A gracEmail subscriber asks: “I’m so accustomed to unleavened bread as the ‘correct’ element of the Lord’s Supper. Can you explain the introduction of leavened bread at the communion table?”
* * *
When God rescued the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, he ordained the Passover meal as an annual reminder of the event. The short notice given for their exit did not allow time for bread to rise, so God commanded that Passover bread be unleavened (Ex. 12:8, 11). Whether Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper during a Passover meal or on the preceding evening, he would have used unleavened bread.
However, that detail apparently was unimportant in connection with the Lord’s Supper, since every New Testament record of the occasion uses the generic Greek word for bread rather than the word for unleavened bread (Matt. 26:26; Mark 14:20, 22; Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:23-27). So does every New Testament passage that even possibly refers to the Lord’s Supper in the early church (Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7, 11; 1 Cor. 10:16). About 150 A.D., Justin Martyr used ordinary bread for the Lord’s Supper but did not regard it as “common” (First Apology 66).
Some Christians reason that because Jesus used unleavened bread at the Last Supper, common bread is unauthorized and therefore sinful. Yet they are not persuaded by their own argument, since they replace wine (which Jesus used) with unfermented grape juice. Indeed, Jesus’ very use of wine at the Last Supper refutes such logic, for God nowhere had authorized wine for the Passover meal.
But what of Paul’s use of leaven as a symbol for sin (1 Cor. 5:6-8)? The short answer is that he is discussing how we live as the Lord’s people, not what we eat at the Lord’s Table. Furthermore, Jesus also used leaven as a symbol for the Kingdom of God (Matt. 13:33). The Eastern Orthodox Church has always used leavened bread in the Eucharist, although the Western (Roman Catholic) Church has used unleavened bread since around the 10th century. I know no good reason, whether scriptural, theological or historical, to insist on unleavened bread in the Lord’s Supper today.