The Cup in I Corinthians
To gain a full understanding of the contents of the communion cup, we should study the evidence from I Corinthians 10:16 and 11:22-34.
I Corinthians 10:16
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul wrote, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (New King James Version)
Something has already been said about the term “The cup of blessing which we bless.” The language is clearly an allusion to a similarly worded passage in Mishnah Berakhoth 6:1. It should be noted that “Berakhoth” simply means a benediction, or a blessing. Different blessings were prescribed for different occasions. Specifically, Mishnah Berakhoth 6:1, line D, prescribed the blessing given for wine. A complete quote of Mishnah Berakhoth 6:1 is justified.
A. What blessing does one recite over produce?
B. Over fruit of a tree he says, [“Blessed are you, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe] Creator of the fruit of the tree,”
C. except for wine.
D. For over wine he says, “Creator of the fruit of the vine.”
E. And over produce of the earth [vegetables] he says, “Creator of the fruit of the ground,”
F. except for loaves [of bread].
G. For over the loaf he says, “Who brings forth bread from the earth,”
H. And over greens he says, “Creator of the fruit of the ground.” I. R. Judah says, “Creator of kinds of herbs.”
Over a cup filled with wine, the Jews were to bless the Lord, by saying, ““Blessed are you, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.”
The Jewish custom was the source of Paul’s designation of “the cup of blessing.” Regarding I Corinthians 10:16, Leonhard Goppelt wrote, “The eucharistic formula handed down in the community (1 C. 10:16), from which Paul draws conclusions about participation in pagan feasts (vv. 17-22), takes over from Jewish table practice the term το ποτηριον της ευλογιας …and calls the eucharistic cup the cup of blessing” (“ποτηριον” [cup], Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume VI, page 156).
I Corinthians 11:22-24
A complete study of this passage is well beyond the scope of this website; we allude to it only because it teaches us something definitive about the contents of the cup. Why? Because some of the Corinthians became drunk. According to I Corinthians 11:21, “For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk.” In the original Greek this passage says, “εκαστος γαρ το ιδιον δειπνον προλαμβανει εν τω φαγειν και ος μεν πεινα ος δε μεθυει.”
The key words here are the last words of the verse in both English and Greek, namely, “drunk” and “μεθυει.” (The Greek word “μεθυει” is often transliterated into English characters as “methuei.”) Some have suggested that the Greek word usually translated as “drunk” should be translated as “surfeited” or something similar instead. But where is the evidence for this? The Greek word μεθυει, as it is used in I Corinthians 11:21, comes from the word μεθυω. According to A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, by Walter Bauer, the Greek word “μεθυω” is defined as “be drunk.” The same word appears in different forms in Acts 2:15, Ephesians 5:18, and I Thessalonians 5:7, where it clearly means to “be drunk.” Since this is the case, we are not surprised to learn that every major English version uses the word “drunk” to translate “μεθυει” in I Corinthians 11:21. Moreover, the Greek word μεθυει is the present active indicative of μεθυω. The Greek present tense “vividly points out the action that was in progress” and may “point to a habitual action” (Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Fritz Reinecker and Cleon Rogers).
Since this is the case, the major English versions of the Bible translate metheui as “drunk” or “drunken.” The following examples should suffice.
- for in your eating each one taketh before other his own supper; and one is hungry, and another is drunken. (American Standard Version)
- for when you eat, each one hurries to get his own supper first [not waiting for others or the poor]. So one goes hungry while another gets drunk. (Amplified)
- For each one in eating takes his own supper before [others], and one is hungry and another drinks to excess. (Darby)
- for in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. (English Standard Version)
- For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. (King James Version)
- but your own. For I am told that everyone hastily gobbles all the food he can without waiting to share with the others, so that one doesn’t get enough and goes hungry while another has too much to drink and gets drunk. (The Living Bible)
- For when it comes time to eat, each one goes ahead with · his own supper; and one remains hungry while another becomes drunk. (Mounce)
- for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. (New American Standard Bible)
- for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. (New International Version)
- for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. (New International Version, UK)
- For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. (New King James Version)
- For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. (New Revised Standard Version)
- For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. (Revised Standard Version)
- for why each man before taketh his supper to eat, and one is hungry, and another is drunken. (Wycliffe)
- for each his own supper doth take before in the eating, and one is hungry, and another is drunk; (Young’s Literal Translation)
We must conclude that the church in Corinth used wine, not grape juice, at the time they observed the Lord’s Supper. Paul criticized some, not for using wine in the Lord’s Supper, but for becoming drunk by drinking wine to excess.