Lecture 5A - "The Lord's Supper" -- Confessional and Biblical Concerns
Dr. Kim Riddlebarger
A. We now move from a discussion of the sacrament of baptism to the Lord's Supper. Before we begin to look at this subject in some detail, it is important to note the contentious nature of the subject. It is always ironic, indeed tragic, to note that the very sacrament that Christ gave to his church to both nourish us and unite us, has instead largely served to divide us. Human sinfulness is seen in such division perhaps, more than in anything else. So much of the contemporary Evangelical discussion about unity--which is based upon superficial experience and a depreciation of doctrine, especially that of the Lord's Supper--has only cheapened the true biblical conception of what it means for Christ's people to be one, as well as obscuring how it is human sinfulness that prevents justified sinners from joining one another at Christ's table. This sad condition is aptly described by Donald Bridge and David Phypers--Baptist and Church of England Ministers--in their book, Communion: The Meal That Unites? Christians "all make rather special use of bread and wine. The use of it is bewilderingly different, but they all use it [note: the authors are British and have probably not encountered American Evangelicals who insist upon the use of grape juice in the supper!]....Christians have not only done different things with the bread and the wine, but have done terrible things to each other because of it. Men and women have been imprisoned, whipped, pilloried, tortured, and burned alive because of differing opinions about what really happens when Christians eat bread and drink wine and remember their Lord....Powerful kings have been toppled from their thrones and humble men have been driven into exile because of their views about the Lord's Supper. Even today, when Christians are more conscious of their common faith than they have been for centuries, differences in Eucharistic faith and practice continue to divide them. Many refuse to recognize the validity of others' celebrations. Some still withhold communion from those not in their own particular tradition" [Bridge and Phypers, Communion: The Meal That Unites?, 10]. Thus it is particularly galling that so many of today's Evangelicals--who do not think the sacraments to be a central part of Christian faith and practice and who know virtually nothing of the debate about the nature of the Supper throughout Christian history--simply trivialize the whole subject by acting as though all of the debate over the Sacrament is all no big deal. Though it is difficult for us to comprehend perhaps, this subject was as critical to the Reformers as was the debate over the Solas.
B. Why is this subject so difficult? As Bridge and Phypers put it, all Christians "trace their practice back to the fact that the evening before his death Jesus shared a final meal with his disciples. During the meal he said of the bread, `This is my body,' and of the wine, `This is my blood.' He commanded his followers, as often as they ate and drank thereafter, to remember him. As a result, the `breaking of bread', sharing in `communion', celebration of the `eucharist', partaking of `the Lord's Supper' and observance of `mass' have distinguished Christian communities ever since. They have quarreled so deeply about its meaning because they so unitedly insist on its great importance [except American Evangelicals, of course!!!]. At first sight Christ's actions and command seem so simple and straightforward that disagreement over their meaning and observance would appear to be impossible or merely perverse. But closer examination reveals that every action and every phrase is alive with meaning and vibrant with implication" [Bridge and Phypers, Communion: The Meal That Unites?, 10]. As we will see, when we get to our discussion of the biblical data, this is certainly the case. There are indeed difficult exegetical questions that arise here.
II. A Brief Review of Terms Used by the Reformed:
A. According to the Reformed, there are three components parts of a sacrament:
1. An outward or visible sign: According to the Scriptures, sacraments contain an outward or visible element. That is, sacraments are based upon material objects: water in baptism, bread and wine in the Supper. But a sacrament not only includes the material element prescribed in Scripture, but this also extends to the rite itself as commanded by Scripture. As we have seen, this language is used in connection with the Covenant made with Noah (Genesis 9:12-13), the covenant made with Abraham (Genesis 17:11); and as confirmed by Paul (Romans 4:11).
2. An inward grace or thing signified and sealed: "Signs and seals presuppose something that is signified and sealed" [Berkhof ST, 617], and thus while the signs remain signs, they nevertheless are means of grace through the work of the Holy Spirit. What, then, are these very real inward graces that are signed and sealed in the sacraments?
a. The promises of the covenant of grace, including the promise of God to be God to his people and to consecrate them unto himself and all those spiritual blessings which associated with it (Gen. 9:12-13; Genesis 17:1-14; Romans 4:11-13)
b. The forgiveness of sins and participation in the life that is in Christ (Matthew 3:11; Matthew 26:28; Mark 1:4-5; 1 Corinthians 10:2-3; 16-17; Romans 2:28-29; 6:3-4; Galatians 3:27; Titus 3:4-7; 1 Peter 3:21)
3. The Sacramental union between the sign and the thing signified: This is where most of the confusion about sacraments takes place.
a. According to Romanism, the sacramental union is strictly physical. As Ursinus puts it in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism: "The Papists imagine that the sign which are used in the celebration of the Lord's Supper are changed into the things signified. But a change is no union" [Ursinus, Commentary, 377 ff.] This means that the error of Romanism is to see the grace given in the sacrament as something done in us, by virtue of the change of the sign into the thing signified. This also explains the use of Aristotelean categories of substans and accidens, to explain the lack of any union between the sign and thing signified.
b. According to Lutherans, the sacramental union is local, "as if the sign and the thing signified were present in the same space, so both believers and unbelievers receive the full sacrament when they receive the sign." [Berkhof, ST, 618]
c. According to most American Evangelicals (who are strongly influenced by Pietism and Anabaptism and radical Zwinglianism), there is no sacramental union at all. The signs remain mere signs or symbols and do not communicate grace. They are given to us merely to commemorate the work of Christ through the use of the symbols.
d. According to the Reformed, the sacramental union is a spiritual bond, effected by God the Holy Spirit, and received by faith, so that by receiving the sign (bread, water, wine), the thing signified is also received (the promises of the covenant, the forgiveness of sins and participation in the resurrection life of Christ). "Where the sacrament is received in faith, the grace of God accompanies it. According to this view the external sign becomes a means employed by the Holy Spirit in the communication of divine grace" [Berkhof, ST, 618]. According to Eugene Osterhaven, "sacraments are not `bare signs' but are described as real means of grace with which the Holy Spirit nourishes believers. Signs and seals of God's promise of salvation they are made effective by God's Spirit who quickens and nourishes those within the covenant community who are united to Jesus Christ" [Osterhaven, "Sacraments," ERF 333]. Michael Horton reminds us "while the Holy Spirit does not work apart from means (Word and sacrament), he nevertheless works when and where he will through them and is never tied to them. Never can the sacraments be the property of the priest or even of the laity, a magical `tool' to command God." According to John 3:8, "the wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going." This leads Michael to conclude, "The Holy Spirit is free to use the Word and sacraments to save, but he is also free to with-hold his gift of faith from whomever he pleases."
This sacramental union enables us to state that "the close connection between the sign and the thing signified explains the use of what is generally called `sacramental language,' in which the sign is put for the thing signified or vice-versa" [Berkhof, ST, 618]. This is found in texts such as Genesis 17:11; Acts 22:16; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Corinthians 10:1-4. It is also clearly in view when our Lord calls the bread his body and the wine in the cup, his blood, the blood of the new covenant (cf. Matthew 26:26-28). Those who deny that there is more in view than a mere sign, are forced to insert the words "this symbolizes" my body.
According to Calvin, "As for our sacraments, the more fully Christ has been revealed to men, the more clearly do the sacraments present him to us from the time when he was truly revealed by the Father as he had been promised. For baptism attests to us that we have been cleansed and washed; the Eucharistic Supper, that we have been redeemed. In water, washing is represented, in blood, satisfaction. These two are found in Christ `. . . who,' as John says, `came in water and in blood' [1 John 5:6]; that is, to wash and to redeem" [Calvin, Institutes, IV.xiv.22].
III. The Sacramental Union According to the Reformed Confessions
Before we work our way through the Biblical data and focus upon the Lord's Supper, it is important to summarize and review the Reformed conception of the sacraments in general as summarized by our confessions. This will not only give us a sense of how the Reformed doctrine of the Lord's Supper is formulated, but also recaps our previous discussion of baptism.
A. The Reformed [Calvinist--not Zwinglian] conception of the sacramental union between the "sign" and "the thing signified" is perhaps best summarized in Article 33 of the Belgic Confession:
We believe that our good God, mindful of our crudeness and weakness, has ordained sacraments for us to seal his promises in us, to pledge his good will and grace toward us, and also to nourish and sustain our faith. He has added these to the Word of the gospel to represent better to our external senses both what he enables us to understand by his Word and what he does inwardly in our hearts, confirming in us the salvation he imparts to us. For they are visible signs and seals of something internal and invisible, by means of which God works in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. So they are not empty and hollow signs to fool and deceive us, for their truth is Jesus Christ, without whom they would be nothing.
B. The Heidelberg Catechism: LORD'S DAY 25
65 Q. It is by faith alone that we share in Christ and all his blessings: where then does that faith come from?
A. The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts (John 3:5; 1 Corinthians 2:10-14; Ephesians 2:8)
by the preaching of the holy gospel, (Romans 10:17; 1 Peter 1:23-25)
and confirms it
through our use of the holy sacraments.(Matthew 28:19-20; 1 Corinthians 10:16)
66 Q. What are sacraments?
A. Sacraments are holy signs and seals for us to see.
They were instituted by God so that
by our use of them
he might make us understand more clearly
the promise of the gospel,
and might put his seal on that promise. (Genesis 17:11; Deuteronomy 30:6; Romans 4:11)
And this is God's gospel promise:
to forgive our sins and give us eternal life
by grace alone
because of Christ's one sacrifice
finished on the cross. (Matthew 26:27-28; Acts 2:38; Hebrews 10:10)
67 Q. Are both the word and the sacraments then intended to focus our faith on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation?
In the gospel the Holy Spirit teaches us
and through the holy sacraments he assures us
that our entire salvation
rests on Christ's one sacrifice for us on the cross. (Romans 6:3; 1 Corinthians 11:26; Galatians 3:27)
68 Q. How many sacraments did Christ institute in the New Testament?
A. Two: baptism and the Lord's Supper. (Matthew 28:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
C. The Second Helvetic Confession
The Second Helvetic Confession (1566), was produced by Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575) at Zurich, and was quickly adopted by the Swiss Reformed Churches. According to Edward A. Dowey, the Second Helvetic Confession "was the most comprehensive and influential of early Reformed Confessions" [Edward A. Dowey, "Bullinger, Heinrich," in Encyclopedia of the Reformed Faith, 44]. Philip Schaff calls it "the last and the best of the Zwinglian family" [Philip Schaff, Creeds, I.390].
Chapter 19 - Of the Sacraments of the Church of Christ
The Sacraments [Are] Added to the Word and What They Are. From the beginning, God added to the preaching of his Word in his Church sacraments or sacramental signs. For thus does all Holy Scripture clearly testify. Sacraments are mystical symbols, or holy rites, or sacred actions, instituted by God himself, consisting of his Word, of signs and of things signified, whereby in the Church he keeps in mind and from time to time recalls the great benefits he has shown to men; whereby also he seals his promises, and outwardly represents, and, as it were, offers unto our sight those things which inwardly he performs for us, and so strengthens and increases our faith through the working of God's Spirit in our hearts. Lastly, he thereby distinguishes us from all other people and religions, and consecrates and binds us wholly to himself, and signifies what he requires of us.
Some Are Sacraments of the Old, Others of the New, Testaments. Some sacraments are of the old, others of the new, people. The sacraments of the ancient people were circumcision, and the Paschal Lamb, which was offered up; for that reason it is referred to the sacrifices which were practiced from the beginning of the world.
The Number of Sacraments of the New People. The sacraments of the new people are Baptism and the Lord's Supper. There are some who count seven sacraments of the new people. Of these we acknowledge that repentance, the ordination of ministers (not indeed the papal but apostolic ordination), and matrimony are profitable ordinances of God, but not sacraments. Confirmation and extreme unction are human inventions which the Church can dispense with without any loss, and indeed, we do not have them in our churches. For they contain some things of which we can by no means approve. Above all we detest all the trafficking in which the Papists engage in dispensing the sacraments.
The Author of the Sacraments. The author of all sacraments is not any man, but God alone. Men cannot institute sacraments. For they pertain to the worship of God, and it is not for man to appoint and prescribe a worship of God, but to accept and preserve the one he has received from God. Besides, the symbols have God's promises annexed to them, which require faith. Now faith rests only upon the Word of God; and the Word of God is like papers or letters, and the sacraments are like seals which only God appends to the letters.
Christ Still Works in Sacraments. And as God is the author of the sacraments, so he continually works in the Church in which they are rightly carried out; so that the faithful, when they receive them from the ministers, know that God works in his own ordinance, and therefore they receive them as from the hand of God; and the minister's faults (even if they be very great) cannot affect them, since they acknowledge the integrity of the sacraments to depend upon the institution of the Lord.
The Author and the Ministers of the Sacraments To Be Distinguished. Hence in the administration of the sacraments they also clearly distinguish between the Lord himself and the ministers of the Lord, confessing that the substance of the sacraments is given them by the Lord, and the outward signs by the ministers of the Lord.
The Substance or Chief Thing in the Sacraments. But the principle thing which God promises in all sacraments and to which all the godly in all ages direct their attention (some call it the substance and matter of the sacraments) is Christ the Savior--that only sacrifice, and the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world; that rock, also, from which all our fathers drank, by whom all the elect are circumcised without hands through the Holy Spirit, and are washed from all their sins, and are nourished with the very body and blood of Christ unto eternal life.
The Similarity and Difference in the Sacraments of Old and New Peoples. Now, in respect of that which is the principal thing and the matter itself in the sacraments, the sacraments of both peoples are equal. For Christ, the only Mediator and Savior of the faithful, is the chief thing and very substance of the sacraments in both; for the one God is the author of them both. They were given to both peoples as signs and seals of the grace and promises of God, which should call to mind and renew the memory of God's great benefits, and should distinguish the faithful from all the religions in the world; lastly, which should be received spiritually by faith, and should bind the receivers to the Church, and admonish them of their duty. In these and similar respects, I say, the sacraments of both people are not dissimilar, although in the outward signs they are different. And, indeed, with respect to the signs we make a great difference. For ours are more firm and lasting, inasmuch as they will never be changed to the end of the world. Moreover, ours testify that both the substance and the promise have been fulfilled or perfected in Christ; the former signified what was to be fulfilled. Ours are also more simple and less laborious, less sumptuous and involved with ceremonies. Moreover, they belong to a more numerous people, one that is dispersed throughout the whole earth. And since they are more excellent, and by the Holy Spirit kindle greater faith, a greater abundance of the Spirit also ensues.
Our Sacraments Succeed the Old Which Are Abrogated. But now since Christ the true Messiah is exhibited unto us, and the abundance of grace is poured forth upon the people of The New Testament, the sacraments of the old people are surely abrogated and have ceased; and in their stead the symbols of the New Testament are placed--Baptism in the place of circumcision, the Lord's Supper in place of the Paschal Lamb and sacrifices.
In What the Sacraments Consist. And as formerly the sacraments consisted of the word, the sign, and the thing signified; so even now they are composed, as it were, of the same parts. For the Word of God makes them sacraments, which before they were not.
The Consecration of the Sacraments. For they are consecrated by the Word, and shown to be sanctified by him who instituted them. To sanctify or consecrate anything to God is to dedicate it to holy uses; that is, to take it from the common and ordinary use, and to appoint it to a holy use. For the signs in the sacraments are drawn from common use, things external and visible. For in baptism the sign is the element of water, and that visible washing which is done by the minister; but the thing signified is regeneration and the cleansing from sins. Likewise, in the Lord's Supper, the outward sign is bread and wine, taken from things commonly used for meat and drink; but the thing signified is the body of Christ which was given, and his blood which was shed for us, or the communion of the body and blood of the Lord. Wherefore, the water, bread, and wine, according to their nature and apart from the divine institution and sacred use, are only that which they are called and we experience. But when the Word of God is added to them, together with invocation of the divine name, and the renewing of their first institution and sanctification, then these signs are consecrated, and shown to be sanctified by Christ. For Christ's first institution and consecration of the sacraments remains always effectual in the Church of God, so that those who do not celebrate the sacraments in any other way than the Lord himself instituted from the beginning still today enjoy that first and all-surpassing consecration. And hence in the celebration of the sacraments the very words of Christ are repeated.
Signs Take Name of Things Signified. And as we learn out of the Word of God that these signs were instituted for another purpose than the usual use, therefore we teach that they now, in their holy use, take upon them the names of things signified, and are no longer called mere water, bread or wine, but also regeneration or the washing of water, and the body and blood of the Lord or symbols and sacraments of the Lord's body and blood. Not that the symbols are changed into the things signified, or cease to be what they are in their own nature. For otherwise they would not be sacraments. If they were only the thing signified, they would not be signs.
The Sacramental Union. Therefore the signs acquire the names of things because they are mystical signs of sacred things, and because the signs and the things signified are sacramentally joined together; joined together, I say, or united by a mystical signification, and by the purpose or will of him who instituted the sacraments. For the water, bread, and wine are not common, but holy signs. And he that instituted water in baptism did not institute it with the will and intention that the faithful should only be sprinkled by the water of baptism; and he who commanded the bread to be eaten and the wine to be drunk in the supper did not want the faithful to receive only bread and wine without any mystery as they eat bread in their homes; but that they should spiritually partake of the things signified, and by faith be truly cleansed from their sins, and partake of Christ.
The Sects. And, therefore, we do not at all approve of those who attribute the sanctification of the sacraments to I know not what properties and formula or to the power of words pronounced by one who is consecrated and who has the intention of consecrating, and to other accidental things which neither Christ or the apostles delivered to us by word or example. Neither do we approve of the doctrine of those who speak of the sacraments just as common signs, not sanctified and effectual. Nor do we approve of those who despise the visible aspect of the sacraments because of the invisible, and so believe the signs to be superfluous because they think they already enjoy the thing themselves, as the Messalians are said to have held.
The Thing Signified Is Neither Included in or Bound to the Sacraments. We do not approve of the doctrine of those who teach that grace and the things signified are so bound to and included in the signs that whoever participate outwardly in the signs, no matter what sort of persons they be, also inwardly participate in the grace and things signified.
However, as we do not estimate the value of the sacraments by the worthiness or unworthiness of the ministers, so we do not estimate it by the condition of those who receive them. For we know that the value of the sacraments depends upon faith and upon the truthfulness and pure goodness of God. For as the Word of God remains the true Word of God, in which, when it is preached, not only bare words are repeated, but at the same time the things signified or announced in words are offered by God, even if the ungodly and unbelievers hear and understand the words yet do not enjoy the things signified, because they do not receive them by true faith; so the sacraments, which by the Word consist of signs and the things signified, remain true and inviolate sacraments, signifying not only sacred things, but, by God offering, the things signified, even if unbelievers do not receive the things offered. This is not the fault of God who gives and offers them, but the fault of men who receive them without faith and illegitimately; but whose unbelief does not invalidate the faithfulness of God (Rom. 3:3 f.).
The Purpose for Which Sacraments Were Instituted. Since the purpose for which sacraments were instituted was also explained in passing when right at the beginning of our exposition it was shown what sacraments are, there is no need to be tedious by repeating what once has been said. Logically, therefore, we now speak severally of the sacraments of the new people.
D. The Westminster Confession:
Chapter XXVII: Of the Sacraments
I. Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and His benefits; and to confirm our interest in Him: as also, to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to His Word.
II. There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.
III. The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither does the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that does administer it: but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers.
IV. There are only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the Gospel; that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord: neither of which may be dispensed by any, but by a minister of the Word lawfully ordained.
V. The sacraments of the Old Testament in regard to the spiritual things thereby signified and exhibited, were, for substance, the same with those of the new.
IV. The New Testament Data Regarding the Last Supper
At this point in these lectures we now turn to an analysis of the Biblical data regarding the Lord's Supper. We will consider a number of biblical aspects of the background to the doctrine of the Lord's Supper. In this regard, I will be closely following the fine article by Ronald S. Wallace, "The Lord's Supper," which is found in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, revised edition, edited by Geoffrey Bromiley (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1986) III.164 ff.
A. The Lord's Supper as a Fellowship Meal--A Meal with Sinners
1. The historical background here to the idea of "table fellowship" is indeed fascinating and sheds great light on the true significance of our Lord's table fellowship with sinners and the institution of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. When we consider the supper as a "fellowship meal," we will also encounter a close connection between a fellowship meal and the ratification of covenant oaths, a theme we will take up throughout this discussion and as, we have seen, underlies the whole discussion of sacraments. As we work our way though this material, it is important to begin with the cultural and biblical background to the idea of "table fellowship." As one writer notes, "it would be difficult to overestimate the importance of table fellowship for the cultures of the Mediterranean basin in the first century of our era. Mealtimes were far more than occasions for individuals to consume nourishment. Being welcomed at a table for the purpose of eating food with another person had become a ceremony richly symbolic of friendship, intimacy and unity. Thus betrayal or unfaithfulness toward anyone with whom one had shared the table was viewed as particularly reprehensible. On the other hand, when persons were estranged, a meal invitation opened the way to reconciliation" [S. S. Bartchy, "Table Fellowship," in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1992, 796]. Thus to join one at table around a meal, meant far more in the world of the Bible than it does to those of us in the west. This fact helps explain, for example, why Luke would mention meals in nearly one-fifth of the verses in his Gospel and Acts [cf. Markus Barth, Rediscovering the Lord's Supper, John Knox Press, 1988, 71]. It also helps to explain the significance of God in human flesh instituting a sacrament based upon the "breaking of bread."
2. Moving next to the Old Testament background the critical text here is Exodus 24, where Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up on God's holy mountain, "saw God, and they ate and drank." This, of course, is the great feast of ratification offered to the representatives of Israel by the great king of Israel at the occasion of the ratification of the Siniatic covenant. Both themes of covenant ratification as well as "table fellowship" are present. As Kline puts it, "surely a solemn affirmation of consecration to God made in the presence of God to his mediator-representative [Moses, foreshadowing Christ] and in response to divine demand, sanctioned by divine threats against the rebellious, is tantamount to an oath. Moreover Israel's drinking in the persons of her representatives on the mount of God (Exodus 24:11) was a recognized symbolic method by which people swore treaties....This aspect of the covenant-making at the Mosaic exodus is clearly present in the communion of the disciples with Jesus at the last supper, and again when the chosen witnesses eat and drank with their risen Lord (Acts 10:41) during the forty days before the ascension (Acts 1:3; cf. Exodus 24:18)" [Meredith Kline, Structure of Biblical Authority, Eerdmans, 1981, 116-117; 186]. Thus when God summons the leaders of Israel to his mountain the ratify the covenant just sworn, the people enjoy a fellowship meal with YHWH Adonai, marking the occasion sealing the oath as God did not raise his hand against these sinners, now made clean through the sprinkling of blood. This text factors greatly in the last supper and the words of institution given by our Lord. Both covenant and table fellowship are clearly in view.
3. When we look at the idea of table fellowship in the New Testament we quickly see the dramatic contrast between Jesus' notion of table fellowship and that of the Pharisees. According to Scott Bartchy, "The Pharisees regarded their tables at home as surrogates for the Lord's altar in the Temple in Jerusalem and therefore strove to maintain in their households and among their eating companions the state of ritual purity required of priests in Temple service. The food had to be properly tithed, prepared and served but in itself did not symbolize any event (Passover was an exception). Pharisees prescribed no special prayers or unusual foods for their meals. But they did insist on eating only with companions who had `undefiled hands' (Mk. 7:2-4), that is, with persons in a state of ritual purity (cf. Ex. 30:19-21). The Pharisees longed for a time when all of Israel would live in such a state of holiness. They believed that Israel's identity and blessed future depended upon it. This is the context in which Jesus' practice of a radically open table fellowship is remembered in the NT....The Synoptic Gospels are consistent in specifically presenting Jesus in sharp contrast to Pharisaic practice...who in God's name welcomed at table an astonishing variety of both reputable and disreputable persons....Jesus practiced a radically inclusive table fellowship as a central strategy in his announcement and redefinition of the in-braking rule of God (i.e. the Kingdom of God)" [S. S. Bartchy, "Table Fellowship," in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1992, 797]. The fact that Jesus regularly ate with those who the Pharisees considered "unclean"--that is, "tax collectors" and "sinners," was one of the greatest sources of indignation from the Pharisees against our Lord. There are a number of places where this is clearly evident in the gospels:
Matthew 9:10-13: While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
Matthew 9:14: Then John's disciples came and asked him, "How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" Jesus answered, "How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.
Matthew 11:19: For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners."' But wisdom is proved right by her actions." Cf. Luke 7:33 ff.
Matthew 21:28 ff: "What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work today in the vineyard.'" 'I will not,' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. "Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, 'I will, sir,' but he did not go. "Which of the two did what his father wanted?" "The first," they answered. Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.
Luke 5:27: After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. "Follow me," Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" Jesus answered them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Cf. Mark 2:15 ff
Luke 15:1 ff: Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." Then Jesus told them this parable: "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
4. Ronald Wallace begins his essay on the Lord's Supper by reminding us of the fundamental fact that the Lord's Supper is indeed grounded upon the idea that the supper is itself a fellowship meal with Jesus. This point will have profound ramifications for our theology of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. As Wallace points out "throughout its history the Church has kept at the center of its life and worship not only the preaching of the Word of God but also the celebration of the Lord's Supper or eucharist. In this rite the Church follows the example and command given by Jesus Himself during His last supper with his disciples. It acts in His name and seeks His presence, believing that in the celebration Christ renews His fellowship with His people, strengthens their faith and hope, communicates to them the power of His death and resurrection, and thus enables them to present themselves afresh, within the membership of His body, as a living sacrifice devoted thus by Him more wholly to His service." This emphasis is seen in Christ's church from its very origins. Notes Wallace, "immediately after Pentecost the Church `devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to breaking of bread and prayers' (Acts 2:42). A glad realization of the presence of the risen Jesus in their midst seems to have marked `breaking of bread' at a common meal" [Wallace, "Lord's Supper," 164]. This is a very important point. The apostolic church never venerates Christ's tomb, since not only did Jesus bodily rise from the dead and ascend into heaven, but there is also every indication that Christians believed that the Risen Lord was present in their very midst through Word and sacrament, and that they too, like the tax collectors and prostitutes mentioned in the New Testament, enjoyed table fellowship with the same Lord Jesus who ate with repentant sinners in the "breaking of bread."
5. There are other reasons why the notion that the Lord's Supper should be seen as a fellowship meal with the Risen Lord. "The custom of placing the eucharist at the heart of the worship and fellowship of the Church may have been inspired not only by the disciples' memory of the Last Supper with Jesus but also with the memory of their fellowship meals with Him during both His days on earth and the forty days of His risen appearances. They now realized that He had made the eating and drinking with them a pledge that He, the Messiah, would renew, perfect, and make eternal such table fellowship in the fulness and glory of His kingdom, and with the belief they celebrated their eucharistic meals, awaiting His final return. Despite the memories of all their meals with Jesus before and after His resurrection, they recognized that His words and actions at the Last Supper had a deep significance of their own" [Wallace, "Lord's Supper," 164]. In this idea of the Lord's Supper as a meal of table fellowship with our Risen Savior, we see not only covenantal and sacramental themes but also eschatological overtones as well. The early Christians had not only eaten with Jesus, but they anticipated eating with him again in a great fellowship meal yet to come in the resurrection (cf. Revelation 19:6-9).
6. Thus as we consider the New Testament teaching about the Lord's Supper, the notion of table fellowship is near the center of the Bible's teaching. As we consider what this means for us, we need to remember that the Pharisees called Jesus a "glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Matthew 11:16-19; cf. Luke 7:31-35). They would not have fellowship with sinners, unlike our Lord [cf. Paul's comments about Christians eating with non-Christians in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13]. As Scott Bartchy puts it, "apparently, one goal of Jesus' strategy of inclusive table fellowship was presenting himself and his followers as a living parable of how a renewed Israel could indeed live together from God's abundance. He presented the rule of God, using images of food, drink and home as a roving banquet hall by which God sought Israelites to be guests and then hosts. At this table they were offered reconciliation with God, a true home, and a spiritual and material abundance, as the basis for offering all of these god things to each other, to others yet to come and even to enemies. A saying of Jesus . . . linked the practice of inclusive table fellowship with the final consummation: `Many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of Heaven,' (Mt. 8:11; Lk 13:29; see Is 25:6-8)" [Bartchy, "Table Fellowship," 799-800]. Thus we when celebrate the Lord's Supper, let us not forget that we as sinners, are enjoying table fellowship with the Risen Lord, who offers us nothing less than himself, through bread and wine.
B. The New Testament Accounts of the Lord's Supper
1. The Last Supper and the Lord's Supper:
a. The New Testament accounts of the Last Supper and the practice of the Lord's Supper subsequently, presents us with some serious difficulties since there seem to be two closely-related, though differently nuanced versions of the institution/practice of the sacrament in the New Testament, which at first glance might appear to contradict one another. It is important to deal with this problem before going on to work through the theology of the Supper. According to R. S. Wallace, "the NT contains four accounts of what Jesus did and said at the last Supper: Mt. 26:26-30; Mk. 14:22-25; Lk. 22:14-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26. The common features of Luke's and Paul's accounts suggest a tradition distinct from that of Mark and Matthew. Both Luke and Paul introduce the words `This do in remembrance of me' as spoken by Jesus. Luke places this utterance at the end of the bread-saying, Paul in connection with the giving of both bread and wine. Matthew and Mark denote the cup as `my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many,' whereas Luke and Paul use `the new covenant in my blood' and omit `for many.' Paul alone has `for you' after the bread-saying; only Luke has `for you' after the cup-saying. Both Paul and Luke consistently use Gk. eucharistesas for `having given thanks,' but Matthew and Mark change this term to eulogesas when referring to thanksgiving for the bread" [Wallace, "The Lord's Supper," 164]. This, of course, raises the question as to whether or not these discrepancies constitute contradictions in the Biblical accounts. It is best to get this potential problem out of the way before preceding.
b. This matter can be clarified by simply recalling to mind some basic New Testament chronology. Though our Lord instituted the sacrament around the year 30 [the Last Supper], Paul's account of the practice of the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians 11 is actually the first one written, as 1 Corinthians is dated in the early 50's, about 25 years after our Lord's Ascension. In 1 Corinthians, Paul is describing the actual practice of the church in Corinth in celebrating of the Lord's Supper. The accounts of the Last Supper Matthew and Mark, on the other hand, were written some ten years later than Paul's first letter to the Corinthians in early to mid-sixties. Matthew and Mark are describing the Last Supper, which is the historical institution of the Lord's Supper, while Paul is describing the church's practice some twenty-five years after our Lord first uttered these words and commanded the church to celebrate this sacrament. Most scholars argue that Luke, who was a companion of Paul [which would explain the similarities between Luke and Paul], utilized the gospels previously written by Mark and perhaps even Matthew [see Luke 1:1-4] in the composition of his own gospel. Luke's account also tends to follow Paul at many critical points.
c. The reconciliation of these accounts is further complicated by the fact that John's account in his Gospel seems to have a different chronology--when he states that the Jews had not yet celebrated the Passover when Jesus instituted the sacrament, which would seem to be in conflict with the other accounts [see John 18:28; 19:14, 31]. This apparent discrepancy may be the result of something as simple as the use of different calendars by the Sadducees and Pharisees. [See Leon Morris' very helpful discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the various explanations offered to explain this his fine commentary, The Gospel According to John, NICNT, Eerdmans, 1984, 774-786].
d. A couple of comments are certainly in order here: First, as we will see, many of these seeming contradictions can be easily reconciled or explained. [See, for example, the fine book on this by I. Howard Marshall, Last Supper and Lord's Supper, Eerdmans, 1980, which does an excellent job dealing with all of these accounts]; Second, discrepancies in the accounts are exactly what we should expect of the historical record. A number of critically-minded scholars of the New Testament argue that the Gospel accounts are not historical, but instead reflect the later liturgical patterns of the early church read back into the lips of Jesus. But if these were liturgical patterns read back into the New Testament documents, there would be no such discrepancies, since liturgical patterns are by definition, standardized!
e. Ronald Wallace is also quite helpful in summarizing this matter. He reminds us that "some important MSS omit Lk. 22:19b-20 and alter the order of other verses, but there are good grounds for accepting the longer and more complicated account as arising from the genuine traditions that were worth preserving [some copyists omitted certain phrases assuming that they had been added--see Bruce Metzger's A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 173-177]. Luke's longer account, if accepted, may be regarded as including an extra cup not mentioned by the other traditions, or as collating two accounts each valuable for helping the Church understand the meaning of the Supper. The accounts all agree that the Supper took place on the night when Jesus was betrayed, that He took bread, and, when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, `This is my body.' They agree that He also gave some significance to the cup. Matthew Mark and Luke preserve a pledge of Jesus to abstain from drinking the fruit of the vine until the kingdom comes (Mt. 26:29; Mk. 14:25; Lk. 22:16). In Matthew and Mark, Jesus makes this pledge after the actions with the bread and wine; in Luke it introduces the whole action. Paul's account omits this saying, but contains the rubric `as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes'" [Wallace, "Lord's Supper," 164]. This clearly reflects the fact that the pattern before the actual writing of the gospels some thirty or more years after our Lord's Ascension was that oral tradition was passed down from our Lord to his disciples, and which was clearly adapted and modified in local liturgical situations, such as we find in the church in Corinth. According to Wallace, "it is worthwhile to attempt to establish the most primitive facts and to show how variations could have arisen within the keen intensity of the life of the early Christian community. Even if some of these variations may seem mutually exclusive when regarded as historical accounts of the original meal [here I think Wallace is way too quick to concede that these accounts are contradictory], readers can thankfully accept each account as helping them to interpret and more fully understand the rite" [Wallace, "Lord's Supper, 164].
f. I. Howard Marshall reminds us that several things also need to be considered here as we attempt to rectify the discrepancies. First, "Each of the three versions [Mark, Luke, Paul] can in theory preserve different features of the hypothetical original account, so that reconstruction of this basic account could contain features drawn from all three surviving versions." This means that all three accounts are correct reflecting omissions in some accounts, not contradictions. Second, "from a literary point of view the Pauline account is the oldest form which we have, and therefore there is a certain presumption that it is the closest to the original form. On the other hand, however, it is also the form which has been influenced by liturgical considerations more than the other, and hence, it is quite possible that, although the accounts in the Gospels were committed to writing at a later date, they may be better witnesses to the original wording of the account." Thus it is possible that although Paul wrote first, his version represents the most significant modification of the oral tradition. Third, "a factor which is often brought into the discussion is a number of Semitic features in each of the accounts. It can be assumed with certainty that the sayings of Jesus at the Last Supper were in Aramaic or Hebrew, and it is highly probable that the first account of the meal was given in one of these languages rather than in Greek. Consequently, our Greek versions of the account are translations, and one may look for features which suggest a literal translation from Aramaic or Hebrew into Greek. In the process of transmission such telltale signs of translation would be smoothed away and a better Greek style would result" [I. Howard Marshall, Last Supper and Lord's Supper, 38-39]. This last point is important to consider. Our Lord spoke Hebrew or Aramaic at the time of the Last Supper. The accounts we have reflect a Greek translation of the oral tradition, as well as a thirty-year gap from the event and the composition of the gospel. As Marshall points out the diversity of the accounts argues for their historicity, and the slight differences between the Last Supper of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and the Lord's Supper of Paul give us a look at how the church put the oral tradition to writing and adapted it in a liturgical context. But once put to writing, in both the synoptic Gospels and the Epistle to the Corinthians, we now regard these accounts as infallible and inerrant records of the institution of the supper [The Last Supper] and the practice of the supper [The Lord's Supper], and can draw on the richness of all the accounts. And let us not overlook the obvious--these variations are very minor and are easily explained when looking at the possible ways in which they were composed.
2. The Last Supper as a Celebration of the Passover.
Here we need to deal with the question of what kind of a meal were our Lord and the disciples celebrating during the Last Supper? Recent critical scholarship simply sees the conflicts between John and the synoptic gospels as contradictory, and that what happened in the Upper Room was a simple kiddush meal, which was later transformed into a Passover meal by the early church looking back at the historical Jesus through the eyes of faith. This position does not take the synoptics seriously as history and downplays the historical connections to the Passover. I. Howard Marshall does a good job of pointing out why this is an important issue for us.
a. "In all three of the synoptic Gospels we are told that the Last Supper of Jesus was a Passover meal. The meal which the disciples were sent to prepare is clearly stated to be the Passover (Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13), and Jesus then acted as host at this meal with his disciples. Consequently, at first sight there would seem to be nothing that requires extended discussion....Unfortunately, things are seldom as simple as they seem, and there are a number of objections to the view which we have just stated. The principle objection is that if we turn to the Gospel of John we shall find evidence that the Jews had not yet celebrated the Passover at the time when Jesus had already concluded his meal and was on trial before Pilate (John 18:28). In fact John states that the day of the crucifixion was the Day of Preparation of the Passover (John 19:24); i.e. this is often taken to mean that after Jesus died in the afternoon the setting of the sun marked the beginning of the feast day which commenced with the celebration of the Passover meal; in line with this chronology John 13:1 would suggest that the meal held by Jesus took place `before the feast of the Passover'. In short, it appears that John follows a different chronology from that in the Synoptic Gospels" [Marshall, Last Supper, 57]. This fact has raised a number of important interpretive questions. Was the Last Supper a kiddush meal or a celebration of the Passover? How do we explain the chronological difficulties between the synoptics and John?
b. According to Wallace, "From the precise dating of events in the Fourth Gospel, the question arises whether the supper recorded in the Synoptic Gospels can properly be regarded as a Passover feast. Jn 18:28; 19:14, 31 indicate that Jesus died on the afternoon before the Passover lambs were slain in the temple. This sequence has given rise to the theory that the `Last Supper' was a kiddush, a simple meal of preparation either for a Sabbath or for a festival at which, after religious discussion, a cup of wine mixed with water was blessed and drunk and a benediction pronounced over the bread. This theory makes it easy to explain certain otherwise awkward details; why no account of the Last Supper mentions a paschal lamb, why ordinary bread, and why only one cup of wine was used. The theory also accounts for how Jesus could be arrested after the Passover feast had begun, how a linen cloth could then be purchased for his burial, and how Simon of Cyrene could be found coming from work in the fields on what was apparently a holiday" [Wallace, "Lord's Supper" 164]. But though this theory is now widely adopted and eases some of the chronological problems, it creates a number of others, namely downplaying the fact that our Lord's actions only make sense in the light of the Passover and fulfillment of Old Testament expectations!
c. According to Wallace, "The chronology of Mark, however (cf. 14:1, 12, 16 f), apparently confirmed by Mt 26:17; Lk. 22:15, indicates that the Last Supper took place at the regular time of the feast in the city and therefore took the form of a Passover. Other details in the Synoptics characterize the Supper as a Passover: it was a lengthy and well-prepared meal: it took place at night; the disciples reclined at the table (Mk 14:18) and drank wine; the whole meal closed with an act of praise (v. 26). This identification with the Passover allows for deeper and richer possibilities of interpretation. In an effort to harmonize John's account with the Synoptics, scholars have suggested that the Sadducees and Pharisees disputed that year over the timing of the feast and as a result fixed two different dates. A calendar found in the Qumran community places the Passover. Possibly Jesus Himself deliberately celebrated Passover early with his disciples" [Wallace, "The Lord's Supper," 164-165]. [As I mentioned, both Leon Morris in The Gospel According to John, NICNT, Eerdmans, 1984, 774-786; and I Howard Marshall, Last Supper and Lord's Supper, Eerdmans, 1980, do a great job summarizing the evidence. Both conclude that the Sadducees and the Pharisees were using different calendars, and once that is acknowledged these two events can be easily reconciled].
d. As Wallace puts it, "although certain obscurities must remain owing to the variation in the accounts, Jesus apparently interrupted the usual Passover feast at certain points with decisive words and actions. He seems to have broken and shared the bread immediately before the consumption of the lamb: His action either corresponded to the usual breaking of bread or to the explanation by the head of the family of the deep significance of the meal in response to the traditional questions by the youngest member present about the meaning of the rite. Jesus' offering of the cup, apparently after the lamb was eaten, was connected with the blessing on the third of four cups (1 Corinthians 11:25; Luke 22:20). His vow of abstinence and words expressing expectation and hope of fulfillment of what was symbolized may have preceded (as in Mk. 14:24 f.), the group's partaking of the fourth cup" [Wallace, "Lord's Supper," 164].
e. Marshall [Last Supper and Lord's Supper, pp. 59 ff] sets out the following reasons to consider this as a Passover meal, and not merely a kiddush meal. Thus it is useful to summarize most of Marshall's evidence for this, since doing so gives us a sense of what happened at a Passover meal.
1). The Synoptic Gospels specifically date the meal on the Passover. Mark 14:12 tells us that the disciples made their preparations for the meal "on the first day of Unleavened Bread," when they sacrificed the Passover lamb.
2). The meal was held in Jerusalem. The force of this observation lies in the fact that at this time Jesus and his disciples were staying outside of Jerusalem at Bethany, and returning there each night. But the Passover lamb could be eaten only in Jerusalem itself.
3). The meal was held in the evening (Mark 14:17; John 13:30; 1 Cor. 11:23). The normal mealtimes for the Jews were in the morning and the afternoon.
4). Jesus usually ate with large numbers of his disciples and hearers. On this occasion, however, he is specifically said to have gathered with the Twelve, a number which corresponds with the requirement that the Passover should be celebrated in groups of at least ten persons.
5). The guests are specifically said to have reclined at the meal (Mark 14:18; John 13:22, 28). To recline was the mark of freedom and was therefore customary at the Passover. Otherwise sitting was the normal posture for meals.
6). Both Mark and Luke place the eating of bread by Jesus and the disciples in the middle of the meal and not at the beginning.
7). The drinking of wine was not customary at ordinary meals, but was normal at festal meals and required at the Passover. Wine was also drunk at the ceremony of sanctifying the Passover. Hence the use of wine by Jesus is consistent with a Passover meal.
8). Mark tells us that the meal ended with singing....There seems to be no evidence for a similar occurrence at the end of any other kind of Jewish meal.
9). After the meal, Jesus stayed close to Jerusalem and did not return to Bethany, since the night of the Passover had to be spent in Jerusalem or its immediate neighborhood.
This, then, makes a compelling case to understand the accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke to be describing a Passover, which all of the rich symbolism and Biblical theology that goes with it. It also means that John's account is reckoned by a different chronology [calendar], which placed the events one day later.