Questions and Answers
A Detailed Explanation of 1 Corinthians 11
After the Passover article in the previous issue, we received a number of letters, e-mails and phone calls. They were split about evenly in thirds: one third agreeing, one third disagreeing and another third asking questions. Rather than publish all of the letters, many of which were similar, we will reply to each subject, including points from the letters on the subject. Also, we apologize for the parts of our article that were unclear.
We begin our answers to questions with 1 Corinthians 11 since our explanation of that passage is probably the most "different" of the things that we have published. Where did this conclusion come from? Primarily from prayer, reading the text of the chapter with an open mind, and through an effort to understand the background of the original Corinthian readers. This understanding did not come from reading Bible commentaries! If others have come to similar conclusions, we are unaware of them. Do we feel this understanding is infallible? No! It is simply the best we can do with existing scripture.We believe the Passover lamb was historically killed on the afternoon of Nisan 14, that it was eaten on the night of the 15th, and that the Israelites were delivered from Egypt that same night. We believe brethren today should still get together on the night of the 15th to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt and to tell the story of their own personal deliverance from sinteaching their children the meaning of all these things. We believe brethren should take bread and wine as symbols of our Savior's sacrifice on this night.
Also, we believe that our Savior met with His apostles for his "last supper" on the night of Nisan 14 where they took bread and wine. He explained the full meaning of the bread and wine for the first time: These symbols represent His body and His blood. Our Savior also explained the need for His suffering and the need for his followers to be servants to mankind. We believe that these lessons were well-taught by "Church of God" groups for many years on this night, even though some explanations were not properly correlated with the Old Testament.
We believe both of the above practices should be continued. The difficulty this creates is: "How can we take bread and wine more than once per year?" When we examined Scripture and history, we found that bread and wine were already in common use as religious symbols, and that is why there is no explanation given for their use at times other than the Passover. We had to bring up this issue in our Passover article in order to explain why it was acceptable for Christ and his Apostles (and our congregations, today) to take bread and wine at times other than the Passover.
We are not now recommending that congregations use bread and wine every week, though we believe it was a practice of first-century congregations. We believe we already understand some of the value in it, but we would like to give the subject more study before writing. It will never replace Passover or any other holy days! We do not even use a specific name to refer to non-Passover bread and wine use because the Bible does not clearly assign one. We do not think it helpful to appropriate Catholic, Protestant or Jewish names because they convey numerous ideas that are not in the Bible. So, in this article, we will simply discuss the taking of bread and wine as symbolsfor Passover and at other times as well.
We realize that this is difficult for many people, because they were taught that "Christ changed the symbols of the Passover from a lamb to unleavened bread and wine." Well, unleavened bread was a part of Passover from the beginning (Ex 12:8). It is possible that wine was added to the Passover service shortly afterward, but we have no direct Biblical record of it. We do have a lot of Bible evidence and available history to indicate that bread and wine were used as symbols to honor the Eternal long before our Savior's last supper.
Bread and Wine Used
in the Old Testament
The first recorded incident is Abraham's return from defeating Chedalomer.
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: "Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth" (Gen 14:18-19).
Mentioning the bread and wine in the context of being a priest and giving a blessing shows that this was a symbolic act. Abraham was not lacking foodhis troop had recovered food among the possessions and had eaten some of it (v 24). The exact meaning Abraham derived out of this is not stated, but the details brought out here show that bread and wine were symbols of communication between the Eternal and his worshippers.
Many do not realize it, but unleavened bread and wine were offered every day in Israel with the morning and evening sacrifices (Ex 29:38-42). These scriptures mention "oil" and "flour", but other instructions for "grain offerings" show that the two were mixed to make unleavened bread (Lev 2:1-10). This bread and wine combination was required for most other sacrifices (Num 15:1-16). Some of the bread and wine were poured on the fire, but some of it was consumed by people. Did they understand that this was looking forward to the body and the blood of the Messiah? The Old Testament does not record anyone with that understanding, and the apostles certainly did not understand it until our Savior taught them.
Historical Use of Bread and Wine
Many Orthodox Jews today frequently say a blessing over bread and wine in their synagogue services, at the beginning of their Sabbath meals, on holy days, at weddings and at other special occasions. Some Jews understand that these symbols represent the blessings that God has given man from the Earth. But a few believe that these symbols look forward to the Messiahthough they would not say they specifically represent his "body" and "blood." How long have religious Jews been using bread and wine in their services? Various sources estimate a variety of dates, but almost all of them are well before the time of Christ. The oldest written records of which this writer is aware are from the fourth century, but they refer to Jewish religious use of bread and wine as an already well-established practice. We can find little ancient history (either Jewish or Christian) that claims Jews were not using bread and wine in their services at the time of Christ. We know for certain that wine was an essential part in weddings in the first century (John 2:1-11).
This writer believes that Jewish historical records (Mishna, Talmud, etc.) are subject to human bias and error, just like many other historical works. When they are in conflict with other reliable history or in conflict with the Bible, we do not accept them. But when they appear reasonable and do not conflict with other ancient documents, there seems to be no more reason to doubt them than we would doubt any other history.
Furthermore, the Jewish blessings said over wine contain identical phrases to those in the New Testament: "fruit of the vine" (Luke 22:18) and "cup of blessing" (1Cor 10:16). Given the animosity between Jews and Christians during the first few centuries, it is difficult to believe that Jews would have taken "Christian" bread and wine symbols and begun to use them. However, the situation does make sense if we conclude that the frequent use of bread and wine was common among religious Jews before Christ. The Jews continued their tradition as they always had done, and those who believed Christ continued using bread and wineunderstanding it represented the body and blood of their savior. The tradition was important enough that Paul instructed the part-Gentile Corinthian congregation to carry on this tradition in I Corinthians 11.
Unfortunately, the "Christian" use of bread and wine turned into a priestly-administered sacrament by the Roman Catholic and various Orthodox churches. By 325 AD, all connection with Passover or Jewish tradition was lost. Through the centuries, most non-Catholic Christians (including Sabbatarians) used bread and wine either once or only a few times per year, trying to avoid practices that appeared to be Catholic or Jewish. Today, nearly all "Christian" groups teach that Jesus did away with the Passover (most of the Old Testament, actually) and instituted a "Lord's supper" or holy communion.
Today, most "Church of God" groups believe that 1 Corinthians 11 is either directly about the Passover or about a meal that our Savior used to instruct the disciples in the way to keep the Passover.
Explanation of 1 Corinthians 11
This writer believes that the use of Passover bread and wine is included in 1 Corinthians 11, but that there is no other way to explain the chapter without understanding a broader use of bread and wine. It appears Paul is teaching the continuance of one of the good Jewish traditions (plenty of not-so-good ones are expounded in Matthew 23)important enough to be taught to a partly gentile congregation in Corinth. The instruction applies to the symbolic taking of bread and wine at all times but is especially important for the Passover!
The following seven points show why this writer believes 1 Corinthians 11 applies to taking bread and wine at other times, as well as the Passover:
1. The Passover or Days of Unleavened Bread are not mentioned in or near this chapter. Paul does not even use the Greek word for "unleavened" here, but uses the common word for bread. While chapter 5 and chapter 16:8 make it likely that the book was written to arrive for the Days of Unleavened Bread, most of the subjects of the book are year-round concerns (sectarianism, going to court with brethren, marriage, meat offered to idols, funding evangelism, spiritual gifts, love, conducting services, speaking in tongues, etc).
2. 1 Corinthians 11:2 clearly begins a new section that is labeled "tradition." Frequently, Paul spells out his authority for his statements: sometimes he quotes the Scripture, sometimes he references Christ and sometimes he says it is his own judgement. Here, he mentions traditions, and the next four chapters cover items mainly relating to worship services. There was little in the Old Testament about the subject, and Christ and the Apostles spent their early ministry preaching in the Temple and synagogues, so there was little experience there. 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 are understandable in this context of traditions, just as are head-coverings, spiritual gifts, speaking in tongues, and other instructions about services.
3. Five times, this chapter used the expression "when you come together" (verses 17, 18, 20, 33, 34). The Greek word is sunerchomai in every case. It is also used in chapter 14, verses 23 and 26, and numerous other places in scripture. It definitely refers to people coming together . Verse 18 says "come together as a church" and 20 says "come together in one place." It is hard to imagine what words Paul could have used to more clearly state that he was referring to all of the Corinthian's services..
4. Verses 17 through 22 are all the same paragraph. These paragraph breaks are in the Greek manuscripts. It unquestionably links "coming together as a church" and the "Lord's supper" issue. Were people saying "I'm of Apollos" (1Cor 1:12) only at Passover? Obviously, sectarianism was a continual problem.
5. The problems of drunkenness and shaming those who do not have as much to eat must be on-going problems. If Paul were writing this just before the holy days, then would not he say "last year some of you got drunk"? How could people be shamed by not having enough food only once per yearcould not they save up for it? These verses are understandable if we realize that Paul is telling them to take symbolic bread and wine regularly, but not try to imitate the entire last supper of our Savior (v 20).
6. In verses 23-26 we find the reference to "the night he was betrayed," but it says nothing at all about doing something on this night or commemorating that night in any way. Paul is simply filling in how and when the full meaning of this practice was explained. It was "that night" when the apostles first learned that the bread and wine used throughout history (Abraham, sacrifices, etc.) represented their Savior's body and blood. Paul did not choose a Greek expression that meant "annually" in verse 26, but one (like our English "often") that has no specific frequencyexactly what we would expect if he were referring to bread and wine taken on the Sabbath's, holy days, weddings, and other special occasions.
7. Some people insist that taking bread and wine symbols often "would cheapen it and cause it to lose its meaning." To some degree, that is true. People do pay a lot more attention to something that they do once per year as opposed to weekly or even more often. Most Sabbatarian groups that take bread and wine once per year are very serious about it. But this further demonstrates that the Corinthians were taking bread and wine oftenthey were not examining themselves and taking it in a worthy manner. Hence, Paul's admonition in verses 27-34 was necessary.
Is this a Matter of Salvation?
A natural reaction to this explanation of 1 Corinthians 11 is: "I know that the Eternal has worked powerfully in my life, how could I be missing something like this for so long?" We must realize that Paul calls this a tradition in verse 2it is not a requirement for salvation. Those Corinthians who were getting sick or dying were doing so because of their attitude, not because they were failing to take bread and wine often enough. Most of the "Church of God" groups today have been extremely solemn when they take it once-per-year. This is probably better than doing it often without the proper respect. The Passover, of course, is a special time unlike any other, because it marks our Savior's death and our deliverance from sin. We must eat unleavened breadpicturing our taking on His sinless nature, a bite at a time.
Many church groups quote the following verse to make bread and wine a salvation issue: "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:53-54). They combine this scripture with 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 and come up with a formula like this:
1) Eating his flesh and blood is required for salvation, and
2) Bread and wine represents his flesh and blood, so
3) Eating bread and wine is required for salvation.
But the conclusion of this formula is backwards. It is not a little bit of bread or wine that saves us, nor would literally eating Christ's flesh if it were available. The formula should work like this:
1) Eating bread and wine represents eating his flesh and blood.
2) Eating his flesh and blood represents putting in his nature and spirit and accepting his forgiveness for our sin (John 6:63, Matt 26:27-28).
3) Taking on His spirit, and accepting his forgiveness is what saves us, not the symbolic physical act.
Obviously, anyone interested in obeying the Eternal would be taking bread and wine at the times they understand the Bible to teach itwhether that be only on the Passover or more often. We can find condemnation for those who do not examine themselves, but not for repentant people who sincerely take it at the wrong time or in some wrong procedure (the scripture is not clear about whether we should use many little cups, share one cup, have someone break pieces of bread for us or each break our own piece).
Leavened or Unleavened?
How do we know when to use leavened bread and unleavened bread? Because the Greek artos usually refers to leavened bread, but can also mean unleavened bread, the New Testament tells us little for sure. We can be sure that unleavened bread must be eaten during the seven Days of Unleavened Breadwhich includes the Passover meal. Most of the Old Testament offerings were with unleavened bread and Christ's sinless life is certainly best represented by unleavened bread. However, Christ's "body" is now the church (Col 1:18) which is still in the process of getting rid of sin:
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion [fellowship] of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion [fellowship] of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread (1Cor 10:16-17).
We prefer not to use the term "communion" because it reminds people of Catholic or Protestant sacraments. "Fellowship" is an equivalent term used here in Young's Literal Translation that does not sound like a sacrament. Leavened bread well symbolizes what we are now: one body, but imperfect. It reminds us that we cannot expect others in the body to be perfect.
Unleavened bread symbolizes what we are becomingtaking on the nature of Christ until we are perfect like He is now. Outside of the Days of Unleavened bread, there may be a place for taking each type of bread. We will study this topic more in the future.
Who Can Take Bread & Wine?
The question has been raised: if we have bread and wine on a regular basis, how do we make sure that unconverted people do not partake of it? There is no Scripture that tells us we must prevent unconverted people from taking bread and wine with us. The apostles had not yet received the holy spirit when they took it at the last supper. Furthermore, we do not really know who is converted. If you have observed the Passover for many years, you know of many people who once observed it with you, but have since completely departed from Biblical living. Methods aimed at keeping out the unconverted do not work. That is why Paul says "let a man examine himself."
The most frequent reasoning used to keep "the unconverted" from taking bread and wine is the command to Israel to let only the circumcised eat the Passover. If there were a question, it was a fairly simple procedure to check. But now that circumcision is of the heart, it is inside where we cannot see.
We must not think of bread and wine as a "sacrament" like many of the large institutional religions do. It is not a "spiritual blessing" that we receive for being a member of a certain organization or for having been baptized. The holy spirit is the "spiritual benefit" that comes directly from the Father to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32)it does not come through bread and wine. Forgiveness of sins does not come through bread and wine either, but to those who repent.
On the other hand, taking bread and wine is not a blessing to the unconverted eitherit makes no sense to invite people to a service in the hope that bread and wine will somehow bring them closer to the Eternal. People should come to services because they want to learn. If they are willing to examine themselves, then they should be able to take bread and winethey are responsible for their actions. There is a tendency for some people to want to leave children out of important religious matters (Mark 10:13-14). However, children learn best from physical lessonsfrom actually doing something. We see no reason to forbid them from taking bread and wine if they will do it in a serious manner.
As we stated at the beginning of this article, we are not advocating that congregations begin taking bread and wine on a regular basis (unless they all agree on it). The purpose mentioned in 1Cor 10:16-17 was for unity. Until the practice is better understood among Sabbatarians, trying to implement it will probably cause more division than unity. Widespread study and conviction of the holy spirit will be required to implement such a practice, not just our writings. But for now, this understanding should help us meet together with our brethren who may desire to take bread and wine during the Spring Holy Days, but on a different day than we do.
Norman S. Edwards
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