NOTE: The following Q&A appeared in the August 2001 OPA publication, written by Ronny Wade.
Answer: We are told in Matthew 26:27 that "Jesus took the cup." Some later versions say "he took a cup." Mark and Luke in their account of the institution of the supper agree with this rendering, as does the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:16 and 11:23-26. Every Greek lexicon of which I have knowledge places the word "cup" in Matthew 26:27 under literal usage. There is certainly no reason from the text for doing otherwise. Jesus took a literal cup. The cup he took, however, was not empty. It contained something. That something (fruit of the vine) was a representation of His blood (Matthew 26:28). The idea that the cup was the blood of the fruit of the vine is an attempt to prove that the fact that Jesus took one cup (container)has no significance. People who advance this argument conclude that since the cup is the blood, it doesn't matter how many containers are used to distribute the cup. Unfortunately for them their reasoning is greatly flawed. "Cup" is the name of a solid, not a liquid. Jesus never did call the "cup" his blood. Read the accounts in the Bible; it's just not there. When Jesus said "this is my blood of the new testament..." His reference was to the contents of the cup, the fruit of the vine. The disciples were to "drink ye all from it" i.e. they were to all drink out of or from the cup Jesus had given them. If we follow the example of Jesus, we will use only one cup, when we observe the communion.
But does the cup have any significance other than the fact that Jesus used one cup? Let it first be remembered that since Jesus did not take or give thanks for an empty cup, whatever significance there is to the cup must be to the "cup containing", not just an empty cup. In Luke 22:20 Jesus said, "This cup is the New Testament in my blood, which is shed for you." Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:25 says "This cup is the New Testament in my blood." Just as the bread "is" or represents the body of Christ, and the fruit of the vine "is" or represents the blood of Christ, the cup containing the fruit of the vine "is" or represents the new covenant. All three of these statements have a subject and a predicate joined by the copula "is" and carries the meaning or idea of "represents". In all three statements there is a literal something under consideration. Bread, fruit of the vine, and cup are all literal. The Lord is not defining bread, fruit of vine, or cup but merely telling what each represents. Someone is ready to respond by saying, "Do you mean to tell me that a literal cup can represent the New Testament?" well, if literal bread can represent the body of Christ and literal fruit of the vine can represent the blood of Christ, why cannot a literal cup containing fruit of the vine represent the New Testament? The Lord and Paul both said it does. This settles the matter. Thayer says on page 15 of his Greek lexicon "This cup, containing wine, an emblem of blood, is rendered by the shedding of my blood an emblem of the New Testament." "An emblem of blood" is an appositive and put in opposition to wine. It describes what "wine" is, i.e. an emblem of blood. Thus, just as the wine is an emblem of blood, so also the "cup containing wine" is an emblem of the New Testament.
In my opinion, it is a mistake, when offering thanks for the cup to say "we thank thee for this cup which is the New Testament and its contents, the fruit of the vine, which represents the blood of Christ". It is the "cup containing" that represents the New Testament, not the empty cup itself. The cup containing wine is significant. A beautiful picture should come to our mind when we commune. Bread, one loaf, representing the one physical body of our Lord who died for our sins. A cup containing wine reminding us of the blood shed for our sins and the one covenant sealed or ratified by that blood. Steak in the Lord's supper represents nothing. Fermented wine, or Coca-Cola represent nothing; a plurality of cups represents nothing. All are additions to the word of God, and violations of the pattern set long go by our Lord.
- Ronny Wade
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Bryan Morrison is a congregational teacher at the 19th Street Church of Christ.