Feast upon the Word Blog

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“Bitter” + “Cup”

Posted by BrianJ on August 5, 2007

A recent Sunday School lesson and Robert C’s insightful (albeit cryptic) comments had me thinking about the words “bitter cup.” (I’ll present this in a sort of roundabout way, so maybe you want to just skip to the “Synthesis” section.)

How is the word “cup” used in the scriptures? A search of the KJV for the word yielded 57 references, which I divided into eight categories—listed below along with one or two representative verses:

1) ACTUAL CUP – though additional symbolism is (at least sometimes) implied

Gen. 40: 11, 13, 21; Gen. 44: 2, 12, 16-17; 2 Sam. 12: 3; 1 Kgs. 7: 26; 1 Chr. 28: 17; 2 Chr. 4: 5; Prov. 23: 31; Isa. 22: 24; Jer. 35: 5; Matt. 23: 25-26; Matt. 10: 42; Mark 9: 41; Luke 11: 39; Luke 22:17

Jer. 52: 19

And the basons, and the firepans, and the bowls, and the caldrons, and the candlesticks, and the spoons, and the cups; that which was of gold in gold, and that which was of silver in silver, took the captain of the guard away.

Mark 7: 4, 8

For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.


1 Cor. 11: 25-28; Matt. 26: 27; 1 Cor. 10: 16, 21; Mark 14: 23; 3 Ne. 18: 8; Moro. 5: 1; D&C 20: 78

Luke 22: 20

Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.

Note: there were at least two cups passed at the “Last Supper”; this is the second, and the first (Luke 22:17) is listed in group 1.


Lam. 4: 21; Jer. 49: 12; Jer. 25: 15, 17, 28; Ps. 75: 8; Ps. 73: 10; Zech. 12: 2; Ezek. 23: 31-33; Rev. 16: 19; 2 Ne. 8: 17, 22; Alma 40: 26; D&C 29: 17

Isa. 51: 17, 22

Thus saith thy Lord the LORD, and thy God that pleadeth the cause of his people, Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again:

Note: “the dregs” conjures up some really unpalatable imagery….

D&C 43: 26

Behold, the day has come, when the cup of the wrath of mine indignation is full.

Note: there’s an unanswered question here: Why does the Lord wait until his indignation is “full”? And I don’t think Alma 14:11 answers this. See also Group 8, below.


Mark 10: 38-39; Mark 14: 36; Luke 22: 42; John 18: 11; 3 Ne. 11: 11; D&C 19: 18

Matt. 20: 22-23

But Jesus answered and said, “Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They say unto him, “We are able.” And he saith unto them, “Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with….”

Note: the writing here is excellent: we know that Jesus’ prophecy is ominous, but the disciples are oblivious. The same could be said if this entire section: many of these verses parallel Christ’s suffering with the price of discipleship, but there’s always the knowledge that the Jesus reserved the most bitter cup for himself (Cf. D&C 19:18).

Side note: There is an interesting practice described in Numbers 5 which may be related to Jesus’ prayer: a woman accused of adultery was forced to drink a bitter cup, the effects of which would determine her innocence.

Matt. 26: 39, 42

And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt…if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.

Note: there’s something interesting in the progression here: in the second prayer, Jesus acknowledges that the cup will passafter he drinks it all, of course.


Ps. 11: 6; Ps. 16: 5; Rev. 18: 6

Ps. 23: 5

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Note: a reward for good….

Hab. 2: 16

Thou art filled with shame for glory: drink thou also, and let thy foreskin be uncovered: the cup of the LORD’s right hand shall be turned unto thee, and shameful spewing shall be on thy glory.

Note: …or evil. This particular chapter is quite interesting for its use of irony: the Babylonians will be forced to drink the same “cup” they have forced on others.


Ps. 116: 13

I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD.


Jer. 16: 7

Neither shall men tear themselves for them in mourning, to comfort them for the dead; neither shall men give them the cup of consolation to drink for their father or for their mother.


Jer. 51: 7; D&C 86: 3; D&C 103: 3

Rev. 17: 4

And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:

D&C 101: 11

Mine indignation is soon to be poured out without measure upon all nations; and this will I do when the cup of their iniquity is full.

Note: see the note for Group 3, above.


What, if anything, do all of these verses have to with each other? I already pointed out one way: that our discipleship is sometimes bitter in the same way (though to a lesser degree) as the Lord’s atonement. Bringing in the verses from Group 2, we see another important point: the sacramental cup is inseparably connected to that bitter cup Jesus hoped to avoid. Nevertheless, trembling, he took the cup and drank it completely. There’s something to be said about quantity and quality here: Groups 3 and 8 talk about God’s wrath and our iniquity reaching a maximum—that’s the “quantity” part. But Group 3 also refers to “the dregs,” which forces us to consider the quality of Christ’s suffering and the full meaning of his words on the cross, “It is finished.”

Lastly, the connection between Jesus’ bitter cup and our sacramental cup is both beautiful and overwhelming. That cup, which for Jesus was the bitterest, made possible the sacramental cup, which for us is the sweetest.

4 Responses to ““Bitter” + “Cup””

  1. Matthew said

    I think there’s more here than I understand. Thanks for the insights.

  2. Robert C. said

    BrianJ, I think this is fascinating. I was reading up on this a while ago in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament and in the 2nd volume on Jeremiah in the Word Biblical Commentary series which has a nice excursus on “the cup of wrath.” A couple quick thoughts for now:

    I think the cup that is “full” of wrath in te D&C is likely building on Rev 17:4 and Jer 51:7.

    I was studying Isa 28:1ff at the wiki where drunkenness is described, and I think there is an interesting relationship between the cup as a symbol of religious celebration (you and I have talked about this before in reference to the sacrament) and that celebration/ritual becoming twisted by drunkenness—a twist that I think parallels idolatrous perversions (food offerings to idols are also commonly condemned…). The “impurities” in Rev 17:4 may be getting at this too.

    The TDNT also talks about a notion of a “cup of fate” in Rabbinic and other ancient writings, which also suggests I think an interesting connection between the cup of wrath due to sins and the cup of discipleship/atonement (in the sense that we are to “bear our crosses” which are a result of sin in the world, and we are told to bear our crosses patiently and even cheerfully, bringing us full circle to the celebratory imagery—makes my head spin thinking about all of this though!).

  3. BrianJ said

    Matthew: Well, I hope I didn’t make it seem like I understand it all!

    Robert C: Yes, I think there is a relationship between Group 3 and Group 8: while our cups are filling with iniquity, the Lord’s being filled with wrath. I thought about expanding my search to include all references to drinking, wine, cups, etc., but quickly realized that would be too extensive. Thanks for the interesting imagery of Isa 28:1, though, which I think is quite relevant.

  4. Justin said

    Saints can participate in the partaking of the bitter cup during the ordinance of the sacrament. Of course it would necessitate performing the ordinance tribally since the Church does not follow the model given by Jesus in 3 Nephi 18.

    The length of the sacrament would be longer because it takes longer to eat bread and sip wine until your whole tribe is filled — rather than a quick nibble on a morsel of bread and a quick slurp of water. It is precisely this kind of extended meal in which the body and blood of Jesus is to remembered. This elicits a much more profound effect on the mind than does our relatively quick Church sacraments.

    Further, the bitter cup of new wine — i.e. red wine that has yet to have its tannins broken down by aging — along with the warmth associated with drinking it connects connects a tribal group even stronger with Christ.

    When we use water or even grape juice for our sacraments we can be too capable of gulping it down as it is sweet to the taste.

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