Barry Newman's Blog

April 17, 2012

A Table of the Lord (part IV)

The “table” in the New Testament

The word, “trapeza”, generally translated “table”, occurs 14 times in the New Testament[1].  There is one reference to the table for “the bread of the presence” of the Old Testament (Hebrews 9: 2) with almost all references referring to a table as used for food.  Ignoring the text under discussion, examples are: “He (Jesus) overturned the tables.” (Matthew 21: 12) [not tables associated with food], “The dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (Mark 7: 28), “… longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table.” (Luke 16: 21), “The hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table.” (Luke 22: 21), “You may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom.” (Luke 22: 30), “… to wait on tables.” (Acts 6:2), “He laid a table.” (Acts 16: 34) and “May their table become a trap and a snare.” [a quote from Psalm 69: 22] (Romans 11: 9).

In terms of the senses in which “trapeza” is used, the picture is very similar to that provided by the Old Testament. Sometimes the reference is to a table as an object but on a few occasions, it is really the food on the table that is the prime focus. Waiting on tables and laying a table has the meal to be served in mind. It is not always a table used for food. There is also examples of a table being spoken of “belonging to someone” – the rich man in one case and the eschatological table of Jesus in his kingdom in another.


[1] Although I do not agree with some of what Goppelt, L. says, particularly when he refers to sacramental notions that he sees in some texts, he has an interesting article on “trapeza” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, volume viii, (eds. Kittel, G and Friedrich, G.) (trans. Bromiley, G.W.), Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1972, pp. 209 – 215.  It is well worth the read.

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April 14, 2012

A Table of the Lord (part III)

The “table” in the Old Testament

The word “shulchan” (table) occurs about 66 times in the Old Testament. At heart it is a reference to an elevated structure of some sort.  More than half of the time it relates to “the table of the presence” in the tabernacle, the temple or some vision of the temple. About 25 times it is used to refer to a table or tables in other settings.  It is almost always used in some sense in association with food at least in that a table or tables is to be used, is being used or was used for food.

“The table of the presence” or the equivalent was for the placement of bread and other articles.  The bread was to be eaten by Aaron and his descendants and was almost certainly an indication of such priests sharing, as it were, a meal with God. Some incense, set alongside of the bread, was to represent the bread and was to be thought of as an offering to the Lord by fire.  See Leviticus 24: 5 – 9 for details.

Setting the references to “the table of the presence” aside, some examples are: “Let’s make a small room … and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp.” (2 Kings 4: 10) [Here there is no clear indication that the table was to be used for food], “Jonathan got up from the table in fierce anger.” (1 Samuel 20: 34) [This may or may not have been a reference to the meal rather than simply to the object on which the food had been placed.], “Two kings will sit at the same table and lie to each other.” (Daniel 11: 27), “You (Mephibosheth) will always eat at my (David’s) table.” (2 Samuel 9: 7), “Your sons will be olive shoots around your table.” (Psalm 128: 3), “All the tables (of the priests and prophets of Ephraim) are covered with vomit. (Isaiah 28: 8), “When the Queen of Sheba saw … the food on his (King Solomon’s) table …” (2 Chronicles 9: 3, 4), “You who filled a table for Fortune and filled bowls of mixed wine for Destiny …” (Isaiah 65: 11), “They spoke against God saying, ‘Can God spread a table in the desert?’” (Psalm 78: 14), “She (wisdom) has also set her table.” (Proverbs 9: 2), “They set the tables, they spread the rugs.” (Isaiah 21: 5), and the well known reference, “You (Lord) prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” (Psalm 23: 5).

Most times, the reference is primarily to the object, the table or the tables. Though not every table that is mentioned is used for food, generally the table is a table for the placement of food and sometimes the fundamental reference is to what is on the table – the food, the meal itself.  Indeed sometimes it is not clear if it is a meal or the table on which the meal has been set or indeed simply a meal even where no physical table is involved. Preparing or setting a table certainly has the meal in mind. Note also that sometimes the table is spoken of as someone’s table in particular – King David’s table, King Solomon’s table.  Here the fundamental reference would appear to be the setting, whether it involved the same table or tables or not, at which they and any of their guests traditionally came to eat.

Perhaps one should note that “the Lord’s table” is referred to in Malachi 1: 7 and 12 and “my table” (God’s) in Ezekiel 44: 16.  In each case it is a reference to the “table of the presence”.  Ezekiel 41: 22 also refers to a wooden altar identified as “the table that is before the Lord”. Additionally, Ezekiel 39: 20 records God speaking of a type of eschatological table of judgement as “my table”.

April 12, 2012

A Table of the Lord (part II)

By way of introduction (continued)

One of the reasons, probably the main reason and perhaps often the only reason why translators have traditionally inserted the definite article before “cup” and “table” is because they have thought that the reference is to something like a cup and table used in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion or the Eucharist.  In effect they read back into the text “celebrations” of one persuasion or another, with which we are familiar today and with which we have been familiar for many centuries.

Thiselton in his work, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine devotes a chapter to “The Hermeneutics of Word and Sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist”[1].  To a large extent the aim of this chapter is to illustrate how what one understands by Biblical texts that appear to deal with or are considered to deal with these issues, is very largely influenced by one’s previous beliefs about these issues.  In a very “generous” manner, without attempting to show how one group is correct and another incorrect, Thiselton illustrates how people coming from various, in particular, Protestant or Lutheran traditions arrive at different understandings of certain texts on the basis of their beliefs about the sacraments. I believe his thesis certainly applies to various understandings of 1 Corinthians 10: 21 no matter what Christian tradition one hales from.

I guess I am no different in that only a few years ago I began to approach this text as though it had nothing to do with any sacrament. The task before any of us, however, is to assess whether or not there are good reasons for understanding a text this way or that.  Focussing on the phrase, “a table of the Lord”, the aim of this blog series is to present a case that suggests that this phrase has nothing to do with any practice associated with a sacrament, no matter what is understood by that sacrament or by what name it is called.

As stated above I have already argued in a previous blog series that “a cup of the Lord” is most likely a reference to “toasting the Lord”.  As believers, the Corinthians are no longer to toast any of the gods.  The only toast that is legitimate for them is the one to the Lord.  They certainly cannot do, must not attempt to do, both. That is, the reference is not necessarily to some special Christian custom associated with a sacrament such as the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion, or Eucharist, even if in primitive form.  Once it is understood that “a cup of the Lord” is not necessarily so associated, the case is weakened that “a table of the Lord” must itself necessarily be a reference to something pertaining to the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion or the Eucharist, in whatever stage of development.


[1] Thiselton, A.C., The Hermeneutics of Doctrine, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 2007, pp. 509 – 540

April 9, 2012

A Table of the Lord (part I)

A table of the Lord

By way of introduction

1 Corinthians 10: 21 is commonly translated, something like, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons.  You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.”

In a previous blog series I illustrated that in the Graeco – Roman literature a reference to “drinking a cup of …” is a reference to toasting someone – normally one of the gods. (The genitive case is commonly involved but where for various reasons, the accusative or dative case is used, the reference to a toast, one way or another, still applies.)  On this basis I argued that the most reasonable understanding of the first part of 1 Corinthians 10: 21 is that it refers to toasting (drinking in honour of) the Lord and not toasting any of the gods. “A cup of the Lord” is a reference to a toast to (drinking in honour of) the Lord but not necessarily to a special cup, as though there were a particular cup, set aside for toasting the Lord.

It should be noted that in both sections of the text, there are no definite articles.  Furthermore, there appears to be little if any evidence that there ever was a specific table or cup devoted to a group of gods.  That is, it appears to be a little strange to have a translation that refers to “the cup of demons” or “the table of demons”. Presumably translators insert the definite article for reasons of consistency.  Having inserted it before “table of the Lord” and before “cup of the Lord”, they insert it before “table of demons” and “cup of demons” as well.  (Of course, no one objects to inserting the definite article before a proper noun, such as “Lord”, even though the article does not appear in the Greek.  Proper nouns may or may not be accompanied by a definite article in the Greek, but in English we normally insert it where appropriate in a translation.)

A more cautious translation and one which does not suggest a probable false understanding of tables and cups associated with the gods would be as follows:

“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.”

As an alternative, it could be that we are meant to translate the text as:

“You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and a cup of demons.  You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and a table of demons”, but we should not do so automatically.

Reference to “the cup of the Lord” would then probably be a reference to a special toast to the Lord or even a special cup that was used to make that special toast to the Lord.  A brief suggestion on how we might understand “the table of the Lord” rather than “a table of the Lord”, while not denying the main thesis of this blog series, will be made later.

July 16, 2011

The Cup of the Lord (Full Series PDF)

Filed under: Eucharist,Holy Communion,Lord's Supper,The cup of the Lord — barrynewman @ 5:54 am

Here is the full series

July 14, 2011

The Cup of the Lord (part 3)

Filed under: Eucharist,Holy Communion,Lord's Supper,The cup of the Lord — barrynewman @ 11:18 pm

The Cup of the Lord? (Part 3)

The following should now be noted:

(i)  For all forty five (45) instances, the general context is that of giving a toast.

(ii) The Greek text of 1 Corinthians 10: 21a is:  “ou dunasthe poterion kuriou pinein kai poterion daimonion.”

(iii) Both “Lord” and “demons” (a reference to the deities) are in the genitive case.

(iv) As far as is known, there is no such thing as “the cup of demons”. There was this cup or that cup used in honour of this or that deity.  However presumably for reasons of consistency, translators of the Corinthian text, inserting the definite article before “cup of the Lord” also place it before, “cup of demons”.  The use of “the” in “the cup of demons” could be taken to mean “any cup of the demons” but it could also be misleading indicating that it was common to have a single cup used for demons (deities) considered collectively.

(v) Given that the verb pinein (to drink) accompanies “Lord” which noun is not in the dative case, the text itself is not referring to a cup that has been “poured out to”, “dedicated to” or “rendered to” the Lord.  This is not to say however, that there could be no special reference being made to the Lord by way of using a cup.

(vi) It could be argued that “a cup of the Lord” is a reference to a cup marked for designated use, that is, one especially set aside for him.  However there is nothing in the text which would clearly indicate that.  For instance if a lettered cup were in mind then the presence of the Greek word, “grammatikon” in “grammatikon poterion” would have made that clear.  Again, the presence of “organon” in “organon Kuriou” would have indicated that it was designated for the Lord.  The use of a definite article would have implied the same.

(vii) The Greek word poterion is generic for a cup of any description.  Paul makes no reference to any special cup.

(viii) The use of the verb, to drink (pinein) in the Corinthian text indicates that the actual act of using a cup in order to drink from it is in mind.

(ix) The two words, poterion kuriou, with “Lord” occurring in the genitive, together with the verb “to drink”, appear to be a reference to the common custom of toasting.

(x) The general context for 1 Corinthians 10: 1 to 10: 33 concerns meals – what the Corinthians should and should not eat at their meals.

(xi) Multiple toasts occurred at many Graeco-Roman meals. The gentiles at Corinth, now that they had become believers, had to change how they drank at their meals.

Conclusion: It would appear that a reasonable translation for 1 Corinthians 10: 21a would be along the lines of: “You cannot drink a cup to the Lord and to demons”. That is, Paul is exclaiming, “You cannot, you must not, toast or honour the Lord and at the same time, toast or honour any of the deities at your meals.  You may only toast the Lord!”  No longer should they toast, “Zeus, Saviour”.  Their toast will be to “The Lord, the only Saviour”.

July 10, 2011

The Cup of the Lord ? (part 2)

Filed under: Eucharist,Holy Communion,Lord's Supper,The cup of the Lord — barrynewman @ 12:44 am

The Cup of the Lord? (part 2)

Of the forty five (45) instances examined, three (3) refer to a deity in the accusative case, the deity being the direct object of the verb involved.  Example: “With the first cup of diluted wine given after dinner they call upon (epiphoneo) Zeus Saviour.”[1]  All relate to the giving of a toast.

Eight (8) instances occur in the dative case and they relate to one or more gods or “the heroes”.  In each instance, the verb has as its indirect object the deity, deities or “the heroes”.  Examples: “Every time that they filled it up they would make a libation (apospendo) to the gods from the phiale”; “We have seen a lettered cup of that sort dedicated (anakeimai) to Diana in Capua in Campania”; “Theophrastus in his treatise On Drunkenness says that the cup called the rhyton is rendered (apodidomi) only to the heroes”; “With a filled skypphos I drank it out (ekpino) to the white crested Erxion.”  Again, all relate to the giving of a toast.

The thirty four (34) remaining instances occur in the genitive case and as with the above, all relate to the giving of a toast. There is one (1) instance where the reference is to “the name of” – “He brandished a large metaniptris over which the name of Hygieia was pronounced”. There are four (4) instances of a lettered cup. Examples: “There were eleven [letters] weren’t there, in gold dedicating it to Saviour Zeus? (Dios Soteros has eleven letters); “The tragic poet Achaeus in Omphale, also mentions a lettered cup and represents the satyrs saying this about it: ‘The cup of the god has long been inviting me’”.   There is one (1) reference to a cup described as an instrument of a god – the cup called a therikleios is described as “the tool of Zeus Saviour”.

Often the expression used is an idiomatic one (see some of the examples above) where reference to a cup is taken as a reference to the wine in the cup. (In English we often use a similar idiomatic expression.)  (The cup itself can be spoken of as either diluted or undiluted.) There are a number of such instances in the remaining twenty eight (28) cases.  In some however, the idiomatic usage could be understood as going a step further.  The actual reference is to what is drunk, but the cup, used as a toast to a deity, should probably be understood as a “to a deity cup”.  Occasionally, there is not even mention of a cup, whatever its type.

Examples: “Everyone raised a large Zeus Saviour akatos” (or a large akatos to Zeus Saviour); “The undiluted Good Deity[2] phiale (or the undiluted phiale to the Good Deity) that I downed, finished me off completely”; “Fill for him a Hygieia metaniptris (or a metaniptris to Hygieia”); “Gulping down a Good Deity metaniptris (or a metaniptris to the Good Deity)”; “I’ve had enough of eating but I can accept the handles (of the cup understood) of a Good Deity”; “You jumped up and left without first taking a Good Deity or a Zeus Saviour”.  (Remember, all twenty eight (28) instances have the deity in the genitive case.)  Some of these expressions could be understood as a reference to a cup designated, perhaps by lettering, for exclusive use in the toast of a specific deity, though the evidence is not explicit.

In the majority of cases, where the genitive is used, it is arguable that an adequate English translation would employ the word, “to” or the phrase “in honour of” or something similar.  Examples: “It is the custom they say, when undiluted wine is served during a meal to greet it with the words, ‘To the Good Deity’ but when the cup is passed around after the meal diluted with water, to cry out, ‘To Zeus, Saviour’”[3]; “I have drunk respectfully to King Ptolemy from a chutridion”;  “After dinner most of the guests called for a cup to the Good Deity, some to Zeus, saviour, others to Hygieia, one selecting one deity, another, another”;  “From a very large lepaste she drinks up undiluted wine in honour of the Good Deity”; “Archilochus, accept this metaniptris in honour of Zeus Saviour and the Good Deity”; “The undiluted wine offered after dinner, which they refer to it as a drink in honour of the Good Deity, is taken only in small quantities”.


[1]Most translations are dependent to some extent on those of C. B. Gulick.  His work is entitled, “Athenaeus, The Deipnosophists” and occurs in seven volumes in the LOEB Classical Library series.   Books xi and xv, being the ones consulted, are to be found in volumes V and VII respectively.  However to some extent I have tried to independently assess the Greek text.

[2]A more literal translation of the deity would be “Good Demon” – a way of referring to Dyonisus.  Since however, the reference to a demon was not necessarily a reference to an evil being, but a common way of referring to a god, I will use “Good Deity” as it is less misleading.

[3] In the forty five instances examined, the “Good Deity” and “Zeus” are by far the most common deities mentioned.

July 8, 2011

The Cup of the Lord?

Filed under: Eucharist,Holy Communion,Lord's Supper,The cup of the Lord — barrynewman @ 12:15 am

The Cup of the Lord? (Part 1)

Traditionally, in protestant circles, the phrase translated “the cup of the Lord” in 1 Corinthians 10: 21 has been understood to refer simply to “the cup” used in what is translated, “The Lord’s Supper” in 1 Corinthians 11: 20.  Unfortunately this is a mistaken notion and in two important respects.  However in this mini-series I will refer to only one of these and focus on the phrase, “the cup of the Lord”.

Firstly, the Greek for this phrase knows of no definite articles and unless there is a strong reason to the contrary, the definite article should not appear in the translation.  There is a case for “the” appearing in connection with “Lord” since “Lord” is a proper noun.  However, unless it can be established that “cup” in association with “the Lord” forms a phrase which takes on the character of a formal designation, then the translation should refer to, “a cup”.

An examination was carried out on forty five (45) Greek texts, dating from the 4th century BC until the 3rd century AD, referring to a cup, of one sort or another, in association the mention of a god, gods, “the heroes” or the name of a human being. The points of interest were (i) the grammatical case assigned to the god, gods, “the heroes” or the named person, (ii) the context, and (iii) where relevant, any verb used in close association with the cup or the beings to which reference is made.

Most of the examples were related to a god, and the vast majority came from an early 3rd century AD work by Athenaeus, entitled Deipnosophistai (The Deipnosophists).  The lengthy work, originally consisting of fifteen books, feigns to be a record by Athenaeus of a series of banquet conversations.  In his account he cites numerous (over 700) Greek authors of prior times and a very large number of Greek writings (around 2, 500).  All of the texts examined came from books xi and xv.  Some are closely related.  They are related in terms of their proximity to each other in the text or in terms of the same text being cited more than once but in a different form.

When reading Athenaeus one is reminded of the considerable part played by the drinking of wine in Greaco-Roman formal dinner gatherings.  Such occasions were common amongst various groups of people, particularly the “middle” and “upper” classes and for a variety of reasons. One of the many interests of Athenaeus was to describe various types of cups (he names about 100 in book xi) and their use.

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