Why Is The Lord's Supper called "Communion?"

Copyright © 2001, by David A. Duncan

One verse in 1 Corinthians speaks of the Lord's Supper as the "communion", and we often refer to the Lord's Supper as the communion, but my experience is that most Christians don't really think about what this word means in connection with the Lord's Supper.

(1 Cor 10:16 NKJV) The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?

The first definition given in the dictionary is, "The act or an instance of sharing, as of thoughts or feelings.[1]" The derivation for this word is from the Latin for mutual participation, which is derived from communis, common.

The meaning of the passage is to be understood by the meaning of the word "communion" based on the common usage of the word when Paul wrote his letter. The Greek word is a from of koinonia, (koy-nohn-ee'-ah) meaning "partnership, i.e. (lit.) participation, ... fellowship.[2]"

The English Dictionary and the Greek word definitions point to a sharing which involves fellowship. We can share a table or room with a stranger, and not have fellowship. But, in the Lord's Supper we should have fellowship (The condition of sharing similar interests, ideals, or experiences, as by reason of profession, religion, or nationality.[3])

What is the fellowship or participation (Greek word definition) that we have in the Lord's Supper? How do we "share" (dictionary definition #1) in the blood of Christ and in His body? We can only "participate" in the blood of Christ, by participating in that for which His blood was shed - even the redemption of our sins - (Col 1:14 KJV) "In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:" To share (To participate in, use, enjoy, or experience jointly or in turns[4]) in the sacrifice of Jesus then is to jointly experience the redemption of our sins purchased by his sacrifice, and this joint experience is commemorated in the communion of the Lord's Supper.

From the beginning, the Lord's Supper was partaken of in a common gathering of Christians, and therefore this ceremony was a public declaration by the participants that they shared in the sacrifice of Jesus (body and blood) for their sins. All believers share (or have in common) the benefits of salvation, and Jude (1:3) referred to salvation as our "common salvation." There is no distinction made in Jesus Christ, but all are equal participants in this communion ((Gal 3:28 KJV) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.)

The primary aspects of Communion then are the declaration of Jesus' death, our sharing in the redemption purchased by his death, and the understanding that we share in this common salvation with all believers and are therefore united in Jesus Christ. Barnes, in his commentary stated it this way:

We have communion with one, (koinwnia, that which is in common, that which pertains to all, that which evinces fellowship,) when we partake together; when all have an equal right, and all share alike; when the same benefits or the same obligations are extended to all. And the sense here is, that Christians partake alike in the benefits of the blood of Christ; they share the same blessings; and they express this together, and in common, when they partake of the communion.[5]

Sometimes when we partake of the communion, one will mention that we do so in memory of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is true that the resurrection was confirmation that Jesus was who he said he was, and should provoke belief and trust in His sacrifice - however, the focus of the communion is on the death of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 11:26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he come.)

Let us then keep in mind as we partake that we are making a public statement that we share in the redemption purchased by the sacrifice of the body and blood of Jesus, and that we share in that redemption alike or in common with all believers. This is not a passive thing, but an important active declaration or confession of our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

[1] The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

[2] Strong's Dictionary, QuickVerse, Parson's Technology

[3] The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

[4] Ibid

[5] Barnes' Notes on the New Testament, Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, page 749, comments on 1 Cor.10:16