From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Webster's Dictionary [1]

(1): (n.) The love feast of the primitive Christians, being a meal partaken of in connection with the communion.

(2): (adv. & a.) Gaping, as with wonder, expectation, or eager attention.

Holman Bible Dictionary [2]

LoveLord'S Supper

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [3]

Agape . See Love Feast.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [4]

plural AGAPAE ( Ἀγάπη , Ἀγάπαι ), the Greek term for Love, used by ecclesiastical writers (most frequently in the plural) to signify the social meal of the primitive Christians, which generally accompanied the Eucharist. The New Testament does not appear to give it the sanction of a divine command: it seems to be attributable to the spirit of a religion which is a bond of brotherly union and concord among its professors. (See Eucharist).

1. Much learned research has been spent in tracing the Origin of this custom; but, though considerable obscurity may rest on the details, the general historical connection is tolerably obvious. It is true that the Ἔρανοι and Έταιρίαι , and other similar institutions of Greece and Rome, presented some points of resemblance which facilitated both the adoption and the abuse of the Agapae by the Gentile converts of Christianity; but we cannot consider them as the direct models of the latter. If we reflect on the profound impression which the transactions of "the night on which the Lord was betrayed" ( 1 Corinthians 11:23) must have made on the minds of the apostles, nothing can be conceived more natural, or in closer accordance with the genius of the new dispensation, than a wish to perpetuate the commemoration of his death in connection with their social meal (Neander, Leben Jesu, p. 643; Planting Of The Christian Church, 1, 27). The primary celebration of the Eucharist had impressed a sacredness on the repast of which it formed a part (comp.  Matthew 26:26;  Mark 14:22, with  Luke 22:20;  1 Corinthians 11:25); and when to this consideration we add the ardent faith and love of the new converts on the one hand, and the loss of property with the disruption of old connections and attachments on the other, which must have heightened the feeling of brotherhood, we need not look farther to account for the institution of the Agapae, at once a symbol of Christian love and a striking exemplification of its benevolent energy. However soon its purity was soiled, at first it was not undeserving of the eulogy pronounced by Chrysostom: "A custom most beautiful and most beneficial; for it was a supporter of love, a solace of poverty, a moderator of wealth, and a discipline of humility."

Thus the common meal and the Eucharist formed together one whole, and were conjointly denominated Lord s Supper ( Δεῖπνον Τοῦ Κυρίου , Δεῖπνον Κυριακόν ) and Feast Of Love ( Ἀγάπη ). They were also signified (according to Mosheim, Neander, and other eminent critics) by the phrase, Breaking Of Bread ( Κλῶντες Ἄρτον ,  Acts 2:46; Κλάσις Τοῦ Ἄρτου ,  Acts 2:42; Κλάσαι Ἄρτον ,  Acts 20:7). We find the term Ἀγάπαι thus applied once, at least, in the New Testament ( Judges 1:12), "These are spots in your feasts of charity" ( Ἐν Ταῖς Ἀγάπαις Ὑμῶν ) . The reading in  2 Peter 2:13, is of doubtful authority: "Spots and blemishes, living luxuriously in their Agapae" ( Ἐντρυφῶντες Ἐν Ταῖς Ἀγάπαις Αὑτῶν ); but the common reading is Ἐν Ταῖς Ἀπάταις Αὑτῶν , "in their own deceivings." The phrase Ἀγάπην Ποιεῖν was early employed in the sense of celebrating the Eucharist; thus in the epistle of Ignatius to the church at Smyrna, § 8. In § 7 Ἀγαπᾶν appears to refer more especially to the Agapae.

By ecclesiastical writers several synonyms are used for the Agapae, such as Συμπόσια (Balsamon, Ad Can. 27, Concil. Laodicen.); Κοιναὶ Τράπεζαι , Εὐωχία , Κοιναὶ Ἑστιάσεις , Κοινὰ Συμπόσια (Chrysostomn); Δεῖπνα Κοινά (Ecumenius); Συσσιτία Καὶ Συμπόσια (Zonaras). Though the Agapae usually succeeded the Eucharist, yet they are not alluded to in Justin Martyr s description of the latter (Apol. 1, § 65, 67); while Tertullian, on the contrary, in his account of the Agapae, makes no distinct mention of the Eucharist. "The nature of our Cana," he says, "may be gathered from its name, which is the Greek term for love (dilectio). However much it may cost us, it is real gain to incur such expense in the cause of piety; for we aid the poor by this refreshment; we do not sit down to it till we have first tasted of prayer to God; we eat to satisfy our hunger; we drink no more than befits the temperate; we feast as those who recollect that they are to spend the night in devotion; we converse as those who know that the Lord is an ear-witness. After water for washing hands, and lights have been brought in, every one is required to sing something to the praise of God, either from the Scriptures or from his own thoughts; by this means, if any one has indulged in excess, he is detected. The feast is closed with prayer." Contributions or oblations of provisions and money were made on these occasions, and the surplus was placed in the hands of the presiding elder ( Προεστώς compare  1 Timothy 5:17, Οἱ Προεστῶτες Πρεσβύτεροι ) , by whom it was applied to the relief of orphans and widows, the sick and destitute, prisoners and strangers (Justin, Apol. 1, 67).

Allusions to the Κυριακὸν Δεῖπνον are to be met with in heathen writers. Thus Pliny, in his celebrated epistle to the Emperor Trajan, after describing the meeting of the Christians for worship, represents them as assembling again at a later hour, "Ad Capiendum Cibum, Promiscuum Tamen Et Innoxium." By the phrase "Cibum Promiscuum" (Augustine remarks) we are not to understand merely food partaken in common with others, but common food, such as is usually eaten; the term Innoxium also intimates that it was perfectly wholesome and lawful, not consisting, for example, of human flesh (for, among other odious imputations, that of cannibalism had been cast upon the Christians, which, to prejudiced minds, might derive some apparent support from a misinterpretation of our Lord s language in  John 6:53, "Unless ye eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man"), nor of herbs prepared with incantations and magical rites. Lucian also, in his account of the philosopher Peregrinus, tells us that, when imprisoned on the charge of being a Christian, he was visited by his brethren in the faith, who brought with them Δεῖπνα Ποικίλα , which is generally understood to mean the provisions which were reserved for the absent members of the church at the celebration of the Lord s Supper. Gesner remarks on this expression, "Agapas, offerente unoquoque aliquid, quod una consumerent; hinc Ποικίλα , Non A Luxu. "

2. The Mode Of Celebrating the feast was simple. The bishop or presbyter presided. The food appears, to have been either dressed at the houses of the guests, or to have been prepared at the place of meeting, according to circumstances. Before eating, the guests. washed their hands, and prayer was offered. The Scriptures were read, and questions proposed by the person presiding. Then followed the recital of accounts respecting the affairs of other churches, such accounts being regularly transmitted from one church to another, so that a deep sympathy was produced; and, in many cases, assistance was furnished to churches in trouble. At the close of the feast, money was collected for orphans and widows, for the poor, and for prisoners. The kiss of charity was given, and the ceremony concluded with prayer ( Romans 16:16;  1 Corinthians 16:20;  1 Thessalonians 5:26;  1 Peter 5:14).

3. Their Decline. From the passages in the Epistles of Jude and Peter, already quoted, and more particularly from the language of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11, it appears that at a very early period the Agapae were perverted from their original design; the rich frequently practiced a selfish indulgence, to the neglect of their poorer brethren: Ἕκαστος Τὸ Ἴδιον Δεῖπνον Προλαμβάνει ( 1 Corinthians 11:21); i.e. the rich feasted on the provisions they brought, without waiting for the poorer members, or granting them a portion of their abundance. They appear to have imitated the Grecian mode of entertainment called Δεῖπνον Ἀπὸ Σπυρίδος (see Xenophon's Memorabilia, 3, 14; Neander's Planting Of The Christian Church, 1:292). On account of these and similar irregularities, and probably in part to elude the notice of their persecutors, the Christians, about the middle of the second century, frequently celebrated the Eucharist by itself and before daybreak (antelucanis coetibus) (Tertullian, De Cor. Militis, § 3). From Pliny's Epistle it also appears that the Agapae were suspected by the Roman authorities of belonging to the class of Hetaeriae ( Ἑταιρίαι ) , unions or secret societies, which were often employed for political purposes, and as such denounced by the imperial edicts; for he says (referring to the cibum promiscuum," etc.) "quod ipsum facere desiisse post edictum meum, quo secundum mandata tua Hetcerias esse vetueram" (Pliny Ep. 96 al. 97). At a still later period the Agapae were subjected to strict regulation by various councils. Thus by the 28th canon of the Council of Laodicea it was forbidden to hold them in churches. At the Council of Carthage (A.D. 397) it was ordered (can. 29) that none should partake of the Eucharist unless they had previously abstained from food; but it is added, "excepto uno die anniversario, quo coena domini celebratur." This exception favors the supposition that the Agapae were originally held in close imitation of the Last Supper, i.e. before, instead of after, the Eucharist. The same prohibition was repeated in the sixth, seventh, and ninth centuries, at the Council of Orleans (can. 12), A.D. 533; in the Trullanian Council at Constantinople, A.D. 692; and in the council held at Aix-la-Chapelle, A.D. 816. Yet these regulations were not intended to set aside the Agapae altogether. In the Council of Gangra, in Paphlagonia (about A.D. 360), a curse was denounced on whoever despised the partakers of the Agapae or refused to join in them. When Christianity was introduced among the Anglo-Saxons by Austin (A.D. 596), Gregory the Great advised the celebration of the Agapae, in booths formed of the branches of trees, at the consecration of churches.

Few vestiges of this ancient usage can now be traced. In some few churches, however, may still be found what seem to be remnants of the old practice; thus it is usual, in every church in Rouen, on Easter-day, after mass, to distribute to the faithful, in the nave of the church, an Agape, in the shape of a cake and a cup of wine. It appears that it used to be done on all great festivals; for we read in the life of Ansbertus, archbishop of Rouen, that he gave an Agape to the people in his church "after communion, on solemn days, and himself waited at table especially upon the poor." Dr. King suggests, that the Benediction of the Loaves, observed in the Greek Church, is a remnant of the ancient Agapae. Suicer says that it is yet the custom in that Church on Easter-day, after the celebration of the holy mysteries, for the people to feast together in the churches; and this distribution panis benedicti et vini, he also seems to consider a vestige of the Agape. But the primitive love-feast, under a simpler and more expressly religious form, is retained in modern times by the Moravians and the Methodists. (See Love-Feast). Similar meetings are held in Scotland by the followers of Mr. Robert Sandeman (q.v.), and by a branch of them in Danbury, Conn. Suicer, Thes. col. 23; Gieseler, Ch. Hist. 1:59, 104, 296; Lardner, Works, 7:280; Coleman, Anc. Christianity, ch. 21, § 13; Bingham, Orig. Eccl. 15:8; Discipline of the M. E. Church, pt. 2.

Besides the Eucharistic Agapae, three other kinds are mentioned by ecclesiastical writers:

(1.) Agapoe Natalitioe, held in commemoration of the martyrs (Theodoret, Evang. Verit. 8, 923, 924, ed. Schulz);

(2.) Agapoe Connubiales, or marriage-feasts (Greg. Naz. Epist. 1, 14);

(3.) Agapoe Funerales, funeral-feasts (Greg.' Naz. Carm. X.), probably similar to the Περίδειπνον or Νεκρόδειπνον of the Greeks. Kitto, s.v.

For further details, see Resenius, De Agapis Judoe Epistoloe (Havn. 1600); Oldecop, De Agapis (Helmst. 1656); Cabassutius, De Agapis, in his Notitia eccl. historiar. (Lugd. 1680), p. 31 sq.; Hoornbeck, De Agapis vett. in his Miscell. Sacr. (Ultraj. 1689), p. 587; Schurzfleisch, De vet. Agaparum ritu (Viteb. 1690, also in Walch's Compend. Antiq. Lips. 1733, p. 566); Same, De vett. Christ. Agapis (Regiom. 1701); Muratori, De Agapis sublatis (Patau. 1709); Bohmer, De Christ. capiendis cibum, in his Dissert. juris eccl. antiq. (Lips. 1711), p. 223; Hanzschel, De Agapis

(Lips. 1729); Schlegel, De Agapar. etate apostolica (Lips. 1756); Schuberth, De Agapis vett. Judacor. (Gorlic. 1761); Bohn, D. Liebesmahle d. ersten Christen (Erf. 1762); Fruhauf, De Agapis (Littav. 1784); Drescher, De vett. Christ. Agapis (Giess. 1824); Augusti, Handb. d. Christlichen Arch. Song of Solomon 1, pt. 1, 2; Neander, Church Hist. 1:325; 2:325; Bruns, Canones Apost. et Concil. (Berol. 1839); Kestner, Die Agapen, od. d. geheime Weltbund d. ersten Christen (Jena, 1819); Molin, De vett. Christianorum Agapis (Lips. 1730); Sahmen, id. (Regiom. 1701); Stolberg, id. (Viteb. 1693, and in Menthen. Thes. 2, 800 sq.); Duguet, Des anciennes Agapes (Par. 1743); Fronto, De Φιλοτησίαις Veterum, in his Dissert. Eccl. p. 468-488; Hilpert, De Agapis (Helmst. 1656); Quistorp, Id. (Rosb. 1711); Tileman, Id. (Marb. 1693); Sandelli, De Christianor. Synaxibus (Venet. 1770); Sonntag, Ferice Cereales Christianor. (Altdorf. 1704); Bender, De conviviis Hebroeor. eucharisticis (Brem. 1704). (See Feast).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [5]

ag´a - ( ἀγάπη , agápē ).

1. The Name and the Thing

The name Agape or "love-feast," as an expression denoting the brotherly common meals of the early church, though of constant use and in the post-canonical literature from the time of Ignatius onward, is found in the New Testament only in  Judges 1:12 and in   2 Peter 2:13 according to a very doubtful reading. For the existence of the Christian common meal, however, we have abundant New Testament evidence. The "breaking of bread" practiced by the primitive community in Jerusalem according to   Acts 2:42 ,  Acts 2:46 must certainly be interpreted in the light of Pauline usage (  1 Corinthians 10:16;  1 Corinthians 11:24 ) as referring to the ceremonial act of the Lord's Supper. But the added clause in  Acts 2:46 , "they took there food with gladness and singleness of heart," implies that a social meal was connected in some way with this ceremonial act. Paul's references to the abuses that had sprung up in the Corinthian church at the meetings for the observance of the Lord's Supper ( 1 Corinthians 11:20-22 ,  1 Corinthians 11:33 ,  1 Corinthians 11:34 ) make it evident that in Corinth as in Jerusalem the celebration of the rite was associated with participation in a meal of a more general character. And in one of the "we" sections of Acts ( Acts 20:11 ) where Luke is giving personal testimony as to the manner in which the Lord's Supper was observed by Paul in a church of his own founding, we find the breaking of bread associated with and yet distinguished from an eating of food, in a manner which makes it natural to conclude that in Troas, as in Jerusalem and Corinth, Christians when they met together on the first day of the week were accustomed to partake of a common meal. The fact that the name Agape or love-feast used in  Judges 1:12 (Revised Version) is found early in the 2nd century and often afterward as a technical expression for the religious common meals of the church puts the meaning of Jude's reference beyond doubt.

2. Origin of the Agape

So far as the Jerusalem community was concerned, the common meal appears to have sprung out of the koinōnı́a or communion that characterized the first days of the Christian church (compare  Acts 1:14;  Acts 2:1 etc.). The religious meals familiar to Jews - the Passover being the great type - would make it natural In Jerusalem to give expression by means of table fellowship to the sense of brotherhood, and the community of goods practiced by the infant church (  Acts 2:44;  Acts 4:32 ) would readily take the particular form of a common table at which the wants of the poor were supplied out of the abundance of the rich ( Acts 6:1 ). The presence of the Agape in the Greek church of Corinth was no doubt due to the initiative of Paul, who would hand on the observances associated with the Lord's Supper just as he had received them from the earlier disciples; but participation in a social meal would commend itself very easily to men familiar with the common meals that formed a regular part of the procedure at meetings of those religious clubs and associations which were so numerous at that time throughout the Greek-Roman world.

3. Relation to the Eucharist

In the opinion of the great majority of scholars the Agape was a meal at which not only bread and wine but all kinds of viands were used, a meal which had the double purpose of satisfying hunger and thirst and giving expression to the sense of Christian brotherhood. At the end of this feast, bread and wine were taken according to the Lord's command, and after thanksgiving to God were eaten and drunk in remembrance of Christ and as a special means of communion with the Lord Himself and through Him with one another. The Agape was thus related to the Eucharist as Christ's last Passover to the Christian rite which He grafted upon it. It preceded and led up to the Eucharist, and was quite distinct from it. In opposition to this view it has been strongly urged by some modern critical scholars that in the apostolic age the Lord's Supper was not distinguished from the Agape, but that the Agape itself from beginning to end was the Lord's Supper which was held in memory of Jesus. It seems fatal to such an idea, however, that while Paul makes it quite evident that bread and wine were the only elements of the memorial rite instituted by Jesus ( 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 ), the abuses which had come to prevail at the social gatherings of the Corinthian church would have been impossible in the case of a meal consisting only of bread and wine (compare  1 Corinthians 11:21 ,  1 Corinthians 11:33 ) Moreover, unless the Eucharist in the apostolic age had been discriminated from the common meal, it would be difficult to explain how at a later period the two could be found diverging from each other so completely.

4. Separation from the Eucharist

In the Didache (circa 100 ad) there is no sign as yet of any separation. The direction that the second Eucharistic prayer should be offered "after being filled" (x.1) appears to imply that a regular meal had immediately preceded the observance of the sacrament. In the Ignatian Epistles (circa 110 ad) the Lord's Supper and the Agape are still found in combination ( Ad Smyrn viii.2). It has sometimes been assumed that Pliny's letter to Trajan (circa 112 ad) proves that the separation had already taken place, for he speaks of two meetings of the Christians in Bithynia, one before the dawn at which they bound themselves by a "sacramentum" or oath to do no kind of crime, and another at a later hour when they partook of food of an ordinary and harmless character ( Ep x.96). But as the word "sacramentum" cannot be taken here as necessarily or even probably referring to the Lord's Supper, the evidence of this passage is of little weight. When we come to Justin Martyr (circa 150 ad) we find that in his account of church worship he does not mention the Agape at all, but speaks of the Eucharist as following a service which consisted of the reading of Scripture, prayers and exhortation ( Apol , lxvii); so that by his time the separation must have taken place. Tertullian (circa 200 ad) testifies to the continued existence of the Agape ( Apol , 39), but shows clearly that in the church of the West the Eucharist was no longer associated with it ( De Corona , 3). In the East the connection appears to have been longer maintained (see Bigg, Christian Platonists of Alexandria , 102ff), but by and by the severance became universal; and though the Agape continued for long to maintain itself as a social function of the church, it gradually passed out of existence or was preserved only as a feast of charity for the poor.

5. Reasons for the Separation

Various influences appear to have cooperated in this direction. Trajan's enforcement of the old law against clubs may have had something to do with it (compare Pliny as above), but a stronger influence probably came from the rise of a popular suspicion that the evening meals of the church were scenes of licentious revelry and even of crime. The actual abuses which already meet us in the apostolic age ( 1 Corinthians 11:20;  Judges 1:12 ), and which would tend to multiply as the church grew in numbers and came into closer contact with the heathen world, might suggest the advisability of separating the two observances. But the strongest influence of all would come from the growth of the ceremonial and sacerdotal spirit by which Christ's simple institution was slowly turned into a mysterious priestly sacrifice. To Christ Himself it had seemed natural and fitting to institute the Supper at the close of a social meal. But when this memorial Supper had been transformed into a repetition of the sacrifice of Calvary by the action of the ministering priest, the ascetic idea became natural that the Eucharist ought to be received fasting, and that it would be sacrilegious to link it on to the observances of an ordinary social meal.


Zahn, art "Agapen" in Hauck-Herzog, Realencyklopadie  ; Keating, Agape and Eucharist  ; Schaff, The Oldest Church Manual , chapter xviii; Lambert, Sacraments in the New Testament , Lect viii; Weizsäcker, The Apostolic Age , etc., I. 52ff.