“As Often As” and the Lord’s Supper
Paul’s allusion to the institution of the Lord’s Supper by Jesus in his remarks to the Corinthians includes these words:
In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes (1 Corinthians 11:25-26).
Some have alleged: “The phrase ‘as often as’ means that the Corinthians were permitted to partake of the Lord’s Supper as often as they chose to do so—anytime they decided to without any limitations on the day or the frequency.”
This viewpoint is characterized by two flaws: (1) it fails to grasp the grammar and context of the passage and (2) it fails to consider everything God says about the matter elsewhere in the New Testament.
Several phrases/words in the context indicate the notion of time: “do this” (vss. 24,25), “as often as” (vss. 25,26), “until” (vs. 26), and “when” (vs. 33). However, none of these words provide any assistance in ascertaining when or how often the Lord’s Supper is to be observed. Frequency, repetition, and consistency are certainly inherent in the construction of such expressions, but they do not specify the precise parameters of frequency. Paul’s remarks in 1 Corinthians 11 simply do not provide any assistance in ascertaining exact observance, although he indirectly clarifies the matter in chapter 16 where he links another act of worship with Sunday. J.W. McGarvey reflects this awareness in his comment on 11:26—“The constant observance of this feast through the centuries is one of the strongest of the external evidences of the truth of gospel history. By a chain of weekly links it will connect the first and second comings of our Lord; after which there will be no further need of symbols.”1
The contextual focus is on the perpetual nature of the Lord’s Supper until the end of time. Hence, when it is observed (without any indication of when that observance occurs, whether Sunday or some other day of the week), every time it is observed, it must be done for the purpose of remembering what Jesus did. God intended for the Lord’s Supper to be an ongoing, repetitious proclamation to Christians and outside observers of the reality of what Jesus did on the cross and the fact that He will come again. Findley paraphrases: “Paul assumes that celebration will be frequent, for he directs that, however frequent, it must be guided by the Lord’s instructions, so as to keep the remembrance of Him unimpaired.”2
The Greek word that the Holy Spirit selected in both verse 25 and verse 26, rendered “as often as” in the NKJV, is hosakis. This relative adverb is used three times3 in the New Testament with two of the three occurrences found in these two verses. According to respected Greek grammarian A.T. Robertson, the word is “only used with the notion of indefinite repetition.”4 In his discussion of general temporal clauses, he categorizes the term with other “Conjunctions Meaning ‘When.’”5 Hence, the term provides no insight by which one can ascertain any specificity to the repetition. It most certainly provides no indication that the reader is free to select his own frequency; nor does it exclude a stipulation of frequency that might be indicated elsewhere in the New Testament. Lexicographers provide the following synonymous meanings: “whenever,” “as often as,” “so many times as,” “how many times as,” “how often,” “how often soever,” “as many times as.”6 Observe that all these expressions are simply referring to the event occurring without specifying frequency.
English translations demonstrate that hosakis does not convey the idea that the Lord’s Supper may be taken anytime one chooses or that Sunday is not the singular day God intended. Consider the following chart that summarizes English translation7 usage:
|Translation||1 Cor. 11:25||1 Cor. 11:26|
|CEB||Every time you drink||Every time you eat|
|CEV||Drink this||When you eat|
|ERV||When you drink||Every time you eat|
|EXB||When you drink||Every time you eat|
|GW||Every time you drink||Every time you eat|
|GNT||Whenever you drink||Every time you eat|
|ICB||When you drink||Every time you eat|
|PHILLIPS||Whenever you drink||Whenever you eat|
|JUB||Each time that ye drink||Each time that you eat|
|NOG||Every time you drink||Every time you eat|
|NCB||Whenever you drink||Whenever you eat|
|NCV||When you drink||Every time you eat|
|NET||Every time you drink||Every time you eat|
|NIRV||Every time you drink||When you do this|
|NIV||Whenever you drink||Whenever you eat|
|NTE||Whenever you drink||Whenever you eat|
|VOICE||Whenever you drink||Every time you taste|
|WE||Every time you drink||Every time you eat|
Observe that “every time,” “when,” “whenever,” and “each time” are equivalent expressions. They convey repetition without specifying the day or time of observance. The text does not intend to imply that therefore Christians are free to pick and choose their own days. Rather, the language selected by the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 11:25-26 provides no assistance in determining whether God intends for the Lord’s Supper to be observed on a particular day or at a particular time. If He so specified, the New Testament would have to so indicate elsewhere.
Neither the Greek nor the English convey the idea that Christians are free to select their own times for partaking of the Lord’s Supper. The reader must read that idea into the text. If the New Testament gave no further directives regarding the frequency or the day of the Lord’s Supper, the reader would be free to select his own observance occasions, deciding which days of the week and how often it would be observed. But the Lord gave us additional instructions on the matter.
Further Instructions from God
To be fair and honest with Scripture, one must gather everything the Bible has to say on a subject and reason about that material correctly to arrive at the totality of God’s will on that subject. Specifically, one must examine the New Testament to ascertain God’s will regarding observance of the Lord’s Supper. As it pertains to frequency of observance, the following verses clarify the matter by providing a complete picture: Acts 2:42,46; Acts 20:7; Acts 20:11; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2.8
Consider these implications of the foregoing. If God did not specify His intentions regarding frequency of observance of the Lord’s Supper, a person could partake one time after conversion and fulfill God’s expectations. If the Christian lives to be 90 years old, he would please God by the single observance.
Further, could the Jews have celebrated the Sabbath on days other than the Sabbath/Saturday? According to Deuteronomy 5:12-15, the Sabbath commemorated the Exodus—the deliverance of the Jews from Egyptian bondage. Could they not have reasoned—like those today who dislodge the Lord’s Supper from Sunday—that the perpetual commemoration of the Exodus could also be achieved on days other than Saturday? The Jews could not have known when to commemorate the Exodus unless God had so stipulated. If God had not given any indication of the day, the Jews would have been free to observe it on any day and their observance would not necessarily have to have even been weekly. But by associating commemoration of the Exodus with Saturday, the Jews were under obligation to conform to God’s directive and to do otherwise would have been sinful.
The fact is that the bulk of Christendom—though generally associating observance of the Lord’s Supper with Sunday—has felt free to alter and adjust God’s instructions on a variety of matters over the centuries, including tampering with the scriptural directive regarding Sunday. Yet His potent declarations remain in effect and offer somber warning to those who would presume to alter His directives:
- “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 4:2).
- “Therefore you shall be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left” (Deuteronomy 5:32).
- “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:32).
- “Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar” (Proverbs 30:6).
- “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9).
- “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day (John 12:48).
1 J.W. McGarvey (1916), Thessalonians, Corinthians, Galatians and Romans (Cincinnati, OH: The Standard Publishing Co.), p. 118, emp. added.
2 G.G. Findlay, “St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians,” in W. Robertson Nicoll, ed. (1900), The Expositor’s Greek Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), 2:881, italics in orig.
3 W.F. Moulton, A.S. Geden, and H.K. Moulton (1978), A Concordance to the Greek Testament (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark), fifth edition, p. 712.
4 A.T. Robertson (1934), A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press), p. 973; A.T. Robertson (1931), Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman), p. 165, emp. added.
5 Robertson, Grammar, p. 971.
6 Daniel Wallace (2000), The Basics of New Testament Syntax (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), p. 209; H.E. Dana and Julius Mantey (1927), A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Toronto, Canada: Macmillan), p. 281; Charles Robson (1839), A Greek Lexicon to the New Testament (London: Whittaker & Co.), p. 322; John Pickering (1839), A Greek and English Lexicon (Boston: Hilliard, Gray, Little, & Wilkins), p. 653; Henry Liddell and Robert Scott (1901), A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: The Clarendon Press), p. 1082.
7 The translation abbreviations signify the following: CEB (Common English Bible), CEV (Contemporary English Version), ERV (Easy-to-Read Version), EXB (Expanded Bible), GW (God’s Word Translation), GNT (Good News Translation), ICB (International Children’s Bible), PHILLIPS (J.B. Phillips New Testament), JUB (Jubilee Bible 2000), NOG (Names of God Bible), NCB (New Catholic Bible), NCV (New Century Version), NET (New English Translation), NIRV (New International Reader’s Version), NIV (New International Version), NTE (New Testament for Everyone), VOICE (The Voice Bible), WE (Worldwide English New Testament).
8 For an extensive analysis of these verses and New Testament teaching on Sunday observance of the Lord’s Supper, see Dave Miller (2007), “Sunday & the Lord’s Supper,” https://apologeticspress.org/sunday-and-the-lords-supper-1254/.
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