The regulative principleDivide it Among Yourselves by Bobby Phillips
By Bobby Phillips
“And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves…”
In The Cup of Blessing: An Analysis of 1 Cor. 10:16-17, 2014, I discussed how Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth teaches that, in the Lord’s Supper, the one sacrifice of Christ is signified by one Loaf broken and one Cup of wine poured out, and how the modern Reformed and Presbyterian practice of distributing multiple individual cups is in conflict with this commanded symbolism.
In one section of that essay, I dealt with objections to the practice of the Common Cup. However, there is one response that I did not address:
Objection: “We use multiple individual cups at our church, but we believe the practice is justified by Luke 22:17, ‘divide it among yourselves.’ All we are doing is dividing the Cup as commanded.”
Answer: Far from justifying multiple individual cups, Lk. 22:17precludes them, because it is evident from Luke’s words that Jesus, as the minister blessing the Sacrament, left it to the communicants to divide the Cup.
First let us review the verse in its full context. Verse 17 occurs as part of a parallelism within a parallelism. Overall, Luke is relating the events of the Lord’s Supper twice, once in relation to the final resurrection and once again in relation to the symbolism of the Sacrament:
 And when the hour was come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him.
 And He said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer:
 For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.
 And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves:
 For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come.
 And He took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.
 Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.
Notice that in the first parallelism concerning the final resurrection, there is a sub-parallelism: “I eat with you now, but I will not eat with you again until the kingdom of God comes. I drink with you now, but I will not drink with you again until the kingdom of God comes.” The emphasis of Jesus’ words is that this is his last opportunity to sup with his disciples for a long, long time. Hence why He looked forward to it so intensely.
So when Jesus says, “Divide among yourselves, for (γάρ, Strong’s G1063) I will not drink until the kingdom of God comes, his point is not to draw a contrast between Himself and the disciples, as if Jesus were saying, “You disciples take over the Sacrament, because I’m about to die.” The point is to include them: “You disciples drink with me, because this is my last chance to dine with you in the flesh.”
But implicit in these words is the acknowledgement that when Jesus, as the minister consecrating the Cup, handed it to the disciples, not only did He Himself take a sip, but He did not divide the Cup on behalf of the disciples. Rather, He handed the Cup to them and told them to divide it. If we are to take seriously the commandment, “Do this in remembrance of me”—a commandment to copy the procedure Jesus followed at the Last Supper—it should be evident that our own practice today should be for the officiating minister to bless the Cup, drink for himself, and pass it to the communicants for them distribute among themselves. Yet I think it’s obvious, such a practice cannot be fulfilled by multiple individual cups, where the procedure is typically to partition the Cup into thimble-sized vessels in advance of the worship service.
This is not my own private interpretation of Lk. 22:17; the verse played a significant role in a major controversy that arose between the Presbyterian and Independent (i.e., congregationalist) delegates of the Westminster Assembly in June and July 1644.
According to the letters of Robert Baillie (one of the commissioners sent to the Assembly by the presbyterian Church of Scotland) the Independent faction was continually the great “retarders” of the Assembly’s work. However, they proved particularly stubborn with respect to the Lord’s Supper, the practice of which they “mangled,” says Baillie (Letters and Journals II, p. 197). When we read the Independent minister Thomas Goodwin (Works XI.vii.7, p. 415), we may discover that what threw his faction into such a fit was how the Scots, as part of a practice long established by John Knox, believed that the communicants should be physically sitting at the Table. Naturally, because one Table could not possibly accommodate a large congregation, the Scottish pattern required that different segments of the congregation communicated in succession. This, said the Independents, was unacceptable. Because they did not believe in a universal Visible Church that was just as much present in its parts as in the whole, the Independents, as Congregationalists, held that each local congregation was an indissoluble unit. Thus, the whole local congregation had to take the Elements of the Supper simultaneously. However, to minister to large congregations, it was necessary for Independent pastors to take the Elements to people where they were sitting in the pews. So in Independent practice, the minister was in effect dividing the Loaf and the Cup on behalf of the congregation.
The Scottish Presbyterians not only threw back to the Independents the accusation that they were splitting the congregation; they rightly called attention to the fact that the Independents’ practice contradicted Lk. 22:17. The Rev. George Gillespie, who served as commissioner to the Westmisnter Assembly along with Baillie, wrote,
“Sure it were more communion like to sit and receive at one Table… When Communicants come not to the Table, but abide in their Pews, some here some there, this is indeed a dividing of the congregation in variās partēs partiumque particulās [in various parts, and pieces of parts]. Neither can they be said to divide the cup amongst themselves, (which by the institution they ought to do in testimony of their communion) when they are not within reach yea oftentimes not within sight of one another. There is nothing like a dividing it amongst themselves, where they come not to the Table, and there give the cup to each other… And if notwithstanding some will not be persuaded that the words, divide it among yourselves, were meant of the Eucharistic cup, as I am confident they are in a mistake, so I hope they will at least yield this argument, ā fortiōrī [from the stronger]: If there was a symbol of communion in the Paschal cup, that the receivers were to divide it amongst themselves, sure this ought to have place much more in the Eucharistic cup, for the Lord’s supper doth more clearly and fully set forth the communion of Saints than the Passover did.”
Granted, the Scots conceded to placing the relevant sentences of the official Westminster Directory in italics, to signify that having communicants sit at the Table was not absolutely required of all participating churches. They accepted this because after three weeks of debating the Indpendents for every inch of the Supper, they simply wanted the larger work of the Assembly to move forward. Nevertheless, in an Act dated February 3, 1645, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland explicitly banned among their congregations the practice of communion in the pews and announced that the doctrine of Table-sitting was their indisputable policy.
To summarize my answer to the objection, it is evident from Lk. 22:17 that the practice instituted by Christ was for the minister blessing the Sacrament to give it to the congregation for them to divide the Loaf and Cup. For the minister, or the elders, or the deacons, to take it upon themselves to divide the Loaf or the Cup prior to the administration of the Supper is to deviate from the commandment of Christ and, as Gillespie asks us to recognize, to subvert the intended purpose of the Sacrament: communion. By passing one Loaf and one Cup to each other, consciously looking around at each other at the Table and leaving portions for one another, Christians enjoy a fellowship that is far more personal and affectionate than the mechanical procedure of dispensing a prepackaged ration. And with God’s grace, Reformed and Presbyterian churches will become convicted of this and change their policies, or so I pray.