October 16, 2009
October 14, 2009
There was a request by Jesus for his disciples to view the Last Passover Meal in a new way. Whenever such a Passover meal was to be held in the future, by any of his followers, they were to interpret the meal differently to the way that any had done in the past. They were to remember that he, by his death, was the ultimate saviour who delivers his people from the consequences of their sins. It would be a once a year remembrance. However, because his followers, Jews and Gentiles, had this one common allegiance to the Lord who had died for them they often came together to share a meal but more frequently than once a year. Yet at these meals there was no requirement for them to conduct a Christian ceremony nor does it appear that they did so. If the request of Jesus was meant to be an instruction applicable beyond Passover meals and to be understood as a commandment for his people, both Jews and Gentiles, for all time, it is odd that of all the Gospels, only Luke records the words, “Do this in remembrance of me”. One would expect to find such a global and important commandment to be found in all Gospels. Furthermore, unless one considers the sentiments of 1 Corinthians 11: 23 – 26 to constitute the single exception, no such instruction is given by Paul, James, Peter or John in any of their letters.
Many of the Corinthian Christians came from and still lived in a pagan world and had to be careful about what they ate at their meals, community or otherwise. They were to refrain from eating meat that they knew had been offered to idols. Neither the wine they drank, nor the bread they ate, indeed, nothing about their meals, was to be associated with the gods of the pagan world. When, as Christians, they shared meals with each other they were to recognise the bond that they had with each other because they had the one Lord who had died for them. They were to treat one another as all one in Christ and this was to be evident in the conduct of their meals. They came together to eat. They did not come to participate in a Christian ceremony. When Paul refers to, as the translators have it, “The Lord’s Supper” it is not his title for a Christian ceremony. He is making a reference to a meal which does not have the Lord’s stamp upon it. It does not seem that there ever was a ceremony or rite observed by Christians of the New Testament reflective of the Last Passover Meal. Given the nature of the gospel and the freedom from Law that it entails – for freedom Christ has set us free (Gal. 5: 1) it would at least be very odd if not contradictory for there to be any ceremony the observance of which was mandatory.
If we were to have a community meal like the Corinthian Christians we would need to get it right where they got it wrong. It would need to be a meal in which Christ, the one who died for us and by that death brought us together, was honoured. We would love one another no matter what our differences in education, social standing, gender, or culture because we would see ourselves as all one under Christ, the Christ who died for us Others would know that we were disciples of Jesus because of the love that we would display towards one another (John 13: 35). It would be “Christ Centred Fellowship” – “Christ Centred Communion.” And Christ’s death and its significance for us would be obvious. The Lord’s death would be proclaimed.
October 12, 2009
The Christian Corinthian Community Meals: 1 Corinthians 11: 17-34 (continued)
In reporting on what Jesus said at the Last Passover Meal (vv. 23-25) Paul is careful to include the word, “whenever” and he pointedly uses the word, “this” four times – “this is my body”, “do this in remembrance of me”, “this cup is the new covenant” and “do this whenever you drink it in remembrance of me”. Having quoted the words of Jesus, he immediately says, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink the cup …”. (A second “this” does not appear in the Greek. While the word “bread” can be used to refer to a meal as a whole, the word “cup” cannot be used to do the same thing.) That is, he writes the “this” of the Last Passover Meal into the “this” of their meal, by referring to “this bread” and adds “the cup”, referring to the wine of their meal. Both “bread” and “cup” are meant to be reflective of the Last Passover Meal. It is his way of shocking them into realising how abominable their behaviour is. They were to understand the words of Jesus, “Do this in remembrance of me” and “Do this whenever you drink it in remembrance of me” (vv. 24, 25) as indicating that the death of Jesus and its significance was never to be forgotten. Its relevance was to permeate the way they lived including how they conducted themselves on those occasions when, because of their relationship with him, they met together to participate in a meal.
On this basis, verses 26 – 29 could be understood as follows: “So you see, whenever you eat this bread, your meal, (I am reflecting on the bread of the Last Passover Meal) and whenever you drink the cup, your wine, (I am reflecting on the cup of the Last Passover Meal), at your Christian community meals, the death of the Lord is, or should always be, proclaimed, until he comes again, by the way you behave at those meals. So, whoever eats the bread, your meal, and drinks the cup, your wine, at your Christian community meals, (meals that you participate in because of the relationship you have with each other through the death of the Lord), in an unworthy manner, is guilty of the death of the Lord. (I refer to his body and blood.) (He is guilty of the Lord’s death because he has treated the death of the Lord with disdain.) A man, anyone, (but perhaps particularly the host, as the person responsible for the conduct of the meal) should reflect on what his perceptions are, before he eats the bread, his meal, and before he drinks the cup, his wine. Because, anyone who eats and drinks without perceiving the true nature of the body of the Lord (his people) eats and drinks in such a manner as to bring God’s judgement upon himself.” Of course, the actual straightforward statement made by Paul is not at all stilted in style like the above rendition!
That is, in 1 Corinthians 11: 17 – 34 there does not appear to be a reference to a Christian ceremony, let alone a rite, with elements reminiscent of the Last Passover Meal. However there is a reference to a meal and the behaviour of the Corinthians at that meal. It is their behaviour at that meal which is meant to demonstrate the significance of the death of the Lord Jesus – that death so poignantly referred to, by him, during the last Passover Meal.
October 10, 2009
The Christian Corinthian Community Meals: 1 Corinthians 11: 17-34 (continued)
What are we to make of Paul’s reference to the Last Passover Meal in chapter 11? Contrary to what is commonly suggested, Paul nowhere makes an explicit argument such as, “see how the conduct of your meal is in contrast with your Christian ceremony, which in turn has its origin in the Last Passover Meal.” What we find is Paul discussing their meal (vv. 17 – 22), referring to the Last Passover Meal (vv. 23 – 25) and the next moment, arguably referring to their meal again (vv. 26 – 34). The movement from v. 25 to v. 26 is an abrupt one. Contrasting their meal, in some way, with the Last Passover Meal, the most significant of all meals, was going to be more striking than any comparison involving some Christian ceremony. And he uses a very powerful literary strategy to do this for maximum effect. Having, as it where, brought the Last Passover Meal alongside of their meal he applies it to their meal, as though it were their meal, His unusually harsh language has been accompanied by this unusual literary device. However his literary strategy is not without some type of precedent. The Greek philosopher Plutarch wrote of various meals to illustrate how conversations at the formal meals of his world should be conducted. The Jewish Christian Paul quoted the words of Jesus at the Last Passover Meal to argue for how the Corinthian Christians should behave at their formal meals.
 C. K. Barrett came to a similar understanding in The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Hendrickson, Peabody, MA, 1968, p. 264 and Church, ministry and sacraments in the New Testament, Paternoster, Exeter, 1985, p. 67, 68, 70
 J.W. Woodhouse and G. May have a similar view. For their understanding of the issue in general see, Woodhouse, J.W., “What is this meal?”, Briefing, 123, October, 1993, pp. 2 – 6, Woodhouse, J. W., “The Body of the Lord”, Briefing, 124, November, 1993, pp. 2 – 5; May, G., “The Lord’s Supper Ceremony or Relationship? Making a Meal of it in Corinth, Part 1: Meals in the Gospels and Acts”, Reformed Theological Review 60 (3), December 2001, pp. 138 – 150 and May, G., “The Lord’s Supper: Ceremony or Relationship? Making a Meal of it in Corinth, Part 2: Meals at Corinth, Reformed Theological Review, 61 (1), April 2002, pp. 1 – 18
 See Smith, D.E., From Symposium to Eucharist – The Banquet in the Early Christian World, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2003, pp. 47 – 49
September 23, 2009
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 18, 2009
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
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
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 Christianmeals 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.
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.