Holy Communion: Leavened versus Unleavened

This difference is primarily cultural, although liturgical historians believe that there are theological reasons for the difference.

Most liturgical scholars believe that both the Eastern and Western Churches used leavened bread until the seventh century.

Originally, both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Churches used leavened bread, leavened with yeast. Midway through the first millennium the practice of using unleavened bread became increasingly common in the Latin Church, until it became the general custom. This change was prompted by a desire to more closely associate the celebration of the Eucharist with Christ’s final Passover meal. That occurrence is discussed later in this presentation.

The Eastern Churches, in contrast, preferred to continue using leavened bread. This is because in the Byzantine empire unleavened bread was associated with lifelessness, while the rising of leavened bread was associated with resurrection. There is one notable exception to this: the Armenian Church, which according to some sources used unleavened bread since the early centuries and continues to do so.

Unfortunately, this difference became a subject of hot controversy at the end of the first millennium, and was one of the factors debated during the schism of 1054. Today this is no longer an issue, and many outside of the staunch ‘traditionalists’ recognizes that both leavened and unleavened bread are capable of being consecrated as the Body of Christ. [1]

Certain Biblical facts must be brought to the forefront in this discussion. So, what does the Bible say about “leaven”? Although unleavened bread was required during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover), leavened bread was used in other sacrificial meals (Peace Offering for Thanksgiving – Lev. 7:13; Amos 4:5; Feast of Weeks – Lev. 23:17). So, why did God prescribe unleavened bread for other offerings? [2]

That is the million dollar question. The Old Testament really nails down the usage of unleavened bread directed at the seven (7)(8?) days of traditional Passover. And the OT expressly declares leavened breads usage elsewhere.

Those undeniable facts leave room for interpretations.

Given the fact that leaven was required in other sacrifices, it’s clear that leavened and unleavened bread were both symbols of spiritual truths. The question is: which symbolic truth is more prominent in the New Covenant? Some people teach that leaven is uniformly a symbol of sin in Scripture. As we’ve already seen this is not true in the OT. In the NT, leaven does sometimes symbolize sin (Matt: 16:6). But, Jesus says the “kingdom” is like leaven (Matt. 13:33)! So, is the kingdom evil??? [2]

As we saw, leavened bread was used in some of those meals. Using leavened bread highlights the fact that Christ is our Peace Offering, and enables us to offer a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving (leavened bread was used in these two offerings–see above).

Something else to think about, for those intent of utilizing OT text to prop up NT text, do we do everything that Jesus did at the Last Supper? Do we wash feet? Do we recline at the table (Jn. 13:23)? Or, do we follow every detail of the Jewish Passover meal?

The other issue at hand is the timeline of the occurrence of the Last Supper. Exodus 12:15; Leviticus 23:6; Numbers 28:17] describes Passover in great detail, and provides the exact timeline (dates) for the celebration. God commanded that unleavened bread be eaten for seven days, the fifteenth day to the twenty-first day. [2]

[Numbers 28:16] The Passover of the LORD was on the fourteenth day of the first month.

Therefore: Jesus was crucified on the fourteenth day of the first month. [3]

[1 Cor. 11:23] The LORD’s Supper was celebrated on the night of the fourteenth day of the first month. [3]

If unleavened bread were eaten on the fourteenth day of the first month, then unleavened bread would have been eaten for eight days, and would have been in violation of God’s command. [3]

The law is very clear, that the unleavened bread was to be eaten starting on the 15th day, not the 14th. Now, we must make abundantly clear, Jesus had great reverence for Jewish Law. God, the Father set down the Passover Law as absolute. Jesus practiced the law of his Father. What we must consider is this; Christians celebrate passover in a practical and liturgical sense. But Christians no longer follow the God given law of Passover. Is the Church in violation of God’s law with present day practices? If Christians ignore the Passover Law, or any Law that Jesus and the Disciples found reverent, is that open to interpretation that all Old Testament Laws, like the 10 Commandments, may be ignored? If the bible is infallible, if Jesus did it, should we not be doing it also?

Then we have a dichotomy that has never been resolved; Leaving aside the thorny question of how to resolve the Synoptic account with John’s portrayal (in contradiction to all other accounts), which seems to suggest that Christ was actually crucified ON the Passover. That’s an on-going issue in NT research.

Here is the kicker. History again is our best teacher. This is true of Holy Communion and the bread used. Azumos was the word used for unleavened bread. Artos means leavened.

"On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (azumos Strong's # 106), the disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?" (Matt 26:17).

"Looking back on the night when Jesus held up bread and proclaimed it His body, He held up RISEN (Artos) bread and not unleavened bread. This is proven by the Greek word "artos", which means risen and comes from the root word "airon" meaning "to rise".

Whereas the church has declared the Hebrew, Greek and Latin are the official languages for licit translations, and that the bible is infallible, hence the word ‘artos’ is an absolute. Jesus at the Last Supper used leavened bread.

Now, let us look at a practical aspect of the Lord’s Supper. First, it was a MEAL that was shared in fellowship. Breads for meals were made ‘to order’ so to speak, the bread made, put into the simple oven and then consumed immediately. Traditionally those loaves were more than likely leavened and possibly flavored with oils, spices or other ingredients. If the timeline is true above, and it was not Passover on the day of the last Supper, there is a certainty the bread was made for them specially for that meal (hence leavened).

Now we must look at another historical aspect that is overlooked. The Apostles later followed Jesus example to ‘reproduce’ the Last Supper for those they worshiped with. At that time there was a big push to bring Jesus word and hence liturgical practices to the Gentiles. The Gentiles ate many different breads, and many were leavened. This was specifically true of any area under Roman rule. White leavened bread, middle dark bread (usually leavened) and the very heavy dark bread (usually unleavened). It is unclear, with no biblical reference, to the Apostles or any of their subsequent ‘clergy’ forcing the Gentiles to use unleavened bread.

Bottom line, if the bible is considered infallible, if the text does not specifically say it we have zero point of reference.

There are very good reasons to use unleavened bread. If you are in a region where spoilage is an issue, and producing bread for multiple services, leavened breads do spoil quickly. If you have the time to create fresh bread for just one service, that issue goes away. Also, leavened bred tends to leave pieces behind, so great care must be taken when utilizing it. [Many do not buy that statement, as it is possible to make leavened bread dense and moist so it does not leave crumbs any more than when an unleavened wafer is broken]

 1. Excerpts from East to West 2023

2. Liturgical Institute – Gregory S.

3. LI – David B.