October 16, 2009
The Lord’s Supper Today
What of the service or ceremony, called, “the Lord’s Supper” or “Holy Communion” conducted by various Christian denominations in different ways over the years and today? It is a token meal, not a real meal, but also a ceremony. Just as Paul argued that circumcision, food restrictions and special day observances do not in themselves achieve anything, so the same can be said for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion. However, it can be a very valuable custom. It can help us to seriously reflect on the death of the Lord Jesus and its significance. It can remind us of things that we might tend to forget. Yet, we must not invest it with anything that is improper. We must rid it of error so that we are not led astray and do not lead others astray. Taking part in a service of “The Lord’s Supper” or “Holy Communion” does not make anyone right with God. It does not bestow any special benefits. It cannot. It is only a ceremony. However, if we find it helpful to participate in such a ceremony, then presumably we will take part in that ceremony. And if we do so, how frequently should that be? That is a matter of choice! No one should make demands of us but neither should we make demands of others. Any participation in such a service can be helpful but it is not mandatory.
We must seek to honour the Lord Jesus Christ – not ourselves and not our ceremonies. We are free from the Law. We are recipients of the mercy and grace of God. We have been justified by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and we live by, and must walk by, the Spirit. The ceremony of baptism in itself avails nothing. The ceremony of Holy Communion in itself avails nothing. Christ and his death are everything. We will glory in him!
Barry Newman Christ Church St Ives 19th July 2009 v. 2
October 14, 2009
There was a request by Jesus for his disciples to view the Last Passover Meal in a new way. Whenever such a Passover meal was to be held in the future, by any of his followers, they were to interpret the meal differently to the way that any had done in the past. They were to remember that he, by his death, was the ultimate saviour who delivers his people from the consequences of their sins. It would be a once a year remembrance. However, because his followers, Jews and Gentiles, had this one common allegiance to the Lord who had died for them they often came together to share a meal but more frequently than once a year. Yet at these meals there was no requirement for them to conduct a Christian ceremony nor does it appear that they did so. If the request of Jesus was meant to be an instruction applicable beyond Passover meals and to be understood as a commandment for his people, both Jews and Gentiles, for all time, it is odd that of all the Gospels, only Luke records the words, “Do this in remembrance of me”. One would expect to find such a global and important commandment to be found in all Gospels. Furthermore, unless one considers the sentiments of 1 Corinthians 11: 23 – 26 to constitute the single exception, no such instruction is given by Paul, James, Peter or John in any of their letters.
Many of the Corinthian Christians came from and still lived in a pagan world and had to be careful about what they ate at their meals, community or otherwise. They were to refrain from eating meat that they knew had been offered to idols. Neither the wine they drank, nor the bread they ate, indeed, nothing about their meals, was to be associated with the gods of the pagan world. When, as Christians, they shared meals with each other they were to recognise the bond that they had with each other because they had the one Lord who had died for them. They were to treat one another as all one in Christ and this was to be evident in the conduct of their meals. They came together to eat. They did not come to participate in a Christian ceremony. When Paul refers to, as the translators have it, “The Lord’s Supper” it is not his title for a Christian ceremony. He is making a reference to a meal which does not have the Lord’s stamp upon it. It does not seem that there ever was a ceremony or rite observed by Christians of the New Testament reflective of the Last Passover Meal. Given the nature of the gospel and the freedom from Law that it entails – for freedom Christ has set us free (Gal. 5: 1) it would at least be very odd if not contradictory for there to be any ceremony the observance of which was mandatory.
If we were to have a community meal like the Corinthian Christians we would need to get it right where they got it wrong. It would need to be a meal in which Christ, the one who died for us and by that death brought us together, was honoured. We would love one another no matter what our differences in education, social standing, gender, or culture because we would see ourselves as all one under Christ, the Christ who died for us Others would know that we were disciples of Jesus because of the love that we would display towards one another (John 13: 35). It would be “Christ Centred Fellowship” – “Christ Centred Communion.” And Christ’s death and its significance for us would be obvious. The Lord’s death would be proclaimed.
October 12, 2009
The Christian Corinthian Community Meals: 1 Corinthians 11: 17-34 (continued)
In reporting on what Jesus said at the Last Passover Meal (vv. 23-25) Paul is careful to include the word, “whenever” and he pointedly uses the word, “this” four times – “this is my body”, “do this in remembrance of me”, “this cup is the new covenant” and “do this whenever you drink it in remembrance of me”. Having quoted the words of Jesus, he immediately says, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink the cup …”. (A second “this” does not appear in the Greek. While the word “bread” can be used to refer to a meal as a whole, the word “cup” cannot be used to do the same thing.) That is, he writes the “this” of the Last Passover Meal into the “this” of their meal, by referring to “this bread” and adds “the cup”, referring to the wine of their meal. Both “bread” and “cup” are meant to be reflective of the Last Passover Meal. It is his way of shocking them into realising how abominable their behaviour is. They were to understand the words of Jesus, “Do this in remembrance of me” and “Do this whenever you drink it in remembrance of me” (vv. 24, 25) as indicating that the death of Jesus and its significance was never to be forgotten. Its relevance was to permeate the way they lived including how they conducted themselves on those occasions when, because of their relationship with him, they met together to participate in a meal.
On this basis, verses 26 – 29 could be understood as follows: “So you see, whenever you eat this bread, your meal, (I am reflecting on the bread of the Last Passover Meal) and whenever you drink the cup, your wine, (I am reflecting on the cup of the Last Passover Meal), at your Christian community meals, the death of the Lord is, or should always be, proclaimed, until he comes again, by the way you behave at those meals. So, whoever eats the bread, your meal, and drinks the cup, your wine, at your Christian community meals, (meals that you participate in because of the relationship you have with each other through the death of the Lord), in an unworthy manner, is guilty of the death of the Lord. (I refer to his body and blood.) (He is guilty of the Lord’s death because he has treated the death of the Lord with disdain.) A man, anyone, (but perhaps particularly the host, as the person responsible for the conduct of the meal) should reflect on what his perceptions are, before he eats the bread, his meal, and before he drinks the cup, his wine. Because, anyone who eats and drinks without perceiving the true nature of the body of the Lord (his people) eats and drinks in such a manner as to bring God’s judgement upon himself.” Of course, the actual straightforward statement made by Paul is not at all stilted in style like the above rendition!
That is, in 1 Corinthians 11: 17 – 34 there does not appear to be a reference to a Christian ceremony, let alone a rite, with elements reminiscent of the Last Passover Meal. However there is a reference to a meal and the behaviour of the Corinthians at that meal. It is their behaviour at that meal which is meant to demonstrate the significance of the death of the Lord Jesus – that death so poignantly referred to, by him, during the last Passover Meal.
October 10, 2009
The Christian Corinthian Community Meals: 1 Corinthians 11: 17-34 (continued)
What are we to make of Paul’s reference to the Last Passover Meal in chapter 11? Contrary to what is commonly suggested, Paul nowhere makes an explicit argument such as, “see how the conduct of your meal is in contrast with your Christian ceremony, which in turn has its origin in the Last Passover Meal.” What we find is Paul discussing their meal (vv. 17 – 22), referring to the Last Passover Meal (vv. 23 – 25) and the next moment, arguably referring to their meal again (vv. 26 – 34). The movement from v. 25 to v. 26 is an abrupt one. Contrasting their meal, in some way, with the Last Passover Meal, the most significant of all meals, was going to be more striking than any comparison involving some Christian ceremony. And he uses a very powerful literary strategy to do this for maximum effect. Having, as it where, brought the Last Passover Meal alongside of their meal he applies it to their meal, as though it were their meal, His unusually harsh language has been accompanied by this unusual literary device. However his literary strategy is not without some type of precedent. The Greek philosopher Plutarch wrote of various meals to illustrate how conversations at the formal meals of his world should be conducted. The Jewish Christian Paul quoted the words of Jesus at the Last Passover Meal to argue for how the Corinthian Christians should behave at their formal meals.
 C. K. Barrett came to a similar understanding in The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Hendrickson, Peabody, MA, 1968, p. 264 and Church, ministry and sacraments in the New Testament, Paternoster, Exeter, 1985, p. 67, 68, 70
 J.W. Woodhouse and G. May have a similar view. For their understanding of the issue in general see, Woodhouse, J.W., “What is this meal?”, Briefing, 123, October, 1993, pp. 2 – 6, Woodhouse, J. W., “The Body of the Lord”, Briefing, 124, November, 1993, pp. 2 – 5; May, G., “The Lord’s Supper Ceremony or Relationship? Making a Meal of it in Corinth, Part 1: Meals in the Gospels and Acts”, Reformed Theological Review 60 (3), December 2001, pp. 138 – 150 and May, G., “The Lord’s Supper: Ceremony or Relationship? Making a Meal of it in Corinth, Part 2: Meals at Corinth, Reformed Theological Review, 61 (1), April 2002, pp. 1 – 18
 See Smith, D.E., From Symposium to Eucharist – The Banquet in the Early Christian World, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2003, pp. 47 – 49
October 8, 2009
The Christian Corinthian Community Meals: 1 Corinthians 11: 17-34 (continued)
What of the phrase, “the Lord’s Supper” (1 Cor. 11: 20)? There is no definite article “the” in the Greek and the word “Lord” is the adjective, rarely used in the New Testament, not the very commonly used noun. The adjective implies “ownership” and is sometimes used of an emperor who “owns” a decree – it has his authority or stamp upon it. Verse 20 literally reads, “When you come together it is not to eat a meal that is owned by the Lord” – that is, has his stamp upon it. “The Lord’s Supper” or more correctly, “A meal of the Lord” is not a title to any Christian ceremony or rite.
Perhaps the first English text to translate the Greek as “the Lord’s Supper” was made by Wycliffe in the 14th century. He believed it was a reference to a Christian ceremony, understood as a rite, the common name for which was the “Eucharist”. Possibly, Protestants who wanted to avoid or at least have a substitute for the term “Eucharist” could see the value of using a term, “The Lord’s Supper” or later, the term, “Holy Communion.” Of course, the Roman Catholics, the Lutherans and the Reformed Protestants all understood the Christian ceremony, understood as a rite, differently but all thought that Paul was referring to a Christian ceremony, that is a rite, somewhere in 1 Corinthians 11. We must not blame the reformers for not getting it all right. How could they? Their problems were so immense, their tasks so great.
October 7, 2009
The Christian Corinthian Community Meals: 1 Corinthians 11: 17 – 34
Chapter 11 begins with an issue entirely unrelated to eating and drinking – the matter of head coverings. However verses 17 – 34 return to the subject of meals – the meals that the Christian Corinthians had as a Christian community. But what Paul writes here has nothing to do with idolatry. (Commentators, who see the “Lord’s Supper” of chapter 11 in chapter 10, do so in spite of a distinct change in subject matter.) These Christian Corinthians had meals together because that is what Corinthians did, whatever their allegiances. However what bound the Christians together in their meals was the Lord Jesus who had died for them. Sharing a meal with each other would have provided a social benefit as well, given that having meals with non-believers would have become less frequent.
Those who attended these meals came from a large variety of backgrounds. Most might have been reasonably well off but some would have been poor. Adopting the common convention, the well to do would have brought along fine meals and consumed them. The poor would have brought along meagre meals and except for any basics supplied by the host that is all that they would have to eat. Paul is deeply disturbed. He is scathing in his attack on what is happening. Rightly, they came together because of the Lord – they were one in Christ. Consequently, however, such appalling differences should not be occurring. Paul accuses them of not recognising the body of Christ, that is, his corporate people, for what they really were. He charges them with not treating the death of Christ as the death for all, which makes them one. They are treating the death of Christ in a despicable manner. The judgement of God is called for. Paul has the simple solution. When you come together, share with one another (not “wait for one another” – a common translation) and so avoid the judgement of God (vv. 27 – 33). As a final word he seems to say, “If you rich think you will not obtain enough to eat by this procedure, go and eat at home.” It was the rich who ate in their houses, not the poor who ate outside or at a type of fast food outlet.
October 3, 2009
Corinthian Christians and their participation in Meals: 1 Corinthians 8 -10 (continued)
In verses 10: 19 – 20 the notion of participation is mentioned again. Verse 19 relates to the idea that those who eat sacrificial food are somehow in partnership with what the sacrifice is all about and in verse 20 Paul exclaims that he does not want the Corinthians to be in partnership with demons. 1 Corinthians 10: 21, contrary to almost all translations, literally reads, “You cannot drink a cup of the Lord and a cup of demons. You cannot partake of a table of the Lord and a table of demons”. For Paul “demons” are the spirits associated with idols. Presumably translators add the definite article, “the,” four times in this text because they believe that a reference is being made to a Christian ceremony or more explicitly a rite and out of consistency they find themselves also having to refer to “the cup of demons” and “the table of demons”. This is in spite of the fact that there was no definitive, single cup of demons or table of demons! However if Paul is still writing about having ordinary meals, and in the verses following it is obvious that he still has meals in mind, then he can be understood to be saying, something like, “You cannot participate in a meal in which both the one and only Lord and any of the spirits of the idolatrous world are invoked. It would be an absolute betrayal of the Lord who saved you.” (Paul probably chooses to use the second person plural, “you”, because he himself does not wish to be associated in any way, even hypothetically, with idolatrous behaviour.) Verses 16 and 17 may refer to Christian Community meals with verse 21 referring to more private Christian meals or Christian meals of any sort. The reference to “a table” was a common way of referring to “a meal”.
There does not appear to be a reference to a Christian ceremony, let alone a rite, reflective of the Last Passover Meal in Chapter 10: 16 – 17, 19 – 20 of 1 Corinthians.
October 1, 2009
Corinthian Christians and their participation in Meals: 1 Corinthians 8 -10
Well, what of the Corinthian Christians and the meals in which they participated? In 1 Corinthians 8 – 10 Paul deals with the subject of eating meat that has knowingly been offered to idols. He considers a number of scenarios, including eating meat in the precincts of a pagan temple, a not uncommon occurrence for Corinthians, buying meat in the market place, and being a guest at a dinner where meat is served. One of his concerns is how the behaviour and thinking of sensitive believers might be badly affected by the behaviour of those who were less sensitive to the issue. The idolatry associated with such meat was so strong that Paul in the end seems to argue that no matter what the circumstances, if a believer knows that the meat has previously been part of a pagan temple offering, for his own sake and for the sake of others, believers and unbelievers, he should abstain. The Corinthian Christians should have nothing to do with and be seen to have nothing to do with idolatry.
Within this setting, 10: 16, 17 reads, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” It has commonly been thought that here Paul is referring to a Christian ceremony, or more explicitly, a rite, perhaps as part of a Christian meal, to support his argument about not eating meat that had been offered to idols. However, it might simply be a reference to how these Christians should see their community meals, independently of any ceremony, as a further way of arguing the same thing.
Compared to other community meals in the Greek world, their meals were most unusual. Perhaps few or no other groups that met together to share meals were so heterogeneous. At these meals you would find Jews, gentiles, members of the upper classes, members of the lower classes, free people, slaves, women and men. What brought them together? What unified them? It was the gospel, the focus of which was the Lord Jesus Christ who died for them. He was the one who gave them this unity. With this in mind, 10: 16, 17 could be understood as follows: “(When together we drink our wine with thanks it is not offered as a shared toast to the gods.) Is not our thanksgiving cup drunk with thanks by us who share in the Christ who shed his blood for us? (When we share our meal it is not because we share an allegiance to the gods.) Is not our breaking of bread, our sharing, a oneness in Christ? Though many, we are one because we share in the one who is our bread, our sustenance.” The reference here is to having Christian community meals not Christians participating in a ceremony. Their participation with each other was made possible because of their participation in the death of Christ. Their world and the idolatrous world were worlds apart. Participation in the death of Christ is being caught up in that death with all its benefits, that death by which believers are rescued.
If in these verses, Paul is referring to a well established ceremony, it is odd that the precise Greek for the phrase, literally, “the cup of blessing which we bless,” is unknown in the writings of the Early Fathers until the 4th century. Neither is its equivalent known in Mishnaic Hebrew. This was a type of Hebrew that was probably in use and associated with occasions such as the Passover meal around the time of Jesus. Furthermore, if it is claimed that the supposed ceremony would have been reflective of the Last Passover Meal, why does Paul mention the cup before the bread? If however a community meal is in mind, it would be natural to mention the wine first, as wine commonly began such meals and was such a prominent part of them. (The use by Paul of the first person plural, “we”, may indicate Paul’s common engagement in such meals himself.) Paul does not seem to be using technical language at all, language you might expect if he were referring to an established ceremony or rite. Rather he seems to be using highly metaphorical language that is also perhaps reflective of language that Jesus used at the Last Passover Meal.