Saturday, April 30, 2005

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion that the "Elements" of the Lord's Supper Constitute a "Supper"? (Part 2)

In the previous entry to this series, we looked at Paul's concept of "Lord's Supper" and concluded that the nomenclature he uses cannot refer to the bread and cup apart from the entire meal which the early Christians enjoyed as part and parcel of the Lord's Table. I want to continue with that line of thought by looking at other references to this meal in the New Testament.

The Agape in Jude 12
Tucked away in Jude’s short epistle is a singular reference to the Agape (agapais), often translated as “love feasts.” There may also be a reference to this “feast” in 2 Pet 2:13 (feasting with you”); in fact, the variant reading for apatais (“deceptions”) in this verse is agapais ("love feasts"), which is supported by not a few significant manuscripts including B, Ac, and psi. This feast in Jude (as well as in Peter) is included as a passing reference (not unlike Paul’s teaching on the bread and cup in 1 Cor 10:16-17). However, as with Paul, we may detect certain assumptions on the part of Jude for including it in the first place. It will be helpful, therefore, to survey the context in which this reference is found.

Jude’s letter is one of urgency; that much is evident from his greeting. Although he had originally planned to write a general letter dealing with issues of salvation, he felt constrained to write instead to warn his readers about certain heretics who had infiltrated the church (v. 3-4). He compares these heretics to some of the OT villains that incurred God’s judgment, including the rabble that Moses had to deal with, fallen angels, and the men of Sodom and Gomorrah (vv. 5-7). Beginning then in v. 8, Jude sets out to make application to the current heretics. They “pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings” (v. 8). They are compared, not only to the foregoing villains, but to Cain, Balaam, and Korah as well (v. 11). It is in this context that Jude mentions the Agape: “These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm” (v. 12). The question is, Just what is this Agape?

Common Meal or Lord’s Supper?
On a purely contextual level, it seems evident that Jude is first referring to a common meal. Although the word agapais is quite literally “loves,” it is closely connected by Jude to the participial form of suneuôcheomai (“feast together”), which occurs only here and in 2 Pet 2:13. For this reason, and since Jude and Peter cite identical thematic content, it seems safe to assume that both writers have the same thing in mind. Aside from this evidence (and the witness of the early church in the post-apostolic era, to which we will turn shortly), no scholar seems to question that Jude is using agapais as an approximate term for a Christian feast. The disagreement is over whether agapais is a term that designates merely a common meal, or is, in fact, a synonym for the Lord’s Supper.

Some scholars (such as Kistemaker, Peter and Jude, 392, and to some extent J.N.D. Kelly, Peter and Jude, 269-70) view Jude’s reference here as nothing more than a common fellowship meal. This is not a widely held view, however, and most scholars (including Green, Townsend, Marshall, Spicq, Bauckham, and Blum) have adopted the view that Jude is here referring to none other than the Lord’s Supper itself. In Townsend’s words:
There is nothing . . . to suggest that this excludes the Eucharist itself . . . [and] . . . there seems [to be] no good reason why agapais here should not fulfill the same function as kuriakon deipnon does in 1 Cor 1120, where, as we have seen, it refers to the total complex of events, i.e., the Eucharist in its normal common-meal setting. . . . It is prima facie unlikely . . . that Jude 12 should refer to an Agape distinct from the Eucharist. (Townsend, “Exit the Agape?,” ExpT 90 (1978-79) 360).
With this Marshall agrees when he notes: “There is nothing to suggest that the love feast was a separate kind of meal from the Lord’s Supper, and it seems more probable that these were two different names for the same occasion” (Last Supper and Lord’s Supper, 110). It is indeed more difficult to understand Jude’s anxiety about ungodly men partaking of this meal if it is not the Lord’s Supper and if it does not include the bread and cup. It seems best, therefore, to view Jude’s Agape as the Lord’s Supper itself.

Jude’s relevance to the issue of the common meal in the Lord’s Supper is twofold. First, Jude offers non-Pauline corroboration about the Supper. The fact that Jude, in writing to his churches, can refer to a church practice that is similar to Paul’s is revealing in that it implies the universality of this practice. Not only was this participation in a common meal likely the practice of every Pauline church, it was, as Jude 12 indicates, likely the practice of every apostolic church. It seems best then to conclude that the Agape in Jude corroborates the "Lord’s Supper" in Paul as a common meal which served as a setting for the bread and cup, and which was practiced universally by the apostolic church.

Second, Jude reveals the importance of the Supper via a specialized term. While the mere practice of the Agape by the early church cannot be seen as the determining factor in whether or not this practice was considered normative (other factors including the underlying theology of the practice, the way in which the practice is presented by the NT writers, and the extent to which the practice is distinct from the practices of the surrounding culture and other religious groups must be weighed as well), it seems likely that since this practice had been given a specialized name (Agape) it was indeed considered a normative practice by the apostolic church itself. This is the basis upon which Bauckham and Lincoln (From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, ed. Carson, 221-250 and 343-412 respectively) view Sunday as the normative day of meeting for the church. Bauckham notes, for instance, that the regular, consistent practice of meeting on Sunday coupled with the use of the specialized term, Lord’s Day, “gives that custom the stamp of canonical authority” (Ibid., 240). With this Lincoln concurs:
That the first day of the week was given the title Lord’s Day suggests a matter of far greater import than convenience or practicality. . . . True, the designation “Lord’s Day” in [Rev 1:10] is incidental rather than being part of the primary didactic intent of the writer, but we are not using this passing reference in order to establish a precedent but to show that a precedent had already been set in the practice of at least John’s churches and evidently met with his approval. So in the case of worship on the first day of the week we have a pattern that is repeated in the New Testament, and as is shown by Revelation 1:10, the pattern had become established. (Ibid., 387-88).
What can be said here about the “Lord’s Day” applies with equal force to the “Lord’s Supper/Agape.” Indeed, we may claim even more evidence for a normative practice of this meal since much more is said about it in the NT than about the Lord’s Day. Moreover, as Lincoln has noted, John alone uses the title Lord’s Day. Yet, as Lincoln further notes:
Although we have evidence for this pattern from only some parts of the early church, its rationale is not one that was applicable only to those parts or indeed applicable only to the early church period but one that remains applicable throughout the church’s life. Hence the practice of Sunday worship can be said to be not merely one that recommends itself because it bears the mark of antiquity but one that, though not directly commanded, lays high claim to bearing the mark of canonical authority. (Ibid., 388).
This is likewise true in the case of the Agape. Although Jude alone uses this title, Paul, as we have already seen, refers to the same meal and calls it the Lord’s Supper. Neither writer gives a direct command to adhere to this practice of holding a meal; yet, as in the case of John and the Lord’s Day, each writer assumes, by virtue of the use of a specialized name, that the practice is an established, universal church custom. Moreover, as with the Lord’s Day, the “rationale” of the meal (inasmuch as it is part and parcel of the tradition that was handed down to Paul from the other apostles, and inasmuch as it is a “reproduction” of the Last Supper) must apply equally and in the same way to all churches.