by Larry Steers
The exercise in writing this article is to consider recent issues relative to the cup used at the Lord’s supper. Concern has been expressed regarding the use of the common communion cup. Specifically, is it possible to contact contagion from the use of one cup? At times this discussion has reached an emotional level rather than a calm, quiet consideration and searching of the Word of God. We must set aside our prejudices and fears and accept what God says in His Word.
We are living in days when truths which have been taught since Assemblies were first planted in North America are being questioned. New ideas quickly gain popularity and are embraced. When we begin to alter what our fathers in the faith have established it is essential to carefully and prayerfully search the scriptures. The Holy Spirit will guide us in this search and enlighten us but we must set aside personal intolerance and pre conceived ideas and submit to Divine enlightenment.
How precious and meaningful for Saints in Assembly fellowship when they gather around our unseen but present Lord to keep His word “This do in remembrance of me” (1Cor.11:24). One bread and one cup set before them each first day of the week (Acts 20:7) directs their meditation in a powerful way to the person of the Lord and to His sufferings on the cross. Together and in a spirit of worship they break from the bread and drink from the cup.
These are priceless moments during our brief sojourn here. There is a deep spiritual significance relative to the one cup.
Let us first re-visit the Upper Room for a few brief moments.
Our Lord gave instructions to two of His disciples to prepare the Upper Room for the Passover. He expressed what was upon His heart “With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). This would be the last time He would sup with these men before the cross. The deep anguish of the garden and the shadows of Calvary’s darkness were before Him. How little comprehension seemed to permeate their understanding of these words “Before I suffer”.
Traditionally there are four cups associated with the Seder meal. Some suggest that these were introduced at a latter date. There was no cup used at the Passover in the land of Egypt. In scripture no Passover cup is referred to until Luke 22:17. The cup in this reference was a Passover cup. The words of the Lord when passing this cup to His disciples are enlightening. Luke tells us “He took the cup”(v.17). Cup is a singular noun. He took one cup. Notice the Lord’s instructions, “Take this and divide it among yourselves v. 17.” The singular pronoun “it” refers to the singular noun “cup.” The disciples gathered with the Lord in the Upper Room had no hesitation sharing this Passover cup. A common cup would not be uncommon to them.
The Passover ends in Luke 22:18. The words “after supper” (Luke 22:20) indicate after the Passover was observed, “supper” referring to the Passover.
The Lord knew in His own heart that these moments in the Upper Room would embrace far more than the Passover. After the Passover had been observed the Lord set bread and a cup before them. This represented a unique act, distinct from any previous Passover which they had ever witnessed. He took the bread and gave thanks saying “This is my body which is given for you, this do in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). He than took the cup and gave thanks for it with the words “This cup is the new testament in my blood which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20).
While those men had little depth of discernment at that moment we are surely allowed to appreciate the spirit of understanding and worship which would permeate the room the first time after His death, resurrection, and ascension when they sat together and contemplated the bread and the cup. Perhaps we are not remiss to suggest the tears would flow and the hearts touched as intelligent worship would rise to the ascended Lord in Heaven. While He was bodily present in that Upper Room at the institution of the supper each succeeding first day of the week they would have a deep, precious sense of His unseen presence. It is the Lord’s Supper and He is present when His people gather to remember Him..
During that Passover night in the land of Egypt the lamb was slain and the blood applied to the door posts and to the lintel (Exodus 12:22). There are eight recorded Passovers in the Bible where details of its observance are given. Never was the blood applied again as in the land of Egypt. This would remind us that “once in the end of the world (ages) hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” ( Hebrews 9:26). His precious blood was shed once. One cup reminds us of that one shedding of blood as the foundation of communion with the Lord and with others as each partakes of the one cup. One cup is a clear statement of that which binds those together who partake of it.
There are eleven references in the scriptures referring to the cup relative to the Lord’s Supper. They are listed here:
- Matt.26:27 “cup” is singular. The Lord said “drink ye all of it.” “It” is a
singular pronoun referring to the one cup.
- Mark 14:23 “cup” is singular. “they all drank of it” “It” is a singular
pronoun referring to the cup. The disciples drank from
a common cup. “It” appears twice in this verse.
3. Luke 22:20 “cup” is singular and is repeated twice.
- 1Cor.10:16 “cup” is singular
1Cor. 10:21 “cup of the Lord” Cup is singular
1Cor. 11:25 “He took the cup” and “this cup is the new testament in my
blood” Twice “cup” is singular. Again the singular pronoun
“it” refers to the cup.
- 1Cor. 11:26 “drink this cup” Again cup is singular.
1Cor. 11:27 “cup” is singular
1Cor. 11:28 “cup” is singular
These verses clearly teach that the Lord took one cup, gave thanks for one cup, commanded His disciples to drink from that one cup. They responded and drank from one cup.
Notice again 1Cor. 10:16 that cup is singular. Here it is called by the Holy Spirit “the cup of blessing.” This speaks to the heart of the believer of all the rich blessings of redemption possessed because of the death of Christ. How vast beyond measure is the love, grace and mercy of God in providing blessings which are eternally the believers through the shedding of the precious blood of Christ (1John !:7).
In 1Cor. 10 the cup is mentioned first but in chapter 11 the bread is considered by the Holy Spirit before the cup. Chapter 11 is the historical order of introduction in the Upper Room . The order is reversed in chapter 10 as the emphasis is the basis of our fellowship with God and with each believer present at the Lord’s Supper. To “bless” (eulogeo) (1Cor.10:16) the cup is to speak well and with appreciation and worship for the its significance.
Wondrous words are recorded “is it not the communion of the blood of Christ” (1Cor. 10:16)? Communion (koinonos) means “having in common”. This word indicates the vast fullness of the common redemption which is the possession of each of the gathered Saints. Our association together is firmly founded on what the cup clearly reminds us of. It is a memorial of “the new testament in My blood”(1Cor.11:25).
All partaking of the one cup is a clear statement that all share in the one shedding of our Lord’s precious blood. Multiple cups set aside this great doctrinal significance of fellowship and communion.
Clarke writes in “Church Practice and Doctrine” on page 137, “the modern practice of individual cups however quite destroys the significance of the supper as a communion.” The unity and oneness of the Assembly is clearly taught by all partaking of the common cup.
Some believers have concerns about the use of a common cup. They feel that there is a possibility of contacting disease when a cup is shared. We do understand their concerns. To these Saints we would suggest the following. First that they consider prayerfully the scriptures and their meaning as indicated above. The Word of God must have priority over our thoughts and feelings. Many studies have been done on a common cup. The results of these studies varies both for and against depending much on the bias and religious background of the authors. One study concluded “It happens that the common communion cup is the most germ free thing available to us”. A UK study in 1989 stated “one episode of disease attributed to the shared communion cup has never been reported”.
The prestigious “American Journal of Infection Control stated “the risk of infectious disease by a common cup is very low” (Oct. 1998 Vol. 26 #5) and again in the same article “no documented transmission of any infectious disease has been traced to the use of a common communion cup”.
Over the years when certain diseases like polio and TB were contacted by many, the brethren used one cup. In one Assembly known to us a brother had HIV. The brethren carefully arranged for him to receive the cup last. In other cases one would consider their fellow believers and if they had the flu perhaps bed rest would be best or if they had a cold sore they might consider abstaining from the cup. However alert brethren would notice this and take the cup to them last.
There is a far greater possibility of contacting disease by simply touching a door knob, shaking hands, toileting and not washing your hands, from air borne virus and bacteria, from a kiss or from improper handling of food. The Lord’s Work often demands that we visit Saint and sinner in hospitals or those who are at home with serious illness. There is inherent danger in all of these activities. But we trust the Lord to preserve us and that the visit would be a blessing to those laid aside.
Faith places confidence in the Word of God. David wrote “How excellent is thy loving kindness O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings” (Psa.36:7). To be “under the shadow of thy wings” implies nearness, contemplation, worship and protection. When saints gather in response to His command “this do ye as oft as ye drink it in remembrance of me” (1Cor.11:24), faith embraces the preservation of His omnipotent power. The cup speaks loudly of our oneness with each believer present manifest by all drinking from the one cup.
As we sit “down under his shadow with great delight” (Song2:3), contemplating the significance of the bread and the one cup we rejoice that “his fruit was sweet to my taste” (Song 2:3) .
Edward Denny would remind us:
Though unseen, be ever near us
With the still small voice of love,
Whispering words of peace to cheer us,
Every doubt and fear remove.