The Elements Used For The Lord’s Supper:
Essential Or Incidental?

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Were the elements used by Jesus when he instituted the Lord's Supper essential to its meaning and observance or only incidental to the occasion? If the elements were essential to the Supper’s meaning and observance, we dare not substitute other elements if we desire to honor Christ. If they were used purely in an incidental manner, we are free to use any elements at hand and the Lord will be pleased. 

 

From the Passover to the Lord’s Supper: Intentional Not Incidental

 

Jesus did not accidentally or incidentally choose the Passover Feast as the time to introduce the Lord's Supper. The Passover Feast commemorated the deliverance of Israel by the blood of a lamb and Jesus was preparing to go to the cross to offer himself as the Lamb of God for the salvation of the world.  By choosing the time of this Feast, he chose a time when no bread but unleavened bread was allowed in the house. Matthew 26:17 says, "Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover?" The Law of Moses required all leaven to be removed from the houses during this Feast (Ex. 13:7). The point is not that we are under the Law of Moses but that Jesus chose a time when no other bread was allowed to be present – that shows intent. He then took that bread and appropriated it for the observance of the Lord's Supper.

 

Exodus 12:15 says, "Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel." From that time forward, Jews were taught to regard leaven as representing the evils of Egypt, thus sin and impurity of every kind. Unleavened thus means pure from evil of all kinds. It is not merely incidental that Jesus chose bread representing purity to represent his body, i.e., his holy life offered for our unholy sins!

 

The importance of unleavened bread in the Passover Feast is used to make an analogy to the life of a Christian in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8: “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” We must live lives unleavened by sin, thus pure.  Unleavened bread was essential, not incidental, to the Passover Feast. By intentionally selecting that bread, Jesus made it essential to the Lord's Supper. Unleavened bread points to the purity of the life of Christ and the purity of his people.

 

Typical meals, both ordinary and ceremonial, include some drink. The Old Testament does not mention a drink in connection with the Passover Feast, but Jewish scholars trace the fruit of the vine to the nation’s history after the Babylonian Captivity.  Ezra is considered the first great scribe who organized the books of the Old Testament. He may have also helped to organize how the Seder or family meal was conducted including the inclusion of the fruit of the vine in guiding the Jews in restoring their observance of the Passover Feast.  At any rate, during the intertestamental period the format of telling the story of the exodus with Scripture reading and prayer was set in a pattern or ritual form called the Haggadah (literally, "the telling").  Historians and Bible commentators point out there were four occasions during this ceremony when Jews drank the fruit of the vine (see A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures of the New Testament, II: 267; C.G. Caldwell, The Gospel According to Luke in Truth Commentaries, 1187). 

 

Jesus presided over the Seder by following these practices until he came to the end of the Seder, and then he introduced something wholly unprecedented. In preparation for what was to follow, Luke records Jesus telling the disciples to “divide” the cup of the fruit of the vine among themselves (“divide” is diameridzo in Greek – divide the contents not the container, each man to his own container). Now, notice the wording of Matthew 26:26-29,

 

26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.

27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;

28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

29 But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.

 

Jesus did not accidentally or incidentally stumble onto a piece of bread which just happened to be unleavened on this occasion when he “took bread” and said, “This is my body.” “This” bread was unleavened bread, not ordinary bread. “This” bread represented purity as no other bread did. Also, Jesus did not accidentally or incidentally stumble onto the fruit of the vine. That drink and no other had become enshrined in the Seder. He told the disciples to drink of “this fruit of the vine” now and in the future in “my Father’s kingdom” in fellowship with Jesus. “This,” referring to the fruit of the vine and not a certain container, “is my blood.” No other drink but this one was appropriated by Jesus to represent the blood he would shed for our sins on the cross. 

 

Writing from Ephesus across the Aegean Sea from Corinth, Paul said to the saints at Corinth (1 Cor. 10:16-17),

 

16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?

The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?

17 For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.

 

What was the “one bread” and the one “cup” shared by saints on both sides of the Aegean Sea in fellowship with Christ? The implication is that all saints in every place share in this fellowship. There is no reference to physical objects which are so large they reach around the globe but to the common elements given by Christ for this memorial feast. We all share in eating unleavened bread and drinking fruit of the vine in remembrance of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This is true regardless of whether the bread is served from one plate or several and whether the juice is drunk from one common container or individual containers. Christ legislated elements and their meanings but assigned no memorial meanings to the containers used to serve those elements. 

 

No Instructions Regarding the Elements?

 

All of this is dismissed by writers such as Trevor Williams who posted an article on “Communion Bread” expressing concern over “articles about the necessity of using unleavened bread to celebrate communion.” “Nowhere in Scripture do we read that we are instructed to eat unleavened bread when we celebrate.” People around the world should be allowed to provide “what they can,” though he grants unleavened bread “was on the table” because of the Passover when Jesus ordained the Lord’s Supper.  He insists that requiring unleavened bread as essential “puts us under the Law of Moses” contrary to Galatians 3. Trevor then refers to the beginning of the church on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 “and what was special about this time was that it was the time to eat leavened, yeasted bread” as recorded in Leviticus 23:17.  He concludes “that the early church continued steadfastly in the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42), and that celebration certainly started on a yeasted bread day” (Trevor Williams, Editor-in-Chief, The Christian Worker Magazine 52, 6 [June 2020]:10; http://churchesofchrist.co.uk/content/pages/documents/1591383054.pdf).

 

The passages presented above clearly show the Lord did instruct us regarding the elements necessary for the Lord’s Supper. Some people proceed on the rationale which says, “Do not confuse me with the facts. My mind is already made up.” We cannot force anyone to acknowledge the force of the Lord’s instructions, but those instructions will stand as true when the world is on fire. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35).

 

We are not attempting to bind anything based on the Law of Moses, but we must yield and submit to the authority of Jesus Christ who said, “All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18, ASV). Regarding the Lord’s Supper, Paul said, “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you” (1 Cor. 11:23). What Christ revealed to the Apostles and what they delivered to us in the Scriptures stands because of his authority, not the authority of Moses. Jesus not Moses ordained the Lord’s Supper including the elements and meaning of its observance.

 

Does Leviticus 23 Shed Light on the Elements?

 

Citing Leviticus 23:17 as the basis of substituting leavened for unleavened bread is twisting the Scriptures. No reference is made by Jesus to leavened bread when he instituted the Supper and no reference is made to it when the Apostles delivered to the saints what they received from Jesus. There is no reference, allusion, or implication of any kind in anything said by Jesus or the Apostles that remotely suggests leavened bread may be substituted for unleavened bread in observing the Supper of the Lord. To introduce such a practice purely on the basis of instructions given for the Feast of Pentecost indeed “puts us under the Law of Moses” contrary to Galatians 3. In such a case, we should not neglect to include Leviticus 23:18: “Present with this bread seven male lambs, each a year old and without defect, one young bull and two rams. They will be a burnt offering to the LORD, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings – an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the LORD” (NIV). Verse 18 has as much relevance to the elements consumed in the Lord’s Supper as verse 17 – no relevance.

 

But we are told people around the world should be left free to offer “what they can.” First, the same people who can prepare leavened bread can prepare unleavened bread anyplace around the world. Second, if this is a good rule for one element, it is equally good for both elements. Therefore, if it is difficult to find the fruit of the vine at some times and places, shall we substitute whatever “we can” – orange juice, goats milk, Kool-Aid, Gatorade, coconut milk, cough syrup, chicken broth, tomato soup, water, or whatever else is handy? Is the Mormon Lord’s Supper with ordinary bread and water acceptable to the Lord, and, if so, how do we know? Or, may we join the modern practice of some denominations designed to appeal to young people by observing the Supper with hamburgers and Cokes? 

 

How Is Christ Truly Honored?

 

If there is no pattern for the elements, there can be no violation regardless of what elements may be used. Nadab and Abihu substituted fire of their own making for fire from the main altar to burn incense, and were consumed by fire from the Lord (Lev. 10:1-3). They would have insisted they were honoring the Lord by burning incense regardless of the origin of the fire, but God is not “sanctified” or “glorified” when man substitutes his will for God’s will.  

 

Christ is not honored when elements are substituted by man’s will for the elements he ordained in observing the Lord’s Supper. Christ is truly honored when we lay aside our preferences and opinions in order to submit to his will as revealed in Scripture.  “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Col. 3:17). To act in his name is to obey him in all things.

 

Ron Halbrook

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