The Lord’s Dinner: Restoring the Common Meal to the Center of the Churches’ Common Life
One of the curiosities of historic Christianity is that we participate in a meal – the Lord’s Supper – which is not a meal at all, but the merest token of a meal, a fragment of bread and a sip from a cup. It is a reminder that there was a meal, once, with Jesus presiding. The first-century churches, when they met, ordinarily ate a proper meal together, a meal including the bread and the cup, and this meal was at the heart of their common life and worship. It was in this meal context that they sang, shared teaching, prayed, used spiritual gifts and proclaimed the message. It was a meal with extras, so to speak. The thrust of this paper will be to show that that this meal practice of the early church was central and vital to its common life, to show how the church gave up eating together, and to argue for the return of that common meal – the Lord’s dinner – to the center of contemporary church life, for the sake of biblical faithfulness, community, and mission. The church has emphasized the vertical dimension of the Lord’s Supper – individual communion with God – but neglected its horizontal, social dimension – communion with one another through table fellowship.
1. When the Early Church Met Together It Ate Together
1.1 Table Fellowship in Jesus’ Ministry
When the New Testament portrays the church gathering it usually portrays it as eating together. This should be no surprise, when one considers the significance of meal settings in Jesus’ ministry as portrayed in the gospels. Jesus travelled and ate with his disciples, and sometime acted as the host when outsiders joined the group for meals (Mark 2:15, Luke 15:1).1 He shared tables with the undeserving, and fed the hungry.2 In the last supper Jesus not only interpreted his forthcoming death as the new covenant sacrifice, he established a fellowship meal, with its key signs of the bread and the cup, as both a memorial meal and an anticipation of the eschatological banquet (Matt. 26:17-30, Mark 14:17-25, Luke 22:14-20, 1 Cor. 11:23-26).3
1.2 Communal Meals in the Mediterranean World
Early Christians, of course, were not the only groups meeting over a meal. Great significance was attached in the first-century Mediterranean world to sharing meals, and communal dinners, variously expressed, were central to the life of many communities.4 Eating together, “table fellowship,” signified and embodied acceptance, honor and peace.5
Greco-Roman voluntary associations gathered around areas of commonality such as occupation, worship of a god, ethnic origin or household membership, though of course there was always a religious element, no matter what the gathering.6 They held common dinners, usually once a month, and also often provided for the funeral dinners and memorial meals of deceased members.7 The meals, no matter what the association, typically followed the Greek banqueting pattern. Most Greek formal meals began with the participants reclining in strict order of precedence, eating a variety of foods including bread, and ended with wine, which transitioned events from the meal proper (δεῖπνον), to the symposium, or drinking party, which could be devoted to association business, discussion, philosophy,8 or to entertainment, drunkenness, and excess.9
There was an established tradition of Jewish critique of such dining. The second-century BC book of Sirach warns its readers not to be greedy or drunk in banquets: “Do not reach out your hand for everything you see, and do not crowd your neighbor at the dish;” and, “Do not aim to be valiant over wine, for wine has destroyed many” (Sir. 31:14, 25). Philo compares the pious Essene meals, eaten with simplicity and joy, with the debauched and drunken feasts of the Greeks.10 The Romans too critiqued the excesses of the Greek banqueting tradition, though they gradually adopted the same practices. Juvenal laments the growing profligacy and immodesty of Roman banquets in the empire and looks backward wistfully to the simpler feasts of the senatorial era.11 Cicero commented, “For our fathers did well in calling the reclining of friends at feasts a convivium, because it implies a communion of life, which is a better designation than that of the Greeks, who call it sometimes a “drinking together” [συμπόσιον/symposium] and sometimes a “dining together” [σύνδειπνον/syndeipnon], thereby apparently exalting what is of least value in these associations above that which gives them their greatest charm.”12 Some of the Greek and Latin associations had rules which sought to inhibit various excesses associated with banqueting,13 and even Greek writers occasionally criticized the excesses of their own banquets.14 The New Testament shares this critique of the Greek dinner culture.15
Jewish groups also found community over meals. The standard synagogue meeting did not involve a meal, being devoted rather to prayer and the discussion of the law. Later rabbis banned meals in the synagogues (t. Meg 2.18). However, archaeological evidence points to a number of ancient synagogues having dining facilities, especially in the diaspora, so community meals did happen at times.16 Special occasions such as Passover required a communal meal, with at least ten men present (Josephus, War 6.423), but communal meals were also held on other more frequent occasions such as Sabbath or Sabbath-eve dinners.17 Jewish formal meals began with the breaking of bread and finished with a cup.18 Josephus reports how Julius Caesar gave permission for Jews at Delos to collect money for “common dinners” (σύνδειπνα, Ant. 14:214- 15). Evidence from Qumran (1QS VI 1-8, 1QSa II 17-22) and Philo (Contempl. 66-90) points to the importance of meal celebrations for Jewish groups such as Essenes and the Therapeutae.
1.3 Meals in the Book of Acts
After the ascension, the New Testament evidence begins in Acts 2:42, when the newly baptized believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Then in 2:46-47 Luke says, “And day by day, devoting themselves with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking food together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” The “breaking of bread” in these texts alludes back to the feeding of the five thousand (Luke 9:16), the Last Supper/Passover meal (Luke 22:19), and the meal on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:30, 35).19 The practice of breaking and sharing bread at meals became the practice of the church.
It is significant to note also the missional impact of the church’s life described here, so that in Acts 2:43, fear or awe comes on every soul in Jerusalem,20 and in 2:47, the summary comment on the church’s growth (“The Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”) directly follows the description of the favor among the people which comes as the community breaks bread and eats together daily. Note that the main verb in Acts 2:46-47a is metalambanon (“they took” μετελάμβανον).21 The taking of food, that is to say, the eating of meals together, was the context in which they broke bread, worshipped and had favor with the people, leading to church growth. Elsewhere in Acts we see inside a church gathering in Troas, which took place on a Sunday, and included a meal, the breaking of bread, plus a long speech by Paul (Acts 20:7-11).
1.4 The Lord’s Dinner in First Corinthians
Other evidence in the New Testament shows a number of problems associated with church meal practices. That is, of course, why we hear about them in the letters, since these problems had to be addressed. It is no surprise that problems emerge around meal practices, given the centrality of common meals to ancient Mediterranean cultures, and the mixture of cultures and races in the early churches.
In First Corinthians there is the most detailed discussion in scripture of the early church’s gatherings. Once again we find meals at the heart of those gatherings, described especially in chapters 10-14. In 1 Cor. 11:26, after relating the tradition of Jesus instituting the Lord’s supper (11:23–25), Paul explains, “For as often as you eat this loaf and drink the cup, you are proclaiming the death of the Lord until he comes.” But the bread and cup should not be seen in isolation. Paul is concerned that the way the meal is proceeding in Corinth negates its intended meaning. However, he does not tell them to remove the bread and cup from the dinner; they have meaning within the meal context. It is not simply the so-called “elements” of the bread and the cup but the entire common meal, and the unified and loving way in which it took place which were intended to have symbolic value as a memorial to and proclamation of Jesus, to interpret his death for both insiders and outsiders. But this richly symbolic meal has been largely replaced in ecclesial and liturgical practice by a symbol of a meal, and this historical movement has arguably obscured the distinctive character of the dinner which Paul envisaged.22
How then did Paul envisage the Lord’s supper functioning? The first point, which should be obvious, is that the Lord’s supper was a meal.23 Paul uses the word synerxomai (συνέρχομαι) six times in this letter, meaning to gather, or come together (1 Cor. 11:18, 20, 33, 34; 14:23, 26). It is clear from context that at least the first four of these relate to the meal gathering, and in 11:33 it is explicit: “When you come together to eat” (συνερχόμενοι εἰς τὸ φαγεῖν). In other words, this was the central activity they gathered for.24 The deipnon (δεῖπνον) was the dinner or main meal, normally taken in the afternoon.25 The expression kuriakon deipnon (κυριακὸν δεῖπνον, “the Lord’s dinner”) was clearly known to the Corinthians; it was most likely how Paul had designated the meal in his apostolic teaching. As an expression however it did not become a technical term for the ritual in the early church, and was nearly always attached to exposition of 1 Cor. 11:20. When the Fathers use the expression “the Lord’s supper” they are generally either commenting on, or quoting this passage, as describing a full meal. Chrysostom complains that the Corinthians were making the Lord’s meal into their own private meal, when it ought to be a common meal.26
Numerous attempts have been made to reconstruct the precise details of the Corinthian community meals, and there has been some debate over the order of events. Those inclined to separate the bread and cup from the meal itself often favor a meal-bread-cup order,27 while others favor bread-meal-cup.28 The cup is easier to place than the bread. It happens “after dining” (μετὰ τὸ δειπνῆσαι, 11:25). The place of the bread is less clear, though the bread-meal-cup order fits well with the description in the letter. In that case the bread and cup frame the meal. It is possible the bread was eaten at some other point during the meal, and of course it is important to recognize that bread and wine may have been all that was available for the meal.29 In the gospel accounts of the last supper, Matthew and Mark both describe Jesus taking bread “while they were eating, ” but after the prediction of the betrayal (Matt. 26:26 cf. 26:21; Mark 14:22 cf. 14:18). Luke has a cup and bread at the beginning of the meal (Luke 22:17-19), and a second cup after dining (μετὰ τὸ δειπνῆσαι, Luke 22:20).30 In First Corinthians 10:16-21 the cup is mentioned before the bread.31 However, the cup, as Paul cites how Jesus instituted it, was, as we have seen, taken after dining (11:25), and thus seems to function as the conclusion to the meal proper, and perhaps the transition to the next part of the gathering, as is portrayed in chapters 12- 14, in which church prays, sings, teaches and uses spiritual gifts. The two elements of bread and cup are of course joined symbolically as representing the body and blood of Christ, but they are not joined, in Paul’s instruction, as a single event separable from the rest of the common dinner. The bread seems to be taken either at the beginning or somewhere during the meal, and the cup is at the end. In this way they frame the meal. And there is nothing in the letter which would encourage their detachment from the meal proper. Paul does suggest that it would be better if some people ate and drank at home, rather than cause the kind of trouble which has happened in Corinth (11:22, 34). But he does not want that to happen. In that case it would still not be the Lord’s dinner. He never suggests that the Lord’s dinner should be reduced to a symbolic event consisting only of tokens or samples of the elements. Believers should instead examine, and judge themselves, and in this way come together, and eat and drink in a worthy manner (11:28). Paul still wants them to “come together to eat” (11:33). What Paul portrays is a true common meal, but one in which the food is not the most important thing.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he told them that they were not eating the Lord’s supper, or dinner (11:20). By this he did not mean that they were failing to drink the cup or eat the bread, nor were they failing to have common meals at all. They were indeed gathering to eat (11:20–22), and they were drinking the cup of blessing, and breaking bread (10:16). What made the Corinthians’ meals “not the Lord’s supper”? It was that the manner that they met and ate together meant that the Lord’s name should not be attached to their meals. Paul makes some explicit critiques. First, he says in 11:18 that “when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you.” This might refer back to the divisions that Paul mentioned having heard about in 1:10-11, between fans of Paul and fans of Apollos.32 These divisions might be manifest at the gatherings. It is likely, however, that social and economic divisions were also present, in view of the shaming of “the have-nots” (11:22).33 These divisions, and the seeking of honor seem to have exacerbated the problems at the Corinthian table.34 Many consider the root of the problem to be the rich elite feasting in traditional fashion, in the dining room or triclinium of a wealthy patron’s house (perhaps before the poor arrive), while the poor have to eat whatever was left, in the more exposed atrium.35 Paul is concerned with their behavior at the meal.36 Some went hungry, some were drunk (11:21). Each was taking, or “devouring” his own meal.37 Some were dining as if they were in the hard-partying atmosphere of some Greco-Roman banquets.38 Others were left with nothing to eat. As a result, the church had experienced a bout of illness, and some deaths (1 Cor. 11:30).
Greek and Roman public dining was built around elaborate displays of honor and status. Normal dining took place with one’s own peers, but even then the social hierarchy was evident in the rigid ordering of places at the table, and at times the variety of food given to guests of different status. These cultural norms could not be continued within the body of Christ. The meal as held in Corinth no longer reflected the Lord’s character and its practice contradicted its intended message. Paul reminded them of the meaning of the meal (11:23–26), and of the sacrifice of Jesus on their behalf, and called them to self-examination and self-judgment regarding the manner in which they were participating in the meal (11:27–30), and to recognize the body (11:29), that is to say, the church,39 and to welcome one another (11:33). Thus in Corinth there is disorder and division at the meal (11:21). Paul’s assessment is that this is shameful, and the church cannot be praised (11:22). His explanation for shaming them is that they should know better, because he had already informed them of the origins of the Lord’s meal (11:23a). Now they are reminded again of the words and actions of Jesus (11:23b–25).
In verse 26 Paul explains the commands to eat and drink the bread and the cup: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you are proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes.”40 The first part of the verse, “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup” means for Paul, that Jesus has claimed every common meal of the Church for himself. Even though Paul talks of Christ as the Passover (1 Cor. 5:7), and the Lord’s Supper has clear Passover resonances, there is no evidence that Paul transferred the entire Rabbinical Passover tradition, or even the scriptural Passover ordinances, such as eating unleavened bread, to the regular practice of the Lord’s supper. The description of the meal celebration is notable in its simplicity and minimal ritual,41 by comparison to both the Jewish Passover festival, or to the sacrificial practices and libations of the Greco-Roman banquets.42 Further, Passover was an annual festival43 in a single city.44 The frequency of early Christian meal gatherings suggests that they never saw the Lord’s supper simply as Passover. And the Quartodeciman debates in the early church over the date of Easter suggest that if any event were thought to be a continuation of Passover in a substantive way, it was Easter rather than the Lord’s supper, and in fact Easter was often called Pascha, or Passover.45
The second part of verse 26 points to a proclamation function of the meal. Unbelievers are meant to see and experience a meal which is a message, the visible love and unity of the Church, the body of Christ, lived out in holiness and without class distinctions.46 The common meal of the Church—the Lord’s dinner—is meant to establish the Church and identify it as a united body, a community which shares in the body and blood (10:16–17) of the crucified and resurrected Messiah, which remembers him, proclaims his death, and anticipates his return. Thus the memorial meal, looking back to the death of the Lord, is a fellowship meal, intended to unite the church around the table of the Lord, and it is also a proclamation event, announcing the death and anticipating the return of the Lord. This is the significance of the meal, and this is why, as Paul concludes in verse 27, those who partake in an unworthy manner are guilty. They are guilty because when they do not properly discern the body (11:29), the proclamation of the death of the Lord is tarnished. The community meal was intended to be a community event and a missional event—the meal is the message—but it was failing so severely in Corinth that it could no longer have the name of the Lord attached to it.
1.5 The Lord’s Dinner in Romans
It is not always recognized that Romans also has extended teaching about the common meal of the churches. At the end of chapter thirteen Paul makes an explicit warning against revelry, drunkenness and other aspects of the Greco-Roman culture, and “to make no plans for the flesh” and instructs his readers to “walk properly, as in the daylight” and to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:13-14). In this context he immediately turns to discussion of the churches’ meal practices, not however to forbid them to eat together, but to exhort them to do so properly, with regard for one another. Scholarship on Romans 14:1-15:13 has focused largely on discovering the identity of the strong and the weak. The basic facts are simple enough. The weak eat only vegetables (Rom. 14:2), not meat, because they count it as unclean (κοινός,14:14). There are also hints that some, at least, have scruples about keeping certain days special (14:5), and do not drink wine (14:21), though these could be simply illustrative. For the strong, all foods are acceptable. Theories abound about what is behind this passage,47 but something of a consensus has emerged that the passage concerns differences between Gentile and Jewish elements among the churches at Rome.48 The explanation given in 15:8-9, “For I say, that Christ became a servant of the circumcision for the sake of the truthfulness of God, so as to confirm the promises of the fathers, and so that the Gentiles would glorify God for his mercy” points to the basic division the passage is referencing, between Jews and Gentiles, which is overcome in Christ.
Most, however, would qualify the identity of the groups, arguing that the label “strong” also includes some Jews who have abandoned strict adherence to dietary restrictions, like Paul, who counts himself among the strong (ἡμεῖς οἱ δυνατοι, 15:1); while the “weak” might well include some Gentiles who have adopted certain Jewish practices.49 I am taking this basic position as a starting point, but locating the discussion of the weak and strong in Romans 14:1- 15:13 in the context of first-century community meal practices, arguing that the passage primarily addresses the common meals of the Roman believers. The presenting issue in Romans 14 is what’s on the menu at the Lord’s supper! The gatherings Paul envisages involve Jews and Gentiles eating and drinking together (14:1-23), and also singing together (15:1-13), probably in that order. This combination is similar in structure and order to that found in Paul’s discussion of the church gatherings in First Corinthians where discussion of the meal in chapters 10 and 11 precedes discussion of prayer and the use of spiritual gifts in chapters 12-14.50
The repeated call to welcome or receive others (Rom. 14:1, 15:7, cf. 14:3),51 the exhortations not to judge or despise one another regarding matters of food and drink (Rom. 14:3- 4, 9-10, 13), and the prayer for united worship (Rom. 15:6-7) suggest a situation where believers are divided. Paul is concerned that believers in Rome are not gathering to eat and worship as they should. Jews and Gentiles may even be gathering separately, and, because the community probably has a Gentile majority, the effect is that Jews are excluded from the churches’ common meals.
The need to welcome one another necessitates overcoming differences over purity concerns between the weak and strong, enabling an other-serving, Christologically-informed table fellowship, and a one-voice expression of worship. The “strong” should be prepared to adjust the menu at community gatherings to enable the weak to participate without stumbling. The strong must be prepared to back down on the dispute over the menu. Eating together is important. The menu is not. The Lord’s meal should be undertaken with faith, and with thanksgiving, in honor of the Lord, remembering that “the kingdom of God is not about food or drink” (Rom. 14:17). The Old Testament quotations Paul then uses in Romans 15:9-12 are chosen not simply because they illustrate the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the gospel, but because the united praises of Jews and Gentiles are for Paul the proper expression of the hope inherent in the gospel. This makes the whole passage from Romans 14:1-15:13 the demonstrative climax of the letter, and points to the church’s common life in meal and song as a demonstration of the gospel.
1.6 Other New Testament Evidence
Other, briefer windows into the first-century church’s gatherings in the New Testament also show believers eating together. As described in Galatians 2:11-14, the well-known controversy between Paul and Peter erupted when Peter, Barnabas, and other Jewish believers withdrew from eating with Gentile believers in Antioch, under the influence of “some people from James” (Gal. 2:12). Paul vigorously confronted this separation “before them all.” It is clear that the community meals of the church in Antioch are in view. Paul was adamant that to separate racially at the meal table, even for the sake of purity concerns, would be inconsistent with the truth of the gospel. The command in Second Thessalonians 3:10 that someone unwilling to work should not eat is not an injunction on the church to enforce starvation upon an errant believer, but orders their exclusion from the church’s meal provision, which would include exclusion from the common meal – the Lord’s Supper.
In Ephesians 5:18-20, the exhortations not to be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit, as you speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, suggest a meal context for the church’s worship gatherings. Second Peter chapter two contains a warning about the rise of false teachers in the church. They “promise freedom while being themselves slaves of corruption” (2 Pet. 2:19). But in what context do they share their false teaching? According to 2:13, they “revel in their deceptions, while they feast together with you”, or as the New Living Translation has it, “even as they eat with you in your fellowship meals.” Peter is not critiquing the church meeting to eat, or even to feast, but warning them to beware of a licentious takeover of the churches’ meal gatherings. What we can know is that the church gathered around a meal, or feast, and this is when teachers were heard. Similarly, the letter of Jude warns against people who creep unnoticed into the churches, turn “the grace of our God into licentiousness” (v. 4), defile the flesh (v. 8), and are “hidden reefs on your love-feasts, feasting together with you, shepherding themselves without fear” (v. 12). Yet Jude does not instruct the churches to abandon the meal called love.
This brief survey of New Testament evidence of the church’s meal practices has not shown, of course, that there is a command for the church to eat a proper meal together, but that the first-century church ordinarily ate together when they met together, and that this was the Lord’s supper. The bread and cup were taken where they naturally belonged, in the context of a meal. In addition, the emphasis of most of the passages has been on community and unity to be found around the table of the Lord. This horizontal dimension of fellowship at the meal table is what so much historical church practice has neglected.
2. The Abandonment of the Lord’s Supper as a Community Meal.
2.1 Separating the Bread and Cup from the Dinner
It is not certain when the separation of the bread and cup from the churches’ common meal occurred, but evidence suggests that the split began in the second century and was largely complete by the fourth century.52 Then by the seventh century the common or agapé meal itself was largely abandoned. Some of the uncertainty over the timing of this abandonment may be attributed to the variety of expressions in use by the Church, including “the Lord’s supper” or dinner (1 Cor. 11:20), “the breaking of bread” (Luke 24:35; Acts 2:42, 20:7, 11; 27:35; 1 Cor. 10:16), “thanksgiving” (εὐχαριστία) and “love” (ἡ ἀγάπη), a term sometimes translated as “love feast” (Jude 12). Of these, “thanksgiving,” or eucharist, is the one not found in the New Testament, though it derives from the prayer of thanksgiving Jesus made for the bread, according to the tradition shared by Luke and Paul.53 It is likely that at the beginning all these terms denoted the same event, though with different connotations, but later as practices began to change it is not so clear.
The early second-century Didache (9:1–10:7) deals with the Lord’s supper, calling it the “thanksgiving,” at the end of a list of issues which concern, in order, idol-food, baptism, fasting, and praying. Detailed instructions are given about the prayers to be said before partaking of the wine and bread, though they do not resemble the so-called “words of institution” in the synoptic Gospels, or in First Corinthians.54 Participation is limited to the baptized. The cup precedes the bread, and a final prayer, which among other things celebrates the gifts of food and drink for enjoyment, is said after everyone has had enough, or is filled (μετὰ τὸ ἐμπλησθῆναι). This suggests strongly that event was a meal, and had not yet been reduced to a token of a meal. The breaking of bread was to happen on the Lord’s day (14:1) (though it does not appear to be limited only to that day). Around the same period, Ignatius, the overseer (or “bishop,” ἐπισκόπος) of the church in Antioch, writes to the church at Smyrna that the only thanksgiving which is valid is that which is under the overseer, and that it is “impermissible to baptize or to hold a love feast, without the overseer” (Ign. Smyrn. 8:1–2). Here the thanksgiving (i.e. eucharist) and the love feast are probably the same thing, viewed from different aspects.55 Cultic language is used. “Practice one thanksgiving…for there is one altar” (Ign. Phld. 4.1). Thus at least at the start of the second century, the churches met together to eat, and in that context they took the bread and the cup.
There seem to be a number of factors which led to the separation of the eucharistic bread and cup from the love-feast, and the eventual abandonment of the love-feast or common meal altogether. One is persecution. Pliny’s letter to the Emperor Trajan from Bithynia describes the churches in his province meeting “on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god … after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food, but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.”56 Pliny says that he suppressed this meal meeting as forbidden by Trajan’s edict against associations. Persecutions made it hard for Christians to gather in large numbers, and for formal meals. However, this was not the only factor, as after persecutions against the churches eased in the early fourth century, normal meal service was not resumed.
A set of inter-related factors at work in the early centuries of the church included the growing liturgical formality and structure of church gatherings, the tendency to treat the Lord’s supper as a sacrifice or offering,57 the treating of church leaders as priests making those offerings, and the reckoning of church buildings as holy sanctuaries or temples.58 In the mid- second century Justin Martyr describes the thanksgiving or eucharist as occurring subsequent to the baptism of new believers, and also every Sunday, when all believers gather from town and countryside, after the Scriptures are read and taught, and after prayer, and followed by the collection of money to help the needy in the church.59 The thanksgiving consists of bread, and wine mixed with water. There is no mention of food other than bread and wine being shared, though with the gathering by foot of people from towns and villages, and portions sent to the absent, and help to those who are needy, it likely sufficient for a proper meal.
Tertullian, in North Africa, writes in 197 AD of the agapé meal taking place in the evening, starting with prayer, followed by food and drink in modest portions.60 He calls this event the Lord’s Supper, or dinner.61 In part the meal serves to help the needy. Then after hand- washing, at the end of the meal portion, each person stands and sings a hymn, either from the Bible, or one he has composed, after which prayer finishes the evening. This is the event he defends against accusations of cannibalism, suggesting that the bread and cup were part of this meal. Elsewhere, however, defending certain practices where Scripture gives no rule (and even where a rule was discerned in Scripture!) said that the eucharist was taken before dawn in congregations, even though he notes that “the Lord commanded it to be taken at dinner-time.”62 By “eucharist” he means the elements, not a ceremony, and it is possible that this morning event was using bread reserved from the previous evening agapé meal.63 Fifty years later, in the same area, it is clear from Cyprian’s writings (Ep. 63.16) that the main eucharist gathering was no longer a meal and no longer in the evening, but the morning. Possibly this is because there is no room for everyone to recline at a meal.64
2.2 Abandoning the Love Feast
An increased emphasis on asceticism seems to have contributed to the abandonment of the agapé meal, or love feast, which had connotations of celebration and feasting, and was open to the dangers of excess.65 Fasting, not feasting, was the order of the day. Clement of Alexandria states, “Some, speaking with unbridled tongue, dare to apply the name agapé, to pitiful suppers, redolent of savor and sauces. Dishonoring the good and saving work of the Word, the consecrated agapé, with pots and pouring of sauce; and by drink and delicacies and smoke desecrating that name, they are deceived in their idea, having expected that the promise of God might be bought with suppers” (Paed. 2.1). Chrysostom exhorted the faithful to “take great care of the poor, and restrain our appetite, and rid ourselves of drunkenness, and be careful worthily to partake of the Mysteries.”66 And though he looks back longingly to the love feasts of the first churches, he seems to envisage a situation in which the eucharist was celebrated in liturgical gatherings, followed by a retreat by the wealthy to private meals which could be the occasion for drunkenness, and which by definition excluded the poor.67
By the mid-third century, the eucharist was only occasionally, for most believers at least, a proper meal,68 and the liturgy focused on the bread and cup as a sacrificial offering, performed by a priest, according to strict ritual.69 The agapé or love feast still existed, separately, not so much as the common meal of all the church, but as a special meal put on for the poor, especially poor believers, by the rich, though it could sometimes still have the elements included70 It was also increasingly regulated by church ordinances.71 The growth of martyr-centric church life led to love-feasts at the tombs of martyrs, and also at funerals, and these were at times hard to distinguish from pagan ceremonies. Augustine criticized the drunken feasts held at the tombs of Christian martyrs, and he makes note of bishops, including Ambrose, banning funeral feasts.72 He goes even further, “Not even innocent and temperate feasts were permitted in the church.”73
The regional Synod of Laodicea (c. AD 365) forbids the agapé from being celebrated within church buildings (Canon 28), meaning that a clear distinction between the churches’ common meals and the liturgical celebration of the eucharist was in place. The church building was the “the Lord’s House”, or “the House of God;” regarded as a holy temple.74 The love feast was counted as unholy, or at least likely to occasion unholiness. This effectively banned the agapé meal in many situations. The Synod of Gangra (c. AD 340-360) on the other hand, anathematized those who despised believers who hosted love-feasts (Canon 11), but this still shows that the ascetic anti-feasting pressure was building. The Council of Carthage in 397 banned bishops, clergy and ordinary people from dining in church buildings, except through necessity, such as for travelers (Canon 29). Love feasts continued longer in the Eastern church than the Western, but the Council of Constantinople (Trullo) in 692 reiterated the ban on Love- Feasts in church buildings (Canon 74). Thus the community meal of the church lost its significance, and seems to have vanished from most portions of Christendom, apart from certain feasts and festivals.75 Even on those occasions not much actual communal feasting tended to be done. The only significant remnant of early communal meal practice was within the intentional communities of the monastic movement.76
3. Restoring the Lord’s Dinner
3.1 Remnants of the Table
Institutional memory and habit since then has conditioned many Christians to think of church gatherings only as worship services, in which preaching, prayer, singing, and the non- meal form of the Lord’s supper have been practiced. Taking the bread and cup out of the meal, and receiving them within a different setting, changes the symbolic framework for the Lord’s supper, and inevitably makes it more vertical than horizontal in focus. The common experience for many of “going to church” is of sitting in a row, looking at the back of someone’s head, and watching a performance, either of a concert and a lecture, or of a liturgical tradition. What might be the experience, if going to church included sitting across a table from someone, sharing food, and talking together? We become friends with those we eat with. The New Testament records show churches which ate together as much as they prayed, sang or preached. It was basic, intrinsic and normal to their common life. And it was in this meal setting, where food and drink fit far more naturally, that the Lord’s supper was celebrated. More precisely, the church’s common meal was the Lord’s supper, framed by the elements of the bread and the cup.77 This setting gave the gathering a dimension of mutuality and fellowship which Paul sought in his letters to protect.
There is nothing, however, in Paul which suggests that this dinner could or should be truncated from a symbolic meal to a symbol of a meal. Protestant churches have criticized Catholic churches for holding to transubstantiation, the idea that, miraculously, the substance of Christ’s body and blood are present in the eucharistic bread and wine, though the accidents of the bread and the wine remain as they were. Yet Protestant churches seem to share the view that a meal can exist even without its accidents, apart from the merest fragments.78 The church has retained the language of the meal without its substance. Thus there is talk of coming to the Lord’s table and partaking of the Lord’s supper when there is no supper, and usually no table.79 There is talk of table fellowship though no-one is communicating with each other in any meaningful sense.80 Certain groups, such as the Plymouth Brethren and Scottish Presbyterians, have at times required communicants to take the elements seated around a table, though still in the context of a traditional service, without a proper meal.81
Those of Baptist or baptistic convictions have long criticized churches that sprinkle or pour water in baptism, because, it is argued, the relevant biblical terms signify immersion, but also because the symbolic value of baptism is diminished. The rich symbolism of full immersion, whether of burial, according to Paul, or of complete cleansing, as elsewhere in the New Testament, is replaced by a mere tokenism, and the message is thus rendered far less potent, or even lost. But could we, along with the vast majority of the Christian tradition, have done exactly the same thing with the Lord’s supper? The church has apparently solved the problems of selfishness and drunkenness in the Lord’s dinner by not having a meal at all, but in doing so has lost much. I am suggesting that this loss should not be made permanent.
3.2 Restoring the Table
That there would be numerous practical difficulties in reinstituting this meal practice in twenty-first-century church and mission practice goes without saying, but that is largely because churches in the West, for at least the last 1300 years, have mostly abandoned the practice of common meals. There have been some modest scholarly proposals or suggestions to reintegrate the bread and cup into a meal setting.82 Some modern American churches are adopting this practice,83 including the “Dinner Church” movement which claims over three hundred churches in the U.S.A, across multiple denominational traditions, who have a meal at the heart of their worship gatherings.84 A group of Korean churches has recently begun to focus all of their main worship gatherings around meals understood as the Lord’s supper, and presented their experience at the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting in 2022.85 Some Brethren churches have traditionally celebrated the Lord’s supper as an agapé meal, once or twice a year.86 However, the overall numbers are still small.
Much larger is the number of churches in non-Western cultures who eat together as a matter of course, though few recognize or practice it as the Lord’s Supper, which is usually still celebrated within the traditional liturgical framework. But in a culture of growing isolation, in which fewer people are even eating with their families, let alone with the church, the church has the opportunity to be both scriptural and counter-cultural, to demonstrate and proclaim the gospel, to restore community, and to reclaim its own lost heritage. There is a growing interest in the restoration of meal and hospitality culture to the church.87 The missional possibilities are striking both in Western and non-Western situations.
Some issues of course would remain the same. Churches, including our own, which restrict the consumption of the particular “elements” to those who are baptized, would have to administrate this much as they have always. Divisions in the church would still have to be overcome. The early church dinners obviously had their problems, and the reintroduction of church around the table is no panacea or instant fix. Nor is it just another program. The point is not to condemn or judge the tradition of the Church, or create a new law which churches must obey, but to press forward (or backwards!) to a more biblical practice. Instead of a richly symbolic common meal, which has its meaning as a meal, which is a fellowship and proclamation event as a meal, we consume a mere symbol of a meal, a symbol of a symbol, and in the process of transferring the event to its typical liturgical setting, its intended ecclesial and missional functions have been neglected.
Martin Luther said, “Now, the more closely our mass resembles that first mass of all, which Christ performed at the Last Supper, the more Christian will it be.”88 He was comparing the simplicity of Jesus’ ceremony with the elaborate medieval ritual of the mass, but the sentiment still holds true. A return to the oft-neglected practice of regular common meals for the believing community, with the framing and defining elements of the loaf and the cup would more closely fulfill the missiological, theological and ecclesiological intention of the Lord’s supper as set forth by Paul.
1 See James D. G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity, 3rd ed. (London: SCM Press, 2006), 176.
2 Dunn comments, “Jesus’ fellowship meals were invitations to grace, not cultic rituals for an inner group which marked them off from their fellows.” Dunn, Unity and Diversity, 177.
3 On the messianic banquet allusions at the last supper see Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Last Supper (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 2015), 440–512, who states that Jesus’ “language of the kingdom banquet at the supper dovetailed perfectly with his apparently common practice of table-fellowship as a sign of the coming age of salvation” (p. 505).
4 A useful summary of ancient fellowship meals may be found in Lanuwabang Jamir, Exclusion and Judgment in Fellowship Meals: The Socio-historical Background of 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 (Eugene, OR.: Pickwick Publications, 2016), 1-61.
5 James D. G. Dunn, “Jesus, Table Fellowship and Qumran,” in Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. James H. Charlesworth, The Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 254–55; Jonathan Schweibert, “Table Fellowship and the Translation of 1 Corinthians 5:11,” Journal of Biblical Literature 127, no. 1 (2008): 163; Dennis E. Smith, From Symposium to Eucharist: The Banquet in the Early Christian World (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 267–68.
6 See especially Richard S. Ascough, Philip A. Harland, and John S. Kloppenborg, Associations in the Greco-Roman World: A Sourcebook (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012); Philip A. Harland, Associations, Synagogues, and Congregations: Claiming a Place in Ancient Mediterranean Society (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003); John S. Kloppenborg, Christ’s Associations: Connecting and Belonging in the Ancient City (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019), 23-54; and John S. Kloppenborg and S. G. Wilson, eds., Voluntary Associations in the Graeco-Roman World (London: Routledge, 1996).
7 Early twentieth-century scholars in the History-of-Religions school believed that Pauline churches were substantially influenced by the mystery religions, with various changes. Wilhelm Bousset compares the Lord’s supper to the cult meal of Serapis, where the invitees are summoned to the table of the god (Wilhelm Bousset, Kyrios Christos: A History of the Belief in Christ from the Beginnings of Christianity to Irenaeus [Kyrios Christos: Geschichte des Christusglaubens von den Anfängen des Christentums bis Irenaeus], trans. John E. Steely (Nashville,: Abingdon Press, 1970), 131), cf. P. Oxy. I. 110: “Chaeremon asks you to dine at the table of the Lord Serapis, in the Serapeion tomorrow, the 15th, from the 9th hour.” A modern representative of this trend would be Hans-Josef Klauck, Herrenmahl und hellenistischer Kult: eine religionsgeschichtliche Untersuchung zum ersten Korintherbrief, Neutestamentliche Abhandlungen, (Münster: Aschendorff, 1982), 163–66, who sees the idea of a sacramental meal in fellowship with a god as deriving from the mysteries. Some have made analogies to memorial meals for the dead, given that the Christian meal commemorated the death of Christ (Rachel M. McRae, “Eating with Honor: The Corinthian Lord’s Supper in Light of Voluntary Association Meal Practices,” Journal of Biblical Literature 130, no. 1 (2011): 9–10). Such meals took place in Greek, Roman, and Jewish associations, Concern for the dead was influential in ancient Corinth. See Richard E. DeMaris, “Corinthian Religion and Baptism for the Dead (1 Corinthians 15:29): Insights from Archaeology and Anthropology,” Journal of Biblical Literature 114, no. 4 (1995): 661–82, and Richard E. DeMaris, The New Testament in its Ritual World (London: Routledge, 2008), 69. But the purpose of the Lord’s supper was not to mourn but to proclaim the death of the Lord (1 Cor. 11:26). And although later Christian groups started to gather at the tombs of the martyrs, in the Lord’s supper there is no grave crowning or any other practices typically associated with Greco-Roman memorial meals.
8 As in Plato, Symposium, and Plutarch, Table Talk.
9 John Fotopoulos, Food Offered to Idols in Roman Corinth: A Social-Rhetorical Reconsideration of 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003), 163–64.
10 Philo, Contempl. 40-64. See also 1QSa VI for a brief and perhaps idealized description of the highly ordered Qumran meals.
11 Juvenal Sat. 11.
12 Cicero de Senectute 45. The Romans though, like the Greeks, had the meal portion (cena) and the drinking portion (convivium) of the banquet, even if they named them differently.
13 Dennis E. Smith and Hal Taussig, Many Tables: The Eucharist in the New Testament and Liturgy Today (London: SCM Press, 1990), 32; Ben Witherington, Making a Meal of It: Rethinking the Theology of the Lord’s Supper (Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2007), 50-51.
14 Plutarch Mor. 614E, 997B–D.
15 See Rom. 13:13–14, 1 Cor. 11:21, Eph. 5:18, 2 Pet. 2:12–13.
16 CPJ, I, no. 139 is a list of names contributing to a Jewish dining club at Apollinopolis Magna, one of whom was a priest. For other examples see Jonas Leipziger, Lesepraktiken im antiken Judentum: Rezeptionsakte, Materialität und Schriftgebrauch, Materiale Textkulturen, (Boston: De Gruyter, 2021), 85; Lee I. Levine, The Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years (New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press, 2000), 140–43, 276, 317–18; Jordan Rosenblum, Food and Identity in Early Rabbinic Judaism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 178–82.
17 Evidence for Sabbath or Sabbath-eve feasting is in Hos. 2:13; Jub. 2:21, 31; 50:9; Plutarch Mor. 6.71–6.72. According to Philo, the Therapeutae had a special Sabbath meal (Contempl. 1.32–27). William Horbury has highlighted what he calls “the importance of corporate dining in honour of Sabbath” (Horbury, Herodian Judaism, 104). Jewish associations could meet for Sabbath dinners in one dining room, up to five groups in the one dining room, though the schools of Hillel and Shammai disagreed as to whether each group needed its own loaf, or only one for all (m. Erub.6.6). See David Instone-Brewer, Traditions of the Rabbis from the Era of the New Testament, vol. 2A: Feast and Sabbaths: Passover and Atonement (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 2011), 92-112; David Noy, “The Sixth Hour is the Mealtime for Scholars: Jewish Meals in the Roman World,” in Meals in a Social Context: Aspects of the Communal Meal in the Hellenistic and Roman World, ed. Inge Nielsen and Hanne Nielsen, Aarhus Studies in Mediterranean Antiquity (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 1998), 136–41.
18 The Jerusalem Talmud cites a tradition of the practice of breaking bread to start a festival meal, going back to Rabbi Yohanan, a first century rabbi and disciple of Hillel (y. Ber. 46a). Rouwhorst points out however that, “In the Jewish tradition, the emphasis lies on the blessing accompanying the breaking of the bread rather than on the breaking itself” (Gerard Rouwhorst, “The Roots Of The Early Christian Eucharist: Jewish Blessings Or Hellenistic Symposia?,” in Jewish and Christian Liturgy and Worship: New Insights into its History and Interaction, ed. Albert Gerhards and Clemens Leonhard (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 306). The “grace after meals” also involved a cup, at least at Passover (m. Pes. 10.7), and likely at other meals as well (t. Ber. 5.6). See also Otfried Hofius, “The Lord’s Supper and the Lord’s Supper Tradition: Reflections on 1 Corinthians 11:23b–25,” in One Loaf, One Cup: Ecumenical Studies of 1 Cor 11 and Other Eucharistic Texts: The Cambridge Conference on the Eucharist, August 1988, ed. Ben F. Meyer, New Gospel Studies (Leuven: Peeters Press, 1993), 85, and Heinz-Wolfgang Kuhn, “The Qumran Meal and the Lord’s Supper in Paul in the Context of the Graeco-Roman World,” in Paul, Luke and the Graeco- Roman World: Essays in Honour of Alexander J.M. Wedderburn, ed. Alf Christophersen et al., Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series (London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), 231.
19 Blomberg resists an allusion to the eucharist here, preferring to look back further to the feeding miracle of 9:16, because of the repetition of ἐδίδου, and the lack of reference to wine (Craig L. Blomberg, Contagious Holiness: Jesus’ Meals with Sinners, New Studies in Biblical Theology, (Leicester: Apollos, 2005), 158-59). But there is no need to exclude the Last Supper from the running series of references in Luke-Acts to the breaking of bread, which all help interpret one another.
20 See Andreas Lindemann, “The Beginnings of Christian Life in Jerusalem According to the Summaries in the Acts of the Apostles,” in Common Life in the Early church: Essays Honoring Graydon F. Snyder, ed. Julian V. Hills (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1998), 205.
21 See Reta H. Finger, Of Widows and Meals: Communal Meals in the Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2007), 242.
22 It is not necessary here to address traditional debates over the Lord’s supper, such those over the divine presence, and sacramentalism, though my own preferences will no doubt be obvious. All sides at least agree that the meal is intended to be symbolic in some sense.
23 Hamilton notes that “The early Christians took the Lord’s Supper on the Lord’s Day in the context of a meal” (James M. Jr. Hamilton, “The Lord’s Supper in Paul,” in The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ until He Comes, ed. Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford, NAC Studies in Bible & Theology (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Academic, 2010), 77). When he turns to contemporary application, however, he makes no mention of returning to a meal setting.
24 See Panayotis Coutsoumpos, Paul and the Lord’s Supper: A Socio-Historical Investigation, Studies in Biblical Literature, (New York: Peter Lang, 2005), 134.
25 See Robert Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community, Revised ed. (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1994), 80–81. It could be taken in the evening, if one could afford lamps.
26 Τὸ γὰρ Κυριακὸν, ἰδιωτικὸν ποιοῦσιν; Hom. 1 Cor. 27.4. The problem, Chrysostom says, is not that the Corinthians were not actually eating together, but one of division between rich and poor: Καὶ οὐ λέγει, Ἀκούω γὰρ μὴ κοινῇ ὑμᾶς συνδειπνεῖν· ἀκούω γὰρ κατ’ ἰδίαν ὑμᾶς ἑστιᾶσθαι, καὶ μὴ μετὰ τῶν πενήτων (Hom. 1 Cor. 27.2).
27 Barry D. Smith, “The Problem with the Observance of the Lord’s Supper in the Corinthian Church,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 20, no. 4 (2010): 531; Peter Stuhlmacher, Jesus of Nazareth, Christ of Faith (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993), 75. Both argue that the phrase μετὰ τὸ δειπνῆσαι (“after dining”) is not relevant, being a meaningless leftover of the Jesus tradition, not reflected in the early Church’s traditional practices.
28 Mark P. Surburg, “The Situation at the Corinthian Lord’s Supper in Light of 1 Corinthians 11:21: A Reconsideration,” Concordia Journal 32, no. 1 (2006): 21, holds to a bread-meal-cup order but counsels caution.
29 See Andrew B. McGowan, Ascetic Eucharists: Food and Drink in Early Christian Ritual Meals, Oxford Early Christian Studies, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), 38, 91–95 for the diet of laborers in the period. He comments, “Wine, which scholars often seem to regard as a sign of luxury, was consumed routinely by poor as well as rich – although, of course, its quantity and quality varied” (Andrew B. McGowan, “Rethinking Eucharistic Origins,” Pacifica 23, no. 2 (2010): 185).
30 The Western text (D) omits the second cup in Luke, but attestation for this variant otherwise is confined to some Latin, Syriac and Coptic manuscripts.
31 The Didache meal (9-10) has the cup before the bread).
32 E. Earle Ellis and Terry L. Wilder, 1 Corinthians: A Commentary (London: T&T Clark, 2021), 410. The same term for divisions, σχίσματα, is used in 1:10 and 11:18. 1:11 adds the term ἔριδες (“quarrels”). In 1:11 Paul states that these quarrels have been “reported” to him by “some of Chloe’s household.” In 1:18 Paul says that he has “heard” of the divisions, and he partly believes it. Thiselton differentiates the splits of 1:10-11 and 11:18; the former are between differing house churches, the latter within gatherings. This seems to be reading too much into 1:10-11.
33 With “you are shaming those who have not” (καταισχύνετε τοὺς μὴ ἔχοντας), there may be echoes here of Neh 8:10 (LXX): πορεύεσθε φάγετε λιπάσματα καὶ πίετε γλυκάσματα καὶ ἀποστείλατε μερίδας τοῖς μὴ ἔχουσιν; (“Go and eat the fat and drink the sweet, and send portions to those who have not”), and to Isa 3:15 (LXX): τί ὑμεῖς ἀδικεῖτε τὸν λαόν μου καὶ τὸ πρόσωπον τῶν πτωχῶν καταισχύνετε; (“Why are you doing my people wrong and shaming the face of the poor?”).
34 McRae, “Eating with Honor: The Corinthian Lord’s Supper in Light of Voluntary Association Meal Practices,” 166;; Mark T. Finney, Honour and Conflict in the Ancient World: 1 Corinthians in its Greco-Roman Social Setting, Library of New Testament Studies, (London: T&T Clark, 2012), 171-76.
35 J. Murphy-O’Connor, St. Paul’s Corinth: Text and Archaeology, 3rd ed. (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2002), 184; Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 859. The house (οἶκος) is the only meeting place mentioned in Paul’s letters (Rom 16:5). Adams notes that Paul distinguishes the common meal of the church from their eating in houses (1 Cor. 11:22, 34), though perhaps he pushes the distinction too far, If the church met in a large home of a wealthy person, that household would have been the only ones in the gathering eating in their own home (Adams, “Placing the Corinthian Communal Meal,” 28). Luke shows early believers meeting in a variety of situations. Jesus and his disciples ate their Passover meal in a kataluma (κατάλυμα, Luke 22:11), which meant accommodation, usually for rent, for travelers and visitors. The actual space consisted of a large upper room (ἀνάγαιον), furnished for the event. In Acts 1:13 the disciples are staying and gathering in an upper story area (ὑπερῷον). The same term is used for the upstairs space where the church in Troas gathered in Acts 20:8, which had many lamps and a window. In Acts 18:7 the believers appear to have been meeting in a synagogue, which they abandon to meet next door in a house (οἰκία). In Acts 19:9 Paul is depicted as reasoning daily in a lecture hall or schoolroom (σχολή). Recent studies though suggest other meeting places were also possible, such as in a restaurant (taberna), or in the large ground floor apartment of a tenement block (insula), or in a public hall (basilica), or in the open air. The church may have even met in a rented “clubroom,” in a manner similar to the Roman associations (collegia). See Finney, Honour and Conflict, 63–71; Edward Adams, The Earliest Christian Meeting Places: Almost Exclusively Houses?, The Library of New Testament Studies Early Christianity in Context, (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013).
36 “So, the problem is not the desecration of the elements per se, but by creating divisions at the Supper and mistreating others, they sin against Christ” (Jamir, Exclusion and Judgment, 175).
37 See Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: W. B. Eerdmans, 1987), 542, 68; David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2003), 540, 54–55; and Bruce W. Winter, After Paul Left Corinth: The Influence of Secular Ethics and Social Change (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2001); and Winter, After Paul Left Corinth, 143–48 on the non-temporal use of προλαμβάνω and ἐκδέχομαι.
38 Günther Bornkamm, Early Christian Experience, The New Testament Library, (London,: SCM, 1969), 128-29; Pheme Perkins, First Corinthians, Paideia, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2012), 142–43.
39 See Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2010), 555; Fee, First Corinthians, 562–64.
40 Contra James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998), 608), for whom Paul is “switching almost imperceptibly from first person (‘in remembrance of me’) to third person (“you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes’),” and does not “distinguish clearly between tradition and commentary.”
41 Banks comments, “With the exception of the words that accompany it, it was in no respect different from the customary meal for guests in a Jewish home” (Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community, 81).
42 Fotopoulos, Food Offered to Idols in Roman Corinth, 169–74; E. A. Judge, “Did the Churches Compete with Cult-groups?,” in The First Christians in the Roman World: Augustan and New Testament Essays, ed. James R. Harrison, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008), 606–14; Andrew B. McGowan comments: “The centrality of sacrifice for ancient Mediterranean societies is hard to exaggerate. Offerings of animals and other foods, as well as pouring libations and burning incense, were forms of gift or communication that expressed how closely believers—in one God or many gods—felt their own good depended on spiritual forces beyond their own sight,” Andrew B. McGowan, Ancient Christian Worship: Early Church Practices in Social, Historical, and Theological Perspective (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2014), 32. But it is a mistake to assume that the Pauline churches maintained a cultic mind-set from their former lives. And it should be noted, of course, that it was only Christians who called themselves “believers” in the first century.
43 Not all Jews celebrated the Passover in Jerusalem. Luke shows Paul honoring the Passover while in Philippi (Acts 20:6). The Rabbis discussed how the Passover was celebrated in Galilee as well as Judea (m. Pes. 4.5b). The meal was eaten in family groups, with children present (m. Pes.10.4), although it could also be eaten in associations which could number from ten to over thirty. See David Instone-Brewer and Philip A. Harland, “Jewish Associations in Roman Palestine: Evidence from the Mishnah,” Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 5 (2008): 200–21; David Instone-Brewer and Philip A. Harland, “Jewish Associations in Roman Palestine: Evidence from the Mishnah,” JGRChJ 5 (2008): 200–21. At least ten men were needed to form a quorum, in addition to women and children (p. 209); cf. Josephus J.W. 6.423, m. Ber.7.3.
44 See Dennis R. Lindsay, “Todah and Eucharist: The Celebration of the Lord’s Supper as a ‘Thank Offering in the Early Church,” Restoration Quarterly 39, no. 2 (1997): 86.
45 Paul F. Bradshaw and Maxwell E. Johnson, The Origins of Feasts, Fasts, and Seasons in Early Christianity (London: SPCK, 2011), 39–59; Harald Buchinger, “Breaking the Fast: The Central Moment of the Paschal Celebration in Historical Context and Diachronic Perspective,” in Sanctifying Texts, Transforming Rituals: Encounters in Liturgical Studies, ed. Paul van Geest, Marcel Poorthuis, and Els Rose (Leiden: Brill, 2017); Gerard Rouwhorst, “Liturgy on the Authority of the Apostles,” in The Apostolic Age in Patristic Thought, ed. A. Hilhorst, Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae (Leiden: Brill, 2004).
46 Bruce W. Longenecker paraphrases: “Do this, that is, giving yourselves (and your resources) up for others, just as I am doing for you,” Bruce W. Longenecker, Remember the Poor: Paul, Poverty, and the Greco-Roman World (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010), 154.
47 See Mark Reasoner, The Strong and the Weak: Romans 14.1-15.13 in Context, Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series; 103, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 5-23, 218-20; Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1998), 703-10.
48 John M. G. Barclay, “Faith and Self-Detachment from Cultural Norms: A Study in Romans 14-15,” Article, Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der Älteren Kirche 104, no. 2 (2013): 192. This is despite claims by some that nothing in the passage has particular reference to the Roman believers, following the earlier tradition which saw Romans as a rather generic presentation of Paul’s teaching. Robert J. Karris, “Romans 14:1-15:13 and the Occasion of Romans,” in The Romans Debate: Revised and Expanded Edition, ed. Karl P. Donfried (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1991).
49 Colin G. Kruse, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2012), 510; James D. G. Dunn, Romans 9-16, vol. 38B, Word Biblical Commentary, (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1988), 802. There is considerable evidence for the attraction of some Gentiles to Jewish practices and beliefs (Acts 10:2; Josephus, Ag. Ap. 2.282). Das, following Stowers, insists that there are only Gentiles in the Roman churches, and thus the weak represent Law-observant Gentiles (A. Andrew Das, “’Praise the Lord, All you Gentiles’: The Encoded Audience of Romans 15.7-13,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 34, no. 1 (2011)). But apart from the problem of making Romans 2:17 merely hypothetical, and having to claim that the Gentile groups mentioned in Romans 16 are different to the church addressed by the letter, it seems unlikely that there would be a substantial group of god-fearing Gentiles practicing Jewish food laws in the churches, without the influence of actual Jews. Paul names several Jews in Romans 16, including three who are kin: Andronicus, Junia, and Herodion.
50 It is clear that this order of events, similar to that in Greco-Roman banqueting generally, was common. It is not clear that it was necessary or universal. See Charles H. Cosgrove, “Word and Table: The Origins of a Liturgical Sequence,” Vigiliae Christianae, no. 74 (2020).
51 The Greek verb προσλαμβάνομαι is used, which can be used about offering hospitality (Acts 28:2).
52 Bo Ivar Reicke, Diakonie, Festfreude und Zelos, in Verbindung mit der altchristlichen Agapenfeier, Uppsala universitets Årsskrift, (Uppsala: Lundequistska Bokhandeln, 1951), 14.
53 Luke 22:19, Acts 27:35, 1 Cor. 11:24. The widespread New Testament use of the language of εὐλογέω (bless) rather than εὐχαριστέω (“give thanks”) for the prayer at the distribution of the bread, has not lent itself to the name of the meal. Note Matt 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 24:30, and in 1 Cor. 10:16, Τὸ ποτήριον τῆς εὐλογίας ὃ εὐλογοῦμεν, (“the cup of blessing which we bless”).
54 Note also that prophets are permitted to vary the manner of participation in the thanksgiving (Did. 10:7).
55 Some see Ign. Smyrn. 8:1–2 as evidence that the eucharist and agapé have already been separated (C. K. Barrett, Church, Ministry, and Sacraments in the New Testament (Grands Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985), 97). Marshall disagrees: “There is nothing to suggest that the love feast was a separate kind of meal from the Lord’s Supper, and it seems more probable that these were two names for the same occasion” (I. Howard Marshall, Last Supper and Lord’s Supper (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1981), 110).
56 Ep. Tra. 10.96.
57 Justin, Dial. 41.3; Irenaeus, Haer. 4.17.5.
58 L. Michael White, “Regulating Fellowship in the Communal Meal: Early Jewish and Christian Evidence,” in Meals in a Social Context: Aspects of the Communal Meal in the Hellenistic and Roman World, ed. Inge Nielsen and Hanne Nielsen, Aarhus Studies in Mediterranean Antiquity (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 1998), 180
59 Justin 1 Apol. 65–67.
60 Tertullian Apol. 39. He contrasts this simplicity with the extravagance of associational feasts, and emphasizes that members contributed what they could afford unlike religions which have their price, or fee.
61 convivium dominicum (The Lord’s Banquet), Ad uxor 4, convivium dei (God’s banquet), Ad uxor 2, cena domini The Lord’s Dinner), De spect. 13.
62 Tertullian Cor. 3.3.
63 As is argued by Andrew B. McGowan, “Rethinking Agape and Eucharist in Early North African Christianity,”
Studia Liturgica 34, no. 2 (2004): 170–71.
64 McGowan, “Rethinking Agape,” 173. Some sixteenth-century English Baptists held the Lord’s supper in the evenings, precisely because of Jesus and Paul having this meal in the evening (Nigel Scotland, The New Passover: Rethinking the Lord’s Supper for Today (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2016)).
65 Witherington, Making a Meal of It, 105–09.
66 John Chrysostom Hom. 1 Cor. 28.4.
67 John Chrysostom Hom. 1 Cor. 27. 1, 7.
68 McGowan, Ancient Christian Worship, 49.
69 See Michael A.G. Haykin, “‘A Glorious Inebriation’: Eucharistic Thought and Piety in the Patristic Era,” in The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ until He Comes, ed. Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Academic, 2010), 113-18.
70 Apostolic Traditions 25.11–16; J. F. Keating, The Agapé and the Eucharist in the Early Church (London: Methuen, 1901), 144; McGowan, Ancient Christian Worship, 49–51.
71 As can be seen in the related documents, the so-called Egyptian Church Order, the Canons of Hippolytus and the
Apostolic Constitutions (Keating, Agapé, 107–40).
72 Confessions 6.2, Ep. Ad Aurelium 22.1. He encourages “offerings for the spirits of those who sleep.”
73 Ep. Ad Alypium 29.4. Here he is commenting on First Corinthians 11:20-27, but the implication for his contemporaries are clear.
74 Women could not even come to the altar (Canon 44).
75 Especially dedication festivals, when a pagan temple was set aside for use as a church (Keating, Agapé, 158).
76 Lillian I. Larsen, “Monastic Meals: Resisting a Reclining Culture,” in Meals in the Early Christian World : Social Formation, Experimentation, and Conflict at the Table, ed. Dennis Edwin Smith and Hal Taussig (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).
77 Smith suggests that the dining table was the setting for the entirety of the early Christian gatherings (Dennis E. Smith, “The House Church as Social Environment,” in Text, Image, and Christians in the Graeco-Roman world: A Festschrift in Honor of David Lee Balch, ed. Aliou Cissâe Niang and Carolyn Osiek, Princeton Theological Monograph Series (Eugene, Or.: Pickwick Publications, 2012), 16). Finger says that “communal meals were the central rite of the Christian Communities from before Paul wrote to the Corinthians about 50 CE to at least the death of Ignatius” (Finger, Widows and Meals, 69).
78 The Swiss reformers were criticized for using “the Lord’s table” language because it was considered to be “desacralizing the elements and reducing the ritual to a common meal” (Amy Nelson Burnett, “The Eucharist,” in John Calvin in Context, ed. R. Ward Holder (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), 241).
79 Markus Barth, Rediscovering the Lord’s Supper: Communion with Israel, with Christ, and among the Guests (Atlanta: J. Knox Press, 1988), 1–5; Ray Van Neste, “The Lord’s Supper in the Context of the Local Church,” in The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ until He Comes, ed. Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford, NAC Studies in Bible & Theology (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Academic, 2010). The Catholic scholar Brant Pitre, talks about the “covenant meal instituted by Jesus” without ever suggesting that a proper meal would take place (Pitre, Jesus and the Last Supper, 516). Curiously, his entire book fails to mention the significant phrases “the Lord’s supper”, or “the table of the Lord” nor the verses those phrases come from (1 Cor. 11:20, 10:16), despite extensive discussion of the “words of institution” in First Corinthians 11:23-25.
80 See for example Mark E. Dever, “The Doctrine of the Church,” in A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel L. Akin, David P. Nelson, and Peter R. Schemm (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2007), 620–21; Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 697–704.
81 George Bristow, “The Remembrance Meeting: The Theology of the Lord’s Supper Among the Christian Brethren,” The Emmaus Journal 16 (2007): 186; Donald MacLeod, “The Feill: The Lord’s Supper as Feast,” Theology in Scotland XV, no. 2 (2008): 7.
82 See for example Blomberg, Contagious Holiness, 179–80; Bobby Jamieson, Understanding the Lord’s Supper, Church Basics, (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2016), 62; Marshall, Last Supper and Lord’s Supper, 157; Smith and Taussig, Many Tables, 117–20; Witherington, Making a Meal of It, 131.
83 Stephen E. Atkerson, New Testament Church Dynamics: Growth Strategies of the Ancient Church (Atlanta, GA.: New Testament Reformation Fellowship, 2017), 44–65; Jim Elliff, The Lord’s Supper is a Meal (Kansas City, MO: Christian Communicators Worldwide, 2022); John Mark Hicks, Come to the Table: Revisioning the Lord’s Supper (Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2002).
84 See Vernon Fosner, Dinner Church: Building Bridges by Breaking Bread (Franklin, TN: Seedbed Publishing, 2017), and https://dinnerchurch.com.
85 See Yega Church, Jeonju Saenuri Church, and Hongdae Dining Church, “The Revolution of Particular 21st Century Korean Churches Meals,” EMCUS 1 (2022).
86 J. Timothy Coyle, “The Agape/Eucharist Relationship in 1 Corinthians 11,” Grace Theological Journal 6, no. 2 (1985): 411.
87 See e.g. Matthew Croasmun and Miroslav Volf, The Hunger for Home: Food and Meals in the Gospel of Luke (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2022).
88 Martin Luther, Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings, ed. John Dillenberger (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961), 286.
This was originally presented during Academic Convocation at Gateway Seminary on March 2, 2023.