Unleavened Bread Required for Communion?

Q&A November/December 2012

Norm Olson November 9, 2012




Q. Are churches required to use bread without yeast in observing the Lord’s Table?

A. Churches use a variety of elements in Communion bread, but those who insist on unleavened bread maintain two primary reasons for doing so. Let me enumerate, with opposite perspectives.

1. Christ used unleavened bread at the Last Supper.

Did He? Matthew 26:26 states, “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread.” The Greek word for bread here is artos, which generally indicates a loaf of common leavened bread. The word for unleavened bread is, in contrast, azumos, found in other New Testament passages, like Matthew 26:17. The Last Supper took place during the Jewish Feast of Unleavened Bread, so Jesus and the disciples may have eaten that easily accessible, plentiful unleavened bread that night. But whether or not this use would indicate a requirement for Communion in our day is in question. Nowhere in the New Testament are we specifically commanded to use unleavened bread. Also, the Feast of Unleavened Bread was a Jewish observance. Should we be bound to something in the Dispensation of the Church that might compare with other Jewish ceremonial customs and laws we do not observe? There seems to be no account of the early New Testament church where unleavened bread mattered.

The Jews observed the Passover to remember how God delivered His people from Egyptian bondage; the Children of Israel used unleavened bread because there was no time to put yeast into the bread dough before they swiftly left Egypt. We have no indication that New Testament church believers are asked to remember this Old Testament event. The Last Supper took place at the Passover time, but this does not necessarily mean that all the details of this meal drive our New Testament ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. We are required to remember the work of Christ on the cross for us through observing the Table. Could using unleavened bread mean returning to Old Testament shadows instead of reality (Passover vs. Christ’s atonement)? We don’t want to observe the wrong thing at Communion—the Passover, rather than Christ and His work on the cross for us.

2. Leaven (yeast) represents sin.

Leaven often stands for sin in the Bible, but in other places it does not. In the Old Testament, God’s people were commanded to use leavened bread as they worshiped (Leviticus 7:13; 23:16, 17). In the New Testament, we find leaven to stand for the gospel and God’s kingdom, while “leaven of the Pharisees” and others spoke of their false teaching (Matthew 13:33; 16:11, 12). But there does not appear to be any Scripture that tells New Testament believers to avoid leaven of bread, to say nothing about the need to observe the Passover. Spurgeon said, “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.”

The “breaking of bread” is used for the Lord’s Table in the New Testament church. The word artos, the language of ordinary meals is used, which would suggest ordinary bread.

Another thought to consider is that Romans 14:17–19 teaches that the things of God are “not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.” The application of this passage might be twofold: first, an emphasis on food is more descriptive of Old Testament laws and shadows than of the New Testament. Second, we are to emphasize what is beyond things like the elements used in Communion. Some people make such an issue of them that they commit the greater sin, such as refusing to partake of the Lord’s Supper if these elements are not what they think they should be, or to even cause divisiveness over them.

Having noted the above, I would say that we must be careful to make our remembrance of the Lord’s Table rightfully solemn. If a church desires unleavened bread, it is bread, so it is certainly acceptable. But we should be careful not to use elements other than bread. Examples of sloppiness do exist. We must not create a contest out of who makes the best-tasting bread either. We should also keep the ordinances within the auspices of the local church.

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send your Bible questions to nolson@garbc.org, or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.