One Cup Or Many Cups!


It’s hard to believe that churches years ago split over the issue of ‘one cup or many’, even today there are some divisions within the Lord’s body over how many cups should be used for the Lord’s Supper. I find it heart-breaking when divisions arise within the Lord’s church but I find it even more heartbreaking when some go as far as to make it a salvation issue.

Let’s go ahead and see some of the arguments that are used to ‘prove’ that we should only use ‘one cup’. The Bible references cited next are the passages, some Christians use to argue for the use of ‘one cup’ only, Matthew 26:27 / Mark 14:23 / Luke 22:20 / 1 Corinthians 10:16 / 1 Corinthians 10:21 / 1 Corinthians 11:25 / 1 Corinthians 11:26 / 1 Corinthians 11:27 / 1 Corinthians 11:28.

When we’re dealing with any Biblical text we must think carefully about what is being said, keep it in context and be consistent with the outcome. When it comes to the Lord’s Supper we know that the ‘bread’ represents the ‘body’ of Christ, Matthew 26:26.

When it comes to the Lord’s Supper we know that the ‘wine’ represents the ‘blood’ of Christ, Matthew 26:27-28. And so, if the ‘bread’ represents His ‘body’ and the ‘wine’ represents His ‘blood,’ what does ‘the cup’ represent?

Most Christians who argue against more than ‘one cup’ maintain they are following the example of Jesus, but we need to ask ourselves the question, is every part of an example binding?

Look at Acts 20:7-8 ‘On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul began to speak to the people, and because he intended to leave the next day, he extended his message until midnight.’

(Now there were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting.)’ The text says they met in the ‘upstairs room’, are we going to say that the church today must meet in an ‘upstairs room’?

Look at Matthew 3:13 ‘Then Jesus came from Galilee to John to be baptized by him in the Jordan River.’

The text says that ‘Jesus was baptised in the River Jordan’, are we going to say that we must follow Jesus’ example and be baptised in the River Jordan? If Jesus was baptised in a river, does this mean that anyone who’s been baptised in a baptistry or a lake hasn’t received a Biblical baptism?

When we think about the ‘bread’ which was used in the first century, it looks nothing like the unleavened crackers we use today, does this mean we must use a ‘loaf’ for the Lord’s Supper?

Those who insist on one cup only argue that they’re following Jesus’ example and they say if churches use more than one cup, they have gone beyond what is written, 1 Corinthians 4:6 and therefore it is sinful. The bulk of the argument is based on that there is no Biblical evidence that authorises the use of more than ‘one cup’.

They do agree though that the Bible authorises by command, example, direct statement and expediency which basically means something which is useful.

Expediency involves the right of choice, within the realm of that which is authorised in the New Testament and is not itself a source of authority. A basic example is that we are commanded to teach, and the use of overhead projectors would be useful for doing so.

Now those who argue for the use of ‘one cup’ only always ask the question, where is the command, example or direct statement that authorises the use of individual cups for the Lord’s Supper?

It seems to me they have forgotten about the expediency part. And like most people who make everything a salvation issue, they fail to be consistent with their arguments.

The same people who argue for the use of ‘one cup’ only, have no problems authorising things like a church building, songbooks, seats etc. because they say those things are expediency. Surely if those things are expediency, then so is the use of ‘multiple cups’ for the Lord’s Supper!

With all the arguments about ‘the cup’, what about the bread?

The consistent argument would be to ask, where is the Scripture that authorises the use of two or more plates for the bread to be served on? There is none! Yet these same Christians use more than one plate for the bread to be served on.

I also find it interesting that these same Christians, understand that the expression ‘one bread’ just means that all are to partake of the bread and they understand that the number of plates for the bread doesn’t change anything, in other words, they are all taking the bread.

You see, there is just as much Bible authority for more than ‘one cup’ as there is for more than ‘one plate’ for the bread. The point is that the ‘container’ isn’t important but what is important is ‘the fruit of the vine’ and ‘the bread’.

A cup is an expedient or aid to taking the fruit of the vine just as a plate is an aid to taking the bread. The number of cups or plates isn’t specified. Think about this, when the Samaritan women spoke to Jesus and said in John 4:12 ‘Surely you’re not greater than our ancestor Jacob, are you? For he gave us this well and drank from it himself, along with his sons and his livestock.’

Does this mean that each of them put their lips on the well and drank? Surely it means all of them drank from it but not all from the same container. Jesus says in Matthew 26:27 ‘And he took a cup, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, drink ye all of it’.

When Jesus took the cup and said ‘drink ye all of it’, did He mean for them to drink the cup or its contents? This was a figure of speech known as a metonymy. Metonymy is a figure of speech in which a thing or concept is referred to by the name of something closely associated with that thing or concept. We all agree that one plate or many plates don’t violate the command to eat the bread, why?

Because the plate isn’t significant, it’s the bread which represents the body of Christ which is significant. It’s heart-breaking to hear how some Christians take things to the extreme and turn things into a salvation issue whilst being inconsistent with their arguments.

The number of cups used in partaking of the Lord’s Supper should no more divide the church than whether we meet in an upper room or ground floor, whether we baptise people in the Jordan River or a bath in someone’s house.

‘Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.’ Ephesians 4:3