By Patrick T. Donahue
Reasons why the “cup” of the Lord’s supper is not the container:
1. Metonymy is being used in every place that the “cup” is referred to.
2. In metonymy, a single container named, does not mean that the con- tents of single container is being suggested.
3. Even if it could be proven that Jesus started with only one container, the number of containers used by the disciples to drink still could not be determined from the language of the communion passages.
4. This cup is the new testament.
This article is intended to disprove the contention that one container, and one container only, must be used to distribute and drink the fruit of the vine in the Lord’s Supper. This will be done in four steps.
First it will be shown that every time that the communion “cup” is referred to in the New Testament, the “cup” refers by metonymy to the contents, and not to the container. Secondly, when metonymy is being used, and a single container is named, that does not necessarily mean that the contents of a single container are under consideration. These two points will prove then that it cannot be known how many containers Je- sus started with in the institution of the communion ordinance, and if the number cannot be known, the number certainly cannot be bound. The third part of this article will show that, even if it were known that Jesus started with only one container, the language of the pertinent passages would still allow for the disciples using their own containers to drink from Jesus’ container. And since the language could go either way, either way must not be bound as biblical law. Lastly, this article will deal with the contention that the container represents the New Testament, and therefore becomes the third element in the communion.
Part I. Metonymy Is Being Used In Every Place That The “Cup”Is Referred To
It is true that a definition for “poterion” (the Greek word translated “cup”) is given by Arndt & Gingrich as “cup, drinking-vessel.” However, another meaning or use must not be overlooked. Arndt & Gingrich states that in some cases, “The cup stands, by metonymy, for what it contains.” By examining the contexts of the communion passages, and comparing them together in parallel, it will be shown that this meaning, the metonymy meaning, should properly be applied to every place that the com- munion cup is referred to in the New Testament.
From Matthew 26:27 and Mark 14:23 (Jesus “took the cup”) by them- selves, one cannot tell if metonymy is being used or not; it could go either way. For example, Matthew 26:27 could mean, “And he took the container, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of (out of) the container.” It could also mean, “And he took the fruit of the vine (by metonymy), and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of the fruit of the vine.” But by com- paring them to their parallel passage, Luke 22:17 (“And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves”), it is seen that Jesus was talking about the contents all along: the container is not divided, only the contents.
Sometimes, one container preachers will respond to this point by saying that “the cup is divided by drinking the cup.” This is one possible way of dividing a cup, but when the cup is divided by drinking from it, what is divided, the container or the contents only? Obviously the container is not divided in any sense. The question is not “How is the cup divided?” The question is “What is being divided?” Luke 22:17 then, proves that the “cup” in Matthew 26:27 and Mark 14:23 refers not to the container, but to the contents only (by metonymy).
Part 2. In Metonymy, A Single Container Named, Does Not Mean That The Contents Of Single Container Is Being Suggested
Thus far it has been proven from Luke 22:17 (divide the cup) that metonymy is being used when the Bible says in Matthew 26:27, Mark 14:23, and Luke 22:17 that Jesus “took the cup.” It will now be shown that therefore the number of containers that Jesus started with cannot be determined from these verses, because if metonymy is being used, one cannot tell how many containers are actually present, from the fact that only one container is named to suggest the contents.
This concept can be illustrated with a familiar analogy from the world of sports. If it were said, “The bench scored 25 points for Alabama’s basketball team last night,” would it be understood that the actual bench that the players sat on scored the points, or that Alabama’s substitute players scored the points? This is another example of the use of metonymy, where the container named (bench) stands for the contents (substitute players). Notice from this illustration that the players only are referred to, the literal bench did not score a single point. Notice also that the substitute players would be called the “bench” (singular), even if the substitutes actually sat on two or more literal benches, or even “individual” chairs as they do at Alabama basketball games today. The substitute players would still be called the “bench,” even if there were no literal bench present at all (as at my Junior High football games, where the players had to stand). You see, just because one bench (container) is named, that does not necessarily im- ply that the contents (players) of only one bench are being discussed.
This concept critically refutes a false metonymy rule first invented by Ervin Waters in the famous Porter- Waters Debate. Mr. Waters stated the rule as, “Since one cup was named, the contents of only one cup are suggested” (80). In addition to the “bench” example that has already been given, other examples that il- lustrate Mr. Waters’ rule to be patently false follow:
Matthew 18:16 reads, “In the mouth of two or three witnesses ev- ery word may be established.” Here “mouth” is a metonymy, container for contents (words). Notice that “mouth,” which is singular, is named to suggest the words of more than one person’s mouth.
“The four waiters served a Chinese dish at the football banquet.” Does this necessarily imply that the caterers served the dish using only one literal platter?
“He was dealt a good hand in the poker game.” If he held the cards in two literal human hands, would that mean that he was dealt two hands?
“She raised her children on the bottle.” Does this mean that the mother used only one literal bottle the whole time, or does “bottle” (singular) refer (by metonymy) to the contents of a plurality of literal “bottles”?
“The man started hitting the bottle.” Would this only describe a man who always drank his alcoholic beverage from the same (one) literal bottle?
“Ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils” (1 Cor. 10:21). Does this forbid using more than one table to place the Lord’s Supper on?
“Lucy and Ethel drank a cup of coffee together,” even though each one drank the contents of one container, for a total of two containers.
As a matter of fact, the very opposite of Mr. Waters’ rule is true; when wanting to refer to the contents of more than one container, one would normally only name one container. Examples are: If at a football banquet, the caterers served a Chinese dish on two platters, would it be said that they served the main dish, or the main dishes? If the poker player holds his set of cards with both hands, would it be said that he had a good hand or good hands? “Alabama’s benches scored 25 points”? “She raised her children on the bottles”? “The man started hitting the bottles”? “Lucy and Ethel drank cups of coffee together”? (describing their drinking the contents of one container apiece)
Part 3. Even If It Could Be Proven That Jesus Started With Only One Container, The Number Of Containers Used By The Disciples To Drink Still Could Not Be Deter- mined From The Language Of The Communion Passages
Parts 1 and 2 of this article have shown that it is impossible to tell how many containers Jesus started with in the institution of the Lord’s Supper, whether one or more than one. But in Part 3 it will be granted that he started with only one, just for the sake of argument. It cannot be determined from the texts how many Jesus started with, but if it could be determined that he started with only one, would that prove that the disciples all put their mouths to that one and the same container to drink from it? The answer is, absolutely not.
Some argue that Mark 14:23 (“And he took the cup . . . and they all drank of it”), for example, teaches that all the disciples drank from (that is, put their lips to) the same container. But this language does not imply that at all. An everyday example, and then a Bible example, will be given to illustrate that the one-container brethrens’ reasoning on this point is false.
A group of four young men may go to the Pizza Hut and order a pitcher of coke. They would all drink of, “from out of, out from, forth from, from” (definition of “ek” — Thayer, 189; translated “of” [the cup] in Matt. 26:27, Mark 14:23, and 1 Cor. 11:28) that pitcher, but they would not all put their lips to that pitcher. Instead, the contents of the pitcher are first poured into individual glasses, and the boys drink from that one pitcher by putting their lips to their own individual glasses. From this illustration, it should be easy to see that the disciples could drink fruit of the vine “out of” (ek) a drinking vessel by first pouring into other drinking vessels, and then drinking, just as a group can also drink “out of” a pitcher by pouring into glasses first, and then drinking.
A Bible example that illustrates the same point can be found in John 4:12 which reads, “Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof (ek) himself, and his children, and his cattle?” Notice that the word “thereof” comes from the same Greek word (ek, Strong’s #1537) that is translated “of” (the cup) in Matthew 26:27, Mark 14:23, and 1 Corinthians 11:28. Now, who drank from the well? The answer?: Jacob, his children, and his cattle. Did they all put their mouth to the lip of the well (container)? Obviously not. Or did they all drink from the well by transferring the liquid into separate containers first? Obviously it is possible to drink from (ek) a container by transferring the liquid from that container to other containers first, and then each person drinking from his or her own container. Since the Greek is exactly the same in John 4:12 as it is in the communion passages, how do we know that the disciples did not take a literal container and partake from it by pouring it into their own containers first, and then drinking? We don’t know; that is the point! There is more than one way to drink from (ek) a container. The truth is, the one container brethren do not, and cannot know if the disciples all put their lips to the same container to drink from it. Yet they bind that it must be done by this method anyway!
So even if it is assumed that Jesus started out with only one container, that would not prove that the disciples all put their lips to that one container to drink of (ek) it. The following summarizes the points that have just been made with the Pizza Hut pitcher and Jacob’s well illustrations.
All put lips to the same container to drink?
Drank from the same container by first transferring to separate containers? The four boys drank of the pitcher at Pizza Hut. Jacob, his children, and his cattle drank of (ek) the well (John 4:12).
Jesus’ disciples drank of (ek) the drinking vessel (Matt. 26:27; Mark 14:23; 1 Cor 11:28).
Upon examination of the above, the point is easily made and understood. Why must Mark 14:23 (and Matt. 26:27) have to mean that the group all put their lips to the same container to drink, when it doesn’t mean that in the other two cases? It is the same in the Greek/English in all three cases!
Another illustration will review what has been shown in Parts 1 through 2 of this article. In this illustration, the idea of a “dish” is going to be used, since that it the closest thing to the idea of a “cup.” Both words name containers, one for holding food, the other for holding liquid. In addition, both are commonly used in the metonymical sense, that is, the container is named to refer to the contents.
Suppose that about 100 people were gathered for an annual high school football banquet. Notice the following sentence describing an event at the banquet: “When the caterers brought in the main dish, some of the players groaned and said, ‘it’s a Chinese dish.’” Does this sentence prove that the caterers used only one literal platter to bring in the Chinese dish to the group of 100, or is it possible that the language allows for two or more platters being used? The conclusion is that just because the word “dish” is singular, that doesn’t prove that only one literal platter was present. That’s because metonymy is being used.
The next event that occurred at the banquet will be de- scribed with three different sentences, all saying the same thing, and referring to the same event. Notice that these three sentences will all be in the exact same words as the gospel accounts of the institution of the communion; the only words that will be changed (put in italics) will be the words that will change the sentences from talking about the “cup” to talking about the “dish.” For the sake of argument, it will be assumed in this illustration that all of the Chinese main dish was served on one literal platter.
Nonetheless, the coach stood up, Matthew 26:27 — “And he took the dish, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, eat ye all of it.”
Mark 14:23 — “And he took the dish, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all ate of it.”
Luke 22:17 — “And he took the dish, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves.”
Now, do these three sentences prove that all of the 100 guests ate off of just one literal platter, or does the language allow for them passing the serving platter around, and taking some off onto their own individual plates before they ate the Chinese dish? Everybody can tell that the language certainly allows for individual containers, or plates (for food). So if the language is exactly the same as in the communion passages, why is it so hard to see that the language of the communion passages also allows for individual containers (for liquid)? The point? Since one cannot know how many containers were used, then one cannot bind the number, either way!
Part 4. This Cup Is The New Testament
In order to try to show that the number of containers used in the communion is not just incidental, the one container brethren make the container (holding the fruit of the vine) a third element in the communion. They agree that the bread represents Jesus’ body, and that the fruit of the vine represents Jesus’ blood, but in addition to that, they add a third element, the container, which they say represents the New Testament. Their proof texts for this third element are the phrase, “This cup is the new testament in my blood”(Luke 22:17 and 1 Cor. 11:25). On the surface this sounds good, but upon closer examination it is found to be incorrect.
By looking at the context of Luke 22:20 and 1 Corinthians 11:25, it can be clearly shown that the “cup” (is the new testament) refers not to the container at all, but to the contents of the container. First of all, most every one-container brother will agree that the “cup” referred to in Luke 22:20 is the same “cup” that is referred to in Luke 22:17. That is basic context hermeneutics. But the “cup” in verse 17 is a cup that can be divided: “And he took the cup, . . . and said, Take this, and divide it (the cup) among yourselves.” Since the cup of verse 17 is a cup that can be divided, and since the container is not divided in any sense, but only the contents are divided, therefore the cup of verse 17 is referring by metonymy to the contents only. And since the cup of verse 20 is the same cup as the cup of verse 17, the cup of verse 20 also refers by metonymy to the contents only. So verse 20 is teaching that the contents only (the fruit of the vine) “is the new testament in my blood.”
Next, by the same contextual analysis that we just did on Luke 20, we can also prove that the “cup” of 1 Corinthians 11:25 is referring by metonymy to the contents only, that is, the fruit of the vine. Notice in verse 25, right after Jesus said, “This cup is the new testament in my blood,” he says, “this do ye, as oft as ye drink it (the cup), in remembrance of me.” Notice that again. He said that the cup is something that you drink. Does one drink the container? One can drink from a container, but one does not drink the container itself in any sense. As a matter of fact, the only thing that is drunk is the contents. This is verified further by reading on in the immediate context. In verse 26, Jesus says, “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup . . .” Drink what? The cup. Container or contents? Easy to see isn’t it? In verse 27, Jesus says, “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” Repeating the point, a cup that one can drink is not a container. One does not drink the container in any sense. It is obviously a metonymy, the container put for the contents. One drinks the contents only.
Notice something else that proves that the cup in 1 Corinthians 11 is referring (by metonymy) to the fruit of the vine. Verse 27 teaches that one who eats the bread unworthily is guilty of the body of the Lord. How is that so? Because the bread represents his body (v. 24). Verse 27 also teaches that if you drink the cup unworthily you are guilty of the blood of the Lord. How could that be? Using the same reasoning, because the cup (contents, not container) represents his blood (Matt. 26:28).
So if anything in the communion represents the New Testament, it is the fruit of the vine, not the container. If this is the case, the fruit of the vine would represent two things, the New Testament and Jesus’ blood. But is that what the two verses are teaching? No, the fruit of the vine (not the container) is the subject of the two verses, but they are not teaching that the fruit of the vine represents the New Testament. They are teaching the same thing as Matthew 26:28 and Mark 14:24 (“this [fruit of the vine] is my blood of the new testament”), that the fruit of the vine represents the blood that ratifies the New Testament. I challenge my one container brethren to do what I have done and draw up the communion accounts (Matt. 26:26-30, Mark 14:22-26, Luke 22:17-20, and 1 Cor. 11:23-25) side by side in a parallel. In doing so, one will discover that every phrase in each account means the same as its parallel in the other accounts. If “this cup is the new testament in my blood” does not mean the same as “this is my blood of the new testament,” then they would be the only parallel phrases in the accounts that have different meanings. To the contrary, it is obvious that the phrases are parallel, and therefore they do mean the same thing.
At this point, it would be good to compare Luke 22:20 (and likewise 1 Cor. 11:25) with 1 Corinthians 10:16. 1 Corinthians 10:16 (“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?”) teaches that the contents represent the blood, even though by the one container brethren’s reasoning on Luke 22:20, it (1 Cor. 10:16) would have to teach that the container represents the communion (the sharing, joint participation). The following chart compares the two verses.
Notice that in 1 Corinthians 10:16: The “cup” does not represent the communion (the object of the verb). Instead, the “cup” (contents) represents the blood (the object of the prepositional phrase) Luke 22:20 is the same sentence structure: The “cup” does not represent the New Testament (the object of the verb). Instead, the “cup” (contents) repre- sents the blood (the object of the prepositional phrase).
Although 1 Corinthians 10:16 is not parallel to Luke 22:20 in every respect, the ways in which it is parallel show that the one-container brethrens’ treatment of Luke 22:20 is faulty. The truth of the matter is that “this cup is the new testament” contains not only a metonymy, container (cup) for contents (fruit of the vine), it also contains a metonymy, the effect put for the cause. Following are a few examples of this type of metonymy.
In John 11:25, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection, and the life.” Here, Jesus is the cause of the resurrection, and the cause of life. Jesus is said to be the effect (resurrection, life), though he literally is the cause of the effect. In the sentence, “Alcohol was the death of him,” alcohol is stated as being the man’s death, but it was actually the cause of his death.
In the example, “A hot pepper dish turned out to be the dreaded sickness,” the hot pepper dish is said to be a group of peoples’ sickness, but it actually is the cause of their sickness.
Similarly, in Luke 22:20 and 1 Corinthians 11:25, “This cup is the new testament in my blood,” the cup (fruit of the vine), the blood, is the cause of the new testament (it ratifies it). The cup (fruit of the vine), the blood, is said to be the effect (the new testament), though it literally is the cause of the effect.
As already mentioned, if this is not so, and the cup actually represents the New Testament, then the cup is still the contents. This is indisputable in Luke 22 and 1 Corinthians 11, else one divides and drinks the container.
What has been proven is this: Since metonymy is being used in every case that the communion “cup” is referred to, one cannot know how many containers Jesus started out with in the institution of the Lord’s Supper. But even if one could prove that Jesus started with only one container, it still could not be proven that the disciples all put their lips to that one container to drink from it. Therefore, since one cannot know the number of containers that were used in the institution of the communion, one cannot, and must not, bind the number of containers that brethren should use today.