A Reverent, Thoughtful Examination
“Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3).
by Robert Brand
The commemoration of the Last Supper in our observance of the annual Memorial celebration has two important symbols: the bread, and the fruit of the vine. Our Lord makes it clear how to interpret those two symbols, in his statement that the bread “is my body” and the fruit of the vine “is my blood” (Matthew 26:26-28). We must be careful not only to recognize those two symbols but also be very careful about adding any additional symbols to this simple, yet profound, commemoration. (Please note that the second symbol, the fruit of the vine, is also called a “cup.” The cup is not, however, the symbol — its contents are the symbol. Nonetheless, because the fruit of the vine has to be contained, the cup serves as a synonym for its contents — both practically and scripturally.)
Was Jesus “Broken For Us”?
In Memorial service discourses, we often hear the expression that Jesus “was broken for us.” Where does this expression come from? It comes from 1 Corinthians 11:24, “this is my body, which is broken for you” in the King James Version. The phrase “which is broken for you,” however, is likely spurious. It is not present in the Sinaiticus or Vaticanus, two of the oldest manuscripts, nor in most other of the highest-quality manuscripts.
Another indication is that none of the Gospel accounts mention the phrase “is broken for you” (Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19). Rather, the expression is, as recorded in the Matthew account, simply “Take, eat; this is my body.” (We must keep in mind that Paul, the author of 1 Corinthians, was not personally present at the Last Supper, so he would have received details of that event from Peter, the other apostles who were present, or perhaps from the Lord himself (1 Corinthians 11:23).
It is interesting to note that there is no other verse in the Bible that states that Jesus was broken for us. There is no question that Jesus suffered greatly for us and for the world — but why is the word “broken” used so often? It may be because of Matthew 26:26: “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it.” The Greek word for “brake” in this verse is Strong’s 2806, klao, which means “to break.” Therefore, was the breaking of the loaf symbolic, or simply practical? If it was symbolic, are we adding a third symbol to the Memorial?
It does make sense that breaking the loaf was practical, in that each of the apostles would be given a piece. There is no other way to dispense portions of the loaf other than to break it apart. Was the passing of the bread emblem also symbolic? Are any other actions or aspects of the Last Supper also symbolic? In our interpretation of what the symbols of the initial Memorial service are, we must be careful not to make virtually everything in the service that was in reality simply practical to do, mean something more. If the Memorial is to symbolize our Lord’s body and blood, perhaps we should consider affirming that the only symbols in the service were the bread and the cup.
There is another caution to be noted on this point. John 19:33-36 says, “But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe. For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, ‘A bone of him shall not be broken.’”
This is because Jesus is “our Passover lamb” who was sacrificed for our sins (1 Corinthians 5:7, John 1:29), and the Passover lamb was not to have any of its bones broken. Exodus 12:46 adds, “In one house shall it be eaten; thou shalt not carry forth ought of the flesh abroad out of the house; neither shall ye break a bone thereof.” The same restriction appears in Numbers 9:12.
Also, note that early Christians broke bread as noted in Acts 2:42, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Generally, no symbolism in the breaking of bread is suggested in instances such as this. It was a practical matter to facilitate the distribution of the bread to the gathered brethren.
The ASV version properly renders 1 Corinthians 11:24 as follows: “And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you: this do in remembrance of me.’” This rendering is in harmony with each of the Gospel accounts.
Is the Memorial About Jesus Only?
Is the purpose of the annual observance to remember Jesus exclusively, or to also commemorate the role of the footstep followers of Jesus?
Jesus said of this occasion, “This do in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). There is universal agreement that the primary focus of the Memorial service is to remember our Lord’s sacrifice. Is there a secondary focus as respects the Body of Christ, i.e. the church’s role in God’s plan? Is that aspect to also be celebrated at the Memorial service? Some brethren believe that such is the case. Other brethren, including those who zealously embrace the church’s share in the sin-offering, believe that when Jesus said “do this in remembrance of me,” he did not mean “do this in remembrance of us.”
One of the issues in this matter relates to whether or not there are primary and secondary symbolisms or only one symbolism in the emblems. There are only two emblems in this celebration; it is important for us to be clear about what those emblems mean. Sometimes seeing “primary and secondary” meanings is an accurate interpretation, and sometimes it is not. For example, when we read that Jesus “gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:6) we do not find a primary and secondary application of who is the “ransom.” Jesus, alone, provided the ransom, and there are no secondary applications whatsoever. Of course, sometimes there are secondary applications in scripture. For example, our Lord provided a secondary application of the prophet Elijah to John the Baptist in Matthew 11:13-15 (NIV), “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Some brethren also see a third application of Elijah as a type of the church (see The Herald of Christ’s Kingdom, January/February 2019).
Primary, secondary, and even more applications are certainly also found in parables.
The secondary application of one or both of the Memorial emblems, however, likely stems from an interpretation of 1 Corinthians 10:16, “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?”
The keyword “communion” in this verse is Strong’s 2842, koinonia, and its meanings include fellowship, association, and community (Thayers Lexicon). Christians are privileged to have communion with Jesus. While there are verses of scripture which brethren believe establish the concept of the church’s share in the sin-offering doctrine, 1 Corinthians 10:16 may, or may not, be one of them. Koinonia is also used in scripture to note a sense of communion of purpose, when there is no oneness of personage. For example, 2 Corinthians 13:14, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion (koinonia) of the holy [Spirit], be with you all. Amen.” Obviously, Paul’s listeners were not one in personage with the holy Spirit, since the holy Spirit is not a person. They do, however, desire to live in harmony with God’s power and influence, thus their “communion” with the holy Spirit.
Koinonia exists where people have a common purpose, a common goal, and perhaps even a common hope. There is a sense of communion among people who have a common interest — the common interest binds them together. Community is established when people, for example, have a common history — such as those who might have lived in a particular part of the world during a historically significant time.
So, determining if 1 Corinthians 10:16 indicates that the church is pictured in one or both of the Memorial emblems is entirely interpretive. The Greek word for “communion” is not singular in its meaning, so we should be cautious about drawing definitive conclusions.
Who Is the “One Bread”?
The answer to this question is easy, because there is a nearly universal agreement regarding the correct rendering of 1 Corinthians 10:17. Here is that verse in the KJV: “For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.” This is a mistranslation. The NIV renders the verse as follows: “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.” (Virtually all other Bible translations have similar wording.) “We being many are one loaf” is not an accurate rendering. The “one loaf” or “one bread” is, of course, Jesus. We “partake” of Jesus because of our obedience to, and relationship with, him. The world will “partake” of Jesus in the Kingdom.
We occasionally hear that we are part of that “one loaf” since bread is made up of many grains, even if that is not what the verse literally says. For this application to be Biblically valid, we would need to find where in the scriptures the church is referred to as grains.
This brings up an important aspect of Biblical interpretation — we must be careful not o apply symbols to situations and/or objects that were never intended to symbolize something. For example, our Lord’s garments were taken from him prior to his crucifixion (Matthew 27:35), and lots were cast for them. The garments belonged to Jesus, so is the church pictured in those garments? It might be easy to answer in the affirmative because a singular garment is made of many threads. The glorified Christ is made up of Jesus as the head and the church as his body. However, since we do not see the church pictured as threads in the scriptures, we do not make such an application.
In what many call “the Lord’s prayer,” Jesus said “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). Most brethren believe that this refers to the physical needs of life, as well as daily spiritual nourishment — not in any way connected to the actual Memorial emblem. Still, the word for “bread” in this verse is the same Greek word, artos, as in John 6:35 (“I am the bread of life”), and in 1 Corinthians 10:17 (“we all share the one loaf” NIV). We must be careful to not necessarily apply the same meaning to every use of a particular word in scripture.
Jesus is the “one loaf ” as noted in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life.” The Lord expands on this reality in John 6:51: “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” No one but our Lord is ever referred to as “the bread of life.” Bread is a wonderful symbol for Jesus, because it is a symbol of life, as is water. Note our Lord’s words to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:13,14: “Jesus answered and said unto her, ‘Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.’” Just as “bread and water” are traditionally considered necessary to sustain life, they are suitable symbols of Jesus who will offer life to the entire human family. His reference in John 6:51, “the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh,” is a direct reference to his sovereign role as the ransom for Adam, and is the substance of the bread emblem in the Memorial service.
What Is the Meaning of “Cup”?
The word “cup” in the New Testament is always Strong’s 4221, poterion. Strong’s defines this word with three meanings: a drinking vessel, the contents of the vessel, and figuratively a lot or fate.
We suggest that these two meanings help explain some of the uses of the word “cup” in the New Testament. First, there is the literal cup in the initial Memorial service. Since the “fruit of the vine” is a liquid, it requires a means of containment and conveyance, and that is why a literal cup was provided. There was no other reasonable way to distribute this emblem to the apostles. Second, the Lord used the word “cup” to describe an experience, and, by extension, the fulfilling of a responsibility.
When James and John asked if they could have special places of favor with Jesus in glory, our Lord responded (Mark 10:38) as follows: “Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?” Was Jesus here referring to the Memorial cup? If so, since he clearly stated that the cup represents his blood, the text could read “can you drink of the blood that I drink of?” which would not make sense. As mentioned, Strong’s Concordance also provides a secondary definition of “cup” as one’s lot or experiences in life. Jesus was here essentially saying that this request would not be easily granted, for a favor in glory requires obedience and faithfulness during the difficulties in the Christian walk. Favor is granted as a reward for faithfulness, and that is achieved with great effort. (See John 18:11 and Acts 14:22.)
The Lord also asked, “are you able to be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” Was the Lord talking about water baptism? No, he was not. No one is baptized as Jesus was at Jordan. (Matthew 3:14). The Lord was continuing the figurative theme of the “cup” with the figurative use of baptism. He was talking about the rigors of the Christian life as we endeavor to fight the temptations of the flesh, the world, and the Adversary.
The “cup” in Mark 10:38 about life experience is not the same “cup” we see in the Memorial service, because Jesus clearly states that the cup he passed to the apostles at the Last Supper “is my blood,” just as the bread “is my flesh.” The Memorial cup symbolized Jesus’ blood. The cup he asked the Heavenly Father to remove from him in Gethsemane (Mark 14:36) pertained to his experiences, not to his blood. The challenge to brothers James and John regarding what is required to prove faithful was about the rigors of a Christian life of obedience, not about Jesus’ blood.
Only the flesh and blood of the perfect man Jesus could provide the ransom for the perfect man Adam. The prospective members of the bride of Christ are imperfect, and hence have no share in providing the ransom for Adam.
The beloved hymn “Rock of Ages” says it well: “In my hand no price I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling.”
Paul summarized the sole reason for the Memorial emblems succinctly in 1 Corinthians 11:26. “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.”
On the Other Hand…
Is the Memorial about Jesus only?
by Tom Ruggirello
The memorial symbols are certainly focused on our Lord’s sacrifice. No one can question that. However, the position that there is no secondary picture in either symbol is not held by all the brethren, including at least one editor. The usage of the Greek koinonia is properly described in the article as a communion of purpose. But this definition does not detract from the secondary picture of the cup also conveying the church’s experience. Just a few verses after Paul mentions the cup and the bread, he says, “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 Corinthians 10:21). He is here making a direct reference to the memorial symbols mentioned four verses earlier when he compares a faithful lifestyle (drinking the cup of the Lord) with an evil lifestyle (drinking the cup of devils.) He is equating the memorial cup with the church’s experience, at least on a secondary level.
When Jesus asked James and John if they could drink of the cup he drank of, he was referring to a consecrated lifestyle. But that does not negate the connection to the memorial cup. The wine symbolized Jesus’ blood. But his literal blood pictured the value of Jesus’ sacrificial life, his sin-offering. It was the accrued benefits of his lifestyle. So, in the two memorial symbols we have the ransom (the bread) and the sin-offering (the cup). If the church shares in the sin-offering, which most brethren accept, then a secondary picture of their share in drinking with Jesus the life experiences of the Narrow Way are certainly appropriate and intended.