In the Bible, what is a 'love feast'?
The early church had times of food and fellowship much as we do today, and it seems that these times were called "love feasts." Eating together is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11:21 (as part of a rebuke to the believers in Corinth) and in 2 Peter 2:13 (as part of a rebuke to false teachers). In Jude 1:12, the meals are specifically called "love feasts"—again, the context is that of rebuking false teachers. The KJV says "feasts of charity" in Jude 1:12; the NLT has "fellowship meals"; most other translations put "love feasts." Around AD 90 Pliny the Younger in To Trajan, Book 10, Letter 97 notes that the love feast was common among Christians in Rome. Ignatius of Antioch (a disciple of John's), around the same time period, mentions the love feast in his letter to the Smyrnaeans.
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Interestingly, the actual term love feasts is absent from the original language of Jude 1:12. The word Jude uses is agapais, the plural of agape. The verse could be literally translated, "These are hidden reefs at your loves, as they feast with you without fear." The wording has led some to interpret Jude's words as a warning that false teachers are "feasting" on the church members, taking advantage of their acts of love without giving them anything in return. The traditional interpretation, however, associates the word feasting with loves—the false teachers attend the "love feasts" where they feast with (not on) the believers.
The love feast seems to have been held in association with the Lord's Supper, according to 1 Corinthians 11 (although that passage never mentions "love feasts" by that name). Most likely, the love feast was a shared or communal meal somewhat like a potluck in present-day churches. Church members would bring food; the more affluent would bring a greater supply and in that way provided for the needy (see Acts 6:1). The body of Christ showed its love at the love feasts. At some point, as the church was gathered, they would observe the ordinance of communion. The breaking of bread in Acts 20:7 could allude to a love feast (see also Acts 2:42), although Jude 1:12 is the only place in Scripture where a love feast is explicitly mentioned.
Paul's rebuke of the love feasts of Corinth concerns the gluttony, drunkenness, and selfishness exhibited by some in the church: "For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?" (1 Corinthians 11:21–22). These were love feasts without love, and Paul says their holding of the feasts were "not for the better but for the worse" (verse 17). Some in the Corinthian church were not sharing their food but enjoying their own private feasts while others had nothing to eat; some were even getting drunk. This bad behavior led Paul to say, "It is not the Lord's Supper that you eat" (verse 20)—it was their own supper, and their gorging was dishonoring the Lord.
Jude's and Peter's rebukes of the love feasts concern the church's foolish toleration of false teachers in their midst. "These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves" (Jude 1:12). "They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you" (2 Peter 2:13). Calling their meals "love feasts" was no good as long as they allowed the feasts to be carnal revelries in which God's flock was being fleeced. Heretics should not be invited to fellowship with the church.
The Lord's Supper is an opportunity to worship the Savior, remember His sacrifice, and "proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26). Some of the Corinthians were using the occasion of the Lord's Supper and the associated love feasts to satiate their fleshly desires, turning what was spiritual and holy into something carnal and corrupt. The aim of agape love is to benefit others; the misbehavior at the early church's love feasts worked strongly against that purpose.
Today, Moravian churches practice special times of food and fellowship that they call lovefeasts. The custom, which began in 1727, is distinct from communion. The Moravian lovefeast includes prayer, hymn-singing, and the sharing of food—usually a slightly sweet bun served with coffee, tea, or lemonade. People of all denominations are welcome to attend Moravian lovefeasts, the emphasis being on the lordship of Christ and the fellowship of all believers.
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