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Jesus Mafa Last Supper

Not the Lord’s Supper?

Jesus Mafa Last Supper
“Do this to remember me”

If you use the term “The Lord’s Supper” for the Eucharist, thinking that somehow you are being biblical in doing so, think again. If you recite the Last Supper story from St Paul as your way of consecrating bread and wine, thinking that doing so you are following Jesus’ command to “do this”, think again.

Andrew McGowan, Dean and President of Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, has just published a strong argument that

Paul’s term “Lord’s supper” (1 Cor 11:20) has been widely used for Christian liturgical meals of modern times and has often been assumed to reflect ancient use. Examination of ancient texts and the reception of 1 Corinthians, however, reveals that it was not a name used for the sacred meals otherwise known as Eucharist in the first three centuries. Hence, it was probably not a traditional term when used in 1 Corinthians, but an occasional rhetorical construction dependent on immediate context.

I have previously pointed out on this site that the term “The Lord’s Supper” (1 Corinthians 11:20 κυριακὸν δεῖπνον) only occurs once in the Scriptures. Now this article stresses that extending this single use to refer to the whole of the early Christian meal tradition or to the history of the Eucharist as such, is both historically inaccurate and conceptually unhelpful. We cannot even be sure whether “Lord’s supper” was an accepted name for the meal Paul is writing about rather than a momentary Pauline rhetorical flourish.

even Paul never speaks positively of an actual “Lord’s supper”; rather, he says that the problematic meal was not κυριακόν [of the Lord], in that each really had a meal that was ἴδιον [one’s own], pertaining to the individual who ate it, and not to the “body” of the Lord. In refusing to call these meals a “Lord’s supper,” Paul was not so much suggesting that the Corinthians were falling short of an ideal type of sacramental ritual as saying that they were not celebrating common meals in accordance with the example of the Lord Jesus, or in a manner that reflected their calling to be a “body” in him.

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5 thoughts on “Not the Lord’s Supper?”

  1. News to me, having grown up in a denomination more or less defined by the term, but it makes sense, of a sort.
    Not only is it the only mention of the phrase, it’s also surrounded in an entirely negative context – slagging the Corinthians off for the manner in which they eat – so it may well also describe a manner not the meal.
    I’ll keep the idea in mind, ta 🙂

  2. Padre, I’ve pondered this post for a couple of days and I’m not sure what the purpose for this post is. What point is it that you wish to make with this?

    1. I am interested, Br David, that the common assumption that Paul in his letter to Corinth was referring to the Eucharist/Mass when writing that what they were doing wasn’t the Lord’s Supper may be misreading the text completely. I find this re-reading of that text refreshing. I regularly find when my preconceptions are challenged, the re-reading of a text with different eyes refreshing and want to share that – if it does not enthral everyone, that’s perfectly fine. I was at what was called a Communion Service only very recently where this text of Paul’s was read out, as if by doing so the bread and wine were thereby consecrated. This now becomes doubly peculiar. Blessings.

  3. It’s been a long while since I have read a theology paper with level of technical English, so it will take me some time to catch up.

    I would agree with you that just ritually evoking the memory of the original event would be an incomplete process.

  4. My experience has always been that the Gospel wording is used. I’ve never seen Paul’s comment used in relation to communion and having read it I can see why. Paul appears to be teaching about an error present in the church written too where they were abusing scripture.

    Is that too simple?

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