This is the second and last portion of the discussion on the Lord’s Supper. Part one overviews 4 major views on the Lord’s Supper. This post will look at Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology, and some Exegetical considerations concerning the nature of the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper is inaugurated out of the Passover Feast (Luke 22:7ff.). Faithful Jews during the time of Christ within locative means would make the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem in order to celebrate (Luke 2:41). In Jerusalem, the Jewish people would sacrifice a lamb (cf. Mark 14:12) in the temple.
One of the major arguments for infant baptism is to look at the continuity between the covenant of circumcision and the rite of baptism. Can continuity between the Passover and the Lord’s Supper form a basis to allow the presence of Christ to be located in the elements? Or could this continuity substantiate transubstantiation?
The Passover Feast is inaugurated in the book of Exodus before the actual event of the Passover takes place (Exodus 12). The commands regarding the feast are outlined in Leviticus 23:4-5 and Deuteronomy 16:1-6. The people celebrate this feast in the wilderness under Moses and in the Land under Joshua (Numbers 9:1ff., Joshua 5:10-11). From the times of the Judges up until the time of King Hezekiah, the Passover was not celebrated in a powerful way (2 Chron. 30:26).
In Exodus, the Lamb was slaughtered in order to preserve life. The people participated in that sacrifice by consuming the roasted lamb, the very real physical thing sacrificed (Exodus 12:8). The New Testament Supper instituted by Christ also focuses on sacrifice. Michael Horton writes, “The close bond between sign and signified in Passover is carried over into the New Testament celebration of the Lord’s Supper.” The elements of the Passover satyr are not central focus in the Gospel accounts. Nonetheless, the typology of the paschal lamb has Christ as the antitype (1 Cor. 5:7, Rev. 5:12).
At this juncture, the discontinuity versus continuity between the Passover and Lord’s Supper will determine the nature of the elements in the Supper. In continuity, both services have to do with “remembering.” The Passover Feast has to do with remembering the Lord’s deliverance of the people from the destroyer of the firstborn. The Lord’s Supper is a remembrance of the Lord’s sacrifice. Horton says, “. . .the Supper is not a sacrifice, but it is a sacrificial meal.”
The Roman Catholic view holds the Mass as re-crucifying the Son of God. So, on a spectrum of continuity in the area of sacrifice would first (i.e. most continuity) be transubstantiation, followed by consubstantiation, the Reformed view, and the memorial view. Of course, a wide chasm divides the view of transubstantiation from the rest. Transubstantiation sees the Supper as a literal sacrifice; whereas, the Protestant positions understand the meal to be representative of the sacrifice to greater and lesser degrees.
The Paschal meal is based on a recurring sacrifice rather than a once for all time sacrifice. This discontinuity is greater than any other. In the Paschal meal, the participant feeds on the physical flesh that was just sacrificed. At the same time, Christ does not look to the roasted lamb and say, “This is my body;” rather, he claims it is the bread. This is significant because the Supper is not a re-sacrificing meal. Basing any spiritual or physical ontological presence of Christ in the elements cannot be based on the continuity between the Old and New Covenant meals.
Christ is, “. . . perfect in Godhead, also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man.” In this case, when it comes to the “real” presence of Christ being in the elements themselves, how is the hypostatic union still upheld? In transubstantiation, Aristotelian categories of accidentals and essentials are utilized to explain what of the elements was changed. So while chemically, the bread and wine remain the same, essentially it becomes the body and blood of Christ with both divine and human natures. However, having the physical body of Christ certainly over realizes his bodily return in the eschaton.
For the Lutheran, the same issue is present but delayed. Attempting to uphold the bodily return of Christ in the eschaton, the Lutheran espouses that the divine attributes, especially omnipresence, was communicated to his human nature. Thus, Christ’s human nature is still completely and truly human, just elevated. In the same manner, Christ’s physical presence can be localized in heaven and at the same time be “in, with, and under” the bread and wine.
The Reformed view would argue consubstantiation is dangerously close to monophysitism. For the reformed position on Christ’s natures, Wellum argues, “the Son is able to live a divine life outside (extra) his human nature while simultaneously living a fully human life in his human nature. Even still, Horton, in line with A. A. Hodge, argues that Christ’s presence in the elements of the Supper is relational rather than spatial. Relational presence does away with any accusation of Nestorianism.
If, however, Christ’s presence is not spatial, why would it have to be localized within the elements themselves? As Wellum notes, “Calvin expresses contentment with any belief that affirmed the true presence of Christ in the eucharistic elements.” To the contrary, Horton argues:
For Calvin, the Supper has to do not only with Christ’s work in the past, but his work in the present. Though not present locally in the bread and wine, Christ nevertheless gives “His entire person, both body and blood” through the meal.
If the Reformed position ties Christ’s ontological presence to the elements (which some claim it does), it can run into the danger of splitting the nature of Christ, or be accused of some “disembodied” spirit. In such a scenario, the full Christ is not present in the elements. Furthermore, what exactly becomes of the ontological spiritual presence of Christ upon a literal and physical consumption? Dissipation altogether would be problematic Christologically just as much as some sort of infusion with the individual believer’s spirit. Therefore, while Christ is ontologically present in the Lord’s Supper service, his presence is not tied to the elements.
On the other hand, if the memorial view removes the presence of Christ completely and ignores his work in the service that is likewise problematic. Christ, by nature, is omnipresent. He is capable of making his presence in some scenarios more palpable than in others. What the believer does in the service does not eclipse what Christ does.
In 1 Cor. 11:24 and Luke 22:19, Christ is recorded referring to the bread, “This is my body.” The syntax of the synoptics is identical; whereas, Paul emphasized “my” (i.e. Christ’s) by placing it earlier in the construction. Paul’s emphasis is due to the fact that the church in Corinth was eating their supper, rather than the Lord’s supper (cf. 1 Cor. 11:20-21). Paul emphasized the elements as Christ’s rather than the individual Corinthian member.
The nature of the supper hinges in the understanding of the third person singular copulative verb. If the copula describes a literal relationship, then transubstantiation and consubstantiation are to be favored; however, if the verb conveys a figurative connection then the Reformed and memorial views are favored.
Martin Luther focused on the “is” of “This is my body” at the Marburg Colloquy (essentially repeating it to emphasize a literal point of view). However, understanding Christ’s phrase will take us further back than the Reformation. What were the disciples thinking when Christ uttered, “This is my body”? Even if they misunderstood, what were the synoptic authors trying to convey with the phrase? If what had been uttered was, “These bitter herbs are the sufferings of the Jewish people,” does this mean the ontological sufferings be present in the herbs? Certain elements in the Passover meal were already representative. Norman Geisler argues in regard to taking Christ’s words physically, “It is not possible to take a physical view (otherwise, we must believe, for instance, that Christ was holding His own physical body in His own physical hands).” The physical view would contradict the law of noncontradiction. One is also hard pressed to argue the disciples believed when Jesus offered the phrase then the bread changed in essence but not in accidentals (or that it was the intention of the author).
In the same basis, the exegete can shave misapplications with Ockham’s razor. The simplest—absolute literal (i.e. physical)—view of, “This is my body” is ruled out by the law of noncontradiction. The next most simple view remaining is a plain figurative meaning, “This represents my body.” The phrases, “this is my disembodied spiritual presence,” and, “This contains my presence in, under and around it,” are complexities that would not be applied to any other elements in the Passover meal.
A good bit of writing on the Lord’s Supper (even in Reformation times) seems to be a bonfire of strawmen. Some present the Reformed view as simply a step down from consubstantiation by making it his “spiritual” and divine presence in the elements. Some present the memorial view as the Supper of the “real absence” of Christ. Either of these extremes on the nature of the Supper would be problematic and susceptible to defeat. Consequently, painting these caricatures and burning them down enhances the stance of the debater’s position.
In the particular area of the nature of the supper, upon examining the most charitable views of the Reformed and memorial position, hardly any difference exists between them. The two positions both take the phrase Jesus made figuratively. Both partake in the elements as participating in the sacrifice and thus being nurtured and sustained via Christ’s past action. Both recognize the importance of Christ’s ontological presence in the service now. Both see the eschatological hope of one day having the meal with Christ’s bodily presence in the eschaton (thus recognize a certain lack of that bodily presence now). Therefore, a conjunction between the Reformed and memorial views best fits the Biblical evidence.
Allison, Gregg R. Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.
Allison, Gregg R. Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church. Foundations of Evangelical Theology Series. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012.
Calvin, John. The Library of Christian Classics. Edited by John T McNeill. Translated by Ford Lewis Battles. Vol. 21, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Book House, 1998
Frame, John M. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2013.
Geisler, Norman L. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. condensed. ed. Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House, 2011.
González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity. 2nd ed. New York: Harper One, 2010.
Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.
Horton, Michael Scott. The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2011.
Metaxas, Eric. Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World. New York, New York: Viking, 2017.
Strauss, Mark L. Four Portraits, One Jesus: An Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2007.
Wellum, Stephen J. God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ. Foundations of Evangelical Theology Series. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2016.
White, James. “Meaning and History of the Lord’s Supper.” Sermon, Apologia Church, Mesa, AZ, May 22, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PlnXl6Cqsc.
Verduin, Leonard. The Dissent and Nonconformity Series. Vol. 14, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub Co, 1964.
 Mark L. Strauss, Four Portraits, One Jesus: An Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2007), 315.
 Horton, The Christian Faith, 807.
 Horton, The Christian Faith, 802.
 From the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451). Cited from Stephen J. Wellum, God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ, Foundations of Evangelical Theology Series (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2016), 304.
 Wellum, God the Son Incarnate, 329.
 The heresy that the two separate natures of Christ are combined to create a singe new nature.
 Wellum, God the Son Incarnate, 333.In the context, Wellum is not specifically referring to the Supper in the confines of this discussion; nonetheless, it is relevant.
 Horton, The Christian Faith, 813. Horton quotes Hodge from Evangelical Theology: Lectures in Doctrine.
 Wellum, God the Son Incarnate, 329.
 Horton, The Christian Faith, 812 Footnote 90. This was a major area of contention. If the Reformed view was to argue for Christ’s presence to be tied to the elements in some fashion (which would seem to be necessary in order to differentiate it from the memorial view), then similar Systematic problems would apply as to the Consubstantial view. However, if the presence of Christ is not tied to the elements, but rather in the service itself, then it would seem to disagree with how other authors define the Reformed view.
 Horton, The Christian Faith, 812 Footnote 90.