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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Supper

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(δεῖπνον, 1 Corinthians 11:20-21, Revelation 19:9; Revelation 19:17; cf. Mark 6:21, Luke 14:12; Luke 14:16-17; Luke 14:24, John 12:2; John 13:2; John 13:4; John 21:20)

Of the two principal daily meals common to the Jews in NT times, ‘supper’ was the more important. It was usually taken about sunset or shortly after (Luke 14:12; Luke 17:7-8). ‘Dinner’ (ἄριστον) was a lighter meal, being taken about noon or a little before. Prayer was offered before eating (Acts 27:35, Matthew 14:19; Matthew 15:36, Luke 9:16; Luke 22:17, John 6:11), and the hands were scrupulously washed (Matthew 15:2), sometimes also the feet (Luke 7:44).

There are really only two passages in apostolic history which fall within the scope of this article.

(1) 1 Corinthians 11:20-21, ‘When therefore ye assemble yourselves together, it is not possible to eat the Lord’s supper (κυριακὸν δεῖπνον): for in your eating each one taketh before other his own supper; and one is hungry, and another is drunken.’ This is the only passage in the entire NT which gives us the name ‘Lord’s supper,’ and even here the name is not to be restricted to the Eucharist (q.v. [Note: .v. quod vide, which see.] ) alone, for at this time it was not dissociated from the love-feasts (q.v. [Note: .v. quod vide, which see.] ) or Agapae (ἀγάπαι, Judges 1:12; cf. 2 Peter 2:13 Revised Version ) which preceded the ordinary evening services of the Church. Other passages of course refer to it, but not by name (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:16; 1 Corinthians 10:21). The emphasis of the passage is on ‘Lord’s.’ St. Paul is here rebuking the Corinthians concerning their manners and worship. In the first instance he reminds them of the unbecoming boldness of their women, who, taking advantage of the freedom allowed by the gospel, appear in public unveiled. Only harlots were accustomed to do so in Corinth; therefore let women take heed not to abuse their liberty in Christ. He next addresses himself to their selfish, greedy, haphazard, disgraceful, even scandalous conduct in eating their supper in the sanctuary. Originally it seems to have been their custom to come together on the first day of the week to break bread together (Acts 20:7). The meal was what might be appropriately called a club or church supper, after which the religious service of worship took place. It was a kind of enlarged family meal (cf. Acts 2:46), the object of which was primarily social. In keeping with Greek custom among certain gilds, each one brought with him his basket of provisions, and these were spread indiscriminately before, and partaken of by, the company present as a corporate body. But there had developed factions in the church at Corinth. A selfish spirit was manifesting itself. Instead of coming together as brethren in Christ, the worshippers came and hastily devoured that which they had brought themselves, not waiting to share it with the poor or others who had failed to supply themselves. The consequence was that social differences were accentuated, and the prayer of consecration was omitted. But, more shameful even than this, the indigent who had brought nothing had nothing wherewith to satisfy their hunger, while the rich ate and drank to satiety, becoming actually drunken. Such conduct was unbecoming in the Lord’s house and unfitted the worshippers to celebrate in any sense worthily the ‘Lord’s Supper.’ Against this manner of worship the Apostle vehemently protests. It was unbecoming for the followers or Christ: there was a want of love in the exercise; the corporate spirit was absent; the unity of the brotherhood was destroyed; and, consequently, the Corinthian Christians were rapidly becoming ‘weak and sickly’ in a spiritual sense (1 Corinthians 11:30). Not many years subsequently to this the Eucharist and the Agape were celebrated separately for the sake of greater decorum, until, finally, the latter so degenerated that it became extinct.

(2) The second passage contains a double picture: (a) Revelation 19:9, ‘And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are bidden to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ Here the bliss of the next world is depicted under the figure of a banquet. The Rabbis were accustomed to interpret Exodus 24:11 to mean that the sight of God was like meat and drink to the beholders. Here it is the picture of a marriage-feast. The Lamb has come to claim His bride, who has long been betrothed and waiting for the bridegroom. It is a vision of the final consummation of the Kingdom, including the overthrow of the kings of the earth, the binding and loosing again of Satan, and general judgment. With this picture the climax is reached in the imagery of the book. But out of it grows another picture of very different hue: (b) Revelation 19:17-18, ‘And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in mid heaven, Come and be gathered together unto the great supper of God; that ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses and of them that sit thereon, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, and small and great.’ This, then, is ‘the great supper of God,’ and the invitation is to the birds of prey. Most vividly the Apostle here sets forth the tragic contrast between the ‘marriage supper’ of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9) and the destruction of the slain, on whose carcasses the birds shall feed. To be left unburied and devoured by birds of prey the Orientals considered the worst misfortune possible for the dead. For example, the most awful penalty that could possibly be inflicted on the opponents of Zoroastrianism is that their corpses should be given over to the ravens. The symbolism here, which seems to us crude and ghastly, is based on Ezekiel 39:17-18, ‘Speak unto the birds of every sort, and to every beast of the field, Assemble yourselves, and come; gather yourselves on every side to my sacrifice … upon the mountains of Israel, that ye may eat flesh and drink blood,’ etc. But, in this vision of the Messiah’s final victory over His foes, it must be remembered that, though He is pictured as a silent and implacable conqueror, who has vanquished all His foes and disposed of them in huge masses, leaving them to their inexorable doom, yet He is not described as a merely human, vindictive conqueror. His garments are indeed sprinkled with blood, but it is His own blood, not that of others (v. 13); He smites the nations with a sword, but it is the sword of His Word which proceedeth out of His mouth; He has trodden the winepress of God’s wrath, but He has trodden it alone (v. 15; cf. Isaiah 63:3); and He is not pictured as gloating over the torments of His enemies (cf. Isaiah 66:24).

Literature.-Percy Gardner, The Origin of the Lord’s Supper, 1893; F. Schultzen, Das Abendmahl im NT, 1895; J. C. Lambert, The Sacraments in the NT, 1903; R. M. Adamson, The Christian Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, 1905. Cf. the articles ‘supper,’ ‘Eucharist,’ ‘Lord’s Supper,’ ‘Meals’ in the various Bible Dictionaries and Religious Encyclopaedias, notably Hastings’, Piercy’s, Cheyne-Black’s, Herzog’s, the Standard, and the Temple. See, further, Literature under article Eucharist.

George L. Robinson.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Supper'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/s/supper.html. 1906-1918.

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