The Lord’s Supper in the Early Church Part II: The Lord’s Supper in the Third Century -- By: George W. Dollar

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 117:467 (Jul 1960)
Article: The Lord’s Supper in the Early Church Part II: The Lord’s Supper in the Third Century
Author: George W. Dollar

The Lord’s Supper in the Early Church
Part II:
The Lord’s Supper in the Third Century

George W. Dollar

In the previous article it was pointed out that second century fathers and writings indicate a widespread use of Jewish terms for the Supper and the general title of Eucharist. Mystical connotations were attached to the observance with seemingly much speculative language and the common idea of Christ being present in some form while any type of symbolism was given secondary place. Great difficulties were noted in accurate translation, not only of exact words but, to an even greater extent, the translation of concepts in the light of context. Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, in particular, combined the language of Jewish ceremonials and those of the mystery religions without, apparently, a close study of the Pauline instructions in this important subject. Neither writer had a clear-cut understanding of Paul’s teachings on the Lord’s Supper or of the spiritual blessings attending its observance.


Tertullian, the Thunderer of North Africa, had contributions to make to this theological issue as he did to most issues within the life of the church. Though a layman and lawyer (e. 160–230) he possessed keen theological insights and an extensive reservoir of razor-like words with which to clothe his vast knowledge. In the words of a recent writer he was a “furious windmill with a spinning brain…using words like brickbats and rejoicing when the brickbats drew blood.”1 Denunciatory, violent in invective, and agile in passing from text to text and subject to subject, he stands as a maverick among the fathers and a feared investigator of men and movements at the end of the second century and the first third of the next. He produced some of the finest literary passages of his day.2

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series on the general subject “The Lord’s Supper in the Early Church.”

To Tertullian the Supper was a sacrament by which we come to believe that the “bread and the cup…(are) in the gospel the truth of Christ’s body and blood.”3 Later in the same work he states that the bread represents (Latin, repraesentare) His own body and elsewhere he contends that the bread is the figuring (Latin, figurare) of His body and “there could not have been a figure if there had not been a true body.”4 Such passages as these mentioned have led Hebert to conclude that Tertullian “took the presence to be figurative only.”

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