by Jeff Smelser
I do not look down on congregations in which saints share one cup in partaking of the Lord’s Supper. When I have occasion to assemble with brethren whose practice is such, I happily share in the one cup. However, there are points to be made from Luke 22, Matthew 26, I Corinthians 10, and I Corinthians 11 showing that God did not intend to put special emphasis on the number of containers, that being “one.” In addition to these points usually brought to bear on the subject, I’d like to offer a practical consideration that tells me the earliest disciples did not use one container when partaking of the Lord’s Supper.
In Acts 2:46, we read that the disciples were meeting “with one accord in the temple.” In Acts 5:12 we find them “all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.” I take it that when they ate the Lord’s Supper, they would have done so all together in the environs of the Temple. Acts 4:4 tells us their number had come to be about 5,000, just counting the men. So let’s assume there were about 10,000 disciples at the time. There were at least 2 or 3 areas that could have accommodated 10,000 people gathered in the courts facing the length of Solomon’s portico.
But imagine the logistics of 10,000 people partaking of the Lord’s Supper together (note the emphasis on “together” in Acts 20:7 and I Corinthians 11:33 ― that’s the manner in which the supper is to be eaten), using only one cup. If we allow 5 seconds per person, it would take almost 14 hours for 10,000 people to drink from one cup. And that doesn’t include time for the bread!
Now maybe you think 5 seconds per person is more than generous. I think you’ll change your mind once you consider the size of that cup. If each person sipped only one-quarter of an ounce, for 10,000 people the cup would have to contain 19 ½ gallons, and would weigh more than 150 lbs). Imagine wielding a cup containing nearly twenty gallons (more like a trash can), and doing so deftly enough so as to avoid dumping a gallon or two on yourself, doing so deftly enough to sip no more than a quarter ounce, and then lowering it and passing it on to the next person, all within 5 seconds. Well, someone may suppose that, surely, rather than passing it around, they would have had four men tipping it as each disciple came to the place where the cup was stationed. But try doing that in less than 5 seconds per person. I think our 5 seconds per person assumption is on the speedy side.
If we are willing to believe they had a 20 gallon cup and that they were content to spend 18 hours to accomplish the drinking of the cup, and some time more for the bread (and all remain there for the duration so as to be doing this “together”), then, yes, we can believe they used one cup.