From the Passover to the Lord's Supper
Also called Communion or Eucharist. The who, how, when, and why of this church ordinance.




Jesus, on His own authority, took the lasting ordinance of the Passover, and reestablished it as a new celebration known as the Lord's Supper. In so doing, Jesus was showing that the significance of the original, while superficially appearing to look only at a past example of God's salvation of His people, in fact was a type of the full salvation that God would bring about through Him. Jesus specifically associated elements of the preexisting celebration directly to Himself. As such, this did not abolish the celebration of the Passover, but it certainly reconfigured it. No longer was it to be an annual occurrence with a broad focus on God's creation and deliverance of the physical nation of Israel, now it was to be an ongoing celebration with a specific focus on God's redemption through Jesus Christ and His creation of the spiritual nation of Israel (Romans 4:16-18; Galatians 3:7-9,29; John 8:39).

Out of the Passover Celebration

Every Jew celebrated the Passover. It was an annual remembrance of their deliverance out of the slavery and bondage of Egypt, an act that established them as the free nation of Israel.2 Within its celebration was an understanding that it was not merely a past event but also a continuing reminder of God's ongoing provision and care for His covenant people. In its continuation and transformation, Jesus places specific focus on Himself and the spiritual salvation He was bringing to all people. It retains the broader aspects of the Passover celebration; yet through its simplified ritual, God's people now look both backward to the act that accomplished their spiritual salvation while celebrating His ongoing provision and care for His uniquely chosen people. (For more on the topic of chosen people see this article and this article.)

The perpetual annual celebration of the Passover3, as given through Moses, was to remain unchanged as an ongoing testimony of God's gracious salvation and care. How can it be called a "lasting ordinance" and yet be changed by Jesus? Certainly Jesus was showing that the original celebration pointed to a greater and broader truth, one that was for all God's children. As already stated, it's not as though Jesus abolished the Passover, He reconfigured it to place a more defined emphasis: His last exodus. Consider that on the mount of transfiguration. Luke specifically uses the Greek word "exodos" to describe what Moses, Elijah, and Jesus were talking about. Jesus was speaking about the greater exodus that was to find fulfillment in Him at Jerusalem.

Luke 9:30-31 Two men, Moses and Elijah, 31 appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure (Greek: "exodos"), which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. (NIV)

In narrowing the focus to this later exodus, to which the former looked in type, the primary element dropped from the Passover was the need of sacrificing a paschal lamb. Here Jesus merges this with the eating of bread, illustrating the spiritual life given through His sacrifice. His death, as the Lamb of God, was a once-for-all shedding of blood that removed any further need of the symbolism of an ongoing sacrifice as formerly required in the Passover.

Hebrews 10:10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (NIV)

Within the Passover, as first celebrated, the sacrifice of the lamb, the sprinkling of its blood on the top and sides of the doorway, and the eating of its flesh all signified a sacrifice that brought protection from evil and judgment and was a clear indication of a people who had the favor of God. All this is retained in Jesus offering the bread as a symbol of his broken body. All who partake, as was true in the original Passover, do so as a sign and assurance that they are in fellowship with God.

A New Covenant and Celebration

Jesus instituted the new and continuing celebration, out of elements of the old, with a clearly defined duration: as Paul put it, "until He comes". Truly the old celebration remained essentially unchanged until He came the first time, so too it is fitting that the new will remain unchanged until He returns again. There is an implication in Scriptures that the Lord's Supper will not be abolished at Jesus' return, rather it will again be changed; which can mean adding or removing elements and/or adjusting the frequency of the celebration. Perhaps the new celebration will only be necessary one more time, at the marriage supper of the Lamb, with the last cup finally being drunk at the consummation of all things!

All too often the Lord's Supper is turned into an extremely solemn event, not unlike the tone of a funeral. While it is certainly to be done orderly (see Paul's writings in 1 Corinthians, included below), all too often we forget that this new ordinance came out of the Passover. As such it is a solemn celebration, a family gathering with so much to celebrate. In remembering what Jesus did through His sacrifice, we cannot fail to remember that He conquered sin and death and rose again! Perhaps a little more emphasis needs to be on the celebration. He is risen indeed.

The Lord's Supper

The gospels provide eyewitness testimony as to the first Lord's Supper, followed by the specific revelation given to Paul in regards to its continued practice. We have provided numbering in parenthesis for further reference.

Luke 22:13-22 They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So (#1) they prepared the Passover. [The Passover lamb had been sacrificed, re Luke 22:7] 14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to (#2) eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, (#4) I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God." 17 After (#5) taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you (#6) I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." 19 And (#3) he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." 20 In the same way, after the supper (#5) he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. 21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him." (NIV) [Some have said that this passage in Luke is dissimilar from all the others in that it shows a different order of events. In the least, many hold that it shows an extra cup being offered. While this is possible, because the Passover entailed multiple cups, it is far more probable that Luke covered the event twice for emphasis. In this understanding the order is: (a) eat, (b) state that He will not eat it again until the kingdom, (c) drink, and (d) state that He will not drink of it again until the kingdom. Then, in restating for emphasis and to provide extra detail, Luke repeats: (a), (c) and (d).]

Mark 14:16-26 The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So (#1) they prepared the Passover. 17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While (#2) they were reclining at the table eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me - one who is eating with me." 19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, "Surely not I?" 20 "It is one of the Twelve," he replied, "one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born." 22 While they were eating, (#3) Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take it; this is my body." 23 Then (#5) he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many," he said to them. 25 "I tell you the truth, (#6) I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God." 26 When they had (#7) sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (NIV)

Matthew 26:19-30 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and (#1) prepared the Passover. 20 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. 21 And while (#2) they were eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me." 22 They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, "Surely not I, Lord?" 23 Jesus replied, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born." 25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" Jesus answered, "Yes, it is you." 26 While they were eating, (#3) Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." 27 Then (#5) he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, (#6) I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom." 30 When they had (#7) sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (NIV)

1 Corinthians 11:17-34 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, 21 for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. 22 Don't you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! 23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: (#3) The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." 25 In the same way, after supper (#5) he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. 27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. 32 When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. 33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. 34 If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. (NIV)

For specific reference, the numbered sequence of the events of the original Lord's Supper is as follows:

  1. They prepared the Passover

  2. They ate the Passover meal
  3. (During the meal) Jesus took bread, broke it, and gave to eat in remembrance of Him
  4. Jesus stated He will not eat of the Passover again until the kingdom
  5. (After the meal) Jesus offered the cup of the New Covenant in His blood
  6. Jesus stated He will not drink of the vine again until the kingdom
  7. They sang a hymn1 and went out

Paul's passage, on the Lord's Supper, emphasizes the elements of the original which are necessary for its continuation, namely #3 (breaking and eating of the bread) and #5 (sharing of the cup). These two elements are the heart of Jesus' new ordinance. In fact, Paul implies that the Passover meal, which preceded or was a part of the original, is no longer necessary for the church. It's only benefit remains in providing nourishment for the body and that can be done in your own home. The focus of the new celebration is to be solely on Jesus.



While often thought to be a Roman Catholic term by many evangelical Protestants, this alternate name for the Lord's Supper is taken from a Greek term associated with the Biblical accounts. In Luke 22:19 and 1 Corinthians 11:24, Luke and Paul both use the term "eucharisteo" to describe Jesus' blessing of the bread. It simply means "to be grateful" or "to give thanks", something that all believers certainly do in regards to Jesus' sacrifice. Mark (14:22) and Matthew (26:26) use an alternate yet very similar term, "eulogeo", which also means "to bless (with thanksgiving and praise)". Eucharist is a valid alternate term for the Lord's Supper.

Which Bread?

The passages detailing the events of the first Lord's Supper do not specifically state that it was unleavened bread, this is a derived fact which comes from understanding the Old Testament passages2 which first established the Passover and its associated Feast of the Unleavened (see Exodus 12:17-20, Matthew 26:17, Luke 22:7). The bread Jesus broke was undoubtedly some of the unleavened bread being served as part of the Passover meal. The symbolism of removing leaven still pertains to the New Testament church, which makes a continued usage of unleavened bread a much more potent illustration.

1 Corinthians 5:6-8 Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast - as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth. (NIV) [See also the passage surrounding Galatians 5:9]

If a church uses bread with yeast, while not being historically accurate or optimizing the symbolism of the bread, it still points to Jesus' words that He is the bread of life.

John 6:32-41 Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." 34 "Sir," they said, "from now on give us this bread." 35 Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." 41 At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." (NIV)

John 6:48-51 I am the bread of life. 49 Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." (NIV)

Since using unleavened bread enables all of this to be represented, the church should utilize it wherein it is available.

Which Cup?

Since the Passover celebration included a few cups of wine, and the bread Jesus utilized was certainly a direct part of that celebration, the question has arisen over which cup Jesus used for His new (or fulfilled) meaning. Two possible solutions are contenders for an answer. Before considering them, a brief outline of the Passover celebration is in order.

In quick summary, the feast began with a blessing followed by the first cup of wine. Next they shared bread dipped in bitter herbs then sang part of the Hallel1 (Psalms 113-114), followed by drinking the second cup. The roasted lamb was eaten, also with bread, and a third cup was drunk before singing the last of the Hallel1 (Psalms 115-118). They finished by drinking the fourth and final cup.

As already noted, in Jesus' day four cups were common at the Passover celebration. While it is possible that there were only three in earlier times, as some Jewish scholars think, Jesus' symbolism (parable of actions) would have been based in the common practice of His day. The four cups were said to represent the four expressions of redemption and deliverance found in Exodus 6:6-7.

Exodus 6:6-7 "Therefore, say to the Israelites: 'I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7 I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. (NIV, Emphasis ours)

Even today, all Jew celebrating the Passover have an obligation to drink four cups of wine during the Seder. The Mishnah in Pesahim 10:1 states that even the poorest man in Israel has an obligation to drink.3 In order, the four cups are [bracketed name reflect current Jewish usage] :

  1. Bring ~ Cup of Sanctification ~ [Kiddush, sanctification]

  2. Free (Deliver) ~ Cup of Judgment ~ ['Magid', messenger]
  3. Redeem ~ Cup of Redemption ~ [Birkat Hamazon, blessing on nourishment]
  4. Take ~ Cup of the Kingdom ~ [Hallel, praise]

  5. [A fifth cup has now become common in addition; the Cup of Elijah. This practice began following the time of Jesus, to pour an extra cup, that is not drunk, but is left out for Elijah. Remember that the Jews did not recognize that both the prophesied Elijah and their Messiah has already come.]

Possibility #1.

    The cup Jesus used was cup number three. "After Supper (Luke 22:20)" cold be taken to mean immediately after eating the primary meal of the Passover lamb. This would make the third cup the one Jesus now reassigns for the continuing Lord's Supper celebration. If it was the cup of redemption, of course the symbolism would be extremely precise, as His shed blood was going to purchase redemption for all who believe for all time. The entire focus was to be on Jesus' redemptive act.

    Here Jesus specifically stops before partaking of the fourth cup, placing a future emphasis on the final fulfillment of His kingdom and a greater emphasis on His words that He would not partake again until that final realization. This view is favored by many Messianic Jews.

Possibility #2.

    The cup Jesus used was following all four, in other words it was a new cup. This takes the words "after supper" to mean completely following the entire Passover celebration. In this view, Jesus offers a new cup, to replace all that came before. Here His cup represents the totality of who He is and what He would accomplish. Jesus was not only set apart to do the Father's will (sanctified, John 6:38), He is Judge (Acts 10:42), He is Redeemer (Isaiah 59:20, Galatians 4:4-5, Titus 2:13-14), and the One who established the Kingdom both now and forevermore (Isaiah 9:6-7, Luke 17:20-21, Romans 14:17, Hebrews 12:28, Revelation 11:15). It would be fitting for His one cup to encompass all of this symbolism.

Where do I lean? As much as possibility #2 sounds plausible and certainly would have a full symbolic meaning, I embrace possibility #1 on the grounds that it better fits the Biblical narrative. Take note that Jesus offers the cup prior to their singing a hymn (namely the last part of the Hallel), this would place the cup after having eaten the Passover lamb and prior to when the fourth cup would have been taken. In fact, the last (fourth) cup is not spoken of as being taken at all, with the final recorded act being their singing (Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26) and then departing to the mount of Olives.


Still bread and wine?

The Roman Catholic (RC) doctrine of transubstantiation teaches that Christ is physically present in the eating of the bread and wine. As such, the bread and wine are professed to be supernaturally transformed into Jesus' flesh and blood (by the words of the priest) while retaining their appearance as bread and wine.

Without taking an extended journey down a related rabbit trail, it must be understood how Roman Catholics defend this view (and that of many other novel practices and beliefs). In Roman Catholic practice, it is not sufficient to appeal only to Scriptures to defend any teaching, rather they nominally hold co-equal Scriptures, Tradition and the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. The RC website affirms this belief system...

According to the teaching of theology a revealed fact can be proved solely by recurrence to the sources of faith, viz. Scripture and Tradition, with which is also bound up the infallible magisterium of the Church.

Incredibly, their first professed support for transubstantiation is then made to Scriptures...

Proof from Scripture
This may be adduced both from the words of promise (John 6:26 sqq.) and, especially, from the words of Institution as recorded in the Synoptics and St. Paul (1 Corinthians 11:23 sqq.).

While it is easy to address their use of Scriptures, to them it doesn't matter. In reality, while professing equality of their three-part revelation, they have elevated the Magisterium of the RC Church above the other two. What ever the church has decreed (via a Pope) is to be believed without question. On this basis they can say that this is what Scriptures really means and this is what tradition has always held and it must be accepted without question. In fact, even tradition has been exalted above Scriptures. Tradition can be appealed to for clarifying Scriptures and the Magisterium can decree what is to be believed, but Scriptures is not allowed to speak for itself and correct the others. Error compounds error in this system, with no means of correction apart from acknowledging the fallibility of the Magisterium - something they cannot do.

Some errors arose quite early in the church, mostly due to popular practices and beliefs being adopted as dogma over time. That which was sometimes tolerated, later became willful theological perversion. The cure then, as it is now, would have been to study Scriptures and to cling to the essential truth therein, yet a growing public ignorance of its words added fuel to the decline.

Their doctrine of transubstantiation came from attributing something to Jesus' words, in John and 1 Corinthians (the two passages cited in defense above), that wasn't there. They made them to be literal statements when they were clearly figurative, in the same fashion that Jesus applied other inanimate terms figuratively to himself. Jesus calls himself a gate (John 10:9), a root (Revelation 5:5, 22:16), a vine (John 15:1, 5), a star (Revelation 2:28, 22:16), and more, yet with none of these is there any understanding that Jesus actually is or becomes one. Likewise, in keeping with Jesus' use of symbolism and parables (by word or deed), here He describes himself with emblems ripe with meaning, metaphors for who He is and what He would do.

The bread and wine are emblems or symbols but not merely so. While remaining bread and wine, they are extraordinary for what they represent and certainly there is blessing and more in partaking of them. [For more on John 6:26-72 see end note 4]

Magic Words? What makes it the Lord's Supper

The Roman Catholic Church claims that the priest's incantation mystically makes the bread and wine into the Lord's Supper. As such, they have reduced the essential components of the celebration into three.

  1. A priest of Rome

  2. Bread mystically transformed by the words/actions of the priest
  3. Wine mystically transformed by the words/actions of the priest

They do not even require that any of the sacred food be partaken of; regardless of whether or not it is eaten or drunk, it is held to be the Lord's Supper. In fact, they historically removed the drinking of the cup from the common laity altogether. Ultimately they hold that grace itself is contained in the emblem and given to the recipient by the will of the priest. When one compares their ceremony to the original it begs the question, "what makes this the Lord's Supper?"

Virtually all would agree that merely eating bread and drinking wine is not necessarily the Lord's Supper. Many sit down to a meal each day and commonly consume these items, some being believers and some not. In further example, there are cults and sects which have fashioned non-Christians rituals that retain the eating and drinking of the same, yet they too would not be considered to be partaking of the Lord's Supper. This returns us to the essentials found in Scriptures, which define what this celebration is:

  1. It is a gathering of professed believers, having a biblical understanding of the grace of God and salvation found in Jesus Christ. (Having a hidden unbeliever present or partaking, as with Judas, does not negate the gathering).

  2. It is administered by the church, specifically the elders of the church. Any elder of the church founded in Christ is eligible to administer it to any local gathering of the church (remember, it is Christ's church, not just a local body).

  3. There is bread and wine offered, each retaining the specific symbolism God intended in the original. Obviously, in exaggeration, if cola was substituted for wine or slices of apple for the bread, it would not be what is mandated. Any manmade alteration or addition to the emblems turns it into something other than the Lord's Supper.

  4. All professed believers present partake of both the bread and wine, unless from self examination they personally choose not to. If only one of the elements is eaten or drunk and the other is not, it is not the Lord's Supper which prescribes both.

  5. Those present understand that the elements are a sign or symbol of the grace God has given them. If those partaking are mislead into believing that their actions, or those of the one offering the emblems, somehow mandates or obligates saving grace from God, they have turned the symbolism into something other than the Lord's Supper and have, in fact, obscured the primary focus which is the unmerited grace of God in Jesus Christ. Certainly partaking imparts sanctificational grace since God will, and does, sanctify us by His promise in so doing.

If these essential aspects are missing from any celebration - whether called the Lord's Supper or otherwise - it is not. Even as Paul condemned a professed Lord's Supper whose primary intent was quenching thirst or placating hunger (see 1 Corinthians 11:21-22), we must condemn any that removes the primary and intended focus of this gathering. All the "magic words" in the world cannot turn something that is not into something that it should be.

Examine Yourself

In our earlier list of seven primary actions that comprised the original Lord's Supper, an eighth one could be added directly based on 1 Corinthians 11:27. While it might appear that Paul added this one, the need to examine your self, it is implicitly present in the earlier narrative. Remember that a deceiver sat in the midst of that original gathering, one who looked and acted as a believer, enough that he was able to fool the other disciples.

Luke 22:21-23 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him." 23 They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this. (NIV)

The disciples, together, attempted to figure out which one of them present was the deceiver and were unable to do so. Regardless, Judas knew of himself that he was the one, and continued in his deception to his own judgment (by God). So too when a deceiver remains part of a congregation of believers, having successfully deceived those present and having avoided being put out of the fellowship (1 Corinthians 5:12-13), judgment (by God) still rests on that individual.

1 Corinthians 11:27-29 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.

Open or Closed Communion

Apart from those who have been expelled from the church, the Lord's Supper is open to all to partake, based on their explicit or implicit profession of faith. Apart from expelling a professed believer from the church, one who was caught in unrepentant sin, there is no Scriptural indication that those present are to be prevented from partaking of the Lord's Supper. Their participation is based solely on their profession of faith, whether directly spoken or implied by their continued participation in something expressly held to be for believers.

Some churches directly require a verbal affirmation of the faith of their participants and certainly there is nothing that would exclude such an examination. But note; a deceiver has no problem lying to even his friends and Lord, as did Judas.

Still other churches, exclude from participation any who are not from their local fellowship, which sadly turns this broad celebration of the universal church into a localized ritual. This detracts from the overall symbolism that the entirety of God's church partakes of a family meal in this ordinance.

Those who try and preclude participation based on their own sets of conduct, suspicions, or other criteria, having not expelled any individual, go beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6). Jesus, having the unique ability of knowing one's heart, did not expel Judas from their midst, allowing him to partake with the others present based on his profession (even though it was a lie). [His expulsion, under Biblical rules, would have required testimony of two or three witnesses, and though certainly the witness of Jesus would have been without question, Jesus did not exercise his authority here, illustrating that it was to be church properly making such a judgment]. If Jesus was willing to have open participation, truly open communion, based on self examination alone, then the church has no right to go beyond this.

Children and the Lord's Supper

Some would exclude children, to varying ages, from partaking of the Lord's Supper. The primary argument in support of such a practice is that they are "too young to understand". While this is perhaps true in regards to infants, very young children can and do believe in Jesus.

Mark 10:13-16 People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." 16 And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. (NIV)

But, some would protest, they are too young to truly "examine themselves". Consider that the demanded self examination of Scriptures comes with no limitation, the person of high IQ or great wisdom, or the person with minimal or developing intelligence are each equally commanded to examine themselves with the wisdom only God can give them. Superior intellect gives no one the right to supersede God's command of self examination. The same Holy Spirit who testifies to an adult that they belong to the Lord does so to children as well.

Romans 8:16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. (NIV)

If a child can express their faith in Jesus Christ, a child should be able to partake of the family gathering of the Lord's Supper.


Baptism and the Lord's Supper

We have examined the subject of water Baptism in separate articles (baptism articles are here and here), so this query will remain focused on only one question: "Must a believer be baptized to partake of the Lord's Supper?" This answer is less clear-cut than some profess; arguments exist both for and against.


    The norm for believers is to "believe and be baptized". Since baptism is a normal and external sign that a person is a believer - their public profession of faith - it is a required testimony of belief before partaking of the family meal of the Lord's Supper.
    It was normal practice for the early church to practice immediate water baptism, upon conversion, so any gathering of the church for the Lord's Supper would have included only those who were baptized. (Examples: Acts 9:18, John 4:1-2, Acts 2:41, Acts 8:12, Acts 8:35-39, Acts 16:14-16, Acts 18:8)
    Some holding Baptism to be a necessary prior act assert that it preserves against sacramentalism, that somehow the act of partaking saves them or contributes to their salvation.


    Since Scriptures are clear that all who believe are saved (i.e. Acts 16:31), some who are not baptized are still part of the family of believers and should not be restrained from partaking of the Lord's Supper.

    The thief on the cross, who believed in Jesus, was clearly saved though he never was baptized. Unfortunately, he never had opportunity to partake of the Lord's Supper before dying, or this question could have been clearly answered. I tend toward not holding Baptism as being an act of admittance to the Lord's Supper, for a few reasons:

  1. Others can prevent someone from being baptized. Some non-believing parents will not allow their believing children to be baptized "until they are older". They claim that they are merely protecting them until they are old enough to make "their own decision", as if their youthful decision was invalid or they will outgrow it. These believing children should not be penalized by exclusion from the family gathering of the Lord's Supper.

  2. Some have not been baptized because they have not understood it to be a commanded act of obedience - often because of the church's failure to give proper instruction on these things. While it becomes necessary to instruct them from Scriptures, their actions out of ignorance or as an immature believer should not restrict their identification as part of the family of God. Additionally, water baptism was often delayed in the colder northern climates, until summer, to allow for an unfrozen body of water for immersion. Certainly those awaiting such baptism are still part of the church of God (even though many churches will not accept them as such in the local fellowship until baptized).

  3. Some have been baptized as infants, yet later came to faith in Jesus Christ. While I do not believe this is what was scripturally intended to be baptism, this again is an issue of growth and instruction in God's word. Nonetheless, these believers are part of the family of God and should have equal opportunity to participate in His supper, trusting that their actions of obedience will follow as they grow in their knowledge of the grace of God.

  4. In answer to those who claim that restricting the taking of the Lord's Supper to only those who are baptized will somehow prevent sacramentalism, I must object. Any who are self-deceived enough to believe that the sacrament of the Lord's Supper will assist in their salvation are just as likely to hold that Baptism could do the same, or perhaps that the two are better than any one. This argument is a red-herring, which detracts from the real issue: each participant must understand what it is to be a believer, adding substance to their profession. Even a child, enabled by God, can understand that their salvation is through believing in Jesus apart from any works (Ephesians 2:8-9).

  5. While those for requiring prior Baptism can show a number of passages that demonstrate the normally close chronological tie of believing and being baptized - admittedly the optimal standard - they cannot show a positive command of Scriptures making such a practice mandatory. This leaves Scriptures silent as to how believers who have not yet been baptized should be treated in regards to the Lord's Supper. In the face of such silence, I believe the church should be charitable. If we can agree that the final Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9) will have any present that have believed yet never were baptized, then why should we be stricter than God in how we administer our preliminary meal?

Covenantal Meal

The Lord's Supper also shares aspects with a covenantal meal. Consider what took place among the elders and leaders of Israel at the establishment of the first covenant.

Exodus 24:7-11 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, "We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey." 8 Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, "This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words." 9 Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up 10 and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. 11 But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank. (NIV)

Jesus, in establishing the New Covenant, also had before him the leaders and elders of His church. The false leader, who would be shown as such at a later date, Judas, was present, even as Nadab and Abihu were in the first (Leviticus 10:1-2; Numbers 3:4). All present saw God (a statement of the Deity of Christ!). They ate and drank in the presence of God. Jesus certainly ratified the prophesied new covenant (see Jeremiah 31:1-34) in a manner similar to old covenant. In our celebration of the new covenant, through the Lord's Supper, we should recognize that it is still a covenant, though far better!

Hebrews 8:6-12 But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. 7 For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. 8 But God found fault with the people and said:

"The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 9 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.

10 This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 11 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will forgive their wickedness (NIV)


Summary Comparison Chart


Lord's Supper


Once a year, get together (annual) - lasting ordinance.

Whenever together (weekly?) - until He comes.


Family - (the nation of Israel and all who had joined with it)

Family - (all who have been made brother and sisters, sons and daughters of God by adoption)


God's deliverance from physical slavery and His continuing care - "the Lord's Passover"

God's deliverance from spiritual bondage and His continuing care - "the Lord's Supper"


Physical removal of leaven

Spiritual removal of leaven


Broken and eaten (literal bread physically broken and eaten) - Necessary for physical life and strength

Broken and eaten (body of Christ physical broken, spiritually eaten) - Necessary for eternal life and strength


Physically (Males)

Spiritually (Males & Females)





Lamb (young, male, without blemish)

Lamb of God (young, male, perfect and sinless)




How to eat

Prepared for action

Prepared for action


To teach their children

To teach God's children


Mosaic Law of God

Reminder of the Law of Love


4 cups each a reminder of some aspect of God's salvation

1 cup, focusing on the redemptive act of Jesus, through whom all aspects of salvation have been and will be completed.

Violation of

Cut off (judged by man)

Under judgment (of God)

End Notes

1. The Hallel can be one of a few different groups of Hallelujah Psalms, including 104-106; 111-118; 135-136; 146-150. Different selections from these would be sung at various gatherings and celebrations. Some became associated with regular synagogue services, including 135-136 and 146-150, others were sung at the feasts of Pentecost, Tabernacles and Dedication (Hanukkah). For the Passover, Psalms 113 and 114 were sung before the second cup and Psalms 115-118 after the third cup. It is possible that there were variances in common practice, as the rabbinical school of Shammai called for only Psalms 113 to be sung before the second cup. Psalms 113 to 118 were specifically called the Egyptian Hallel - hence its association with the events of the Passover.

2. The primary Bible passages regarding the Passover and its subsequent celebration are provided below for quick reference.

Exodus 12:1-51 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, 2 "This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. 3 Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. 4 If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. 5 The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. 6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. 7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. 8 That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. 9 Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire - head, legs and inner parts. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord's Passover. 12 "On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn - both men and animals - and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. 14 "This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord - a lasting ordinance. 15 For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel. 16 On the first day hold a sacred assembly, and another one on the seventh day. Do no work at all on these days, except to prepare food for everyone to eat - that is all you may do. 17 "Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. 18 In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day. 19 For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And whoever eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel, whether he is an alien or native-born. 20 Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread." 21 Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, "Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning. 23 When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down. 24 "Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. 25 When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. 26 And when your children ask you, 'What does this ceremony mean to you?' 27 then tell them, 'It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.'" Then the people bowed down and worshiped. 28 The Israelites did just what the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron. 29 At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. 30 Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. 31 During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, "Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. 32 Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me." 33 The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. "For otherwise," they said, "we will all die!" 34 So the people took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing. 35 The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. 36 The Lord had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians. 37 The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth. There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. 38 Many other people went up with them, as well as large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds. 39 With the dough they had brought from Egypt, they baked cakes of unleavened bread. The dough was without yeast because they had been driven out of Egypt and did not have time to prepare food for themselves. 40 Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years. 41 At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the Lord's divisions left Egypt. 42 Because the Lord kept vigil that night to bring them out of Egypt, on this night all the Israelites are to keep vigil to honor the Lord for the generations to come. 43 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "These are the regulations for the Passover: "No foreigner is to eat of it. 44 Any slave you have bought may eat of it after you have circumcised him, 45 but a temporary resident and a hired worker may not eat of it. 46 "It must be eaten inside one house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones. 47 The whole community of Israel must celebrate it. 48 "An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the Lord's Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat of it. 49 The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you." 50 All the Israelites did just what the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron. 51 And on that very day the Lord brought the Israelites out of Egypt by their divisions. (NIV)

Exodus 13:1-10 The Lord said to Moses, 2 "Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether man or animal." 3 Then Moses said to the people, "Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast. 4 Today, in the month of Abib, you are leaving. 5 When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites and Jebusites - the land he swore to your forefathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey - you are to observe this ceremony in this month: 6 For seven days eat bread made without yeast and on the seventh day hold a festival to the Lord. 7 Eat unleavened bread during those seven days; nothing with yeast in it is to be seen among you, nor shall any yeast be seen anywhere within your borders. 8 On that day tell your son, 'I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.' 9 This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that the law of the Lord is to be on your lips. For the Lord brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand. 10 You must keep this ordinance at the appointed time year after year. (NIV)

3. A couple quotes on the celebration of the Passover highlight a few other details of its current and historic celebration.

The four cups of wine are in commemoration of the four expressions of redemption in Exodus 6:6-7. Even the very poor should demonstrate the symbols of redemption and freedom, by eating and drinking in a reclining position, and be provided with the four cups. (sources: Talmud Pesachim 99b; "Rashi" there; Talmud Yerushalmi Pesachim 10:1; Exodus 6:4; "Code of Jewish Law" O.C. 472:13; MB 43 there). [Quote from Rabbi Shraga Simmons, Jerusalem]

Since we are free people this evening, nobody should pour their own wine, but rather each person should pour for another -- as if we are royalty who have servants. It is best to use red wine, since this alludes to the blood spilled by Pharaoh, the blood as part of the Ten Plagues, and the blood the Jews put on their doorposts. Someone who has difficulty drinking wine may use grape juice, but should add a little wine so that the taste of alcohol is detectable. ... As an expression of freedom, the Sages enacted leaning to the side while drinking the Four Cups of wine. Everyone should lean to the left and back! [Quote from Rabbi Shraga Simmons, Jerusalem]

Note the expression of being a "free people" reflected in their Passover celebration. In remembering that Jesus was the ultimate Servant, we understand that He broke the bread and distributed it and then took the cup and distributed it. Church elders in distributing the elements to those partaking of the Lord's Supper, and receiving the same as prepared by another, show by their actions that they are both a free people but also servants as was our Lord (see Philippians 2:5-8 and stated examples Colossians 1:7, 4:7).

4. Some have tried to say that the passage of John 6:26-72 cannot be taken in any other manner than to say that Jesus was literally offering his flesh and blood as food. They appeal to the "bread from heaven" that was literally eaten as manna, and then claim that the "true bread from heaven" must also be literally eaten. This misses or obscures the fact that hosts of literal events and circumstances in the Old Testament prefigured things that were to come, with a focus on Jesus. God used events all throughout the Old Testament to visually communicate spiritual truths, many that would not be fully understood until their realization in the New Testament. The physical tabernacle and temple, altar, sacrifices, and high priest, of the Old Testament have been superseded by their far superior spiritual fulfillments; so too our food from heaven finds spiritual fulfillment in Christ.

Hebrews 10:12-14, 18 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. 13 Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, 14 because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. ... 18 And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. (NIV)

If the Lord's Supper requires a continuing repeated sacrifice, a literal breaking of the body of Jesus, it violates what Hebrews teaches... there is no longer any need for further sacrifice; Jesus did it all through His once-for-all perfect sacrifice. Rather than an ongoing sacrifice, breaking bread and partaking of the cup are perpetual reminders, a memorial to His accomplished act.

(c) 2009 Brent MacDonald/LTM. Duplication is permitted as long as the source is cited.