Unleavened Bread and the Lord’s Supper
The question is sometimes asked as to why certain churches use unleavened bread for the Lord’s Supper while others use regular bread. All agree that no passage in the New Testament requires the use of either one or the other; thus the decision must be based on other considerations. The reasoning in favor of using unleavened bread is that since leaven is a picture of evil in the Bible, and the Supper was instituted at the time of the Jewish Passover making it likely that this was what the Lord used; we ought to do the same today. Sounds reasonable on the surface, but let’s take a look.
1) In the first place, NT Greek (the language of our NT) has a perfectly good word to specify “unleavened bread” but this word is never used in connection with the bread used at the Lord’s Supper. Uniformly, the gospel record is that Jesus “took bread.” The following quote is helpful:
“In all three Gospels what Jesus gave the disciples is “artos,” meaning simply “bread.” It is striking that He is not said to have given them “azumos” or “azuma” which are the proper words for unleavened bread,” AND which are clearly available since they are used in each of the Gospels in the context to refer to the Passover. In other words, the use of “artos” by Matthew, Mark and Luke to tell us what Jesus gave the disciples makes the fact that this may have been unleavened bread of NO importance. At the same time we also must recognize that because the Scripture NOWHERE calls it “unleavened bread,” we cannot at all be sure that it was (throughout the NT “artos” is used for common or leavened bread). We simply may not base our teaching on the silence of Scripture because then we are really basing our teaching on a human conjecture. So, the argument, “Jesus used unleavened bread, therefore we should too,” is in fundamental error.” Grossman.
To command what Scripture does not command is legalism, a serious matter, and a term which is to be distinguished from obedience, i.e., doing what is commanded in the Scriptures. This point alone is compelling. The apostles had every chance to specify that the bread of the communion be unleavened, and they did not do so.
2) Once obedience must extend beyond what was commanded to what was practiced, consistency demands that many other items be included; e.g., the supper must be at night, meetings must be conducted in an upper room, there must be a fellowship meal as part of the proceedings, after the supper, a hymn must be sung and then all in attendance must leave the building. Various groups have required communal living because “they had all things common.” (Acts 2:44). Once begun, this reasoning has no end.
3) Regular bread once baked in the oven is in fact unleavened as leaven is destroyed by fire. So the real question is then reduced to whether the bread had ever contained leaven in the past. In the same vein, it is interesting that only through the action of yeast (leaven) can wine be made, and all agree that wine was used in the Passover. Debates about the use of wine or grape juice often overlook the corresponding truth that neither term is ever used for the communion but only “the cup” and “the fruit of the vine.” Think of it! Inspiration carefully avoids the words for “unleavened bread”(azumos) and “wine”(oinos) in connection with the Lord’s Supper, even though both words are found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Instead, we read in every case of “the cup,” “the fruit of the vine,” and “bread”(artos). Could it be clearer that the intent was that the emblems be of things commonly available in whatever place the Lord was to be remembered?
4) It is interesting to trace this question in church history. Note the following:
“The same baking method and ovens were used by the Christians for both their daily bread and that which was to be used in worship. It must be made clear that (contrary to practices today in the West) in the Early Christian centuries and in all eastern rites through the ages, except in the Armenian church, the bread used for the Church did not differ from ordinary bread in substance. From the beginning leavened bread was used ……. The Latin Vulgate and unleavened bread prepared the way for the mass or transubstantiation.” (www.reformation.org)
Evangelical Christians have always withstood the teaching of the Roman Catholic church that the communion bread is (or becomes) much more than a symbol. Rather, we insist that ordinary bread and the fruit of the vine are fitting symbols for the Savior’s body and blood, and symbols only. It is a step backward when the church begins to prefer a certain form of “bread” not found in ordinary homes.
5) The Scriptures describe the church as the “body of Christ.” It is interesting to note the truth reflected in the teaching of Lev. 23 in which the two loaves of bread for the feast of Pentecost (picturing the Jew and Gentile brought together in the church) must be “baked with leaven.”(Lev. 23:17).
6) The bread of communion is applied in Scripture not only to the body of the Lord Jesus (I Cor. 11) but also to the believers who become “one bread and one body” in Christ.(I Cor. 10:17). Bread which formerly contained leaven that was then removed by fire is a beautiful picture of those whose sins have been removed at the cross, not to mention the Lord Himself, Who although personally sinless, became sin for us on the cross. Paul wrote of those who were not “discerning the Lord’s body.”(I Cor. 11:29). Is it not part of godly discernment to see in the communion loaf not only the body of Christ (the Head), but also the body of Christ (the one body)? After all, the particular sin about which Paul was writing involved ill treatment of fellow believers in connection with the breaking of bread (vss. 21,22).
7) Much harm has been done to the church by attempts to Judaize it .i.e., require it to return to the rituals and practices of the OT Jewish law, a tendency which is growing today throughout the world. Paul warns about this in Col. 2:16,17 saying that these things were “a shadow …. but the body is of Christ.” We are rather exhorted to “Stand fast, therefore in the liberty with which Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again in the yoke of bondage.” (Gal. 5:1)
8) Leavened bread is universally obtainable, even on the spur of the moment when needed; unleavened bread would not be found in most homes today. Years ago brother AP Gibbs wrote an article to protest the teaching of some that the Lord’s Supper is only a “church act,” holding rather that believers might freely remember the Lord at any time and in any place. Some assemblies actually began when the believers saw (suddenly, for the first time) the truth of the Lord’s Supper and ordinary elements were brought from the kitchen and the assembly begun. Such would have been impossible if special bread were required.
9) In many countries of the world, “bread” does not consist of wheat flour which is capable of rising by the action of yeast, so the universal practice on the mission field has been to employ what is known to all as simply “bread.” This writer remembers the joy of breaking bread in the Amazon jungle of Venezuela with believers for whom ordinary bread was “cassava bread” made from a root of the ground.
10) Churches that use unleavened bread usually break up the hard cracker-like material before passing it. This is not only distracting as loud cracking and crunching comes from the front of the church, and unhealthy as those passing the elements use their hands to break every section into small pieces themselves, but also destroys the picture of each believer breaking the bread personally; i.e., having a share in what the Lord passed through. The loaf on the table has always provided a visible reminder of
a body about to be broken; flat wafers and crackers offer no such picture.
In conclusion, because the Scriptures do not require either “leavened bread” or “unleavened bread,” churches that prefer to use unleavened bread in the communion are free to do so. However, they ought to refrain from implying that this practice is somehow more pleasing to God. As shown above, there are some very good reasons to use ordinary bread at the Supper.