The following has been excerpted from my 1992 paper on the Lord's Supper. There are five Greek terms employed in describing this sacred meal. As my paper argues, the early Christian practice was an actual meal, not a token observance. (Available at this website.) Each bullet references the original Greek word or phrase.
* Communion is the most common term, and emphasizes the body life of the church: life in the body of the Lord as well as life in the body of believers. The common meal we participate in shows that the fellowship of the body of Christ transcends ethnic, social, racial, linguistic and other barriers. Location: 1 Corinthians 10:16. Greek word: koinonia.
* The Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:20) suggests a focus on Christ, the command of Christ to celebrate this meal, and the continuity with Jesus' own Last Supper. The natural understanding of the Lord's Supper is a meal, as opposed to a snack or token representation. Greek phrase: kyriakon deipnon.
* Eucharist comes from the Greek word for "thanksgiving" and stresses the attitude every disciple should strive to maintain: gratitude to the Lord for salvation. This term is especially common in high church circles. Location: 1 Corinthians 14:16 (see also 10:30). Greek word: eucharistia.
* Love feast (Jude 12) was another term for communion. Ancient religions often celebrated meals in honor of their gods, and their feasting often led to carousing. By contrast, the Christian meal accentuated the Lordship of Jesus and was a visible and concrete expression of the awesome love of God, as well as of the tough love that binds all true Christians together. Greek word: agape (dative plural in this passage).
* The breaking of bread (Acts 20:7) is another synonym. As Jesus' physical body was broken, so the bread of the communion is physically broken and shared. We all eat of the one loaf. This term underscores the sacrifice of Jesus as well as our common dependence on the true bread of life, Jesus Christ (John 6:35). We recognize that 'breaking of bread' can refer to any meal, but in the Christian context it has special meaning for the communion. Thus whereas Acts 2:46 probably refers to all meals eaten together, the same phrase in 2:42 and 20:7 refers to the communion. Greek phrase: he klasis tou artou.
Understanding these terms will enable us more easily to enter into the discussion of communion, appreciating its history while moving toward an understanding that may differ from our current practice.
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