Our church recently changed from unleavened bread to leavened for communion. A brother is struggling with this and came to me.
In my research I encountered explanations that since the original meal was before Passover, unleavened bread was not necessarily used. Which took me to Matthew 26:3-5, Mark 14:1-2 and Luke 22:1-2 all indicating that the chief priests were wanting to put Christ to death, but “not during the feast.” Later, in Matthew 26 and Mark 14, the meal they are eating (what is referred to as the Institution of the Lord's Supper) is on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Luke 22:15 quotes Christ as saying “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you...”
My understanding has always been that Christ was crucified before Passover but these passages indicate that the feast the priests were trying to avoid had already begun.
Which brings me to two questions:
- What meal was Jesus and his disciples eating?
- Any comments about unleavened v leavened bread for communion?
It is by no means settled among many that the Last Supper was
the Passover feast. It is a highly disputed point by interpreters. It is disputed whether this was the Passover (or before) or even if during the Passover, whether it was the actual Passover meal. For that matter the New Testament rites sum up a great deal of Old Testament matters, not merely one feast Passover, but Pentecost, Tabernacles, etc., and sacrifices, and we are unwise to attempt perfect one-to one correspondences as one New Testament practice with one Old Testament.
"In regard to the external form of the ordinance,whether or not believers are to take in their hands and divide among themselves, or each is to eat what is given him: whether they are to return the cup to the deacon or hand it to their neighbor; whether the bread be leavened or unleavened, and the wine to be red or white, is of no consequence. These things are indifferent, and left free to the Church, though it is certain that it was the custom of the ancient church for all to receive into their hand. And Christ said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves" (Luke 22:17). History relates that leavened and ordinary bread was used before the time of Alexander the bishop of Rome, who was the first that was delighted with unleavened bread: for what reason I see not, unless it was to draw the wondering eyes of the populace by the novelty of the spectacle, more than to train them in sound religion." Institutes
Bk.4, Ch. 17, Sec. 43.
It is wise to use what the Lord used: common bread and common wine. As it was by circumstance
during the Passover as unleavened, I agree with Calvin that that is not necessarily the point. I would also agree that it ought to be as close to the institution of the Supper that we uphold. I am comfortable in following Scripture in using what Christ did use. After all, how can we go wrong by following the Lord? Of course, an argument can be made to use that which is common, that is, available to the extent of the elements
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The debate over instinction, and grape juice, and leaven in regards to the Supper seems to distill down to this one question:
What things are 'expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture' and what things are 'circumstances which are ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence'?
If the Scriptures, either expressly or by good and necessary consequence, teach that wine is to be used then wine it must be. If the Scriptures do not, either expressly or by good and necessary consequence, teach that wine is to be used then the liquid is to be determined by the light of nature and Christian prudence.
The same could be said for leavened or unleavened bread, or for the combining of the wine and the bread into a new substance prior to partaking, or for the frequency of participation.
For example, the language in New Testament Scripture itself points away from unleavened bread. Greek has a specific word for unleavened bread, ἄζυμος
, which is used in all the relevant passages in the OT (Gen. 19:3; Ex. 12:8, 15, 17, 18, 20; Ex 13:6 etc.) That word is specifically not used in the gospel accounts or in Paul's account. Paul uses the Greek word for what is actually a "loaf of bread" (i.e. a leavened loaf) ἀρτος
There are occasions where ἀρτος
is used for unleavened bread, such as Ex. 29:2 and Lev 2:4 but in each case, the adjectival form of ἄζυμος
This view could be reinforced by:
1. Common bread used in a common meal in any Gentile area (i.e. as in the Corinthian church) would not be unleavened. It would be leavened.
2. Even those Gentiles who would be familiar with the OT Scriptures and ceremonies would expect to hear Paul say "unleaved bread" rather than "(leavened) loaf" in his comments on the Supper. But that is not what Paul does. He says (leavened, ordinary, common) loaf, not ἄρτους ἀζύμους
As the matter is a difficult one and still being debated, the following are worth a read:
http://www.denverprovidence.org/Weekly_ ... sion_2.pdf
Given For You
Finally, my opinion about all of this...
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The type of bread used does not matter. The point of the Supper meal is that it is the most uncommon fare to which God chooses to attach His glory. It is the "foolishness" of plain bread that proclaims Christ's broken body. Insisting on the "unleavened" part, anyplace, is going beyond the plain teaching of Scripture. I do not think Our Lord had unleavened bread in mind for His church, perpetually, on the night when he instituted the Supper. That was the "table bread" that unique night of the year. But the Supper is ideally for frequent observance.
I believe Christ used unleavened bread on the occasion of the Supper's institution. But Passover is an expired service. It doesn't exist anymore. Christ is our Passover Lamb. We don't purge leaven from our houses anymore. We are supposed to be purged of Egypt's leaven, according to 1 Cor. 5:6, all the time, every day. If we take frequent Supper observance seriously by insisting on unleavened bread then we should think (if we carry this symbolism through to the fullest) we should practically exclude leaven from our lives entirely. Israel was to keep it gone for a week or more from out their houses and all their coasts. Why are we only taking it out for an hour on Sunday? To me this is obviously the wrong way to think about it.
To insist on unleavened bread is again to go back under the law, in some sense. The Feast of Unleavened Bread was powerfully Jewish. And the church has broken through those national limitations. I distinguish following the old law from obeying the Lord's command and example. But the question is: how thorough should we be in a following of that example? We don't insist on going to an upper room. We don't all recline on one another, reclining around a U-shaped table.m And so on.
But we do want the same elements. So, we take Jesus' simple words as definitive. We don't read into them the full circumstances of the Passover he was finishing and fulfilling that night and following day. He said "wine" and "bread." He spoke of ordinary things, and not special, not unique to this event materials. Nothing in what Jesus said makes me conclude that He was calling on the ends of the earth to make special breads now for the Supper having no other purpose.
What about the Supper drink?
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I do think that Jesus had "red wine" in mind for his church, perpetually. Thus using wine is best (Luke 5:33-39). This is what Jesus said to use and I think Jesus had this in mind for His church perpetually. But, to insist on red wine in circumstances where although it is widely available, but over the misguided objections of others, when the unfermented grape-product is also on hand is being overscrupulous. It will harm the church more to fight that battle, than to pray and ask God to have His way peacefully.
Now if someone says Jesus also indicated the use of unleavened bread, because the Supper was instituted on Passover, I would point out that He did not explicitly say so, nor is there any other indication that He meant the Old Testament stipulations to be carried over into the New Testament rite. Nevertheless, I will accept any fruit of the vine, e.g., grape juice, if that is what the local church session determines. I think "red" is demonstrative of the shed blood of Jesus, which it represents, so I wouldn't want "white wine." ;)