Saturday, 1 November 2014

Questions About the Lord's Supper

Q: Is alcoholic wine to be used in the Lord’s Supper?

     We read of Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper in Matt. 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; and Luke 22:14-20; cf. 1 Cor. 11:23-26. The bread is unleavened (Matt. 26:17; Mark 14:12), representing Christ’s body. The cup containing “the fruit of the vine” (Matt. 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18) represents Christ’s blood, shed “for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28).
     Leaven or yeast (zumē) was prohibited in all grain offerings to God (Lev. 2:11; 6:14-17). Because leaven permeates and ferments, it is metaphorically applied to pervading and corrupting influences (Matt. 13:33; Luke 13:21; Gal. 5:9), including doctrinal error and corrupt behavior (1 Cor. 5:6-8). Jesus warned about the “leaven” or negative influence of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and Herod [Antipas] (Matt. 16:6, 11, 12; Luke 12:1; Mark 8:15; cf. 3:6; 6:14-28; 12:13).
     The Greek word oinos, often translated “wine” in our English Bibles, is never employed with reference to the Lord’s Supper. The expression used is gennema tas ampelou (“fruit of the vine”), contextually meaning the juice of grapes (cf. Lev. 25:5; Rev. 14:18). The same species of yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) converts carbohydrates to carbon dioxide in bread (causing it to rise) and to alcohol in grape juice (causing it to ferment). Seeing that yeast (leaven) was prohibited in the Passover bread (Deut. 16:3), it follows that the same would be absent from the fruit of the vine, i.e. non-alcoholic.

Q: When is the Lord’s Supper to be observed?

     The church assemblies at Corinth had regressed into something they were not supposed to be (1 Corinthians 11:17). Paul writes in v. 20, “Therefore when you come together in one place [epi to auto], it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper” (NKJV) or “When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat” (ESV). The implication of this reprimand, in light of what the apostle goes on to write, is that communion (cf. 10:16) was to be observed when these brethren assembled together, yet their abuses and misbehavior had rendered it unrecognizable. Paul then offers positive instructions for restoring the Lord’s Supper to what it was intended to be, namely a sacred memorial to commemorate Christ’s death (1 Cor. 11:23-29) kept on a regular basis (“as often” vv. 25, 26). The question is, how often? Since these Christians assembled every first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:1-2), and they were to partake of the Lord’s Supper as often as they gathered together, weekly observance (each Sunday) is implied. Moreover, early Christians besides the Corinthians also practiced the Sunday-observance of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7).
     Is there a particular time of day enjoined? Jesus established the memorial on a Thursday evening (Matt. 26:20) to commemorate his crucifixion, which took place the following day from about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Mark 15:25; Matt. 27:45). Early Christians observed the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7), i.e. the day of Christ’s resurrection, which occurred early in the morning (Mark 16:9). The Lord’s Supper was designed for observance in God’s kingdom (Matt. 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:16), i.e. in the church, on a regular basis to remember Christ’s death (1 Cor. 11:20-26).
     While Acts 20:7 affirms that Paul’s Sunday sermon lasted until “midnight,” there is no indication as to when this assembly began or at what time communion was observed. As long as the Lord’s Supper is kept each Sunday (regardless of the time of day), the New Testament pattern has been followed.

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