One Cup or Many Cups?
Must a congregation of the Lord’s church, when partaking of the fruit of the vine during the Lord’s Supper, use one cup and one cup only? This is a question that has caused much division in the Lord’s church. In this material we will consider this question.
Those who advocate only one cup cite these passages:
Matthew 26:27 - “And he took the cup...”
Mark 14:23 - “And he took the cup...”
Luke 22:20 - “Likewise also the cup after supper...”
I Corinthians 10:16 - “The cup of blessing which we bless...”
I Corinthians 10:21 - “Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord...”
I Corinthians 11:25 - “he took the cup...”
I Corinthians 11:26 - “For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup...”
I Corinthians 11:27 - “wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread and drink this cup of the Lord...”
I Corinthians 11:28 - “and drink of that cup...”
We are to rightly divide the Scriptures (II Timothy 2:15). In the Lord’s Supper there are things that are pictured or represent things. Consider the following three points and answer the third
1. The bread pictures the body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper.
2. The fruit of the vine pictures the blood of Christ.
3.What does the container or containers picture or represent?
Is every part of an example binding?
1. In Acts 20:7-8 they met in an upper room. Is that binding on the church today?
2. Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River; must we follow that example and be baptized in the Jordan?
3. Jesus was baptized in a river; can we be baptized in an indoor pool or the ocean?
4. The bread that was used in the 1st century was not like our unleavened crackers of today. Must we use a loaf of bread on the Lord’s table?
Those who insist that only one cup be used in the Lord’s Supper do so based on the argument that they are following the example of Jesus. They say to use more than one cup is to go beyond the Bible. They argue that there is no Bible authority for individual cups. They ask “where is the passage that authorizes more than one cup?” They say, “ if you use two or more you go beyond the Bible and sin.” The Bible authorizes by command, example, direct statement and expediency. Those who insist that only one cup be used in the Lord’s Supper often ask, “where is the command, example or direct statement that authorizes the use of individual cups for the Lord’s Supper?” They forget about expediency. They have no trouble authorizing a church building, pews, songbooks, and plates, plural, for the bread they authorize those by expediency. They need to be consistent. If those are authorized by expediency, so are individual cups.
Now consider the use of plates to serve the bread. Where is the passage that authorizes the use of two or more plates for the bread? They use two or more plates for the bread and they have no passage that authorizes this. You see, they understand that the expression “one bread” just means that all are to partake of the bread. They understand that the number of plates for the bread does not change anything; they are all taking the bread. There is just as much Bible authority for more than one cup as there is for more than one plate for the bread. The container is not important. What is important is the fruit of the vine and the bread. A cup is an expedient or an aid to taking the fruit of the vine just as a plate is an aid to taking the bread. The number of cups or plates is not specified.
Questions for those who insist on using one cup for the fruit of the vine and one cup only:
1. If, while serving the congregation the communion, the loaf should be accidentally broken into other pieces besides that which each person breaks for himself, could the unserved portion of the congregation scripturally partake of it? This is said because the Bible says Jesus took the “loaf” not “loaves.”
2. While passing the fruit of the vine to the assembly, if the cup should be accidently dropped and broken and its contents spilled, how would you scripturally serve the remainder of the assembly?
3. When Paul in I Corinthians 10:16 said that Christians at both Ephesus and Corinth blessed “the cup”, would not the expression, “the cup” here refer to at least two drinking vessels - one at Ephesus and one at Corinth? If so, then “cup” can mean plural.
4. And when he said in that same connection that we are all partakers of that “one bread,” did he not refer to at least two pieces of bread - one at Ephesus and one at Corinth?
Consider Jacob’s well in John 4:12. “Art thou greater than our Father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children and his cattle?” Does this mean that each of them put their lips on the well and drank? All of them drank from it but not all from the same container.
Consider the table. Luke 22:30 says “that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom...” And in Luke 22:21, Jesus said, “But, behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table.” Is this binding today that we must have a table? Could we set the Lord’s Supper on a pew and serve it or must we have a table?
Can 12 men drink from one bottle using 12 cups? Yes. Everyone does not have to put his lips to the same bottle in order to drink from one bottle. When we pour 12 glasses from one bottle and drink, it can be said that all 12 drank from the same bottle.
When Jesus took the cup and said “drink ye all of it,” did he mean for them to drink the cup or its contents? This was a figure of speech known as a metonymy.
One plate or many plates does not violate the command to eat the bread. The plate is not significant; the bread represents the body of Christ.
In Acts 15 some tried to bind circumcision on the church. They taught that one could not be saved unless he was circumcised. They were making a law where God had not. They were making a test of fellowship out of a matter of opinion. Today, the one cup brethren are doing the same thing. They are binding where God has not. They are making a test of fellowship over a matter of opinion. The body of Christ is too precious to do so. Let’s insist that churches partake of the Lord’s Supper on the 1st day of each week. But let’s not bind the number of cups for the fruit of the vine or the number of plates for the bread.
“Endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). The number of cups used in partaking of the Lord’s Supper should no more divide the church than whether we meet in an upper room or ground floor.
(Much of this material came from the Porter-Waters debate)
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