Barry Newman's Blog

September 29, 2009

Christ Centred Communion (part VIII)

Filed under: Christ Centred Communion — barrynewman @ 10:22 pm

Formal meals in the Graeco-Roman World

In and before New Testament times, it was common in the Graeco-Roman world for “clubs”, organisations, friends, relatives, business associates or simply like-minded people to come together to have a dinner, a semi-formal or formal meal.  One custom, though not followed all the time, was that though the host might supply some basics such as bread and wine, guests would bring their own meals and eat what they brought without sharing. There were two parts to these meals.  The first involved eating the main course or courses with bread, sometimes used like a piece of cutlery, as a normal component. The second involved a lengthy session of wine drinking as well as various forms of entertainment or “around the table” discussion.  Wine was a very important component of these meals and was commonly involved in the introduction to the main course. 

Even the nature of Jewish Passover meals as well as ordinary formal or semi-formal Jewish meals may have been affected by some of these customs as they developed.  The wine drinking component of Passover meals was not proscribed by the Law of Moses and its practice may have had its origin in the Greek culture in which the Jews found themselves. The extended teaching that Jesus gave his disciples detailed in John’s Gospel (chapter 13 and following) may also have been a reflection of the “Table Talk” common in the Graeco-Roman meal.  There were of course some considerable and very important differences between a Jewish meal and a Gentile meal.  Gentile meals were characterised by toasts to various gods, such as Zeus, who was referred to as “Saviour,” and Dionysus, the god of wine, who was referred to as the “good god”.  By contrast, it was said that a proper Jewish meal would make some reference to the Law of God, the one and only God, with thanksgivings in the form of blessings being given to him.

September 27, 2009

Christ Centred Communion (part VII)

Filed under: Christ Centred Communion,Christian Community Meals — barrynewman @ 11:19 pm

The Occurrence of Christian Corinthian Community Meals

Twice in chapter 11 Paul refers to the custom of “coming together to eat” (1 Cor. 11: 20, 33).  As suggested above, the Corinthians probably did this once a week and probably on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16: 2). The Christians at Troas met on the first day of the week as mentioned earlier and that also may have been customary.  Why the first day of the week?  We cannot be sure.  However, John in the book of Revelation refers to the Lord’s Day (Revelation 1:10), and we assume that that was the first day of the week.  Perhaps the first day of the week became important and referred to as the Lord’s Day because it was on that day of the week that Jesus came back from the world of the dead.  However, we need to remember that nowhere in the New Testament is there a commandment for Christians to come together once a week to share a meal or that the day of the meal has to be the first day of the week.  The Christians seemed to have decided upon that custom themselves.  What is obvious is that when Christians did congregate they sometimes did so to share a meal.

Today Christians commonly call something akin to the meal that the Corinthians shared, the Lord’s Supper, the term that Paul seems to use in his letter to them (1 Cor. 11: 20).  However, the term, “The Lord’s Supper” only appears in this one text.  Was this Corinthian meal associated with a ceremony that was reflective of the Last Passover Meal?  Was the ceremony held at the end of the meal, but both meal and the ceremony referred to as the Lord’s Supper?  Was the ceremony very much part of the meal?  Was the meal mainly or entirely conducted as a ceremony?  Was this ceremony considered a rite? Was it a meal conducted without a religious ceremony? What was really happening at this Corinthian meal?

September 23, 2009

Christ Centred Commion (part VI)

Filed under: Christ Centred Communion,The Last Passover Meal — barrynewman @ 4:25 am

Understanding “This is my Body” and “This is my blood”

No Jew at the time of Jesus could have imagined that when Jesus said, “This (the bread) is my body” and “The cup (the wine in the cup) is my blood” that he was claiming that the bread really was his body and that the wine really was his blood.  For the disciples to have envisaged that he was making such a claim would have meant for them, contemplation of the consumption of human flesh and blood, even if the consumption was meant to be mystical.  Earlier in his ministry Jesus had clearly indicated that a reference he made to his flesh needing to be eaten and his blood needing to be drunk (John 6: 53 – 56) was metaphorical, saying, “The spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.  The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6: 63).  Jesus not uncommonly used powerful metaphors.  During the Last Passover Meal he referred to his “body given,” before the main meal, and then his “blood shed,” after the main meal. Both references are to his death.  Furthermore, separating blood from body in that way was another means of signifying his death – the body having lost its blood. That the main meal consisted of the slain Passover lamb and that these words of Jesus bracketed the main meal may have been a further way by which Jesus was alluding to his death. Paul even refers to Jesus as the Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5: 7). The giving of the bread to be eaten and the wine to be drunk, having referred to the first as his body and to the second as his blood, was a powerful way of saying that just as they needed food and drink in order to live so they needed his death in order to receive life from God.

September 21, 2009

Christ Centred Communion (part V)

Filed under: Christ Centred Communion,Eucharist,Holy Communion,Lord's Supper — barrynewman @ 10:36 pm

The Christian Ceremony of the Lord’s Supper?

Allusions to the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament?

There have been many attempts to find references or allusions in the New Testament to the holding of an early Christian ceremony, perhaps associated with a meal but not necessarily so – a ceremony reflective of the Last Passover Meal. Passages appealed to include:  John 6: 53 – 58; 1 Corinthians 10: 3, 4; Hebrews 6: 4, 5 and 13: 10.  To conclude that these passages refer to a Christian ceremony requires a considerable stretch of the imagination.  Each of these texts in its own way uses metaphorical language involving references to matters such as bread, food, drinking and eating, but the metaphors are used in explanations which have nothing to do with a Christian ceremony. However surely there is a reference to a Christian ceremony called the Lord’s Supper in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, particularly in chapters 10 and 11.  Or is there? To these passages we shall soon turn in order to deal with questions such as, “What did the Lord’s Supper refer to?  What should we do today?”

The Lord’s Supper in the Early Fathers?

A word of warning:  In pondering these questions, as with the matter of the ceremony of baptism, we should be very wary about obtaining our answers from the writings of those Christians called the Early Fathers. Indeed, there is no evidence, except for one document of uncertain date, that anyone before the 4th century, called a ceremony or rite that some might claim was akin to the Lord’s Supper, by the title “The Lord’s Supper”.  The term the “Eucharist” meaning something like “a thanksgiving” was used instead, with the first known use of that term occurring around 110 AD.   The term sometimes referred to the elements of a ceremony but at other times to the ceremony (or what was viewed as the rite) itself. Though an understanding of what was involved in the “Eucharist” developed over time, from the early days, the Early Fathers believed that there was a ceremony, considered to be a rite, in which a sacrifice in some sense was central and that in this sacrifice the body and blood of Jesus was present in some real way.  They were in error.  They seemed not to understand that Christ died to sin once for all (Rom. 6: 10) – that he offered one sacrifice for sins for all time (Heb. 10: 12). His sacrifice could never be repeated.  Furthermore they badly misunderstood the words that Jesus uttered during that last Passover Meal.

September 20, 2009

Christ Centred Communion (part IV)

Filed under: Agape meals,Christ Centred Communion — barrynewman @ 11:05 pm

Early Christian Meals

From the very early days, Christians often met together to share a meal. Jewish believers of the early church in Jerusalem regularly came together and “broke bread” (Acts 2: 42, 46).  Paul and his apostolic team met with believers, probably mainly Gentiles, at Troas, on the first day of the week, and “broke bread” (Acts 20: 7, 11).  The Corinthian Christians, a mixture of Jews and Gentiles met together to eat (1 Cor. 11: 20, 33) perhaps also on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16: 2).  The term “breaking bread” was often used as a short hand way to refer to having a larger meal, of which the consumption of bread was normally a part.  In the New Testament the Greek words for “bread” and “break” occur in a variety of grammatical forms and so do not appear to be used in any technical sense. That is, they do not appear to refer to a Christian ceremony, like “Holy Communion”.

In the book of Jude there is a reference to a type of meal called an “agape” meal (Jude 12).  “Agape” is a Greek word for “love” but in the New Testament it is used to refer to the love that God has for his children and that Christians are to have for one another.  In Jude the “agape” meals appear to refer to formal dinners or banquets, attended by Christians and so-called Christians, some of whom were Godless in character and behaviour.  In an odd way Jude uses the term “agape” without an accompanying noun so that his reference is really to “lovings”. He may be using irony.  That is, he may be referring to what could be understood as their “so-called” loving occasions in which some really did not display the love that they were supposed to display.  Regardless of what Jude was actually intending to convey, the term “agape meals” is commonly found in later Christian writings and describes certain meals that Christians shared together.  In the course of time these meals developed a reputation for displays of gluttonous and other improper behaviour and were later banned from being held in church buildings.  However, in spite of the unsavoury reference in Jude, the text provides further evidence that some Christians in New Testament times met together as Christians to share a meal.  There is a very early reference to such meals in a letter written about 112 AD by a Roman Governor to the emperor of the day. The meals themselves are not spoken of in any derogatory manner.

September 18, 2009

Christ Centred Communion (part III)

The Last Passover Meal (cont.)

If it were not for Paul recording that Jesus said, “Whenever you drink it” we might have thought that Jesus was only telling his disciples that it was simply the Last Passover Meal that was to be seen in a new way.  However Paul’s information seems to indicate that the disciples were also to celebrate future Passover meals from this new point of view.  (This is not to deny that the Last Passover Meal had implications for all Christian meals.)  If the reference was also to future Passover meals, how often was “whenever”?  The answer is, once a year. The Passover was celebrated once a year.  Indeed we suspect that in the early days some Jewish Christians continued to celebrate Passover and that would have been once a year, but they would have celebrated it, of course, with a new perspective.  They would have especially remembered that Jesus had died for them at this time.  How could they do otherwise? How often did Christians who were not Jews celebrate a Passover meal?  It is not clear that they ever celebrated such a meal.  Celebrating the Passover was a requirement of the Mosaic Law given to Jews, but Paul had made it clear that the Jews as Christians were no longer under the Law (Galatians 5).  Would it matter if they never celebrated the Passover again?  In line with Paul’s comments on circumcision (1 Cor. 7: 19; Gal. 6: 15) one could imagine him saying, “Have some Jewish Christians decided to continue to celebrate Passover?  That is all right.  Have some Jewish Christians decided not to celebrate Passover in the future?  That is all right as well.  Have Gentile Christians decided not to celebrate any of the Jewish festivals, including Passover?  That is all right.” It is important to realise that nowhere in the New Testament letters are there any instructions to Christians, Jews or Gentiles, requiring them to celebrate the Passover.  Furthermore, the fact that the words of Jesus, “Do this in remembrance of me” are only found in the Gospel of Luke, is noteworthy, particularly if Jesus is instituting a ceremony (or what some may consider a rite) for all Christians to observe.  Why would a command concerning such a ceremony not be mentioned in all the Gospels?  It is contended here that Jesus did not command that a Christian ceremony reflective of the Last Passover Meal be observed by those who believed in him. However, are there indications anywhere in the New Testament that such a ceremony was being observed?

September 17, 2009

Christ Centred Communion (part II)

The Last Passover Meal

The Lord’s Supper has its origins in the “Last Passover Meal” – the one celebrated by the disciples of Jesus just before he died.  We cannot be certain, but in the time of Jesus, the Passover meal seems to have had certain formalities such as drinking wine from a cup at four different times, partaking of a special entree and a main course and the giving of  an explanation of the significance of the meal.  A Psalm was also sung.  The main meal consisted essentially of a lamb sacrificed earlier. Some of what was done was reflective of what the Scriptures required (Exodus 12).  During the Last Passover Meal Jesus said a number of unusual things.  Perhaps the most unusual were the two statements he made about his death.  According to Luke, Jesus broke some bread, gave thanks to God (this would have been at the beginning of the main meal) and then said, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22: 19).  At the end of the main meal, taking a cup he said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22: 20). Additionally Paul records that after referring to his blood Jesus said, “Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11: 25).  Matthew records that Jesus explained that the pouring out of his blood was for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26: 28).  What might strike us as a little odd is that John in his Gospel does not mention any of these things and that of all the Gospel writers only Luke refers to Jesus saying, “Do this in remembrance of me” and then only with reference to the bread.  Luke also records that at the beginning of the meal Jesus indicated that he had been eagerly anticipating the meal, but perhaps not in any joyful sense since the meal immediately preceded his suffering which he knew he had to endure (Luke 22: 15).  There is some suggestion in the text that Jesus himself did not participate in the meal (Luke 22: 16 – 18). Whereas Luke associates Jesus saying, “I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” with wine drunk before the main meal (Luke 22: 17, 18), Matthew and Mark associate a similar saying with wine taken after the main meal (Matt. 26: 27 – 29, Mark 14: 23 – 25).

Passover meals were annual events instituted by God so that the Israelites would not forget that in the past God had delivered them in a most extraordinary manner from slavery and from the judgement meted out to the Egyptians who had enslaved them (Exodus 12).  Passover meals were essentially remembrance events.  During the Last Passover Meal Jesus clearly taught his disciples that this meal should be understood in a new way.  They were to look on the meal as a new remembrance event – God about to deliver his people from his judgment upon them, by the death of Jesus himself.  Passover meals in the time of Jesus were occasions for rejoicing as people remembered God’s deliverance of their forebears in ancient times.  However the Last Passover Meal was undoubtedly cloaked with sadness. In this atmosphere it is difficult to imagine that the words of Jesus were to be understood as a severe command.  They were more like an earnest heart-felt request.  He was about to die – to die for his disciples and for others yet to become his disciples.  He wanted them to understand this.

September 14, 2009

Christ Centred Communion (part I)

Here is the third in my series of three papers.  See introduction here.

Certain aspects of the first and second papers would have been controversial.  The third will also engender controversy.  However it is not my intention to do that.  I am merely trying to ascertain the truth  about these matters and to place what I believe to be true before the Christian public for serious debate.  I have consulted with a number of people over the last few years but I alone bear the responsibility for what I have written and spoken about. 

Christ Centred Communion

Some years ago when speaking at a camp to a group of people who did not come from an Anglican background I was asked if I would administer the Lord’s Supper on the Sunday morning.  I readily agreed.  I was conscious of not wishing to distract people from contemplating on the death of Jesus, by doing anything that for them was unusual, so I enquired beforehand if there were any particular customs that I should follow.  After being told there were no real customs of any note, I conducted the service.  At its conclusion I was kindly informed by one of the leaders that contrary to normal practice I had broken pieces off the end of the bread instead of beginning by breaking the bread into two pieces.  Though I had been informed otherwise they did indeed have customs that they considered important.

What is the Lord’s Supper really? How did it originate? What did the Lord Jesus actually command that we should observe?  What should we do in our church? This paper attempts to answer these and other questions.  Consideration is first given to the nature of the Last Passover Meal and then the early Christian[1]meals mentioned in the New Testament. The idea that various passages of the New Testament allude to a ceremony (what some may call a rite) reflective of the Last Passover Meal is then considered together with what some of the Early Fathers termed the “Eucharist”.  There is then a discussion on what Jesus meant by his statements regarding his body and his blood.  Some general comments are made on the occurrence of Corinthian Christians meals and also on the nature of formal meals in the Graeco-Roman world.  Sections of chapters 8, 9 and 10 and the latter half of chapter 11 of 1 Corinthians are then examined in some detail.  Some final comments are made as to what we can learn from the latter half of 1 Corinthians 11 and how we should regard our celebration of “The Lord’s Supper” or “Holy Communion” today.  The overriding concern of this paper is to discern whether or not there was a ceremony observed by Christians of the New Testament reflective of the Last Passover Meal and whether or not Jesus commanded that the ceremony be observed.  Of course if there was not a ceremony then there was not a rite.

 


[1]The term, “Christian”, mentioned only once in the New Testament (Acts 11: 26) is used in this paper for convenience.  Those who gladly responded to Christ were commonly referred to as “disciples” in Acts while Paul preferred to address them in terms of some relationship they had either with himself or with God or Christ. They are also referred to corporately by the term “ekklesia” (church) both in Acts and by Paul.

 

September 13, 2009

Biblical Baptism (Full Series PDF)

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 2:29 am

Here is the full series

Biblical Baptism (part VII)

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 2:24 am

Concluding Remarks
Given the nature of the Gospel with its focus on the grace of God displayed through the death of Jesus and the general teaching of the Apostle Paul that ceremonies such as circumcision were of no value in themselves, it would be very strange if Jesus had made it obligatory that a water ceremony be performed – that it was absolutely essential for those being made disciples to be baptised.  Of course repentance and faith are demanded by God but these are matters of the heart or the mind not matters of ceremony.  And the giving of the Spirit, though often mentioned in Acts in association with baptism (e.g. Acts: 2: 38; 8: 14 – 17; 9: 17, 18; 10: 44 – 48; 19: 1 – 6) is the gift of God given independently of any ceremony, though the gift may precede or follow the ceremony as these passages record. The ceremony does not have any value in itself.  It does not make us any more or any less worthy before God.

It was however and can still be a very helpful custom but it is not mandatory.  Probably, originally, the custom involved a complete immersion in water.  Probably, originally, I believe, it was only undergone by “adults”.  It was probably always associated, in principle, with a person repenting, radically changing their orientation towards God and when Jesus is in focus, radically changing their orientation towards him, as the one whom God had sent.  Its value was that it was a sign that the person had been washed from their sins and had entered into a new life with God their Father.

It may be argued that many baptismal ceremonies carried out today do not truly reflect the water ceremony practised in the New Testament.  Does this matter?  Not necessarily.  If what the custom is meant to signify and what people understand by it is in line with the truths of the Gospel, the ceremony can be a blessing not only for the person involved but also for many who witness the ceremony.  It doesn’t really matter what the actual ceremony is like, whether a full immersion, pouring or sprinkling is involved or whether those baptised are young children or adults, as long as it is genuinely helpful and not misleading and provided it isn’t claimed that it is like New Testament water baptism if it isn’t.  We must however guard against any custom that conveys false ideas, such as, that to become a child of God a person has to be baptised, that only when a person is baptised does he or she receive the Holy Spirit, or that the ceremony brings about some mystical experience.

There is a tendency in each of us to place too much value on ceremonies.  We must resist that temptation and invest in Christ himself rather than in any ceremony about him. Though you may have found a ceremony to be personally very valuable no ceremony is mandatory. The commands we find in the New Testament relate to loving God, loving the brothers and sisters and caring for all. Understanding literal water baptism as essential for entrance into the kingdom of God and believing that there was a command from Jesus to perform the ceremony, were mistakes made by some living after the New Testament period – mistakes probably brought about partly because of their love of ceremony and their love for authority.  We have perpetuated some of their errors.

Baptism in no way leads to one’s justification before God.  It does not make anyone righteous.  It does not make anyone a child of God.  It does not in any way guarantee the giving of the Spirit.  It does not provide any reason for having confidence about one’s salvation.  It can be an exceedingly helpful custom but in the end it doesn’t really matter if you have been baptised or not.  As with Paul’s comments about circumcision, are you baptised?  That is all right.  Have you never been baptised?  That is all right as well.  Rather than focus on baptism, in the words of Paul, we should glory only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 6: 14).  His death for us is the ground for all of God’s blessings to us.  Praise to him who died for us.

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