Lord's Supper - The Order Of Partaking

Charles J. Aebi

Dear Aebi: “Is there a ‘correct order’ when serving the ‘Lord’s Supper?’ I know 1 Corinthians 11:17-26 has the order as the bread first and the fruit of the vine second, but Luke puts the cup first. Is putting the bread first just a tradition that has become doctrine? And shouldn’t it be called ‘the disciples’ supper’ since it was the disciples who were to partake of it?”

To answer the last question first, the apostle Paul called it “the Lord’s Supper” in 1 Corinthians 11:20, which is the only place that term is used. Although it was for the disciples, it is not called “the disciples’ supper” in the New Testament. Paul told the Corinthians that it was impossible for them to properly observe the Lord’s Supper while eating a common meal, which would distract them from keeping their minds on the atonement Christ made on the cross for us. We will have the answer to the question about tradition becoming doctrine when we find the answer to the first question about the order of partaking of the bread and the cup.

There are four accounts of the institution of the Lord’s Supper: Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:19-20; and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. All specify the order of the emblems as bread first, then the fruit of the [grape] vine, with thanks being given for each of them separately. Boles (Gospel Advocate Commentary, 413-415) says there is some controversy about whether Luke gives a different order, about whether Judas was present, and about the kind of bread and wine used. However, he, along with McGarvey, Foster, Dummelow, Barnes, Thomas & Gundry, and others, agrees that the cup referred to in Luke 22:20 is the one instituted by Jesus for them to use following the partaking of the bread (verse 19) in the Lord’s Supper. There were some four cups used in the traditional Jewish Passover celebration, and the one in verse 17 was evidently part of the Jewish Passover and not intended to be a part of what Jesus was giving the disciples to do after the church was established. In The Fourfold Gospel, McGarvey says, “Luke distinguishes between the cup taken during and that taken after supper. The first [the cup in v. 17–CJA] belonged to the Passover, this [the cup in v. 20–CJA] to the Lord’s Supper” (658). On verse 17, McGarvey says, “Luke brings out the parallelism between the Passover and the Lord’s Supper. Each consisted of eating followed by drinking …” (646).

The reference to the cup and the bread in 1 Corinthians 10:15 is not a description of the institution of the Lord’s Supper nor of the order of partaking, but of the fellowship we have with Christ and each other as we partake. The passage in John 6:48-58 has nothing to do with the Lord’s Supper, but refers to our accepting the sacrifice of Christ as atonement for our sins. Jesus is “the bread of life” and “bread from heaven” in John 6:32-58.

The correct order is bread first, then the fruit of the vine. This is the order Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 11, and he says in verse 23 that the Lord delivered it to him to give to the Corinthians. In giving this order, Paul uses the same expression Luke does in saying Jesus gave the cup “after supper,” which adds to the understanding that Luke 22:20, not verse 17, is referring to the cup of the Lord’s Supper. Since the bread before the fruit of the vine is the order given in Scripture, it is not “just a tradition that has become doctrine,” it is the doctrine delivered to us by our Lord Jesus Christ through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul. One asks, “What difference does it make?” If we aim to be a New Testament church, we will want to do just what the church did in the New Testament, will we not? We should concern ourselves with doing what Christ says to do, not with speculation about what may happen if we do not! –2660 Layman Rd., Vincent OH 45784. cjandi@juno.com

Return to West Virginia Christian