The love‐feast (Grk. agapē, which also means “love”) is the common meal with which Christians first followed Christ's command at the Last Supper to “do this in remembrance of me” (e.g., Luke 22.19, 1 Cor. 11.24), and later to “feed my sheep” (e.g., John 21.17). According to Paul, Christians repeat the “Lord's supper” to “proclaim the Lord's death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11.20, 26). In Acts (2.43–47; 20.7), “breaking bread …with glad and generous hearts” is associated with distributing goods “to all, as any had need”; only Jude 12 uses agapē to refer to the meal. Most scholars agree that Paul is ironic in advising the “hungry,” wealthy Corinthians to “eat at home” (1 Cor. 11.34): he sees the loving inseparably from the eating. Eating in agapē (1 Cor. 13), Christians will “discern” Christ's presence in themselves and others together (1 Cor. 11.29, 31), just as the elders of Israel finally “saw God, and ate and drank” in making the first covenant (Luke 24.30–31, 35–36; John 21.12; see Exod. 24:11).

The love‐feasts of early Christians draw on metaphors in Israelite scripture and sectarian practice linking food and law, commensalism, and covenanted communities, with concerns about how to see “face to face” the ineffable, imageless presence of God in daily life (e.g., Exod. 33.11; Deut. 34.10; 1 Cor. 13.12). The New Testament writers' visions of epiphany in loving‐eating are inseparable from their sectarian assumptions about incarnation and universalism. Love feasts were intended less to mark boundaries than to cross them by fostering “loving” relations among infinitely disparate people, Abraham's descendants in the “many nations” (Rom. 4.17; Gen. 17.5).

Paul shows how Corinthians, untutored in midrashic debates about the bodiliness of fleshly spirits whom God may feed or consume in a moment, and committed to their own views of commensalism and community, could be blindly indiscriminate eaters of Jewish‐Christian feasts (1 Cor 11.17–23). Reports of Jesus as “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matt. 11:19 par.), like Peter's vision (Acts 10.9–11.18), show how Jewish‐Christian feasts could be blatantly indiscriminate to fellow Jews who shared their view of the body as a temple but not their abrogation of all the laws epitomized in the dietary rules, except “the law of love” and its new creation.

Underlying the conflicts that New Testament writers attributed to differences among and between Jews and gentiles are deeper visions of the complexities of humans and their unions seen in the presence of Judas and Peter at Christ's table, a juxtaposition that suggests the kinds of conflicts that led to the historical separation of the “loving” meal (agapē) from the blessing and distribution of the bread and wine, or “thanksgiving” (eucharistia), as Ignatius (ca. 115 CE) called it. With the incorporation of the church into the Roman empire during the fourth century CE, those well fed enough to abstain from millennial dreams of banquets gradually replaced the feast encompassed in the bread and wine with a preparatory fast.

Gillian Feeley‐Harnik