Bible Study on the Celebration of the Lord's Supper

Have you ever wondered why the Lordís Supper is usually delivered as a small piece of bread and a small cup of grape juice? This short study looks into the practice of the Lordís Supper as described in Scripture. It does not (currently) go into the matter of children partaking in the meal. It is broken into three sections: what is the Lordís Supper, how often should it taken, and who should be allowed to partake.

Bottom Line Up Front:

1. The Lordís Supper is best understood as a modified Passover meal in memorial to Christ.
2. The Lordís Supper should be a meal, not just a wafer and a thimble of grape juice.
3. The Scriptures are not clear on how often the meal should be eaten. Certainly replacing the Passover meal with the Lordís Supper would be justified by the clear passages of the Bible.
4. The Church should only forbid those who are under church discipline from access to the Supper.

Part I

The celebration that we call the Lord's Supper is primary referenced in two places in Scripture. The first is the actual Passover meal that Christ ate with his disciples. This is recorded in the Gospels in Matthew Chapter 26, Mark Chapter 14, Luke Chapter 22, and is briefly referenced in John Chapter 13. The second primary reference is found in  1 Corinthians Chapter 11.

In the Gospels:

Matthew 26:19  And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover.

Matthew 26:26-30  And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom. And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.

Mark 14:22-25  And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many. Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God.

Luke 22:1  Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover.

Luke 22:15-20  And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come. And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.

John 13:1-4  Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him; Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.

Commentary:

We see in these passages that this meal was the celebration of the Passover. The Passover meal was a full supper, with Lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs (see Exodus Chapter 12; Exodus 12:14  "And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever.")

At this point in the Scriptures, it is not clear that Jesus was instituting this celebration for all believers, though Paul will make this point later.

1 Corinthians Chapter 11 reference:

1 Corinthians 11:20-34  When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.

For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.

Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.

For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another. And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.

Commentary: 

In these passages, Paul specifies that Jesusí commandment in the Gospels was not just for that one time. He states, ďthis do ye, as oft as ye drink it", thus making it a memorial until Christ comes again.

We also see here again that what was taking place was a complete meal. Paul was letting the Corinthian believers know that they were not taking the meal properly. People were coming hungry, as if to satisfy their own hunger and not with the purpose to show the Lord's death till he come. "One is hungry, another is drunken", Paul tells us.

If we reflect back to the passages about the Lordís Supper in the Gospels, it would seem that the meal being eaten here is what used to be the Passover Meal, but now taken in memorial to Christ rather than to the Passover event in Exodus.

Note that Christ is referred to as our passover in 1 Corinthians 5:7, "Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us."

Conclusion for Part I

While there are several unanswered questions at this point, we do see clearly that the Lordís Supper was first celebrated as the Passover meal, and that it was a full supper.

 

Part 2: How Often?

Do the Scriptures tell us clearly how often the Lordís Supper should be celebrated?

If the Passover Feast has been superseded by the Lordís Supper, then the celebration would be a meal once per year at the same time as the Passover was once celebrated.

Some point to the fact that the Apostles "broke bread" at the Last Supper, and that other Bible references to ďbreaking breadĒ may also mean that the disciples celebrated the Lordís Supper more often.

In examining this possibility, we need keep in mind that the eating and ďbreakingĒ of bread was a common occurrence at almost every meal. For example, the disciples worried when they forgot to bring enough bread to the wilderness where Jesus was preaching. In Luke 14:1, we find that bread was eaten as part of the Jewish Sabbath, "And it came to pass, as He went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him."

Some additional passages with the eating and breaking of bread:

Luke:

Luke 24:29-36  But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them. And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures? And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them, Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon. And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread. And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.

Commentary:

There is no indication here that they were celebrating the Lord's Supper. Rather, it seems it was a normal supper.

Acts:

Acts 2:42-47  And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

Commentary:

Here we see the disciples fellowshipping together. If the "breaking of bread" always meant the taking of the Lordís Supper, then here they were doing it daily; ďthey were "continuing DAILY with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house..." Rather, it seems that at least in this usage of the term, that breaking bread is simply referring to eating while fellowshipping together. Also, note that there is no specific reference here to celebrating the Lord's Supper.

Acts:

Acts 20:7-12  And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together. And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead. And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him. When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed. And they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted.

Commentary:

This passage speaks about the breaking of bread, but again the Lordís Supper is not specifically mentioned. Also, we read in Acts Chapter 2 that the disciples were meeting daily, so although the first day of the week is specifically mentioned here, it is not conclusive that Sunday worship was exclusively established at this point. It is apparent, however, that a full meal is spoken about here, and not just the eating of bread.

Acts:

Acts 27:33-36  And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take meat, saying, This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing. Wherefore I pray you to take some meat: for this is for your health: for there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you. And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat. Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took some meat.

Commentary:

Here is yet another passage with the breaking of bread. Again, it seems to be a full meal, and the Lordís Supper is not specifically mentioned.

1 Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 10:14-20  Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.

Commentary:

This passage indicates that every time the cup and the bread are blessed, that they refer to the Communion of Christ.

It is not clear if this is referring specifically to the Lordís Supper, or to every meal. As we read earlier in this paper, a blessing was given before breaking bread in even what appear to be the ďordinaryĒ meals.

The point of this passage is to contrast the meals of the Christian, which are all dedicated to the Lord, and the meals of the Gentiles that were sacrificed to idols, and to state that even though those idols amount to nothing, that we should still not participate in the Gentiles idolatry.

Conclusion for Part 2:

The Scriptures are not definitive on how often the Lordís Supper was to be celebrated. If we were to celebrate the Lordís Supper in place of the Passover meal once per year, it would certainly be in concert with what the Scriptures teach.

 

Part 3: Who can Come to the Table?

There are at least three passages that speak about not having meals with those who should be under church discipline:

1 Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 5:4-8  In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Commentary:

Here we have reference to gathering together in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and reference to a feast. It seems they are glorying, however, while having someone in their midst who is not in good standing with the Church, who should be delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh and the saving of the soul.

While it is not clear which feast is referred to here (the commentaries I looked at each had differing opinions), it does indicate that someone who is not in proper relationship to the Church should not partake in the feast.

1 Corinthians:

 1 Corinthians 5:11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.

Commentary:

This passage is fairly self explanatory. Again, someone who is acting in an unfaithful manner should not be partaking in fellowship meals.

Jude:

Jude 1:12  These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots;

 

Commentary:

This passage references "feasts of charity". Again, it is not clear what these feasts were, if they were the Lordís Supper or some other meal. It is clear, however, that the recipient of this letter is being scolded for allowing those who partake in the meal to include the ungodly.

Conclusion Part 3

In summary, it is clear that Scripture teaches that those who should be under Church discipline should not be partaking in any of the fellowship meals, regardless of whether they are the Lordís Supper or not.

About the warning in 1 Corinthians Chapter 11, it states, ďBut let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.Ē

The Scriptures do NOT state that the Church should decide who should join in the Lordís Supper, other than those that should be under discipline of the church in the first place. The church should certainly provide the warning given in 1 Cor 11, but the Scriptures do not say the Church is to do the examining.

Thus, there are only two reasons a Christian should be denied access to the Lordís Supper:

1. They are unfaithful and under church discipline or

2. They have examined themselves and been found to be unworthy in accordance with 1 Cor Chapter 11.

As for visitors and new-comers to a particular church, the church will need to decide on its policy for allowing visitors to the communion table.

Option (a): Because the church does not know anything about a new visitor, they could assume they may be in category 1, and thus in possible unfaithfulness. In this case, they may want to play it safe and deny any visitors access to the Lordís Supper. This would be a ďclosedĒ supper. With this policy, however, the church should also exclude such visitors from all fellowship meals, in order to be consistent with Scripture.

Option (b): The church could assume that visitors are faithful Christians, but be sure to state the warning of 1 Corinthians 11 in ensuring we partake of the Lordís Supper in a worthy manner. Thus, it is up to the individual to examine him or herself to ensure they are not violating Scripture.

This latter option seems to me to be the better choice, as it does not deny the Lordís Supper to His body based on an arbitrary policy, and still upholds the Word of Truth.