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One Cup or many cups for Communion?

This doctrine of the one cup verses multiple cups is a separation issue and is regrettable because there is no theological or doctrinal emphasis in the Scriptures given to the cup or to the number of cups used to serve the Lord’s Supper. During the Passover meal with its four cups of wine, Jesus took one of those cups and pronounced the words of institution (Luke 22:17, 22; 1 Corinthians 11:25).

Now the argument for the one cup only communion theory comes mainly from the account of 1 Corinthians 11 which we will address now.

We will emphasize throughout this article and others that the Apostle Paul wrote his letters in order to address particular issues that arose in different churches. So, as we look at 1st and 2nd Corinthians, we need to ask some basic questions:

  1. What was going on in the Corinthian church?

  2. Why did Paul write to them?

We cannot stress it enough we must STOP reading the scriptures as if we were there because we were not; Paul was writing to the church at Corinth please read 1 Corinthians 1:2.

The Apostle Paul was not addressing us here today he was addressing a congregation of believers who had come out of the world, out of pagan religions and traditions of man. In many of their practices they were way off line and out of order. We however can learn by their mistakes and know from the instructions of the Apostles how we are to live and act.

The church in Corinth had a few issues among many:

  • Disunity among the brethren.
  • Sexual immorality.
  • Marriage and divorce issues.
  • Foods being sacrificed to idols.
  • And abusing of the Spiritual gifts.

The Corinthians were making a mockery of Communion. The Lord’s Supper was affected by the divisions between rich and poor and an overall general misunderstanding. Paul gives the church a stern warning about their actions and the proper way to participate.

Lets have a look at 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.

17 In giving this instruction, I do not praise the fact that your meetings are doing more harm than good. 18 First of all, I hear that when you meet as a church there are divisions among you, and to a degree I believe it; 19 there have to be factions among you in order that [also] those who are approved among you may become known. 20 When you meet in one place, then, it is not to eat the Lord’s supper, 21 for in eating, each one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry while another gets drunk. 22 Do you not have houses in which you can eat and drink? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and make those who have nothing feel ashamed? What can I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this matter I do not praise you.

The Corinthians were disrespecting the Lords supper, they treated it as a common meal and they were even getting drunk on the wine.

23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, 24 and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. 27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying. 31 If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment; 32 but since we are judged by [the] Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. 33 Therefore, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that your meetings may not result in judgment. The other matters I shall set in order when I come.

One thing we must do is "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth". 2 Timothy 2:15.

Do not take one mans opinion, doctrine or idea as gospel so to speak go away and pray about it, study the subject in depth and discuss with those who have wisdom in scripture.

Proverbs 15:22 Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counsellors they are established.

Do not allow your emotions to override scripture.

Now in order to know and to understand as Paul says: For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night, Let us now go to that night Paul talks about and see how the Lord's Supper was instituted on that night.

There is not allot to discuss as far as the cup or cups are concerned, were they a vessels made of clay? A vessel made of china or a vessel made of glass? Such a question would be ridiculous because firstly it does not say and secondly it is not an issue it’s referring to a vessel in which the contents was placed into.

However the Greek word for cup is G#4221 Poterion and can mean a lot, fate or experience that Jesus was about to experience and in instituting the New Covenant the wine represented his blood.

What does divide this cup mean?

The Greek word for divide is Diamerizo. and is made up of two Greek words Dia + Merizo. Dia simply means to "go through something" words such as "Diabetes", "Diaphragm", "Diagnosis" all have this Greek root word and it means "Because of" so when Jesus said to divide it he meant divide in the literal sense.

“The cup” that is drunk in his memory is the contents, not the container, because we cannot drink the container (Matthew 26:27-29). We “drink the cup” which is the fruit of the vine inside the container (1 Corinthians 11:25).

The cup and its symbolism is just that, symbolism it is the initiating or carrying out of an act or situation that affects peoples lives either for the good or for the bad.

As an example here are a few scriptures with x 6 cups that refer to the contents and not the container as such.

  • Isaiah 51:22 – The Cup that made you stagger, and the gobblet of my wrath.

  • Jeremiah 25:15 The cup of God’s wrath.

  • Matthew 26:39, 42; Mark 14:36 and Luke 22:42 speaks of the cup of suffering.

  • 1 Corinthians 10:16, 21 The cup of thanksgiving and also the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons.

  • Revelation 14:10 again talks of the the Cup of God's wrath.

As you can see these cups are NOT literal cups they are symbolic of events that will or have transpired.

When Jesus took “a cup of wine” he said, This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. He gives the wine theological significance; he gives no significance to its metal or stoneware container. “The cup of blessing” is not the container but the contents that represent “the remembrance of the blood of Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:18, 21).

Jesus said about the contents of one of the containers at the table, Divide it among yourselves(Luke 22:17). Individual cups are a way of dividing the contents and doing what Jesus said. Whether the contents are divided by everyone sipping from one large container or everyone sipping from small, individual cups, the contents and their meaning are still the same. When God does not specify a way to do what he commands, we are free to use whatever method fulfils the command — unless it opposes some other Scripture.

We must NEVER go against the scriptures for the sake of tradition.

Mark 7:13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

One last example of the Greek word used for divide is found in Acts 2:3 the English word used us 'Cloven'

So as we can see its very clear that when Jesus gave the instruction to divide the cup they would have understood exactly what divided would have meant and each one of them would have drunk from their own cup and NOT from one single cup as incorrectly taught.

Jesus and the Third Passover Cup

The New Testament names one of the cups—the cup taken after supper, which is traditionally the third cup. Jesus calls this cup “the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20). The Apostle Paul calls it, “the cup of blessing which we bless,” as well as “the cup of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 10:16,21).

Most don't even know that the cup Jesus took was one of four cups they had that night. In a Passover Seder there are four cups of wine this has been a Hebrew practice for thousands of years and Jesus was with his disciples keeping and celebrating the Passover.

This cup of course was an important cup because he used this cup as a symbol of what he was about to do for the whole world.

Both Jesus and Paul draw on something from Hebrew tradition to provide insights not previously understood. By calling the cup “the new covenant in my blood,” Jesus makes a direct reference to the promise of Jeremiah 31. God had declared that He would make a new covenant because the previous covenant had become “broken” (Jeremiah 31:32). To violate a covenant agreement with God would surely incur His wrath and judgment—a terrible cup! 

But instead, God promised a new covenant of grace and salvation.

Jesus declared that this new covenant would be poured from the cup of salvation in His blood. The cup of redemption stood for more than the Hebrews’ escape from Egypt; it stood for the plan and purpose of God for all the ages. Judgment and salvation, wrath and redemption are brought together in the mystery of one cup, explained by the Messiah in that upper room. Jesus was not speaking of the cup in a purely symbolic manner. He was describing events that would soon occur in His own life.