Sunday, October 23, 2005

"This is my body"


88. Nathan Daniels Says:
October 22nd, 2005 at 3:19 am

Not that I’m into proof-texting, but the most emphatic example in Scripture to me regarding Christ’s presence comes from I Corinthians 11:20-34.

The context is Paul chastizing certain members of the Corinthian church for treating the Lord’s Supper like a common meal. After taking care to quote Christ as declaring the bread and wine to be His Body and Blood, he continues: (v29)…”For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, NOT DISCERNING THE LORD’S BODY”.

I suppose one could make the argument that he’s talking about the church but that’s a stretch considering the correction came because men were getting drunk .

Moreover, how can one person (Steve) deny the consensus of the early Church Fathers, whose writings inform us greatly as to precisely what the Apostles taught the Church as to the meaning of the Scriptures pre-Bible?


This raises some valid issues which merit a serious reply.

1.There are two boundaries which frame the Pauline discussion: (i) the Passover and (ii) the abuse of Christian fellowship.

2.The reference to the blood of the covenant is an allusion to the shedding of blood by which the Mosaic covenant was ratified (Exod 24:8). Likewise, the New Covenant will be ratified by the shedding of blood—the blood of Christ (Isa 53:12; Jer 31:31). What is in view, then, is not the composition of the communion elements, but the cross, for which they stand.

3.The Last Supper is a modification of the Seder, where you had the bread, the lamb, the wine, and the bitter herbs.

i) The Passover was, of itself, a symbolic reenactment of the Exodus. As Keener observes, in his commentary on Matthew,
“We should interpret his words here no more literally than the disciples would have taken the normal words of the Passover liturgy, related to Deut 16:3: ‘This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate when they came from the land of Egypt.’ (By no stretch of the imagination did anyone suppose that they were re-eating the very bread the Israelites had eaten in the wilderness.) Those who ate of this bread participated by commemoration in Jesus’ affliction in the same manner that those who ate the Passover commemorated in the deliverance of their ancestors. The language of Passover celeb ration assumed the participation of current generations in the exodus event. That Jesus was also in his body at the time he uttered the words further militates against interpreting the bread as literally equivalent to his body,” A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, 631-632.

ii) The point of comparison and contrast lies in the fact that the sacrifice of Christ now takes the place of the Seder elements. Instead of saying, “This is the bread of affliction,” Christ says, “This is my body.” He substitutes himself for the traditional elements. As C. F. Evans observes, in his commentary on Luke:
“This (is: in Aramaic there would be no verb as a copula) my body—could also correspond to the Passover ritual, this (is) being a formula in the Passover haggadah for the replies made by the head of the household to the questions asked about the peculiar features of the feast (unleavened bread, bitter herbs &c.). ‘What is this?”” Saint Luke, 789.

iii) At the Last Supper, Jesus would have spoken in Aramaic, not Greek. To infer a whole theology of the Eucharist from the presence of a verb which is only the artifact of an idiomatic Greek translation, with no corresponding verb in the Aramaic, gives us a skyscraper without a foundation.

iv) Again, this has nothing to do with the composition of the communion elements, but rather, the Crucifixion as the fulfillment of the Passover.

Paul was a Messianic Jew, and one needs to read 1 Cor 11 through the eyes of a Messianic Jew. The catholic interpretation is a classic and cautionary reminder of how seriously and swiftly the church can lose her moorings as soon as she loses touch with original intent.

4.The crisis which occasioned 1 Cor 11 was a dissention in the Corinthian fellowship. This has reference to a socioeconomic division (11:22). On the one hand, you had a rich Christian patron whose house-church sponsored the Agape feast. On the other hand were the poorer members of the congregation. The patron was discriminating against the poorer members in favor of his wealthy friends and house guests. That’s what lies in the background.

The Eucharist is a token of Christian unity (10:17). But the affluent church members were turning it into a token of Christian disunity.

5.There are three different ways of interpreting 11:29.

i) On the Catholic interpretation, failure to discern the body has reference to failure to discern the Real Presence. But there are problems with this interpretation:

a) It’s extrinsic to the context. At issue is not the doctrine of the Eucharist or orthodoxy, but the behavior of the Corinthians or orthopraxy.

Failure to discern the Real Presence is irrelevant to the economic discrimination in view. Even assuming that the Real Presence is true , the Corinthians could be orthodox and still discriminate.

b) According to catholic doctrine, the true body and blood subsists under the species of bread and wine. So the Real Presence is intangible and invisible. On the catholic interpretation, the Corinthians are culpable for failing to discern the indiscernible.

c) As I’ve argued under (2)-(3), what is in view is not the composition of the elements, but their significance.

ii) Another interpretation takes the reference to the “body” to denote the church. In favor of this interpretation:

a) It is consistent with the socioeconomic context of the passage.

b) It is consistent with Pauline usage (10:16-17).

c) When Paul says that Jesus is the rock (10:4), Roman Catholic theologians don’t infer the literal petrifaction of Christ, do they?

Such an interpretation automatically rules out the Catholic gloss.

Why Nathan supposes that inebriation makes this interpretation a “stretch” is not self-explanatory.

iii) Yet another interpretation takes the reference to the “body” to be a shorthand expression for “body and blood” in v27. This would give it a Eucharistic reference.

Both (ii)-(iii) are reasonable interpretations. There is not much functional difference between (ii) and (iii).

Assuming (iii), the failure in view is the failure to perceive the socioeconomic significance of the Eucharist as a token of Christian unity rather than disunity. A Eucharistic reference alone does not implicate the Real Presence.

6.This is not an issue of one person (me) as over against the church fathers. I’m not the only individual who denies the catholic interpretation of 1 Cor 11.

i) Nathan is acting as though the Apostles bequeathed to the church fathers a verse-by-verse commentary on the NT.

What the Apostles bequeathed to the sub-Apostolic church was not a commentary on the NT, but the NT itself: the NT writings.

ii) I’d add that the church fathers were contemporaries of various heresiarchs and heretical sects. Temporal proximity to the apostles does nothing to broker competing theological claims.

iii) Paul had to address no fewer than four different letters to the Corinthian church to clear up persistent misinterpretations of his own teaching.

If Christians who had the benefit of face-to-face instruction from Paul—as well as Peter—could still distort his teaching, then, yes, it’s quite easy to believe that church fathers could get it wrong as well.

As Luke Timothy Johnson, a leading Catholic commentator, candidly admits,
“It is obvious, first of all, that Christian liturgical practice is not based directly on this text [Lk 22:14-23] but rather on a complex development of ritual traditions that look back to the Gospels only for legitimation after the fact,” Sacra Pagina Series, 3:340-41.

1 comment:

  1. Many of the church fathers either didn't comment on this subject or held a view different from the Catholic doctrine. For documentation of the variety of views held by the fathers, see Philip Schaff's comments in section 69 at:

    And section 95 at:

    I also recommend consulting Schaff's footnotes, since the notes cite additional passages from the fathers and cite other scholars confirming Schaff's conclusions.

    It should be noted that people often see a reference to a physical eucharistic presence in the church fathers in passages that can reasonably be interpreted otherwise.

    Jason Engwer
    New Testament Research Ministries