While many OSP churches have come round to using wine in the Lord’s Supper, there is a common misunderstanding among many churches that the kind of bread we use in communion should be unleavened. The biblical data does not support this position however, and the Old School Presbyterian consensus was always that the common leavened bread of our every-day use was the element we should be using at the Lord’s Supper.
Leaven itself is not sinful, even in the Old Testament it was used in the worship of the Lord. In Lev. 7:13 and Lev. 23:16-17 worshippers were commanded to bring sacrifices of leavened bread to the Temple. In the New Testament, leaven was used as an analogy for the gospel and the spread of the kingdom (Matt. 13:33, Luke 13:21) Although the Apostles were instructed by Christ to avoid the leaven of the Pharisees, Herodians, and Saducess, which was a reference to their doctrine and hypocrisy (Matthew 16:11-12, Mark 8:15, Luke 12:1), nowhere in the NT are believers instructed to avoid the leaven of bread or observe the Passover. The ceremonial avoidance of leaven in the Passover was one of the signs and shadows of the Old Testament and a part of the ceremonial law which Jesus fulfilled. It is bread and wine as ordinary elements that have an abiding value on earth and in heaven.
While there are several uses of the word Azumos (unleavened Bread) in the NT none of them refer to the bread used in the Lord’s Supper, but rather they are either references to the feast of unleavened bread (Matthew 26:17, Mark 14:1, Mark 14:12, Luke 22:1, Luke 22:7, Acts 12:3, Acts 20:6) or an analogy for a congregation purging out sin from their midst and walking in holiness (1 Corinthians 5:8).
In all other places that the word “bread” occurs in the NT, it is the Greek word Artos meaning a loaf of common leavened bread. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesus was using leavened bread after the Last Supper (this is highly unlikely) it means that all the gospel writers didn’t regard the use of unleavened bread to be important enough to record, something that they surely would have had it been an essential component like the prayer before the distribution of the elements, especially considering their letters and gospel accounts were being read primarily by Gentiles who normally used leavened bread for all their meals.
Quotes from Reformed Commentators:
Charles Hodge: “Took bread. Matthew 26:26 , it is said, “ as they were eating, ” i.e. during the repast, “ Jesus took bread, ” that is, he took of the bread lying on the table; and as it was at the time of the Passover, there is no doubt that the bread used was unleavened. It was the thin Passover bread of the Jews. But as no part of the significancy of the rite depends on the kind of bread used, as there is no precept on the subject, and as the apostles subsequently in the celebration of the ordinance used ordinary bread, it is evidently a matter of indifference what kind of bread is used. It was however for a long time a subject of bitter controversy. At first the Latins and Greeks used leavened bread; when the Latins introduced the unleavened wafer from superstitious fear of any of the fragments being dropped, the Greeks retained the use of fermented bread, and accused the Latins of Judaizing. Romanists and Lutherans use unleavened wafers; Protestants generally ordinary bread.”
Wilhelmus A’Brakel: “The second matter to be considered in reference to this sacrament is the external signs. We must here take note of the signs and the ceremonies associated with them. The signs are identical to those used in meals in order to nourish and refresh the body: bread and wine. One is to be neither superstitious nor concerned regarding the kind of bread and wine. The bread and wine which Christ used were such as were available and in common use. It is credible that in light of the Passover Christ used unleavened bread; but that was incidental, for leavened bread was neither permitted to be used nor was it available in Jerusalem at that time. It is therefore not necessary to follow suit in this respect. It must be bread which one commonly uses for nourishment, thus to typify the spiritual nourishment of the soul. The wafers of the Papists and the Lutherans consist more of foam than of bread, and are not suitable for nourishment and strengthening. This is contrary to the institution of the Lord’s Supper; Christ had no wafers, but took bread, broke off fragments, and gave them to the disciples. He did not give a wafer to anyone. … Common substances must be used without superstition.”
A.A. Hodge: “2nd, from the significancy of the symbol; since bread, as the principal natural nourishment of our bodies, represents his flesh, which, as living bread, he gave for the life of the world.–– John 6:51 . But the kind of bread, whether leavened or unleavened, is not specified in the command, nor is it rendered essential by the nature of the service.
Christ used unleavened bread because it was present at the Passover. The early Christians celebrated the Communion at a common meal, with the bread of common life, which was leavened. The Romish Church has used unleavened bread ever since the eighth century, and commands the use of the same as the only proper kind, but does not make it essential (“ Cat. Conc. Trident., ” Pt. 2, ch. 4:, && 13 and 14). The Greek Church insists upon the use of leavened bread. The Lutherans Church uses unleavened bread. The Reformed Church, including the Church of England, regards the use of leavened bread, as the food of common life, to be most proper, since bread in the Supper is the symbol of spiritual nourishment. The use of sweet cake, practiced in some of our churches is provincial and arbitrary, and is without any support in Scripture, tradition, or good taste.”
Morton Smith: “1. The first element that Jesus took from the table was the bread. This being the Jewish Passover, this bread had to be unleavened bread, since that was the only bread allowed at this feast. (See Exodus 12:15 ). It may be questioned whether there was any requirement that the bread be unleavened in the New Testament practice. This question is legitimate, if we understand that the Lord’s Supper was observed in connection with regular meals. Hodge says:
“ It is evident, however, from the apostolic history, that the Apostles used whatever kind of bread was at hand. There is no significance either in the kind of bread or in the form of the loaf. It is enough that it is bread. This makes it the proper emblem of him who declared himself to be the true bread which came down from heaven. ”
There have been controversies over this matter. The Greek Church uses only leavened bread, as the common bread of the table. The Roman Church, on the other hand, insists on unleavened bread. The Lutheran Church earlier used only unleavened bread, but in their more recent writers, it is considered a matter of indifference. Reformed Churches, together with the Church of England and the Baptist Churches, also consider the type of bread a matter of indifference.”
R.L. Dabney: “The elements of the sacrament are bread and wine. There is controversy between east and west on this point. The Greek Church says the bread must be leavened, the Latin unleavened, making this a point of serious importance. We believe that the bread used was paschal. But it was not Christ’s intention to give ritually a paschal character to the new sacrament; and bread is employed as the material element of nutrition, the one most familiar and universal. Hence, we regard all the disputes as to leaven, and the other minutiae made essential by the Romanist rubric (wheaten, mingled with proper water, not worm–eaten, etc.,) as non–essential. Probably the wine was also mingled with water on the first occasion; but, on the same grounds, we regard it as selected simply as the most common and familiar refreshment of the human race; and the presence of water is therefore non–essential. Indeed, modern chemistry has shown that, in all wine, water is the solvent, and the largest constituent.”
C.H. Spurgeon: “After the thanksgiving, it is very clear that our Divine Lord broke the bread. We scarcely know what kind of bread was used on that occasion; it was probably the thin passover cake of the Jews; but there is nothing said in Scripture about the use of leavened or unleavened bread, and therefore it matters not which we use. Where there is no ordinance, there is no obligation; and we are, therefore, left free to use the bread. which it is our custom to eat.”
Calvin, Institutes: “But as for the outward ceremony of the action whether or not the believers take it in their hands, or divide it among themselves, or severally eat what has been given to each; whether they hand the cup back to the deacon or give it to the next person; whether the bread is leavened or unleavened; the wine red or white it makes no difference. These things are indifferent, and left at the church’s discretion.
However, it is certain that the practice of the ancient church was for all to take it in their hands. And Christ said, “Divide it among yourselves” The histories narrate that common leavened bread was used before the time of the Roman Bishop Alexander, who was the first who delighted in unleavened bread. But I see no reason for this, unless to draw the eyes of the common people to wonderment by a new spectacle, rather than to instruct their minds in sound religion. I ask all who are in the least affected by a zeal for piety whether they do not clearly see both how much more brightly God’s glory shines here, and how much richer: sweetness of spiritual consolation comes to believers, than in these lifeless and theatrical trifles, which serve no other purpose than to deceive the sense of a people stupefied. They call this the holding of the people by religion when they lead them at will dulled and befooled with superstition.”
Theodore Beza: “In the mean while Satan, using every exertion to subvert entirely the church erected at Geneva, which had been shaken to its very foundation, found in a short time some idle characters, who, for the purpose of concealing the great iniquity of the decree under the pretext of religion, determined that unleavened bread should be substituted for common, formerly used at the Lord’s table, with a view to afford an opportunity for fomenting new dissensions. And the great enemy of the Church would have succeeded in this plan, had not Calvin seriously admonished some good men, so displeased with the change as to consider it their duty to refrain from taking the Lord’s Supper, not to contend about a subject in itself indifferent. The use of unleavened bread commenced in the manner now stated, nor did Calvin on his future restoration think it worth while to make any opposition to the practice, though he did not attempt to conceal his approval of the use of common bread.”
Robert Reyburn: “First, a rationale is provided for the use of unleavened bread in the Passover Feast. That is, we know why it was used. The reason is given in Exodus 12:34, 39.
“With the dough they had brought from Egypt, they baked cakes of unleavened bread. The dough was without yeast because they had been driven out of Egypt and did not have time to prepare food for themselves.” And, in Deut. 16:3 we are explicitly reminded that the significance of bread without yeast in the Passover Feast was to remind God’s people that they “left Egypt in haste” so “that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt.”
Passover was a remembrance of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and the unleavened bread used in the feast and the requirement to remove yeast from Israelite homes during the feast of unleavened bread are recollections of Israel’s hurried departure on the night of the 10th plague. The other features of the feast that served to recall that great night and God’s redemption of his people – the bitter herbs, the lamb – all fall away from the Lord’s Supper because the Supper is not a recollection of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt but of the greater deliverance of which that Passover was an anticipation.
There is no teaching in the Bible to suggest that the remembrance of the flight from Egypt is brought into the Lord’s Supper. Bread and Wine in the Supper serve what seem to be very different purposes. Another redemption is being remembered in the Lord’s Supper, that of ourselves from sin and death through the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. Unleavened bread does not in any obvious way contribute to that symbolism. It is not anywhere in the NT said to be the kind of bread used in the Lord’s Supper – while the text of the institution of the Lord’s Supper makes a point of mentioning wine (“the fruit of the vine”), bread is referred to simply as “bread” not as “unleavened bread.” The lack of yeast was a detail belonging to the old ceremony, not the new, it seems. Remember, it is bread in each case. The Lord took bread, we are told. That it happened to be unleavened is neither mentioned nor hinted at. What is significant is that it is bread, not unleavened bread. What is more, when the church moved into the Gentile world, a world that had no recollection of the Passover, “bread” would mean for them the ordinary bread that was the staple of life. So, in other words, as the scholastic theologians put it, that the bread was unleavened in the first Lord’s Supper belonged to the “accidental circumstances” of that first feast, not to the necessity of it. [Turretin, 430]
So, in conclusion, the fact of the matter is that the Bible never teaches us or even implies that the Lord’s Supper was to be taken with unleavened bread. If it were to be, it never tells us what the lack of leaven would stand for, as the only explanation ever given for its place in the Passover ritual was as an historical recollection of Israel’s hasty departure from Egypt. The Lord’s Supper was instituted on the occasion of a Passover meal. But it is not itself a Passover meal. Nor is the Lord’s Supper the Last Supper. There are many features of that particular meal that do not carry over into the Lord’s Supper of the Christian church. It was twelve men and men only. Nowhere are we told in the NT that women should participate. It was taken with the participants reclining about a central table. There were the remnants of a large meal on that table. The Lord’s Supper is not defined by any of this. The Lord’s Supper arose out of a Passover meal, but it is itself only what the Lord made it to be. The Lord, we are told, “took bread” and told us to take it as well: “bread” not “unleavened bread.” And he took the fruit of the vine. We are to do the same. Bread and Wine are the elements of the Lord’s Supper as the Lord himself defined that Supper.”
Rev. Robert Grossman: “1. 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 fundamental argument, “Jesus used unleavened bread, therefore we should too,” is in fundamental error. This should close the case, but there is more.
2. To use unleavened bread in the Lord’s Supper is to commemorate the wrong thing. The purpose of unleavened bread in the Passover is to commemorate the haste with which Israel left Egypt; there was not even enough time to put yeast into the bread dough. In the Lord’s Supper we are NOT commemorating the Exodus from Egypt where unleavened bread makes sense. In the Lord’s Supper we are commemorating the sacrifice of Christ for our sins. In the Supper the bread is broken to recall Christ’s suffering and death, the breaking of His body.
Other things could be said, but there is nothing in unleavening the bread of the Supper that would commemorate anything in the death of Christ that is taught in Scripture (unless we really let our imaginations run loose here – and then we are back to conjecture).
3. Thus using unleavened bread in the Supper is an unwarranted return to Old Testament shadows (commemorating the Passover instead of Christ’s death) and therefore ought to be resisted. The historic Reformed characterization of the Mass as a return to OT shadows of pictorial ceremonialism is common and fits here.
4. “The kingdom of heaven is not food and drink, but righteousness and joy and peace in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 10). This teaches us that an emphasis on a detail of food is not characteristic of the New Testament, quite in contrast with the Old. Thus the insistence on unleavened bread in the Supper is more typical of an OT ceremony than an NT one. Ah, you say, this also applies to the wine. Indeed it does. None, I hope, would claim that those who use grape juice are celebrating something else than the Lord’s Supper.
Nevertheless there is a positive argument to use wine in Christ’s words found in all three Gospels, “I will not eat of this fruit of the vine from now on, until I eat it new with you in the Kingdom of God.” The proper understanding of this “fruit of the vine” is wine. So we drink wine, looking forward to the heavenly supper in Christ’s presence where He will drink it with us.
5. Another old Reformed argument is that if Christ used unleavened bread, he was using the bread at hand in the Passover not out of symbolism but out of convenience. He did not go out of the way to obtain leavened bread. In the same way, runs the argument, we too should use our common bread (which IS leavened) and not go out of our way to obtain something special. This argument stands alongside one that says that in order to preserve the meaning of the Supper that we are nourished spiritually by Christ’s body, we should use the bread that we ordinarily use to nourish our bodies, and that would, of course, be leavened bread. These are theological arguments, not directly biblical, but I do think that they do carry the analogy of Scripture, especially in light of the very biblical fact that the kingdom of God is NOT details of food, as we noted above.
6. 1 Cor. 5:8 is not talking about WHAT we eat, but HOW we eat the Lord’s supper. It speaks of unleavened people, not about going back to replaying the Passover with its use of unleavened bread. The unleavened bread in the Passover reflects the haste with which Israel left Egypt, without time to even put yeast into their bread. The Lord’s supper reflects not on a hasty exit from Egypt, but on the death of Christ for our sins, which makes HIM “our passover.” The bread represents the body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, unleavening the bread in the Supper has no significance with respect to Christ’s sacrifice. Thus using unleavened bread would, as mentioned above, be going back to the OT Passover as though we were still celebrating the Exodus from Egypt in the Supper, rather than Christ’s sacrifice for our sins.
7. In the rest of the New Testament the Lord’s Supper is often called “breaking bread,” the same language that is used for ordinary meals (Acts 2:42 for example is most likely speaking of fellowship in a meal rather than the Lord’s Supper because in the immediate context they “ate their bread from house to house.”) In any case, the word “artos” is used for what is broken. There is never a description of the Supper in the NT in which that which is broken or eaten is called anything but “artos.” This argues quite strongly against requiring unleavened bread in the Supper because “artos” in a general use would simply mean ordinary bread.”