Barry Newman's Blog

May 19, 2010

Christ Centred Communion – Further Thoughts (part I)

Filed under: Christ Centred Communion — barrynewman @ 11:03 pm

References in the first few centuries to a Christian rite associated with the elements of a meal and references to meals that Christians shared with each other

Hippolytus of Rome – The Lord’s Supper

In the earlier series I noted that except for one document of uncertain date, there is no evidence that anyone referred to “what some might claim was akin to the Lord’s Supper, by the title ‘The Lord’s Supper’”.  The text of that particular document, purportedly written by Hippolytus of Rome, with a possible date of ca. 215 A.D. has been difficult to reconstruct and the authorship and date are disputed.  The relevant sentence has been translated, “The catechumen may not take part in the Lord’s Supper.”[1]  Previously I argued that 1 Corinthians 11: 20 should be translated something like, “When you come together[2] it is not to eat a meal with which the Lord is associated.”  Furthermore I made the claim that the words, “the Lord’s Supper” or similar that appear in our translations are in fact not a title to anything, let alone a ritual or ceremony.  There is no definite article in the Greek and the adjective “Lordly”, conveying the idea of ownership, is used rather than the noun “Lord”.  As part of a negative statement, Paul is claiming that their meals, being disgraceful in the way they are conducted, are not owned by the Lord. 

Pliny’s Letter to Trajan (ca 112 A.D.) – The Meetings of Early Christians

Outside of the New Testament, one of the earliest references to followers of Christ coming together to share a meal, is found in a letter by Pliny the Younger, reporting to the Emperor Trajan.  He wrote, “It was their habit on a fixed day to assemble before daylight and recite by turns a form of words to Christ as god; and that they bound themselves with an oath [sacramentum], not for any crime, but not to commit theft or robbery or adultery, not to break their word and not to deny a deposit when demanded.  After this was done, their custom was to depart, and to meet again to take food, but ordinary and harmless food; and even this (they said) they had given up doing after the issue of my edict by which in accordance with your commands I had forbidden the existence of clubs.”[3]  If Pliny understood matters correctly, it seems that the followers of Christ he referred to met before daybreak but not for a meal.  They had a meal together but that was in the evening.  The meal may have been somewhat more formal than a normal family meal but it was certainly a meal.


[1] Hippolytus, The Treatise on the Apostolic Tradition, 27: 1,2, see http:\\www.bombaxo.com/hippolytus.html

[2] The RSV begins its translation with the words, “When you meet together”.  Presumably this is its way of incorporating into “When you come together” the Greek, “epi to auto” perhaps understood to mean something like, “in the same place”.  In fact, Paul might be using irony here. He might be referring to their coming together because they have something in common, when in reality, when they come together they eat as though they do not have much in common.

[3] Pliny, Epistolae, X. 96,7 in A New Eusebius, Stevenson, J. (ed.) S.P.C.K., London, 1965, p. 14

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