Brandon's Notepad

August 4, 2014

Eucharistic Theologies In Luke & John

Short URL: http://goo.gl/RUyIFS


I happened upon the Wikipedia article for Eucharistic theology one day and read the explanations of the opposing views regarding the Lord’s Supper. The Words of Institution came to mind and I pondered how it can be that different Christian sects disagree so vehemently on the word “is” (as in “this is my body”). I thought it would be interesting to see how the text of Luke 22:19 might change to better support these various theologies, especially since so many people rely on a strict literalistic interpretation of Scripture. I later decided to look at John 6:59 as well.


The Original Language

Here are the words from Luke 22:19 on which the Words of Institution are derived:

And taking bread, he gave thanks, and brake; and gave to them, saying: This is my body, which is given for you. Do this for a commemoration of me. -Luke 22:19 (Douay Rheims)

The words of Jesus in John 6:59 are from what Catholics call the Eucharistic discourse:

This is the bread that came down from heaven. […] He that eateth this bread, shall live for ever. -John 6:59 (Douay Rheims)

I chose the Douay Rheims translation, because I preferred the phrase “for a commemoration” over the more common “in memory of”. It is closer to the Latin “hoc facite in meam commemorationem” (“do this as a memorial to me”), which sounds far more ceremonial. It’s like declaring an annual parade in someone’s honor as opposed to merely paying respects in an occasional graveside visit. Some folks use “in memory of” to downplay the importance of the Mass, so I thought it best to dispense of this issue immediately by using the traditional language.

Interpretive Modifications

Now, let’s modify the language in these two verses to better express the nuances of each of the Eucharistic Theologies. In the first verse, I’ve added the noun “bread” in brackets, as we must assume that the antecedent to which the demonstrative “this” refers is the bread that he broke.

Transubstantiation. This is the belief that the bread transforms into the real presence of Jesus. The substance changes, but not the form.

…This [bread] has become my body…
This has become the bread that came down from heaven.

The modified language shifts the focus to emphasize that a change has occurred, but it does not alter the fundamental reality that the bread (whatever it once was) is (now) the Body of Christ. One may choose “became” (past indicative) over “has become” (perfect indicative), but the result is the same.

Consubstantiation. This is the belief that the real presence of Jesus comes down into the bread, but that the bread itself does not change in substance or in form. It simply continues to be bread.

…This [bread] is with my body…
This is the bread that is with my body that came down from heaven.

In both verses, the body is no longer the object of a “to be” verb as in the original text, but the object of a preposition.

Sacramental Union. Similar to consubstantiation, this belief asserts that the bread, while retaining its form, enters into union with the body of Jesus, who is present at the meal. The union is predicated on the action of consuming the bread, but not on the faith of the person consuming it.

…This [bread] is united with my body…
This is the bread that is united with my body that came down from heaven.

The verb has been changed altogether.

Objective Reality. Generally speaking, those who hold this view believe that the bread is transformed, but that the transformation is a mystery that need be neither understood nor scrutinized.

…This [bread] is now my body, just don’t ask me how
This is now the bread that came down from heaven…and I said, don’t ask.

These modifications imply that there was a change without explicitly saying so.

Pneumatic (Mystical) Presence. According to this view, the presence of Jesus’ body is real in the same way it is real in sacramental union, but only for those who have faith.

…This [bread] is united with my body if you choose to believe it is when you eat it
This is the bread that is united with my body that came down from heaven, but only if you eat and believe.

This places not one, but two conditions on the real presence, neither of which are even implied in the “is” of the original text.

Memorialism. This is not a belief in the real presence of Jesus’ body. The original text is considered to be pure metaphor.

…This [bread] is a symbol of my body…
This is a symbol of me, who came down from heaven.

The reference to bread in the second verse (as an object of the “to be” verb) has to be removed to make this view fit the text.

Suspension. Some believe that the Lord’s Supper was a one-time-only event, that the instruction to do this was directed only at the disciples at the table. Those who hold this view do not believe that Jesus was instituting a commemoration or memorial at all. What Jesus did that night at supper could be reflected in any of the above, or could remain a complete mystery. The Wikipedia article is silent on the meaning of “is” in this case, so we cannot modify the language in our verses for this one.

Conclusion

All of the theologies examined above (save the last one perhaps) can be clarified by modifying the words of Luke and John; however, only transubstantiation requires no qualification. Its meaning can rest solely on the “is” found in the Scriptures.


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