Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Lord's Supper--Literal or Symbolic?

  • Defining The Issues:
          -Transubstantiation: the belief that during the Lord's Supper the elements (bread and wine) are changed into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ (to be consumed by the attendees of the worship services).
          -There is a change in the substance but not in the appearance of the bread and wine.
          -This transformation occurs during the Mass at the elevation of the elements by a priest.
          -The center of the Mass is the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which is an alleged bloodless re-sacrifice or "re-representation" of Christ. Also, "Jesus" is called the victim or host (the Latin word for host is "hostia", which literally means victim).
          -The most common scriptural references cited to substantiate Eucharistic theology are "This is my body...This is my blood..." (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:17) and "Except ye eat the son of man and drink his blood..." (John 6:51-58).
  • Biblical Response To Transubstantiation And The Eucharist:
           1.) There is no indication that Jesus' words were meant to be literal:
                -The Scriptures refer to the elements as the body and blood of Christ. However, they emphatically teach that Christ's words were spiritual words when talking about consuming His flesh and blood (John 6:63; 16:25-30). In other words, these words mean that we are saved by coming to Jesus and believing on Him (John 6:35-40; 48). This point was articulated clearly by our Lord Jesus Christ in John 6:35.
                -There are no implications in the biblical accounts of the Lord's Supper that the apostles believed that the elements were "changed" into the body and blood of Christ. The elements were never worshiped in Scripture. In fact, we do not have any biblical evidence for anyone believing in the doctrine of transubstantiation.

          2.) After the institution of the Lord's Supper, both the elements were still called bread and wine:
              -Jesus spoke figuratively of His blood as being the "fruit of the vine," even after transubstantiation was supposed to occur (Matthew 26:28-29).
              -The Apostle Paul mentions the Lord's Supper and refers to the element of bread as bread and the element of wine as wine (1 Corinthians 11:23-28).  

          3.) Drinking Jesus' blood violates biblical prohibitions on drinking blood:
              -The Old Testament Levitical Law condemned the practice of drinking blood (Genesis 9:5; Leviticus 3:17; 17:10-14; 19:26; Deuteronomy 12:23).
                +The New Covenant was not established until Jesus' blood was shed on the Cross (Luke 22:10; Hebrews 9:15-16). Thus, taking Christ's words literally (especially during the Lord's Supper and Bread of Life Discourse) would make Him an impostor who is guilty of breaking the Law.
         4.) There is no remission of sins without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22):
              -The Eucharist is an invalid sacrifice because it is an "unbloody sacrifice".       

          5.) Jesus Christ's body was shed on the cross once for all:
              -There are numerous references in the New Testament declaring that Jesus fulfilled His mission to save the lost once and for all. In other words, His work shall never be repeated again (John 19:30; Romans 6:9-10; Hebrews 1:3; 7:23-28; 8:1-2; 9:11-15; 24-28; 10:10-18; 1 Peter 3:18). The cross ensures that God will not "remember" sins once He forgives them (Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:12; 10:17). There is therefore no use in "re-presenting" His work on a weekly basis, as is done in the Catholic Mass. Christ's work is neither ongoing nor is to be repeated.
  • Further Discussion On John 6:51-58:       
           -The surrounding context of this passage is about coming to Christ and believing on Him for salvation (John 6:27-29; 32-47; 63-69). In fact, the entire purpose of John's gospel is to convert unbelievers (John 20:30-31).
           -Jesus usually spoke to the crowds using parables (Matthew 13:10-11; 34; Mark 4:11; 34). Some examples of His parables can be found in Matthew 21:28-31, Mark 12:1-12, Luke 14:15-24, 18:9-14, Matthew 25:1-13, Mark 13:28-31, and Matthew 25:14-30. Notice that the Gospel of John itself records many symbolic statements made by Jesus. Examples would include "born again," "living water," "meat that ye know not of," and "destroy this temple." Furthermore, Christ made several "I am" statements throughout John's gospel (John 15:5; 8:12; 10:7; 10:11). Out of the four gospels, only in John are these terms used by Jesus. Thus, we have good reason to believe that He was speaking metaphorically in John chapter 6.
           -Just as God called Abraham's circumcision (which was a symbol) a "covenant" (Genesis 17:10-11), so does Jesus call the SYMBOL of the bread and wine a "covenant" (Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25). 
           -The Lord's Supper has sacrificial overtones because the elements point to the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary (not to themselves).            
           -If the Lord Jesus Christ had really been speaking literally of eating His flesh and drinking His blood at the table of the last supper, then why did His disciples not attempt to eat His literal body on the spot? After all, they had believed from the heart that He was the Savior of the world.
           -A grammatical study of the sentence structure between John 6:40 and John 6:54 makes it abundantly clear that Jesus was speaking symbolically in this text. We must come to Christ and trust on Him for eternal salvation. That is the meaning of eating His flesh and drinking His blood.
  • Indeed Symbolic:
           -Jesus used bread and wine figuratively to provide Christians with symbols to celebrate as a memorial of His work.
           - If "This is my body..." literally means that the bread is transformed into the body of Christ, then "this cup is the new testament" (covenant) must mean that the literal cup becomes a literal covenant (Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25). However, this kind of reasoning is fallacious because a covenant is an intangible entity.
  • Why Did So Many Disciples Leave Jesus During The Bread Of Life Discourse? Was It Because They Had To Literally Eat His Flesh And Drink His Blood?"
           -No, they left Jesus Christ because they did not believe the claims that He had established concerning His divine messiahship (John 6:52). Unbelievers, who were in this case the Jews, had hardened their hearts against God. They only remained around Christ temporarily because they were physically hungry. The Jewish people were not searching for the truth of the gospel, which satisfies all longings of the human soul. Their thinking was carnal. Their hearts were not right with God. 
           -After the departure of the 5,000, Jesus told the twelve remaining disciples that the words of His lecture were not literal but spiritual (John 6:63). In other words, His speech was not to be interpreted in a physical or materialistic sense. In this context, the "flesh profits nothing" refers to His words not being about literally consuming His flesh and drinking His blood. We must come to Christ and place our trust in Him for salvation. This incident was an obvious test of faith. He used metaphorical language to communicate the message of salvation. It is clear throughout the four gospel accounts that Jesus Christ did not have a problem with speaking bluntly and offending those who clung to their man-made traditions. He was not afraid to offend Jewish sensibilities. He spoke in a figurative manner which requires interpretation. Even if the Jews understood His words literally, that does not prove such an interpretation to be correct. Consider the example of Christ referring to His body as the temple (John 2:19-21).
  • "Repetitive" Nature Argument:
           -Jesus is called the Lamb of God or the Lamb thirty times in the New Testament. If repetition proves literalness, then Jesus must be a literal lamb. But this is obviously figurative language. Repetition, whether it be closely spaced or spread far apart, does not prove "literalness." To make an attempt to create an exception to this principle is simply "splitting hairs."
  • "Forceful Or Vividness" Argument:
           -As for the vivid language found in John 6:51-58, the Book of Revelation, the Book of Daniel, and the entire book of Psalms also occupies quite vivid language or undeniably symbolic material. Furthermore, the Book of Revelation was also written by the Apostle John. "Vivid" simply does not translate into "literalness". The context determines the literalness of any text. 
  • The "He Did Not Say..." argument:
           -If proponents of transubstantiation want to be specific about which words were not used at the Last Supper, then we can also point out that Jesus Christ never used words such as miracle, transubstantiation, Eucharist, changed, soul and divinity, real presence, or re-presented. In fact, Jesus does not call the bread and wine a propitiation or a sacrament. He does not even mention anything about a priesthood in the texts pertaining to the Lord's Supper. So, this argument is counterproductive.
  • Malachi 1:11 Proves That The Mass Is A Literal Sacrifice?:
           -The "incense" is a reference to prayers (Psalm 141:2; Revelation 8:3-4).
           -The "pure offering" is a metaphorical reference to believers offering their praise and good deeds as sacrifices which satisfy God (Hebrews 13:15-16; Philippians 4:18).
           -The theme of spiritual sacrifice or offering is found throughout Scripture (Psalm 51:17; Isaiah 66:20; 1 Peter 2:5; etc.).
  • Hebrews 9:23 Supports The Numerous Sacrifices Of The Catholic Mass?:
           -“It is the use of the plural number here in connection with the sacrifice of Christ which has occasioned difficulty to some. It is a figure of speech known as an ‘enallage,’ the plural being put for the singular by way of emphasis… Thus, the plural, "sacrifices" here emphasizes the one offering of Christ, expresses its superlative excellency, and denotes that it provides the substance of the many shadows under the law.” (“An Exposition of Hebrews” by A.W. Pink, Chapter 44, The Great Sacrifice)

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