The love feast (1 Corinthians 11)

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Sharing meals together was a crucial part of early church life. Jesus set an example by welcoming to the table fellowship all who would come. The early church continued this practice and members often met together in people’s homes to share food (e.g. Acts 2:42). Certain Jewish and Greco-Roman religious associations also met for common meals, and at times behaviour at pagan communal meals could be extremely disorderly. For Christians, however, the shared meal was such a powerful emblem of their love in Christ that it came to be called a “love feast” (Greek agape; lit. “a love”). The word is used in this manner in the New Testament only in Jude 12.

Jesus also instituted the Eucharist (or “Lord’s Supper”, and it is difficult to ascertain the relationship between the Eucharist and the “love feast”. Were they one and the same or two different events? The most likely answer is that in the early church no firm distinction was made between the two. The Eucharist was probably celebrated in the context of a church meal, just as the first Eucharist was commemorated in the context of a Passover supper. It soon became evident, however, that it was unwise to combine the two (1 Corinthians 11:20-21): “When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.” In later centuries the Lord’s Supper was separated from the common meal, and the tradition of the “love feast” began to disappear.


 

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