Barry Newman's Blog

October 11, 2012

The Sacraments (part IV)

Filed under: The Sacraments — barrynewman @ 12:49 am

The Cup of Blessing

1 Corinthians 10: 16, 17 is generally assumed to contain liturgy associated with a Lord’s Supper ceremony and, for example, the opening phrase, “the cup of blessing which we bless” to have its origin in Passover meals. However the phrase is unknown in the Mishnaic Hebrew of that era. The first occurrence of the phrase in Greek, actually a shortened version of it, is not found until late in the 2nd century.

The full phrase is first found outside of the New Testament in the writings of John Chysostom of the 4th century (twice)[1]. The shorter phrase, “the cup of blessing” occurs in a text written by Irenaeus late in the 2nd century[2]and again twice in a work by Adamantius in the 4th century[3]. The yet shorter phrase, “cup of blessing”, is first found in an early 3rd century text by Origen[4] and then again in the 4th century in a work by Cyril of Jerusalem[5],[6].

However, let us examine the text on its own merits. 1 Corinthians 8 to 10 is concerned with the need for the Corinthians to distance themselves from idolatrous beliefs and practices associated with food.  In general, formal and informal meals in the Graeco-Roman world were idolatrous in character and formal meals in particular where marked by much drinking of wine.  Given the context and the cultural background, 1 Corinthians 10: 16, 17 is probably to be understood as follows, “In our meals, 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.”  Though the text may have overtones of the Last Passover Meal and though it is probably a reference to believers’ community meals, it is quite unlikely that a Lord’s Supper celebration is in mind.  If it were so, why would not the bread be mentioned before the cup?  When John Chrysostom and Irenaeus refer to both the bread and the cup in the texts cited, understandably, they mention the bread before the cup!

[1] John Chrysostom, Homily 24 on The first letter to the Corinthians, vol. 61, p 199, l. 43 , l. 63

[2]  Irenaeus, Fragment 36, l. 17 He associates it with the oblation of the Eucharist.

[3]Adamantius, On a right Faith in God, p. 108, l. 18; p. 184, l. 19

[4] Origen, Homily 12 on Jeremiah, sect. 2, l. 22 In this passage Origen, characteristically using analogies, likens diluted wine as the drink of the righteous but undiluted wine as the drink of the wicked.

[5] Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechesis 13, ch. 6, l. 13 

[6] There is a reference to “cup of blessing in the 3rd – 4th century or later work, Joseph and Aseneth, ch. 8, sect. 11,l.5 but it is unrelated to our subject.


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