Unleavened bread is bread formed in flat cakes or wafers with no yeast or other substance used to produce fermentation in the dough. Many times, such bread is used for the observance of communion, or the Lord’s Table. The bread Jesus broke and shared with His disciples at the Last Supper was unleavened, like the matzah that Jews still eat for Passover Seder today.
The night before His death, Christ gathered with His disciples to celebrate the Passover Feast (Matthew 26:26–29; Mark 14:22–25; Luke 22:15–20; John 13:21–30). When God first instituted this yearly festival, associated with the Feast of Unleavened Bread, He instructed the Israelites to eat only unleavened bread for seven days to commemorate the nation’s Exodus from bondage in Egypt (see Deuteronomy 16:3; Exodus 12:8; 29:2; and Numbers 9:11). So strict was the command that anyone who ate bread made with yeast during the festival would “be cut off from the community of Israel” (Exodus 12:15, NLT).
In the Bible, yeast or leaven is usually symbolic of sin, corruption, and decay (Matthew 16:6, 12; 1 Corinthians 5:6–8; Galatians 5:9). The unleavened “bread of affliction” used during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (see Deuteronomy 16:3) reminded the people of their hurried departure from Egypt when they had no time to wait for bread to rise. At the same time, the bread warned God’s people against corrupting influences (Exodus 12:14–20) and pointed them forward to the coming of the promised Messiah, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29).
Jesus would have celebrated the Passover in exact obedience to the Law of Moses, and with the later addition, still practiced today, of four cups of wine representing sanctification, deliverance, redemption, and restoration, based on God’s four-fold promise to the Israelites while still in Egyptian bondage (Exodus 6:6–7). These elements are significant to Jewish Christians who embrace their deliverance not from physical slavery but from bondage to sin by their Messiah’s sacrifice (Romans 6:5–7; Galatians 5:1).
It is not wrong for Christian churches to celebrate communion with bread containing leaven or yeast. The church is under no law governing the recipe used for communion bread. Believers who wish to retain a connection with their Old Testament roots of faith may consider the experience more meaningful by using unleavened communion bread. But New Testament followers of Christ are not celebrating the Passover during communion. Jesus replaced the Passover with a new celebration in which the bread represents His body broken on the cross for us (Luke 22:19).
In 1 Corinthians 11:17–34, the apostle Paul addressed confusion and concerns about the importance, meaning, and practices associated with communion, along with severe warnings about not taking the observance seriously. He explained that the purpose of communion is to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (verse 26) and provide an opportunity for solemn self-examination for every believer and the church as the body of Christ (see verse 28). Each time we participate in communion, we proclaim the central tenets of our faith: that Jesus paid for our sins by offering His body in our place—shedding His blood and physically dying on the cross (Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 2:9; 1 Peter 1:18–19); that He rose from the dead (Acts 2:24; 3:15; Colossians 2:12); that He now lives (Romans 6:3–5; Ephesians 2:4–6; Galatians 2:20); that He will come again (Matthew 24:30; John 14:3; Hebrews 9:28; James 5:7–8); and that we are to share this good news with the world until He returns (Matthew 28:19–20).
Despite the importance of communion as an ordinance, there are very few specific instructions in the Bible regarding it, including how often it should be observed and methods of conducting a communion service. For the bread, some Christian churches break matzah, naan, or some other unleavened bread into smaller pieces and then distribute them to everyone present. Other Christian churches use white processed wafers. Some churches bake their own communion bread.
The Bible does not stipulate whether we should use leavened or unleavened communion bread or grape juice or wine. Neither does it specify the manner the elements are to be distributed. The elements are mere symbols of spiritual realities, “not the realities themselves” (Hebrews 10:1). Therefore, we may use any representational bread and juice, providing we partake of them reverentially. As Christians, our focus is not on the ritual but on recalling Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice—His body and blood given for the forgiveness of sins. The Lamb of God loved us so much that He offered Himself once and for all so that we might be saved (Hebrews 9:26; John 3:16–17).