"One Cup" or "Multiple Cups"?

#article #Lord's Supper
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Drew Leonard

July 12, 2022

Melanie writes and wants to know a little bit more about whether or not we should use "one cup" or "multiple cups" on the Lord's table . . .

First, there is a semantic issue . . . What do you/I/we mean when we say “cup”? Let me say this: the word has TWO uses in this discussion, and it is VERY EASY for us to confuse the two uses. (This is a common logical fallacy that people make. I say, “My car is black,” but you say, “No, your car is white!” and the reality is that I own two cars, so we wind up talking about different things.) In THIS discussion, “cup” means either 1) CONTAINER or 2) CONTENTS . . . And, it is easy for these two to become confused. In order for us to keep things straight, we're going to have to STAY AWARE of this. I'm convinced that one side of the debate has employed this “semantic issue” to a fault, here, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

Second, I will openly say that I have no problem using EITHER one or multiple containers. I'd be satisfied to use one container if that were what the elders (wherever I might attend) decided, but I'd have no problem using multiple containers either. There are those who insist that ONE CONTAINER MUST BE USED and would consider me to be heretical and in egregious error for being flexible on the matter. I was in contact with a group that insisted on the ONE CONTAINER view about 5-8 years ago; they wanted to insist on the multiple containers as being “sinful” but also wanted to be flexible on saying it – they felt that we MUST “grow” on the point or else it be considered “fatal.” (I read a little booklet from the group, called something like “The Cup of the Lord” or something like that, but it has been a while; I remember that the entire discussion revolves around Matthew 26/Luke 22 and 1 Corinthians 11, of course.)

Let me provide the argumentation of the “one cup” view . . .

The argument goes . . . Jesus gives the bread symbolic significance (Luke 22:19), gives the juice symbolic significance (Luke 22:17,18) and also gives the “cup” symbolic significance (Luke 22:20); the argument runs with a two-pronged assault: 1) to use multiple “cups” (by which “containers” is meant) violates the symbolic significance, where Luke 22:20 clearly says that the CUP (singular) is/represents the NEW COVENANT and 2) there is no authority for multiple containers. As far as I've heard, that is basically where the contention lies.

There are multiple problems . . .

First, the Bible is FULL of colloquialisms. It is written by human beings for human beings. Of course, God used the minds/abilities/educations/etc. of men, but this was a CONCURSIVE event, SIMULTANEOUS event – inspiration, that is. I mean that God SIMULTANEOUSLY produced the holy text in/with/through human beings. We SHOULD expect colloquialisms, euphemisms, etc. within the text . . . So, we read of idioms that they used (they said, “a hairs breadth”; we say “put his foot in his mouth”), we read of hyperbole (they said, “a thousand cattle on a thousand hills”; we say “there were millions . . .”), etc., etc., etc.

When the Bible speaks of “THE CUP” in Matthew 26/Luke 22, it uses it TWO DIFFERENT WAYS. On the one hand, it says that “the cup” is poured out . . . This is a colloquialism or euphemism . . . TECHNICALLY, one does not “pour a cup” . . . One pours the CONTENTS of the cup, but the whole idea “to pour out the contents from out of a cup/container” gets shortened to “pour the cup.” If I tell my child to pour his cup (full of water) into the sink, I CAN clearly mean to pour the water into the sink without really commenting on what I intend for him to do with the container itself. OR, the statement, “Pour your cup into the sink and put it on the counter” becomes even more clear and IS NOT CONTRADICTORY! (Such is the nature of language.)

The “one cup” (meaning, “one container”) view simply won't allow for this in Matthew 26/Luke 22. The group that I read goes to extreme lengths to document that “the cup” is ONE CONTAINER, that Jesus strictly intends ONE CONTAINER and that my illustration (of my child with the sink, cup and water) is an INSERTION into Matthew 26/Luke 22 that is not actually intended. I'd read Luke 22:20 again and give it a thought as to the meaning, but let's hold all of this in suspect for the moment . . .

That is, let's come back to Matthew 26/Luke 22 in a moment . . .

At this point, 1 Corinthians 11:23-27 becomes of primary concern . . . Paul, retelling the events of the institution of the Lord's Supper, says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood . . .” (vs. 23), says, “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup” (vs. 26) and says, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord . . .” (vs. 27) and “in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (vs. 28). Here, the point becomes clearer . . .

Paul's usage of the word “cup” is in reference to the CONTENTS and NOT THE CONTAINER. And – pardon me, but I don't have the resource that I referred to earlier; it is at my parents' house in Missouri – but the “one cup” view argues that Paul is using FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE (metonymy) in 1 Corinthians 11! Can you believe that?! They say that what Paul is doing in 1 Corinthians 11 is that he is using the word “cup” to actually refer to the contents within the cup, and they've specifically said that it is a case of “metonymy.” (You might Google what metonymy is for a better idea?) Here's my point . . . THAT IS PRECISELY WHAT JESUS IS DOING IN MATTHEW 26/LUKE 22.

CATCH THIS: Jesus' “symbolic significance” is place NOT on the “cup” (CONTAINER) but IS PLACED on the “cup” (CONTENTS).

So, if you were to ask me, “Do you believe you can use multiple 'cups' for the Lord's Supper?” TYPICALLY, I'd understand the question to be in reference to physical CONTAINERS, so I'd say, “Yes, I believe that one can use multiple 'cups'.” BUT, if one means “cups” as far as “CONTENTS,” I'd strongly say, “NO!” Jesus said that THE CUP had special significance; it represents His blood of the New Covenant (cf. Mat. 26:28,29; 1 Cor. 11:23-29).

When I first read the little booklet, “The Cup of the Lord” or whatever it was called, I was shocked by the arbitrariness of the argumentation. In the first half of the booklet, the fellow spent page-after-page arguing that Matthew 26/Luke 22 could NOT be using figurative language, referring to the CONTENTS (as over against the containers); in the second half of the booklet, he more-or-less used my same kinds of illustrations to insist on the SAME KIND OF FIGURATIVE SPEECH that I was saying was operative in Matthew 26/Luke 22, but he was saying that it was ONLY operative in 1 Corinthians 11. WHY IS/WAS THIS THE CASE?

The truth is this: Matthew 26/Luke 22 CAN be more easily treated to uphold a staunch “one container” view. 1 Corinthians 11 is the “difficult” text for the view, because it is clearer and also clears up some of the difficulty in Jesus' institution. Once the “one cup” view explains 1 Corinthians 11, it completely allows for flexibility in Matthew 26/Luke 22 also, emphasizing that the stress is NOT on the container(s) but upon the CONTENTS within the container. ONLY a view that is seeking to uphold a tradition/agenda can see Matthew 26 as BINDING “one container,” while seeing 1 Corinthians 11 as simultaneously using figurative speech about the contents within the container.

As an aside, I can't help but think the “one container” folks have missed the theological thrust that is at play here; the Old Testament had a “blood of the covenant” (Exo. 24:8; cf. Zec. 9:11), and Jesus came to initiate a “new covenant” by BLOOD, not by containers (cf. Heb. 9:11-10:4; 10:10-13,19 – do read this little section!). Hebrews makes it clear that it was the “blood” (even under the Old System) that showed how serious God took His “covenants” (cf. Gen. 15 with Abraham and the split animal). It was always BLOOD that ratified the covenant, and so Jesus, too, offered “blood” to ratify His “new covenant” (taken from Jeremiah 31:31-34). All of this is getting into “atonement theories” . . . If you need to pursue me on any of this, feel free to . . . My major point is this: it was the BLOOD (as represented by ONE CUP [CONTENTS, fruit of the vine]) and NOT the “cup” (CONTAINER) that was symbolic for the new covenant. Luke 22:20 and the others are all saying the same thing.

Here's what I'd advise . . . (and 1 Corinthians 8-10 would bear this procedure out, though the issue there is “eating meats before idols” and NOT L.S. issues).

First, the party with the opinion needs to grow and learn and also tolerate the “liberty” on the matter. In reference to the “meats” issue, Paul openly admits that the one party DOES have liberty to eat the meats that had been offered to idols (1 Cor. 8:9). In comparison, Paul would also insist – I'm sure – that there is “liberty” in one container or multiple containers. He would NEVER deny that there is liberty on the matter. BUT . . .

Second, the party that seeks to exercise liberty needs to consider his/her brethren BEFORE he is concerned about his own liberties . . . “Well, I like multiple containers . . .” “But, I don't want to drink from one cup! It's nasty!” “Can you imagine all of those germs?!” etc., etc., etc. aren't good reasons. The “strong” party at Corinth could've come up with all sorts of reasons why they SHOULD get their own way and continue to eat the meat that had been offered before idols, but Paul insisted that if such a thing were actually disrupting the faith of some and pushing them out of church – it wasn't a mere preference or little squabble! it was an “offense” that was causing some to lose faith and were stumbling right out of church (1 Cor. 8:9,11,13)! – then our LIBERTY should take “second place” and be content to be bothered . . . No, that's not strong enough . . . Paul said that if souls were leaving church over these sorts of disputes, not only would he “be content to have his liberty bothered,” he'd actually “come over” to the weaker side and ACT as if he held their view with them (1 Cor. 8:13; 9:20-13); he'd come into a place where they were serving meat that had been offered to idols, recognize that a brother was abstaining for “conscience reasons” and thus Paul would abstain from eating, too. He'd not alert everybody with an announcement: “Now, I know that I COULD eat the meat if I wanted to, but Billy's got a problem with it, so I'm going to abstain with him . . .” NO!!! He'd not do that. He'd silently sit there and not eat . . . And all of “the strong” (that's what they thought they were! oh, they had problems! they were as “weak” as the next fellow, had gobs of knowledge BUT NO LOVE [see 1 Cor. 8:1-3] – lovelessness is Godlessness!) would sit there and snicker and later gossip about Paul, “Did you see that he didn't eat the meat?! You'd think he'd know better! You'd think that he knew that he has that liberty! Oh, shame that God's own apostle – and now I'm questioning if he even has a right to be an apostle with as ignorant on these things as he is – doesn't have this stuff sorted out!” THAT'S WHAT “THE STRONG” WOULD SAY AND THINK . . . But Paul didn't mind to LOVE so fiercely that he'd let these things be said of him (as they were said of the Master on the cross) . . . “If you're the king of the world, pull yourself of the cross!” they said. Paul knew that it was LOVE that held Him to the tree, and so it was LOVE that kept Paul from eating meats . . . AND, it is LOVE that brings us to go to churches where they have “one container” and drink the fruit of the vine NEVER CAUSING A RUCKUS.

Paul never denies that there is liberty, but he also wants those of us with liberty to understand that there is something more important than our knowledge/liberty . . . and that is the love to set self aside and compromise ON OPINION MATTERS/LIBERTIES for the sake of unity and the Gospel.

I think that I could stomach not using multiple containers . . . I think that I could get along with going to church on Sunday and drinking from “one container,” but what I can't go along with is the wholesale condemnation of those that choose to drink from multiple containers. That, I believe, is an abuse of the text and wholly unwarranted.

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