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.
- A Mass by any other name 1
- A Mass by any other name 5
- A Mass by any other name 2
- This is my body
- Resources for Ordinary Week 19