Hahn's Hersey: The Four Cups?

Scott Hahn, a former Presbyterian turned Catholic, states that the fourth cup of Matthew 26:28 was finished upon Calvary (John 19:30; Matt 27:48; Mark 15:36; Luke 23:36). Therefore when Jesus said, "It is finished" (John 19:30) he was referring to Passover and not the atonement. Is this true?

To quote Dr. Hahn, "Jesus had left unfinished the Passover liturgy in the upper room by not drinking the fourth cup. He stated his intention not to drink wine again until he came into the glory of his Kingdom. As we have seen, he refused some on one occasion, right before being nailed to the cross (Mark 15:23). Then, at the very end, Jesus was offered "sour wine" (John 19:30; Matt.27:48; Mark 15:36; Luke 23:36). But only John tells us how he responded: "When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, "It is finished"; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit" (19:30)."


Dr. Scott Hahn is incorrect. On the Cross Jesus said, "It is finished" (John 19:30), indicating that the work of atonement was completed. Jesus fulfilled the will of his Father (John 4:34; 6:37-40; 17:4, et. al.). The main theme of the book of Hebrews is that the redemption of God's elect has been accomplished. Jesus is the final revelation from the Father (Heb 1:1-4). He alone brings his people into their eternal Sabbath rest (Heb 3:7-4:13), because he brought them rest from sin. He is the perfect High Priest who satisfied the wrath of God once for all for his people (Heb 9:12-14). "So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him" (Heb 9:28; cf. Isa 53:5; Rom 5:9; 2 Cor 5:21; Eph 1:7; 1 Pet 2:24; 1 John 1:7). "It is finished" (John 19:30).

The Four Cups:

The Lord's Supper (also referred to as the Meal, the Lord's Meal, the Eucharist, and Communion) involves the serving of bread and wine. The Passover prefigured the Lord's Table.

What does the "four cups" refer too? First, it is important to note that the Passover cups are not even mentioned in Jewish literature until Tosefta Pesahim 10:1 in 200 A.D. This was after the death and resurrection of Christ. This is literally thousands of years after the events of both Genesis and Exodus.

Second, according to the later developments of Judaism, the four cups are said to be first mentioned in Pharaoh's butler's dream in Genesis 40:11-13. The four cups represent the four expressions of deliverance promised by God (Exod 6:6-7): (1) "I will bring out;" (2) "I will deliver;" (3) "I will redeem;" and (4) "I will take." During Passover, each Jew is obligated to drink four cups of wine at specific times during each Seder (i.e. order):

(1) The First Cup (the kiddish cup): This is the introductory or sanctification cup. It is the first at the start of the Seder.

(2) The Second Cup (the haggadah cup): This is the cup of proclamation telling the story of what God did for Israel.

(3) The Third Cup (the berakah cup): This cup follows the grace after the Meal.

(4) The Fourth Cup (the hallel cup): This cup includes the recital - singing - of the Hallel Psalms (Psa. 115-118).

(5) The Fifth Cup (the cup of Eliyahu): Most in Judaism, based upon Exodus 6:8 ("I will bring you into the land"), include a Fifth Cup - the Cup of Elijah. While there is debate as to whether this is a cup of redemption, the Mishnah Pesachim 10 states, "No fewer than four cups of wine," which leaves room for more than four cups. The Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 108b says, "The rabbis taught: after the fifth cup is poured, the Hallel (psalms of praise) are completed and the great Hallel (Psalm 118) is recited, according to Rabbi Tarfon." According to Shoshana Michael Zucker, 'Elijah's cup should be considered the fifth cup, not because Elijah will resolve the doubt, but rather because his arrival as "harbinger of the redemption" will herald the final redemption; at that time, the prophecy, "I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession" may be fulfilled.'

Some state that in the New Testament, we can see the development of the four cups at the Passover meal: (1) the first cup - the cup of blessing (Luke 22:17); (2) the second cup - the breaking of the bread (Luke 22:19); (3) the third cup - the cup of redemption (Luke 22:20); and (4) to the fourth cup with singing (Matt 26:23-30).

According to Dr. Scott Hahn, Jesus did not drink this Fourth Passover Cup with the disciples (Matt 26:26-29). Dr. Hahn also states that Jesus only completed the Passover meal upon Calvary - and not the atonement. Is this correct? Let's briefly examine Dr. Hahn's texts in question.

The Texts:

What follows are Dr. Hahn's main proof texts. Certain words are bolded and the Greek words are italicized for better clarity:

Matthew 26:26-29 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine [genematos tes ampelou] until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.

Matthew 27:48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine [oxous], and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink.

Mark 15:36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine [oxous], put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down."

Luke 23:36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine [oxos].

John 19:29-30 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine [oxous] on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine [oxos], he said, "It is finished," and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Examining Hahn's Interpretation:

Dr. Scott Hahn's conclusions are literally and technically impossible. He fails in numerous points of his exegesis:

(1) Jesus is the head of the table in Matthew 26:26-29. He is the one serving the disciples. However, in Luke 23:36, it is clear that a Roman soldier was serving the sour wine (oxos). Therefore, if Hahn is to be believed, at the Cross, an unrepentant Roman soldier, whom God held morally responsible for the murder of his very Son (Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28), was the Head of the Table? Do reprobates serve the Eucharist in the Catholic Church? Since we are dealing with typology here: (a) is Jesus, like the Roman soldier, a sinner? (but see 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 2:22) or (b) is the Roman soldier not a sinner and therefore did not need to repent (see Rom 3:23)? I feel confident that Dr. Hahn knows better than this, but it is the logical consequence of his typology argument.

(2) Jesus was offered wine twice upon the Cross: (a) wine + gall (myrrh) to ease his suffering, which he refused (Mark 15:23; cf. Matt 27:34 (esmyrnismenon oinon) and (b) sour wine (oxos) which was to prolong suffering, which Jesus partook (Matt 27:48; Mark 15:36; Luke 23:36; John 19:30). However, neither of those wine mixtures was the "fruit of the vine" (genematos tes ampelou) Jesus was referring to in Matthew 26:29. So, neither the Roman medicating or prolonging wines fulfill the passage in question.

(3) Matthew 26:27 mentions "a cup," while Matthew 27:48 and Mark 15:36 speak of a sponge put on a reed. John 19:29 mentions "a hyssop stalk," (cf. Exod 12:22). But a "cup" (poterion) is not the same as a "sponge" (spongon), or a "reed" (kalamo), or a "hyssop stock" (hyssopo). Therefore, we observe a different delivery method for the different wines.

(4) The cup that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 26:29 could not have happened upon Calvary because all the saints ("with you") were not drinking too. The majority of the disciples were hiding and Peter wasn't even restored until after Jesus' resurrection in John 21:15-25. After denying Christ three times (Matt 26:34, 69-75; Mark 14:30, 66-72; Luke 22:34, 54-62; John 18:15-27), was Peter even qualified at the moment of the crucifixion to participate in the Lord's Table? See 1 Corinthians 11:28.

(5) Since serving both a medicating wine mixed with gall (esmyrnismenon oinon) and prolonging sour wine (oxos) were a normal part of the Roman crucifixion process, two other people that day of days were partaking of wine while being crucified - the two thieves crucified with Jesus. One was repentant and the other was not (Luke 23:39-43). If this was the fourth cup why wasn't it guarded against the unrepentant one partaking of the sour wine? (1 Cor 11:28). Jesus guarded the cup, not allowing Judas to drink the fourth cup, and Judas left during the meal before the Cup's introduction (John 13:18-30; cf. Matt 26:20-27; Mark 14:18-23).

(6) "It is finished" is from the Greek word "tetelestai," which means to complete or to fulfill. It is in the perfect tense - which is made up of: (a) the aorist and (b) the present tenses. The aorist tense means that something happens at a specific point in time. The Present tense means something that continues on into the future and has ongoing results. In other words, when Jesus spoke those words he was speaking of both an "accomplished fact" and an "ongoing fact"; it is finished and it will go on being finished. From God's perspective nothing else present or future needed to be done. Therefore, "It is finished" (John 19:30) can't refer to the table which is continually repeated until Jesus returns (1 Cor 11:26).

"It is finished" (John 19:30) refers to the atonement of God's elect (Heb 9:12). Nothing else regarding their atonement needs to be done. It is already completely accomplished. "It is finished" (John 19:30). What does atonement mean? The Hebrew word translated "atonement" (kaphar) means "to cover over, pacify, or propitiate." In the Old Testament this covering is achieved with the blood of an innocent animal (Lev 1:4-5; 17:11). The New Testament word "propitiation" (hilasterion) continues the Old Testament concept of blood sacrifice (Rom 3:25). The blood sacrifice of Jesus ended the need of any other sacrifice (Heb 10:10).

So, there was (1) an unregenerate head of the table, (2) three different types of wines (fruit of the vine, wine + gall, and sour wine), (3) different delivery systems (a cup, a sponge on a reed [a stock of hyssop]), (4) no disciples drinking "the fruit of the vine" at the cross, (5) one unrepentant thief partook of the sour wine, and (6) the Greek language speaks against an ongoing need of the Lord's Table for salvation. In addition, the four cups aren't mentioned in Jewish literature until 200 A.D.? And what of the fifth cup? Are we supposed to overlook all these theological inconsistencies of Dr. Hahn and just take him at his word? I think not. Besides, how could Jesus' words "It is finished," found only in John, complete a Passover meal not even mentioned in John?

Marriage Supper of the Lamb:

Christ will not drink the "fruit of the vine" (Matt 26:29; Mark 14:25) with his people until the kingdom comes in its fullness, that is, its consummation (Rev 19:7, 9). Speaking to the disciples in Luke 22:16, Jesus said, "For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." The word "fulfilled" (pleroo) means "to bring to completion an activity in which one has been involved from its beginning, complete, finish." This will happen after Christ's return at the last day (Luke 14:18-24; cf. Matt 8:11; 25:10; Luke 12:37; 13:29-30). Christ, speaking again to the disciples, in Luke 22:30 says, "that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (cf. Matt 19:28). Note, that "the twelve tribes" refers to Christians in James 1:1. This will happen after the gathering of all the elect (Matt 24:31; Mark 13:27; cf. Rev 5:9; 7:9). We presently live in the "already and the not yet" of the kingdom. The kingdom has been "inaugurated" in Christ, it "continues" thru his church, and it will reach its "consummation" at the last day. See "The Already and the Not Yet" below.

The Eucharist Is Not Necessary for Salvation:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 1129 states, "The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation." So, is the Eucharist (bread and wine) necessary for salvation as claimed by Roman Catholic Church? No! Scripture informs us that, "the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). The meal is simply a "sign." A sign points to something other than itself. When one observes a McDonald's sign ("Golden Arches") we don't go up to the sign and stare in awe and wonder and end our journey there. Rather, we go to where the sign points - the restaurant. The Eucharist is a sign. It points to the reality of what really happened upon Calvary: "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12; cf. Matt 1:21; Acts 10:43; 1 Tim 2:5). A Christian is saved by a real Person, not by participating in the Eucharist (Eph 2:8).

In Summary:

So, Dr. Scott Hahn is allowing his RCC dogma to infer with the proper interpretation of Scripture. In essence, his view at best implies Jesus is a sinner and, in addition, he denies the atonement accomplished by Christ for his people at Calvary. He is teaching an unbiblical works righteousness religion (cf. Eph 2:8; 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 3:5). Hahn's gospel is another gospel - which is no gospel at all (Gal 1:6-8; cf. 2 Cor 11:4). It is heresy (Gal 5:20; 2 Pet 2:1).

Related Topics:

Transubstantiation vs. Consubstantiation vs. Memorialism vs Reformed?
The Already and the Not Yet
The Old/New Testament Church
What is the Immaculate Conception?
What is the Perpetual Virginity of Mary?
Praying the Rosary?
Catholics and Justification?
Is Purgatory Biblical?
Is Catholic Penance Biblical?
The Catholic Bible?
Apocrypha Accounts?
Pre-Apostolic Succession ???
Melchizedek and Catholic Apostolic Succession?
What are the three types of Merit?
The Sign of the Cross?
Can Catholics be Saved?
Are all Protestants going to Hell (Catholic Dogma)?
Was Peter the First Pope?
Who is the One True Church?
Do you agree with what the Roman Catholic teaches?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).