I received the following question:

I was reading one of your passages on the Lord’s supper and my question is: is it true that the/a ¨Lord’s supper¨ in its references in the Bible refers just to a dinner and not the actual Passover meal?

You are right. No, it was not the Passover meal. Let’s look at the passage, starting in I Corinthians 11:17.

17. Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse.

When they were coming together to meet, it was not a good thing, as it should have been, but a bad thing.

18. For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it.

The first thing that was bad was that there were divisions among them. They were supposed to be following the Lord’s command to all be one, but they were not carrying this out.

19. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.

The Lord acknowledges that there must be factions among them, so that those who are approved and those who are not might be distinguished. There were clearly problems among the Corinthian believers, and not all among them were as they should be. These factions would help point that out.

20. Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.

Now we have mention of this thing that is called “the Lord’s supper.” What exactly it is we are not told, for the Lord was writing to people who already knew what it was they called this, and so He had no need to explain it. Moreover, He was not setting this as a command upon anyone in the future, so there is really no need for us to know exactly what it was. What it seems to be, though, is that it was a gathering of believers wherein they all shared a common meal. This probably started as a way they had to help the poorer believers. Since these might not often get a decent meal, at this supper all would bring food and share it together. The rich would bring many and good portions and share them among the poor. Thus, these poorer brethren got to eat at least one good meal. This was a very good idea, and this meal was probably entered into with the best of intentions.

21. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk.

The reality of this meal had degenerated to the point where those who brought the most food were insisting that they got to take their fill before others could eat. They were then overeating, and even getting drunk by having too much wine, whereas by the time the poor got to eat, there was not enough left, and they ended up still hungry. Thus, the original purpose of the meal was defeated, and a travesty was the result.

22. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.

The Lord points out that to get this result, they could just have eaten in their own homes. In their homes, the rich could eat to their hearts’ content and stuff themselves if they wished, whereas the poor would have not had enough and been hungry. If they could just do this at home, why gather together to do it? Gathering to do this, instead of doing honor to the Lord and their brothers, shamed the poor and slighted God’s ekklesia. It would be better not to do a “Lord’s supper” at all than to do it like this.

23. For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread;

Paul had not received the idea of the Lord’s supper from God. That had been their own idea. The only thing he received from the Lord was the new way the Corinthians were to keep the Passover, outside the land and without the lamb. This he received from the Lord. The Lord’s supper he did not. His point in turning to the Passover was to speak of what WAS laid upon them, as opposed to this Lord’s supper, which was not, but which still should have been practiced with care and concern for the poor, rather than the way they were practicing it.

From this point he goes on to talk about the Passover he had delivered to them. But the topic of the Lord’s supper is returned to in order to close the chapter.

33. Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.

When they eat together, they should wait for each other to take some food before they take more for themselves. All should be fed and none should go hungry from a Lord’s supper.

34. But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come.

If anyone is hungry and wants more than his share, he should eat at home, lest the Lord be displeased and punish him for robbing from his brethren.