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Bible Encyclopedias

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

Lord's Supper (Eucharist)

u´ka - rist




1. Textual Considerations

2. Narratives Compared

(1) Mark

(2) Matthew

(3) Pauline

(4) Luke

3. Other Pauline Data


1. Miracles of Loaves and Fishes

2. Discourse at Capernaum


1. Other Acts and Words of Christ on Eve of the Passion

2. Sacrificial Language of the Institution

3. Sacrificial System of Jewish Dispensation

4. Paschal Background of the Institution of the Eucharist


Points to Be Noted


1. Heavenly Background

(1) Christians a Priestly Race

(2) Christ, the Eternal High Priest

2. Celebrated Each Lord's Day

3. Names of the Eucharist

(1) Eucharist

(2) Lord's Supper

(3) Breaking of Bread

(4) Communion

(5) Oblation


1. Guidance by the Holy Spirit

2. The Early Fathers

(1) Ignatian Epistles

(2) Justin Martyr

(3) Irenaeus

(4) Cyprian


1. Outline of Eucharistic Prayer

2. Significance of This for Unity


I. Definition.

Eucharist . - T he distinctive rite of Christian worship, instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ upon the eve of His atoning death, being a religious partaking of bread and wine, which, having been presented before God the Father in thankful memorial of Christ's inexhaustible sacrifice, have become (through the sacramental blessing) the communion of the body and blood of Christ (compare John 6:54; Acts 2:42; Acts 20:7 , Acts 20:11; Romans 15:16; 1 Corinthians 10:16; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 ).

II. New Testament Sources.

The New Testament sources of our knowledge of the institution of the Eucharist are fourfold, a brief account thereof being found in each of the Synoptic Gospels and in Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; compare 1 Corinthians 10:16 , 1 Corinthians 10:17 ).

1. Textual Considerations:

The text of these narratives has been found to need little amendment, save the dropping of a word or two, from each account, that had crept in through the tendency of copyists, consciously or unconsciously, to assimilate the details of parallel passages. The genuineness of Luke 22:19 , Luke 22:20 is absolutely beyond question. Their omission in whole or part, and the alterations in the order of two or three verses in the whole section ( Luke 22:14-20 ), characteristic of a very small number of manuscripts, are due to confusion in the minds of a few scribes and translators, between the paschal cup (Luke 22:17 ) and the eucharistic cup (Luke 22:20 ), and to their well-meant, but mistaken, attempt to improve upon the text before them.

2. Narratives Compared:

(1) Mark:

The briefest account of the institution of the Eucharist is found in Mark 14:22-24 . In it the Eucharist is not sharply distinguished from its setting, the paschal meal: "And as they were eating, he took bread, and when he had blessed, he brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take ye: this is my body. And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave to them: and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many." This represents a tradition settled within 20 years of the event described.

(2) Matthew:

Matthew 26:26-28 gives a few touches by way of revision, apparently from one then present. He adds the exhortation "eat" at the giving of the bread, and puts the personal command, "Drink ye all of it," in place of the mere statement, "and they all drank of it." He adds also of the blood that, as "poured out for many," it is "unto remission of sins."

(3) Pauline:

The Pauline-account, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (the earliest written down, circa 55 AD), was called forth in rebuke of the scandalous profanation of the Eucharist at Corinth. It gives us another tradition independent of; and supplementary to, that of Mark-Matthew. It claims the authority of the Savior as its source, and had been already made known to the Corinthians in the apostle's oral teaching. The time of the institution is mentioned as the night of the betrayal. We note of the bread, "This is my body, which is for you," of the cup, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood," and the redoubled command, "This do in remembrance of me."

(4) Luke:

The narrative given in Luke 22:14-20 is the latest (circa 80 AD) of our New Testament records. Luke had taken pains to follow up everything to its source, and had reedited the oral tradition in the light of his historical researches ( Luke 1:2 , Luke 1:3 ), and thus his account is of the highest value. Writing for a wider circle of readers, he carefully separates and distinguishes the Eucharist from the paschal meal which preceded it, and puts the statement of Christ about not drinking "from henceforth of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come," in its proper place as referring to the paschal cup (compare Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; and Luke 22:15-18 ). In describing the actual institution of the Eucharist, he gives us an almost verbal identity with the account given by Paul (1 Corinthians 11:23-25 ).

3. Other Pauline Data:

We should note the statement appended by Paul to his account of the Institution, wherein he emphasizes the memorial aspect and evidential value of the witness the eucharistic observance would give throughout the ages of the Christian dispensation (1 Corinthians 11:26 ). We should also note the fact upon which the apostle bases his rebuke to the profane (Corinthians, namely, the real, though undefined, identity of the bread and wine of the Eucharist with the body and blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:27-29 ); an identity established through the blessing pronounced upon them, so that the bread and cup have come to be the "communion of the body of Christ" and the "communion of the blood of Christ," respectively (1 Corinthians 10:15-17 ). To receive the Eucharist, and also to partake of sacrifices offered to idols, is utterly incompatible with Christian loyalty. To receive the Eucharist after a gluttonous, winebibbing agape , not recognizing the consecrated elements to be what the Lord Christ called them, is, likewise, a defiance of God. Both acts alike provoke the judgment of God's righteous anger (1 Corinthians 10:21 , 1 Corinthians 10:22; 1 Corinthians 11:21 , 1 Corinthians 11:22 , 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 ).

III. Preparation for the Eucharist.

The institution of the Eucharist had been prepared for by Christ through the object-lesson of the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:35-44; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:4-13 ), which was followed up by the discourse about Himself as the Bread of Life, and about eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood as the nourishment of eternal life.

1. Miracles of Loaves and Fishes:

This again was clinched by the second object-lesson of the feeding of the four thousand afterward (Matthew 15:32-39; Mark 8:1-9 ). The Lord Christ's thanksgiving, and His blessing of the loaves and fishes - acts not elsewhere recorded of Him, except at the institution of the Eucharist, and at the self-revealing meal at Emmaus (Luke 24:30 ) - deeply impressed those present, as indicating the source whence came His power to satisfy the hunger of the multitude (compare Matthew 14:19; Matthew 15:36; Mark 6:41; Mark 8:6 , Mark 8:7; Luke 9:16; John 6:11 , John 6:23 ).

2. Discourse at Capernaum:

In the discourse at Capernaum (John 6:26-58 ) Christ led the thought of His hearers from earthly to heavenly food, from food that perished to the true bread from heaven. He declared Himself to be the living bread, and, further, that it is through eating His flesh and drinking His blood that they shall possess true life in themselves, and be raised by Him at the last day. The difficulties raised by this discourse Christ did not solve at the time. His ascension would but add to them. He asked of His disciples acceptance of His words in faith. Under the administration of the Spirit would these things be realized (John 6:60-69 ). The institution of the Eucharist, later, gave the clue to these otherwise "hard" words. Today the Eucharist remains as the explanation of this discourse. A hardy mountaineer, e.g. who had read Jn 6 many times, could form no notion of its purport. When first privileged to be present at the eucharistic service of the Book of Common Prayer, the meaning of feeding upon Christ's flesh and blood forthwith became apparent to him (see The Spirit of Missions , July, 1911, 572-73).

IV. Historical Setting of the Eucharist.

1. Other Acts and Words of Christ on Eve of the Passion:

We should note the setting in which the institution of the Eucharist was placed. Though the Fourth Gospel does not record this, it gives us many otherwise unknown data of the words of Christ spoken upon the eve of His death, in which historically the institution of the Eucharist was set. The symbolic washing of the feet of the disciples (John 13:3-10 ), the "new" commandment (John 13:34 ), Christ as the means of access to the Father (John 14:6 ), love for Christ to be shown by keeping His commandments (John 14:15 , John 14:21 , John 14:23 , John 14:24 ), the sending of the Paraclete Spirit (John 14:16 , John 14:17 , John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:13 , John 16:14 ), the intimate fellowship of Christ and His disciples, shown in the metaphor of the vine and its branches (John 15:1-9 , John 15:13-16 ) - all these throw their illumination upon the commandment, "This do in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24 , 1 Corinthians 11:25 ). The efficacy of prayer 'in Christ's name' (John 16:23 , John 16:24 , John 16:26-28 ) after His final withdrawal from the midst of His disciples, and His great prayer of self-oblation and intercession for His church throughout time (Jn 17, especially 17:9-26) must not be forgotten in considering, "This is my body which is given for you" (Luke 22:19 ), and, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins" (Matthew 26:28 ).

2. Sacrificial Language of the Institution:

The sacrificial connotation of many of the words used in the narratives of institution should be noted: e.g. "body," "blood," "covenant," "given," "poured out," "for you," "for many" "unto remission of sins," "memorial" (compare Exodus 24:6-8; Leviticus 2:2 , Leviticus 2:9 , Leviticus 2:16; Leviticus 4:5-7 , Leviticus 4:16-18 , Leviticus 4:34; Leviticus 17:11 , Leviticus 17:14; Leviticus 24:7; Numbers 10:10; Heb 9:11-28; Hebrews 10:4-10 , Hebrews 10:19 , Hebrews 10:20 ). The very elements of bread and wine also suggested the idea of sacrifice to those accustomed to their use in the older system of worship (compare Exodus 29:38-42; Numbers 15:4-10; 28 and 29 passim ).

3. Sacrificial System of Jewish Dispensation:

The general background, moreover, out of which the institution of the Eucharist stands forth, is the sacrificial system of the older dispensation. The chosen people of God, as a priestly race, a holy nation (Exodus 19:5 , Exodus 19:6; Deuteronomy 7:6 ), worshipped God with a sequence of offerings, Divinely molded and inspired, which set forth the sovereign majesty and overloading of God, His holiness, and the awe and penitence due from those who would draw nigh unto Him, and their desire for communion with Him.

The more immediate background of the Eucharist is the Passover, and that without prejudice as to whether the Lord Christ ate the paschal meal with His disciples before He instituted the Eucharist, as seems most probable (compare Luke 22:7-18 ), or whether He died upon the day of its observance (see article "Preparation," DCG , II, 409).

4. Paschal Background of the Institution of the Eucharist:

The Passover was at once a covenant-recalling and a covenant-renewing sacrifice, and the Eucharist, as corresponding to it, was instituted at the time of its yearly observance, and of the immolation of the true paschal lamb, of whose death it interpreted the value and significance (Exodus 12:3-28; compare Exodus 13:3-10; Deuteronomy 16:1-8; 1 Corinthians 5:7; John 6:51; John 10:10 , John 10:11 , John 10:15 , John 10:17 , John 10:18; John 15:13; John 17:19 ).

V. Sequence of the Institation.

Let us put before ourselves clearly the sequence of the Lord Christ's acts and words at the institution of the Eucharist ere we proceed to examine the church's mode of celebrating this ordinance.

Points to Be Noted

At the close of the paschal Supper, (1) the Lord Christ "took" the bread and cup, respectively, for use in His new rite; (2) He "gave thanks" over them, constituting them a thank offering to God; (3) He "blessed" them to their new and higher potency; (4) He "gave" them to the apostles (the breaking being a requisite preliminary to distribution of the bread); (5) He bade them "Take, eat," and "Drink ye all of it," respectively; (6) He declared, of the bread, "This is my body given for you," of the cup, "This is my blood of the covenant," or, "This is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you," "unto remission of sins"; (7) He adds the reiterated command, "This do for my memorial."

It is obvious that we are bidden to follow out the same series of acts, and statements, as those of Christ Himself. We should take bread and wine, set them apart by rendering thanks to God over them, presenting them to Him as symbols of Christ's body and blood, once for all "given" and "poured out" for us; bless them by asking God's blessing upon them (compare Genesis 14:19; Numbers 6:23-27; Mark 8:7; Luke 2:34; Luke 9:16; Luke 24:50 ); and receive and give them as the body and blood of Christ; for, "the cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ?" (1 Corinthians 10:16 ). It is obvious that we shall not forget, in this connection, the distinction between the natural body of Christ which He took of the Blessed Virgin, and the bread which He held in His hand, and blessed and made to function as His body for our participation and inherence in Him thereby - H is sacramental body. The church with her many members united to the Head, and thus to each other, is also called His body mystical (1 Corinthians 10:17; 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 1:22 , Ephesians 1:23; Colossians 1:24 ).

VI. The Church's Observance of the Eucharist.

1. Heavenly Background:

(1) Christians a Priestly Race:

We should remember the priestly character of the church of Christ, whose sacrifices are made under the dispensation of the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 2:5 , 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6; compare Acts 1:2 , Acts 1:8 ); and also the eternal priesthood in the heavens of our risen, ascended and ever-living Lord Christ.

(2) Christ the Eternal High Priest:

He laid down His life in order to take it again (John 10:17 ), and now in the perfection of His glorified human nature, by His very presence in heaven, He is forever the propitiation inexhaustible for our sins (Heb 2:17 through 3:3; 4:14 through 5:10; 7:1 through 8:7; 9:11-28; 10:1-25; compare 1 John 2:1 , 1 John 2:2 ). As the Lamb slain once for all but alive for evermore, the Lord Christ is the focus of the worship of angels and the redeemed (Revelation 1:17 , Revelation 1:18; Revelation 5:6-14; Revelation 7:9 , Revelation 7:10 ), and the Christian disciple has the privilege of feeding upon that eternal Priest and Victim (Hebrews 13:10; 1 Corinthians 10:16 ).

2. Celebrated Each Lord's Day:

The celebration of the Eucharist was characteristic of the pentecostal church (Acts 2:42 ), especially upon the Lord's Day (Acts 20:7 ). Its observance was preceded by the agapē (1 Corinthians 11:20 , 1 Corinthians 11:34 ) on the eve (for the circumstances of the institution were closely imitated, and the day was reckoned as beginning at sunset after the Jewish fashion), and thus the Eucharist proper came late into the night, or toward morning (Acts 20:11 ).

3. Names of the Eucharist:

(1) Eucharist:

The name" Eucharist" is derived from the eucharistēsas (" gave thanks") of the institution and was the most widely used term in primitive times, as applied to the whole service, to the consecration of the bread and wine or to the consecrated elements themselves (compare 1 Corinthians 14:16 ).

(2) Lord's Supper:

It should be noted that the name, "Lord's Supper," belongs to the agapē rather than to the Eucharist; its popular use is a misnomer of medieval and Reformation times.

(3) Breaking of Bread:

The term "breaking of bread" (Acts 2:42; Acts 20:7 , Acts 20:11 ) had little vogue after New Testament times.

(4) Communion:

"Communion" obviously is derived from 1 Corinthians 10:16 .

(5) Oblation:

In connection with the early and frequent use of the word "oblation" ( prosphorá ) and its cognates, we should note Paul's description of his ministry in terms that suggest the rationale of the prayer of consecration, or eucharistic prayer, as we know it in the earliest liturgical tradition: "that I should be a minister of Christ Jesus unto the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be made acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit" ( Romans 15:16 ).

VII. Post-Apostolic Church.

1. Guidance by the Holy Spirit:

The same Spirit who guided the church in the determination of the Canon of the New Testament Scriptures, the same Spirit who guided the church in the working out of her explicit formulation of the Christian doctrine of the Godhead, and of the Christ - that self-same Spirit guided the church in the formation and fashioning of her great eucharistic prayer into its norm in the same 4th century. The historic churches of the East, by their faithful adherence to this norm, have been almost undisturbed by the dissensions and disputes of Western Christendom touching the Eucharist.

2. The Early Fathers:

The glimpses given us in the earlier Fathers of the Eucharist are in entire accord with the more articulate expression of the church's corporate eucharistic worship, which we find in the liturgical documents and writings of the Nicene era.

(1) Ignatian Epistles:

The Ignatian Epistles show us the Eucharist as the focus of the church's life and order, the source of unity and fellowship. The Eucharist consecrated by the prayer of the bishop and church is the Bread of God, the Flesh and Blood of Christ, the communication of love incorruptible and life eternal (compare Ephesians , 5,13, 10; Trallians , 7,8; Romans , 7; Philadelphians , 4; Smyrnaeans , 7,8; Magnesians , 7).

(2) Justin Martyr:

Justin Martyr tells us that the Eucharist was celebrated on the Lord's Day, the day associated with creation and with Christ's resurrection. To the celebrant were brought bread and wine mixed with water, who then put up to God, over them, solemn thanksgiving for His lovingkindness in the gifts of food and health and for the redemption wrought by Christ. The oblations of bread and wine are presented to God in memorial of Christ's passion, and become Christ's body and blood through prayer. The Eucharist is a spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving commemorative of Christ's death; and the consecrated elements the communion of Christ's body and blood, by reason of the sacramental character bestowed upon them by the invocation of the Divine blessing (compare 1 Apol ., 13,15, 66,67; Dial. with Trypho , 41,70, 117).

(3) Irenaeus:

Irenaeus, also, emphasizes the fact that Christ taught His disciples to offer the new oblation of the New Covenant, to present in thank offering the first-fruits of God's creatures - bread and wine - the pure sacrifice prophesied before by Malachi. The Eucharist consecrated by the church, through the invocation of God's blessing, is the communion of the body and blood of Christ, just as He pronounced the elements to be at the institution (compare Against Heresies , i. 13,1; iv. 17,5; 18,1-6; 33,1; v. 22,3).

(4) Cyprian:

Cyprian, too, gives evidence of the same eucharistic belief, and alludes very plainly to the "Lift up your hearts," to the great thanksgiving, and to the prayer of consecration. This last included the rehearsal of what Christ did and said at the institution, the commemoration of His passion, and the invocation of the Holy Spirit (compare Epistle to Caecilius , sections 1,2, 4,9, 10,14, 17; Epistle to Epictetus , sections 2,4; On the Unity of the Church , I, 17; On the Lord's Prayer , section 31; Firmilian to Cyprian , sections 10,17).

VIII. Liturgical Tradition.

1. Outline of Eucharistic Prayer:

When we proceed to examine the early liturgical remains we find the articulate expression of the church's sacrifice following along these lines. After an introductory summons to the worshippers to "lift up their hearts," the great eucharistic prayer goes on to pour forth sublime praises to God for all the blessings of creation, and for the fruits of the earth; aligning the praises of the church with the worship of the heavenly host around the throne of God. The love of God in bringing about the redemption of fallen man through the incarnation, and through the self-oblation of His only Son upon the cross is then recalled in deep thankfulness. The institution of the Eucharist in the night of the betrayal is next related, and then, taking up, and fulfilling the command of Christ ('Do this for my memorial') therein recited, most solemn memorial is made before God, with the antitypical elements, of the death and of the victorious resurrection and ascension of the Lord Christ. Then, as still further carrying out this act of obedience, most humble prayer is made to the Eternal Father for the hallowing of the oblations, through the operation of the Holy Spirit, to be the body and blood of Christ, and to be to those who partake of them, for the imparting of remission of sins, and the bestowal of life eternal. To this great act of praise and prayer the solemn "Amen" of the assembled congregation assents, and thereafter the sacramental gifts are received by the faithful present, with another "Amen" from each recipient to whom they are administered.

The great eucharistic prayer, as outlined, was the first part of the liturgy to crystallize into written form, and of its component parts the invocation of the Divine blessing upon the elements was probably the first to be written down.

2. Significance of This for Unity:

Around the simplicity and the depth of such a truly apostolic norm of eucharistic worship, alone, can be gathered into one the now dispersed and divided followers of the Christ, for therein subsist in perfect harmony the Godward and the manward aspects of the memorial He commanded us to make as complementary, not contradictory; and the identity of the consecrated bread and wine with the body and blood of Christ is manifested to be in the realm of their spiritual function and potency.


E.F. Willis, The Worship of the Old Covenant ... in Relation to That of the New ; Frederic Rendall, Sacrificial Language of the New Testament ; Maurice Goguel, L'eucharistie des origines a Justin Martyr , 105 ff; W.B. Frankland, The Early Eucharist (excellent); H.B. Swete, "Eucharistic Belief in the 2nd and 3Cents.," Journal of Theological Studies , June, 1902,161 ff; R.M. Woolley, The Liturgy of the Primitive Church ; M. Lepin, L'idee du sacrifice dans la religion chretienne ; W. Milligan, The Ascension and Heavenly Priesthood of our Lord ; Thomas Brett, A T rue Scripture Account of the Nature and benefits of the Holy Eucharist , 1736; id, A D iscourse Concerning the Necessity of Discerning the Lord's Body in the Holy Communion , 1720; J.R. Milne, Considerations on Eucharistic Worship ; id, The Doctrine and Practice of the Eucharist ; H.R. Gummey, The Consecration of the Eucharist ; A.J. Maclean, Recent Discoveries Illustrating Early Christian Life and Worship ; id, The Ancient Church Orders ; L. Duchesne, Origines du culte chretien ; J.T. Levens, Aspects of the Holy Communion ; John Wordsworth, The Holy Communion ; F.E. Brightman, Liturgies, Eastern and Western .


1. Original Institution

2. The Elements

3. The Eucharist in the Apostolic Church

4. The Eucharist in the Post-apostolic Church

5. Rome and the Eucharist

6. Luther and the Eucharist

7. Zwingli and the Eucharist

8. Calvin and the Eucharist

This name of the Lord's Supper is derived from eucharistı́a , the prayer of consecration, and this in turn points back to Matthew 26:27 , "And he took a cup, and gave thanks" (eucharistḗsas ). The most common name is "Lord's Supper" (deı́pnon kurı́ou (1 Corinthians 11:20 )). It is also called "Lord's table" (trápeza kurı́ou (1 Corinthians 10:21 the King James Version)); while the cup is called "the cup of blessing" ( potḗrion tḗs eulogı́as (1 Corinthians 10:16 )) and "the cup of the Lord" (potḗrion kurı́ou (1 Corinthians 10:21 )). The word koinōnı́a points both to the bread and the cup, whence our common term "communion." In post-apostolic days it became known as leitourgı́a , a sacred ministration, whence our word "liturgy." It was also named thusı́a , a sacrifice, and mustḗrion , from its mystic character and perhaps from the fact that it was celebrated only in the closed circle of believers. The Roman Catholic church calls it missa or "mass," from the words congregatio missa est , whereby in post-apostolic times the first part of worship, called the missa cathechumenorum , was closed, and whereby the second part of worship was ushered in, known as the missa fidelium , the sacramental part of worship, only destined for believers.

1. Original Institution:

The origin of the Eucharist is described in Matthew 26; Mark 14 , and Luke 22 . Paul introduces his simple and comprehensive recital of the origin of the institution - the earliest written record of it - with the words: "For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you" (1 Corinthians 11:23 ). A comparison between the Gospels and Ex 12 indicates a considerable modification of the original Passover ritual in the days of Jesus (see Smith's DB , article "Lord's Supper"). The composite Gospel-picture of the institution of the Eucharist shows us the Saviour in the deep consciousness of the catastrophe about to overwhelm Him, surrounded by treason on the part of Judas and a strange and total lack of appreciation of the true situation on the part of the other disciples. He had greatly 'desired to eat this passover with them before he suffered' (Luke 22:15 ), and yet they are wholly unresponsive, the chief question apparently in their minds being the old contention of rank and preeminence. Whether or not Judas was present at the eating of the Supper is a moot point, which we will not discuss here. Neither will we touch the question whether or not this Passover-meal was the true Jewish festive meal or an anticipation of it, called pascha only, in allusion to the great feast, which had brought the hundreds of thousands of Jews to Jerusalem (compare Mt 26; Mk 14 with John 12:1; John 13:1 , John 13:2 , John 13:29; John 18:28; John 19:14 , John 19:31 ).

Both Matthew and Mark leave the exact place of the institution of the Supper in the festive meal indefinite, "as they were eating" (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22 ); the words of Lk, "after supper" (Luke 22:20 ), may be a hint in regard to this matter (see John 13:1; 1 Corinthians 11:25 ). But the custom of the early church of celebrating the Eucharist after the agapē or "love feast" appears to be strong evidence that the original institution was separate from the paschal festival and followed it. The entire subject of the Eucharist has been called in question by the radical German critics, who point to the absence of the whole matter in Jn and to the omission of the words, "Do this in remembrance of me," in Matthew and Mark. Its occurrence in Luke is ascribed to Paul's influence over him and to his familiarity with the story of the institution as described by the apostle. But this position is utterly untenable in the light of the unquestioned fact that the Lord's Supper as a fixed part of worship was firmly established from the earliest days of the Christian church. The doctrine of Christ's vicarious suffering is nowhere so clearly enunciated as in the words of the institution of the Supper, "This is my body which is given for you" (Luke 22:19 ); "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins" (Matthew 26:28 ). Small wonder that those who have utterly done away with the doctrine of the vicarious atonement or of substitution should attack the historicity of the Eucharist and should seek by all means to wipe it from the record.

Jesus bids His followers to observe the new institution "in remembrance of" Him. As Dr. Bavinck says, "The Lord's Supper is instituted by Christ as a permanent benefit to His church; it is a blessing added to all other blessings to signify and to seal them" ( Geref. Dogm. , IV, 310).

2. The Elements:

As to the elements used in the original institution of the Supper, they were bread and wine. The bread of course was the unleavened bread of the Passover, during which feast every trace of leaven was removed (Exodus 12:19 ). The Eastern church, perhaps influenced by the bitter Ebionite spirit of the Judaizers, later adopted the use of common bread ( koinós ártos ); the Western church used unleavened bread. Protestantism left the matter among the adiaphora .

As regards the wine, the matter has been in dispute from the beginning (see Kitto's Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature ). The early church always used mixed wine, wine and water, following the Jewish custom. Whether the wine used at the institution of the Lord's Supper was fermented or unfermented wine, must of course be determined by the Jewish Passover-customs prevailing at that time. The matter is in dispute and is not easily settled.

Modern Jews quite generally use raisin-wine, made by steeping raisins over night in water and expressing the juice the next day for use at the Passover-meal. The ancient Jews, we are told, used for this purpose a thick boiled wine, mixed with water (Mishna, Terūmōth , xi). Whether oinos , the word used in the New Testament, stands literally, as the name indicates, for fermented wine, or figuratively for the mixed drinks, well known to ancient and modern Jews, is a debatable matter. As late as the 16th century the Nestorian Christians celebrated communion with raisin-wine, and the same is said of the Indian Christians ("St. Thomas Christians"). The word "new," used by Christ in Matthew 26:29 , is believed by some to indicate the character of the wine used by Christ at the institution of the Eucharist, namely, the juice of grapes fresh pressed out (see Clem. Alex., Paed ., xi). On the other hand the third Council of Braga explicitly forbade this practice as heretical. It is evident that the whole subject is shrouded in much mystery. Some ancient sects substituted an entirely different element, water and milk, for instance, being used (Epiph., Haer ., xlix; Aug., Haer ., xxviii). Such customs were utterly condemned by the Council of Braga (675 AD). In general, however, the Christian church, almost from the beginning, seems to have used fermented red wine, either mixed or pure, in the administration of the Eucharist, in order to maintain the correspondence between the symbol and the thing symbolized.

3. The Eucharist in the Apostolic Church:

Originally the apostolic church celebrated communion at every meeting for worship. They continued steadfastly in the apostle's teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42 , Acts 2:46 ). Very soon, however, if we may judge from the Acts and the Church Pauline Epistles, its administration was confined to the meeting on the first day of the week. The agapē always preceded communion, and at some part of the service the believers, the sexes after the plan of the synagogue being separated, would salute each other with the "holy kiss" (phı́lema hágion ) (1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12 ). But the introduction of the sacrament, with all its accessories, had evidently occasioned grave abuses at Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:34 ). Paul corrects these in unmistakable language. Thus we received our first written record of the institution of the Supper. In Corinth it seems to have been restricted from the beginning to the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2 ). By a slow transition the deipnon was transferred from the midnight hour to the morning. At least we find that Paul kept it after midnight at Troas ( Acts 20:11 ). It would appear as if the apostle had also partaken of the Lord's Supper, together with his Christian companions, on board the ship, toward the close of his fateful trip on the Adriatic (Acts 27:35 ).

4. The Eucharist in the Post-Apostolic Church:

In the post-apostolic church the Eucharist continued to be celebrated every Lord's day. But it separated itself from the preaching of the Word and from prayers, as in the previous period. It was invested with a mystic meaning, something too holy for the common eye, and thus the missa catechumenorum , the open church-meeting, was separated from the missa fidelium , the gathering of believers only, in which the Eucharist was celebrated. Bread, wine, oil, milk, honey, all the ingredients for the agapē , from which the elements for the Supper were selected, were furnished by the free-will offerings of the believers. These were solemnly set apart by the officiating bishop with a consecrating prayer, eucharistia , and thus the sacrament obtained the name "Eucharist." The gifts themselves were called prosphorai , "oblations," or thusiai , "sacrifices." The sacrificial conception of the Supper was thus gradually created (Ign., Phil ., iv; Smyrna , vii, viii; Justin, Apol ., i. 66; Dial ., xii. 70; Irenaeus, Adv . Haer., iv. 18,5). The Eucharist once being conceived as a sacrifice, the conception of the officiating bishop as a priest became logically inevitable. The Apostolical Constitutions, 43 (4) gives us a fair idea of the worship of the church, toward the close of the 3century. Even at that early day a well-developed ritual had replaced the simplicity of the worship of the apostolic days. In the African and Eastern churches, baptized children were allowed to partake of communion, through the fear engendered by John 6:53 . The regenerative conception of baptism largely influenced this custom. The remnants of the consecrated elements were brought by the deacons to the sick and to imprisoned believers. We have not the space in a brief article like this to enter fully into the development of the doctrinal conception of the Supper as found in the Fathers. Suffice it to say that the symbolical and spiritual concept of the Eucharist, usually defined as the "dynamic" view of the Supper, was advocated by such men as Origen, Eusebius of Caesarea, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzen and others. On the other hand Cyril, Gregory of Nyssa, Chrysostom and John Damascenus developed the "realistic" theory of the Eucharist, and this view again divided itself into the "diophysitic" theory, later called "consubstantiation," and the "monophysitic" theory, later known as "transubstantiation." Augustinns, the great Latin Father, knew nothing of theory of tran-substantiation. He taught that communion carries a blessing only for believers, while to the unbelieving it is a curse, and that the true eating of the body of Christ consists in believing (Serm. Ad Infantes , De Civ ., x.6; xxii. 10; Tract. 25 in Joann.). Paschasins Radbert (died 865 AD) was the first fully to formulate the realistic view as the doctrine of the Romish church, and although the dynamic view triumphed for a while, the condemnation of Berengarius of Tours (died 1088 AD) proved that by the middle of the 11th century the realistic view of the Supper had become the generally accepted doctrine of the Eucharist.

5. Rome and the Eucharist:

The Romish church couches its doctrine of the Eucharist in the word "transubstantiation," which means the conversion of the substance of the elements used in the Eucharist. The word was first used by Hildebert of Tours (died 1134 AD) in a sermon. The doctrine of the Supper was finally fixed, together with the new term, by Pope Innocent III, at the Lateran Council 1215 AD. It was decided that the body and blood of Christ are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar, under the species of bread and wine, the bread being transubstantiated into the body and the wine into the blood of Christ, by the Divine power. This has been the Romish doctrine of the Supper ever since. The bread and wine are changed into the veritable body and blood of Christ, by the words of the institution. By the institution of the Supper, Christ made His disciples priests, wherefore the Eucharist may be administered only by an ordained priest. In the miracle of the sacrament, the "accidents" of the elements - bread and wine - remain, but they are no longer inherent in a subject, the substance in which they inhered being replaced by another. This new substance is the body and blood of Christ, which is hidden from observation under the appearance of the elements. The whole Christ is present in each of these elements, hence, it is not necessary to commune under both forms ( sub utraque ). In the Romish conception of the Supper communion with Christ is a secondary idea. The main idea is that of the transubstantiation itself, for the Supper is more a sacrifice than a sacrament; thus the mass becomes a sin offering. While it feeds faith, keeps us from mortal sin, wards off temporal punishment, unites believers, it also has a potency for those who are not present, and even for the dead in purgatory. Thus the mass became the very heart and center of the entire Romish cult ( Conf . Trid ., XIII , 21,22; Cat. Rom., CXII , c. 4; Bellarm, De Sacr . Euch ., I, iv; Moehler, Symb ., section 34).

6. Luther and the Eucharist:

The Reformers rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation, the sacrificial conception of the Eucharist, the adoration of the "host," the withholding of the cup, the efficiency of the Eucharist in behalf of the dead, the entire Romish conception of the sacrament of the Supper. The original position of Luther, that the elements in the Supper were signs and seals of the remission of sins, was soon replaced by the doctrine of "consubstantiation." The bitter controversy with Carlstadt, and especially the failure of the Marburg Conference, drove Luther forever into the camp of the realists. As early as 1524 he had outlined his doctrine against Carlstadt. He placed himself squarely on the realistic conception of the words of the institution, and held that "the body of Christ in accordance with the will and omnipotence of God and its own ubiquity is really and substantially present in , with and under the Supper, even as His Divine nature is in the human as warmth is in the iron. Wherefore the Supper is physically partaken of by those who are unworthy, albeit to their own destruction" (Bavinck, Geref . Dogm ., IV, 318). This doctrine has been fully developed by the Lutheran divines, and is till this day the view of the Lutheran church.

7. Zwingli and the Eucharist:

Zwingli essentially sided with Carlstadt in his controversy with Luther, whom he thereby greatly embittered. He interpreted the words of the institution - "this is" - as signifying "this stands for," "this signifies." This view was fully set forth in a letter to Matthew Alber at Reutlingen in 1524 and was given its final form in his dogmatic tract, Com . de vera et falsa rel . (1525), where he characterizes Luther's doctrine as "an opinion not only rustic but even impious and frivolous." The breach was widened by the Marburg Conference of 1529. Reduced to its last analysis, the eucharistic concept of Zwingli is that of a symbolical memorial of the suffering and death of Christ, although Zwingli does not deny that Christ is present to the eye of faith. On the contrary, He is enjoyed through the word and through faith, i.e. in a spiritual way. In the Supper we confess our faith, we express what that faith means to us, and we do it in memory of Christ's death (Oper., ii. 1,426; iii. 239,326, 459; iv. 51,68). The Zwinglian view has been consciously or unconsciously adopted by a very large portion of the Protestant church.

8. Calvin and the Eucharist:

Calvin's position on the doctrine of the Eucharist tends rather to the Lutheran than to the Zwinglian view. With Zwingli the sacrament is little more than a sign, with Calvin it is both a sign and a seal. The reality of communion with Christ and the benefits of His death, received by a living faith - all this is common to the Lutheran and the Calvinistic views. The Lord's Supper is far more than a mere memorial service, it is a marvelous means of grace as well. Calvin sides with Zwingli in denying all physical, local or substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist. But he differs from him in making the eucharistic act far more than a confession of faith, and he lays far greater stress than Zwingli on the meaning of its true participation. With Luther he holds that Christ is truly present in the Supper, and he lays stress especially on the mystic union of the believer with Christ. In the Supper both the benefits of Christ's death and His glorious person are touched. But Christ does not descend in the Supper to the believer, but the latter ascends to Him in heaven. The central thought of the Calvinistic conception of the Supper is this, that the communicant, through the operation of the Holy Spirit, comes in spiritual contact with the entire person of Christ and that he is thus fed unto life eternal. Every close student of Calvin's works will have to admit that his ideas on the subject are somewhat involved and confusing. This is due no doubt to the mediating position he occupied between Luther and Zwingli. But his position as a whole is quite plain. All his followers agree in holding that (1) Christ is only spiritually present in the Supper; (2) that the participation in the benefits of the Supper must therefore be spiritual, although it is real, and (3) that only true communicants, by a living faith, can communicate therein, and that this participation in the atoning death of the Saviour is sealed to us by the use of the ordained signs of the sacrament.

Lutheran Interpretation


1. The Derivation and Meaning

2. Synonyms


1. Source and Norm of the Doctrine of the Eucharist

2. Interpretation of the Eucharistic Texts

3. Doctrinal Contents of the Eucharistic Passages


1. Question of Possibility

2. The Place of Faith in the Sacrament

3. The Words of the Institution

I. The Term.

1. The Derivation and Meaning:

"Eucharist" is the anglicized form of the Greek noun eucharistı́a , which signifies "gratitude," "thanks," or "praise offering." The noun is derived from the verb eucharistéō , which, with the verb eulogéō of kindred meaning in Matthew 26:26 , Matthew 26:27; Mark 14:22 , Mark 14:23 , is used to describe the action of the Lord in blessing the bread and wine at the institution of the Lord's Supper (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23 ). When used absolutely, as in these places, it signifies "the offering up of praise that is prompted by nothing else than God Himself and His revealed glory" (Cremer). The blessing of the physical elements was part of the sacramental action at subsequent celebrations of the ordinance (1 Corinthians 10:16 ), and thus eucharistia soon (2nd century) came to mean the blessed elements and the entire ordinance in which these were administered.

2. Synonyms:

Other Scriptural terms for the same ordinance are "Communion" (from koinōnı́a , in the twofold sense indicated in 1 Corinthians 10:16 , 1 Corinthians 10:17 ), "Lord's Supper" (kuriakón deı́pnon (1 Corinthians 11:20 )), "Lord's Table" (trápeza kurı́ou (1 Corinthians 10:21 )), "Breaking of Bread" (klásis toú ártou (Acts 2:42 )). The literature of the church developed a great many terms which emphasize one or the other feature of the ordinance. Luther, in his Small Catechism, adopts the name "Sacrament of the Altar," because it is administered at the altar. The Lutheran Confessions occasionally employ the term "mass," however, in the original meaning which the early church, not in that which the Roman church, connects with the term ("mass" derived either from missa , "things sent," because the materials for communion were sent to the place of celebration, or from missio , "a sending (away)," because worshippers who were not members, or minors, were dismissed from the service before the celebration of the Eucharist began; but see McClintock and Strong, Cyclop. of Biblical, Theol., and Eccles. Lit. , V, 863).

II. The Ordinance.

1. Source and Norm of the Doctrine of the Eucharist:

The "seats of doctrine," i.e. the Scripture texts which must be employed for determining every essential part of the teaching of Scripture regarding the second sacrament of the Christian church, are the words of institution recorded in Matthew 26:26-28;

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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Lord's Supper (Eucharist)'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 1915.