The majority viewpoint of the reformation has been that common bread is to be used in the Lord’s Supper. Whether it is leavened or unleavened is indifferent, as unleavened bread has no abiding spiritual significance in the Lord’s Supper.
For the fullest scriptural arguments for this position, see the excerpts from Robert Reyburn and Robert Grossman, two contemporary writers, toward the bottom of the page.
Order of Contents 23
Ignatius †108 John Wollebius †1629
Justin Martyr †165 Francis Turretin †1687
. Herman Witsius †1708
Confession of the Spanish Congregation 1560 Wilhelmus A’Brakel †1711
The Hungarian Confessio Catholica 1562 William Sprague †1876
John Calvin †1564 Charles Hodge †1878
Documents of the Debrecen Synod †1567 A.A. Hodge †1886
The Synod at Szikszo 1568 Charles H. Spurgeon †1892
Zacharias Ursinus †1583 Robert L. Dabney †1898
The Bremen Consensus 1595 Morton H. Smith b. 1923
Theodore Beza †1605 Robert Reyburn
Confession of John Sigismund 1614 Robert Grossman
The Early Church
Epistle to the Magnesians, Chapter 10, this quote was compiled by Jason Schuiling
Beware of Judaizing
Let us not, therefore, be insensible to His kindness. For were He to reward us according to our works, we should cease to be. Therefore, having become His disciples, let us learn to live according to the principles of Christianity. For whosoever is called by any other name besides this, is not of God. Lay aside, therefore, the evil, the old, the sour leaven, and be ye changed into the new leaven, which is Jesus Christ. Be ye salted in Him, lest any one among you should be corrupted, since by your savour ye shall be convicted. It is absurd to profess Christ Jesus, and to Judaize. For Christianity did not embrace Judaism, but Judaism Christianity, that so every tongue which believeth might be gathered together to God.
Let us not, therefore, be insensible to His kindness. For were He to reward us according to our works, we should cease to be. For “if Thou, Lord, shalt mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” Let us therefore prove ourselves worthy of that name which we have received. For whosoever is called by any other name besides this, he is not of God; for he has not received the prophecy which speaks thus concerning us: “The people shall be called by a new name, which the Lord shall name them, and shall be a holy people.” This was first fulfilled in Syria; for “the disciples were called Christians at Antioch,” when Paul and Peter were laying the foundations of the Church. Lay aside, therefore, the evil, the old, the corrupt leaven, and be ye changed into the new leaven of grace. Abide in Christ, that the stranger may not have dominion over you. It is absurd to speak of Jesus Christ with the tongue, and to cherish in the mind a Judaism which has now come to an end. For where there is Christianity there cannot be Judaism. For Christ is one, in whom every nation that believes, and every tongue that confesses, is gathered unto God. And those that were of a stony heart have become the children of Abraham, the friend of God; and in his seed all those have been blessed who were ordained to eternal life in Christ.
Justin Martyr 100 – 165
Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, this quote was compiled by Jason Schuiling
Chapter 14: Righteousness is Not Placed in Jewish Rites, but in the Conversion of the Heart Given in Baptism by Christ.
By reason, therefore, of this laver of repentance and knowledge of God, which has been ordained on account of the transgression of God’s people, as Isaiah cries, we have believed, and testify that that very baptism which he announced is alone able to purify those who have repented; and this is the water of life. But the cisterns which you have dug for yourselves are broken and profitless to you. For what is the use of that baptism which cleanses the flesh and body alone? Baptize the soul from wrath and from covetousness, from envy, and from hatred; and, lo! the body is pure. For this is the symbolic significance of unleavened bread, that you do not commit the old deeds of wicked leaven. But you have understood all things in a carnal sense, and you suppose it to be piety if you do such things, while your souls are filled with deceit, and, in short, with every wickedness. Accordingly, also, after the seven days of eating unleavened bread, God commanded them to mingle new leaven, that is, the performance of other works, and not the imitation of the old and evil works.
The Confession of the Spanish Congregation of London 1560
Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, Vol. 2, edited by James Dennison, Jr, p. 386
Ch. 13 – On the Holy Supper
1. In the Holy Supper of the Lord, legitimately administered with true faith, with common bread and common wine, in memory of the death of the Lord (Matt 26), and in the form which sacred history shows that He Himself instituted, and was administered and used by the apostles, we confess that through the bread believers receive the very and true body of the Lord, which was given in death for us.
The Hungarian Confessio Catholica 1562
Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, Vol. 2, edited by James Dennison, Jr,
The Bread is the Body
The bread we receive in the Lord’s Supper, from whatever seed or grain it may be baked, is only bread. Whatever kind and form of bread the church uses commonly and in ordinary life, the same is administered at the Lord’s Supper. So did Christ and the apostles in general, for Christ also used ordinary bread when He took unleavened bread, and the apostles, when they took leavened bread. Whatever bread was used in Judea, Greece, Asia, Europe, and Africa, that the apostles used without any superstition… We have no precepts about the kind, form, or quality of the bread and wine. The Council of Florence : the body of Christ is made from bread both leavened and unleavened. Platina testifies in the Life of Gregory that the Roman Church used leavened bread until the year [A.D.] 111; and he says that it was the First Council of Alexandria [A.D. 322] that established unleavened bread. Nicephorus states that the churches used leavened bread. Pope Gregory says that whether we use leavened or unleavened bread, we become one body (on Kings).
Concerning the Manner of Teaching and the Administering the Sacraments
Having pronounced the words of the Supper, we distribute the broken leavened or unleavened bread and take it ourselves, while we may.
John Calvin 1509–1564
The Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 2, Ed. John McNeill, Tr. Ford Battles (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960) 1420-1422, this quote was compiled by Peter Allison.
In regard to the external form of the ordinance, whether or not believers are to take into their hands and divide among themselves, or each is to eat what is given to him; whether they are to return the cup to the deacon or hand it to their neighbor; whether the bread is to be leavened or unleavened, and the wine to be red or white, is of no consequence.
These things are indifferent, and left free to the Church, though it is certain that it was the custom of the ancient Church for all to receive into their hand. And Christ said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves” (Luk_12:17). History relates that leavened and ordinary bread was used before the time of Alexander the Bishop of Rome, who was the first that was delighted with unleavened bread: for what reason I see not, unless it was to draw the wondering eyes of the populace by the novelty of the spectacle, more than to train them in sound religion. I appeal to all who have the least zeal for piety, whether they do not evidently perceive both how much more brightly the glory of God is here displayed and how much more abundant spiritual consolation is felt by believers than in these frigid and histrionic [exaggerated dramatic behavior designed to attract attention] follies, which have no other use than to impose on the gazing populace.
They call it restraining the people by religion, when, stupid and infatuated, they are drawn hither and thither by superstition. Should any one choose to defend such inventions by antiquity, I am not unaware how ancient is the use of Christ and exorcism in baptism, and how, not long after the age of the apostles, the Supper was tainted with adulteration; such, indeed, is the forwardness of human confidence, which cannot restrain itself, but is always sporting and wantoning in the mysteries of God. But let us remember that God sets so much value on obedience to his word, that, by it, He would have us to judge his angels and the whole world.
All this mass of ceremonies being abandoned, the sacrament might be celebrated in the most becoming manner…
Documents of the Debrecen Synod 1567
Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, Vol. 3, edited by James Dennison, Jr.
There is mention of bread, indeed, ordinary bread. As the Lord’s Supper is ordinary, so it must be administered with ordinary bread such as we use in our ordinary lives. Just as Christ made use of unleavened bread when eating the lamb, but in His eating the Lord’s Supper there is a mention in Hebrew to ordinary bread. For on that day when the Lord’s Supper was distributed, leavened bread was used at the communal meal. After sunset on the sixth day [Friday, the first day of Unleavened Bread], they began publicly to break unleavened bread and to use it publicly. Moreover, Christ distributed the Lord’s Supper on the evening of the fifth day [Thursday, Passover night], when leavened bread was in use. It is therefore likely that Christ used leavened bread at the Last Supper, rather than unleavened bread. In point of fact, unleavened bread was known by the Jews as ugot mazot, baked in the embers. The apostles used ordinary bread and make mention of the bread (1 Cor. 10:16; 11:26; cf. Acts 2:46; 4; 20:7; 26).
[Webmasters note: The above argument is that while the Passover was to be kept with unleavened bread (Ex. 12:8) on Thursday night of Christ’s crucifixion week, yet they were allowed and did eat leavened bread with the regular evening meal that corresponded at the same time with the ritual meal of the Passover. The prohibition to put leaven out of one’s house did not occur, according to Lev. 23:15,19, till the first day of the week of unleavened bread, Friday. When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper on Thursday night after the Passover, He took regular bread from the common meal, which was leavened.
While Talmudic prescriptions called for the removal of leaven from the house on the afternoon before Passover, in order to extra-protect the Week of Unleavened Bread, God’s Word does not.]
The Supper is communal to the faithful and exemplifies union; therefore, it must be administered with ordinary bread. For although Christ ate the Paschal lamb with pagacsa (“baked in the ashes”), at the Supper afterwards [the Lord’s Supper was instituted after the end of the Passover meal], Scripture says “bread.” What He ate with the Paschal lamb was matzo, unleavened pogacsa. But at the Supper it says, “He took the bread” (in Hebrew, Laka Jesua ha lehem [Jesus took the bread]); lehem indicates leavened bread, and sometimes Scripture distinguishes it from the unleavened matzo.
Second, because the Jews ate leavened bread on Thursday evenings [see the webmaster’s note above] and only began to bake pogacsa on Friday evenings. Wherever and whatever kind of bread they eat, it may be made only from seed; and either oats, millet, barley, rye, or wheat may be used. Scripture permits pogacsa baked in the ashes for the weak, for the sake of Christian edification and building up. But it forbids the pope’s accursed wafer.
The Synod at Szikszo 1568
Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, Vol. 3, edited by James Dennison, Jr., p. 154
We teach that the Lord’s Supper, instituted by Christ, ought to be administered according to the variety of Scripture with common bread or with the unleavened bread approved in the holy writings. Both Christ and the apostles used them.
Zacharias Ursinus 1534-1583
Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, reprinted 1888, translated by G.W. Williard, 4th American edition, Cincinnati,
He took bread. The bread which Christ took was leavened bread, such as they ate at the feast of the Passover. This circumstance, however, does not properly belong to the Supper, any more than the evening at which time it was instituted; for the use of leavened bread at the institution was accidental. Hence we must not infer from this that there is any necessity for the use of such bread in the celebration of the Supper, or that Christ would lay down any particular way of baking or using it. Yet still the bread which is used in the celebration of the Lord’s supper differs from common bread, for whilst the latter is eaten for the nourishment of the body, the former is received for the nourishment of the soul, or for the confirmation of our faith, and union with Christ.
The Bremen Consensus 1595
Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, Vol. 3, edited by James Dennison, Jr., p. 712
The Ritu Fractionis [rite of breaking] or Breaking of Bread at the Holy Lord’s Supper
I. Indeed, before anything was yet known about a host [Roman Catholic sacrifice], there had been an unnecessary quarrel between the Latin and Greek churches as to whether leavened or unleavened bread was to be used. We regard this matter as something intermediate [in between good and bad] or a thing indifferent (pro re indifferenti) and judge that one church ought not to condemn another over this. Christ and His apostles used at the Lord’s Supper the bread that was at hand. To be sure, Christ used the unleavened bread that was eaten at Passover with the paschal lamb, but the apostles and their disciples used what was available in a different time, when henceforth the paschal lamb was put away and leavened bread was undoubtedly used at the table. Neither Christ nor the apostles have commanded anything particular respecting this.
Theodore Beza 1519-1605
This quote was compiled by Andy Webb
In the mean while Satan, using every exertion to subvert entirely the church erected at Geneva, which had been shaken to its very foundation, found in a short time some idle characters, who, for the purpose of concealing the great iniquity of the decree under the pretext of religion, determined that unleavened bread should be substituted for common, formerly used at the Lord’s table, with a view to afford an opportunity for fomenting new dissensions. And the great enemy of the Church would have succeeded in this plan, had not Calvin seriously admonished some good men, so displeased with the change as to consider it their duty to refrain from taking the Lord’s Supper, not to contend about a subject in itself indifferent. The use of unleavened bread commenced in the manner now stated, nor did Calvin on his future restoration think it worth while to make any opposition to the practice, though he [Calvin] did not attempt to conceal his approval of the use of common bread.
The Confession of John Sigismund 1614
in Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, Vol. 4, edited by James Dennison, Jr, p. 83-84
As for the ceremonies associated with the holy Lord’s Supper, it cannot be denied that the author of this sacrament took genuine, unleavened bread, such as was used at that time among the Jews in the Passover feast, and also that the holy apostles took common household bread in their assemblies, and not a special wafer, or host, as one calls it. This practice endured until the time of Alexander I around the year 119; or as others would have it until around the year 601 , at the time of the murder of the Emperor Phocas. Therefore, it is reasonable to consider whether one ought not to have an eye much more for the original institution than for human alterations, and for God’s wisdom more than for man’s, and for the truth in the sign more than for the appearance; and whether one ought not to take and use genuine and real wine pressed from the vine, and therefore also genuine and true bread, especially in light of the significance specified by the ancients, and to which the apostle himself point in 1 Cor. 10:17. For just as the genuine bread sustains the human body, and strengthens the heart of man (as is written in Psalm 104), so the body of Christ is a spiritual and heavenly meal by which the soul will be nourished, fed and sustained unto eternal life.
The Abridgment of Christian Divinity, 1660, Third Edition, London, p. 197
Ch. 24 – Of the Lord’s Supper
The Lord’s Supper is the other Sacrament of the New Testament; in which Christians that are of age, receive spiritually Christ’s body and blood sealed to them in the reception of Bread and Wine according to Christ’s institution.
III. The outward matter thereof, or Signs, are Bread and Wine.
IV. The Supper is lame, without both Signs; and to rob the people of the Cup, is Sacrilege.
V. The inward matter is Christ, with all his satisfaction and merit.
VI. As it is Jewish superstition, to use unleavened Bread; so the Popish Penny-Wafers are superstitious relics.
Francis Turretin 1623-1687
Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 3, ed. James Dennison Jr., 1997, p. 430
19th Topic: The Sacraments
22nd Question: Why was the holy Supper instituted by our Lord and of how many parts does it consist?
V. Christ used bread because with the divine blessing it is of all the elements the most efficacious for nourishing and strengthening the body; the most common, the most familiar and to be found everywhere, easily prepared and the most pleasant. However, the bread He used was unleavened; not from the necessity of the thing, but from an accidental circumstance of time, on account of the feast of the Passover, in which it was lawful neither to use nor to have any other (Ex. 12:19). Otherwise it was always fermented in Judea (whenever the Supper was celebrated outside of that time, Acts 2:42) as well as among the Gentiles (who used common and not unleavened bread). Hence it was called simply the “breaking of bread” (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 10:16; 11:26-27).
So that here so fierce a dispute on this subject falsely sprang up between the Greeks and the Latins; the Greeks pressing the necessity of leavened, the latter of unleavened bread. The former were called “fermentarians” and the latter “azymites.” The thing is in itself indifferent (as many of the Romanists acknowledge); on account of which the peace of the church ought not to be disturbed, but it should be left to their freedom (as it is evident that both the ancient and the modern uses vary). We do not deny that the use of fermented bread seems to us the more suitable, both because it is more in accordance with the design of Christ (which was to use common and ordinary bread, which is everywhere to be found); and because it is more appropriate to sustain the sacramental analogy (which consists in signifying our communion with Christ by the similitude of bodily nourishment); and because the necessity of unleavened bread belongs to the Jewish ceremonies (which are abrogated and cannot be retained without a certain affectation of Judaism); and because in the whole ancient church no traces appear of the common use of unleavened bread in the Eucharist before the ninth or tenth century. Yea, it is evident that the Eucharistic symbols were formerly taken from the offerings of bread and wine made by believers, which were undoubtedly of ordinary and fermented bread (as the Jesuit James Sirmondus, “Disquisitio de Asymo,” Opera Varia , 4:513-30, candidly acknowledges and solidly confirms by many arguments).
The example of Christ neither can nor ought to be made an objection here, because as we have said there was a peculiar reason which impelled him to the use of unleavened bread (which no longer exists). Therefore, his example binds us as to the essence of the thing itself, that we should do whatever He did (take, bless, and break the bread and other acts of this kind mentioned by the sacred writers); but not forthwith as to the particular circumstances, which do not belong to the thing. Suarez remarks:
“An act of Christ alone is not sufficient to form a command; for although He consecrated in white wine, or at night, for example, He did not on that account command us to consecrate” (3. Thom. De Sacra. +).
Nor if unleavened cakes have a mystical signification, are they immediately of divine institution, since it is evident that the cause of the institution was the memory of the hasty departure from Egypt.
Herman Witsius †1708
The Economy of the Covenants, 18.104.22.168
And indeed, as to Christ’s example, we make no manner of doubt, but the Latin [who insisted that Christ used unleavened bread in the Lord’s Supper] have the better of the Greeks in argument.
[However], we agree not with the Latins, who would have the example of Christ, in so slender a circumstance, to retain the force of perpetual law. For as this is no part of the essence of the sacrament, so the use of either sort of bread at this sacred feast, as occasion shall offer, is indifferent and arbitrary; since Christ, without any decision of this question on either side, used that bread which was then at hand.
Wherefore it is a matter both of astonishment and grief, that the Greek and Latin churches should have disputed, with so much eagerness and warmth, now for above five hundred years about such a trifling matter.
Wilhelmus A’Brakel 1635-1711
This quote was compiled by Andy Webb
The second matter to be considered in reference to this sacrament is the external signs. We must here take note of the signs and the ceremonies associated with them. The signs are identical to those used in meals in order to nourish and refresh the body: bread and wine. One is to be neither superstitious nor concerned regarding the kind of bread and wine. The bread and wine which Christ used were such as were available and in common use. It is credible that in light of the Passover Christ used unleavened bread; but that was incidental, for leavened bread was neither permitted to be used nor was it available in Jerusalem at that time. It is therefore not necessary to follow suit in this respect. It must be bread which one commonly uses for nourishment, thus to typify the spiritual nourishment of the soul. The wafers of the Papists and the Lutherans consist more of foam than of bread, and are not suitable for nourishment and strengthening. This is contrary to the institution of the Lord’s Supper; Christ had no wafers, but took bread, broke off fragments, and gave them to the disciples. He did not give a wafer to anyone. … Common substances must be used without superstition.
William Sprague 1795 – 1876
Dr. Sprague’s Reply to Professor Stuart’s Letter addressed to him through the American Temperance Intelligencer of August, 1835. Relative to his late sermon on the exclusion of wine from the Lord’s Supper.
But I come back to your interrogatories. You say, “The bread which our Savior brake, was surely unleavened. No other was in existence among the Jews on the Passover day. How do you justify the use of leavened bread at our sacramental table?”
I justify it on the ground that the use of unleavened bread belonged peculiarly to the Jewish economy; and as that dispensation has passed away, this, among other of its peculiarities, has passed away with it. You remember that the question how far the Gentile converts were bound to Jewish observances, once actually came up, and was referred for decision to an apostolic council [Acts 15]. And the decision was that they were bound to observe nothing, even then, except what was enjoined in the letter from Jerusalem, which contained no allusion to unleavened bread. It cannot reasonably be questioned that the Corinthian church, in celebrating the ordinance, used the bread which was in common use among them; and as Corinth was a Gentile city, it was of course leavened bread.
Charles Hodge 1797 – 1878
This quote was compiled by Andy Webb
Took bread. Matthew 26:26 , it is said, “ as they were eating, ” i.e. during the repast, “ Jesus took bread, ” that is, he took of the bread lying on the table; and as it was at the time of the Passover, there is no doubt that the bread used was unleavened. It was the thin Passover bread of the Jews. But as no part of the significancy of the rite depends on the kind of bread used, as there is no precept on the subject, and as the apostles subsequently in the celebration of the ordinance used ordinary bread, it is evidently a matter of indifference what kind of bread is used. It was however for a long time a subject of bitter controversy. At first the Latins and Greeks used leavened bread; when the Latins introduced the unleavened wafer from superstitious fear of any of the fragments being dropped, the Greeks retained the use of fermented bread, and accused the Latins of Judaizing. Romanists and Lutherans use unleavened wafers; Protestants generally ordinary bread.
A.A. Hodge 1823-1886
This quotes was compiled by Andy Webb
2nd, from the significancy of the symbol; since bread, as the principal natural nourishment of our bodies, represents his flesh, which, as living bread, he gave for the life of the world.–– John 6:51 . But the kind of bread, whether leavened or unleavened, is not specified in the command, nor is it rendered essential by the nature of the service.
Christ used unleavened bread because it was present at the Passover. The early Christians celebrated the Communion at a common meal, with the bread of common life, which was leavened. The Romish Church has used unleavened bread ever since the eighth century, and commands the use of the same as the only proper kind, but does not make it essential (“Cat. Conc. Trident.,” Pt. 2, ch. 4:, && 13 and 14). The Greek Church insists upon the use of leavened bread. The Lutherans Church uses unleavened bread. The Reformed Church, including the Church of England, regards the use of leavened bread, as the food of common life, to be most proper, since bread in the Supper is the symbol of spiritual nourishment. The use of sweet cake, practiced in some of our churches is provincial and arbitrary, and is without any support in Scripture, tradition, or good taste.
Charles H. Spurgeon 1834-1892
This quote was compiled by Andy Webb
After the thanksgiving, it is very clear that our Divine Lord broke the bread. We scarcely know what kind of bread was used on that occasion; it was probably the thin passover cake of the Jews; but there is nothing said in Scripture about the use of leavened or unleavened bread, and therefore it matters not which we use. Where there is no ordinance, there is no obligation; and we are, therefore, left free to use the bread. which it is our custom to eat.
Robert L. Dabney 1820 – 1898
This quote was compiled by Andy Webb
The elements of the sacrament are bread and wine. There is controversy between east and west on this point. The Greek Church says the bread must be leavened, the Latin unleavened, making this a point of serious importance. We believe that the bread used was paschal. But it was not Christ’s intention to give ritually a paschal character to the new sacrament; and bread is employed as the material element of nutrition, the one most familiar and universal. Hence, we regard all the disputes as to leaven, and the other minutiae made essential by the Romanist rubric (wheaten, mingled with proper water, not worm–eaten, etc.,) as non–essential.
Morton H. Smith 1923-
1. The first element that Jesus took from the table was the bread. This being the Jewish Passover, this bread had to be unleavened bread, since that was the only bread allowed at this feast. (See Exodus 12:15 ). It may be questioned whether there was any requirement that the bread be unleavened in the New Testament practice. This question is legitimate, if we understand that the Lord’s Supper was observed in connection with regular meals. Hodge says:
“It is evident, however, from the apostolic history, that the Apostles used whatever kind of bread was at hand. There is no significance either in the kind of bread or in the form of the loaf. It is enough that it is bread. This makes it the proper emblem of Him who declared himself to be the true bread which came down from heaven.”
There have been controversies over this matter. The Greek Church uses only leavened bread, as the common bread of the table. The Roman Church, on the other hand, insists on unleavened bread. The Lutheran Church earlier used only unleavened bread, but in their more recent writers, it is considered a matter of indifference. Reformed Churches, together with the Church of England and the Baptist Churches, also consider the type of bread a matter of indifference.
This quote was compiled by Andy Webb
First, a rationale is provided for the use of unleavened bread in the Passover Feast. That is, we know why it was used. The reason is given in Exodus 12:34,39.
“With the dough they had brought from Egypt, they baked cakes of unleavened bread. The dough was without yeast because they had been driven out of Egypt and did not have time to prepare food for themselves.”
And, in Deut. 16:3 we are explicitly reminded that the significance of bread without yeast in the Passover Feast was to remind God’s people that they “left Egypt in haste” so “that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt.”
Passover was a remembrance of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and the unleavened bread used in the feast and the requirement to remove yeast from Israelite homes during the feast of unleavened bread are recollections of Israel’s hurried departure on the night of the 10th plague. The other features of the feast that served to recall that great night and God’s redemption of his people – the bitter herbs, the lamb – all fall away from the Lord’s Supper because the Supper is not a recollection of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt but of the greater deliverance of which that Passover was an anticipation.
There is no teaching in the Bible to suggest that the remembrance of the flight from Egypt is brought into the Lord’s Supper. Bread and Wine in the Supper serve what seem to be very different purposes. Another redemption is being remembered in the Lord’s Supper, that of ourselves from sin and death through the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. Unleavened bread does not in any obvious way contribute to that symbolism. It is not anywhere in the NT said to be the kind of bread used in the Lord’s Supper – while the text of the institution of the Lord’s Supper makes a point of mentioning wine (“the fruit of the vine”), bread is referred to simply as “bread” not as “unleavened bread.” The lack of yeast was a detail belonging to the old ceremony, not the new, it seems. Remember, it is bread in each case. The Lord took bread, we are told. That it happened to be unleavened is neither mentioned nor hinted at. What is significant is that it is bread, not unleavened bread. What is more, when the church moved into the Gentile world, a world that had no recollection of the Passover, “bread” would mean for them the ordinary bread that was the staple of life. So, in other words, as the scholastic theologians put it, that the bread was unleavened in the first Lord’s Supper belonged to the “accidental circumstances” of that first feast, not to the necessity of it. [Turretin, 430]
So, in conclusion, the fact of the matter is that the Bible never teaches us or even implies that the Lord’s Supper was to be taken with unleavened bread. If it were to be, it never tells us what the lack of leaven would stand for, as the only explanation ever given for its place in the Passover ritual was as an historical recollection of Israel’s hasty departure from Egypt. The Lord’s Supper was instituted on the occasion of a Passover meal. But it is not itself a Passover meal. Nor is the Lord’s Supper the Last Supper. There are many features of that particular meal that do not carry over into the Lord’s Supper of the Christian church. It was twelve men and men only. Nowhere are we told in the NT that women should participate. It was taken with the participants reclining about a central table. There were the remnants of a large meal on that table. The Lord’s Supper is not defined by any of this. The Lord’s Supper arose out of a Passover meal, but it is itself only what the Lord made it to be. The Lord, we are told, “took bread” and told us to take it as well: “bread” not “unleavened bread.” And he took the fruit of the vine. We are to do the same. Bread and Wine are the elements of the Lord’s Supper as the Lord himself defined that Supper.
1. In all three Gospels what Jesus gave the disciples is [in Greek] “artos,” meaning simply “bread.” It is striking that He is not said to have given them “azumos” or “azuma” which are the proper words for unleavened bread, AND which are clearly available since they are used in each of the Gospels in the context to refer to the Passover. In other words, the use of “artos” by Matthew, Mark and Luke to tell us what Jesus gave the disciples makes the fact that this may have been unleavened bread of NO importance. At the same time we also must recognize that because the Scripture NOWHERE calls it “unleavened bread,” we cannot at all be sure that it was (throughout the NT “artos” is used for common or leavened bread). We simply may not base our teaching on the silence of Scripture because then we are really basing our teaching on a human conjecture. So, the fundamental argument, “Jesus used unleavened bread, therefore we should too,” is in fundamental error. This should close the case, but there is more.
2. To use unleavened bread in the Lord’s Supper is to commemorate the wrong thing. The purpose of unleavened bread in the Passover is to commemorate the haste with which Israel left Egypt; there was not even enough time to put yeast into the bread dough. In the Lord’s Supper we are NOT commemorating the Exodus from Egypt where unleavened bread makes sense. In the Lord’s Supper we are commemorating the sacrifice of Christ for our sins. In the Supper the bread is broken to recall Christ’s suffering and death, the breaking of His body.
Other things could be said, but there is nothing in unleavening the bread of the Supper that would commemorate anything in the death of Christ that is taught in Scripture (unless we really let our imaginations run loose here – and then we are back to conjecture).
3. Thus using unleavened bread in the Supper is an unwarranted return to Old Testament shadows (commemorating the Passover instead of Christ’s death) and therefore ought to be resisted. The historic Reformed characterization of the Mass as a return to OT shadows of pictorial ceremonialism is common and fits here.
4. “The kingdom of heaven is not food and drink, but righteousness and joy and peace in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 10). This teaches us that an emphasis on a detail of food is not characteristic of the New Testament, quite in contrast with the Old. Thus the insistence on unleavened bread in the Supper is more typical of an OT ceremony than an NT one. Ah, you say, this also applies to the wine. Indeed it does. None, I hope, would claim that those who use grape juice are celebrating something else than the Lord’s Supper.
Nevertheless there is a positive argument to use wine in Christ’s words found in all three Gospels, “I will not eat of this fruit of the vine from now on, until I eat it new with you in the Kingdom of God.” The proper understanding of this “fruit of the vine” is wine. So we drink wine, looking forward to the heavenly supper in Christ’s presence where He will drink it with us.
5. Another old Reformed argument is that if Christ used unleavened bread, He was using the bread at hand in the Passover not out of symbolism but out of convenience. He did not go out of the way to obtain leavened bread. In the same way, runs the argument, we too should use our common bread (which IS leavened) and not go out of our way to obtain something special. This argument stands alongside one that says that in order to preserve the meaning of the Supper that we are nourished spiritually by Christ’s body, we should use the bread that we ordinarily use to nourish our bodies, and that would, of course, be leavened bread. These are theological arguments, not directly biblical, but I do think that they do carry the analogy of Scripture, especially in light of the very biblical fact that the kingdom of God is NOT details of food, as we noted above.
6. 1 Cor. 5:8 is not talking about WHAT we eat, but HOW we eat the Lord’s supper. It speaks of unleavened people, not about going back to replaying the Passover with its use of unleavened bread. The unleavened bread in the Passover reflects the haste with which Israel left Egypt, without time to even put yeast into their bread. The Lord’s supper reflects not on a hasty exit from Egypt, but on the death of Christ for our sins, which makes HIM “our passover.” The bread represents the body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, unleavening the bread in the Supper has no significance with respect to Christ’s sacrifice. Thus using unleavened bread would, as mentioned above, be going back to the OT Passover as though we were still celebrating the Exodus from Egypt in the Supper, rather than Christ’s sacrifice for our sins.
7. In the rest of the New Testament the Lord’s Supper is often called “breaking bread,” the same language that is used for ordinary meals (Acts 2:42 for example is most likely speaking of fellowship in a meal rather than the Lord’s Supper because in the immediate context they “ate their bread from house to house.”) In any case, the word “artos” is used for what is broken. There is never a description of the Supper in the NT in which that which is broken or eaten is called anything but “artos.” This argues quite strongly against requiring unleavened bread in the Supper because “artos” in a general use would simply mean ordinary bread.