Why Only One Cup?
Many have written about the Lord's Supper. Obviously, there are various points of controversy or disagreement among religious groups. However, it is alarming to know that one point of disagreement among our brethren in Christ is the one that titles this study: Why only one cup? This article seeks to answer this question.
What is the cup?
The cup is the utensil that Jesus Christ used when He instituted His supper. It contains the fruit of the vine. "Cup" is the translation of potérion (Greek). For the definition of potérion, note what some Bible dictionaries say.
W. E. Vine says:
POTÉRION, a diminutive of potér, denotes, primarily, a drinking vessel; hence, a cup (a) literal, as... The cup of blessing, I Cor. 10:16... (b) figurative, ...in the N. T. it is used most frequently of the sufferings of Christ, Matt. 20:22, 23; 26:39; Mark 10:38, 39; 14:36; Luke 22:42; John 18:11; also of the evil deeds of Babylon, Rev. 14:10....
Joseph H. Thayer, says:
POTÉRION ...a cup, a drinking vessel...
So a cup is simply a cup, a drinking vessel. Sometimes it is used literally and sometimes it is used figuratively. How do we know which?
Literal or figure of speech?
E. W. Bullinger says:
It may be asked, "How are we to know, then, when words are to be taken in their simple, original form (i.e., literally), and when they are to be taken in some other and peculiar form (i.e., as a figure)?" The answer is that, whenever and wherever it is possible, the words of Scripture are to be understood literally, but when a statement appears to be contrary to our experience, or to known fact, or revealed truth, or seems to be at variance with the general teaching of the Scriptures, then we may reasonably expect that some figure is employed. (Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, p. XV)
No one is at liberty to exercise any arbitrary power in their use. All that art can do is to ascertain the laws to which nature has subjected them. There is no room for private opinion, neither can speculation concerning them have any authority. It is not open to anyone to say of this or that word or sentence, "This is a figure," according to his own fancy, or to suit his own purpose. We are dealing with a science whose laws and their workings are known. If a word or words be a figure, then that figure can be named, and described. It is used for a definite purpose and with a specific object. (Ibid. p. XI)
D. R. Dungan says:
Section 50. Rules by which the meaning of words shall be ascertained.
Section 51. How can we know figurative language? (Ibid. p. 195)
First then, we should accept the words of the Bible in a literal sense. Before we decide that a word or a passage is figurative, we should make sure that the context demands it or that the context prohibits a literal interpretation.
Definition of three figures of speech
In the Word of God, the Lord used three figures of speech when He instituted His supper. They are metaphor, metonymy, and synecdoche. In his book Claves De Interpretación (Keys to Interpretation), Tomás de la Fuente gives the following simple definitions of these figures of speech. (The translation to English is mine - R.T.) He says:
This figure indicates the similarity between two very different things, declaring that one of them is the other. (p. 86)
Metonymy is the use of a word in the place of another, suggested by the first one. When the writer puts the effect of an action for its cause, or uses the symbol or sign for the actual thing, he uses metonymy. (p. 86)
Note: E. W. Bullinger classifies the metonymy used in the Lord's Supper as: "The container for the contents." (p. 539 & 577)
Synecdoche occurs when the writer points out a part for the whole, or the whole for a part. (p. 86)
It is interesting what Tomás de la Fuente says with regard to the use of a word in different ways or different figures of speech:
There are synecdoches in 1 Corinthians 11:27 and Luke 2:1. But in these same texts there are metonymies also. These texts are examples of the problem of classifying literary figures.
In 1 Corinthians 11:27 Paul says, "Whosoever shall eat this bread or drink this cup..." The full cup is used here for the small amount that the communicant drinks; this is the synecdoche. But the cup is put here for its contents, the wine. This is the metonymy. (p. 87)
This remark harmonizes with what D. R. Dungan said in rule 8, of section 51: "It must be remembered that figures are not always used with the same meaning."
Having laid this foundation, we can examine the use of the word "cup" in the texts concerning the Lord's Supper and apply these rules in order to understand exactly what the Lord meant.
Analyzing the texts
Key to abbreviations of the versions used: King James Version (KJV), New King James Version (NKJV), New International Version (NIV), Goodspeed (G), The New English Bible (NEB).
And he took the cup (KJV)
And he took the cup (KJV)
And he took the cup (KJV)
Also (he took) the cup (KJV)
We should ask ourselves if there is a reason not to accept "cup" here as a literal cup. Is it possible to take a literal cup in one's hands? Certainly it is.
Is a part placed for the whole? Yes. By the context, we know that it was not an empty cup, but that it contained the fruit of the vine. Therefore, the figure would be synecdoche. Jesus took in his hands a cup (a literal, drinking vessel) that contained literal fruit of the vine.
Gave thanks, and gave (it) to them (KJV)
When he had given thanks, he gave (it) to them
Gave thanks, and said, take this (KJV)
1 Corinthians Omitted
This does not constitute any impossibility if taken literally. Jesus gave his disciples that which he had taken in his hands, a cup containing fruit of the vine.
"This" refers to that which he had taken in his hands, a literal cup, which contained literal fruit of the vine. Matthew and Mark say that he gave it to them; Luke gives the Lord's command to receive it.
Drink ye all of it (KJV)
They all drank from it (KJV)
Divide (it) among yourselves (KJV)
1 Corinthians Omitted
In the same way, this constitutes no impossibility; therefore it is literal. Jesus commanded them to drink from the cup, which he had taken in his hands and given to them, a cup that contained fruit of the vine.
Luke is the same as Matthew and Mark with the exception of the use of the word "divide" or "share," which is not as specific as "drink." However, we know from Mark's account that they divided or shared the cup by drinking from it. Matthew and Luke give the command, Mark shows that they obeyed.
This is my blood of the new testament (KJV)
This is my blood of the new covenant (KJV)
This cup (is) the new testament in my blood
This cup is the new testament in my blood
We know that what Jesus had in his hands was not his literal blood. In the same way, we know that a cup is not literally a testament. Therefore, we are forced to accept this as a figure of speech.
The figure is a metaphor. "This," (of Matthew and Mark) refers to all that he had taken in his hands, a literal cup that contained literal fruit of the vine, two physical inseparable things that represent two inseparable spiritual things (the blood and the testament). Matthew and Mark give the picture from the point of the blood that confirmed the New Testament. Luke and Paul give the picture from the point of the New Testament that was confirmed by the blood of Christ.
The cup, when it contains the fruit of the vine in the Lord's Supper, represents the New Testament confirmed by the blood of Christ. The fruit of the vine, when contained in the cup in the Lord's Supper, represents the blood of Christ that confirmed the New Testament. Two literal things (the cup and the fruit of the vine) represent two spiritual things (the New Testament and the blood of Christ).
Matthew, Mark, & Luke Omitted
Drink (it); drink this cup; drink (this) cup; drink of (that)
We know that it is impossible to literally drink a cup, therefore, "Drink it" has to be a figure of speech. The figure is metonymy, "the container named referring to the contents." How does one drink a cup? By drinking that which is contained in a cup. However, in order to say that one "drank a cup," with reference to the contents, it could only have been the contents of a cup, and not the contents of anything else (such as a pitcher, thermos, or barrel, or even "cups"). "Cup" is the container named. It is not the contents, not even when it refers to the contents.
How does the Bible teach?
The Bible teaches in the following ways:
1. Direct command.
When God told Noah to build an ark out of "gopher wood" (Genesis 6:14), Noah understood that in order to do the Lord's will, he had to build the ark out of gopher wood. Why did he understand it that way? God had given him a direct command. In the same way, the New Testament contains direct commands for us today.
2. Necessary inference.
When Philip preached the gospel of Christ to the Ethiopian eunuch, the eunuch asked him, "What hinders me from being baptized?" (Acts 8:35-40). This question necessarily infers that baptism is a part of the gospel.
3. Approved examples.
The Bible tells us what we should do in order to please God, giving us certain approved examples of things that pleased Him before, under the same law of Christ. For example, the church in the first century, under the direction of the apostles of Jesus, came together on the first day of the week, Sunday, in order to break bread. If we follow this example of an action approved by the apostle Paul and the Holy Spirit, we will also please God.
Our motto to follow as we study the Bible should be: Let us speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent (1 Peter 4:11). We can only obey and teach as doctrine that which the Bible authorizes by way of direct command, necessary inference, and approved example.
Does the Bible teach "one cup?"
Yes, the Bible teaches only one cup, as we will show by the following.
1. Direct command.
This last verse tells us what we are to do and how we are to do it: (1) do what he did, and (2) do it in his memory.
How many cups did Jesus take in his hands? How many did he give to the disciples, saying, "Drink from it, all of you?" If we obey the command "This do," how many cups will we use?
2. Necessary inference.
"This cup is the new testament in my blood" (1 Corinthians 11:25).
Since there is only one New Testament, it is necessary to infer that there should be only one cup, which represents it.
3. Approved example.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke give us the historical account of the institution of the Lord's Supper. Paul not only gives us certain commands concerning the supper, but also gives us an approved example of the way the first Christians carried out those commands. He prefaced his teaching about the supper, saying, "For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you" (1 Corinthians 11:23). This statement makes clear that his example was not simply one way of many to observe the supper, but that it was an inspired example. Sometimes it is debatable whether an example is to be followed, or if the Scriptures are simply relating the succession of events, but it is not that way when the Scriptures clearly state that it was received from the Lord. Paul also said, "Be imitators of me, as I also imitate Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1).
The evidence we have noticed in this article shows that Jesus and his disciples used one cup at the memorial supper. Further, when the Corinthians chose to alter the communion service, Paul wrote instructing them to observe the communion in the same way that Jesus and his disciples did at the beginning.
Why only one cup? Because this is what the Bible teaches.
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