Recently there was a discussion in one of the Primitive Baptist message boards on the subject of communion bread, sparked by a question about recipes. Up front and perhaps needless to say, any bread won’t do for The Lord’s Supper, just as much as any drink isn’t sufficient for communion. Biblically, unleavened bread and wine were used by our Lord and the early church in communion. These two items were used throughout church history and we continue to use such today, despite the fact that many American denominations have abandoned such.
As far as recipes are concerned, the most common choice among those polled was a simple combination of bleached flour and cold water, making perforated lines in the dough so it can be broken by the pastor more easily when the ordinance is administered. One thing I did notice were several remarks about “additions,” as if it was somehow unsound or unorthodox for an ingredient other than flour and water to be used. Similarly, there were some comments about not “adding any leaven” with regards to things such as salt or oil. Before reading any further, please understand I’m not mocking those who replied as such nor am I insulting their position. But this does give me a great opportunity to share scripture, history, and apply a little reasoning to the question and our own preconceived notions.
First of all, we should know what the word leaven means. Leaven has reference to a substance, typically yeast, that makes dough rise. While we may use baking soda for that purpose in modern times, in the Old Testament that substance was most often yeast. Yeast is a single cell organism. While I’ve often called it a bacteria, it’s technically a fungus. To be very clear, neither salt nor oil is leaven. So if salt or oil is a part of the recipe, the bread is still most certainly unleavened bread if it lacked yeast or other agents causing it to rise.
Again, leaven doesn’t mean “additive” or “additional ingredient.” Words have meanings. Learning a definition helps us not overreact. While I’m thinking about “added ingredients,” I might also point out that if you’re using Americanized, store bought flour, there are quite a few additives in the flour you’re using already. Examples of this include bromate, azodicarbonamide, L-Cysteine, ascorbic acid, calcium peroxide, glycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate, etc. So the “no additives” argument goes out the window if we’re using mass produced flour. Nothing like a little factual information to mess up well intended but erroneous opinion!
Existing in a Vacuum
It’s also important for us to recognize that we don’t exist in a vacuum. We practice things handed to us by our forefathers. Communion, The Lord’s Supper, is an ordinance of the church based on the items available at Passover. So to learn what the early church used, we should look to Jewish customs and laws. In other words, what does the Old Testament say?
Interestingly, there are recipes for unleavened bread included in the law. If you google “Kosher Unleavened Bread Recipes,” what you’ll find are instructions that mirror the ingredients listed in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. In fact, modern Orthodox Jews are so strict regarding their unleavened bread, they monitor the grain extensively until the bread it made to ensure nothing that could defile it comes in contact with it prior to consumption.
Most commonly, Jewish unleavened bread is made with oil and salt. When these ingredients were mentioned in the discussion group, some seemed to react to these as if they were additions or pollutants. This shows more study of the Old Testament is needed. For instance, from Leviticus 2, a grain (meat) offering is described as:
“And when any will offer a meat offering unto the LORD, his offering shall be [of] fine flour; and he shall pour oil upon it, and put frankincense thereon: And he shall bring it to Aaron’s sons the priests: and he shall take thereout his handful of the flour thereof, and of the oil thereof, with all the frankincense thereof; and the priest shall burn the memorial of it upon the altar, [to be] an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD:” – Leviticus 2:1-2
Similarly, an oblation of a meat offering was:
And if thou bring an oblation of a meat offering baken in the oven, [it shall be] unleavened cakes of fine flour mingled with oil, or unleavened wafers anointed with oil. And if thy oblation [be] a meat offering [baken] in a pan, it shall be [of] fine flour unleavened, mingled with oil. Thou shalt part it in pieces, and pour oil thereon: it [is] a meat offering. – Leviticus 2:4-6
So clearly, oil was a part of their recipe for unleavened bread. Not only was it permitted, it was commanded. Also, consider these interesting notes regarding leaven, honey, and salt:
No meat offering, which ye shall bring unto the LORD, shall be made with leaven: for ye shall burn no leaven, nor any honey, in any offering of the LORD made by fire. Leviticus 2:11
And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt. – Leviticus 2:13
[Note: Meat in meat offering meant food, not necessarily animal meat. Any food was meat. In this case, a meat offering is a grain offering.]
These recipes are why Jews used oil and salt in their unleavened bread. They were told to use oil. They were even forbidden from omitting salt! I can already hear the objection, “yeah well preacher, that’s with regards to the oblation, not unleavened bread at Passover.” While that’s technically true, the fact that this is the historically regarded recipe for all Jewish unleavened bread indicates oil and salt were indeed used in the first century in the bread during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Why would they have a second recipe? To them, this was simply how they made the bread.
The Original Passover
It’s also helpful for us to remember that our usage of unleavened bread came from the Old Testament Passover feast. While we look at this bread from the New Testament perspective, in the Old Testament their understanding of it was different. To the Old Testament believer, this bread was indicative of the haste with which they left Egypt, leaving so abruptly that they had no time to leaven their bread.
And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt, for it was not leavened; because they were thrust out of Egypt, and could not tarry, neither had they prepared for themselves any victual. – Exodus 12:39
What’s significant about this? The original reason to commemorate the Exodus with unleavened bread was because their bread had no time to be leavened. Think on this for a moment: minus the leaven, the bread at leaving Egypt was in every way normal bread. Looking to the New Testament, the unleavened bread representing Jesus’ body; His body was in every way a normal human body with the one exception of sin! Jesus was made like unto His brethren, a man, but He was perfect in every way and had no sin. But from these texts we see that adding salt, oil, or a modern American preservative doesn’t suddenly cause the “unleavened” status to be voided. This is an area in which people might be tempted to strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. Rather, let us be better informed.
I couldn’t help but think of the symbolism of ingredients when reading the Old Testament recipe for unleavened bread. Leaven is a common picture of sin in scripture. Ultimately, the unleavened bread was pointing to Christ’s sinlessness. Oil in scripture commonly depicts the Holy Spirit and being Anointed. Jesus was the Anointed (Christ) of God, “of” the Holy Ghost in the womb of a virgin named Mary (Mth 1:20). Salt, referred to in Leviticus 2 as “the salt of the covenant,” is used in the New Testament to depict righteousness (if the salt has lost its savor…). There is undoubtedly far more symbolism here than we realize.
What is my point in writing this blog entry? First, this is in no way a criticism of just using bleached flour and water to make communion bread. My intent is to merely show that some of the ingredients others took alarm at are not unbiblical or unorthodox additions. Also, we would be well served by being slower to speak and swifter to hear, particularly when it comes to issues like this. We can be tempted to defend preconceived notions or traditions and customs as if they’re biblical, when they’re really not. Wanting to preserve the ordinance of communion is most certainly a noble and commendable endeavor. Let’s just make sure we’re focusing on the correct areas and speaking from a scripturally informed mind. Lastly, and along those lines, using scripture is our goal, not mere traditionalism. May we be transformed by the renewing of our minds each and every day as we hide the scriptures in our heart in daily diligence of study.