Early Christian Writing on the Lord’s Supper

In the previous post I shared a portion of the Didache on the theme of baptism. In this post, we turn to the Didache to see what it says about the Lord’s Supper.

Now  about  the  thanksgiving,  give  thanks  this  way: First,  about  the  cup:  “We  thank  you,  our  Father,  for  the  holy  vine  of  your  boy  David   which  you  made  known  to  us  through  your  boy  Jesus.  Glory  be  to  you  for  the  age.

Now  about  the  broken  loaf:  “We  thank  you,  our  Father,  for  the  life  and  the  knowledge   that  you  made  known  to  us  through  your  boy  Jesus.  Glory  be  to  you  for  the  age.  Just  as   this  broken  loaf  was  scattered  on  top  of  the  hills  and  as  it  was  gathered  together  and   became  one,  in  the  same  way  let  your  assembly  be  gathered  together  from  the  remotest   parts  of  the  land  into  your  kingdom.  “For  yours  is  the  glory  and  the  power  through   Anointed  Jesus  for  the  age.”  Now  no  one  should  either  eat  or  drink  from  your   thanksgiving  meal,  but  those  who  have  been  baptized  into  the  Lord’s  name.  For  about  this   also  the  Lord  said,  “Do  not  give  what  is  holy  to  the  dogs.”

Now  after  you  have  been  filled,  give  thanks  this  way:  “We  thank  you,  holy  Father,  for   your  holy  name,  which  you  made  to  live  in  our  hearts,  and  for  the  knowledge  and  trust   and  immortality  which  you  made  known  to  us  through  Jesus  your  boy.  Glory  be  to  you   for  the  age. Almighty  master,  it  was  you  who  created  all  for  the  sake  of  your  name.  You  gave  both   food  and  drink  to  people  for  enjoyment,  so  that  they  might  give  thanks  to  you.  But  to  us   you  have  freely  given  spiritual  food  and  drink  and  eternal  life  through  your  boy.  Before   all  things,  we  are  thankful  to  you  that  you  are  powerful.  Glory  be  to  you  for  the  age. O  Lord,  remember  your  assembly,  remember  to  rescue  it  from  every  evil  and  to  make  it   complete  in  your  love,  and  to  gather  it  from  the  four  winds  into  your  kingdom  which  you   prepared  for  it-­-­it,  which  has  been  made  holy.  For  yours  is  the  power  and  the  glory  for  the age.”

This early writing is packed with interesting material on this ordinance. Here are a few things that grabbed my attention. First, the ordinance is described as “the thanksgiving” and as a “meal.” This places the Lord’s Supper in the context of gratitude and fellowship. This is an early argument for understanding the appropriate setting of the ordinance as a meal. Second, the language used to describe Jesus is unique. He is called “your boy” multiple times. This language paints a picture of intimate sonship. Third, the Didache refers to the cup as the “holy vine of your boy David.” This seems to draw on the OT background of the everlasting covenant with the Davidic King. This is a unique Old Testament background for understanding the Lord’s Supper.

The fourth observation can be summarized as the missiological impulse of the ordinance in the Didache. The text says, “Just  as   this  broken  loaf  was  scattered  on  top  of  the  hills  and  as  it  was  gathered  together  and   became  one,  in  the  same  way  let  your  assembly  be  gathered  together  from  the  remotest   parts  of  the  land  into  your  kingdom.” There has been much discussion about the purpose of the Lord’s Supper and the general conclusion has been that it is primarily for the edification of the church. This early document pushes the concern of the ordinance outward to the nations as well. Fifth, the Didache’s application of Matthew 7:6 to the ordinance is unique: “Do not give what is holy to dogs.” This was a way of fencing the table. The document also makes clear that baptism is the appropriate precursor to the table.

Any thoughts on this early document’s take on the Lord’s Supper?

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2 comments

  1. I’m intrigued by the your boy Jesus and David language and hope you can help us better understand that. It’s always bothered me that the church has argued so over the most biblical way to baptize people yet doesn’t seem to care in the least to be biblical about the Lord’s Supper that was clearly done within the context of a meal. Eating together was a very relational thing and we’ve unwittingly removed that relational piece from our Lord’svSupper celebrations.

  2. Mason, thanks for your thoughts. The language in this document was new and intriguing to me as well. Others have suggested that the connection to David in the text points to the Old Testament hope of a Messiah (Is 11:1-2, Jn 15:1, Rev 22:16) and possibly the “new Israel” concept (Ps 80:8, Is 5:1, Jer 2:21, Hos 10:1, 4). As I mentioned, I tend to think that there is a relationship between the new covenant, which the Lord’s Supper celebrates, and the Davidic covenant, which promises that one of his descendants will sit on the throne forever.

    As for the mention of Jesus as “your boy,” I have not found this language elsewhere. It is sonship language, but sounds so different because we do not use that type of terminology. I really enjoy hearing the way the early church spoke of Christ—it has a way of opening up new ways of thinking about him. I also agree that the Lord’s Supper has not received enough attention or at least that the attention it has received has been limited in focus (debate about the presence of Christ in the meal has been the predominant issue). I am also compelled by the Didache’s assumption that the Lord’s Supper takes place in the context of a meal.

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