Synonyms of the Lord’s Supper
The Lord’s Supper is described in the Bible in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and the books of Acts and 1 Corinthians. These were all written between about AD 45 and AD 63 (Appendix A). Where do the synonyms we use for the Lord’s Supper come from?
At the last Passover before Jesus died (about AD 30), He told His disciples to eat the bread and drink the cup of wine “in remembrance of me” (Lk. 22:19NIV). Although there is no name for the Lord’s Supper in these gospels, some people call it “the Remembrance Service” or “the Memorial service”.
But where does the term “the Lord’s Supper” come from?
The Lord’s Supper
The best explanation of the Lord’s Supper is given in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. In this passage, Paul calls it “the Lord’s Supper” (v.20). The Greek noun “deipnon” (Strongs #1173) translated “supper” means the evening meal which we would call “dinner”. This term may have been used to distinguish it from the fellowship meal that it was initially associated with.
In this case Paul was critical of the Corinthians because the Lord’s Supper was the remembrance of a selfless act, and they were acting very selfishly. At the Lord’s Supper we should also be reminded that our behavior should be consistent with that of the Lord.
So sometimes in the Bible, it’s called “the Lord’s Supper”. But where does the term “the breaking of bread” come from?
The breaking of bread
The phrase “breaking of bread” is used in the New Testament to refer both to the Lord’s Supper and to eating an ordinary meal. The meaning in a particular case should be determined from the context. In Greek this term meant to divide bread, cakes or loaves into pieces.
Acts 2:42 says that the early Christians “devoted themselves to … the breaking of bread”. And Paul stayed in Troas for seven days in order to break bread on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7, 11).
So, the main terms used in the Bible are “the Lord’s Supper” and “the breaking of bread”. But where does the term “Communion” come from?
The Lord’s Supper is also described in chapter 1 Corinthians 10, “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?” (1 Cor. 10:16 KJV, NKJV).
The word “communion” comes from the King James Bible. It is derived from Latin communio (‘sharing in common’). The Greek noun koinonia (Strongs #2842) means partnership, participation, sharing in, communion, and spiritual fellowship. Other more recent English translations use “sharing” (CSB, NASB, NET, NIRV, NLT) or “participation” (ESV, NIV) instead of “communion”.
The Lord’s Supper is a symbol of our fellowship with the Lord. We receive the benefits of Christ’s death. A believer must be in fellowship with the Lord before partaking. The only person who can prepare you for the Lord’s supper or communion is yourself.
So sometimes people call the Lord’s Supper “Communion”. But where does the term “the Eucharist” come from?
Each of the gospel accounts says that Jesus “gave thanks” during the Lord’s Supper (Mt. 26:27; Mk. 14:23; Lk. 22:19). And so does Paul (1 Cor. 11:24). Jesus gave thanks in prayer by thanking God for saving sinners through His death. The Greek verb eucharuisteo (Strongs #2168) means to be thankful.
So sometimes people call the Lord’s Supper “the Eucharist”. But what about the Lord’s table (see Appendix B)?
The Lord’s Supper, the breaking of bread, Communion, the Eucharist, the Remembrance Service, and the Memorial Service are all synonyms. The Lord’s Supper and the breaking of bread are names used directly in the New Testament, while the other terms are derived from the text of the New Testament. In this context, “Communion” and “Eucharist” are old words that have taken on a new meaning.
Lord, we thank you for giving us a special way to remember what you have done for us in the Lord’s Supper, the breaking of Bread, Communion and the Eucharist. We remember your sacrificial death like that of the Passover lamb. Just as we depend on food and drink to live physically by eating and drinking, we can only live spiritually through your death and resurrection. This enables us to share in all the benefits of eternal life. And we offer thanks and praise for all that you have done.
Appendix A: Dates of the gospels
Because Paul’s description of the Lord’s supper in 1 Corinthians is similar to that in Luke, J Warner-Wallace believes that Paul is quoting from Luke. This means that Luke was written before AD 55. As Luke quoted entire passages from Matthew and Mark, this means that Matthew and Mark were probably written before AD 50.
Appendix B: What about “the Lord’s table”?
Paul warned the believers at Corinth against participating in idols feasts by saying, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons” (1 Cor. 10:21). To eat food that has been offered to idols is to associate with idols and with the demons that promote idolatry. More generally, anything we put in the place of God is idolatry. This verse says that the Lord does not tolerate spiritual adultery.
The terms “cup of the Lord” and “Lord’s table” in this verse are examples of metonymy, which is a figure of speech where something is described by something else that is associated with it. Like, “can you give me a hand?” or “the team needs some new blood”. The “cup of the Lord” means the benefits which come to believers through Christ. And the “Lord’s table” means all the blessings that believers enjoy in Christ, which includes the Lord’s Supper. So the Lord’s table is a more general term than the Lord’s Supper.
Written, December 2021