Questions From Readers
What did Paul mean when he said: “As often as you eat this loaf and drink this cup”?
Referring to the institution of the Memorial of Jesus’ death, Paul wrote: “As often as you eat this loaf and drink this cup, you keep proclaiming the death of the Lord, until he arrives.” (1 Corinthians 11:25, 26) Some feel that the word “often” here indicates that Christ’s death should be commemorated frequently, in the sense of many times. Hence, they commemorate it more often than once a year. Is that what Paul meant?
It is now almost 2,000 years since Jesus inaugurated the Memorial of his death. Therefore, celebrating the Memorial even once a year means that it has been celebrated often since 33 C.E. However, in the context of 1 Corinthians 11:25, 26, Paul was discussing, not how often, but how the Memorial should be observed. In the original Greek, he did not use the word pol·laʹkis, which means “often” or “frequently.” Rather, he used the word ho·saʹkis, which means “as often as,” an idiom meaning “whenever,” “every time that.” Paul was saying: ‘Every time that you do this, you keep proclaiming the death of the Lord.’*
How often, then, should the Memorial of Jesus’ death be commemorated? It is appropriate to observe it just once a year. It truly is a memorial, and memorials are usually observed annually. In addition, Jesus died on the day of the Jewish Passover, which was held once a year. Appropriately, Paul referred to Jesus as “Christ our passover,” since Jesus’ sacrificial death opened the way to life for spiritual Israel, just as the first Passover sacrifice preserved alive the natural Israelites’ firstborn in Egypt and opened the way for the nation’s release from slavery. (1 Corinthians 5:7; Galatians 6:16) This connection with the annual Jewish Passover is further evidence that the Memorial of Jesus’ death should be observed just once a year.
Moreover, Paul associated Jesus’ death with another annual Jewish feast, the Day of Atonement. At Hebrews 9:25, 26, we read: “Neither is it in order that [Jesus] should offer himself often, as indeed the high priest enters into the holy place from year to year [on Atonement Day] with blood not his own. . . . But now he has manifested himself once for all time at the conclusion of the systems of things to put sin away through the sacrifice of himself.” Since Jesus’ sacrifice replaced the annual Atonement Day sacrifice, the Memorial of his death is properly observed annually. There is no Scriptural reason to observe the Memorial more frequently than that.
In harmony with this, historian John Laurence von Mosheim reports that the second-century Christians in Asia Minor were accustomed to observing the Memorial of Jesus’ death “on the fourteenth day of the first Jewish month [Nisan].” It was only in later years that it became customary in Christendom to observe it more often than once a year.
Compare the account at 1 Samuel 1:3, 7. There, “as often as” (in the modern translation of the Hebrew) refers to events that happened “from year to year,” or once a year, when Elkanah and his two wives went to the tabernacle at Shiloh.