The Bread for the Lord’s Supper
Most groups, churches and fellowships that claim to be Christian observe a remembrance of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. Generally this includes the cup (although many use individual cups in our day) and bread. This observance (mistakenly called a “sacrament”) may be called “the table of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 10:21) or “communion” (1 Corinthians 16-17; KJV) or a “sharing” (NAS). More often, this observance is simply called “the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42; cf. 20:7; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 11:23-26) since bread is prominent in this memorial.
The question is, “Does it matter what kind of bread is used in this memorial?” Artos, the Greek term used in the above references to the Lord’s supper may mean “bread,” or the “loaf” of the Lord’s supper, or “bread of any kind” (W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary). In this case, artos would simply refer to bread in general. Another Greek word, azumos, is found at 1 Corinthians 5:7-9 where Paul refers to “the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Vine points out that when “bread” uses the article, it refers to the unleavened bread of the Passover meal (cf. Matthew 26:17; Mark 14:1, 12; Luke 22:1, 7; Acts 12:3; 20:6). (Cf. also Mounce’s Complete Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words). This bread would be “made without yeast, unleavened” and consisted of “unleavened bread in the form of flat cakes, matzoth” (Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 19).
It is interesting to note that the Eastern Church has always used leavened bread and the Western (Catholic) Church used regular leavened bread until AD 798 and later (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, p. 658). Many modern Protest Churches also use leavened bread or permit its use, such as the Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians. We find this quite amazing in light of the original context of our Lord’s Passover meal in the upper room.
Leavened Bread (with Yeast)
What was this context? Jesus told His disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be handed over for crucifixion” (Matthew 26:2). The Passover ritual dates back to the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt about 1440 BC. Moses issues this command: “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel” (Exodus 12:15). He goes on to say, “You shall also observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt; therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as a permanent ordinance” (v. 17).
There is no doubt that this emphasis on using unleavened bread was an integral part of this Israelite memorial. They would rid their house of all leaven (yeast) and would use unleavened bread for seven days. So serious was this requirement that if anyone would eat something leavened, he would be “cut off from Israel” (Exodus 12:15b).
Was the meal that Jesus and His disciples ate in the upper room the Passover? Matthew tells us, “Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?” (Matthew 26:17). What did Jesus say in reply? “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, “My time is near; I am to keep the Passover at your house with My disciples”’” (v. 18). Jesus was to keep the Passover and one of the prime requirements for this special annual meal was that all leavened had to be removed from the house. For seven days, people would eat “unleavened bread”!
Later in the evening, Jesus and His disciples had arrived at the Upper Room, and we read this description: “While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body” (Matthew 26:26). Question: What “bread” did Jesus take and what “bread” did they eat? Obviously, they used unleavened bread. That was the only form of bread available at the Passover! While it is true that the Greek term used is artos (meaning bread, in general) and not azumos (meaning unleavened bread), we all know that the kind of bread, the kind of artos, used was unleavened bread!
It is also important to note that Christ, in using artos, is referring to “a small loaf or cake.” Vine tells us that this loaf was “composed of flour and water, and baked, in shape either oblong or round, and about as thick as the thumb; these were not cut, but broken” (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). In other words, this bread was not little wafers, little bits of flour and water, or even a large loaf of leavened bread, but this bread consisted of a “loaf” (Ibid.). This was a loaf that could be broken!
“The custom, therefore, of using a wafer placed unbroken in the mouth of the communicant, leaves out an important significant element in this sacrament” (Charles Hodge, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, pp. 189-190). So it is significant that we are to use a “loaf” of bread and not just a wafer (cf. F. F. Bruce, The New Century Bible Commentary: 1 and 2 Corinthians, pp. 95, 111).
Notice particularly 1 Corinthians 10:16b-17: “Is not the bread [loaf] which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread [one loaf], we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread [one loaf].” Paul the apostle makes a point here: Since Christians use one loaf (of unleavened bread), this is symbolic of the fact that we are one body—the body of Christ.
To review, we see that Jesus used unleavened bread—not leavened bread. He used one loaf—and not multiple loaves or multiple wafers that are placed in the mouth, without breaking them. And this one loaf is to be broken. “We were gathered together to break bread” (Acts 20:7).
Some may say that the only thing that is important would be the symbolism involved—that some substance be used that would draw our mind to the fact that Jesus gave His body to be the sacrifice for our sins. Yes, this is the truth behind the memorial and this should always be prominent in our thinking. But surely it can’t be wrong to use unleavened bread like Jesus did, or to use a loaf as Jesus did, or to break that loaf as Jesus did. Other matters, such as whether the loaf should be made of wheat or barley or rye, how large the loaf should be, whether salt or oil should be added, whether the “communion” should be part of a larger meal or not, etc., may remain matters of personal discretion or subjects for further research. But let’s do what Jesus did for the purpose that He did what He did. There can be nothing wrong with this.