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What is Scriptural Communion?

 

 

          Communion has long been an ordinance held by the church.  The Messiah clearly taught that we are to observe the bread as His body and the wine as His blood (Matt. 26:26-28).  Though the church seems united in the concept of observing communion, there is a disputation regarding how to observe it.  Today it is common to take communion weekly or even monthly, but is this what the early believers did?  The intent of this article is to identify the meaning of the bread and wine and how we are to observe this commandment today.

 

Defining Terms:

 

          Before we continue it would be helpful to define some terms.  On the night the Messiah was betrayed He had a special meal with his disciples.  This meal is commonly called the Last Supper.  Though the entire meal is not mentioned, the command of communion is.  This was a command to use bread and wine as a memorial for the Messiah's death (Matt. 26:26-28).  The bread represents the Messiah's body (Matt. 26:26), and the wine represents the Messiah's blood (Matt. 26:28).  Though the implements are clear, the commandment to observe communion is clouded with much doubt.  There is controversy surrounding the modality of how to observe this command.  Here are a few terms that need to be identified.

 

The Bread:

 

       The Greek word used for the bread of communion is artos, which means, "bread (as raised) or a loaf" (Strong's Dictionary - G740).  This word is used to describe regular leavened bread, as a raised loaf of bread.  This word comes from the word airō, which means to lift; figuratively to raise up” (Strong's Dictionary - G142).  The implication is that it was a raised loaf of bread.  The Messiah used regular bread and not unleavened bread to institute His communion commandments.  If He were to have used unleavened bread He would have no doubt used the word azumos, which means, "unleavened bread, specifically (by implication) the Passover week" (Strong's Dictionary - G106).  In 1 Cor. 5:7 the Apostle Paul uses the word azumos to describe the Passover, however later in 1 Cor. 10:16 he uses the word artos to describe the Lords Supper.  Not once in the scripture is the word azumos used to describe the bread at communion.  If it was never called unleavened bread in the scripture, why do we insist it was unleavened bread today?

          In fact, church history proves that the bread for communion was regular leavened bread.  For the first 1,000 years of church history there is not one shred of evidence of unleavened bread used for communion.  Dr. Johannes H. Emminghaus in his book, The Eucharist: Essence, Form, Celebration, said, “In the first millennium of the Church's history, both in East and West, the bread normally used for the Eucharist was ordinary 'daily bread,' that is, leavened bread, and the Eastern Church uses it still today.”  Father William O'Shea in his book, The Worship of the Church, said, “Another change introduced into the Roman Rite in France and Germany at the time [8th - 9th century] was the use of unleavened bread and of thin white wafers or hosts instead of the loaves of leavened bread used hitherto.”  In fact, the Eastern churches still use regular leavened bread in their services today.  The Greek church has a specific word they use for the bread of communion.  That word is artos, which they have used for regular leavened bread since the time of the Messiah.

          The only verse in the scripture that supports the word artos being used for unleavened bread is Luke 24:30, 35.  This is an example of the Messiah using artos, leavened bread, during the feast of Unleavened Bread.  However, upon closer review even this verse does not prove that the bread of the Last Supper was unleavened.  Just because artos can be used to represent unleavened bread does not mean that it does in this occurrence.  However, I do not believe artos can ever represent unleavened bread even in light of Luke 24.  In Luke 24 the disciples are walking with the Messiah on the road to Emmaus.  The Messiah purposely hid his identity with His two disciples (Luke 24:16).  He used this as an opportunity to teach how the Old Testament scriptures spoke of the Messiah (Luke 24:27).  The point to this entire encounter was to teach these two disciples who He was.  To do this He hid His identity from them.  When He finally was persuaded to stay with them to eat He broke bread with regular leavened bread (Luke 24:30).  This was to reveal who he was.  Immediately their eyes were opened and they knew who He was, but He vanished out of their sight (Luke 24:31).  They then concluded that He made Himself known to them through the breaking of bread (Luke 24:35).  The breaking of bread (communion) was a very intimate thing the disciples did.  This was something He no doubt taught them throughout His ministry.  The Messiah used communion (breaking of bread) as a way to reveal himself to His disciples (Luke 24:35).  This is no different then Acts chapter 10 where God used eating unclean animals (Acts 10:11-14) to teach a lesson about racial discrimination (Acts 10:34-36).  If God can use the eating of unclean animals, which is sin, as an object lesson, then the Messiah can use communion with leavened bread during the feast of unleavened bread to reveal who He is.  Keep in mind, the Messiah disappeared with the breaking of bread.  I believe the bread disappeared as well for their is no mention of them eating the bread.  The purpose of this encounter was to reveal who the Messiah was (Luke 24:35), not to endorse eating leavened bread during the feast of Unleavened Bread.

          I believe that artos means regular leavened bread in all occurrences in the scriptures.  If artos means regular leavened bread, it provides strong evidence that the Last Supper meal that the Messiah provided for His disciples was not a Passover meal.  If it was, then the Messiah did it wrong according to the Passover Commandments of using unleavened bread (Ex. 12:6, Lev. 23:6), and we know from the scriptures that the Messiah fulfilled all the law (Matt. 5:17).  The bread the Messiah used must have been leavened and this is strong evidence that the Last Supper was not the Passover meal.

 

The Wine:

 

       The word used for wine is not mentioned in the communion verses.  Instead, the words used to represent the wine are "the cup" (Matt. 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20, 1 Cor. 11:24-25), and the "fruit of the vine" (Matt. 26:29, Mark 14:25, Luke 22:18).  We can conclude from this that the drink in the cup was clearly wine.  In fact, we can be certain that it was also fermented wine.  The word used in the New Testament for unfermented wine is always "new wine" (Matt. 9:17).  This time of year was Passover and well after the grape harvest.  All grapes would have fermented naturally by now and new wine would not have been available.  The Messiah must have used fermented wine for the Last Supper.

  

Communion:

 

       The word used for communion in the New Testament is koinōnia, which means, "partnership, that is, (literally) participation, or (social) intercourse, fellowship" (Strong's Dictionary - G2842).  This word would better be translated as fellowship.  The English definition is, “The sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially on a mental or spiritual level” (Oxford Dictionary).  Unfortunately, the word communion today has become a religious ceremony which is quite contrary to what the scripture teaches.  If communion means, "social intercourse, fellowship, and the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings," then why do we bow in silence and ignore all social aspects to communion.  This is contrary to what communion is.  The meal of the Last Supper is our way of participating socially in fellowship with the Messiah.  This is a meal and not a simple ceremony during a church service.  We should celebrate our fellowship with the Messiah during the course of a meal.

 

          With these definitions in place we can now gain a better understanding of what the Last Supper was and how we are to practice it today.

 

Examples of Communion:

 

          To properly understand communion we must code plead the statute.  Code Pleading is how a lawyer would study law.  After all, the Bible is a Law Book.  It is written in legal code.  That code is "precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little" (Is. 28:13).  We need to find every place that communion is mentioned in the scripture.  This is what is meant by "here a little, and there a little."  Then we must get the context of each portion of scripture.  This is what is meant by "precept upon precept" and "line upon line."  Once we do that everything falls into place.

          If you Code Plead a meal of bread and wine you will get three examples.  The first is the meal between Melchizedek and Abram, the second is the meal of the Table of Showbread, and the third is the Last Supper.  These meals are one and the same.  If we gather all the evidence from each meal we will learn what communion is.  

 

Melchizedek and Abram:

 

       "And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God." (Gen. 14:18).  Melchizedek, the High Priest, ate a meal of bread and wine with Abram.  The word for bread is lechem (regular leavened bread), not matsah (unleavened bread).  Melchizedek was the High Priest who had a priestly meal of bread and wine with Abram.

 

Table of Showbread:

 

       The bread for the Table of Showbread was made every Sabbath (Lev. 24:8).  The word used for that bread is lechem pânı̂ym, which literally means "the bread of his face."  The word matsah is never used for the Showbread.  This table also contained wine, which is called a drink offering (Num. 4:7).  Here in Numbers chapter four the phrase is  "covers to cover withal."  The word "cover withal" is the exact same word used throughout the scripture as a drink offering, which is wine.  The showbread also contained frankincense oil (Lev. 24:7) and salt (Lev. 24:7 - Septuagint).  This meal was eaten every Sabbath by the High Priest and his priesthood.

 

The Last Supper:

 

       The Last Supper is another meal of bread and wine.  The word used for bread is artos, which means bread (as raised) or a loaf" (Strong's Dictionary - G740).  This word comes from the word airō, which means to lift; figuratively to raise up” (Strong's Dictionary - G142).  This was regular leavened bread.  Azumos, the word for unleavened bread, is never used to describe communion.   The Last Supper also had something to dip the bread in (John 13:26).  In the ancient cultures, this was always oil.  This meal was eaten just before the Passover. 

 

Historical Perspective:

 

          The truth of the matter is this, communion was not a new concept to the New Testament.  This meal had been shared by believers for thousands of years.  If you study ancient non-biblical documents you will quickly discover this truth.  Believers throughout history have celebrated a communion meal in anticipation of a future meal with the Messiah.  Here are some groups that did just such a meal.

 

The Therapeutae:

 

       Philo of Alexandria mentioned a group of believers called Therapeutae.  This was a group of believers who practiced what we would call holistic healing.  They would use natural methods to heal body, mind, and soul.  They held a communion meal every Sabbath.  Philo said, “And when each individual has finished his psalm, then the young men bring in the table which was mentioned a little while ago, on which was placed that most holy food, the leavened bread, with a seasoning of salt, with which hyssop is mingled, out of reverence for the sacred table, which lies thus in the holy outer temple” (Philo of Alexandria, On the Contemplative Life, p. 10, v. 81)  This meal was called communion and was practiced since well before the Messiah walked the earth.

 

The Essenes:

 

       The Essenes were a sect of the Jews living in Qumran.  According to Josephus, the Essenes were Jews by birth.  They were the tribe of Judah.  "For there are three philosophical sects among the Jews. The followers of the first of which are the Pharisees; of the second, the Sadducees; and the third sect, which pretends to a severer discipline, are called Essens.  These last are Jews by birth, and seem to have a greater affection for one another than the other sects have. (Flavious Josephus, War of the Jews, Book 2, Ch. 8, vs. 2). 

       We have an enormous amount of evidence regarding this community from the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The Essene community also had a communion meal of leavened bread every Sabbath.  The Dead Sea Scrolls declare,  "When they gather at the communal table, having set out bread and wine so the communal table is set for eating and the wine poured for drinking, none may reach for the first portion of the bread or the wine before the priest.  For he shall bless the first portion of the bread and the wine, reaching for the bread first. Afterward the Messiah of Israel shall reach for the bread.  Finally, each member of the whole congregation of the Yahad (united community) shall give a blessing, in descending order of rank" (Wise, Abegg, and Cook, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation, p.147).

       The Dead Sea Scrolls date to approximately two centuries BC.  This community was practicing communion two centuries before the Messiah instituted the command.  They knew to do this from the Table of Showbread and Melchizedek and Abram.

 

The Sadducees:

 

        The Greek word for Sadducee is Saddoukaios, which comes from the word Saddouk, the same word for Zadok (1 Kings 1:8).  The Sadducees were descendants of the Zadokite priesthood.  They were the priests in charge of the Temple at the time of the Messiah.  We know from Josephus that the showbread at the time of the Messiah was unleavened, but was it always this way?  Josephus also said, “What I would now explain is this, that the Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many observances by succession from their fathers, which are not written in the laws of Moses; and for that reason it is that the Sadducees reject them, and say that we are to esteem those observances to be obligatory which are in the written word, but are not to observe what are derived from the tradition of our forefathers” (Flavious Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Bk. 13, Ch. 10, v. 6.).  Is it possible that the Pharisees changed the showbread from leavened bread to unleavened bread?  Since every other community practiced a leavened bread Table of Showbread meal it is very probable that this bread was changed.  Especially since the word matsah is never used for the Showbread.

 

The New Testament:

 

          In the New Testament we have the Lord's Table (1 Cor. 10:21), what we call communion.  The phrase Paul used for the Lord's Table is the same phrase used by these Jewish communities to describe their Table of Showbread meal, what we call communion.  The word used for the bread is artos, which is regular leavened bread.  Today, however, we use unleavened bread for communion.  Was there a change to this bread as well?  As stated earlier in this article, if you study church history you will find such a change.  Dr. Johannes H. Emminghaus in his book, The Eucharist:  Essence, Form, Celebration, said, “In the first millennium of the Church's history, both in East and West, the bread normally used for the Eucharist was ordinary 'daily bread,' that is, leavened bread, and the Eastern Church uses it still today” (Dr. Johannes H. Emminghaus, The Eucharist: Essence, Form, Celebration, page 162).  Father William O'Shea also said, "Another change introduced into the Roman Rite in France and Germany at the time [8th - 9th century] was the use of unleavened bread and of thin white wafers or hosts instead of the loaves of leavened bread used hitherto” (Fr. William O'Shea, The Worship of the Church, page 128).  This change happened at the same time the doctrine of Transubstantiation developed.   Transubstantiation is the “singular change of the whole substance of the bread into the body and the whole substance of the wine into the blood,  ... which change the Catholic Church most aptly calls transubstantiation" (Council of Trent, 2nd canon).  Once you believe that the bread is the literal body of Messiah, it becomes necessary to insist on unleavened bread.  Especially since leaven typically depicts sin.

 

Putting it all together:

 

       This communion meal contained several elements.  These elements were leavened bread, wine, oil, and salt.  This meal was eaten every Sabbath and before feast days.  These elements are very important for they teach many important truths.  If you study the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper you will discover something very different than what is taught today.  At the Last Supper the Messiah, ". . . took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body" (Matt. 26:26).  At first glance this appears to be speaking of the Messiah's body, but a closer look reveals something quite different.  The Greek language has a way of determining which verb matches which noun.  This is done by matching the gender of words.  The word "this" and the word "bread" do not agree in gender.  R. C. H. Lenski, a Greek scholar from the 1800's, said "we must note that του̑το (this) is neuter, and hence cannot grammatically or in thought refer to αρτος (bread) which is masculine." (Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel 15–28, p. 1025)  This is significant for the Messiah is not referring to the single loaf of bread, but rather the twelve pieces of broken bread handed to the Apostles.  The Messiah is not referring to His physical body, but His body of believers who are now eating the bread.  This is made clear in the Apostle Paul's writing on this very subject.  First Corinthians chapter eleven is typically the chapter referred to regarding communion.  The reality is that first Corinthians chapters ten through twelve are the chapters on communion.  Paul said in chapter ten, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?  For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread" (1 Cor. 10:16-17).  Paul says the same thing.  We are the body of Christ.  Later Paul calls this meal "the Lord's table" (1 Cor. 10:21).  This is in reference to the Table of Showbread.  Chapter eleven explains the Last Supper and the implements.  Immediately after the communion discussion is chapter twelve regarding the gifts of the spirit.  Paul mentions "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ" (1 Cor. 12:12).  He finishes this section on communion by saying, "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular" (1 Cor. 12:27).  The body of Messiah is the body of believers, which is what the bread represents.

          This fits perfectly for leaven usually represents sin in the scripture.  This leavened bread represents us, sinful man, who now has a relationship with God.  After all, God eats of the unleavened bread of the offerings because He is sinless.  His body of believers eat of the leavened bread of the Table of Showbread because we are sinful.  The Messiah connects the two together.  He is God in the flesh eating this leavened meal with His body of believers.  This pictures the Messiah, who is our High Priest, and we are His priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9).  Leavened bread gives a different symbolism of communion than traditionally thought.  The bread represents us, the body of Christ, fellowshipping with each other.  Meals with close, intimate conversations promote growth more than any sermon can.  Our enemy has attacked communion because it promotes the growth of the body.  It has been attacked by religious tradition and ritual.  The tradition keepers of the Old Testament (Pharisees) changed the showbread from leaven to unleavened and the tradition keepers of the New Testament (Catholic Church) changed the communion bread from leavened to unleavened as well.  Why would the enemy try so hard to make this change?  The reason is simple.  When we have open conversations about the scripture everyone learns at their own level.  This promotes growth far better than any ritual can.

          Understanding communion like this depicts a beautiful picture.  The wine represents the blood of the covenant (Matt. 26:27-28).  Blood always ratifies a contract.  Without the Messiah's shed blood to ratify the covenant we have no relationship with God.  The bread represents the body of Messiah (1 Cor. 12:27).  This is us.  The single loaf of bread represents the Messiah as the Word of God.  This bread was broken into 12 pieces and given to the disciples.  The emphasis of communion is the 12 broken pieces, not the single loaf.  We are the leavened bread, sinful man, that the Messiah has restored unto God (1 Cor. 10:16-17).  By eating of the one loaf we are grafted into the one body as the Messiah's Priesthood.  This is the same picture that the Table of Showbread depicts.  The oil represents the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38).  It is the Holy Spirit that changes us.  This is the work of God in our lives.  This is our sanctification.  The salt represents our ministry.  We are the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13).  When we have the Holy Spirit in our lives we season the entire earth.

 

Conclusion:

 

          Communion, like other commandments of God, have been twisted and perverted today.  If studied properly communion is clearly a Table of Showbread meal.  It is a High Priest Messianic Banquet.  It is the same meal that Melchizedek, the High Priest, had with Abram his priesthood.  It is the same meal that the High Priest in the Tabernacle/Temple had with their priesthood in the holy place.  It is the same meal that the Messiah, the true High Priest, had with His priesthood, the Apostles in the upper room.  We share that meal today in anticipation of the future meal we will eat with the Messiah. 

          This meal anticipates the Messiah's return to marry His bride.  During communion, the Messiah said, "I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom" (Matt. 26:29).  In the future we will eat this meal with our Bride Groom for "... Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb ..."  (Rev. 19:9).  This is a meal we eat in anticipation of that very Wedding Feast.  This is an intimate social celebration.  We are to eat in an intimate way talking and communicating with each other.  During this meal we can bear each others burdens, share scripture, pray for each other, and much more.  The idea of a quiet personal time bowing our heads is not what communion depicts.

          Since learning this understanding of communion my family has decided to start each Sabbath with a communion meal.  We break bread and dip it in olive oil mixed with frankincense and salt.  My wife and I drink wine and our children drink grape juice.  During this time we discuss the scripture, answer Bible questions from our children, and thank the LORD for His New Covenant.  We do the same before all Holydays.  This time has developed into the most important time our family has together and has proven to be a wonderful way to start our Sabbath and Holydays.

  

By Steve Siefken
 

  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth

not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15 KJV