What are love feasts?

Love feasts are mentioned by Jude in verse 12. Referring to certain base persons, he states: "These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves" (NKJV).

Other translations render the verse as follows: "These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear" (KJV). "These are they who are hidden rocks in your lovefeasts when they feast with you, shepherds that without fear feed themselves" (ASV). "These are blemishes on your love feasts, as they boldly carouse together, looking after themselves" (RSV). "These men are those who are hidden reefs in your love-feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves" (NASV). (Some manuscripts also have the same use of the word in 2 Peter 2:13.)

What does Jude mean when he speaks of "love feasts"?

The actual word used is the plural form of "love" (agape). The context in Jude 12 provides little help in understanding the meaning. To speak of "blemishes" (as in some manuscripts) or "reefs" (as in others) in love feasts is something of a mixed metaphor. That this word has the meaning of "love feast" in this context is concluded by most scholars because the word is used with that meaning in early church history.

Some have suggested that the expression originally was just another designation for the Lord's supper. Some think the word referred to meals which Christians ate together in their own homes as in Acts 2:46. Others feel that it referred to the type feast which Christ recommends in Luke 14:12, 13 to which the poor are to be invited, rather than wealthy friends. On the basis of the information we have in the New Testament, the above suggestions may be considered as possible, but we cannot know for sure.

Many commentators, however, make the definitely erroneous statement that the love feast in N.T. times was a meal in the assembly either before, or after, the Lord's supper. No doubt influenced by them, some brethren have suggested that we should or may do this.

That this is not the meaning of "love feast" in Jude 12 is clear from 1 Corinthians 11:22 & 34 where Paul expressly forbids such: "If any one is hungry, let him eat at home!" and "What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?"

Some have misused this passage to object to eating a meal "in the building" or "on the grounds" at any time. But Paul is clearly referring to a meal which was an actual part of the assembly. Acts 20:11 is probably an example of Paul himself eating "in the building" after he had preached until midnight.

Strangely enough 1 Corinthians 11 is the very passage often used by commentators to support their claim that the Lord Supper was eaten in connection with a regular meal in the assembly. In this passage, however, there is no mention of them having the Lord's Supper BEFORE or AFTER a meal. They were having a meal INSTEAD of the Lord's Supper! Among the Greeks it was customary to have drunken parties to honor their gods. This might explain their behavior.

When this passage is cited in support of the theory, something like this is generally claimed: "Paul doesn't condemn their having a meal in the assembly. It is just the excess and the lack of sharing which he condemns." Such is contrary to the clear statement of Paul, however: "What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?" He does not say: "Do you not have houses to eat too much and to drink too much in." The Lord's Supper is not a meal for nourishment. If one is hungry he is to eat at home. Paul explains exactly how the Lord's Supper is to be eaten.

Paul said what the Corinthians were doing was not even the Lord's Supper (verse 20). Neither could it be called a 'love feast.' Their actions were condemned by Paul in no uncertain terms, not only the selfishness, but the very idea of having a meal for nourishment as a part of the assembly.

Commentators who state that in early church history the love feast was a meal connected with the Lord's supper have no basis for that claim either.

In early descriptions of the Lord's supper, no mention is made of a love feast (for example Justin Martyr, First Apology, Ch. 65-67).

Ignatius (30-107 A.D.) in his letter to the Smyrnaeans, Ch. 8, mentions the two, but separately. Little information is provided by the context. The love feast he mentions could be another name for the Lord's supper or it could be something different.

Clement of Alexandria (153 - c. 200) in the "Instructor" Book I, Ch. 1 opposes calling a sumptuous feast an 'agape'. He makes reference to Luke 14:12,13 as the proper way to have an agape.

According to Tertullian (145-220) the agape was a supper to benefit the needy (Apology, Ch. 39). He mentions that the meal was begun and ended by prayer and that hymns were sung. But it is not stated when or where the meal was eaten.

In the "Constitutions of the H. Apostles" Book II, Sec. IV, Ch. 28 the love feast is something which an individual Christian might hold in his own home for the benefit of poor widows.

These references tend to indicate that the love feast in early church history was a meal provided by an individual Christian in his own home for poor people in application of Luke 14:12, 13.

It is possible that this practice dated back to N.T. times and that this is also what "love feast" in Jude refers to, but it might be a development of a later date.

How then may the expression "love feast" be used by Christians? First, we should be very careful about using the word, since in the only passage in the Bible where the word is used, its meaning is not at all clear.

The only completely safe way to use it is in the SAME WAY it is used in Jude 12. We could refer to hypocrites in the church as blemishes in our love feasts. Such usage would definitely be in accordance with the scriptures.

If someone wishes to use the expression to describe a meal which a Christian provides in his own home for the needy, that would be in agreement with the use in early church history. But there is some question as to whether that is the meaning in Jude 12.

To use the expression as a description of the Lord's supper or to describe a meal which Christians eat together, might be justified on the basis of the argument that such meals are meals at which love is demonstrated. But it must be kept in mind that there is no proven connection with the biblical use of the word in Jude 12.

And we certainly may NEVER include a meal for physical nourishment as a part of our assembly, since that is expressly forbidden by Paul.

Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982,
Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers unless indicated otherwise.
Permission for reference use has been granted.

Published in The Old Paths Archive