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What Is the Cup: Container or Contents?


Does the cup in the Lord's Supper refer to the container or the contents?The gospel passages about the Lord's Supper refer to the cup. But does this mean the container or the contents: the fruit of the vine? What does the Bible say?



What is the “cup” in the Lord’s Supper? Sometimes we have confusion because people fail to understand the symbolism, in the Lord’s Supper.

“Cup” Is Often Used Symbolically in Scripture.

Consider examples in which “cup” is symbolic, having no reference to a physical container.

Psalms 23:5 – My cup runs over

Psalms 116:13 – I will take the cup of salvation

Isaiah 51:17,22 – The cup of the Lord’s fury

Matthew 26:39,42 – Let this cup pass from Me

Many Bible words may sound like they refer to a container but are actually used to refer to the contents. This includes words such as “table,” “dish,” and “cup.”

So the word “cup” is often used symbolically, and since the Lord’s Supper abounds in symbols, we should suspect that the significance of the cup in the Lord’s Supper is not literal but symbolic. So consider the passages where the word is used regarding the Lord's Supper.

Matthew 26:26-29 (cf. Mark 14:22-25)

Jesus took the cup, gave thanks, and gave to them saying, “this is My blood.” “The cup” which He took is what represents His blood. Is that the container or the contents?

In verse 29 Jesus referred to the cup as “This fruit of the vine.”

Jesus showed plainly that “the cup” referred to the element or the substance that represents His blood. It is the “fruit of the vine,” not the container.

Luke 22:17-20

In verses 17,18 Jesus “took the cup,” gave thanks, and told the disciples, “Take this and divide it among yourselves.”

When they “divided” the cup, what did they divide? Surely they divided the element, not the container. So the “cup” refers to the fruit of the vine, not the container.

1 Corinthians 10:16,17

“The cup” which we bless is “the communion of the blood of Christ” (verse 16). Does “the communion of the blood” refer to the element or the container? Surely it is the element.

“We” bless the cup (verse 16) and “we all” in the one body partake of the one bread (verse 17). “We all” included both the Corinthians and Paul, who was not at Corinth (1 Cor. 16:8). Those in the “body,” who partake of the cup and bread, cannot be just a local church, since Paul and the Corinthians were not in the same local church. It is the universal church as used in Eph. 4:4-6; 1:22,23; 5:23-25; etc.

But “we all” in the universal body cannot possibly use the same container all around the world. So, “the cup” refers only to the fruit of the vine, which is blessed by all Christians in all congregations. It is still “the cup” even though the churches do not use the same container.

All Christians in every place and throughout all ages bless the same bread and the same cup. We drink the same “cup” and eat the same bread this week as we did last week and last year. We drink the same “cup” Jesus and His apostles drank, but not the same container!

1 Corinthians 11:23-29

Here Paul retells the institution of the Supper, much like Matthew’s account.

Three separate times the passage refers to eating the bread and drinking the cup (verses 26, 27, 28). When one “drinks” the cup, does he drink the container or the fruit of the vine? Clearly he drinks the element, since one cannot possibly drink the container.

The expression “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup” (verse 26) shows that repeatedly, again and again, we eat “this bread” and drink “this cup”: the same bread and the same cup. It is the same every week, because it is the same elements, but not the same containers.

The bread which we bless and break is the memorial of the body of Jesus. And the cup which we bless and drink is the fruit of the vine, the memorial of the blood of Jesus.


Click here to learn more about the elements of the Lord's Supper.


(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2019;

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