More Questions about the Lord's Supper
As truthseekers, we each come from various backgrounds. Each of these backgrounds may bias our initial opinions. Consequently, many questions naturally arise whenever we first attempt to return to Scripture for definition and regulation of this memorial. Previously, we had examined an overview on this topic, but it is impossible to answer all the questions that could be asked in a brief overview. In fact, it will be impossible to answer them all here, but we will do our best to answer as many questions as possible. Unanswered questions are the linchpin in the frozen floodgates that hold back our understanding. Answering these questions, not to someone but for ourselves, often unleashes a flood of enlightenment. Consequently, we want to answer as many questions as possible.
Questions discussed in this article:
- Is the Lord's Supper Jesus' real body?
- Is the Lord's Supper a sacrifice?
- Do we have to use unleavened bread?
- What is the "fruit of the vine"?
- Are we to use only one cup?
- Are we to observe only once a year, during Passover week?
Now this may seem like a strange topic to you, but to question this truth for many seems a stranger topic. The doctrine of transubstantiation teaches that the elements of the Lord's Supper, the bread and grape juice, are changed into pieces of Jesus' body. This is based on Christ's language in His instituting the memorial feast:
While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body."
And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom." Matthew 26:26-29
The tradition varies somewhat from one person's conception to another, but the general idea is that the transforming of the elements of the Lord's Supper occurs when either someone prays over the elements, touches the elements, or eats the elements. At that moment the elements are miraculously transformed and substituted by the literal, physical body and blood of Jesus. Another lesser known variation, consubstantiation, teaches that Jesus' flesh and blood are mingled, joined with the elements. Therefore, when one partakes, he eats unleavened bread miraculously mingled with Christ's flesh, and drinks grape juice miraculously mixed with Christ's blood. The following answers will jointly apply to both of these doctrines.
In the above text, Jesus states that the bread is His body, and the grape juice is His blood. Recorded elsewhere in a public exchange, Jesus said that unless we eat His body and drink His blood, we cannot be saved (John 6:48-58). Jesus' words are clear. Truly these things must be so, but the question remains, "How?" "In what way are these things true?" "Are we to understand Jesus' language literally or figuratively?"
Although divine, Jesus was also a man, and He spoke using human language. Just like us, He used illustrations, such as the parables, and He also used figurative language, such as metaphors and hyperbola. For example:
"I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture." John 10:9
Just at that time some Pharisees approached, saying to Him, "Go away, leave here, for Herod wants to kill You." And He said to them, "Go and tell that fox, 'Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach My goal.'" Luke 13:31-32
In the first passage, when Jesus' spoke these words was He miraculously transformed into a door? Did He turn into a wood frame, complete with hinges and a doorknob? Or, was He illustrating a truth about Himself and our acquiring access to God? Read the context to determine the truth. In the second passage, did He transform Herod into a fox? After He spoke these words, a hundred miles away, did Herod miraculously change into a red furry creature, or did Jesus communicate His judgment of Herod's shrewdness and wily character?
As we studied in the overview of the Lord's Supper, Jesus symbolically served as our sacrificial Lamb, taking away our sins (I Corinthians 5:7; I Peter 1:19-20; John 1:29). Through His body, He suffered the punishment that was due us. By His shed blood, He offered His life for our stained souls, where our spotless life should have originally been given to God (Hebrews 9:14-23). Therefore, the elements of the Lord's supper symbolize the sacrifice that we are to remember and memorialize in partaking. Jesus metaphorically referenced the significance of the symbolic elements by directly relating them to His body and blood without any use of comparative words, such as "like" or "as".
The context helps to clarify the truth. Notice that after Jesus distributed the fruit of the vine and supposedly transformed it into His blood by His designation, He again called it the fruit of the vine. Did He miraculously change it back into grape juice, which the apostles partook, and we are to partake? Or, was it never changed? Did He simply refer figuratively to the significance of the elements? If His language was not metaphoric, then we must accept that while partaking today, the bread is transubstantiated, and the fruit of the vine is also transubstantiated, but it reverts sometime between the distribution and our drinking of the fruit of the vine.
Also, it should be remembered that the point of all miracles were to demonstrate power and deity of Christ (John 20:30-31; 4:48-54; 5:31-40). No miracle's authenticity was ever questioned. In fact, Luke calls them "unquestionable proofs" (Acts 1:3). This raises two questions: How does the miraculous transformation of the elements help substantiate the authenticity of Christ among those who are already faithful believers? What is the point of such a miracle? If it somehow demonstrates the divine authenticity of Jesus or the believer, then that raises a second question. If it is truly an unquestionable proof, why can the transformation not be demonstrated? Practical experience reveals that the bread taste like bread, and the grape juice certainly does not taste like blood. Scientific test confirm that it is still bread and grape juice, so then how does this miracle unquestionably prove anything? The very fact that the miracle is highly suspect destroys the purpose for which it would have been intended and eliminates the possibility of miraculous transformation.
We must always be careful not to be drawn away by mystical traditions that are steeped in a carnal attraction to the supernatural.
Another idea closely associated with and dependent upon transubstantiation is that of "mass". Most believe that this word comes from a traditional term that was used to dismiss the worship service. Eventually it became associated with the religious rites connected to observing the Lord's Supper. Although many people believe "mass" and the observance of the Lord's Supper to be synonymous, "mass" is here used to signify the particular set of traditions connected to observing the Lord's Supper, while the "Lord's Supper" denotes the original, Biblically authorized form of practicing this memorial feast.
The traditions associated with mass teach that Christ's sacrifice is reoffered. The idea is based upon the presence of a ministering priest and a direct sacrifice, the transubstantiated body and blood of Jesus. However, the sacrifice is seen not as a re-crucifixion of Jesus, but as a re-presentation of the elements, offering them again to God.
When examining different beliefs about the "mass" and the "Lord's Supper", it can be difficult to perceive the differences. The primary differences between "mass" and the "Lord's Supper" are as follows:
- In mass the Lord's body is presented again to the Lord. Jesus is seen as a continual, living sacrifice, but not dying repeatedly. However, in the celebration of the Lord's Supper, the feast is strictly a memorial for the Christian observers. It has no mystical power to renew, or refresh the sacrifice before God.
- The re-sacrifice of mass is a mystical sacrament that bestows spiritual blessings of forgiveness and healings. The extent of its power is mystical and not well understood. Yet, for the Lord' Supper, the Christian is required to first prepare his heart so that he may focus on the memorial. His sins are forgiven by confessing his sins in prayer, not as a result of partaking in the memorial
- Christ's body is sacrificed many times, and persists as a living sacrifice, according to the observants of mass. While those who observe only the Lord's Supper, recognize the sacrifice as occurring once upon the cross. Consequently, the concept of Christ's sacrifice and its occurrence in time are disparate.
Many conscientious Christians have wrestled with the question, "In the Lord's Supper are we restricted to using only one container of grape juice and one loaf of bread?". This concern comes from a strong desire to "do all things according to the pattern". However, is this restriction part of the pattern that Jesus specified? Does He require this of us today? The following reasons suggest a negative answer and help explain where others fail in insisting otherwise.
Figurative Language - Metonymy
The failure to recognize Jesus' use of figurative language in the institution of the Lord's supper is the primary cause for this misunderstanding. Metonymy is the figurative use of one word to represent something else closely associated with another word. Many examples of this can be seen throughout scripture. Just a couple examples are listed here:
- Noah "prepared an ark for the saving of his house" (Hebrews 11:7) - Did Noah save his family, or the timbers and fixtures of his building that housed his family?
- God promised that Abraham would have a "great name" (Genesis 12:2). Did he make Abraham's name great by putting a great number of letters in it? Did he make it great by painting it in the sky? Or, did he give Abraham a great name by giving him a great reputation, which is closely associated with one's name?
Jesus uses metonymy in representing the fruit of the vine by its container. The cup stands for its contents. Was Jesus concerned about the cup or its contents?
"Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom.'" (Matthew 26:27-29)
What is used to represent Christ's blood, the cup or the contents?
Also, please notice what Jesus commanded the apostles in the following parallel account:
"Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves." (Luke 22:16)
Jesus did not command how the cup was to be divided, but it had to be divided. They could have all drank from the same container using one cup, or they could have poured it into multiple containers and all drank from individual cups. Regardless, Jesus acknowledges that the cup must be divided. In fact, He commanded them to do so.
This shows two things: One, Jesus must have used metonymy. Surely, He did not intend for the apostles to shatter the cup and each keep a fragment as a souvenir. He used metonymy in representing the contents by their container. Second, the method of division is left unspecified. Therefore, we are authorized to divided the contents, but the method of division and distribution is left up to us. We have generic authority to have one cup or multiple cups. We must be careful not to restrict others where God has not restricted, lest we be found "adding to" God's Word and fall under the associated condemnation (Galatians 1:6-8; Revelation 22:18-19).
Standing on Unstated Imagery
Many times we make the mistake of stretching a parable, allusion, or image beyond the intended point. Related to this question, some associate one container with the unity of those who drink from it. However, Jesus never associated unity with a single container. Again, this becomes apparent in Jesus' command to actually divide the cup (Luke 22:16). If the cup stands for the unity of group, then we must understand His command to divide the cup as a command to divide the church! If this is not so, then one container must not be related to the unity of the church, local or universal.
Although Jesus did not make reference to one loaf of bread, Paul did mention that we partake of one loaf in I Corinthians 10:16-17. However, it has no reference to the number of physical loaves. If it did refer to one physical loaf, how could all Christians throughout the entire world, ranging from Corinth to Jerusalem, partake of the exact same loaf of bread, every first day of the week? That would be a mighty big loaf of bread! Paul said there we are many, but we are all part of one body, partaking of one loaf, thereby associating the body and the loaf (I Corinthians 10:16-17). If we are not partaking of the same loaf, then we are not part of one body in Jesus! Since this leads to an absurd conclusion, the basis of the conclusion must be false. The "oneness" or "uniqueness" of the loaf is that it represents one body, one sacrifice, Jesus Christ, not one physical mass (I Corinthians 10:16).
Many point to the observance in Acts 20:7, asserting that it was held during the Passover week. They also may mention that Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper during the week of Passover. In fact, He instituted the meal immediately following the partaking of the Passover feast (Luke 22:1-23). The reasoning is that Christ simply replaced the Passover feast with the a new Passover feast, the Lord's Supper, which represented His sacrifice in contrast to the Old Testament Passover lamb. The new replaced the old. The significance of each was related. The frequency and time of observation was to be the same.
Although this explanation is used as justification for the limited annual observation of the Lord's Supper by many prominent religious groups, it cannot be harmonized with Scripture. Please look again at the passage in Acts 20:
"But we sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days joined them at Troas, where we stayed seven days. Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, ..." (Acts 20:6-7)
Please notice that the Days of Unleavened Bread had passed, then Paul and company sailed to Troas, during which 5 days passed; then, they stayed at Troas 7 more days before "breaking bread". The Days of Unleavened Bread refers to the Passover week, during which only unlaced bread was used (Luke 22:1, 7). Passover had been over two whole weeks before they partook of the Lord's Supper. If the Lord's Supper is to be taken annually in the place of Passover, why did not the apostle Paul and his companions follow the pattern? Why does the passage mention that they waited until "the first day of the week", if it is not a weekly concern?
We have to take the Lord's Supper sometime. The question we must ask ourselves is, "What day does the Scripture suggest as the day of observing the Lord's Supper?". There are not a lot of verses that record the answer, but do we need a lot?
If you have further questions concerning this topic, please feel free to e-mail the author.
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