WHY WE BELIEVE AND PRACTICE THESE THINGS # 10

Tommy Thornhill

 Continuing study of the issue of what Jesus meant when “He took the cup after supper saying, ‘this cup is the New Covenant in My blood , which is shed for you’” Lk.22:20Matt.26::28 adds “for the remission of sins.” Was Jesus giving thanks and telling His disciples the cup (container) was the New Covenant or was it the contents of the cup? Which represented the blood of Christ, the container or the contents (the fruit of the vine)?. I believe He was referring to the contents, not the container. As I closed the last issue, I wrote that the literal cup (the container) establishes nothing and commemorates nothing. Certainly, the fruit of the vine, to be drunk, must be placed in some kind of container, but the Lord assigns no meaning to the vessel itself – to the size, color, number or shape. He assigned a spiritual meaning to the contents, the fruit of the vine, not the literal container, in addition to the wine (fruit of the vine). Think with me.

The word “cup” is from the Greek word “poterion” and appears 33 times in the New Testament. In every case it means “a drinking  vessel” (a vessel out of which one drinks). But, out of the 33 times, the word is used literally only 4 times. That means 29 times it is used figurately. The context shows this. Read carefully each of the following scriptures in their categories to see that is so. LITERAL – Matt.10:42; Mk.7:4, 8; 9:41FIGURATELY. – Suffering Matt.20:22-23; 26:39, 42; Mk.10:38-39; Lk.22:42; Jn.18:11. One’s life Matt.23:25-26; Lk.11:39. Lewdness Rev.17:4; 18:6. God’s punishment Rev.14:10; 16:19. Sacrifice to idols 1.Cor.10:21. Fruit of the vine Matt.26:27; Mk.14:23; Lk.22:17, 20; 1.Cor.10:16, 21; 11:25-28.

If you checked these references, you learn that “cup” does not mean a literal drinking vessel every time it is used. In reference to the Lord’s Supper it applies to the contents, the wine (fruit of the vine) and not the container. It is that which can be divided and drank. They were to “drink of the fruit of the vine” Matt.26:26-29. In Lk.22:17 Jesus said, “take this and divide it among yourselves.” THINK. The word divide is one thing, and to drink is another matter. Drink does not mean to divide, and divide does not mean to drink. In Lk.22:20 we further note that Jesus said, “this cup … is poured out for you.” So, we note they were to drink and divide the cup (the fruit of the vine), and the cup represented the blood of Christ which had been poured out for us. One can pour out of a container, but cannot pour out the container.

In reality, in partaking of the Lord’s Supper, it is not a matter of insisting we must use individual cups, instead of just one cup (container), it is a matter of placing the emphasis where it really belongs, on the contents, not the container.  

Let’s notice something else that many do not understand about the “cup” in serving and partaking of the Lord’s Supper. The word “cup” in the Lord’s Supper context is a figure of speech called metonymy. Metonymy simply means “a change of name.” It is a figure of speech in which one name or noun is used in place of another. This being so, the “cup” (container) is used for the contents. Even though the container is mentioned, only the contents are under consideration. We use the metonymy form of speech in everyday language. For example, we ask someone “Did you enjoy your cup of coffee?” Or maybe “your glass of tea?” The person might reply, “Yes, I drank the whole cup, or the whole glass.” What did the person enjoy, the cup/glass container or the contents?  You know the answer.  You might tell someone, “the pot on the stove is boiling, What is boiling, the pot (container) itself or the contents of the pot? I believe you get the point. So it is that the “cup” in the Lord’s Supper is not the container, but the contents.

In an effort to justify the use of only one container, brethren argue that Jesus used only one cup (container) in instituting the Lord’s Supper and we must follow His example. This is an assumption that cannot be proven, i.e., that only one container was used. History reveals that in observing the Passover Feast, which they were observing at that time (and from which Jesus established the Lord’s Supper), provided that each participant had his own container. Let history speak.

“A cup of red wine, mixed with water was poured out for each guest … at the Passover Supper each participant had his own cup (my emphasis-t.t.) to drink from” (Hastings Dictionary of the New Testament – vol.2 pgs.326-327). This of course, was dealing with the practice of the Jews partaking of the Passover. Later, after Christianity was established, and the Lord’s Supper was being observed each week we read from the Ante-Nicene Fathers ca 200 AD, “we pray and beseech thee, O Lord, in Thy mercy, to let Thy presence rest upon this bread and these chalices (cups, emphasis mine, t.t.) on the all holy table” Vol.7, p.554. Again. “the others (deacons) bring and set upon the altar the breads and chalices prepared for the sacred banquet … then taking his inspiration from the last words, ‘Do this in remembrance of Me.’ The bishop develops the idea, recalling the passion of the Son of God … and declaring that it is in order to observe this memorial … this eucharistic bread and wine.” (NICENE AND POST-NICENE FATHERS, 2nd series, vol.14, pg. 138, 139. Date 343-381 AD.

I realize the above quotations from the Nicene Fathers are not quotes from the Bible, but they demonstrate that the practice of using individual drinking vessels in the Lord’s Supper was not something invented by people in our modern age. They strongly suggest each participant had his own container even when Christ instituted His memorial Supper. (to be continued)

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