A Response to “The Bread in the Lord’s Supper”


Mr. Tony Denton found my page and asked me the following question through my Bible Questions and Answers page:

Q: With reference to your article on the number of loaves (and cups) in the Lord’s Supper, would you please read my essay, The Bread in the Lord’s Supper, and let me hear back from you.

The article under discussion is my analyzation of many of the non-Scriptural doctrines regarding the Lord’s Supper in my A Study of Denominations, notably The Lord’s Supper, and the sub-heading “The Number of Loaves and Cups.”

I have not quoted the entirety of his article below, but his complete article is available at http://www.asiteforthelord.com/sys-tmpl/thebreadinthelordssupper/.

The Response

Below is my response to Mr. Denton concerning his article. His article is in regular type, my responses in bold.

  1. When a speaker or writer had reference to many loaves of tangible bread, a plural form (artoi, artois, arton, or artous) was employed (e.g., Matthew 14:19).
  2. When a speaker or writer had reference to only one tangible loaf of bread, a singular form (arto, arton, artou, or artos) was employed (e.g., Mark 8:14).
  3. When a speaker or writer had reference to bread in the abstract, a singular form was employed (e.g., Matthew 4:4). (Cf. Matthew 14:19 w/ John 6:23.)
  4. When a speaker or writer had reference to many pieces of bread, a singular form was employed (e.g., John 6:31). (Cf. Exodus 16:4 w/ John 6:31.)

Then, when examining the Lord’s Supper, he makes the following conclusion:

Since the bread in the Lord’s supper is always found in the singular form, and since the same arton that Jesus gave thanks for, broke, and told His disciples to eat is the same arton that He took, then the bread in the Lord’s supper clearly fits into the second point above. Therefore, there’s no other logical way to interpret the term “arton” relative to the Lord’s supper except to say that it has reference to a literal, tangible loaf of bread (unleavened bread, Matthew 26:17-26). In fact, The Living Oracles translates “arton” as “the loaf” in Matthew 26:26, and the ASV has the phrase “a loaf” in its margin as the alternate rendering.

The singular form of the word does limit the possibilities to two: his numbers 2 and 3. The “reference to bread in the abstract” is also the language of symbol and figurative speech, no? We see in these verses also that Jesus took the “cup,” and “divided” it and “drank it.” Do you drink a “cup?” No. Can you divide a cup? Sure, if the contents are spilled. We all recognize that the “cup” is metonymy, hence figurative, for the “contents” of the cup! Therefore, the emphasis of the Lord’s Supper is the partaking of bread to represent the Lord’s Body and the partaking of the fruit of the vine to represent the Lord’s blood. Therefore, I am not convinced that he has completely eliminated choice #3 as a strong possibility for the message of the Gospels and Paul.

Tony then continued:

Although there’s actually no such necessity relative to the Lord’s supper, the student may consult First Corinthians 10:17 in order to determine even more certainly that it’s expected that only one literal loaf of bread be used in the observance of the Lord’s supper. Note the clarity with which the NIV renders this verse:

“Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”

In the phrase “enos artou” or “eis artous” (“one loaf” in the original), the Greek word “artou” is logically translated as “loaf” because of its modifier, “enos” or “eis,” which restricts “artou” to a number of one! Bauer said that the phrase “tou enos artou” means “one and the same loaf 1 Cor 10:17” (231). Just as the student may know for certain that there were five, and only five, loaves of bread in the feeding of the congregation of 5,000 (Matthew 14:15-20), and just as he may know for certain that the congregation of the disciples did have one, and only one, loaf of bread on the boat near Magdala (Mark 8:14), so he may also know for certain that Jesus instituted His memorial supper by the use of one, and only one, loaf of (unleavened) bread (Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19, First Corinthians 11:23b-24, & First Corinthians 10:17).

We have the exact same situation again; is the third possibility completely eliminated? Can the bread that Paul speaks of be a symbol of unity? “One bread,” not necessitating “one loaf?” The NIV renders things as “thought-for-thought,” and thus is seriously prone to doctrinal interpretation. I do not find the NIV suitable enough for textual argumentation, because there is no guarantee that it renders the text literally.

The verses themselves, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, demonstrate the difficulty of a purely literal rendering:

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ? Seeing that we, who are many, are one bread, one body: for we are all partake of the one bread.

How can “we” be of “one bread” literally? The term in no way can be literal! It must be figurative, hence symbolic, hence an example of definition number 3. With this surpassing evidence for clear symbolism in this verse, he would then bind the conclusion to one specific loaf, when it could just as easily be one specific bread? Again, the conclusion is assumed, and not proved.

Tony then speaks of translators and translations, and conclude with the following:

Friberg and Wigram said that artos is singular in every case in the accounts of the Lord’s supper, and that even the pronoun antecedent “this” (touto), in “this is My body,” is singular; in other words, since there is one body, there is one loaf.

Again, a singular form used for a completely non-literal usage, unless you believe in transubstantiation. IS the bread literally Christ’s body? I do not believe so; I believe it is symbolic of His body. Therefore we have again “bread” in symbolic usage that cannot be forced to be only one “loaf” of such bread.

You then speak of the nature of the loaf, and I am sure that there is no argument about the literal definition of the concept of a loaf; the difficulty is that no one actually argues on the literal basis, but on the symbolic. The entire account of the Lord’s Supper– and all discussions thereof– are laden with symbolism. The greatest difficulties with the practice of the Lord’s Supper have arisen with the extreme literalism placed upon it: Catholicism with transubstantiation, Protestantism with consubstantiation, which is little better, and now the binding of the quantity of loaf and cup when the text is discussing two elements which symbolize the sacrifice of our Lord and the unity of Christians. Can there be complete unity of Christians eating the same bread that is portioned out? Absolutely, just as there can be compete unity of Christians drinking the same substance out of different containers. The unity is in the bread itself and the fruit of the vine itself; the ACTUAL memorial elements of the death of Christ Jesus.

Tony then said:

These preliminary, yet essential, remarks establish that when the bread in the Lord’s supper is mentioned, it always has reference only to a single loaf of bread. With that foundation, it’s now possible to entertain the primary evidences which clearly demonstrate that the only scripturally acceptable practice of partaking of the bread in the Lord’s supper is when each congregational communicant eats his piece from one and the same literal loaf.

Again, an assumption of your conclusion, and not based on an actual argument based on the symbolic factors of the text. He has not proven that limitation of the quantity of loaves [and cups] is mandated from the text.

He then said:

When Jesus instituted His supper and when His disciples observed His supper, only one literal loaf of bread was used.

One of the proofs of this affirmation is found in the statements formerly quoted under the heading of translators and translations. Noting the accounts specifically, we can learn the following: (1) Jesus took, blessed, and broke a loaf (Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19, & First Corinthians 11:23b-24).

No, for he has assumed that the definitions you have provided must fit definition #2, and could not fit definition #3. Jesus took, blessed, and broke bread. The quantity of loaves of that bread is not stated.

Tony continued:

(2) Jesus ate of that loaf (Matthew 26:29, Mark 14:25, & Luke 22:18 & 16).
(3) The apostles took the loaf (Matthew 26:26 & Mark 14:22).

(4) They ate of that loaf (Matthew 26:26).

Paul wrote about the Christians in Corinth following this pattern: they not only took and blessed the loaf, but they also broke and partook (ate) of one loaf:

When we all break off a piece of the bread, it is the sharing of Christ’s body, isn’t it?….There is one loaf, but all of us share this one loaf, (First Corinthians 10:16b and 17b, SEB [Simple English Bible]; cf. NCV [New Century Version]).

Jesus took of bread, and the disciples took of bread. And again, using dynamic equivalent version only weakens his argument by lack of literal proof of your claims. I could very easily prove the validity of the “sinner’s prayer” by using many such “translations” of Romans 10:9-10; just because some men have so interpreted the terminology does not make it legitimate!

Tony continued:

To the communicant, the one loaf represents Christ’s one physical body. Jesus Himself said of the loaf, “‘This is My body'” (all accounts). Similarly, Paul said, “the bread [loaf] which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ” (1st Corinthians 10:16b)? (As Alford noted, the pronoun “we” employed by Paul refers to “the assembled” which, incidentally, harmonizes with his contextual statements concerning the coming together of the congregation in Corinth
[First Corinthians 11:20 & 33].)

An implicit admission to the use of figurative language: “represents.” If the bread “represents” something, the bread is taking on some form of meaning beyond its literal application. Therefore, the emphasis on the bread is not the unity of the “loaf” of bread, but the unity of the “bread” as being the “body of the Lord.” This is a discussion of bread in its symbolic, figurative form. We may eat literal bread, but as a reminder of the work of Christ upon the cross.

And if there IS such emphasis on the oneness of the “loaf,” does this mean that different congregations do not all share equally in the “communion of the Lord?” If each congregation has its own loaf, is not the bread divided between churches? Is there therefore no kinship between churches, since the emphasis on the unity of the Lord’s Body is not the kindred bond of the belief in the one sacrifice of Christ but the oneness of the bread we eat? I do not want to even get near such a conclusion; hence, to me, the emphasis is on the nature of the unity of partaking of the element, not the quantity of the element itself.

Tony continued:

The acceptance of these representations is important because Paul told the Christians at Corinth that the reason for much of their sickness and death was due to their lack of correctly discerning the symbolism of the emblems in the Lord’s supper (First Corinthians 11:29-30).

He cannot admit the symbolism of the emblems yet maintain a binding on the quantity of such emblems. It does not work in any proper form of hermeneutics. If the emphasis of the bread is the meaning it holds, not the quantity of the pieces, then there is no Scriptural need for him to bind one loaf.

He continued:

Therefore, the implication is that one loaf must be used in the observance of the Lord’s supper because of what it was meant to symbolize.

I thank him for his frank admission that he is making an inference. I do not know about Tony, but I have strong difficulties making doctrines that I bind upon others as required on the basis of inference alone.

Tony then brings up a possible argument of binding, and says:

When Jesus instituted His supper and when His disciples observed His supper, both Jesus and Paul demanded the use of only one loaf in the observance of the Lord’s supper.

Paul wrote to “let him [a man] eat of that bread [loaf]….” The phrase “let him” is in the imperative mood in the original, meaning that Paul was binding the law that each communicant was to eat from the common loaf of bread in the Lord’s supper.

Again, the only demand is the use of “bread,” and a binding of the specific quantity of that bread is, as you have said, your inference from the text. The symbolic nature and emphasis of the Lord’s Supper betrays any attempt to bind the quantity of the elements or containers of the elements.

Tony continued:

After Jesus took a loaf of bread, He told His assembled band of disciples, “Do this, in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19 & First Corinthians 11:24).

What exactly did Jesus “do”?

  1. He took a loaf of unleavened bread.
  2. He gave thanks for it.
  3. He broke off a piece of it (as klao is defined by Green, Wigram, and Donnegan; further, the SEB reads, “When we all break off a piece of the bread…” [First Corinthians 10:17]).
  4. He ate the piece He broke off (as noted earlier).
  5. He gave the loaf once, to, and for all His disciples (as edoken
    indicates by the aorist tense as opposed to edidou which indicates to
    keep on giving by its imperfect tense in Luke 9:16).

Again, Jesus took and broke “bread” in an extremely symbolic context and called it His Body. We have as much right to bind the singular literal form of loaf as we do to bind the singular literal form of Body.

Tony continued:

What then are we commanded to do?

  1. Take a loaf of unleavened bread.
  2. Give thanks for it.
  3. Break off a piece of it.
  4. Eat the piece broken off.
  5. Give (pass) it to our brethren until the communion, the joint-participation, has been completed.

Again, we are commanded to break “bread” and pass “bread” around. The literal singularity of the loaf remains his inference that is not necessary.

Tony continued, after having attempted to correlate between the completely certain examples of bread then fruit of the vine with blessings and thanks with the not certain quantity of loaf:

This point demonstrates that Christ’s use, the disciples’ use, and the Corinthians’ use of only one loaf weren’t merely incidents, but were, in fact, examples which were expected to be imitated by all the Lord’s churches from then on.

Well, he is definitely continuing his inference for all that it’s worth. I could just as easily say that the use of “bread” in the symbolic form representing Jesus’ Body was done universally without any need of limitation of the bread to one specific literal loaf, which would also further deny any form of kindred bond between any members of the Church outside the local congregation.

Tony’s conclusion of his specific evidence:

In the preceding paragraphs, it has been demonstrated that the use of only one loaf in the observance of the Lord’s supper is essential by command, example, and implication. Example: Only one loaf was used. Command: “Do this.” Implication: The one loaf represents Christ’s one physical body and the oneness of His spiritual body, the local church, which, incidentally, was Paul’s point to the divided brethren in Corinth.

His example is weighed down with symbolic action, his command is indisputable, and his implication dangerously unnecessary and opens up vast difficulties with the unity of the faith as expressed in multiple local congregations.

Tony now begins to answer some objections with responses.

The first objection and his response:

[Objection]: The 3,000 or 8,000 Christians in Jerusalem couldn’t have used only one loaf of bread.

Paul once said that there should only be one speaker at a time (First Corinthians 14:31). What if the church became too large for one speaker before electronic airwaves? Would that make it permissible to have more than one speaker at a time? Of course not. What would a church do then? It would start another church. What should we do if a church becomes too large for one loaf? Start another church. We should do what is authorized instead of what is not authorized, which reminds me of the Passover: the people were to adjust their houses to fit God’s pattern, not the other way around (Exodus 12).

Furthermore, there’s no proof that all the Christians in Jerusalem met together on the Lord’s day to partake of the Lord’s supper, such has only been assumed; rather, from Acts 2:46 one can see that they observed the Lord’s supper from house to house, at least until Acts chapter 8 when all, except the apostles, were scattered abroad. Many scholars, such as Henry, Robertson, Lightfoot, and Brown agree that the breaking of bread in Acts 2:46 refers to the Lord’s supper; and there’s good reason for it too, especially since the grammatical construction of the original language demonstrates such to be true. (See another article on this [his] site concerning Acts 2:46.)

His argumentation is not only weak, but factually incorrect. The Scriptures do teach that the Christians in Acts 2 were together, in Acts 2:44:

And all that believed were together, and had all things common.

If they were all together, and we are told that “they” (which as you should know refers to the whole of a party, not just a portion) were in “one accord” in verse 44. The unity of the brethren was just not spiritual but was also at this time physical.

Acts 2:46:

And day by day, continuing stedfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart.

He states that this verse shows the Lord’s Supper being taken from house to house– it does not. Since the term “breaking bread” can refer to either a common meal or the Lord’s Supper, the language of this verse: “breaking bread at home, they took their FOOD…” requires this verse to speak of the common meal. Commentators can be and are often wrong.

In the end, however, it is Acts 2:42 which most powerfully refutes his claim and clearly demonstrates that more than one loaf (and one cup) was clearly necessary for the first Christians:

And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers.

What do the commentators say about the “breaking of bread” in this verse? We have a whole listing of spiritual actions, teaching, fellowship, prayers…and breaking of bread. We are told that “they” are the ones continuing steadfastly in these things, and the only noun subject that could possibly exist for this “they” are found in Acts 2:41:

They then that received his word were baptized: and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls.

The “they” are those who received the word of Peter and were baptized, and the number of this “they” is about 3,000. Therefore, a more specific translation of Acts 2:42 replacing the pronoun with its true subject would be the following:

And they [who had received the word of Peter and had been baptized, about three thousand souls] continued stedfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers.

“They” shared in these spiritual
activities, “they” were together and had all things common, and “they” were in one accord. The Scripture in Acts 2 teaches that the church of Jerusalem in its origin was one physically unified group of around 3,000 souls, all of whom partook of the Lord’s Supper together. Any other conclusion wreaks complete havoc with the known language and grammar of this passage. The objection not only still stands, but remains the greatest “thorn in the flesh” of any attempt to bind the quantity of loaves and cups of the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, the message of his first paragraph is not relevant: if a church is too large for one loaf, use two, because the church in Jerusalem was plenty large for many more than one loaf. The emphasis is the unity of the bread as representation of the Lord’s Body, not only the one broken for us but also the one of which each Christian is a part, NOT the quantity of that bread.

His next objection and argument is one that I would not make; the argument itself makes the mistake of focusing on the nature of the literal bread, when the emphasis of the Lord’s Supper is on the spiritual meaning and kinship of the elements involved. The same goes for his objection and argument about the species of bread in 1 Corinthians 10:17; it also makes the mistake of speaking in purely literal terms, completely neglecting the symbolism of the bread. The same really goes for the rest of the objections and arguments: I am not concerned much at all about the nature of the bread, although there is no doubt in my mind that Jesus used unleavened bread, but that is due to the commands concerning Passover and has nothing to do with the discussion within the Gospels concerning the Lord’s Supper.

Tony’s conclusion:

In thousands of churches of Christ around the world in this very century, someone prepares a loaf of unleavened bread per congregation, generally made of water, non-self-rising flour, olive oil, and salt (cf. Leviticus 2). In the same manner that a “cup of blessing” becomes “the cup of the Lord” (First Corinthians 11:27) once it has been blessed (First Corinthians 10:16), a loaf of unleavened bread becomes the loaf (or bread) of the Lord once it has been blessed. The initial communicant breaks off his piece and eats, then he passes it to another communicant to do likewise. Just as all the disciples drank from the cup that Jesus took and drank from (Mark 14:23), so all the communicants in the local assembly break and eat from the one loaf (First Corinthians 10:17).

These churches attempt to do exactly what Jesus did when He instituted His supper in order to correctly proclaim His death to the world (First Corinthians 11:26).

I have absolutely no problem with him using one loaf and one cup; the Scriptures certainly allow for this usage for the Lord’s Supper, but my main objection throughout this discussion is that God did not bind that one particular measure. Again and again the Scriptures he has used point to an emphasis not on the physical, literal nature of the bread but upon what the bread represents. As the bread is not literally Christ’s Body, there is no way he can definitively bind that bread as one literal piece of bread. As the unity of the Body of Christ exists despite the existence of multiple congregations, so too he cannot definitively bind the bread that each individual specific congregation partakes as only one loaf of bread. Finally, the existence of the church at Jerusalem after Pentecost testifies to the impossibility of what he has bound: a church of about 3,000 souls living together, praying together, being taught together, and partaking the Lord’s Supper together.

The unity is within the partaking of the bread, the representation of the Body of Christ broken for us on the cross for our sufferings and the unity we are to have as members of that Body. Each piece of bread that each Christian around the world partakes is a representation of that Body, and Paul’s discussion does not allow for such an interpretation that would fragment the Body into individual churches that have no form of unity even on a spiritual level. The bread represents Christ’s Body; the element might be a physical entity but no emphasis is placed on its particular oneness in baking. The fruit of the vine represents the blood of Christ; the container holding this fruit of the vine might be a physical emphasis but no emphasis is placed on it whatsoever, let alone on its particular oneness in partaking. God has established that His children ought to partake of the bread and fruit of the vine, and by all accounts this is to be done on a weekly basis, the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). God has made no command, however, concerning the quantity of the bread or the containers of the fruit of the vine, and they remain as always a liberty, a decision made by the congregation for the edification of all of its members.

Thank you for the opportunity to have this discussion.

For More Information

It is my fervent desire that this response demonstrate the fruit of the Christian’s life and is in harmony with the Scriptures. Please examine the following sites that have more information about the issue of the number of loaves and cups in the Lord’s Supper:

A Response to “The Bread in the Lord’s Supper”

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