Barry Newman's Blog

October 21, 2012

The Sacraments (part IX)

Filed under: The Sacraments — barrynewman @ 8:12 pm

Other references to the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament?

Attempts have often been made to see references to the Lord’s Supper in texts other than I Corinthians 10 and 12.  Appeal has been made to passages in John 6, Hebrews 6 and 13, Luke 24, Acts 2 and Matthew 18 and 28.

Re: John 6: 22 – 69

At first glance the words of Jesus, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life … For my flesh is genuine food and my blood is genuine drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.” (6: 53 – 56) seem to echo his words at the Last Passover Meal.

The context for what Jesus said is as follows:

After the feeding of the five thousand (John 6: 1 – 14), Jesus is engaged in a dialogue with a number of people in the synagogue at Capernaum (6: 59), people who are more interested in his actions than his teaching. At the beginning of the discourse he says, “Do not labour for the food which perishes but for the food which endures to eternal life”. (6: 27) They respond with, “What sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you … our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness …” (6: 30, 31) In turn Jesus proclaims, “It was not Moses who gave you bread from heaven.  My Father gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.” (6: 32, 33)   Jesus further elaborates, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me shall not hunger and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (6: 35)  This is followed by his claim to being explicitly the bread that has come down from heaven and the necessity of belief in him in order to obtain eternal life – that indeed he is the bread of life. (6: 38 – 48) There is considerable disquiet amongst his hearers at these words. Continuing with his reference to the manna, Jesus says, “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness but they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, bread that a person may eat of but not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven.  If anyone will eat of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (6: 49 – 51) It is when at this point that they say among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” that Jesus then says, Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood …” (6: 53 – 56) Jesus then reverts to speaking simply of  eating and himself as bread, making no further reference to drinking and his blood, saying, “He who eats me will live because of me … He who eats this bread will live forever.” (6: 57. 58). The text then refers to those spoken of as his disciples and the reaction of some of them to what Jesus has been saying. There is then mention of Jesus addressing them at some length and then the text relates how many now drew back from him. The section ends with Jesus speaking to the twelve and the recording of a confession of faith by Peter. (6: 60 – 71)

It should be noted that during the main discourse the dominant reference is to Jesus as bread and to the eating of this bread.  It is only when Jesus makes a reference to giving the bread, which is his flesh, for the life of the world, only then that he also makes reference to his blood and to drink. In referring to giving his flesh he is surely speaking of his death and at this point he then makes reference to both flesh and blood. The mention of both flesh and blood, just as in the Last Passover Meal where mention is made of both body and blood, is a way of speaking of death.  The blood being separated from the body or the flesh is the sure sign that life has departed. The reference is to death.  Having uttered these words however he concludes by again simply referring to bread and the eating of bread.

It should also be noted that throughout the discourse there are a number of references to belief in connection with Jesus (6: 29, 35, 36, 40, 47, 64 and 69). The notion of “life” and often its relationship to eating is also referred to many times (6: 32, 35, 40, 47, 48, 50, 51, 53, 54, 57, 58, 63 and 68).  On three occasions Jesus also speaks about coming to him (6: 37, 45 and 65). The emphasis is on belief in him, coming to him, obtaining life through him. There is no obvious reference to some special meal. The mention by Jesus of eating his flesh and drinking his blood was a follow on from the reference to his death.  Primarily however, he refers to bread, the manna from heaven of which people must partake if they are to have eternal life.

Additionally it should be pointed out that in John 6 the word “flesh” is used (6: 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56 and 63) rather than the word, “body” as in 1 Cor. 11: 24 and Luke 22: 19. More significantly, there are no words of remembrance. Even more cogent is what Jesus said to those who “grumbled” finding as they did what he said, a hard saying and difficult to take on board (6: 60).  “Do you take offence at this? … It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (6: 61, 63).  In this response he makes no reference to blood. Here Jesus seems to refer to the notion that what is required for ordinary life is spirit, that is, breath. He then uses this reference to make it clear that his words are what constitute (spiritual) breath and (spiritual) life.  The flesh brings about nothing.  It is what he says of the flesh, including his flesh, which should dispel any idea that even part of the discourse relates to some physical, spiritual or mystical actual taking of his body as a necessity for acquiring eternal life.  This is why the references to “believing” are so relevant in this chapter.  It is belief in his words that is so important, not partaking of some food or drink in a ceremony.

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