Divide It Among Yourselves…

Earlier this week we published the completion of Andrew Richardson’s article answering Wayne Jackson’s attempt to make a scriptural case for individual cups in the Lord’s Supper. I speak for the staff of Christian Landmark and many, many readers (who sent their gratitude through phone calls, emails and other messages) when I say that we have the highest appreciation for the study and efforts of Brother Richardson. Little could be said to add to the case he has already built for the common cup in congregational communion. What we offer today is more of a reinforcement than an addition.

In the second part of his article, Andrew mentioned an argument made by Brother Jackson from Luke’s account of the institution of the Holy Supper in which Brother Jackson alleges there to be “vivid” and “apparent” evidence that Jesus did not mean to speak of a container when he used the term cup (poterion) but rather the contents. The article reads as follows:

That the “cup” is not the container is even more vividly depicted in Luke’s record. He states that Jesus “received a cup, and when he had given thanks, he said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves . . .” (Lk. 22:17). The Greek word for “divide” is diamerizo, which means to “divide up” or to “separate into parts” (cf. Mt. 27:35). Were the disciples to divide a container? Of course not. They were to divide the fruit of the vine, which, incidentally, most likely was facilitated by multiple containers. Frederic Godet noted: “The distribution (diamerisate) may have taken place in two ways, either by each drinking from the common cup, or by their all emptying the wine of that cup into their own. The Greek term would suit better this second view” (A Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1879, Vol. II, p. 289).

Before commenting on the statements by Dr. Godet, we will note some important considerations about Luke’s record of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. For a man as well read as Wayne Jackson to claim that any clear authority for individual cups in the Lord’s Supper is found in the wording Luke 22:17 borders on scholastic dishonesty. Surely Mr. Jackson is aware of the inherent controversy in Luke’s account not being a question of how the cup was divided, but how the text should be!

 “Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.” (Luke 22:17-20)

Immediately, the reader will perceive some abnormalities with this passage. First of all it appears that Luke features a pretty major variation by claiming that Jesus took the cup before the loaf, however on further examination we see that He mentions the cup a second time! Most commentators suggest that the first cup is not the “cup of the Lord” but a Passover cup. This writer rejects that theory primarily because the Law of Moses gave no drink element in the Passover and it seems irreconcilable with the sinlessness of Christ that the Lord would have utilized a human addition in his keeping of the feast. (Deut. 4:2 and 5:22) Another possible interpretation is that which is suggested by brother Jackson and other “cups” advocates, however, as brother Richardson observed, brother Jackson and the churches he is affiliated with do not hold true to their own interpretation of the passage!

If this passage is teaching that Jesus commanded the disciples to pour the contents of the single cup He took into multiple or individual cups, we must understand the scene as unfolding in this way: Jesus took a single (undivided) cup of fruit of the vine, He blessed it as a single (undivided) thing and then He gave it to the disciples and commanded them to divide it among themselves, which brother Jackson alleges was done by pouring the contents into multiple or individual cups. Although, if this is how the passage is to be read, then Luke makes no mention of anyone ever drinking the grape juice! Furthermore, if this was the meaning it would still present a problem for brother Jackson in that this is not the practice of most churches of Christ that use multiple cups. For most, a janitor or deacon or some such person fills the little cups before the church service begins (thus the communicants do not divide it among themselves) and when the fruit of the vine is blessed it is not un-divided which constitutes a departure from the pattern of Christ.

The truth is well stated by brother Richardson, “Clearly, no matter how you dice it, those who observe the multi-cup tradition do not accept any significance in the pattern that Christ presented. They do not consider there to be any importance in how He did it. Simply put, they do not keep the ordinances as they are delivered, neither do they hold the traditions as they have been taught by the epistle, nor do they obey the command to all drink from one cup.”

Frederick Godet (1812-1900)

But it is not our purpose to simply restate what has already been addressed by brother Richardson. There are some further observations we would like to make regarding this validity of brother Jackson’s interpretation. Most notable is Jackson’s reference to comments by the renowned scholar Frederic Godet. The quotation from Dr. Godet (who actually takes the Passover cup position) may seem to indicate that the scholars are behind the cups position, but this is far from the truth. Why Godet felt that pouring the grape juice into cups was more likely the intended meaning of Jesus when He said “divide it among yourselves” I do not know, but he stands virtually alone in the scholarly community.

Adam Clarke (although taking the Passover cup position) says of the expression ‘divide it among yourselves…’, “Pass the cup from one to another; thus the cup which Christ gave to the first person on his right hand continued to be handed from one to another, till it came to the last person on his left.”(Commentary on Luke)

Adam Clarke (1762-1832)

In the Translators Handbook on the Gospel of Luke, Swellengrebel and Reiling say, “dexamenos implies that Jesus was handed a cup. labete touto – ‘take this’, in the plural, implying that the cup will be taken by each in turn. diamerisate eis heautous – ‘distribute it among yourselves’, referring to the content of the cup, implying that each was to drink from the cup in turn.” (pp. 686)

As brother Richardson observed, many other translations, including the NASB render this phrase, “share it among yourselves…” in keeping with the observations of these scholars. In fact when Matthew recorded what we must believe was the same command, he worded it, “And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you…” (Matt. 26:27) “And they all drank from it…” (Mark 14:23)

If the Passover cup and the multiple cup explanations do not work, what shall we say of Luke’s record? Why does he mention the cup first and then again? It seems the answer is simply that Luke recorded the events without much emphasis on the sequence and the action of verse 17 actually and chronologically belongs after verse 19. This should not be too difficult to accept. Luke mentions many things out of sequence in his writings: The temptations of the Christ, (Luke 4:1-12) the Beatitudes, (Luke 6) the commands of the Jerusalem council. (Acts 15:20, 29) This was simply his writing style, but it must be taken into account when interpreting this passage.

All things considered it is the opinion of this writer that brother Jackson was inexcusably irresponsible with his handling of Luke 22:17, yet another sad example of ex post facto eisegesis, forcing a teaching into the Bible after the fact to justify a man-made innovation from the divine pattern.

–Clint Defrance, March 2012