Updated: Jul 18, 2020
As Believers today are discovering truths from early Messianic faith in Yeshua, how Christianity was practiced in the first and likely even second and third centuries following the ministry of Messiah, there are traditionalists who feel as though the tenants of their faith are being threatened. One such area is in the long-established “holy sacrament” known as communion.
Certainly if you have ever attended a modern-era Christian Church for any length of time you have experienced the taking of the bread and the cup, commonly called the Lord’s Supper or simply communion. In this message I want to evaluate this tradition and see if it holds up to the test of Scripture. This message may not be an easy read for some, but I sense that those who are seeking the whole truth will find this information to be quite freeing.
There are those today who are claiming that “taking communion” will lead to good health or divine healing in your body. One such example comes from a particular Christian Evangelist whose teachings I often enjoy reading, but in this case I am not sure I can agree for reasons I will bring up during this message. Says Perry Stone in his book The Meal That Heals: Enjoying Intimate, Daily Communion With God: “An important part of the Communion meal is the aspect of healing that is provided through Christ’s atonement. During the earliest days of the church, it appears the believers walked in a realm of health, joy, and strength.”
To add to this, in the opening dedication to his book Stone says: “Several years ago I hosted a special friend, Dr. John Miller, on my weekly Manna-fest television program. Dr. Miller shared the concept of receiving Communion on a daily basis and how this important spiritual act was practiced daily from house to house in the early church.”
The problem I have with this, which you will see as you read on, is that all indications are that the tradition most know today as communion or the Lord’s Supper is simply not biblical. I know that is a hard thing to hear if you are reading this and your entire Christian experience has held that this practice is one of the holy sacraments of your faith. But if you will hang with me through this, if you are genuinely sold out to following The Way of Yeshua, you may find that His Way is a better way.
Do This In Remembrance…
And when He had taken matzah and offered the bracha, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body, given for you. Do this in memory of Me.” In the same way, He took the cup after the meal, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you.” ~Luke 22:19-20 (TLV)
This is a very familiar passage of Scripture. It is, after all, the foundational statement upon which the modern practice of communion is built upon.
But have you ever stopped to consider the context of this passage?
Just prior to this we see Yeshua say in verse 15: “And He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.’” You see, Yeshua was celebrating the biblical Passover meal when He made the statement: “Do this in memory of Me.” He was telling His disciples, both those with Him that day and all who would follow Him beyond the Apostolic period to the present day and the yet to come future, to remember Him whenever we, His disciples, celebrate the Passover—and to do it in a way that aligns with the biblical instructions regarding Passover celebration.
The Apostle Paul reiterates this for us in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 where he shares these words: “Get rid of the old hametz, so you may be a new batch, just as you are unleavened—for Messiah, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast not with old hametz, the hametz of malice and wickedness, but with unleavened bread—the matzah of sincerity and truth.”
I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but I think I would be remiss if I did not say at this point how much of an insult it must be to Him for religion to have reduced His request to keep The Passover in His memory into a stale wafer and a thimble of grape juice. Some churches are now even using “prepackaged” communion elements, which I will touch on a little later in this message. Believers are called by Yeshua and Paul to keep The Passover meal in honor of Messiah’s suffering for our salvation, and all we can do anymore is occasionally squeeze in this tiny cracker and thimble of juice and a five minute ritual that accompanies it. Think about that!
Recently I was contacted at the ministry by a Jewish man who is exploring the reality that Yeshua is his Messiah. He was requesting information about celebrating Passover at home with his family, the way it should be done. He share with me two things I found particularly interesting and really illustrate the problems I am presenting in this message.
One thing he shared with me that caught my attention was that, in his opinion at least, no Jewish people enjoy modern traditional Passover “Seder Services”. His reasoning was that they are long and boring. I will be looking at the “Seder” later in this message, but keep his thoughts in mind.
The other thing he shared really struck me. He told me how he had taken his son to a Christian church—as I said, he is exploring the reality that Yeshua is his Messiah—and during the service they took “communion”. He shared that his son, recognizing the communion wafer's vague resemblance to matzah, looked up at him and asked: “Dad, why are they doing this? Passover was last month.” That’s a great question, isn’t it? Why do Christians do these things that are totally unbiblical and don’t do things that The Bible commands them to do? Yeshua said to keep Passover in His memory. He died one of the cruelest deaths, on a Roman crucifixion cross, that anyone could endure. And He did it for YOU.
So how did we get from Yeshua celebrating the biblical Passover meal and requesting we continue to do this in His memory to the modern practice called communion? That is the question I will seek to answer.
A Fellowship Meal
The practice of individual communion cups only seems to trace back to the 1890s at the earliest. It seems that this was done initially for sanitation purposes, which may seem commendable. However, we must consider the fact that the corporate structured religion that has become Christianity is quite contrary to what we know about the faith-practice of Believers in the first century.
When we look back at the first century movement, we find that there were no corporate churches but a series of what we might understand today as “house churches” or “home fellowships”. Repeatedly the Scripture tells us that these Believers met daily from house to house (Acts 2:46, 5:42. 8:3, 10:22, 12:12, 16:32, 40, 18:7, 20:20, Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15, Philemon 1:2).
The closest thing we read about in The Bible to a modern church gathering would be the Sabbath Day meetings at the Synagogues, but all indications from research I have done is that these were not like the Synagogues of today. During this time period Synagogues seem to have acted more like community centers and on Shabbat everyone gathered at their local Synagogue to hear the Torah and the Prophets read and to fellowship with others from the community. As such, it would appear that the “work” that goes into conducting religious services in modern times was not an issue for these meetings.
The custom of the people was to go to these Synagogues on The Sabbath, a local rabbi, scribe, or priest would select the scroll to be read from, read it, and then the people would fellowship. Records from Scripture and the writings of Josephus tell us that the Synagogues of the first century served as schools, places for communal meals, courts, places to collect and distribute charity, and political meetings, among other uses. Worship and prayer was conducted at these facilities as well, but again it was not the same as we see today in both modern Synagogues and Christian Churches. As confirmed by Acts 15:21, readings of the Torah were offered every week on The Sabbath. But that was about the extent of it. Most worship, prayer, and fellowship by the followers of Yeshua was done in people’s homes.
For the Messianic community of Yeshua-followers these in-home fellowships included meals that resembled the Passover meal we are told to remember Messiah in keeping. William Barclay states the following in his book The Lord’s Supper:
It is no doubt that the Lord’s Supper began as a family meal or a meal offered in a private house. This was inevitable for the simple but sufficient reason that more than a century was to pass before there was such a thing as a church building. Christians were poor; still more important, Christianity was illegal. Its worship was therefore a thing of the house church and the small group and the home. It was there that the Lord’s Supper was born in the Church. It was like the Jewish Passover which is a family festival and at which the father and the head of the household is the celebrant. There can be no two things more different than the celebration of the Lord’s Supper in a Christian home in the first century and in a cathedral in the twentieth century. The things are so different that it is almost possible to say that they bear no relationship to each other…
Think about those last two statements for a moment. The meal setting in the home of the earliest followers of Yeshua was so different from the modern practice of “communion” that they don’t even seem to be in any way related to each other. That’s a pretty serious charge! One we should not take lightly, for sure. Let’s continue to explore this line of thought with some excerpts from Eric Svendson’s book The Table Of The Lord:
The current practice of the Lord’s Supper as a symbolic meal consisting of token bread and wine cannot be supported by Scripture or early church history. Instead, the Lord’s Supper in the NT consisted of a full meal, a single loaf of bread and a single cup of wine. Nor is this setting unimportant theologically. On the contrary, the setting of the Lord’s Supper in the NT was, in fact, an expression of apostolic theology.
The Lord’s Supper, as we have seen, looks forward to the coming Messianic Banquet in the kingdom. In fact, it anticipates and prefigures that banquet and is therefore intended to foreshadow it. In that sense the Lord’s Supper epitomizes the “biblical pattern of promise and fulfillment”—the already and the not yet. “In its entire execution,” therefore, “the eucharist should be a foretaste of the coming kingdom of God.”
The most obvious implication of this principle is that the Lord’s Supper itself should take the form of a banquet. The biblical imagery associated with the eschatological banquet is one of celebration and abundance of food (Isa 25:6-8; Matt 22:4; Luke 15:22-32; Rev 19:9); and indeed, this is just what we find in the apostolic practice of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:46). As we have already shown, the word δεῖπνον in every instance in the NT refers to nothing less than a full meal—and arguably always refers to a banquet or feast. Nor will it do to view the Lord’s Supper (κυριακόν δεῖπνον) as merely a symbolic meal, for what Paul calls κυριακόν δεῖπνον in 1 Cor. 11:20 is nothing less than a full-blown meal held in common.
Now, let me clarify that my position does not necessarily support such terms as “Lord’s Supper” or “Eucharist”. However, without getting hung up on these terms it is important to note the points that Svendson brings up about this being a full meal. I also want to note that I am not particularly fond of his use of the word “banquet” as this alludes to a larger corporate gathering—which we will consider in a moment. The model is the Passover meal itself, and as you will see when I get to that the Passover is not intended to be a large banquet, as is the case with modern “Passover Seder Services”, but a family meal held in the home—a more personal and intimate setting.
With that said, we must recognize that the earliest Believers held communal meals modeled after the Passover for quite some time before corruption and assimilation caused a deviation from the original practice. Now it is time to move toward the foundations of what would ultimately develop into the modern practice called “communion”.
From Passover To Paganism
Some people seem hesitant about throwing around the word “pagan”. This is certainly a result of the gross abuse of this word and attempts to claim ancient pagan practices to be the roots of modern church practices without valid historical connections. Now, if there are connections, that’s one thing. But if not, then claiming a connection causes you to risk the overall integrity of your message.
For example, as we are discussing a message related to Passover, many have tried to associate the pagan alternative “Easter” to Babylonian Ishtar worship. There is no truly valid historical connection, however, between “Easter” and Ishtar, except that the names sound strikingly similar. But there is a valid connection between “Easter” and the worship of an old Nordic goddess names Eostre. So it would be wrong to call “Easter” pagan because of Ishtar worship, but it is valid to call it pagan because of the spring festival held for Eostre—where “Easter” actually does come from.
Fortunately, in this case we have the record of history to establish that the transition from the communal meals built around the Passover meal to the modern practice of communion appears to be the direct result of influences from the mystery cults of Greece and Rome. Consider what Will Durant says in his book Constantine And Christ: The Story Of Civilization (emphasis added):
Based partly on the Judaic Temple service, and partly on Greek mystery rituals of purification, vicarious sacrifice, and participation, through communion, in the death-overcoming powers of the deity, the Mass grew slowly into a rich congeries of prayers, psalms, readings, sermon, antiphonal recitations, and, above all, that symbolic atoning sacrifice of the “Lamb of God” which replaced, in Christianity, the bloody offerings of older faiths. The bread and wine which these cults had considered as gifts placed upon the altar before the god were now conceived as changed by the priestly act of consecration into the body and blood of Christ, and were presented to God as a repetition of the self-immolation of Jesus on the cross. Then, in an intense and moving ceremony, the worshipers partook of the very life and substance of their Saviour. It was a conception long sanctified by time; the pagan mind needed no schooling to receive it; by embodying it in the “mystery of the Mass,” Christianity became the last and greatest of the mystery religions.
Think about that. Christianity became the last and greatest of the mystery religions and the pagan mind needed no schooling to receive it. This is still the case today. So many are made to feel right at home in modern “churches”, not because they are filled with the Holy Spirit and feel His presence but because the worldliness and paganism that they are so familiar with has been appropriated into church practice. They are told that these things are not wrong and done simply to help people have a better conversion experience or simply as “bait” to attract people to Church.
I’ve said it before and I will not stop saying it: If you need anything other than The Bible, the name of Yeshua lifted up, and the Holy Spirit of God to attract the lost, you are doing it WRONG. You cannot win the world by giving the world what the world already gives the world, and the world offers more worldly worldliness than the Church can ever offer because there are lines no Church would ever dare to cross.
The Bible, on the other hand, is clear. 1 John 2:15-16 says: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the boasting of life—is not from the Father but from the world.” Any church that does not abandon worldliness is a church that does not follow The Bible. It’s just that simple.
While the story of how Christianity abandoned the intimate communal meal in the homes of Believers and adopted a ritual may seem long and complicated, authors Frank Viola and George Barna give a simple overview of how this happened in their book Pagan Christianity? Exploring The Roots Of Our Church Practices where they offer these thoughts:
So why was the full meal replaced with a ceremony including only the bread and the cup? Here is the story. In the first and early second centuries, the early Christians called the Lord’s Supper the “love feast”. At that time they took the bread and the cup in the context of a festive meal. But around the time of Tertullian, the bread and the cup began to be separated from the meal. By the late second century this separation was complete.
Some scholars have argued that the Christians dropped the meal because they wanted to keep the Eucharist from becoming profaned by the participation of unbelievers. This may be partly true. But it is more likely that the growing influence of pagan religious ritual removed the Supper from the joyful, down-to-earth, nonreligious atmosphere of a meal in someone’s living room. By the fourth century, the love feast was prohibited among Christians!
With the abandonment of the meal, the terms breaking of bread and Lord’s Supper disappeared. The common term for the now truncated ritual (just the bread and the cup) was the Eucharist. Irenaeus (130-200) was one of the first to call the bread and the cup an offering. After him, it began to be called the “offering” or “sacrifice”.
The altar table where the bread and cup were placed came to be seen as an altar where the victim was offered. The Supper was no longer a community event. It was rather a priestly ritual that was to be watched at a distance. Throughout the fourth and fifth centuries, there was an increasing sense of awe and dread associated with the table where the sacred Eucharist was celebrated. It became a somber ritual. The joy that had once been a part of it had vanished.
The mystique associated with the Eucharist was due to the influence of the pagan mystery religions, which were clouded with superstition. With this influence, the Christians began to ascribe sacred overtones to the bread and the cup. They were viewed as holy objects in and of themselves.
The practice of communion as we know it today is literally the result of this evolution from Passover to paganism. Yahweh’s Feasts are all about community, fellowship, and rejoicing over the provision of God’s Creation. It is sad to see that religion crept in so early in Christian history and people traded these blessed meal times for dead rituals that eliminated all biblical elements of The Passover. Let’s take a look at one more source of information before moving on, excerpts from the Zondervan Handbook To The History Of Christianity by Jonathan Hill:
It may have been that Christians worshipped together every day but reserved the Eucharist for the first day of the week. For the Christians did meet on this day, apparently from an early date. The Jewish Sabbath was the last day of the week, Saturday; but Jesus had been raised from the dead on the first day, Sunday. The Christians therefore called it ‘the Lord’s Day’ and met then, perhaps for a communal meal; this would have mirrored the communal meal that Jewish families shared at the start of every Sabbath. It is possible that the Christians also continued to attend the Synagogue on Saturdays; we do not know for sure.
As Christianity was becoming less Jewish, so it was becoming more Hellenistic. The rapid spread of the religion throughout the empire even within the first century meant that it quickly became part of the philosophical melting pot that was Hellenism. In some ways Christianity came to resemble Roman religion. For example, where the Romans honored different gods and virtues, the Christians venerated those who died in the faith. The martyrs were not worshipped, of course, but their psychological role to Christians was probably not unlike that of the various gods to pagans.
A more vexed question is the development of Christian rites, especially the Eucharist. How did this become a liturgical event, a church service rather than a formalized meal? We do not really know, only that it did. Justin Martyr, writing in the middle of the second century to a non-Christian audience, explained that Christians would meet early in the morning — especially on Sundays, the Lord’s Day — to share this service. He also reported that, when Jesus’ words of institution were repeated, the bread and wine were changed, and gained the power of spiritually nourishing the recipient. This attitude is also found in Ignatius, some decades earlier, for whom the Eucharist was ‘the medicine of immortality’.
Many have argued that the way in which the Eucharist became the central service for Christians, a rather mysterious ‘rite’ to which only the initiated (those who had been baptized) were welcome, closely paralleled the mystery religions. Some of the paraphernalia of the mystery cults became used by the Christians: white robes for people being baptized, candles and so on. Baptisms were conducted during the night before Easter Day, another ‘secretive’ practice similar to the initiation rites of the mystery religions. Like those of the mystery cults, the Christian rites became associated with special places. Just as the mystery religions used the holy temples or other locations, so too the Christians, by the third century, were using purpose-built churches – rather than people’s houses – to hold their services. There was a corresponding sense that these churches were holy, that the tables upon which the Eucharist was celebrated were altars, and that the ceremony had special powers.
Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that, although many practices were taken from the mystery religions, the basic rites themselves — baptism and Eucharist — came ultimately from Judaism, via the life of Jesus himself. However Hellenized they may sometimes have become, they were not Hellenistic in origin.
The act of “communion” as practiced in most Catholic and Christian circles today is, it seems, at the center of the conversion of the faith movement of the first century Believers into just another pagan false religion. While I do not believe all Christian Churches are this far off, I think it warrants considering this piece of extreme Gnosticism from a Roman Catholic author, Scott Hahn, out of his book Reasons To Believe: How To Understand, Explain, And Defend The Catholic Faith:
The Mass is where the Bible dwells in its natural and supernatural habitat. The Mass is where the whole Bible hangs together, and it’s the only place where the whole Bible is proclaimed consistently and fully. For the Mass is the culmination of the Bible’s prophecy. The Bible is about the Mass, and the Bible suffuses the Mass. When we go to Mass often, we absorb the Bible, as if through every pore of our body. We take in the grace to understand it.
Beliefs like this are the direct result of Christian abandonment of meals, modeled after and certainly including the annual Passover meal, and replacing them with religious rituals from the Greek and Roman mystery cults. Communion replaced the love feasts kept in homes constantly remembering Messiah’s suffering and Easter—a name that is itself the representation of a pagan goddess—replaced the actual Passover meal.
If you were to dig deeper than I have gone in this study, you would learn about how the Eucharist would further evolve through history. I want to jump forward, however, a little over a thousand years beyond where we just left off. Take a look at this paragraph from James F. White’s Protestant Worship: Traditions in Transition:
In 1525, Zwingli published his second eucharistic liturgy, Action or Use of the Lord’s Supper, a radically simplified form. The Lord’s Supper was to be celebrated only on the great Christian festivals—Christmas, Easter, Pentecost—and on the patronal festival of Zurich, Sts. Felix and Regula (September 11)—days on which the people normally communed. On the other fifty Sundays, when few if any communed, there was to be no eucharist. Men and women were to sit separately and recite the Gloria in excelsis and Psalm 113 antiphonally. This was too much active participation for the council, and these items were left to the ministers to recite. There was no avoiding communion, for the bread and wine were carried about to the people in the pews, where each broke off a piece of bread and then drank from the cup.
What we see here is a transition toward making communion more convenient for people. It would only be conducted on dates that were more highly attended. It would no longer need to take up time during the lesser-attended services.
Also note that there were aspects of service deemed “too much” for the people and those portions transitioned to the ministers. Beyond that, the elements of communion were served to the people, as opposed to previous practices that required the people to go to a central table to obtain their communion elements.
In modern practice, having already mentioned the “innovation” of individual communion cups—those little glass or plastic thimble-sized things that contain about three drops of wine or juice—in the 1890s, most who have attended a Protestant worship service where communion was administered would have been served from trays passed down the pews they were seated on. This is all born out of Ulrich Zwingli’s efforts toward making the practice of communion more convenient for the people.
In the most recent of years I have found that at least some Christian churches have transitioned further. Now, technology and heavy processing methods of “foods” has led to the development of prepackaged communion elements. When I have seen these, they are typically handed out when you enter a church, or they may be available on a table in the entryway for you to grab one on your way into the service. They have a wafer that tastes like a piece of paper sealed atop the cup, which itself is sealed by a piece of peal-away foil. The “juice” inside of these things tastes weird, that’s about the only way I can describe it. This stuff certainly does not taste like any type of natural grape juice. I have a feeling it’s some kind of grape-flavored sugar water filled with a lot of unnatural preservatives.
As if this stuff is not bad enough, I once heard a preacher suggest taking communion with saltine crackers and grape soda. Like, you seriously can’t make this stuff up!
Some might argue that it has to be this way because of the structure of large churches. After all, you can’t possibly pass around loaves of real bread and bottles of wine or grape juice through thousands of people. Well, to this I say that first of all Yeshua did just that when He had fish and loaves of bread passed around to over 5,000 people. Secondly, corporate church is probably an unbiblical structure to begin with and the bread and cup are to be offered in smaller and more intimate gatherings of Believers as part of a communal meal. So we really do not need to reduce it to the cracker and thimble thing if we are following a more biblical way of remembering Him in fellowship meals held in homes of Believers.
I am absolutely convinced that we are insulting Yahweh our God and insulting Yeshua our Messiah when we continue to go along with all of these unbiblical practices. First we have the facts that modern communion is born out of mystery cult practices overtaking a communal meal held in home fellowships where Yeshua’s final Passover was the model. Then “preachers” continually look for every possible way to not inconvenience anyone and make ridiculous suggestions like using grape soda for the ritual. Considering what things like soda do to your body, I am absolutely convinced that God hates soda and hates watching people He created consume such destructive concoctions. I assure you that He would not be pleased with the use of grape soda to honor the memory of Messiah Yeshua, just as I am certain He is disgusted by the entire practice of communion as it is done by modern religion.
The Passover Seder?
Let me take time now to switch over to a brief look at the modern “Seder Services” conducted by Orthodox Jews, Messianic Jews, and a growing number of Christians interested in the Jewish/Hebraic roots of their Christian faith. These services, much like the practice of communion, do not find their origin in The Bible.
I know what you might be thinking: Oh, you are wrong, Passover is absolutely in The Bible and it’s one of the commanded celebrations listed in Torah. Yes, that is correct. But I am not talking about The Passover, I am talking about “Seder Services”. These find their origin in the late first century about a decade after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 A.D.
About a decade later, a group of Rabbis got together and formulated ways they felt the Jewish people should move forward without a Temple. Many, especially in Christian circles that are not wholly free from anti-Semitism ingrained in much of Christian thought, see problems with this. While there may be concerns that need to be addressed, we also must consider that Torah actually instructs that in matters unable to be resolved by the text of Scripture alone the reigning priesthood of the day is to make a decision and that decision is to be treated just as if it were in the Torah itself.
Now, the thing about that is that if we identify in a later generation that the decision was truly in error, the leaders of that generation do have the same authority to give a new ruling. This, of course, can get complicated and is not the focus of this teaching. But we can be assured that these men had a biblical basis to make the decisions they did, even if we today can conclude there was and is a better way.
So many people insist that we cannot keep the Feasts, especially The Passover, without a Temple in Jerusalem. Again, I do not have time to go into detail on this, but it is a pretty silly argument. First of all, the first Passover was in Egypt before there was a Temple or even The Tabernacle. Second of all, the Passover is supposed to be kept in the home as a private meal. And third of all, the Tabernacle was the original tent of meeting and existed for a very long time before the Temple was built. If any such type of structure is “required” to process paschal lambs, then the Israelite people could easily have created a new Tabernacle based on the parameters of Torah to be used until a new Temple could be built. Nobody likes to go backwards or start over, but building a new Tabernacle would have been better than just making something up not found anywhere in Scripture to begin with. My point is that no matter how you look at it, there is no valid excuse as to why we cannot celebrate the biblical Passover in our homes as prescribed by Torah.
The biggest problem with the modern “Seder Service” is that all indications are that it—much like the Christian practices of communion, Christmas, and Easter—is also the result of appropriating paganism into religious worship of Yahweh—something that is actually prohibited by the commandment in Deuteronomy 12. While I personally do not fully endorse the corporate “Seder Service” as a practice and believe The Passover is intended to be held in the home with family and possibly close friends, I do have several Passover Haggadahs, which are the guides and liturgy for conducting a full “Passover Seder Service”.
One of the haggadahs I have is from Messianic Jewish teacher, Kevin Geoffrey, titled Behold The Lamb: A Scripture-based, Modern, Messianic Pesach Memorial ‘Avodah. In this guide, which actually does eliminate a lot of the extrabiblical elements of most haggadahs, he includes an article in the booklet titled Changing the Way We “Do” Passover, where he says of the elements of a seder plate: “The bitter herbs alone pass Scriptural muster, while the remaining ingredients find their origins in a mixture of innovation, substitution, and—sadly—paganism.” (Geoffrey proposes that the boiled egg used in many traditional “Seder Services” is rooted in a pagan origin.)
Another tie in to paganism regarding the modern “Seder Service” is proposed by Burton L. Visotzky, Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies at Jewish Theological Seminary, in his book Aphrodite And The Rabbis: How The Jews Adapted Roman Culture To Create Judaism As We Know It. He proposes a list of similarities between the “Seder Service” of modern Rabbinic Judaism and the Roman Symposium Banquets, cocktail parties of the pagan Roman empire. This is what Visotzky says in comparing the Roman symposium with the Jewish seder:
The recipe for a successful symposium starts, of course, with wine. At least three cups, preferably more, and ideally you would need between three and five famous guests. Macrobius describes a symposium at which he imagined all the guests drinking together, even though some were already long dead. They eat hor d’oeuvres, which they dip into a briny sauce. Their appetite is whetted by sharp vegetables, radishes, or romaine lettuce. The Greek word for these vegetables is karpos. Each food is used as a prompt to dig through one’s memory to find opposite bookish quotes about it. The writer Athenaeus (who was actually born in Egypt and lived in Rome, his name not withstanding) cites two hundred works of literature, many long lost to us except by his mention of their having been quoted during his long cocktail party. Above all, guests at a symposium love to quote Homer, the divine Homer. Quoting his work was, to them, like a Baptist preacher quoting the Bible or an English major spouting Shakespeare. It showed you were well schooled.
As the main course was brought in on platters, more wine was mixed with water. Civilized Romans considered in uncouth to drink their wine neat. Instead, they added a good splash of water, warm if the wine needed a little help in bringing out its bouquet. If you were fancy, you served the wine over ice or snow, not an easy thing to have on hand in Late Antiquity. Think of the snow cone as the epitome of classiness. If the wine was wretched, well, they added sugar (now think of Manischewitz). Alcohol in antiquity was limited to wine or beer—no one figured out how to distill hard alcohol until the high Middle Ages. To kick off a symposium, a libation was poured to Bacchus. Then the dinner guests took their places reclining on pillows, leaning on their left arms, and using their right hands to eat. Of course, they washed their fingers before eating their Mediterranean flatbreads, scooping up meat and poultry—no forks back then.
Athenaeus records a debate about dessert, a sweet paste of fruit, wine, and spices. Many think it a nice digestive, but Athenaeus quotes Heracleides of Tarentum, who argues that such a lovely dish ought to be the appetizer, eaten at the outset of the meal. After the sumptuous meal and the endless quotation of texts (recalled by mnemonic devices), the symposium diners sang their hymns of thanksgiving to the gods. Then, the burlesque show began. Scantily clad women called “flute girls” did what they did best (hint: it did not actually involve wind instruments), while vaudevillians worked the room for vulgar laughs. The signal for the descent into debauchery was intoned in Greek: api komias—to the comedians!
All of this should seem suspiciously familiar to anyone who has ever attended a Passover Seder. The traditional Seder begins with a cup of wine, and blessings to God are intoned. Then hands are washed in preparation for eating the dipped vegetables, called karpos, the Greek word fully transliterated into Hebrew in the Passover Haggadah. Like the symposiasts, Jews dip in brine. The traditional Haggadah recalls who was there at the earliest Seders: Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, Rabbi Aqiba, and Rabbi Tarphon (a Hebraized version of the Greek name Tryphon). The conversation is prompted by noting the foods that are served and by asking questions whose answers quote sacred Scripture.
There is more. Traditionally the Passover banquet is eaten leaning on the left side, on pillows. Appetites are whetted by bitter herbs and then sweetened by the pastelike Haroset (following the opinion of Heracleides of Tarentum?). Seder participants even scoop up food in flatbread. Following the Passover meal there are hymns to God.
But the Rabbis drew the line at vaudeville: no flute girls, no comedians. Indeed, the Mishnah instructs, “We do not end the meal after eating the paschal lamb by departing api komias.” That final phrase, thanks to the Talmud of Jewish Babylonia, where they did not know Greek, has come to be Hebraized as “afi-komen,” the hidden piece of matzo eaten for dessert. But in Roman Palestinian they define the term quite accurately: “Api komias refers to comedians.”As long ago as 1957, Siegfried Stein wrote the authoritative “The influence of Symposia Literature on the Literary Form of the Pesah Haggadah.” It seems that the reason this night is different from all other nights is that the rabbis adopted the structure of the Greco-Roman symposium banquet for the Jewish feast of freedom, perhaps at the end of the first century CE.
That is certainly a lot to take in, and despite Visotzky’s detailed comparison I don’t want to automatically jump to the conclusion that modern “Seder Services” are pagan and that be the sole reason to avoid them. I think it’s a bit more complicated than that, but easily simplified. Often when Christians see the truth about celebrating Yahweh’s Feasts one of the first things they do is go to a Jewish “Seder Service” during Passover. If possible they would likely seek out a Messianic ministry hosting one, or even one hosted by a Christian Church, but if these options are not available they can usually at least find one hosted by an Orthodox Jewish ministry that is open to having outside guests. This in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing.
My first experience with a full “Seder Service” was during my time attending Bible College between the years of 2001 and 2003. The particular ministry where I went to Bible College has a history of being up and down and all over the place when it comes to following Torah. It was there that not only did I first experience a “Seder Service”, but also where I was introduced to keeping the food laws, understanding when The Sabbath is (not Sunday, of course), learning to celebrate the biblical Feasts of God, and so much more. But they have a habit of teaching something for a short time and then not teaching it and most people who attend there right now are clueless that these and other Torah-centered topics were ever taught there at all. I thank God that I learned these things, but I am also deeply saddened that they do not give others the opportunity to learn these essential parts of Christian faith.
As far as the corporate “Seder Services”, however, clearly they are not the biblical pattern and even appear to be at least inspired if not fully appropriated from a pagan Roman practice. Some try to say that the “Last Supper” we read about in the Gospel record was a “Seder”, but this too does not match up. The only similarities between the “Last Supper” and a modern “Seder Service” are those same similarities between anything we read about in The Bible regarding the Passover meal and a modern “Seder Service”.
Let me also add that many scholars believe that the language used in the final Passover of Yeshua, just before His crucifixion, suggests the use of the four cups. This, of course, would be in harmony with the four cups used in modern Passover services today. I do not personally see any issue with this and do celebrate Passover—in my home with my family, after the biblical pattern—with the four cups. The similarity between this and the cups of wine used in the Roman symposiums seems a bit of a reach. Wine was used in every Feast and festival in Israel’s history, and whether you use one cup or four at Passover seems a matter of personal preference. But it does seem, whatever influences the symposiums may have had on the development of the modern “Seder Service”, there is an already established biblical significance to the use of four cups, or four unique blessings and drinks from the same cup, during Passover. For this reason, while not doing most of the extrabiblical liturgy found in traditional haggadahs, I do maintain the four cup tradition.
My personal view of Passover is that it is intended to be a family meal in the home after the biblical pattern we read about in Exodus. We are commanded to eat lamb prepared with bitter herbs, bread that has not leavened in baking, and while not specified in the Exodus record it does seem to be a part of Yeshua’s Passover to include the cup, possibly four cups. I have prepared A Simplified Christian Passover Guide designed specifically for home celebration of The Passover that cuts out all of the added liturgy and sticks to a wholly biblical approach. Many have found it useful in bridging the gap between the unbiblical practices of communion and “Seder Services”.
Let me note real quickly that, despite what I have shared to this point, I am not so sure we should say it is outright evil to participate in a traditional “Seder Service”. For most Christians who discover truths I have shared in this message, these services offer a great opportunity to experience the cultural foundation of Passover and give them something to build their own home celebration on. Even with a simplified guide such as what I offer, it helps a great deal to attend at least one traditional Passover “Seder Service” to get a feel for it. After all, if all you have ever known is the cracker and cup thing any Passover celebration can seem overwhelming, so even knowing these large corporate gatherings might be rooted in a Roman pagan practice and aren't exactly the biblical pattern, they may still be quite helpful for Christians when first discovering the importance of celebrating Passover—for research purposes. This would be no different, really, than when I have read books on Wicca and witchcraft when researching the influences of paganism on modern Christian practices. Just remember, according to Hebrews 10:26-27, once you know the truth you have an obligation to walk in it.
Back To The Bible
Like so many things, it is clearly long past time to rethink the way we partake of “the bread and the cup”. There is something to be said about the concept of sharing a meal with fellow Believers that involves taking the bread—real bread—and the cup—bigger than a thimble.
While not necessarily heretical, the “Seder” and “communion” rituals are unbiblical deviations from The Passover. What is most concerning, I feel, is that they both eliminate the central part of the celebration: eating the lamb prepared with bitter herbs. “Communion” is more obvious, it’s a little cracker and juice ritual that only vaguely resembles one element of Yeshua’s Passover. “Seder” services include a lamb shank bone as symbolic of the Passover lamb, but after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 A.D. rabbinic leaders decided they could not sacrifice Passover lambs without a Temple. Some “Seders” have a banquet meal following the liturgy where lamb is served, but many don’t even include lamb for that part of their celebration either. Apparently these ancient Rabbis from the late first century forward forgot that there was no Temple or even Tabernacle at the first Passover, and even if such a structure were required certainly they could have built a new Tabernacle according to the instructions given in the Torah. Like everything else, these are yet more examples of the totally unnecessary and completely unbiblical deviations from Scripture by both Christians and Jews following the work of Messiah. It amazes me how quickly and easily people fall prey to the lies of the enemy, coming up with their own way of doing things after entertaining the devil’s tricks to question to commandment of God just like in Eden when they listened to the question of the serpent: Hath God said?
A Jewish tradition that carries into modern times is Oneg Shabbat. This is a meal gathering, typically done on Friday evening or Saturday afternoon according to a modern calendar, either in a home or following a Shabbat Synagogue meeting. This oneg is done in both Orthodox and Messianic Jewish fellowships.
There are also indications that the sect known as The Way in the first century held similar gatherings on the evening following the close of Shabbat, which would be Saturday night according to a modern calendar week. This time is referred to as Motzei Shabbat. Many scholars believe this is the setting of Acts 20:7-12, as the language in the Greek indicates that this was not merely the first day of the week, as in “Sunday”, but was the first day until the next Shabbat, and as Paul spoke until midnight and then set out at daybreak it would indicate that this was a Motzei Shabbat gathering as opposed to a “Sunday Morning Church” gathering the way many Christians try to spin it.
As the text states in Acts 20:11, they broke bread after the message (and after Paul prayed for the man who fell out of the window and died, which caused the man’s life to return to him). This is all in line with the pattern of the communal meal that would have included the bread and the cup in memory of Yeshua their Messiah.
So much of today’s Christian practice is foreign to what is outlined in The Bible, but I do not know if there is a more insulting practice than to take the Passover meal our Messiah Himself said to continue in His memory and reduce it to a stale wafer, a few drops of grape juice, and a five minute ritual. Short of radical and much needed reform in Christian practice there may be a long road back to in-home fellowships where Yeshua is remembered in a setting much like the Passover meal He shared with His disciples immediately preceding His path to the cross. But you can start by celebrating Passover annually in a biblical way, in His memory.
From there consider if you may be capable of starting a Shabbat fellowship in your home or in a small public gathering place, like a community clubhouse. I know a guy who started a Church in such a facility in the neighborhood he lived in at the time. If you have access to such a place, it might be a wonderful spot to start up a weekly fellowship where you can discuss Scripture with friends over a biblically clean meal that includes bread and wine/grape juice.
Another bold and confrontational idea might be a refusal to take modern communion if you might find yourself in a religious gathering where it is being offered. I know there is a movement of people to leave traditional Churches because of all the gross hypocrisy, but there is also a movement within the Churches of people hoping to be a light in darkness and showcase a true biblical lifestyle among the religious lost. There are also times when some might find themselves attending a traditional Christian Church for the sake of their parents. A refusal to take communion may raise some eyebrows but it also may open a door for conversation.
This message is probably a hard pill for some to swallow. There are many who claim great blessing in their life as a result of taking communion. To these I would ask: Who blessed you?
Think about that for a moment. If a religious ritual appears to be wholly unbiblical, potentially evolved from a pagan ritual, and even an insult to God, and yet you find you have been blessed in doing it, who do you think provided that blessing?
I know what you are thinking: “Is he seriously suggesting that Satan is blessing people who take communion?”
Yes, I really am! Too much of the time people are afraid to consider that Satan is blessing people through their keeping of unbiblical religious rituals. But this actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it. He is the deceiver, his mission is to keep you in deception. If he cannot deceive you into being an outright sinner, his next trick is to get you involved in an unbiblical form of Christian religion.
For about 1,500 years or more now Christians could not fathom religious practice void of communion or the Eucharist. It’s one of the sacraments of the faith. It’s sacred. It’s holy.
No. It’s unbiblical!
And the knowledge that something is unbiblical, no matter how sacred it may be to modern religion, should be all it takes for any serious Believer who is truly filled with God’s Holy Spirit to abandon it.
~Blessings and Shalom~
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