Passover, Lord's Supper, or Communion?

Perhaps there is no other area of New Testament doctrine that has generated so much controversy as that of partaking of the symbols of bread and wine instituted by the Savior on the eve of His betrayal, arrest and death.

Some of the areas of disagreement are (1) when to partake of these New Testament symbols (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually 14th or 15th of the first month of the Hebrew calendar, and if so, which calendar), (2) what the symbols mean (transubstantiation, consubstantiation, or other), (3) what elements are to be used in the bread and fruit of the vine (unleavened bread, leavened bread; wine or grape juice), (4) who can partake of the elements (priests, entire adult membership, baptized believers only, etc.), (5) the order in which these elements are to be partaken (footwashing, bread, wine and many variations, and partial exclusions of these items), (6) and what the ceremony is called (Lord's Supper, Passover, Holy Communion, Memorial Supper, Love Feast, Last Supper, breaking bread, Eucharist, etc).

It is this latter issue that is addressed in this article. Rather than being a minor question, we will see that the right name for this essential event teaches us vital truths as to what we are doing in this awesomely significant occasion.

Importance of New Testament Ordinance

Make no mistake about it, unless we properly partake symbolically of the body and blood of the Messiah, we have no hope of receiving eternal life. John 6:53-54, "Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, Verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day." If being resurrected to eternal life is important to us, we will have a serious concern for following specifically, exactly, what the Almighty has commanded us to do.

So what is the Scriptural basis for the name of this precious occasion of the partaking of Christ? The basic passages are, Matthew 26:1-2, 17-30; Mark 14:1-2, 12-26; Luke 22:1-2, 7-20; John 13:1-17; and I Corinthians 11:1-2, 23-34.

From these, it is very clear that the Messiah ate the Passover meal with His disciples, with the lamb, bitter herbs and unleavened bread as prescribed in Exodus 12:1-14. In the midst of the Passover meal the Savior washed the disciples feet. Then He took one of the pieces of unleavened bread and attached special significance to it. It would represent His body, given for us. Later, he took one of the Passover cups and attached special significance to it. From now on, the cup would represent the New Testament in His blood, shed for our sins.

These three acts He specifically said for His followers to do until He comes back and partakes of it again with us when it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God, Luke 22:16, I Corinthians 11:26. No longer would New Testament believers eat all the side dishes of a feast: lamb, herbs, etc. Only the footwashing, unleavened bread and wine. Paul told the Corinthians to eat at home before coming together to take the bread and the cup, I Corinthians 11:20-22, 34.

Notice that the proper title for the Old Testament observance was not merely "Passover" but really, "The LORD's (Yahweh's) Passover," Exodus 12:11, Leviticus 23:5, Numbers 28:16, or "the Passover unto the LORD," Numbers 9:10, Deuteronomy 16:1, II Kings 23:21, II Chronicles 35:1. Who was the LORD, the Yahweh of the Old Testament? It was the one who became the Messiah, Jesus Christ, I Corinthians 10:1-4.

The association of the Savior of mankind with the Passover is very important. He is the true lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world, John 1:29, Colossians 2:14, I John 3:5. The Messiah is our Passover slain for us, I Corinthians 5:7. The lambs sacrificed under the Old Covenant pointed to the sacrifice of God's son and are now fulfilled in reality by the one sacrifice that can and does take away sin, Hebrews 9:27-28, 10:1-22. Thus, it would be wrong for us to continue to sacrifice a lamb and eat an Old Testament Passover meal.

Is "Lord's Supper" a Correct Term?

Is the term "Passover" now obsolete? Some who observe the New Testament ordinance annually would have us believe that "Passover" is an obsolete term and "Lord's Supper" is the only proper term.

Fred Walter in the March, 1983, The Bible Advocate(published by the Church of God, Seventh Day, Denver) writes in his article "Lord's Supper or Passover, Which?" that (1) The New Testament ordinance is not "spiritual leftovers" of the Old Testament Passover meal, but an entirely new institution. He says that the Lord's Supper is not a "warmed over" Christianized Passover observance. (2) The Old Testament Passover commemorated the deliverance of physical Israel from physical bondage, but also pointed forward to the event of the soon-to-be-sacrificed Messiah who would deliver His people from the bondage of sin of which Egypt was a representation. Walter says that the Passover has no place in the Christian practice other than to provide a memory of Israel's deliverance and to point Israel toward the coming Messiah. Christ's last Passover, Walter believes, was the last Passover to have any significance to Christ's followers. (3) Next, Walter says that the new emblems pointed forward only to the soon-to-be- accomplished events of Christ's death on the same day of Nisan 14. He says that now we only look backward to the death of our Savior. (4) Lastly, Walter says that because there is no tie between Lord's Supper and Passover, therefore, if one misses the Lord's Super observance at the proper time then he must wait until next year. He is not to take it on the 14th of the second month as prescribed for Passover in Numbers 9:6-13.

What "Supper" Means

Let us examine these points carefully. Mr. Walter assumes that the title "Lord's Supper" is the proper term for the Christian ordinance. There is only one scripture that one could possibly derive this title from: I Corinthians 11:20, "When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper" (KJV). The Revised Standard Version handles this section better (verses 20-22, 33-34), "When you meet together [for the memorial of the bread and the cup, verses 23-26] it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? . . . So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat [the bread and the cup],wait for one another -- if any one is hungry, let him eat at home -- lest you come together to be condemned."

Two possible interpretations naturally result from the usage of the term "Lord's Supper": (1) the partaking of the bread and the cup is not the Lord's Supper, it is not a "supper," or meal, only a symbolic ceremony, or (2) the manner in which the Corinthians partook of it, by some bringing food and making a feast out of it, was not the proper keeping of the Lord's Supper. Based on only one questionable text, it would be strange indeed to label the occasion "Lord's Supper." Just as strange as some Protestants who refer to Sunday as the "Lord's Day."

The Greek word for "supper" is dipnon. The verb form is dipneo. In every case, this refers to a festive meal, not a small quantity of bread and a little of the fruit of the vine, but a large bountiful meal. Dipnon is translated "feast" in Matthew 23:6, Mark 12:39, Luke 20:46. Examine Mark 6:21 (Herod's supper), Luke 14:12-24 (the great supper), John 12:2 (Lazarus, Mary and Martha's supper for Jesus), and Luke 17:7-8 (the supper of meat) and you will find in all these passages that dipnon refers to a filling "meat and potatoes" meal, never to a symbolic commemorative occasion.

Even I Corinthians 11:21proves that "supper" means a festive meal. Certainly the references to the Passover meal Jesus had with his disciples proves that "supper" is a physical feast, Luke 22:20, I Corinthians 11:25, John 13:2,4, 21:20. In Revelation 19 we see the use of dipnon to describe the marriage supper of the Lamb, in which the saints will feast with the Lamb of God, and the fowls will feast on the flesh of kings, mighty men, and horses. No lack of food here!

"Supper" always means a festive large meal, therefore it would be ludicrous to refer to the taking of the bread and wine as a "supper." Paul told the Corinthians to eat their "supper" at home so that when they gathered to take the bread and the cup, it would not be a festive supper, I Corinthians 11:20, 21. What was it then? The "Lord's Passover," Leviticus 23:5.

What Was Changed?

Proof that Jesus did not institute a new piece of bread, and not a new cup but that He attached special significance to one of the pieces of Passover unleavened bread, and one of the four cups of Passover wine, is given in our article, "The Order and Meaning of the Passover Service" and in the book, Christ in the Passover by Moishe and Ceil Rosen. Christ used the old symbols and transformed them into something new. He pointed out the true spiritual significance of the older ceremony.

What kind of God do you worship? A God who changes Sabbath to Sunday, corrects His "mistakes" of bad laws and makes new laws to replace them? Or, is your God one that progressively reveals Himself to mankind through meaningful object lessons, through physical ordinances intended to convey spiritual lessons, that become more and more significant as time goes on?

No, Christ did not destroy the Passover law, He fulfilled it, Matthew 5:17. Christ is our Passover, I Corinthians 5:7. He is the object and purpose of the Lord's Passover meal. The new symbols point specifically to Him. He is the lamb slain from the foundation of the world, Revelation 13:8. The true Passover sacrifice was planned before the creation of man. That is why it is absurd to say that the Christian ordinance is something new. It is the spiritual reality of the physical type. Merely a higher form of God's unchanging purpose.

Passover Observed By New Testament Church

Far from having no further meaning to the Christian, the Passover was noted by the early New Testament church, Acts 12:4(correctly translated "Passover," not "Easter"), and used as an object lesson by the apostle Paul to the Corinthians in I Corinthians 5:7.

One of the most convincing proofs that the Holy Days are to be kept today is that they were kept by the early New Testament Church. Discovering this was one of the major proofs that led me to conversion. Notice the statement of Polycrates of Asia Minor in the late Second Century AD, who gave this defense of the truth against Victor, Bishop of Rome, who was excommunicating true believers who continued to keep the Passover:

As for us, then, we scrupulously observe the exact day, neither adding nor taking away. For in Asia great luminaries have gone to their rest, who shall rise again in the day of the coming of the Lord . . . . I speak of Philip, one of the twelve apostles . . . John, moreover who reclined on the Lord's bosom . . . then there was Polycarp . . . . these all kept the PASSOVER on the fourteenth day of the month, in accordance with the gospel, without ever deviating from it, but keeping to the rule of faith, (from Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume VIII, pages 773-774).

How scrupulously do we observe the right day?

The Quartodeciman Passover controversy was the issue of when to partake of the bread and wine, on every Sunday as the Catholics did, or annually on the fourteenth as the "Quartodecimans" did. The first 15 Judaeo-Christian bishops who administered the Church of Jerusalem up to 135 AD practiced the Quartodeciman (14th) Passover, basing themselves on a document known as the Apostolic Constitutions, which states: "you shall not change the calculation of time, but you shall celebrate it at the same time as your brethren who came out from the circumcision. With them observe the Passover." Quoted by Bacchiocchi from Epiphanius in From Sabbath to Sunday, page 161. See more on page 13 of his book.

The Church of God, Seventh Day, has usually upheld the term "Christian Passover." At a ministerial meeting in 1884 at Stanberry, Missouri, which led to the organization of a General Conference, a sermon was given on "Observance of Christian Passover, and duty of feet-washing" (see History of the Seventh Day Church of God, pages 100-101).

Gieseler writes in Church History, Apostolic Age to A.D. 70, Section 29, that "heathen converts observed . . . the Sabbath, and in remembrance of the closing scenes of our Savior's life, the Passover, though without the Jewish superstitions." Cited by John Kiesz in A History of the Sabbath & Sunday, page 13.

Christ Will Keep a Future Passover With His Church

Does the Christian observance only point us backward to the accomplished events of Christ's death? To so state this is to deny the plain scriptural facts. Jesus has not observed His last Passover! He will eat and drink it anew with His true followers in the Kingdom of God, Matthew 26:29, Mark 14:25, and Luke 22:15-18, "With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the Kingdom of God." This latter passage is clear Bible proof that Christ will eat the Passover in the Kingdom of God with His true followers. Also, strange as it may seem, not until then will the Passover be fulfilled. Passover has not yet been totally fulfilled! It also pictures a future event: our deliverance from eternal death and the marriage supper of the lamb, Revelation 19:9.

Christ ate the Passover in 31 AD. He will eat it again when it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God. What will His followers do throughout the ages in remembrance of Him? Partake of the Lord's Passover!

Ancient Israel partook of the Passover, of the Rock that followed them -- Christ. We today are to likewise partake of the Passover -- to partake of Christ. This is a critical matter of our spiritual survival. That is why God instituted the law in Numbers 9:6-13 when someone who through no fault of their own, missed the Passover of the 14th day of the first month, could partake of it on the 14th of the second month. Unless God specifically annuls His statutes, they are binding on us today whether or not they are repeated in the New Testament.

"Passover," Not "Lord's Supper," Is Proper Term

In summary, usage of the term "Lord's Supper" rather than "Passover" is inappropriate because

(1) Supper is a hearty meal, which the ordinance of bread and the cup is not.

(2) There is no legitimate New Testament usage of this term in relation to the ordinance.

(3) The term Passover continues to be used in the New Testament after Christ, even to Gentile Corinthians.

(4) Christ did not change or destroy the Old Testament law; He fulfilled the Passover and is(present tense) our Passover.

(5) Passover has not yet been fulfilled.

(6) Christ will eat the Passover again with His followers in the Kingdom of God.

(7) Only the usage of the term "Passover" connotes adherence to the 14th day of the first month of the Hebrew calendar. One cannot say that Passover is done away and still say that the new ordinance must be kept on Nisan 14, and at the same time reject the regulations for the second Passover in Numbers 9. Picking and choosing with God's ways lead to eternal death, Revelation 22:18-19.

(8) The arguments against "Passover" and for an annual "Lord's Supper" come from those who reject God's Holy Days. (See our article, "Responding to the Attack on God's Holy Days.") It is true that these same arguments can be effectively used against the weekly Sabbath as well. Rather than face up to the scriptural facts that there is no basis for the term "Lord's Supper," they must astutely avoid anything that appears too "Jewish," because of their anti-Holy Day bias.

Non-Church of God people will miss what is meant by the term "Passover." That is why the term "Christ's (Yahshua's) Passover" or the "Christian Passover" is better. Otherwise, those that don't understand may think that a lamb is eaten in the manner of the Jewish meal (Seder).

Communion is Inaccurate Term

Most Protestants use the term "Communion." Catholics use "Eucharist," Latin for "thankful, to show favor to." Again, there is only one scripture that connects "communion" with the cup and the bread, I Corinthians 10:16, "the cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body, of Christ?" Also verse 21, "ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot partake of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils." The word "communion" is the Greek koinonia, which means "fellowship" or "the partaking of or with." I Corinthians 10:16 is describing what the cup and bread are, the partaking of Christ. Not the title of the occasion.

Because of this inaccurate usage of "communion," some have concluded that "breaking bread" refers to the ordinance of the bread and wine. Acts 2:42 states, "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship [koinonia] and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." Nothing is said about unleavened bread and wine. Merely fellowship, eating a meal, and prayers. "Break Bread" was a common term to indicate eating a meal: Acts 2:46, 20:7, 27:34, 35, and Matthew 26:26, compared to Luke 24:30.

The Lord's Table

I Corinthians 10:21 uses another term some use in reference to the Christian ordinance: "Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils." Verse 16 shows that this refers to the bread and the cup. Paul is referring to idolatrous worship, eating things sacrificed to idols. One cannot partake of both the Lord's table (Passover) and also eat things sacrificed to idols. There is no reference as to the time of partaking of the Lord's table. It does not say the Lord's table is partaken of daily. From other scriptures, we know that it is annually. Partaking of the elements on that table is called the Christian Passover.


There is no scriptural basis for usage of the terms "Lord's Supper" and "Communion" as a title for the Christian ordinance of bread and wine. "Passover," specifically "Christ's Passover" is the only term which conveys the proper meaning of the occasion. Christ is our Passover. When we partake (fellowship) of the bread and the wine, we are partaking of Him. It must be an annual event on the night He was betrayed, the 14th day of the first month of God's calendar. This event points backward to the deliverance of Israel (God's people) from Egypt (type of sin), and also to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God for our sins. More importantly, Passover points forward to its fulfillment of the Kingdom of God.

Let's observe the Christian Passover at the proper time in the proper manner.


Additional Articles:

Passover & Feast of Unleavened Bread Part 1
Passover & Feast of Unleavened Bread Part 2
Passover -- 14th or 15th?
Drink the Pure Blood of the Grape
The Order and Meaning of Passover
Instructions for Keeping the New Covenant Passover
Why Do We Take the New Testament Passover?
The New Testament Passover Ceremony
Feast of Unleavened Bread: Putting Sin Out
Polluted Bread for Passover?
Recipes for the Days of Unleavened Bread
Let a Man Examine Himself
Observance of the Passover.
Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread Quiz

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Written by: Richard C. Nickels
Giving & Sharing
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