Leaven is a substance that causes fermentation and spoilage, “Figuratively, an influence that, spreading silently and strongly, changes conditions and opinions” (World Book Dictionary). Literally, when leaven is added to a wholesome substance like bread dough or fruit juices and left unchecked the end result is a sour, smelly product which generally is unfit for any valued purpose. It is a fitting type of what sin does to our individual lives and to our church life when left unchecked or untended.
Leaven is used in both the Old and New Testaments as a type of evil which contaminates and spoils that which is good. It is to be questioned whether it is ever used in any other sense in the Scriptures.
The one reference where Bible scholars sometimes give leaven another application is Matthew 13:33. Here it is felt by some that the leaven “hid in three measures of meal” symbolizes the Good Gospel and the way the Gospel spreads and influences the world for good. But the Gospel message is never spread by hiding it. The very opposite is true. A light placed under a bushel gives no light to the surrounding area, and a hidden witness is no witness at all. This is the very way, however, that the devil works. His agents are the ones who by “cunning craftiness ... lie in wait to deceive” (Eph 4:14), and “who privily shall bring in damnable heresies” (untruths that if believed will damn the soul, 2Pe 2:1). Furthermore, if the meal represents the evil society of the world and the leaven represents the good Gospel permeating the bad meal “till the whole was leaven” we should expect to see the world getting better and better until the whole world is under Gospel control. Again, the very opposite is true. The influence of, and the appeals of “this present evil world” with all its moral corruption has almost completed its leavening process on the professed people of God. When the few remaining “good and faithful” servants of our Lord Jesus Christ are caught up to meet the Lord in the air, the then worldwide professing church left in this world will be a totally corrupted church. The creeping, contaminating effect of the leaven of wickedness will have completed its beguiling influence on the professed “kingdom of heaven” under the direction of the end time Beast’s Minister of Religion, the false prophet of Revelation 13.
1 Corinthians 5 is one of the many New Testament messages which rather vividly identifies leaven as a type of evil. The church at Corinth was knowingly tolerating gross moral wickedness within her fellowship. The Apostle Paul demanded the excommunication of “that wicked person” based on the argument that “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” In allowing this evil to go uncorrected their whole professed Corinthian church would become corrupt - the same thing that Jesus taught in the parable of Matthew 13:33. A purging out of the leaven of wickedness was an absolute necessity for the continued spiritual health of the church. Here it is enjoined upon the church to “keep the feast, not with the old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1Co 5:8).
In this context Paul alludes to the Old Testament Passover’s use of unleavened bread and the sacrifice of a lamb without blemish as being types of “Christ our Passover who is sacrificed for us” (1Co 5:7). The typology here is most beautiful. Even though in His earth life, He “was made in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3), “In Him was no sin and in Him dwelt all the fullness of the perfection and holiness of the Godhead bodily (Col 2:9). In ultimate perfection He “offered Himself to God without spot” to be our Passover Lamb to save us from death. He was indeed the true antitype of the “without blemish” Old Testament sacrificial lamb and the unleavened bread of the Passover feast. Anyone using leavened bread during the seven day Passover feast would have broken the type and would have done so under penalty of being cut off from the people of God (Ex 12:15,19).
God always guarded the types of the unchanging purpose for His Son very jealously. Moses suffered remorseful consequences for disobeying God and breaking a type for His Son when he smote the rock the second time. In Leviticus 10, two of God’s appointed priests, Nadab and Abihu, were met with the swift judgement of God when they broke a type by using strange fire to bum incense on the altar of prayer inside the tabernacle. Coals for burning that incense were to be taken from the altar of sacrifice that was outside the tabernacle (Lev 16:12-13). This altar of sacrifice typified the consuming fire of the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross, the one sacrifice through whom alone our prayers and our praises are incensed and acceptable to God.
Jesus, who faithfully fulfilled the Old Testament law to perfection, must needs have used unleavened bread in His Passover feasts with His disciples. At the close of His last Passover feast with them, He instituted the New Testament communion service. When He broke the communion bread and shared it with them He declared, “This is my body which is given for you” (Luke 22:19). That bread which He broke for the communion service typified the same perfect person and sacrifice that the Passover’s unleavened bread typified. The bread He used for communion must have also been unleavened bread for the reason that the law which Jesus kept perfectly commanded that at the time of the seven day Passover feast there was to be “no unleavened bread seen with thee in thy quarters” (Ex 13:7), or “in all thy coasts seven days” (Deu 16:4). Had Jesus used leavened bread for communion He would have broken the same type that Israelites did not dare to break without being cut off from their people. Whenever bread was used by God’s people solely to typify the sinless body of Christ, it needed to be unleavened bread.
The Scriptures record two times in the religious life of Israel when leavened bread was to be used. In Leviticus 7:11-13 there was to be both leavened and unleavened wafers used for their thanksgiving offerings. Here the use of the two breads doubtless conveys for us a twofold type. First, the leavened wafers may well typify the thanksgiving offerer who because of his human limitations can never be said to be able to offer adequate praises to God in ultimate perfection in this life. Secondly, the unleavened wafers very beautifully typify the One through whom alone our imperfect, inadequate praises and thanksgivings are acceptable to God. This truth is substantiated in Ephesians 5:20 where we are told to give our “thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In the name of Jesus we therefore thank God that through “Christ our Passover who was sacrificed for us” our wavering prayers, our incomplete thanksgivings, and our inadequate praises, when sincerely offered through Christ, are not only acceptable to God but come up as a sweet savor unto Him (2Co 2:15; Rev 8:4), something by which He can be glorified and pleased.
The other use of leavened bread was at Israel’s annual feast of Pentecost (Lev 23:17). This feast seems clearly to typify the birth of the church as recorded in Acts 2. Here again the type embodies humankind who in this life never do attain unto a state of sinless perfection in practical Christian expression. Even the Apostle Paul confessed late in life that he had not attained unto perfection but that he continued to “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Php 3:12-14). While the church’s goal must always be toward spotless perfection for every member in the body (Col 1:28,29), she is never said to be infallibly perfect in this world. She will be that in her final redemption when our Lord presents her unto Himself “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing” (Eph 5:27). God’s purpose in instituting the use of leavened bread for the Pentecost feast was doubtless to typify the human imperfections of the church made up of imperfect humans who although continually pressing toward a life of perfection can only find their absolute perfection through continuous forgiveness and cleansing by the blood of the only one who in this world lived a life of ultimate perfection (1Jo 1:7). Jesus did not institute the communion service as a memorial of the birth of the church at Pentecost. He instituted it to be a memorial of His broken body and shed blood for us. In the communion service we commemorate His death - not Pentecost.
The use of unleavened bread and unfermented “fruit of the vine” juice for the communion service seems most appropriate for the reason that in the Bible whenever bread was used solely to represent Christ, the Bread which came down from heaven, unleavened bread was always a requirement. It symbolizes and glorifies our Lord’s perfection and therefore adds enrichment and blessing to the communion fellowship.
“Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1Co 5:8).
--Aaron M. Shank