Studying the various terms the New Testament uses for the Lord's Supper can help us understand the meaning of the act. In this study let us consider what we can learn from the term "the Lord's Supper." The New Testament uses this expression only once:
1 Corinthians 11:20 - Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper. Paul was correcting the Corinthians because, although they should have been eating the Lord's Supper, it was impossible to do so the way they did it.
"Supper" is sometimes translated "feast" (Matthew 23:6; Mark 6:21; 12:39; Luke 20:46 - NKJV). It refers to an important meal: the main meal of the day, or especially a meal honoring a person or occasion (Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich).
Terms for memorial meals, especially the Lord's Supper, are often used in a symbolic or non-literal way. People often reach inaccurate conclusions by trying to insist on a literal meaning.
Some have claimed that the Lord's Supper should be a full meal eaten as part of worship. But this is exactly what Paul was forbidding in 1 Corinthians 11. 1 Corinthians 11:34 specifically states that any man who is hungry should eat at home (in contrast to their assembly).
It follows that the word "supper" is not used here to refer to a literal meal.
Others have claimed that a "supper" is an evening meal, so we must have the Lord's Supper in the evening.
When used literally the word may often refer to an evening meal, but even this is not always so. And we have seen the word is not used literally in this case. The term emphasizes the importance of the meal, not the time of day.
No passage that refers to the Lord's Supper in the practice of the early church restricts the passage to a particular time of day. [It was instituted at the Passover which was eaten in the evening. But that was an Old Testament feast involving various practices that have no relationship to the Lord's Supper, and was not even taken on the first day of the week.]
John 12:2 - Mary and Martha made a supper for Jesus when He visited.
The supper of which we partake in worship is an even greater memorial meal to honor Jesus. It is the Lord's Supper.
Suppers were often banquets associated with a wedding or other special event (Revelation 19:9; compare Mark 6:21).
So, the Lord's Supper memorializes the death of Jesus. He said to eat the bread in memory of His body and drink the cup in memory of His blood (1 Corinthians 11:24,25).
So the point to be emphasized in the Lord's Supper is the fact that it honors the Lord and remembers His death. Just as Old Testament feasts memorialized various acts of God under the Old Testament, this feast memorializes the sacrifice by which Jesus gives us forgiveness of sins.
(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2018
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.