Phrases Used to Describe the Lord’s Supper
In this article we will endeavor to investigate the terms and phrases used in the Bible to describe the Lord’s Supper. From these we can gain a clearer understanding of its significance for the present day Christian. By way of contrast we will look at some of the man-made terms used to refer to the Lord’s Supper.
First, a look at scriptural phrases:
▸ The Lord’s Supper
“When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper” I Cor. 11:20.
The word “Lord’s” comes from a Greek word used only twice in the New Testament: “Lord’s Supper” (I Cor. 11:20) and “Lord’s Day”, (Rev. 1:10). This is interesting from the stand point that there is a strong connection between the “Lord’s Supper” and the “Lord’s Day”. “Supper” is from “deipnon” which meant the main meal of the day. No doubt, for the Christian, the Lord’s Supper is the main meal on the Lord’s Day. The Lord’s body (I Cor. 11:29), the Lord’s blood, the Lord’s bread, the Lord’s cup (v. 27), and the Lord’s death (v. 26), all were a part of the Lord’s supper (v. 20) on the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10) which is Sunday, the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). It must be remembered that this Supper is the Lord’s. It is from Him and belongs to Him. It is not man’s supper or the church’s supper. No man or church has authority over the time, frequency, elements, manner of partaking, etc. only the Lord has this authority.
▸ The Table of the Lord
“Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils” (1 Cor. 10:21).
In Malachi 1:7 “the table of the Lord” is the altar. In the New Testament, it can only be the Lord’s Table in the sense that the symbols, the bread an fruit of the vine, are representative of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It is a feast on the table not a sacrifice on an altar. The cross was the altar upon which the Lamb of God was sacrificed. Today, we have a sweet invitation as God’s children to commune with the Lord around His table.
It is the communion with the blood of Christ and the body of Christ. It is translated from the Greek word “koinonia” which means a sharing, a joint participation or fellowship with someone in something. It is a “fellowship supper” with Christ. When we partake we are recognizing the spiritual fellowship we have through the sufferings of his flesh, represented in the bread, and the shedding of his blood, represented in the cup. Remember, it is a communion with Christ, but it is not the only means of communion with Christ. Merely partaking of the Lord’s Supper once a week does not maintain our communion with Christ.
▸ The Breaking of Bread
In the New Testament the phrase “breaking of bread” refers to both a common meal and a spiritual meal. Obviously I Cor. 10:16 is speaking of a spiritual meal. “…the bread which we break is it not a communion of the body of Christ”. On the night in which Jesus was betrayed, He ate the Lord’s Supper with his disciples, Luke 22. Following His resurrection Jesus ate a common meal with two of his disciples, Luke 24:30,35. Twice it is used in the same context refer first to a spiritual meal, then a common meal. “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers….And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,” Acts 2:42,46. “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight…When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed.” Acts 20;7,11. Since this phrase can be used in both senses, we must consider the context to see which meal is intended. In both Acts 2:42 and 20:7 the writer mentions breaking of bread in the same sentence as things which are definitely part of a worship service. Therefore, these passages must referring to a spiritual rather than a physical meal.
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society teaches that Acts 20:7 was just a common meal. If it was just a common meal why did Paul remain in Troas for seven days? (v. 6). Obviously, he wanted to worship with the brethren, which included partaking of the Lord’s Supper. If those of Acts 20:7 were just eating a common meal why is it specified that they ate on the first day of the week? Didn’t they eat common meals on other days of the week? If it is a common meal, why did they gather together for it? If it is a common meal why is it separate from Paul’s eating or breaking bread in verse 11? Paul condemned the Corinthians for eating common meals in the assembly in I Cor. 11:22, “What? have ye not homes to eat and drink in?” If it was a common meal then Paul participated in the very thing he condemns. The fact that this “breaking of bread” was done in the assembly shows that it was a spiritual meal. In Acts 2:42 the meal was in the assembly thus spiritual. In verse 46 it was in their homes, thus a common meal. In Acts 20:7 it was done in the assembly thus a spiritual meal, and in verse 11 it was done after the assembly had broken up, thus a common meal.
“The breaking of bread” also includes drinking the fruit of the vine. “Breaking bread” is a figure of speech called a synecdoche, in which a part of something is used to represent the whole. To “break bread” referring to a common meal can include not only bread but also vegetables, meat, etc. Or is man to live by bread alone? Let’s suppose you are traveling with a group of friends. One of them suggests, “Let’s stop and get a bite to eat.” What do they mean? Just one bite? Would one bite suffice for the entire car load? What if they were thirsty? Wouldn’t this statement include getting drinks as well as several bites of food for several people? Why of course it would. It is interesting to note that the very first example of a synecdoche given in Webster’s New World Dictionary is the use of bread for food. The first phase of the Lord’s Supper is literally breaking bread and followed by the drinking of the fruit of the vine. Our spiritual meal includes both eating and drinking, I Cor. 11:28
– Daniel R. Vess