A Brief History of Communion: Origins

Christians of all sorts partake of some form of communion. Known by different names—the Lord’s Supper, Eucharist, Holy Communion, Breaking of Bread, Mass—and taken at different frequencies—daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly—this practice involving bread and wine stands as a testament to both Christian unity as well as divisions. What do contemporary Christians believe about the Lord’s Supper? To begin answering this question, we must first look at the history of communion, beginning today with what the early Church said about the practice and meaning of the Lord’s Supper.

New Testament Evidence

The institution of the Lord’s Supper is recorded in Matthew (26:26-29), Mark (14:22-25), and Luke (22:14-20), with some intriguing parallels found in John’s Gospel (6:51-58, 13:1-20). Luke’s version reads,

“And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, ‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, ‘Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’”1

After the institution of the Lord’s Supper by Christ, the first records we have of Communion come in Acts (2:42), 1 Corinthians (11:23-34), and the Catholic Epistles (likely in James 2:1-4 and Jude 12). Some scholars have argued there were two distinct kinds of meal celebrations in the Early Church: the “Love (Agape) Feast” and weekly Eucharist. While this may have been true among the earliest followers of Jesus, by the end of the first century there seems to have been only one regular meal celebrated by Christians: Communion.


1 English Standard Version

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