A Brief Paper on:
The Lord’s Supper and the Use of Leavened Bread
by Rev. Christopher C. Arch, MA
Pastor of the Good News Bible Church
May 11, 1998
Good News Bible Church was compelled to examine the Biblical appropriateness of the use of leavened bread (bread with yeast as an ingredient) in the Lord’s Supper on the morning of May 3, 1998. It was at this time that a visitor to the congregation stated his inability to partake of “leavened bread” in the Supper due to the fact that leaven represents sin in the Old Testament and Seder Supper, and its use would be “hypocritical” for the Christian partaking in communion. Therefore, it is my intention as the teaching elder and pastor of Good News Bible Church to research this matter in this paper and review the appropriateness of the use of leavened bread in the Lord’s Supper.
I. The Purpose and Practice of the Lord’s Supper
Before one considers the appropriate use of various elements within the Lord’s Supper (or commonly referred to as “Communion”) attention must be given to the purpose and practice of this memorial or ordinance in the Church. First it must be stated that Christians are not in agreement on what to even call the Lord’s Supper or its spiritual value. Some traditions refer to the Supper as a “sacrament”, a term that has popularly come to mean “a conveying of grace”, rather that an event
that helps men to relate through faith to Christ. ( 1) This view is most commonly seen in the Catholic Church’s view of communion known as “Transubstantiation”, as well as the Lutheran Church’s similar view known as “Consubstantiation”. Aside from most Lutheran and Anglican groups, Protestant Christians view the Lord’s Supper as either: a memorial, a view popularized by Ulrich Zwingli during the Reformation, or an ordinance, which was the view held most in keeping with that of Reformer John Calvin. It was Zwingli’s and Calvin’s influence on the Protestant Church which attempted to reject the Catholic notion of the Christian eating the physical body of Christ and drinking the physical blood of Christ in the Supper. Calvin further clarified this position by stating that Christ’s presence in the Supper was “by contemplation of faith” and not “in essence and reality” (2) As a Protestant congregation, Good News Bible Church thoroughly rejects the notion of our Savior’s body and blood being physically present in the Supper elements. These elements are symbols. Communion is an experience in which the Christian partakes and is strengthened in his or her faith by contemplation and reflection, not in essence and reality.
The Importance of the Communion Elements:
Understanding the purpose and practice of communion is foundational for further study with regard to this subject. If one sees the Supper as a sacrament or means of grace, then there can be no variation from the use of the original elements since the elements themselves confer grace regardless of the spiritual receptivity of the participant. If however, one sees the event as a memorial or ordinance in which he or she willingly and joyfully participates (under the restrictions of I Corinthians 11: 23-34), then the importance is placed on the participant’s heart attitude, contemplation of the Savior’s meritorious sacrifice, and spiritual receptivity, and not the strict and inflexible use of certain elements.
The Use of “Leaven” in the Old Testament:
The issue of objection raised in the communion service of May 3, 1998, was that “leaven” is seen as a type of sin in the Old Testament, and therefore must not be used in the New Testament service of the Lord’s Supper because it would correlate our Lord’s body with sin (which according to II Cor. 5:21 was in fact the case). This is a good and sincere question which must be examined in light of the evidence of Scripture, and not one’s personal bias or tradition. Therefore one must give attention to the occurrence and usage of the term “leaven” in the Old Testament in order to either support or disprove this statement.
The New American Standard Bible uses the term “leaven” eight times in the Old Testament, while it uses the similar term “leavened” thirteen times. The use of “leaven” is seen in a negative light in verses: Ex. 12:15; 12:19; 13:7; Dt. 16:4 in specific relation to the Passover. “Grain Offerings”, Lev. 2:11; 6:17; were also not to be made with leaven. However, it must also be clearly stated that the wave offering used in the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, was specifically commanded to be made with leaven (Lev. 23:17). Also, the peace offerings of Lev. 7:13 were specifically stated to be made with leaven(ed). Therefore, it is inappropriate to emphatically state that leaven is always sin, or else the Lord God Himself would have caused the nation of Israel to sin, a notion know to be patently false (James 1:13). It should also be clearly stated that the Jews commonly used leavened bread in their daily diet, and traditionally only set this aside for the period of seven days surrounding the Passover celebration (Ex. 12: 17-19).
Next, one should examine the occurrence and usage of the term “leavened” in the Old Testament to further confirm or disprove this assertion. This term is used thirteen times in the first thirty-nine books of the Bible, with the vast majority of its use found in Exodus 12 and 13, all passages relating to the observance of the Passover. Hosea uses the term in an obscure manner in 7:4, which places no real focus on the use of the term except as an illustration. Amos also uses this term in 4:5, by way of illustrating the unfaithful heart of the people of Israel, who although sacrificed in the prescribed manner, and with apparent zeal, was far from God in their hearts.
Thus, it must be clearly stated that although the term “leaven” or “leavened” can be seen as a “type” of sin in the Old Testament, this typology must not be overstated. It is hermeneutically incorrect to do so in a blanket statement. It is apparent, however, that in certain occurrences, most notably the Passover celebration, that leaven can be labeled as a type of “sin”.
The Use of “Leaven” in the New Testament:
Having considered the usage of the term “leaven” or “leavened” in the Old Testament, an examination of the use of the term in the New Testament must be made. The New Testament uses the term “leaven” thirteen times in the NASB. Of these instances, six times the term is used in connection with the teaching of the Pharisees (Mt. 16:6, 11, 12; Mk 8:15( 2 times); Lk. 12:1). The next major usage of the term in a negative fashion is found in I Corinthians, where Paul uses the term four times in the space of three verses (vv.6-8). Although a strong connection can be made between this passage and Christ and the Passover, it is obvious that the first use relates to boasting or the immorality spoken of in I Cor, 5:1-5. The second use of the term is found in verse seven. This use is clearly a figure of speech used to exhort the Corinthians to remove the wickedness from their lives. Finally the term is used two (or three if “unleavened” is counted) more times in verse eight as a figure of speech or analogy for the malice and wickedness of the Corinthians. The “unleavened” bread spoken of herein is certainly not physical bread, for Paul states with all certainty that it is a figure of speech employed for his desire to see sincerity and truth manifested in the lives of the believers at Corinth.
Again, it must be stated that not all of the uses of “leaven” in the New Testament are negative. In both Mt. 13:33 and Lk. 13:21, Jesus specifically states that the Kingdom of Heaven/Kingdom of God can be compared to leaven, in that a relatively small amount has a great impact on a much larger body. It would be a terrible misinterpretation of Scripture to state that since leaven is sometimes used as a type of sin in the Old Testament, that therefore the Kingdom of God is to be seen as a Kingdom of Sin in the New Testament!
The Institution of the Lord’s Supper:
The Bible records for us that the Lord’s Supper was instituted on the night before His crucifixion (Lk. 22:19-30; Mt. 26:26-29; Mk. 14:22-25). This event took place at the celebration of the Passover dinner, which was the most important celebration in the Jewish faith. It was a deliberate and sovereign part of God’s plan that Christ be so intrinsically identified with the Passover celebration, especially as the Paschal Lamb. Yet, it is also unmistakable that during this celebration, which obviously used unleavened bread, Christ was beginning something new. Lk. 22: 19-20, sees Jesus establishing a “new covenant” with His followers. The power and importance of this statement cannot be overestimated for He was making a definite break with the Jewish system in favor of that which would be accomplished in His bodily death, burial, and resurrection in the three days to come. Thus, although the Seder, or Passover Supper, has clear spiritual significance in its fulfillment in Christ’s death, it is ultimately a different celebration or event from the New Testament practice of the Lord’s Supper, with the one seen foretelling while the other seen fulfilling.
The Scripture makes no appeal as to the specific elements that must be used in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Lk. 22: 19-30; Mt. 26:26-29; Mk. 14:22-25; ICor. 11:23-34). It can be accurately inferred that the type of bread Christ used in the initial Lord’s Supper, was the unleavened bread of the Passover meal. However, there can only be inference from Scripture as to this practice from that point onward.
As a symbol, unleavened bread would serve the typology of the Passover and Christ’s fulfillment thereof. Also, it would be most in keeping with the bread Christ apparently used in the initiation of His Supper. Yet, a symbol is ultimately only important in what it represents, and not in and of itself. The merit of the symbol does not reside in the symbol, but rather in what the symbol represents.
Also, there is substantial evidence in the New Testament that no food is to be seen as either sinful or unclean. Peter was taught this lesson in Acts 10:9-16; and the Church as a whole was reminded of this at the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15. This monumental conference of the Church decided not to lay upon the Gentiles the law of the Moses, but only exhorted the Greek believers to “abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from fornication.” v. 29. Again, the argument of an appropriate symbol in relation to the Lord’s Supper can be used, but an attempt to legalistically imply a specific food item being “sin” is not in keeping with the teaching of the New Testament.
If someone has a legitimate objection to the use of “leavened” bread during the communion services of Good News Bible Church, that individual should be encouraged to study the whole counsel of the Scripture with the pastor or elders of the congregation. If this issue continues to be a stumbling block for an individual desirous of fellowship within the congregation, then the principle from Romans 14, especially verses 13-21, which commands the pattern for our behavior in this type of matter, could be applied, not as a result of any sin inherent in the elements, but rather for the sake of the “weaker brother”.
1. Erickson, p. 965
2. ibid. p. 656
Erickson, Millard, The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, (Baker Books: Hants, UK 1985).
*All Scripture quotes are from the New American Standard Version, the Lockman Foundation, copyright 1979.