(Most frequently, כּוס, kōṣ; four other words in one passage each; ποτήριον, potḗrion):
A vessel for drinking from, of a variety of material (gold, silver, earthenware), patterns (Esther 1:7) and elaboration. A wine-cup (Genesis 40:11, Genesis 40:21), various forms of which are found on Assyrian and Egyptian monuments. All Solomon’s drinking vessels were of gold (1 Kings 10:21). The cups mentioned in the New Testament were made after Roman and Greek models, and were sometimes of gold (Revelation 17:4).
The art of divining by means of a cup was practiced in Egypt (Genesis 44:2-17), and in the East generally. The “cup of salvation” (Psalm 116:13) is the cup of thanksgiving for the great salvation. The “cup of consolation” (Jeremiah 16:7) refers to the custom of friends sending viands and wine to console relatives in mourning (Proverbs 31:6). In 1 Corinthians 10:16, the “cup of blessing” is contrasted with the “cup of devils” (1 Corinthians 10:21). The sacramental cup is the “cup of blessing,” because of blessing pronounced over it (Matthew 26:27; Luke 22:17). The “portion of the cup” (Psalm 11:6; Psalm 16:5) denotes one’s condition of life, prosperous or adverse. A “cup” is also a type of sensual allurement (Jeremiah 51:7; Proverbs 23:31; Revelation 17:4). We read also of the “cup of astonishment,” the “cup of trembling,” and the “cup of God’s wrath” (Psalm 75:8; Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15; Lamentations 4:21; Ezekiel 23:32; Revelation 16:19; compare Matthew 26:39, Matthew 26:42; John 18:11). The cup is also the symbol of death (Matthew 16:28; Mark 9:1; Hebrews 2:9).
By ordinary figure of speech, put sometimes for the contents of the cup, namely, for that which is drunk (Matthew 26:39). In both Old Testament and New Testament applied figuratively to that which is portioned out, and of which one is to partake; most frequently used of what is sorrowful, as God’s judgments, His wrath, afflictions, etc. (Psalm 11:6; Psalm 75:8; Isaiah 51:17; Revelation 14:10). In a similar sense, used by Christ concerning the sufferings endured by Him (Matthew 26:39), and the calamities attending the confession of His name (Matthew 20:23). In the Old Testament applied also to the blessedness and joy of the children of God, and the full provision made for their wants (Psalm 16:5; Psalm 23:5; Psalm 116:13; compare Jeremiah 16:7; Proverbs 31:6). All these passages refer not only to the experience of an allotted joy and sorrow, but to the fact that all others share in this experience. Within a community of those having the same interests or lot, each received his apportioned measure, just as at a feast, each cup is filled for the individual to drain at the same time that his fellow-guests are occupied in the same way.
The Holy Supper is called “the cup of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 10:21), since it is the Lord who makes the feast, and tenders the cup, just as “the cup of demons” with which it is contrasted, refers to what they offer and communicate. In 1 Corinthians 11:25, the cup is called “the new covenant in my blood,” i.e. it is a pledge and seal and means of imparting the blessings of the new covenant (Hebrews 10:16 f) – a covenant established by the shedding of the blood of Christ. The use of the word “cup” for the sacrament shows how prominent was the part which the cup had in the Lord’s Supper in apostolic times. Not only were all commanded to drink of the wine (Matthew 26:27), but the very irregularities in the Corinthian church point to its universal use (1 Corinthians 11:27). Nor does the Roman church attempt to justify its withholding the cup from the laity (the communion in one form) upon conformity with apostolic practice, or upon direct Scriptural authority. This variation from the original institution is an outgrowth of the doctrines of transubstantiation and sacramental concomitance, of the attempt to transform the sacrament of the Eucharist into the sacrifice of the Mass, and of the wide separation between clergy and laity resulting from raising the ministry to the rank of a sacerdotal order. The practice was condemned by Popes Leo I (died 461) and Gelasius (died 496); but gained a firm hold in the 12th century, and was enacted into a church regulation by the Council of Constance in 1415.
See also Cup Of Blessing.
As to the use of cups for divination (Genesis 44:5), the reference is to superstitious practice derived from the Gentiles. For various modes of divining what is unknown by the pouring of water into bowls, and making observations accordingly, see Geikie, Hours with the Bible, I, 492 f, and article Divination.