Sunday, 22 March 2020

A Closer Look at the Elements of the Lord’s Supper

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).1 The biblical elements of the Lord’s Supper are generally understood to be “unleavened bread,” representing the crucified body of Jesus, and “the fruit of the vine,” symbolizing his shed blood (Matt. 26:17, 28-29; Mark 14:12, 25; Luke 22:18). To properly observe this sacred memorial, is it necessary to know what the bread is made of and what exactly is the fruit of the vine?

The Bread

Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper in the setting of the Jewish Passover meal, where “unleavened bread” is specified (Matt. 26:17; Mark 14:12). Leaven or yeast, metaphorically applicable to pervasive and corrupting influences (Matt. 16:6; 1 Cor. 5:6-8), was prohibited in all grain offerings to God (Lev. 2:11; 6:14-17) and the Passover bread (Deut. 16:3). Seeing that communion bread represents the Lord’s crucified body (Matt. 26:26; Mark 14:22), and Jesus lived his entire earthly life without sin (Heb. 4:15; 9:28), we can appreciate the significance of no leaven or yeast. 

The Bible emphasizes what is to be left out of the bread but does not detail specific ingredients to make the bread. We do read about flour and oil (Lev. 2:4, 5; 6:21; 24:5; 1 Kgs. 17:8-16), the kneading and baking of the dough (1 Sam. 28:24; 2 Sam. 13:8), and even salt was used in sacrificial offerings (Lev. 2:13; Ezek. 43:24). The bottom line is, whatever ingredients are necessary to make bread,2 as long as it is void of leavening agents, biblical guidelines are observed.

The Fruit of the Vine

In the NT the word “wine” (Greek oinos) is never used with reference to the Lord’s Supper, notwithstanding some modern English paraphrastic versions.3 Rather, the terminology used by the Lord is simply “cup” (Matt. 26:27; Mark 14:23; Luke 22:17, 20), and “fruit of the vine” (Matt. 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18).

Referring to the communion drink as the “cup” employs a literary device known as metonymy, whereby the container stands for what it contains. One does not drink the cup itself, neither does the container symbolize Christ’s blood, nor does the word “cup” indicate what is in it. More information is supplied by the context and by the corresponding expression, “the fruit of the vine.” 

The background and original setting was the Jewish Passover. According to the Mishnah (an ancient record of Jewish traditions), during the Passover feast celebrants were provided four cups to drink, the contents of which was yayin, made from grapes (Pesaḥim 10.1-2). To avoid intoxication the yayin was “mixed,” diluted with water.4 In Talmudic times (post-70 to 5th century AD) it was considered uncultured to drink undiluted yayin, so it was almost always diluted with one part yayin to three parts water (Pesaḥim 108b), or even boiled down to a concentrate before mixing with water.5 On the question of using unfermented grape juice for the cup of blessing, Rabbi Rava affirms: “One can squeeze a cluster of grapes and say Kiddush over [the juice]” (Talmud, Bava Batra 97b). Nevertheless, the paschal tradition of four cups of yayin was introduced after the time of Christ,6 so we must turn to the Lord’s own words and historical-cultural setting for more definitive answers.

Vineyards were commonplace in the ancient Near East (Matt. 20:1-8; 21:28, 33-41; Mark 12:1-11; Luke 20:9-16; 1 Cor. 9:7), and the Greek term ámpelos (“vine”) particularly refers to the grapevine. The expression “fruit of the vine” would have been universally understood by Jesus, his immediate disciples, and all others in the ancient Mediterranean world as the product of the grapevine (cf. Gen. 40:9-11; Lev. 25:5; Jas. 3:12; Rev. 14:18).

Modern-day Questions

Some have wondered if other fruits that grow on vines (melons, berries, kiwifruit, cucumbers, tomatoes) would be acceptable for communion. After all, the Bible just says “fruit of the vine” but doesn’t explicitly identify which fruit. It is important to remember, however, that everything in scripture is written in a particular context. The expression “fruit of the vine” occurs only three times in the NT, all in reference to the Lord’s Supper. As noted above, according to common usage in the historical-cultural setting of these passages, grapes are understood.

Does it matter whether the communion juice is fermented or unfermented? Since so many people use the word “wine” to describe it, would fermentation be required? As noted above, the Greek word oinos (often rendered “wine”) does not occur in any of the scriptures that address the Lord’s Supper. In fact, it is the same species of yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) that 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 meal (Ex. 13:7; Deut. 16:3-4), it follows that it would be absent from the cup of the fruit of the vine and thus non-alcoholic (later tradition notwithstanding).7

What if no unleavened bread or grape juice is available? We obviously can’t do what we are incapable of doing. But let’s not be so ready to give up or compromise. When traveling where there is no church, think ahead, be prepared, and take the provisions needed. Otherwise, search the local grocery stores, restaurants, salad bars, and markets for bread without yeast or ingredients to make it, grape juice or grapes that can be squeezed, or even raisins (dried grapes) that can be soaked or boiled. Wine can be boiled to remove its alcohol content. While wheat or other bread-making grains and/or grapes are not grown in every geographical location worldwide, if we can supply people around the globe with food, clothes, medicine, clean water, the gospel, Bibles, and other resources necessary to live and to be right with God, surely we can do the same with communion needs. 

Be aware that some companies that sell pre-packaged communion supplies use black current juice (or other substitutes) instead of grape juice. If we are homebound because of sickness, immobility, or a global pandemic, let’s have what we need at home (purchased or homemade) to worship according to biblical directives. If unable, allow other Christians to help. While communion is something the church does together (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:17-34), sometimes circumstances dictate otherwise.


Although some may consider this study (or parts of it) somewhat narrow and nitpicky, hopefully we all sincerely desire to understand what the Lord has revealed in his word and to be as faithful as we know how to be. “Therefore we are also eager, whether at home or away, to be well-pleasing to him” (2 Cor. 5:9). 

--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 Recipes are available online; here is a sample.
     3 Common English Bible, Contemporary English Version, Easy-to-Read Version, Good News Translation, God’s Word, The Message, New Living Translation, J. B. Phillips, The Living Bible.
     4 Joshua Kulp, Mishnah Yomit: English Explanation of Mishnah Pesachim, USCJ Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem (accessed 21 March 2020), <Link>.
     5 Thinking Gemara Series: Arba’ah Kosot, “The Four Cups of Wine of the Passover Seder Pesachim 108b: Teacher’s Guide,” NLE Resources 17-22, 29 (accessed 21 March 2020), <Link>.
     6 David Instone-Brewer, The Jesus Scandals (Oxford; Grand Rapids: Monarch, 2012): 56; see also Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald, eds., The New Testament World (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013): 4.
     7 For an alternative view, see Wayne Jackson, Was the Fruit of the Vine Fermented?Christian Courier (2000), <Link>.

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Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Christ, the Chosen Servant for the Gentiles: Isaiah 42:1-7 (Part 2 of 3)

A Brief Exposition of the Text Continued

He will not fail nor be discouraged, Till He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands shall wait for His law. Thus says God the Lord, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it, Who gives breath to the people on it, And spirit to those who walk on it: ‘I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness, And will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the Gentiles, To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the prison, Those who sit in darkness from the prison house’” (Isaiah 42:4-7, NKJV).

“He will not fail nor be discouraged.” M. R. Vincent observes that this phrase is “beautifully suggestive as describing the servant of Jehovah by the same figures in which he pictures his suffering ones … He himself, partaking of the nature of our frail humanity, is both a lamp and a reed, humble, but not broken, and the ‘light of the world’.”1 Even though occasions for discouragement would arise, God’s Servant would show no sign of weakness until he had fulfilled his purpose,2 viz. the establishment of “justice” (mishpat) in the earth (cf. vv. 1, 4), i.e., until He had “proclaimed God’s universal rule.”3

The “coastlands” (or “isles,” KJV), corresponding to “the earth,” represent distant nations (cf. 51:5). That they “shall wait for His law” signifies “to wail with longing for a person’s instruction,” and suggests that “the messenger to the Gentile world will be welcomed by a consciousness of need already existing in the heathen world itself.”4

Jehovah shifts His language from having spoken about His Servant in the third person (vv. 1-4), to now speaking to Him personally (vv. 5-7). It is emphasized and made abundantly clear that this special Ambassador is from the Creator of all things (cf. 44:24; Acts 17:24-25). He has been called “in righteousness,” which expresses the idea of that which is rigid or straight, and denotes the observance of a fixed rule.5 Jehovah, as a righteous and just God, purposed to send His Servant to accomplish His righteous scheme.

As God upholds His Servant, He will give Him “as a covenant to the people” (cf. 49:8; 54:10; 61:8). This undoubtedly has reference to the “new covenant” of which Christ is the Mediator (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:6-13). While scholars debate whether Jews or Gentiles are meant by “the people,” God’s Spirit makes it clear that this covenant is intended for all people (Isa. 2:2-3; Gal. 3:26-29; Col. 2:14-18; et al.).

The Servant of God is also described as “a light to the Gentiles” (cf. 9:2; 49:6; 51:4; Luke 2:32). “Light” is the emblem of purity, holiness, knowledge, and instruction, and so the Messiah is depicted as “the light of the world” (Matt. 4:16; John 1:4-9; 8:12; 9:5; 12:35, 46; Rev. 21:23). The exclusiveness of Judaism was to end under the Messiah’s reign. This found its fulfillment in the impartial proclamation of the gospel by those heeding the command of the Lord (cf. Acts 13:46-47).

It was to be the task of God’s Servant to “open blind eyes,” both physically (Matt. 12:22) and spiritually (Matt. 13:16-17), and to “bring out prisoners from the prison” (cf. 61:1-2). To those in captivity of sin and darkness (John 8:34; 2 Pet. 2:19), the Servant of God offers spiritual deliverance (John 8:32; Rom. 6:17-18).

--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies in the NT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969): 1:71.
     2 James E. Smith, The Major Prophets (By the author, 1992): 129.
     3 R. N. Whybray, Isaiah 40-46 NCBC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975): 73.
     4 Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah, Vol. 2, trans. James Martin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969): 177. 
     5 Ibid. 178.

*Published in B. J. Clarke, ed., Major Lessons from the Major Prophets: Power Lectures (Pulaski, TN: Sain Publications, 1995): 255-67.

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Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Christ, the Chosen Servant for the Gentiles: Isaiah 42:1-7 (Part 1 of 3)

The word “servant” occurs some twenty-four times in the book of Isaiah, but it does not always have the same application. In chapters 42-53 a “Servant” is described who is quite distinct from all others. He is depicted in neither a national nor a temporal sense. In the passage now under consideration Isaiah looks to the future, to a deliverance far greater, in both nature and scope, than Israel’s release from exile.

A Brief Exposition of the Text

“Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth” (Isaiah 42:1-3, NKJV).

The identity of the “Servant” in this text has been the subject of much controversy and debate among biblical scholars. But for everyone who believes in the inspiration and all sufficiency of Scripture, the matter is easily settled. He is identified by the Holy Spirit as Jesus the Christ (Matt. 12:15-21). Moreover, the ancient Jews, as interpreted in the Targum, understood this to be a reference to the Messiah.1 Albert Barnes affirms: “the entire description is one that is exactly and entirely applicable to the Lord Jesus. It is as applicable as if it had been made after he had appeared among men, and as if it were the language of biography, and not of prophecy.”2

Jehovah describes His servant as one “whom I uphold.” The Hebrew tamakh b’ means “to lay firm hold of and keep upright.”3 He is God’s “Elect One,” or the One whom God has chosen for this special purpose (Matt. 12:18; cf. 1 Pet. 2:6). The affirmation, “in whom My soul delights” is comparable to “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). This statement was made subsequent to “the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him” (Matt. 3:16), identifying Jesus as “the Anointed One” (John 1:32-34; Acts 10:36-38; cf. Isa. 61:1).

Because He was “anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power” (Acts 10:38), Jesus was equipped to “bring forth justice.” To “bring forth (yosi) means to “publish, proclaim.”4 The word “justice” (mishpat) is found again in verses 3 and 4, and it is reasonable to assume that it has the same meaning in all three places. Although it may be employed in a variety of senses, here it stands parallel with “His law” (v. 4), so it most probably has reference to the law published by the Messiah, viz. the gospel (Isa. 61:1; Luke 4:18).

This system of justice was to be proclaimed by God’s Servant “to the Gentiles.” It is not the case, as some have asserted, that from here “the prophecy momentarily leaps forward to the effects of Christ’s Second Advent, in His Millennial reign.”5 The Messiah, during His initial advent, reached out to some who were not Jews (Matt. 8:5 ff.; Mark 7:25 ff.). But this prophecy saw its ultimate fulfillment as the Lord’s disciples proclaimed the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 2:39; 15:7; et al.), according to His commandment (Matt. 28:19; Acts 13:46-47).

Concerning the fact that God’s Servant “will not cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street,” G. Rawlinson observes: “His methods shall be quiet and gentle. He shall not seek to recommend his teaching by clamor or noisy demonstrations. There shall be a marked unobtrusiveness in all his doings.”6 Barnes further comments: “He shall not use loud and angry words, as they do who are engaged in conflict, but all his teaching shall be gentle, humble, and mild.”7 It is noted by Matthew that these words found fulfillment as Jesus quietly avoided the murderous plot of the Pharisees and bid His followers not to make Him known (12:14-19).

“A bruised reed He will not break.” The word “bruised” (ratsuts) signifies “what is cracked, and therefore half-broken.”8 The reed, which grows in marshy or wet places, denotes “that which is fragile, weak, easily waved by the wind, or broken down”9 (cf. Matt. 11:7). The image seems to reflect those who are without strength, poor in spirit, lowly and dejected. God’s Servant would not add to their afflictions but would compassionately and tenderly extend relief.

“And smoking flax He will not quench.” Flax was used as a wick for oil lamps, and the word “smoking” (keheh) refers to “that which is burning feebly, and very nearly extinguished.”10 This may suggest the condition of one who is feeble and disheartened, whose will to endure is about ready to expire. In the context of Matthew’s reference to this prophecy, multitudes were being healed by Jesus (12:15-23). J. W. McGarvey notes that these figures of speech “fitly represent the sick, and lame, and blind who were brought to Jesus to be healed. The statement that he would not break these bruised reeds, nor quench this smoking flax, was an emphatic declaration, by contrast, that he would heal their bruises and fan their dying energies into a flame.”11

“He will bring forth justice for truth.” While the Servant would be sympathetic in dealing with those wounded by the harsh realities of life, He would not compromise the absolute standards of justice.12 Matthew interprets this phrase “justice for victory” (12:20). The term “justice” (mishpat), as noted earlier, appears to stand “for that authoritative announcement of the divine will which was sent forth in the gospel; and the victory in that which the gospel is winning.”13

--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah, Vol. 2, trans. James Martin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969): 174.
     2 Albert Barnes, “Isaiah,” Notes on the OT (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978): 98.
     3 F. Delitzsch, op cit. 175.
     4 R. N. Whybray, Isaiah 40-46 NCBC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975): 72.
     5 W. E. Vine, Isaiah: Prophecies, Promises, Warnings (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1969): 106.
     6 G. Rawlinson, Isaiah, Vol. 10 of The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962): 117.
     7 A. Barnes, op cit. 99.
     8 F. Delitzsch, op cit. 175-76.
     9 A. Barnes, op cit. 99.
     10 F. Delitzsch, op cit. 176.
     11 J. W. McGarvey, New Testament Commentary (Delight, AR: Gospel Light, 1875): 1:106.
     12 James E. Smith, The Major Prophets (By the author, 1992): 129.
     13 J. W. McGarvey, op cit. 1:106.

*Published in B. J. Clarke, ed., Major Lessons from the Major Prophets: Power Lectures (Pulaski, TN: Sain Publications, 1995): 255-67.

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Thursday, 5 March 2020

Does God hear a sinner’s prayer?

If God is omniscient, he sees, hears, and knows all things. But in John 9:31 we read, “Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, he hears him.” Contextually these words were spoken by an uninspired former blind man. Nevertheless, he seems to have been alluding to a biblical truth (Zechariah 7:13; Psalm 34:15-16) repeated in the New Testament (1 Peter 3:12). 

The key is understanding the Greek word akouō, translated “hear” in English, which has various shades of meaning, including reception of audible sounds, listening, understanding, accepting, heeding, and hearkening unto. God aurally “hears” all things, but he has only promised to hearken unto or answer the petitions of his righteous ones (James 5:16; 1 John 5:14-15). 

The prayers of the unsaved who are genuinely seeking to know the truth might be a possible exception (Acts 10:1-5; 11:14). However, rather than a direct answer to their prayers this is more likely God’s providential working to ensure truth seekers have the opportunity to learn his will (Acts 17:24-31; 1 Timothy 2:3-7).

-- Kevin L. Moore

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