paul’s understanding of the Lord’s Supper, therefore, is in essence identical with the traditional understanding of it, and what was said earlier about the meaning of the Last Supper will also apply here. But the disorders at the Lord’s table in Corinth have given the apostle opportunity to provide teaching on the subject which appears nowhere else in the NT.

The Lord’s Supper as a memorial feast.

There is one word of the Lord in Paul (and Luke) which does not appear in Mark (and Matt). It is, “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:24, 25). Paul therefore understands that the purpose of the Lord’s Supper is to commemorate the death of the Lord Jesus, and that this purpose originated with the Lord Himself. (Note: J. Jeremias understands this saying differently and interprets it as meaning “that God may remember me” by bringing in the kingdom at the Parousia. But he has not succeeded in securing many followers and has been convincingly answered by H. Kosmala, Novum Testamentum, IV [1960], 81-94.) Here again is seen a parallel between this new feast and the feast of the Passover. As the Passover was basically a remembrance celebration calling to mind the mercy and greatness of God in delivering His people from Egypt (Exod 12:14; 13:8-10), so the Lord’s Supper is designed to constantly remind the Christian of God’s greatest act, that of deliverance from sin through the death (not the teachings) of the Lord Jesus.

But the Biblical idea of “remembering” is more profound than our modern conception of it. It meant for the Biblical writer more than simply having an “idea” about something that happened in the past. It also involved action, a physical response to the psychological process of recollection. For when the dying thief asked the Savior to “remember” him he meant more than have an idea of me in your mind; he meant, “Act toward me in mercy. Save me!” There was, then, this closeness of relation between thought and act. Thus when the Jew celebrated the Passover, he did more than just think about what happened to his forefathers. He in a sense reenacted that event and himself participated in the Exodus. He was at one with his past (see B. S. Childs, Memory and Tradition in Israel [1962]).

There may also be this dimension to the word “remembrance” as used in 1 Corinthians 11. When the Christian partakes of the Lord’s Supper he not only has an idea in his mind about a past event, but in a sense he “recalls” that event and in such a way that it can no longer be regarded wholly as a thing “absent” or past, but present, and powerfully present. [[In the Lord]]’s Supper, then, and uniquely in the Lord’s Supper, the death of Christ is made so vivid that it is as if the Christian were standing beneath the cross.

The Lord’s Supper a sacrifice?

Did Paul regard the Lord’s Supper as a sacrifice? Some interpreters answer this question in the affirmative, proposing to give to the words, “Do this,” the meaning, “Offer this sacrifice.” It is true that soon Christian writers began to call the Eucharist a sacrifice (θυσία, G2602, see Did 14.1, and cf. Ign. Phil 4.1), and the Church a place of sacrifice, an altar (θυσιαστήριον, G2603, Ign. Eph. 5.2).

But Paul did not so understand the Lord’s Supper, nor can his words “Do this,” be so construed: (a) the ordinary meaning of the verb “do” (ποιει̂ν) in the NT, the LXX, and Gr. lit. generally is opposed to such a tr. (b) The Gr. Fathers, some of whom may have thought of the Eucharist as a sacrifice, never understood these words to mean “offer a sacrifice.” (c) Finally, the witness of the LXX is also against this interpretation, for it never trs. any of the many OT words for sacrifice in their frequent occurrence by the verb ποιει̂ν; only by προσφέρειν and ἀναφέρειν, and the like (see A. Plummer, The Gospel According to Luke, 5th ed. [1922], pp. 497, 498). The words simply mean “Perform this function.” They are a command to remember.

The Lord’s Supper as a proclamation.

Paul also understood the Last Supper to be a proclamation: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death” (1 Cor 11:26). The verb “proclaim” found here (καταγγέλλειν) is used elsewhere in the NT of heralding the Gospel (1 Cor 9:14), and of making known one’s faith (Rom 1:8). Hence, it would seem that its action is directed manward rather than Godward. In performing the rite the celebrant proclaims to all the Lord’s death as victory. The Supper therefore becomes the Gospel, a visible verbum, as Augustine put it.

This idea of the Lord’s Supper being Gospel is helpful in understanding the Lord’s presence in the Supper. In the NT, proclamation has the character of event. As Schweizer puts it, the word is never “merely” something spiritual intended for the intellect. Christ Himself comes in the word: “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me” (Luke 10:16). In a similar way He comes in the Supper. Christ’s presence is brought about not “magically by a liturgically correct administration of the sacrament....It comes to pass where the Lord’s Supper is understood as gospel, whether this gospel is believed or rejected....This means, therefore, that the real presence in the Lord’s Supper is exactly the same as His presence in the word—nothing more, nothing less. It is an event, not an object; an encounter, not a phenomenon of nature; it is Christ’s encounter with His Church, not the distribution of a substance” (Schweizer, pp. 37, 38).

The Lord’s Supper as communion.

The words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:16 are not easy to tr., esp. the expressions “communion of the blood of Christ,” and “communion of the body of Christ” (KJV). The word tr. “communion” (κοινωνία, G3126), may also be tr. “fellowship,” meaning a group of people bound together in a “communion” or “fellowship” by what they have in common with each other. And the preposition “of” does not exist in the Gr., 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. 1 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” (1 Cor 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” (1 Cor 11:29), that is, in failing to understand the oneness of the body of which each person was a part.

In Paul’s day a fellowship meal preceded the breaking of bread and drinking of the cup. It was not an unimportant part of the Lord’s Supper, and Paul had no desire to abolish it. What he was concerned to do, however, was to correct its abuses. For instead of symbolizing the unity its name intended, the fellowship meal at Corinth was the occasion for manifesting the opposite. The freemen despised the slave class, going ahead with the meal before the latter had opportunity to arrive (1 Cor 11:21). The wealthy scorned the poor, feasting to the point of gluttony while the latter went hungry (1 Cor 11:21, 22). Thus “eating and drinking unworthily” (1 Cor 11:27) may have meant for Paul partaking of the Lord’s Supper while holding each other in contempt and neither party striving to live up to the unity which took the Lord’s death to bring about.

The word “communion” has still another meaning. It means also “participation in.” Hence, 1 Corinthians 10:16 may be tr. as the RSV does: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?” If this is so, then perhaps Paul understood the cup and bread to symbolize the Christian’s participation in the death of Christ. Perhaps by borrowing his vocabulary from the mystery religions he showed that the Redeemer and the redeemed are so intimately bound up with each other that what happened to the Redeemer happened also to the redeemed. Thus when Christ died, the Christian died also, and partaking of the Lord’s Supper symbolizes this participation in the body and blood of the Savior. Such a description of the Supper is Paul’s way of stating what Christ already had said: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever....Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:51, 53).

The Lord’s Supper, though of great importance to Paul, is not all-important. There are no magical qualities to it. It has no more power to communicate life and maintain it than did the spiritual food and drink provided Israel in the wilderness (1 Cor 10:1-13). It cannot in and of itself debilitate or bring about death in spite of the fact that Paul says that many who eat and drink unworthily are weak and ill and some have died (1 Cor 11:30). Such sickness and death result from the judgment of the Lord (1 Cor 11:32), not from any magical power of the Supper. The importance of the Supper exists solely in the Person it points to, and whose redemptive acts it proclaims.

The Lord’s Supper in the fourth gospel.

There is no specific reference to the Lord’s Supper in the fourth gospel. John describes a final meal Jesus had with His disciples (John 13), when He taught them the importance of humble service to others by Himself washing their feet. But there is no bread or wine here, nor words of interpretation. Many, however, see the Johannine Eucharist in John 6, the discourse on the bread of life. It is here that Jesus says, “My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:55, 56). If this is so, it would appear that for John the Lord’s Supper is spiritual food (cf. 6:63) which nourishes and strengthens the life of the Christian (cf. Did. 10.4).

But perhaps John’s primary aim was not to discourse on the Lord’s Supper but on the meaning of faith. Certainly this is a subject that is continually being put forward in his gospel.

What does it mean to have faith in Christ? When John 6:47, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life,” is juxtaposed with verse 54, “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life,” it would seem that John, in searching for the way to answer this question has at last found the model he needs. To believe on Christ is analogous to eating Him. As one would take food, eat it, so that it is assimilated into the system and becomes one’s very life, so faith is a similar appropriation of Christ with the result that He is at the very center and is the energizing force of the Christian’s life. But then, this is the very thing that the Lord’s Supper is designed to remind us of in any case. See [[Communion]].


O. Cullmann, “La signification de la Sainte-Cène dans le Christianisme primitif,” RHPR, XVI (1936), 1-22; R. Dunkerley, ed., The Ministry and the Sacraments (1937); G. Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy (1945); A. J. B. Higgins; The Lord’s Supper in the NT (1952); J. Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, Eng. tr. (1955); J. DuPont, “‘Ceci est mon corps,’ ‘Ceci est mon sang’” Nouvelle Révue Théologique, LXXX (10, 58), 1025-1041; H. Lietzmann, Mass and Lord’s Supper, Eng. Tr. (1958); H. Kosmala, “Das tut zu meinem Gedächtnis,” Novum Testamentum, IV (1960), 81-94; E. Schweizer, The Lord’s Supper According to the NT, Eng. tr. (1967).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)





1. Textual Considerations

2. Narratives Compared

(1) Mark

(2) Matthew

(3) Pauline

(4) Luke

3. Other Pauline Data


1. Miracles of Loaves and Fishes

2. Discourse at Capernaum


1. Other Ac and Words of Christ on Eve of the Passion

2. Sacrificial Language of the Institution

3. Sacrificial System of Jewish Dispensation

4. Paschal Background of the Institution of the Eucharist


Points to Be Noted


1. Heavenly Background

(1) Christians a Priestly Race

(2) Christ, the Eternal [[High Priest]]

2. Celebrated Each [[Lord's Day|Lord’s Day]]

3. Names of the Eucharist

(1) Eucharist

(2) [[Lord's Supper|Lord’s Supper]]

(3) Breaking of Bread

(4) Communion

(5) Oblation


1. Guidance by the [[Holy Spirit]]

2. The Early Fathers

(1) Ignatian Epistles

(2) [[Justin Martyr]]

(3) Irenaeus

(4) Cyprian


1. Outline of Eucharistic Prayer

2. Significance of This for Unity


I. Definition.

II. [[New Testament]] Sources.

The New Testament sources of our knowledge of the institution of the Eucharist are fourfold, a brief account thereof being found in each of the [[Synoptic Gospels]] and in Paul’s [[First Epistle to the Corinthians]] (Mt 26:26-29; Mr 14:22-25; Lu 22:14-20; 1Co 11:23-26; compare 10:16,17).

1. Textual Considerations:

The text of these narratives has been found to need little amendment, save the dropping of a word or two, from each account, that had crept in through the tendency of copyists, consciously or unconsciously, to assimilate the details of parallel passages. The genuineness of Lu 22:19,20 is absolutely beyond question. Their omission in whole or part, and the alterations in the order of two or three verses in the whole section (22:14-20), characteristic of a very small number of manuscripts, are due to confusion in the minds of a few scribes and translators, between the paschal cup (22:17) and the eucharistic cup (22:20), and to their well-meant, but mistaken, attempt to improve upon the text before them.

2. Narratives Compared:

(1) Mark:

The briefest account of the institution of the Eucharist is found in Mr 14:22-24. In it the Eucharist is not sharply distinguished from its setting, the paschal meal: "And as they were eating, he took bread, and when he had blessed, he brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take ye: this is my body. And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave to them: and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many." This represents a tradition settled within 20 years of the event described.

(2) Matthew:

Mt 26:26-28 gives a few touches by way of revision, apparently from one then present. He adds the exhortation "eat" at the giving of the bread, and puts the personal command, "Drink ye all of it," in place of the mere statement, "and they all drank of it." He adds also of the blood that, as "poured out for many," it is "unto remission of sins."

(3) Pauline:

The Pauline-account, 1Co 11:23-26 (the earliest written down, circa 55 AD), was called forth in rebuke of the scandalous profanation of the Eucharist at Corinth. It gives us another tradition independent of; and supplementary to, that of Mark-Matthew. It claims the authority of the Savior as its source, and had been already made known to the Corinthians in the apostle’s oral teaching. The time of the institution is mentioned as the night of the betrayal. We note of the bread, "This is my body, which is for you," of the cup, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood," and the redoubled command, "This do in remembrance of me."

(4) Luke:

The narrative given in Lu 22:14-20 is the latest (circa 80 AD) of our New Testament records. Luke had taken pains to follow up everything to its source, and had reedited the oral tradition in the light of his historical researches (1:2,3), and thus his account is of the highest value. Writing for a wider circle of readers, he carefully separates and distinguishes the Eucharist from the paschal meal which preceded it, and puts the statement of Christ about not drinking "from henceforth of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come," in its proper place as referring to the paschal cup (compare Mt 26:29; Mr 14:25; and Lu 22:15-18). In describing the actual institution of the Eucharist, he gives us an almost verbal identity with the account given by Paul (1Co 11:23-25).

3. Other Pauline Data: We should note the statement appended by Paul to his account of the Institution, wherein he emphasizes the memorial aspect and evidential value of the witness the eucharistic observance would give throughout the ages of the Christian dispensation (1Co 11:26). We should also note the fact upon which the apostle bases his rebuke to the profane (Corinthians, namely, the real, though undefined, identity of the bread and wine of the Eucharist with the body and blood of Christ (1Co 11:27-29); an identity established through the blessing pronounced upon them, so that the bread and cup have come to be the "communion of the body of Christ" and the "communion of the blood of Christ," respectively (1Co 10:15-17). To receive the Eucharist, and also to partake of sacrifices offered to idols, is utterly incompatible with Christian loyalty. To receive the Eucharist after a gluttonous, winebibbing agape, not recognizing the consecrated elements to be what the Lord Christ called them, is, likewise, a defiance of God. Both acts alike provoke the judgment of God’s righteous anger (1Co 10:21,22; 11:21,22,27-29).

III. Preparation for the Eucharist.

The institution of the Eucharist had been prepared for by Christ through the object-lesson of the feeding of the five thousand (Mt 14:13-21; Mr 6:35-44; Lu 9:12-17; Joh 6:4-13), which was followed up by the discourse about Himself as the Bread of Life, and about eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood as the nourishment of eternal life.

1. Miracles of Loaves and Fishes:

2. Discourse at Capernaum:

In the discourse at Capernaum (Joh 6:26-58) Christ led the thought of His hearers from earthly to heavenly food, from food that perished to the true bread from heaven. He declared Himself to be the living bread, and, further, that it is through eating His flesh and drinking His blood that they shall possess true life in themselves, and be raised by Him at the last day. The difficulties raised by this discourse Christ did not solve at the time. His ascension would but add to them. He asked of His disciples acceptance of His words in faith. Under the administration of the Spirit would these things be realized (Joh 6:60-69). The institution of the Eucharist, later, gave the clue to these otherwise "hard" words. Today the Eucharist remains as the explanation of this discourse. A hardy mountaineer, e.g. who had read Joh 6 many times, could form no notion of its purport. When first privileged to be present at the eucharistic service of the [[Book of Common Prayer]], the meaning of feeding upon Christ’s flesh and blood forthwith became apparent to him (see The Spirit of Missions, July, 1911, 572-73).

IV. Historical Setting of the Eucharist.

1. Other Ac and Words of Christ on Eve of the Passion:

2. Sacrificial Language of the Institution:

3. Sacrificial System of Jewish Dispensation:

The general background, moreover, out of which the institution of the Eucharist stands forth, is the sacrificial system of the older dispensation. The chosen people of God, as a priestly race, a holy nation (Ex 19:5,6; De 7:6), worshipped God with a sequence of offerings, Divinely molded and inspired, which set forth the sovereign majesty and overloading of God, His holiness, and the awe and penitence due from those who would draw nigh unto Him, and their desire for communion with Him.

The more immediate background of the Eucharist is the Passover, and that without prejudice as to whether the Lord Christ ate the paschal meal with His disciples before He instituted the Eucharist, as seems most probable (compare Lu 22:7-18), or whether He died upon the day of its observance (see article "Preparation," DCG, II, 409).

4. Paschal Background of the Institution of the Eucharist:

V. Sequence of the Institation.

Let us put before ourselves clearly the sequence of the Lord Christ’s acts and words at the institution of the Eucharist ere we proceed to examine the church’s mode of celebrating this ordinance.

Points to Be Noted

At the close of the paschal Supper,

(1) the Lord Christ "took" the bread and cup, respectively, for use in His new rite;

(2) He "gave thanks" over them, constituting them a thank offering to God;

(3) He "blessed" them to their new and higher potency;

(4) He "gave" them to the apostles (the breaking being a requisite preliminary to distribution of the bread);

(5) He bade them "Take, eat," and "Drink ye all of it," respectively;

(6) He declared, of the bread, "This is my body given for you," of the cup, "This is my blood of the covenant," or, "This is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you," "unto remission of sins";

(7) He adds the reiterated command, "This do for my memorial."

VI. The Church’s Observance of the Eucharist.

1. Heavenly Background:

(1) Christians a Priestly Race:

We should remember the priestly character of the church of Christ, whose sacrifices are made under the dispensation of the Holy Spirit (1Pe 2:5,9; Re 1:6; compare Ac 1:2,8); and also the eternal priesthood in the heavens of our risen, ascended and ever-living Lord Christ.

(2) Christ the Eternal High Priest:

2. Celebrated Each Lord’s Day:

The celebration of the Eucharist was characteristic of the pentecostal church (Ac 2:42), especially upon the Lord’s Day (Ac 20:7). Its observance was preceded by the agape (1Co 11:20,34) on the eve (for the circumstances of the institution were closely imitated, and the day was reckoned as beginning at sunset after the Jewish fashion), and thus the Eucharist proper came late into the night, or toward morning (Ac 20:11).

3. Names of the Eucharist:

(1) Eucharist:

The name" Eucharist" is derived from the eucharistesas (" gave thanks") of the institution and was the most widely used term in primitive times, as applied to the whole service, to the consecration of the bread and wine or to the consecrated elements themselves (compare 1Co 14:16).

(2) Lord’s Supper:

It should be noted that the name, "Lord’s Supper," belongs to the agape rather than to the Eucharist; its popular use is a misnomer of medieval and Reformation times.

(3) Breaking of Bread:

The term "breaking of bread" (Ac 2:42; 20:7,11) had little vogue after New Testament times.

(4) Communion:

"Communion" obviously is derived from 1Co 10:16.

(5) Oblation:

In connection with the early and frequent use of the word "oblation" (prosphora) and its cognates, we should note Paul’s description of his ministry in terms that suggest the rationale of the prayer of consecration, or eucharistic prayer, as we know it in the earliest liturgical tradition: "that I should be a minister of Christ Jesus unto the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be made acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit" (Ro 15:16).

VII. Post-Apostolic Church.

1. Guidance by the Holy Spirit:

The same Spirit who guided the church in the determination of the [[Canon of the New Testament]] Scriptures, the same Spirit who guided the church in the working out of her explicit formulation of the Christian doctrine of the Godhead, and of the Christ--that self-same Spirit guided the church in the formation and fashioning of her great eucharistic prayer into its norm in the same 4th century. The historic churches of the East, by their faithful adherence to this norm, have been almost undisturbed by the dissensions and disputes of Western Christendom touching the Eucharist.

2. The Early Fathers:

The glimpses given us in the earlier Fathers of the Eucharist are in entire accord with the more articulate expression of the church’s corporate eucharistic worship, which we find in the liturgical documents and writings of the Nicene era.

(1) Ignatian Epistles:

The Ignatian Epistles show us the Eucharist as the focus of the church’s life and order, the source of unity and fellowship. The Eucharist consecrated by the prayer of the bishop and church is the Bread of God, the [[Flesh and Blood]] of Christ, the communication of love incorruptible and life eternal (compare Ephesians, 5,13,10; Trallians, 7,8; Romans, 7; Philadelphians, 4; Smyrnaeans, 7,8; Magnesians, 7).

(2) Justin Martyr:

Justin Martyr tells us that the Eucharist was celebrated on the Lord’s Day, the day associated with creation and with Christ’s resurrection. To the celebrant were brought bread and wine mixed with water, who then put up to God, over them, solemn thanksgiving for His lovingkindness in the gifts of food and health and for the redemption wrought by Christ. The oblations of bread and wine are presented to God in memorial of Christ’s passion, and become Christ’s body and blood through prayer. The Eucharist is a spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving commemorative of Christ’s death; and the consecrated elements the communion of Christ’s body and blood, by reason of the sacramental character bestowed upon them by the invocation of the Divine blessing (compare 1 Apol., 13,15, 66, 67; Dial. with Trypho, 41,70, 117).

(3) Irenaeus:

Irenaeus, also, emphasizes the fact that Christ taught His disciples to offer the new oblation of the [[New Covenant]], to present in thank offering the first-fruits of God’s creatures--bread and wine--the pure sacrifice prophesied before by Malachi. The Eucharist consecrated by the church, through the invocation of God’s blessing, is the communion of the body and blood of Christ, just as He pronounced the elements to be at the institution (compare Against Heresies, i.13,1; iv.17,5; 18,1-6; 33,1; v.22,3).

(4) Cyprian:

Cyprian, too, gives evidence of the same eucharistic belief, and alludes very plainly to the "Lift up your hearts," to the great thanksgiving, and to the prayer of consecration. This last included the rehearsal of what Christ did and said at the institution, the commemoration of His passion, and the invocation of the Holy Spirit (compare Epistle to Caecilius, sections 1, 2, 4, 9, 10, 14, 17; Epistle to Epictetus, sections 2, 4; On the Unity of the Church, I, 17; On the [[Lord's Prayer|Lord’s Prayer]], section 31; Firmilian to Cyprian, sections 10, 17).

VIII. Liturgical Tradition.

1. Outline of Eucharistic Prayer:

When we proceed to examine the early liturgical remains we find the articulate expression of the church’s sacrifice following along these lines. After an introductory summons to the worshippers to "lift up their hearts," the great eucharistic prayer goes on to pour forth sublime praises to God for all the blessings of creation, and for the fruits of the earth; aligning the praises of the church with the worship of the heavenly host around the throne of God. The love of God in bringing about the redemption of fallen man through the incarnation, and through the self-oblation of His only Son upon the cross is then recalled in deep thankfulness. The institution of the Eucharist in the night of the betrayal is next related, and then, taking up, and fulfilling the command of Christ (`Do this for my memorial’) therein recited, most solemn memorial is made before God, with the antitypical elements, of the death and of the victorious resurrection and ascension of the Lord Christ. Then, as still further carrying out this act of obedience, most humble prayer is made to the Eternal Father for the hallowing of the oblations, through the operation of the Holy Spirit, to be the body and blood of Christ, and to be to those who partake of them, for the imparting of remission of sins, and the bestowal of life eternal. To this great act of praise and prayer the solemn "Amen" of the assembled congregation assents, and thereafter the sacramental gifts are received by the faithful present, with another "Amen" from each recipient to whom they are administered.

The great eucharistic prayer, as outlined, was the first part of the liturgy to crystallize into written form, and of its component parts the invocation of the Divine blessing upon the elements was probably the first to be written down.

2. Significance of This for Unity:

Around the simplicity and the depth of such a truly apostolic norm of eucharistic worship, alone, can be gathered into one the now dispersed and divided followers of the Christ, for therein subsist in perfect harmony the Godward and the manward aspects of the memorial He commanded us to make as complementary, not contradictory; and the identity of the consecrated bread and wine with the body and blood of Christ is manifested to be in the realm of their spiritual function and potency.


E.F. Willis, The Worship of the Old Covenant .... in Relation to That of the New; Frederic Rendall, Sacrificial [[Language of the New Testament]]; Maurice Goguel, L’eucharistie des origines a Justin Martyr, 105 ff; W.B. Frankland, The Early Eucharist (excellent); H.B. Swete, "Eucharistic Belief in the 2nd and 3rd Cents.," Journal of Theological Studies, June, 1902, 161 ff; R.M. Woolley, The Liturgy of the Primitive Church; M. Lepin, L’idee du sacrifice dans la religion chretienne; W. Milligan, The Ascension and Heavenly Priesthood of our Lord; Thomas Brett, A True Scripture Account of the Nature and benefits of the Holy Eucharist, 1736; id, A Discourse Concerning the Necessity of Discerning the Lord’s Body in the [[Holy Communion]], 1720; J.R. Milne, Considerations on Eucharistic Worship; id, The Doctrine and Practice of the Eucharist; H.R. Gummey, The Consecration of the Eucharist; A.J. Maclean, Recent Discoveries Illustrating Early Christian Life and Worship; id, The Ancient Church Orders; L. Duchesne, Origines du culte chretien; J.T. Levens, Aspects of the Holy Communion; [[John Wordsworth]], The Holy Communion; F.E. Brightman, Liturgies, Eastern and Western.

Henry Riley Gummey


|| 1. Original Institution

2. The Elements

3. The Eucharist in the Apostolic Church

4. The Eucharist in the Post-apostolic Church

5. Rome and the Eucharist

6. Luther and the Eucharist

7. Zwingli and the Eucharist

8. Calvin and the Eucharist

This name of the Lord’s Supper is derived from eucharistia, the prayer of consecration, and this in turn points back to Mt 26:27, "And he took a cup, and gave thanks" (eucharistesas). The most common name is "Lord’s Supper" (deipnon kuriou (1Co 11:20)). It is also called "Lord’s table" (trapeza kuriou (1Co 10:21 the [[King James Version]])); while the cup is called "the cup of blessing" (poterion tes eulogias (1Co 10:16)) and "the cup of the Lord" (poterion kuriou (1Co 10:21)). The word koinonia points both to the bread and the cup, whence our common term "communion." In post-apostolic days it became known as leitourgia, a sacred ministration, whence our word "liturgy." It was also named thusia, a sacrifice, and musterion, from its mystic character and perhaps from the fact that it was celebrated only in the closed circle of believers. The Roman Catholic church calls it missa or "mass," from the words congregatio missa est, whereby in post-apostolic times the first part of worship, called the missa cathechumenorum, was closed, and whereby the second part of worship was ushered in, known as the missa fidelium, the sacramental part of worship, only destined for believers.

1. Original Institution:

Both Matthew and Mark leave the exact place of the institution of the Supper in the festive meal indefinite, "as they were eating" (Mt 26:26; Mr 14:22); the words of Lk, "after supper" (22:20), may be a hint in regard to this matter (see Joh 13:1; 1Co 11:25). But the custom of the early church of celebrating the Eucharist after the agape or "love feast" appears to be strong evidence that the original institution was separate from the paschal festival and followed it. The entire subject of the Eucharist has been called in question by the radical German critics, who point to the absence of the whole matter in Joh and to the omission of the words, "Do this in remembrance of me," in Matthew and Mark. Its occurrence in Luke is ascribed to Paul’s influence over him and to his familiarity with the story of the institution as described by the apostle. But this position is utterly untenable in the light of the unquestioned fact that the Lord’s Supper as a fixed part of worship was firmly established from the earliest days of the Christian church. The doctrine of Christ’s vicarious suffering is nowhere so clearly enunciated as in the words of the institution of the Supper, "This is my body which is given for you" (Lu 22:19); "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins" (Mt 26:28). Small wonder that those who have utterly done away with the doctrine of the vicarious atonement or of substitution should attack the historicity of the Eucharist and should seek by all means to wipe it from the record.

Jesus bids His followers to observe the new institution "in remembrance of" Him. As Dr. Bavinck says, "The Lord’s Supper is instituted by Christ as a permanent benefit to His church; it is a blessing added to all other blessings to signify and to seal them" (Geref. Dogm., IV, 310).

2. The Elements:

As to the elements used in the original institution of the Supper, they were bread and wine. The bread of course was the unleavened bread of the Passover, during which feast every trace of leaven was removed (Ex 12:19). The Eastern church, perhaps influenced by the bitter Ebionite spirit of the Judaizers, later adopted the use of common bread (koinos artos); the Western church used unleavened bread. Protestantism left the matter among the adiaphora.

As regards the wine, the matter has been in dispute from the beginning (see Kitto’s Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature). The early church always used mixed wine, wine and water, following the Jewish custom. Whether the wine used at the institution of the Lord’s Supper was fermented or unfermented wine, must of course be determined by the Jewish Passover-customs prevailing at that time. The matter is in dispute and is not easily settled.

Modern Jews quite generally use raisin-wine, made by steeping raisins over night in water and expressing the juice the next day for use at the Passover-meal. The ancient Jews, we are told, used for this purpose a thick boiled wine, mixed with water (Mishna, Terumoth, xi). Whether oinos, the word used in the New Testament, stands literally, as the name indicates, for fermented wine, or figuratively for the mixed drinks, well known to ancient and modern Jews, is a debatable matter. As late as the 16th century the Nestorian Christians celebrated communion with raisin-wine, and the same is said of the Indian Christians ("St. Thomas Christians"). The word "new," used by Christ in Mt 26:29, is believed by some to indicate the character of the wine used by Christ at the institution of the Eucharist, namely, the juice of grapes fresh pressed out (see Clem. Alex., Paed., xi). On the other hand the third Council of Braga explicitly forbade this practice as heretical. It is evident that the whole subject is shrouded in much mystery. Some ancient sects substituted an entirely different element, water and milk, for instance, being used (Epiph., Haer., xlix; Aug., Haer., xxviii). Such customs were utterly condemned by the Council of Braga (675 AD). In general, however, the Christian church, almost from the beginning, seems to have used fermented red wine, either mixed or pure, in the administration of the Eucharist, in order to maintain the correspondence between the symbol and the thing symbolized.

3. The Eucharist in the Apostolic Church:

4. The Eucharist in the Post-apostolic Church:

In the post-apostolic church the Eucharist continued to be celebrated every Lord’s day. But it separated itself from the preaching of the Word and from prayers, as in the previous period. It was invested with a mystic meaning, something too holy for the common eye, and thus the missa catechumenorum, the open church-meeting, was separated from the missa fidelium, the gathering of believers only, in which the Eucharist was celebrated. Bread, wine, oil, milk, honey, all the ingredients for the agape, from which the elements for the Supper were selected, were furnished by the free-will offerings of the believers. These were solemnly set apart by the officiating bishop with a consecrating prayer, eucharistia, and thus the sacrament obtained the name "Eucharist." The gifts themselves were called prosphorai, "oblations," or thusiai, "sacrifices." The sacrificial conception of the Supper was thus gradually created (Ign., Phil., iv; Smyrna, vii, viii; Justin, Apol., i. 66; Dial., xii. 70; Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., iv. 18,5). The Eucharist once being conceived as a sacrifice, the conception of the officiating bishop as a priest became logically inevitable. The [[Apostolical Constitutions]], xliii (4) gives us a fair idea of the worship of the church, toward the close of the 3rd century. Even at that early day a well-developed ritual had replaced the simplicity of the worship of the apostolic days. In the African and Eastern churches, baptized children were allowed to partake of communion, through the fear engendered by Joh 6:53. The regenerative conception of baptism largely influenced this custom. The remnants of the consecrated elements were brought by the deacons to the sick and to imprisoned believers. We have not the space in a brief article like this to enter fully into the development of the doctrinal conception of the Supper as found in the Fathers. Suffice it to say that the symbolical and spiritual concept of the Eucharist, usually defined as the "dynamic" view of the Supper, was advocated by such men as Origen, [[Eusebius of Caesarea]], Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzen and others. On the other hand Cyril, [[Gregory of Nyssa]], Chrysostom and John Damascenus developed the "realistic" theory of the Eucharist, and this view again divided itself into the "diophysitic" theory, later called "consubstantiation," and the "monophysitic" theory, later known as "transubstantiation." Augustinns, the great Latin Father, knew nothing of theory of tran-substantiation. He taught that communion carries a blessing only for believers, while to the unbelieving it is a curse, and that the true eating of the body of Christ consists in believing (Serm. Ad Infantes, De Civ., x.6; xxii. 10; Tract. 25 in Joann.). Paschasins Radbert (died 865 AD) was the first fully to formulate the realistic view as the doctrine of the Romish church, and although the dynamic view triumphed for a while, the condemnation of Berengarius of Tours (died 1088 AD) proved that by the middle of the 11th century the realistic view of the Supper had become the generally accepted doctrine of the Eucharist.

5. Rome and the Eucharist:

The Romish church couches its doctrine of the Eucharist in the word "transubstantiation," which means the conversion of the substance of the elements used in the Eucharist. The word was first used by Hildebert of Tours (died 1134 AD) in a sermon. The doctrine of the Supper was finally fixed, together with the new term, by Pope [[Innocent III]], at the Lateran Council 1215 AD. It was decided that the body and blood of Christ are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar, under the species of bread and wine, the bread being transubstantiated into the body and the wine into the blood of Christ, by the Divine power. This has been the Romish doctrine of the Supper ever since. The bread and wine are changed into the veritable body and blood of Christ, by the words of the institution. By the institution of the Supper, Christ made His disciples priests, wherefore the Eucharist may be administered only by an ordained priest. In the miracle of the sacrament, the "accidents" of the elements--bread and wine--remain, but they are no longer inherent in a subject, the substance in which they inhered being replaced by another. This new substance is the body and blood of Christ, which is hidden from observation under the appearance of the elements. The whole Christ is present in each of these elements, hence, it is not necessary to commune under both forms (sub utraque). In the Romish conception of the Supper communion with Christ is a secondary idea. The main idea is that of the transubstantiation itself, for the Supper is more a sacrifice than a sacrament; thus the mass becomes a sin offering. While it feeds faith, keeps us from mortal sin, wards off temporal punishment, unites believers, it also has a potency for those who are not present, and even for the dead in purgatory. Thus the mass became the very heart and center of the entire Romish cult (Conf. Trid., XIII, 21, 22; Cat. Rom., CXII, c. 4; Bellarm, De Sacr. Euch., I, iv; Moehler, Symb., section 34).

6. Luther and the Eucharist:

The Reformers rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation, the sacrificial conception of the Eucharist, the adoration of the "host," the withholding of the cup, the efficiency of the Eucharist in behalf of the dead, the entire Romish conception of the sacrament of the Supper. The original position of Luther, that the elements in the Supper were signs and seals of the remission of sins, was soon replaced by the doctrine of "consubstantiation." The bitter controversy with Carlstadt, and especially the failure of the Marburg Conference, drove Luther forever into the camp of the realists. As early as 1524 he had outlined his doctrine against Carlstadt. He placed himself squarely on the realistic conception of the words of the institution, and held that "the body of Christ in accordance with the will and omnipotence of God and its own ubiquity is really and substantially present in, with and under the Supper, even as His Divine nature is in the human as warmth is in the iron. Wherefore the Supper is physically partaken of by those who are unworthy, albeit to their own destruction" (Bavinck, Geref. Dogm., IV, 318). This doctrine has been fully developed by the Lutheran divines, and is till this day the view of the Lutheran church.

7. Zwingli and the Eucharist:

Zwingli essentially sided with Carlstadt in his controversy with Luther, whom he thereby greatly embittered. He interpreted the words of the institution--"this is"--as signifying "this stands for," "this signifies." This view was fully set forth in a letter to Matthew Alber at Reutlingen in 1524 and was given its final form in his dogmatic tract, Com. de vera et falsa rel. (1525), where he characterizes Luther’s doctrine as "an opinion not only rustic but even impious and frivolous." The breach was widened by the Marburg Conference of 1529. Reduced to its last analysis, the eucharistic concept of Zwingli is that of a symbolical memorial of the suffering and death of Christ, although Zwingli does not deny that Christ is present to the eye of faith. On the contrary, He is enjoyed through the word and through faith, i.e. in a spiritual way. In the Supper we confess our faith, we express what that faith means to us, and we do it in memory of Christ’s death (Oper., ii.1, 426; iii.239, 326, 459; iv.51, 68). The Zwinglian view has been consciously or unconsciously adopted by a very large portion of the Protestant church.

8. Calvin and the Eucharist:

Calvin’s position on the doctrine of the Eucharist tends rather to the Lutheran than to the Zwinglian view. With Zwingli the sacrament is little more than a sign, with Calvin it is both a sign and a seal. The reality of communion with Christ and the benefits of His death, received by a living faith--all this is common to the Lutheran and the Calvinistic views. The Lord’s Supper is far more than a mere memorial service, it is a marvelous means of grace as well. Calvin sides with Zwingli in denying all physical, local or substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist. But he differs from him in making the eucharistic act far more than a confession of faith, and he lays far greater stress than Zwingli on the meaning of its true participation. With Luther he holds that Christ is truly present in the Supper, and he lays stress especially on the mystic union of the believer with Christ. In the Supper both the benefits of Christ’s death and His glorious person are touched. But Christ does not descend in the Supper to the believer, but the latter ascends to Him in heaven. The central thought of the Calvinistic conception of the Supper is this, that the communicant, through the operation of the Holy Spirit, comes in spiritual contact with the entire person of Christ and that he is thus fed unto life eternal. Every close student of Calvin’s works will have to admit that his ideas on the subject are somewhat involved and confusing. This is due no doubt to the mediating position he occupied between Luther and Zwingli. But his position as a whole is quite plain. All his followers agree in holding that (1) Christ is only spiritually present in the Supper; (2) that the participation in the benefits of the Supper must therefore be spiritual, although it is real, and (3) that only true communicants, by a living faith, can communicate therein, and that this participation in the atoning death of the Saviour is sealed to us by the use of the ordained signs of the sacrament.

Henry E. Dosker



1. The Derivation and Meaning

2. Synonyms


1. Source and Norm of the Doctrine of the Eucharist

2. Interpretation of the Eucharistic Texts

3. Doctrinal Contents of the Eucharistic Passages


1. Question of Possibility

2. The Place of Faith in the Sacrament

3. The Words of the Institution

I. The Term.

1. The Derivation and Meaning:

"Eucharist" is the anglicized form of the Greek noun eucharistia, which signifies "gratitude," "thanks," or "praise offering." The noun is derived from the verb eucharisteo, which, with the verb eulogeo of kindred meaning in Mt 26:26,27; Mr 14:22,23, is used to describe the action of the Lord in blessing the bread and wine at the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Lu 22:19; 1Co 11:23). When used absolutely, as in these places, it signifies "the offering up of praise that is prompted by nothing else than God Himself and His revealed glory" (Cremer). The blessing of the physical elements was part of the sacramental action at subsequent celebrations of the ordinance (1Co 10:16), and thus eucharistia soon (2nd century) came to mean the blessed elements and the entire ordinance in which these were administered.

2. Synonyms:

Other Scriptural terms for the same ordinance are "Communion" (from koinonia, in the twofold sense indicated in 1Co 10:16,17), "Lord’s Supper" (kuriakon deipnon (1Co 11:20)), "Lord’s Table" (trapeza kuriou (1Co 10:21)), "Breaking of Bread" (klasis tou artou (Ac 2:42)). The literature of the church developed a great many terms which emphasize one or the other feature of the ordinance. Luther, in his Small Catechism, adopts the name "Sacrament of the Altar," because it is administered at the altar. The Lutheran Confessions occasionally employ the term "mass," however, in the original meaning which the early church, not in that which the Roman church, connects with the term ("mass" derived either from missa, "things sent," because the materials for communion were sent to the place of celebration, or from missio, "a sending (away)," because worshippers who were not members, or minors, were dismissed from the service before the celebration of the Eucharist began; but see McClintock and Strong, Cyclop. of Biblical, Theol., and Eccles. Lit., V, 863).

II. The Ordinance.

1. Source and Norm of the Doctrine of the Eucharist:

The "seats of doctrine," i.e. the Scripture texts which must be employed for determining every essential part of the teaching of Scripture regarding the second sacrament of the Christian church, are the words of institution recorded in Mt 26:26-28; Mr 14:22-24; Lu 22:19,20; 1Co 11:23-25. Valuable statements, chiefly concerning the proper use of the sacrament, are found in 1Co 10:15 ff; 11:20 ff. That these texts are disputed is no reason why a doctrine should not be established from them. No doctrine of the Christian religion could be established, if every text of Scripture had to be withdrawn from the argument, so soon as it had become disputed. Joh 6:32-59 does not treat of this ordinance, because

(1) the ordinance must be dated from the night of the betrayal, which was considerably after the Lord’s discourse at Capernaum;

(2) because this passage speaks of "eating the flesh," not the body, of the Son of man, and of drinking "his blood," in such a manner that a person’s eternal salvation is made to depend upon this eating and drinking. If this passage were eucharistic, infants, children, persons in durance among pagans, or temporarily deprived of the ministration of the Christian church, hence, unable to commune, could not be saved.

2. Interpretation of the Eucharistic Texts:

The exposition of the genuine eucharistic texts of Scripture is governed by the common law of Bible exegesis, namely, that every word and statement of Scripture must be understood in its proper and native sense, unless a plain and urgent reason compels the adoption of a figurative interpretation. The writers who have recorded the institution of the sacrament have given no hint that they wish to be understood figuratively. The solemn occasion--the Eucharist being the expression of the last will or testament of the Lord--forbids the use of figurative language (Ga 3:15). The fact that a statement of Scripture transcends our natural powers of comprehension does not justify us in giving it a figurative meaning. If this rationalistic principle were to be applied in explaining Scripture, we could not retain a single revealed doctrine. Besides, those who have adopted a figurative interpretation are not agreed where to locate the figure in the words of institution. Some claim that the word touto, others that esti, others that to soma mou contain a figure, while still others would take the institutional words in their proper sense, but understand the entire ordinance figuratively.

3. Doctrinal Contents of the Eucharistic Passages:

The eucharistic passages contain: (1) a statement fixing the time and occasion of the institution. It was "in the night in which he was betrayed," immediately before the beginning of the passio magna of Christ, and in connection with the celebration of the Jewish Passover (Mt 26:17 ). The ordinance which Christ instituted was to take the place of the ancient Passover (1Co 5:7, which text Luther aptly renders: "We, too, have a passover, which is Christ crucified for us"). Jewish custom at the time of Christ seems to have allowed some latitude as regards the time for eating the paschal lamb. Thus the difference between John (18:28; 19:42) and the synoptists is overcome. our Lord was deeply stirred with thoughts of love and affection for His disciples at the time of the institution (13:1).

(2) An authoritative declaration of Christ, the God-man, fixing the constituent parts of the sacrament, and the essential features of the sacramental act (speciem actus). This declaration names:

(a) The elements of the sacrament, which are of two kinds: bread and wine (materia terrena), and the body and blood of the Lord (materia coelestis) (see Ireneus Adv. Haer., iv.34,363, quoted in Form. Conc. Sol. Decl., Art. VII, number 14, 649). There is no law laid down as regards the quality, form, or quantity of the bread (leavened or unleavened, round or oblong, in large loaves, cakes, or in wafer form ready for immediate distribution). Likewise the color and quality of the wine is left undefined. The expression gennema tes ampelou, "fruit of the vine" (Mt 26:29), sanctions the use of any substance that has grown on the vine, has been pressed from grapes, and has the characteristics of the substance known as wine. That the wine used by the Lord at that season of the year and in accordance with Jewish custom was fermented wine, there can be no doubt (Hodge, Systematic Theol., III, 616). The use of unfermented wine is apt to introduce an element of uncertainty into the sacrament. The heavenly elements are defined thus: "My body, which is given for you," "my blood, which is shed for many." These terms signify the real, substantial, natural body of Christ, and His real, natural blood (Luther: "the true body and blood of our Lord "). Both the earthly and the heavenly elements are really present at the same time in every eucharistic act. To deny either the presence of real bread and wine at any stage during the eucharistic act, as the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation does (against 1Co 11:26,28), or the real presence of the true body and blood of Christ, as reformed teaching does, is not doing justice to Scripture.

(b) The relation of the elements to one another: In offering the physical elements to the disciples the Lord employs the locutio exhibitiva, common to every language of men: He names that which is not seen while giving that which is seen. (" Here are your spices," says the grocer delivering the package containing them.) The locutio exhibitiva, except when used by a jester or dishonest person, always states a fact. The bread in the Eucharist is the body of Christ, the wine, likewise, is the blood of Christ. The relation is expressed in 1Co 10:16,17 by koinonia, "communion." This term is not the same as metocht, "participation," which would refer to the communicants (Plummer, HDB, III, 149). Koinonia declares a communion of the bread with the body, of the wine with the blood, of Christ. It is impossible to define the mode and manner of this communion of the earthly with the heavenly elements. Such terms as "consubstantiation," "impanation," "invination," are faulty attempts to define the undefinable. All we can assert is, that in a manner incomprehensible to us the body and blood of the Lord are in a sacramental union with the eucharistic bread and wine.

(c) The action required, namely, "take, eat"; "take, drink." These words refer to the distribution and reception of the sacramental elements. These are essential, the mode is not, unless one wishes to emphasize, e.g. by the breaking of the bread, the merely symbolical meaning of the entire ordinance. Accordingly, it is also immaterial whether the administrant place the elements into the hands of the communicant, who then conveys them to his mouth, or whether the administrant conveys the elements directly to the mouth of the communicant. The acts of distributing and receiving, however, extend to the entire sacramental substance, i.e. not the bread, or the wine, alone are distributed and received, but "in, with, and under the bread" the body, "in, with, and under the wine" the blood, of Christ. The eating and drinking in the Eucharist is of a peculiar kind. It differs from mere natural eating and drinking of common food, and from spiritual eating and drinking, which is a figurative expression signifying the believing appropriation of the Saviour’s atoning work, and which can never be "for judgment." In natural eating and drinking there would be only bread and wine, not the body and blood of the Lord; in spiritual eating and drinking there would be only the merits of the Redeemer, not bread and wine. In sacramental eating and drinking both the bread and the body, the wine and the blood, of Christ, are sacramentally received, the earthly elements in a natural, the heavenly in a supernatural, undefinable manner, both, however, orally, and both by every communicant. For, according to 1Co 11:29, also the unworthy communicant receives the Lord’s body, and that for his judgment, "not discerning" it (the King James Version).

(d) The end and aim of the ordinance: The Lord says: "This do in remembrance of me." Paul says: "As often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord’s death till he come." These words make the Eucharist an efficient means for strengthening the spiritual union of the disciples with the Lord until His second coming. They are a call for faith on the part of the communicants, and restrict admission to communion to the believing followers of the Lord. Worthy communicants are those who understand the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice and hope for His return in glory. (Luther: "The sacrament is instituted for us Christians.") The duty of self-exploration enjoined upon communicants further emphasizes the purpose of this ordinance. Self-exploration embraces knowledge and acknowledgment of our sinful state, confidence in the ever-present forgiveness of God for Christ’s sake, and a sincere purpose to forsake sin and grow in holiness. Accordingly, non-believers, morally irresponsible persons, and persons who lead offensive lives which they will not amend, cannot be admitted to communion (Mt 7:6). In 1Co 10:17 Paul names another purpose: the strengthening of the bonds of brotherly love and fellowship by means of communion. Hence, unity of faith and active Christian charity are required in those who are to commune together (Mt 5:23,14), and "close communion," not "open, or promiscuous communion" is in accord with the teaching of Scripture. In the absence of any fixed rule as to the frequency of a Christian’s communing, the above reasons suffice to induce him to commune frequently ("as often as").

(3) An authoritative statement of Christ concerning the continued use of the sacrament (exercitium actus): "This do." This means

(a) that the action of Christ is to be repeated, i.e., bread and wine should be blessed, distributed and received. The blessing is called the consecration and consists in the reciting of a prayer and the words of the institution. Consecration has no magical effects, it does not produce the sacramental union. On the other hand, it is not a mere meaningless ceremony, but a solemn declaration that in accordance with the will of the Lord, bread and wine are now being separated from their common use, to be devoted to the use which the Lord commanded. It is also a prayer to the Lord to be present in the sacrament;

(b) that whenever disciples do as their Lord did, He will connect His body and blood with the earthly substances as He did at the first communion;

(c) that besides the blessing of the elements, only the giving, or distribution, and the taking, or reception, of the sacramental elements are proper and essential parts of a sacramental action. A true sacramental action is complete only where these three acts concur: consecration, distribution, reception, and outside of these acts nothing that may be done with the elements possesses the nature of a sacrament or a sacramental action. Offering the consecrated wafer for adoration is no part of the sacrament, but is a form of idolatry (artolatry), because there is no sacramental union except in the act of distributing and receiving the consecrated elements. The withdrawal of the cup from the lay communicants is an unwarranted mutilation of the sacrament (Mt 26:27; Mr 14:23). But the grossest perversion of the sacrament, and a standing reproach to the completeness of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord is the offering up of the consecrated elements as an unbloody sacrifice for the sins of the living and the dead, which is being done in the Roman mass (Heb 10:14,18).

III. Difficulties.

1. Question of Possibility:

"How can these things be?" This question might be raised against every doctrine of Scripture. The union of the natures in the God-man, the imputation of His merit to the believer, the quickening power of the word of Divine grace, the resurrection of the dead, etc., can all be subjected to the same questioning.

2. The Place of Faith in the Sacrament:

"Has faith no place in this sacrament?" Faith does not create, nor help to create the sacrament, neither the administrant’s nor the communicant’s faith. The sacrament is fully constituted in all its parts by the institutional act of the Lord and by His command to continue the observance of it. Man’s faith cannot make, man’s unbelief cannot unmake, an ordinance of God. But faith is necessary in order that a communicant may receive the blessings offered in the Eucharist, and testify to his believing relation to the Lord and to his Christian fellowship with the brethren. The sacrament bestows no blessing ex opere operato, i.e. by the mere mechanical performance of the physical act.

3. The Words of the Institution:

"Are the words of the institution part of the sacred text?" Up to the age of Paulus, they were universally regarded so, and the critical labors of Briggs, P. Gardner, Grafe, Immer, Julicher, etc., which can readily be explained by theological position of these men, lack unity of result and are offset by the labors of Scrivener, Schultzen, R.A. Hoffman, Blass, Beyschlag, etc. Christianity as yet sees no reason for discarding the words of the institution and for discontinuing the Eucharist as a Divine ordinance.

W. H. T. Dau



1. Date

2. Doctrinal

3. Tradition





The interest of this denomination in the Lord’s Supper as related to the Passover consists in two points:

(1) that the "Lord’s Supper" was not the Jewish Passover, but was eaten the evening before the Jewish feast; and

(2) that this "[[Last Supper]]" was intended to be perpetuated. This is perpetuated by the Church of the Brethren under the name of "[[Love Feast]]" (see [[Agape]]).

I. The Last Supper Was Not the Jewish Passover.

1. Date:

John gives five distinct intimations of the date:

(1)) "Now before the feast of the passover" (Pro de tes heortes tou pascha; Joh 13:1). This shows that the washing of the disciples’ feet, and the discourses at the Last Supper were before the Passover.

(2) "Buy what things we have need of for the feast" agorason hon chreian echomen eis ten heorten; Joh 13:29). This shows that the Supper (daiphon) was not the Passover feast [@heorten).

(3) "They lead Jesus therefore from Caiaphas into the Pretorium; and it was early; and they themselves entered not into the Pretorium, that they might not be defiled, but might eat the passover" (hina phagosin to pascha; Joh 18:28). This was after the Supper, early on the day of crucifixion, before the Passover.

(4) "Now it was the Preparation of the passover: it was about the sixth hour" (en de paraskeue tou pascha; Joh 19:14). This again shows conclusively that the Passover was not yet eaten. Jesus is before Pilate; it is the day of the crucifixion, and after the Last Supper.

(5) "The Jews therefore, because it was the Preparation, that the bodies should not remain on the cross upon the sabbath (for the day of that sabbath was a high day)," Joh 19:31, etc. Here we have again a reference to the Preparation (paraskeue tou pascha), and also to the Sabbath which, in this case was a "high day" (en gar megale he hemera ekeinou tou sabbatou). This shows that the Passover was eaten on Friday evening after sunset on the 15th of Nisan at the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath. Whenever the Passover fell upon the Sabbath, that Sabbath was a "high day."

2. Doctrinal:

Christ is our Passover: died at the time the Passover lamb was slain, hence, after the Last Supper.

(1) Christ died at the time the Passover lamb was slain on Friday afternoon, the 14th of Nisan, and thus became Our Passover (1Co 5:7), "For our passover also hath been sacrificed, even Christ."

(3) Jesus arose the third day and became "the first-fruits of them that are asleep" (1Co 15:4,20,23). The resurrection was on the first day of the week. The sheaf, or first-fruits, was gathered on the 16th of Nisan. Therefore Jesus must have died on Friday the 14th of Nisan, when the Passover lamb was slain; hence, after the Last Supper.

3. Tradition:

All the early traditions, both Jewish and Christian, agree that Jesus was crucified on the day of Preparation of the Passover, and they distinguish between the Passover and the Last Supper which was eaten the evening before the Jewish feast.

II. The Perpetuation of the Last Supper.

(1) Since the Last Supper was a new institution, there is no more reason for perpetuating one part than another. It is a unit, and each event of that night has its meaning and place.

(2) Jesus commanded the disciples to perpetuate feet-washing (see [[Washing of Feet]]) (Joh 13:14,15,17), and likewise He commanded the Eucharist to be perpetuated as a memorial of Him (1Co 11:24,25). Why not the Agape?

(3) The Agape was perpetuated by the apostles and disciples. They certainly understood Jesus to mean that the entire services of the Last Supper should be perpetuated, else they would not have done so.

III. Practice of the Church of the Brethren.

The "Love Feast" commemorates Jesus’ Last Supper with His disciples. These Love Feasts are held once or twice each year, always in the evening, by each local church or congregation. Preparatory services on "self-examination" (1Co 11:28) precede the ordinances. The church pews are converted into tables. The Supper (deipnon) is made ready beforehand by the deacons and deaconesses. The devotional exercises aim to accomplish special consecration, confession, and reconciliation. Before the eating of the Supper, Joh 13:1-17 is read and explained, whereupon the brethren proceed to wash one another’s feet, and the sisters likewise by themselves. All tarry one for another (1Co 11:33) until they are ready for the Supper. The officiating elder then calls upon someone to offer prayer for the meal, which is then eaten together. Another prayer of thanksgiving is offered at the close of the meal. After the meal, the officiating elder calls upon one to read the story of Christ’s sufferings (Isa 53, or Joh 19). After a short explanation of the meaning of the symbol, the communicants rise while the officiating elder gives thanks for the bread. He then turns to his brother at his right and breaks a piece of the unleavened bread for him with the words, "My beloved brother, the bread which we break is the communion of the body of Christ" (see 1Co 10:16). The brethren then break the bread one to the other, with these words. Likewise the sisters in the same manner. Again the congregation rises while the officiating elder gives thanks for the cup, which is then passed by one to the other with the words "Beloved brother (or sister), the cup of the New Testament is the communion of the blood of Christ" (1Co 10:16). This is followed by prayers of praise and thanksgiving, then a hymn (Mt 26:30) and a benediction.

IV. The Meaning and Significance of the Love Feast.

All these ordinances or symbols signify some fundamental virtue in the Christian life. We are commanded to follow our Master who is the Way and the Truth. But these symbols have a real significance, apart from merely "following" or "obeying" the Lord’s command.

(1) Feet-washing symbolized humility and service, and also the partial cleansing which all Christians need.

(2) The Agape signifies the bread-and-water covenant of brotherhood and peace. It is not only the symbol of true Christian fellowship, but is productive of such fellowship. It is also symbolic of the "Marriage Supper of the Lamb," which is supremely a symbol of joy.

(3) the Eucharist:

(a) The broken bread represents the "body of Christ" (1Co 10:16) "which is broken for you" (1Co 11:24 the King James Version); hence, the symbol of sacrifice. It is a memorial of Christ’s sufferings, and a consecration to suffer with Him. It means also feeding on Christ, whose flesh we must eat (Joh 6:35,51,53,54).

(b) The cup represents the blood of Christ (1Co 10:16; Joh 6:53,54). It is the blood covenant that symbolizes the unity of man with God (Joh 17:21). Jesus is the vine, we are the branches (Joh 15). The same mind, spirit, life and love which are in God and Christ are to be in us.


C. F. Yoder, God’s Means of Grace; R.H. Miller, Doctrine of Brethren Defended; D. W. Kurtz, Outline of the Fundamental Doctrines (all of Elgin, Illinois, U.S.A.).

Daniel Webster Kurtz

See [[Lord]]’s SUPPER.