What is the meaning of the cup and bread in remembering the Lord?
In First Corinthians chapter ten, the significance of the emblems forms the basis of Paul’s teaching about separation from evil outside the assembly. Believers in an assembly must maintain separation from all that rivals the claims of God. In chapter 11, the emblems particularly relate to Paul’s teaching of behavior within the assembly. Believers’ behavior must be consistent with the holy privilege of remembering the Lord. The meaning of the emblems in chapter 11 is clearly related to the blood of Christ, symbolized in the cup, and the physical body of Christ, symbolized in the bread. This conforms to the Lord’s teaching at the institution of the Supper in the Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s Gospels.
Chapter 10 teaches the significance of partaking of these emblems. By drinking from the cup, believers express their relationship to God. By breaking bread, they express their relationship with one another.
(For a fuller explanation, see Q & A Forum, November, 2000).
How did New Testament believers break bread?
This question apparently arises from the difficulty of having thousands of believers in the Jerusalem assembly sharing from one loaf and one cup. We have the teaching in 1 Corinthians about what believers do in remembering the Lord and about the significance of what they do. The mechanics of how they distributed the cup and the loaf are not given. We are left to carry out the principles of Scripture in a way that most suitably displays all the truth of God. In the case of the cup and loaf, we are responsible to so act that we clearly display the significance of “breaking bread,” as taught in chapters 10 and 11 of 1 Corinthians.
Must there be only one bread and one cup used at the Lord’s Supper?
Two factors frame the response to this question. The first is the text and the second is the stated symbolism.
“The cup of blessing which we bless . . .” (1 Co 10:16) indicates a singular vessel. It is a drinking vessel, literally derived from the root word “drink.” The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament Words says regarding this drinking vessel, “In a Palestinian home it is the pitcher (usually an earthen bowl) that stands filled on the table.” Obviously, in this passage, Paul is using a figure of speech. We do not drink the cup; we drink its contents. What we drink comes from a common source, a vessel for drinking.
In the same verse, Paul speaks of “the bread which we break.” Again, it is a singular entity. The object is a loaf of whatever shape or substance used as bread. In addition, taking from the loaf is a personal act, each one “breaking bread.”
The stated symbolism when we partake of these two emblems expresses a communion, a common fellowship, a sharing with others, or a joint participation (v 17).
To answer the question, then, apart from having one loaf and one vessel for drinking, we cannot express the intended symbolism. If that one loaf is distributed so that more than one person is taking from the loaf at one time, this does not compromise the symbolism. When all have taken from the loaf and the remainder returns to its original place (usually a table), there is value in reuniting the remaining parts to form – as best as possible – a loaf. The loaf has no typical significance. An opening (like a wound) in the side of the loaf, the wheat from which it is made, the process of preparing it, the color of its flour, or our taking the bread are not to be analyzed for added significance. The loaf reminds us of the Lord’s body given for us; taking our part from the loaf expresses our fellowship with those in the assembly who have “broken bread.” One loaf seen both before and after we break bread expresses this effectively.
If all drink their portion of the “fruit of the vine” from a common vessel, this expresses our fellowship with the Lord. This is not primarily to express our individual fellowship with the Lord but to express that all unitedly share with God in “the fellowship” that honors His Son. Therefore, although the symbol of the blood of Christ may be distributed in more than one vessel, if it visibly comes from a common vessel, this does maintain the scriptural symbolism.
Does the use of multiple loaves and cups at the Breaking of Bread indicate departure?
Departure begins with a cooling of our devotion to Christ. One evidence of departure is a lack of love for and obedience to His Word. To change our practices from what His Word teaches or to be unwilling to change our ways in order to conform to His Word is departure. We are best to judge our own hearts before we look for indications of departure in others.
When we apparently take delight in finding the failings of others, we too have departed from the teachings of the Lord. If we fairly evaluate the teaching of the Bible on this subject, we can hardly conclude that pouring the wine from a common vessel and distributing it to 500 people by means of 4 cups violates the Word of God. The same can be said of taking one large entity of bread and distributing it on 4 separate plates. If this is what is meant by “multiple loaves and cups,” then the answer to the question is “No.” This is not departure.
To officiate at the “Communion Service” by distributing “the host” or a wafer violates the Word of God. This is multiple “loaves” and, in addition, bespeaks officialism. To have communion using individual cups fails to clearly express the significance of partaking from the “cup of blessing.” If this is the meaning of “multiple loaves and cups,” then the answer to the question is “Yes.” This is departure.