Question of the Wine and of the Cup

Pastor John Frahm sent this out to several people; we at BJS thought it a good reminder that there is nothing new under the sun. These are concerns in the church in 1933.


by C. H. Little, D. D., S. T. D.
Professor of Dogmatic and Systematic Theology in the
Evangelical Lutheran Seminary of Canada, Waterloo, Ontario

From a book published in 1933 by THE LUTHERAN LITERARY BOARD, BURLINGTON, IOWA

There was a time within the memory of many pastors still living when the Lord’s Supper was celebrated with great uniformity and all due solemnity in our Lutheran Churches. But that happy time is past. When we visit a strange Lutheran Church now on the occasion of the Holy Communion, we do not know what is going to take place. Here fanatical and Reformed influence has done its worst.

For the wine, which the Lord instituted to be the bearer of His precious Blood, fanatical influence has in some places substituted grape juice.

The ground back of this is the fanatical view that wine is in itself an evil, and consequently should have no place in this sacred act. These innovators do not have the courage of Tatian, who, in the early days of the Church, holding similar views, substituted water for wine. They claim that in using grape juice they are not departing from the Lord’s institution of the Sacrament, since He spoke of the contents of the cup as “the fruit of the vine.” But this is a sophism and a misrepresentation of the expression. The word translated “fruit” is misleading. The Greek word is “genema,” which means “a product,” and designates the content as that which is made from the vine.

The fact that it was real wine that was used is made perfectly clear by St. Paul, who in rebuking the Corinthian Christians for their excesses in connection with the Lord’s Supper, declared, “And one is hungry and another is drunken,” but said nothing whatever about their using the wrong kind of wine. In fact, such a thing as unfermented wine was utterly unknown. Dr. Thompson in his “Land and the Book” tells us that when he mentioned the matter to natives of Palestine, it appeared as absurd to them as if he had spoken of sour sugar or sweet vinegar. The substitution is an insult to the Lord Jesus Christ, who performed His first miracle by changing water into wine at Cana of Galilee, and thereby manifested forth His glory. Fanatics of His day called Him “a gluttonous man and winebibber”; but He declared, “Wisdom is justified of her children.” With what face can we condemn the Roman Catholics for mutilating the Sacrament by withholding the cup, if we wilfully change its contents? The one mutilates the Sacrament as much as the other, and in each case the Church sets itself up above its Lord.

The change of the container from the one cup to the many individual cups has been even more widely adopted in our Lutheran Churches. This innovation first found favor with the Reformed, and entered into our Lutheran Churches through Reformed influence. In the case of the Reformed, as they were dealing only with earthly elements of a symbolic nature, they had not much to lose. It came in their case also after they had long substituted grape juice for wine. Without the alcoholic content, which was antiseptic, they felt that there was real danger of infection. Consequently they made the change without any scruples in the matter.

But why should Lutheran Churches take up with this Reformed innovation and depart so radically from the Lord’s institution, which in every instance speaks of the cup as one? How can we face the Reformed and charge them with changing the word “is” into “signifies,” when we just as perversely change the word “cup” into “individual cups”?

Besides this, the innovation utterly destroys the symbolism of the Lord’s Supper as the Sacrament of union with one another and of brotherly love. It also goes against the whole history of the Church, displays a lack of faith in our gracious Lord, and diminishes the solemnity of the sacramental administration.

May the time soon come when this modern innovation is done away with! Else we may yet arrive at the further innovation to which some Reformed Churches have already succumbed, and be found using paper cups, which after use are gathered up and destroyed. When a Church looses itself from the old and safe moorings and starts upon a course of innovation, there is no telling how far it may go or where it will stop. Our Church as an historical Church should beware of innovations.

Send by:
Pastor John A Frahm
Greeley, CO

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


Question of the Wine and of the Cup — 36 Comments

  1. I would assume that the fact that Prohibition was under effect at the time that book was published might have something to do with it also…

  2. Great, I was running out of things to feel guilty about. What about individual wafers? We could make people feel guilty about those too. My wife doesn’t cover her head and I enjoy blood sausage. And, I haven’t fasted or been on any pilgrimages lately either. My poor conscience.

  3. Anybody who teaches you can’t get sick from the common cup is acting recklessly and unlovingly. A wide variety of diseases can transfer orally, luckily most aren’t life threatening. Mono is probably the worst. Often nobody knows how they pick up the disease. Some more harmless diseases can be dangerous for those with compromised immune systems. It’s simply a lie to claim otherwise. And scripture says the blood forgives sins; its not a magic germ killing potion.

    I take the common cup because of tradition, and I’m healthy with a strong immune system. If I was concerned, I would appreciate the option of individual cup to avoid anxiety about hygiene. Love is the motivation for individual cups, and those who use them benefit by better being able to remember their forgiveness through Christ on the cross. Theres no reason to bind consciences on the matter.

    On the other hand, there’s no reason to use grape juice. Alcoholics can take an individual cup with a drop of wine and water.

  4. I think there is some good food for thought in this article from the 1930s when individual cups were new. There are some important theological question. An important thing to consider for reflection is the fact that Jesus instituted the sacrament with one cup and He most certainl knew about diseases and germs and yet the church goes on through the centuries. Individual cups certain don’t invalidate the sacrament. They don’t help those with arthritis or shaky hands either. Individual cup trays were design for churches who pass communion down the pews.

    There are also some good scientific studies out there taking into account the precious metals, alcohol and such to affirm that the chalice is not dangerous for health. Many hands on the tray may indeed involve more germs than one cup which is also wiped regularly. The only time the Scriptures speak of someone being ill from the Holy Supper is from those who receive it not discerning the Lord’s body (I Cor 11).

  5. I’d like to see the studies that suggest silver or wine are effective at killing germs in the context of repeated exposures in a short time. My money is on quackery. Theres a reason governments have hundreds of pages of regulations on safe food handling practices. Luckily, its very difficult to transfer diseases like hepatitis through saliva.

  6. Boaz,

    Are you serious? Can’t you come up with better arguments than that? I am absolutely dumb-founded that someone smart enough to use the English language would pit government studies against the Word of God. Really, do you expect anyone to be moved by “government studies.” Are you serious?

    And speaking of the Word of God, the bread is broken in Holy Communion, the wine is drunk from one cup. Maybe I’m missing the government studies that show how we ought not to understand words in a common sense manner.


  7. The claims of Prof. Little (and others mentioned) regarding the use of individual or common communioin cups have been previously addressed in earlier comments on the indicated links provided in #4.

  8. The previous pastor in my last congregation had told the congregation that precious metal combined with alcohol would kill germs and to prove it had one of the members who was a nurse take a culture from the cup following communion.

    The results – sorry guys – precious metal and alcohol do not kill germs.

    On the other hand, billions of people have survived drinking out of of common cups, not only in communion but in everyday life for some 6000 years. And, of course, unless you boil the individual cups, they have as many germs as the common cup anyway.

  9. Anytime these discussions ensue I think it is important to ask the question about our trust in Christ and His Words of blessing in this sacrament, despite whatever scientific research we bring to bear about germs, metals, alcohol, etc.

  10. They’re not paper cups (yet) but plastic. After use, they are rinsed to the little bi tof wine is returned to the gournd. But then the cups are thrown away. Yes, individual cups are just as dirty. They are not boiled sterilized, and are all touched by the few people setting up communion, so those germs are on every cup. And the tray gets touched by everyone communing, just like the common cup. Unused cups are poured back into a certain Decantor, to be used first for next week’s service. I have help with Altar Guild as a fill in person, and have assisted in distribution. So for those who wish to fear monger against common cup (which I always take whenever given the chance, sad some churches don’t offer it), individual cups are not the great panacea. I don’t see a significant difference in health and safety.

  11. I think this is one of the questions where we should avoid arguments. The fact that some use individual cups or wafers do not make null and void the words of institution. If you choose to drink from the common or the individual cup, you still receive the the blessings of the sacrament.

  12. @David Moseley #15

    Yes, I think this is of lesser concern, in a sense. I think we have far bigger issues that critically need to be address. This can be back burner for when we are bored. Open/closed communion is more important in this area of topic.

  13. We actually talked about this in Worship class. I remember Dr. Burreson noting that there isn’t a serious difference in germ transmission between the common cup and individual cups. However, there is a decent chance of getting sick from the host since the pastor touches all of them (and may also get people’s saliva on his fingers if they receive it directly into their mouths).

    The bigger issue (I think) is the one Jason brought up about disposal of individual cups. My wife’s former chuch actually had the practice at one point of tossing them into a garbage can on the way back to the pew. The cups proceeded to sit. In the garbage can. In the Nebraska heat. In an un-air-conditioned churhc. With the remnants of wine in the bottoms. For several weeks until it was full enough for someone to take out the trash.

  14. @Jason #14
    At our church individual cups are washed in their holder. They are not touched after washing. They are not sterilized, but are very, very clean.

  15. Concerned Seminarian :My wife’s former chuch actually had the practice at one point of tossing them into a garbage can on the way back to the pew. The cups proceeded to sit. In the garbage can. In the Nebraska heat. In an un-air-conditioned churhc. With the remnants of wine in the bottoms. For several weeks until it was full enough for someone to take out the trash.

    Holy flies and maggots, Batman!! Wow, that’s special.

  16. Judging from the Reformed proclivities of most of our districts in doctrine and practice it might be time to consider this question as no longer an adiaphoron but as a means of confessing the faith that is under such pressure to conform to Reformed norms.

    As before in Lutheranism in the old country during the pastorate of Johann Arndt’s time he refused to to do away with the Exorcism before Baptism when his ruler ordered it for fear this move was a precursor to the Reformed faith coming into the Lutheran Church tooth and nail and he was right as Luther’s Catechism was the next thing to be introduced.

    When so many Reformed practices are being instituted in synod’s life in it’s congregations and in synod wide programs such as the Ablaze program and Jesus First always undermining the faith of the Book of Concord when do we see these things as the church militant and fight back with the true faith.

    If we as confessionals are not in a state of confessional militancy concerning all things connected with the true faith, in the state of the church as it is now, when will we be?!

  17. as Luther’s Catechism was the next thing to be introduced.

    Or rather, was the next thing to be removed in favor of a Reformed catechism.

  18. Wow, Pr. Rossow, way to misrepresent my comment. My point was people reasonably get anxious about germs, and individual cups are a loving way to address that. I can point you to hundreds of private studies addressing oral disease transmission. Your point about pitting such concerns against scripture seems to suggest you think it promises nobody will transmit disease by using the common cup and scripture requires a single cup. It doesn’t.

    The concern only for a common cup and not a common loaf suggests a Roman view of tradition is what is motivating these arguments.

  19. Pastors at large LCMS congregations sometimes use two separate common cups when serving the Lord’s Supper to communicants. Because more than one “common” cup becomes an oxymoron, those who object to individual communion cups, should also object to the use of more than one “common” cup.

    At the church I attend, there are four “common” cups with two being used at any one time, either on the left or right side around the circular communion rail. If the use of only one common cup is claimed as a Scripturally-mandated doctrinal position for a proper sacrament, this may raise the question of whether remission is offered for none, only one-fourth, or all of a communicant’s sins?

    Also, the issue about the “common cup” pertains equally to whether more than one “common paten” may be used for the distribution of the bread. And what about a “common flagon”?

  20. I always take the common cup unless I have a serious cold. Then I do it out of consideration for those around me who can hear me barking and hacking.

  21. Boaz’ Question is an honest and worthy one. He’s merely looking for consistency in our practice. If we must use a single cup, why don’t we also use a single loaf? Why one cup but not one loaf? Yes, yes, Jesus broke the loaf… soo.. Why don’t we administer the bread like Jesus did and break it like he did? There’s even scriptural mention of one loaf…. no mention of factory made little disks (1Cor. 10:14-17)

    So How far do we want to go with duplicating exactly what Jesus did on the night he was betrayed? Shall we get rid of our communion rails, install mats or couches, and recline like they did (Luke 22:14)? If not, why not? If the vessel that holds the wine is so very important, shouldn’t the posture of the recipient also be at issue?

    Or shall we simply understand that the original institution was that we receive his body and blood in with and under the bread and wine; how that bread and wine is received is not really part of the command…. but actually has been made an addition to the command for reasons of nostalgia or from the idea that traditional practice is always preferable and must never be questioned?

    And then if the wine must be offered in a chalice, then why do not the waters of baptism need to be held in a river? How did we come to the point where we understand that it’s not about the mode that water is applied, but rather that it is applied in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Why can we not say the same about receiving the body and blood in the Lord’s Supper? What is it about the chalice? Scripture please?

  22. I prefer the common cup even as an admitted worrier – I also like the common cup because my pastor gives it to me instead of a deacon

  23. @boaz #24
    My point was people reasonably get anxious about germs, and individual cups are a loving way to address that.

    People get unreasonably anxious about germs, too.

    Our congregation used the common cup through the polio epidemic, which was quite bad in Minnesota.
    I spent a year with a college roommate who was a recovering TB patient.
    I didn’t worry about either, and have had no subsequent reason to do so.

    It’s been suggested that some of the childhood illnesses and allergies these days are a result of being over sanitized and not developing the immunities of earlier generations who got dirty fairly regularly at work or play.

  24. Not sure, but I think the impetus behind the use of one chalice and individual wafers was the Romish obsession with the loss of “crumbs and drops”. So concerned were the priests about spilt blood that they forbade its consumption by the laity. An interesting footnote to the discussion is the descriptive vs. The prescriptive: if the details of the meal in the upper room are prescriptive, then the supper really ought to take place outside of the synagogue, and we ought to recline around a table, breaking a loaf. And St Mark speak of the cup being divided among the disciples during the meal?

  25. Clarification: I realise there was more than one cup used in the Passover meal, so I’m not sure to which cup St. Mark refers.

  26. The bread is served as individual hosts because even a crumb is the Body of Christ. We don’t want to worry about the crumbs now do we?

    The wine is served in individual cups because we are nervous about germs.

    Boy if Jesus just would have picked something that wasn’t so messy.

    Maybe we should just eat the loaf and drink the cup in confidence.

    Maybe we should eat the wafers and drink the cups in confidence.

    Let each eat and drink with confidence not in the vessels but the words written here “given and shed for you”

  27. @Maybe it’s us #32
    The bread is served as individual hosts because even a crumb is the Body of Christ. We don’t want to worry about the crumbs now do we?

    People with allergies to wheat who can tolerate a crumb, receive the Body in just that crumb.
    People with allergies to alcohol/medicinal conflicts receive the Blood in a drop of wine in water.

    I would ask, “Are they less Body and Blood, if they land on my shirt front?” but I know someone will say, “Yes”. Some have said the host/wine lose their character if they land on the floor. Luther is reputed not to have thought that about wine. (I have seen a paten spilled, after which, I was told, the Elders on duty ate the fallen hosts in the sacristy).

    I don’t think it is part of due reverence to be careless. I do think that we live in forgiveness.

  28. Boaz,

    Oh my. Oh my, oh my! Do you seriously believe that individual cups are safer than the common cup? Seriously? Both the silver of the chalice and the alchohol serve as antiseptics. I also use an antiseptic hand lotion after every table of distribution. That is the BEST we can do, and safer than individual cups given the fingers that touched the plastic rims to place them into the tray in the first place.

    I mean, if we’re going to take things to their conclusion, then in all honesty, no one should shake each other’s hands, and certainly not shake the pastor’s hand, and everyone should be wearing a mask in church. And even then (!), microbiologists can easily show you that there are some germs/bacteria that simply will exist no matter what you do to stop annihilate them.

    In short, this health argument against the common cup is simply false—if anything, if we’re concerned about health, the common cup is much better than the individual. Having said that, nothing can be ever made completely germ free.

  29. Anonymous (#34):

    “Both the silver of the chalice and the alchohol serve as antiseptics”

    Anonymous, what published scientific studies are there that document this claim?

  30. @helen #33
    My point is that the Lord knew these things were messy, crumbly and easily spilled. We seem to be more worried than He about the crumbs, drops and germs. He says “eat, drink in My presence for life and salvation”. If people are (possibly unreasonably) so worried about the germs in the chalice, I say lets divide the wine into individual cups like we do the host. Let them receive the gifts with confidence.

    If people are worried about the crumbs dropping let’s divide the bread into hosts. If people want a chalice I say set the banquet with the chalice up front. If they want a loaf let’s break one.

    Jesus really doesn’t care about the drops and the crumbs. He is smart enough to figure out what to do with the spilled chalice and the crumbs at the bottom of the patten. We don’t need to do the Luther flop to sip up spilled wine. We don’t need to declare that its not really His blood until we drink it. We need to trust that the Lord is not foolish and that He is quite wise about crumbs, spills and drops.Eat and drink with confidence in these words “given and shed for you”

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