Barry Newman's Blog

November 2, 2012

The Sacraments (part XV)

Filed under: The Sacraments — barrynewman @ 10:02 pm

Re: Matthew 18: 20 and Matthew 28: 20

The texts read, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in their midst” (Matt 18: 20) and “And lo, I am with you all the days until the completion of the age” (Matthew 28: 20).

In these texts and the surrounding passages there are no references to eating or drinking or even the death of Jesus.  Yet, perhaps because there has been this strong desire to find even allusions to a celebratory meal almost anywhere in the New Testament, some have thought there are references, even oblique ones to such a meal in these verses.

The first text is preceded by Jesus referring to a brother sinning against another and what must be done about it. If necessary, in the end a group must approach the offending brother.  This is followed by reference to his disciples (plural) binding or loosing on earth with the consequence of what is bound or loosed in heaven. Then Jesus is recorded as saying, “If two or three of you agree on earth regarding anything that they shall ask of my heavenly Father, it shall be granted to them.” (Matt 18: 15 – 19). The series of texts refer to situations involving or potentially involving the disciples, as a group.  The concluding text for this section arguably gives confirmation to them concerning the rightness of the actions required of them.  Where a group of them are genuinely operating under the name of Jesus, they will be operating with him.  If this or something like this is not the appropriate way to understand the text then presumably one must understand it, to some extent, in isolation from the preceding material. In which case, the sense could be that a group, even a small group, doing whatever, genuinely in the name of Jesus, is indicative of the reality of what Jesus promises here, that is, that he is with them.  However one is then tempted to ask, why does there have to be at least two?  I guess it is with this question in mind that some say, there must be some allusion here to a celebratory meal.  It is difficult to believe that the disciples could have understood this at the time – the Last Passover Meal was yet to come, although some might argue that Jesus gave them this understanding later on. The fact is however that here there is no mention of any meal and there is no indication that Jesus ever taught that his reference to two or three being gathered together in his name and his being in the midst of them at the time had anything to do with as meal.  He taught them other things after his resurrection, but not that.

The idea that the text of Matthews 28: 20 is a reference, even an allusion, to a celebratory meal is likewise difficult to argue for. It is a wonderful statement with which Matthew concludes his Gospel and a statement of great consolation and encouragement. The disciples are being given their final instructions but Matthew will not end his Gospel with instructions but words uttered by Jesus, words of immense significance about himself and his ongoing relationship with his disciples.

The presence of Jesus is the focus of these texts but in neither case is there any clear reference to this presence being wholly, partly or even sometimes dependent on their being a special meal.  Jesus makes it clear in John’s Gospel, that when he is gone, the Spirit, whom he will send from the Father, he will come and he will bear witness to Jesus and glorify him (John 15: 26, 16: 14).  Again there is no mention of a celebratory meal.  Of note for John’s Gospel is that there is no mention of a Last Passover Meal.

Looking for something like “the Lord’s Supper” in these texts is not like looking for a needle in a haystack. It is inventing the idea that there is a needle in the haystack in the first place.

___________________________________________________

Some attention has been given to these texts from John, Hebrews, Luke, Acts and Matthew mainly because in most cases they were not dealt with to any extent in previous blog series.

There appears to be no evidence anywhere in the New Testament that Jesus ever commanded that taking part in a ceremony such as what we now know as “the Lord’s Supper” or similar was obligatory.

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