The Cup and the Development of Bread-and-Water Eucharist

One significant word present in the Institution Narratives of the Last Supper in the New Testament (Mt 26:26–29; Mk 14:22–25; Lk 22:14–23; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26) is the word cup (τὸ ποτήριον). One word that is conspicuously absent is the word for wine (ὁ οἶνος). While it is safe to assume that the cup does contain wine, this lack of reference to wine is one that invites explanation. The use of τὸ ποτήριον for ὁ οἶνος has sometimes be explained to be a metonym. In this paper, I will argue that the use of τὸ ποτήριον for ὁ οἶνος was an intentional act by the writers of these narratives. Since ὁ οἶνος is not a rare word in the New Testament, the gospel writers’ reluctance to use it is bizarre. I argue that this reluctance comes from the complicated relationship that Second Temple Judaism had with wine. (De Vita Contemplativa). This relationship flowed into some Rabbinic writings (y. Šab. 1.4; Avodah Zarah 5.5). It was a relationship that swung between acceptance with moderation or total avoidance. While it was not entirely prohibited, it posed problems: its associations with intoxication and pagan rituals, for example was always a concern for the religious leaders. Therefore, the status of wine was not helped by the fact that it is a common element in pagan cults and social banqueting tradition. By using “cup,” the worshipers could shift the focus from the wine itself to the “wine giver.” This explains the consistent use of cup as a metonym for wine in many ritual contexts (cf. the four cups of the Passover Seder). In a sense, the τὸ ποτήριον is always more than ὁ οἶνος. I will argue that the use τὸ ποτήριον for ὁ οἶνος, reached a complete circle when some early Christians replaced wine with water in the celebration of their communal meals. The use of water in place of wine among some early Christ groups is a well-attested phenomenon and should be seen as a gradual but natural development that, given the consistent downplaying of the element, it will one day be replaced among some Christians, by a less controversial element. The desire to replace wine with water might have also been inspired by the words of Jesus signifying abstinence from the fruit of the vine until he would drink it ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ as in Mark 14:25.