7. The Cup of Blessing and the One Loaf (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
http://www.jesuswalk.com/lords-supper/7_blessing.htm
Audio (19:31)
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Poussin, The Institution of the Eucharist (1640)
Detail of "The Institution of the Eucharist" (1640) by French Baroque painter Nicholas Poussin (1594-1665), oil on canvas, Musée du Louvre, Paris.  Larger image.
We've looked at this passage in chapter 3. Now let's consider more completely two additional descriptions of the Lord's Supper -- "the cup of blessing" and the "one loaf," both found in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17:

"16Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf." (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)

The Cup of Blessing

This phrase is translated two ways in modern translations:

"The cup of blessing which we bless...." (KJV, NASB, NRSV)
"The cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks...." (NIV)

In this case, majority doesn't rule. Let me explain. A common understanding of the Greek words used here, eulogia, "blessing" and eulogeō, "to praise, bless," has been as "consecration" or "to consecrate," and conveys an idea perhaps carried over from the Lutheran and Roman Catholic understanding that the priest's prayer of consecration changes the bread and wine into Christ's actual body and blood.1 With this understanding the "cup of blessing which we bless" would mean "the cup that conveys blessing2 which we consecrate...."

However, recent scholars are convinced that this misses entirely the context of the Jewish meals where blessings and thanksgivings were offered to God at the beginning and end of the meal (and, in the case of the Passover, during the meal). At the beginning of the meal, the first cup would prompt this blessing: "Blessed are You, O Lord our God, who have created the fruit of the vine."3

As Marshall puts it: "The cup of blessing was a Jewish technical term for the cup of wine, for which a blessing, i.e. thanksgiving, was given to God."4 In the Passover Seder, the cup of blessing marked a common thanksgiving or praise for the food that occurred at the conclusion of the meal. The head of the house (or chief guest) would say, "Let us pronounce the blessing," followed by the simple blessing.5 Jeremias, who has researched the ancient Jewish literature thoroughly, concludes that in the days of Jesus, the blessing at the conclusion of the meal probably had the following wording:

"May You be praised, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, You who feed the whole world with goodness, grace, and mercy.
We give thanks to You, O Lord our God, that you have caused us to take possession of a good and large land.
Have mercy, O Lord our God, on Israel, Your people,
and upon Your altar and upon Your temple.
Praise be to You, O Lord, who builds Jerusalem."6

The Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, a very early Christian document that dates to the end of the First Century AD, records the following thanksgiving to be used for the cup:

"We thank You, our Father, for the holy vine of David your servant, which You made known to us through Jesus your Servant; to You be the glory for ever."

And for the broken bread:

"We thank You, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You made known to us through Jesus your Servant; to You be the glory for ever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom; for yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever."7

So the "cup of blessing" doesn't designate a cup that conveys blessings, but the phrase "cup of blessing" designates the cup that evokes blessing and thanksgiving towards God for all his blessings toward us, especially forgiveness of sin through the death of his Son.

To summarize, by "cup of blessing," Paul is referring to the "cup of thanksgiving (eulogia) for which we give thanks," with much the same meaning as "and when he had given thanks (eucharisteō), he broke it and said, 'This is my body...'" (1 Corinthians 11:24). Indeed, the early church referred to the Lord's Supper as both the Eucharist and the Eulogia, from these Greek words used to describe the prayers of thanksgiving offered by Jesus at the Last Supper.

Having clarified the actual meaning of the "cup of blessing," let me be quick to say that I acknowledge that the Lord's Supper conveys great blessings to those who partake. However, too often we partake of the Lord's Supper for our own blessing rather than as a service of worship and blessing towards God. We must take care not to be self-focused, but focused on Christ as we partake of the Lord's Supper. It is a feast of remembrance, of proclamation, of blessing God, and of thanksgiving towards him.

Q1. (1 Corinthians 10:16). What does the "cup of blessing" teach us about our focus at the Lord's Supper? Who is to be blessed when the "cup of blessing" is lifted heavenward?
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We Partake of the One Loaf (1 Corinthians 10:17)

We've considered the meaning of the "cup of blessing," now let us consider the special description of the bread in verse 17.

"Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf." (1 Corinthians 10:17)

The word "bread" (KJV, NRSV, NASB) or "loaf" (NIV) is the common word artos, "a baked product produced from a cereal grain, bread," also, "loaf of bread."8

Bread Making in Ancient Times

Israelite grinding stones, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
Israelite grinding stones, handmill, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

Making bread in ancient times was hard work. Of course, at harvest the wheat (or other grain) was cut, threshed (to separate the grain from the chaff or husks), winnowed (to remove the chaff from the grain), and gathered into a granary or storage container.

Bread was made in each home daily except on the Sabbath. A woman would have taken a measure of grain and then ground it by rubbing the grains between two portable grinding stones (Matthew 24:41). Then the flour was sifted. However, by Jesus' time large community, donkey-driven millstones were in use (Matthew 18:6) and have been found in Capernaum. They may have alleviated the work of grinding in each household. After the flour was made and sifted, water and salt were added and the dough was kneaded in a kneading-trough with a bit of the previous day's dough (which contained active yeast cells). Once the dough had been worked and the yeast distributed throughout the dough, it was put aside to rise. (Of course, during the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover, the yeast or leaven was omitted entirely to produced unleavened bread.)

After rising, the dough was shaped for baking. We're used to fluffy bread baked in pans, but a round, thin loaf about 7 inches in diameter and perhaps 1/2" high was more typical in Jesus' day. Bread was baked in three ways:

  1. "Ash bread" was baked on hot stones from the fire, with ashes put over the dough to bake it. The bread was turned during baking. Jesus and his followers may have made this on campfires during their itinerant ministry.
  2. A pan or plate of iron or pottery over the fire could be used, with perhaps some kind of lid to hold the heat in.
  3. An oven was made of earth or clay in a round or cylindrical shape. The oven was heated with grass, stubble, thorns, or perhaps cow dung. After the fire had died down, the dough-cakes were stuck on the hot inside walls. The bread would not be turned, but removed from the oven when done. Bread baked in an oven was best -- fairly thin and soft.9

Of course, the bread Jesus used at the Last Supper was unleavened, but we have no record that the early church made an effort to make special unleavened bread for the Lord's Supper. Their normal leavened bread was no doubt used for the occasion.

The One Loaf as a Symbol of Unity

It was the custom in Israel for the head of the house to begin each meal by taking the loaf of bread, giving thanks, and then breaking or tearing it and giving some to each one at the table. Among the disciples, Jesus was the one who broke the bread and began the meals this way. Paul uses this custom as a symbol of unity:

"Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf." (1 Corinthians 10:17)

The verse seems almost parenthetical to the main thrust of the passage. But Paul can't leave his mention of the bread without making a special point about unity. Why?

The Church at Corinth had serious problems with unity. Indeed, much of Paul's letter deals with issues that divided them and produced jealousy and quarreling (1 Corinthians 3:3). Some of the areas that divided them included:

  • Allegiance to leaders. Some claimed Paul as their mentor, others Apollos, or Cephas. Still others proclaimed that they followed Christ (1 Corinthians 1:10-13).
  • Moral Issues. They didn't have the unity they needed to disfellowship a member who was sleeping with his father's wife. Perhaps the immoral climate of Corinth made them resist godly standards of morality (5:1-13). Paul has to insist on standards of sexual immorality, as well as stealing, greediness, cheating in business, and slander (6:9-20)
  • Religious Syncretism (or mixing Christianity with idolatry). Some members felt it was okay to eat foods offered to idols, while others were consciousness-stricken (8:1-13). Still others attended the pagan services with their old friends and trade guild workers (10:6-33).
  • Disputes between Members. Members were openly suing each other in secular courts, rather than settling their differences by bringing them to the church (6:1-8).
  • Class Distinctions. At the common meals of the church community, the wealthy ate first without regard for the poor getting enough (11:17-22).
  • Spiritual Gifts. Spiritual gifts were a problem, with some flaunting their ability to speak in tongues while causing chaos in the church (chapters 12 and 14). Paul had to emphasize the one Spirit who distributed the gifts to the one body (12:12-13).
  • Doctrinal Disputes. Some believe in the resurrection of Christ and others denied it (15:12ff).

Understood in this context, our verse must be seen as an attempt by Paul to use the symbol of the one loaf of bread to illustrate another metaphor of unity -- Christian believers as a body with Christ as the head.

It's Me, O Lord

Dear friend, unity must begin with you and me, if it is to spread to others. We must examine our own hearts. We've all been hurt by others -- sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Against whom do we bear a grudge? (Mark 11:25). Who has something against you? (Matthew 5:23-24). Jesus says we must settle these things before we worship.

Q2. Read Mark 11:25 and Matthew 5:23-24. How do these relate to Paul's teaching on the One Loaf (1 Corinthians 10:17)? What must we personally do to achieve unity to prepare ourselves to partake of the Lord's Supper righteously?
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The Scandal of Christian Divisions

Paul speaks to our churches, too. Many churches -- perhaps yours -- are rent by divisions between members. Paul's message replicates Christ's high-priestly prayer to his Father on the evening of the Last Supper, "... that they may be one as we are one" (John 17:11). Indeed, for us to have credibility as Christians so that others might be attracted to Christ, we must put aside our divisions.

"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)
"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (John 17:20-21)

Many pastors refuse to deal with the mean-spirited, power-hungry, anger-driven members in their churches. Perhaps pastors won't deal with them because they know congregations will not back them up by insisting upon resolution of differences according to biblical principles (Matthew 18:15-20). Church discipline in our day is nearly dead and as a result churches are often undisciplined, sinful, carnal organizations that drive people away from Christ. Brothers and sisters, this must not be! We must confront disunity, as did Paul, or we will never see Jesus' command for mutual love and prayer for unity fulfilled in our congregations.

Q3. In what ways do the divisions in Corinth sound familiar in our own congregations? Don't pick on another congregation; how about your own? How serious was the need for unity? Can bickering congregations partake of the Lord's Supper without sin?
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But the problem in our day is not just within our congregations, but between our congregations. One of the scandals of Christendom is that the three Christian bodies that control holy sites in the Holy Land are constantly bickering. Of course, that is just a microcosm of the arrogance of our sectarian attitudes towards those in other Christian denominations. We have the gall to exclude Christian brothers and sisters from the Lord's Table at our churches because we doubt the purity or authenticity of their faith, due to differences in their traditions from ours.

Pope John-Paul II set us all an example when he publicly confessed the sins of his Church and sought to reach out to both Protestants and Jews. His humility and love (however imperfect you may see it) were answered with a degree of reciprocal warmth. But when he reached out to the Orthodox churches, he was rebuffed. One ancient tradition cannot forgive the sins of another ancient tradition, even after a thousand years!

Too often, my beloved brothers and sisters, we cling to our own peculiar brand of doctrinal purity rather than to love that can bridge the differences between us. I'm not suggesting that we embrace sin or neglect doctrinal accuracy. We must maintain integrity. But even more important than our cherished interpretations is love for brothers and sisters who are just as sincere and devout as we. As a Protestant pastor I don't agree with all the practices or understandings of Catholics and Orthodox believers. But I must not be so filled with pride as to think that my supposed rightness is an excuse to be unloving. If we are one in Christ, then we must act like it, not in some kind of organizational unity so much as in a demonstration of the spiritual unity of all true believers in Jesus, regardless of tradition, nationality, and denomination.

Q4. (1 Corinthians 10:17) How does Paul's teaching on the One Loaf affect our relationships and love for those of other Christian denominations and traditions? How does blanket judgmentalism towards the faith of other Christian groups sometimes seem to excuse us from Jesus' command to love one another?
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Paul's words over the Lord's Supper to the divided Corinthians span the centuries to speak to us today:

"Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf." (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
Lord's Supper: Meditations for Disciples on the Eucharist or Communion
Available as e-book and paperback.

First, the Lord's Supper is an occasion of blessing God. It is a time of heartfelt thanksgiving for our salvation, at the awful cost of Christ's death. Second, the Lord's Supper must be a time of unity with our brothers and sisters. When we are alienated from one another, we must seek reconciliation, since we are "one body ... one loaf." Grant it, Lord Jesus!

Prayer

Father, as I read these two verses I sense your grief. So often I have partaken of the Lord's Supper selfishly, seeking my own blessing, not yours. Forgive me. So often we have been content to partake of your Bread while we excuse the divisions in our own congregation and between branches of your Church. Forgive us. Change our hearts, I pray that we might love you with all our hearts and our brothers as ourselves. Nothing less is enough. Forgive us. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

References

Common abbreviations http://www.jesuswalk.com/lords-supper/refs.htm

  1. Eulogeō, BDAG 407-408, 2.b. So also Thayer 260.
  2. Eulogia, BDAG 408-409, 3.b.β.
  3. Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 2:496, with my editing to update the language from the "thee's and thou's." See also Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services as They Were at the Time of Christ (Eerdmans, 1958, reprinted from 1874 edition), pp. 238-244.
  4. Marshall, Last Supper and Lord's Supper, p. 119-120. So also Jeremias, Eucharistic Words, p. 109, fn. 3; Robertson's Word Pictures, in loc., Vincent's Word Studies, in loc.; C.K. Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Harper & Row, 1968), p. 231. Gordon D. Fee (1 Corinthians, pp. 467-468), says: "'Blessings' offered to the Creator for his bounty were a common part of Jewish meals. The 'cup of blessing' was the technical term for the final blessing offered at the end of the meal."
  5. Hermann W. Beyer, eulogeō, ktl., TDNT 2:754-765. He cites jBer., 11 c f; bBer., 51b; Strack and Billerback IV, 627ff. However Beyer seems to see the verb in our verse as expressing blessing the congregation (2:763).
  6. Jeremias, Eucharistic Words, p. 111, citing L. Finkelstein, "The Birkat ha-mazon," in Jewish Quarterly Review, new series 19 (1928-1929), 211-262.
  7. Didache 9. Chapter 10 includes a prayer to be said after communion: " We thank You, holy Father, for your holy name which You did cause to tabernacle in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality, which You madest known to us through Jesus your Servant; to You be the glory for ever. You, Master Almighty, did create all things for your name's sake; You gave food and drink to men for enjoyment, that they might give thanks to You; but to us You did freely give spiritual food and drink and life eternal through your Servant. Before all things we thank You that You are mighty; to You be the glory for ever. Remember, Lord, your Church, to deliver it from all evil and to make it perfect in your love, and gather it from the four winds, sanctified for your kingdom which you have prepared for it; for yours is the power and the glory for ever. Let grace come, and let this world pass away. Hosanna to the God (Son) of David! If any one is holy, let him come; if any one is not so, let him repent. Maranatha. Amen."
  8. Artos, BDAG 136.
  9. This section was based on information from Adrianus van Selms, "Bread," TDNT 1:540-544, and David M. Howard, Jr., "Oven," TDNT 3:622.

Copyright © 1985-2014, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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