What did Jesus do with bread?

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In the various accounts in the New Testament, both in the gospels and in Paul, what did Jesus do with bread? How is his action described? At the feeding of the 5,000, did he (along with the fish) ‘bless it’ (Mark 8.7, ESV) or ‘give thanks for it’ (TNIV)? This is a worthwhile question to ask, both in terms of what the text says, and because of the way the language of the gospels and Paul found its way into the language of Christian worship in services of Holy Communion.

To explore this, we need to do several things. First, we need to look carefully at the actual texts where this action is mentioned. Then we need to understand the Jewish context in which Jesus is acting, and see how this action has been received in Paul’s writings. Some insight will also be offered by looking at some early Christian texts, and it will also be worth considering the language used in contemporary worship, which for me means the current Church of England texts.

The texts

Jesus does things with bread on four occasions in the gospels: the feeding of the 5,000 (four gospels); the feeding of the 4,000 (Matthew and Mark); the Last Supper (the Synoptic gospels and Paul); and breaking bread on the road to Emmaus. Here are the texts:

OccasionVerseTextVerb and its object
Feeding of 5000Matt 14.19ἀναβλέψας εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν εὐλόγησενeulogeo, God
Mark 6.41ἀναβλέψας εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν εὐλόγησεν καὶ κατέκλασεν τοὺς ἄρτουςeulogeo, God (or loaves?)
Luke 9.16ἀναβλέψας εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν εὐλόγησεν αὐτοὺςeulogeo, loaves and fish
John 6.11ἔλαβεν οὖν τοὺς ἄρτους ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ εὐχαριστήσας διέδωκενeucharisteo (God)
Feeding of 4000Matt 15.36ἔλαβεν τοὺς ἑπτὰ ἄρτους καὶ τοὺς ἰχθύας καὶ εὐχαριστήσας ἔκλασενeucharisteo (God)
Mark 8.6λαβὼν τοὺς ἑπτὰ ἄρτους εὐχαριστήσας ἔκλασενeucharisteo (God)
Last SupperMatt 26.26λαβὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἄρτον καὶ εὐλογήσας ἔκλασενeulogeo
Mark 14.22λαβὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἄρτον καὶ εὐλογήσας ἔκλασενeulogeo
Luke 22.19λαβὼν ἄρτον εὐχαριστήσας ἔκλασενeucharisteo
1 Cor 11.23fἔλαβεν ἄρτον καὶ εὐχαριστήσας ἔκλασενeucharisteo
EmmausLuke 24.30λαβὼν τὸν ἄρτον εὐλόγησεν καὶ κλάσαςeulogeo

We can see that the terms eucharisteo (to give thanks) and eulogeo (to bless) appear to be used interchangeably—and this is most obvious from the parallels in Luke 22.19 and Luke 24.30 (even though there are some grammatical differences). But from the pattern of usages, two further things immediately stand out in this list.

First, it is striking that each gospel writer uses both terms. So Matthew uses ‘bless’ in the feeding of the 5,000 and in the last supper, but ‘give thanks’ in the feeding of the 4,000. Mark exhibits the same pattern, but Luke is different, along with Paul using ‘give thanks’ in the Last Supper account, then reverting again to ‘bless’ at Emmaus. It is therefore impossible to claim that different gospel writers are using two different terms to suggest a difference of theological perspective.

Secondly, it is equally striking both terms are on the different occasions, except for the feeding of the 4,000, where Matthew and Mark both use ‘give thanks’. Yet it would be odd to suggest that something different was going on here, compared with at the feeding of the 5,000. In other words, both words are used by all writers and occur in relation to both the feeding miracles and the Last Supper.

All this is a long way round to observe that the two terms ‘give thanks’ and ‘bless’ are used completely interchangeably for what it is Jesus is doing with the bread, before he breaks it and gives it out.

At this point, we also need to observe who or what is the object of what Jesus does. In the Synoptic accounts of the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus ‘looks up to [the] heaven’, that is, to God, setting the context of what then takes place. Despite the object of ‘blessing’ in Mark 6.41 appearing to be the loaves and the fish grammatically, the parallels in Matthew and Luke make it clear that God is the focus of the action. And of course, God must be the object of ‘thanksgiving’! This is the justification for the TNIV translating Mark 6.41 and Luke 9.16 ‘he gave thanks’ for them (ESV says ‘he said a blessing’ over them in both cases), in contrast to the AV ‘he blessed them’.

Who or what is ‘blessed’?

Consulting a lexicon on the meaning of the verb eulogeo is of limited help (since lexicons simply collate instances of words and their translation) unless it is referring to extra-biblical examples. True to its etymology, eu-logeo, ‘to speak well’, BDAG offers the main meanings as ‘to say something commendatory, speak well of, praise, extol; to ask for bestowal of special favor, esp. of calling down God’s gracious power; to bestow a favour, provide with benefits.’ But in amongst that, it cites the biblical verses above in support of the idea that an object can be ‘blessed’—when the very question we are asking is whether that is a possible meaning here.

In their first century Jewish context, there can be no doubt that what Jesus is saying in each instance is a Jewish prayer of thanks to God, which uses the b-r-k root that is translated ‘bless’.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה, אֱלֹהֵינוּּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, הַמּוֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן הָאָרֶץ.‎

Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה, אֱלֹהֵינוּּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגֶּפֶן.

Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine.

If you look through the whole list of these prayers, you will see that there is a lot of ‘blessing’ going on! But of course there is no sense in which the thing for which the prayer is expressing gratitude is being ‘blessed’ in the sense of it being changed; the sense is what we would normally call ‘thanking’ or ‘praising’ God for. Though these exact forms are from a time after the first century, there is almost certainly continuity with practice in Jesus’ day.

Thus R T France comments on Matt 14.19:

Jesus takes on the role of the head of the family at a Jewish meal (as he will also do in Luke 24.30) when he takes the food and utters the formal blessing before it is shared. His looking up to heaven indicates that the “blessing” is an act of praise to God the provider (as was usual at Jewish meals) rather than a “consecration” of the food itself (p 562).

And he adds in a footnote:

There is no stated object for the verb eulogeo, “bless” and the syntax does not make it clear whether we should understand the loaves and fish as the object or whether we should understand a blessing of God’s name. In view of the traditional form of blessing used over both food and wine at Jewish meals, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, king of the universe…” (m. Ber. 6.1–3; 7.3, etc) the latter seems the more likely sense here, and the preceding mention of “looking up to heaven” supports this. To understand such a blessing as directly “consecrating” the food itself is probably to import too much [later] Christian Eucharistic theology into a pious Jewish convention.

And he cites the comment of Ulrich Luz: ‘in a Jewish milieu, God is praised, the food is not blessed.’

In fact, we can see the roots of this language of ‘blessing’ all through the Old Testament, for example in Ps 103 ‘Bless the Lord, o my soul…’ which we understand to mean: we are thanking and praising him. It has found its way happily into songs drawing on this biblical language, such as ‘Blessed be your name’ by Matt Redman. But it has also found its way, rather unhappily, into the Church of England’s liturgy for Daily Prayer, where each service ends with an optional call and response:

Let us bless the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

The call should be understood, in this biblical and Jewish context of b-r-k prayer, as an invitation to praise God (‘let us bless…’), to which the response is the praise that is called for (‘Thanks be to…’). But no-one really understands this, because we do not regularly use the term ‘bless’ to mean ‘give thanks’ in that way. (For most people, I suspect the meaning is ‘The service is over/Thank goodness for that’!)

It seems to me that Paul is drawing on this Jewish tradition of blessing God when he writes to Timothy:

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving (with eucharistia), for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer (1 Tim 4.4–5).

The ‘blessing’ has a kind of sanctifying power—but only because it shows the attitude in which it is being received, as a good gift from a generous God.

All this points to a clear answer to our opening question: what was Jesus doing with bread? If we take seriously the coherence of the New Testament accounts, and if we take seriously the Jewish context of what Jesus is doing, then there is no doubt: he is ‘blessing’ God, meaning, giving thanks to God for the bread (and fish or wine), using a Jewish prayer of berachah, and is clearly not ‘blessing’ the bread.

I think it is interesting to note that, whilst the Synoptics use both terms, Luke (in his account of the Last Supper), John (in the feeding of the 5,000) and Paul all use eucharisteo rather than eulogeo. I wonder if there is an act of linguistic and cultural interpretation going on here, for those gentile readers who are not familiar with Jewish patterns of prayer, and might misinterpret ‘blessing’ when not familiar with Jewish b-r-k. It is only when the church lost connection with its Jewish roots that it began to misunderstand this.

Additional note: Jeremy Duff has added a small challenge in conversation online: ‘When I read it I keep wanting to know whether in the Greek culture of the time the word eulogeo was used about objects in a way similar to what you are arguing against of ‘consecration’. I fully take your point about definitions within dictionaries which focus on the NT being worthless because they are circular. But hey there is a whole world of Greek out there! I very much appreciate the reference to the particular and very important Jewish prayer you engage with. But I want to know how people like Josephus used eulogeo.

So I checked in Liddell Scott online, and it says this:

εὐλογ-έω , impf. εὐλόγουν or ηὐλAr.Ec.454, Isoc.12.206: fut. –ήσω E.Hec.465 (lyr.): aor. εὐλόγησα or ηὐλLXX Ge.1.22,al.: inf.

A.εὐλογῆσαιAr.Eq.565: pf. “εὐλόγηκαLXX Nu.23.11:—Pass., with fut. Med. εὐλογήσομαι (v.l. –ηθήσομαι, as always in LXX, 2 Ki.7.29,al.) Isoc.9.5: aor. “εὐλογήθηνPhalar.Ep.119.3 (opt.): pf. “εὐλόγημαιLXX Ru.2.19:—speak well of, praise, “πόλινA.Ag.580; “πατέρα τὸν ἀμόνS.Ph.1314, cf.Ar.Eq.1.c., E.Hec.1.c.,al., Isoc.ll.cc.; deliver a panegyric upon, Arist.Rh.Al.1426a3: with neut. Adj., “εὐ. καὶ δίκαια κἄδικαAr.Ach.372, cf. Ec.454; θεοὶεὐλογοῦσί τινα honour him, E. Supp.927:—Pass., “ἐπαίνοις εὐλογούμενον πέδονS.OC720; “τὸν ἐν Δωδῶνι δαίμον᾽ εὐλογούμενονId.Fr.461.
II. of God or men, LXX Ge.35.9,al., Act.Ap.3.26,al.: freq. in pf. part. Pass. εὐλογημένος, as LXX De.28.3,Ev.Luc.1.28.

2. bless, praise a god, OGI73 (Egypt), cf. εὐ. τὴν Εἶσιν (sic) CIG4705c (ibid.); σου τὰς δυνάμεις Buresch Aus Lydien 113; so in LXX and NT, Jo.22.23,al., Ep.Jac.3.9.

In other words, it is entirely about praising someone, a human or a god. It would seem that the confusion about ‘blessing things’ arises from a misunderstanding of the Jewish b-r-k prayer.

Later reception

An interesting window into Jesus’ actions is provided by the language of the Didache, an early Christian teaching document, now dated to the late first or early second century. Here, in what appears to be a non-or even anti-Jewish context, the language of ‘blessing’ has disappeared, now replaced completely with ‘thanksgiving’:

Concerning the thanksgiving, give thanks this way. First, concerning the cup: We thank you, our Father, for the holy vine of David your servant, which you made known to us through Jesus your servant. To you be the glory forever.

Next, concerning the broken bread: We thank you, our Father, for the life and knowledge which you made known to us through Jesus your servant. To you be the glory forever (section 9).

The focus here is the ‘spiritual food’ which has been received, and giving thanks for it, and there is not the slightest hint of ‘blessing’ anything. There is continuity here with the focus of the Book of Common Prayer (1662), expressed in the words of administration:

The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life: Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving.

The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life: Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.

The referents of the words ‘body’ and ‘blood’ here are not the bread and wine, but the actual body of Jesus crucified on the cross, and blood of Jesus shed for us. The bread and wine are referred to as ‘this’ which the recipient eats and drinks. The ‘feeding’ that needs to take place is ‘in thy heart by faith and with thanksgiving.’

The rubrics of the BCP make clear (pp 261–262) that Communion does not involve using special bread and wine, but ordinary bread ‘such as is usual to be eaten’ and wine, used for a special purpose—to remember what God has done for us in Christ, and as an aid to our feeding spiritually on him. (Whatever is left over, ‘the Curate shall have it for his own use’.) It is possible to ‘carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise [be] partakers of Christ’ (Article XXIX).

And this focus on the importance of reception has continued into contemporary C of E liturgy, where the invocation of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharistic Prayers (the ‘Great Prayer of Thanksgiving’) is on the people, as they rightly receive the bread and wine as signs of receiving Christ in their hearts:

‘Send the Holy Spirit on your people…’ (Prayer B)

‘Hear us, merciful Father, we humbly pray, and grant that, by the power of your Holy Spirit, we receiving these gifts of your creation, this bread and this wine, according to your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed body and blood…’ (Prayer C)

‘Send your Spirit on us now that by these gifts we may feed on Christ with opened eyes and hearts on fire…’ (Prayer D)

But what about the ‘cup of blessing which we bless’?

In Paul’s first brief mention of the Lord’s supper, in 1 Cor 10, he uses language which might suggest a ‘blessing’ of the elements involved in the meal.

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? (1 Cor 10.16, AV, from which of course we get the term ‘Holy Communion’ meaning sacred participation or sharing).

It is interesting that Paul mentions the cup first; I wonder if this is because his argument here is not actually about the meal, but about the issue of participation (through idolatry, which is to be avoided). The action of drinking from a cup has a more natural sense of participating in something as an existing metaphor (‘Can you drink the cup I am about to drink?’ Jesus asks in Matt 20.22, referring to sharing in his suffering.) And he uses the ‘blessing’ language only in relation to the cup; the closely parallel phrase in relation to the bread simply mentions ‘breaking’, suggestion something other than ‘consecrating’ the cup and its contents.

Though the ESV follows the AV in translating the phrase Τὸ ποτήριον τῆς εὐλογίας ὃ εὐλογοῦμεν (using the eulogeo language) as ‘cup of blessing which we bless’, the TNIV takes the view (presumably following the argument above about Jewish context) as referring to the blessing we receive through the cup for which we have blessed God: ‘the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks.’

And when we turn on to the tradition handed to Paul which he in turn hands on, there is no reference to blessing, but only to giving thanks.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it (ἔλαβεν ἄρτον καὶ εὐχαριστήσας ἔκλασεν)… (1 Cor 11.23–24, an almost exact parallel with Luke 22.19).

In relation to the cup, he gives less detail, simply saying ‘In the same way also he took the cup…’ which we must understand as: he took it, gave thanks to God (the ‘blessing’) and gave it to them.

Anthony Thiselton, in his magisterial NIGTC commentary (pp 750ff) translates 1 Cor 10.16 as ‘The cup of blessing over which we offer a blessing, is it not a communal participation in the blood [metonym for ‘death’] of Christ?’. He comments, the light of the Berakoth prayers mentioned above by France:

In Greek speaking Judaism, therefore, at grace people did not “bless the cup” but blessed God (i.e. with thanksgiving) for what God had provided…The phrase ὃ εὐλογοῦμεν underlines the Godward direction of the blessing. Thus Meyer’s translation approximates ours when he proposes: ‘the cup over which the blessing is spoken’.

After further discussion, he cites the evidence of Justin Martyr’s description of what happens from his Apology 1.65:

There is then brought to the president of the brethren [τῷ προεστῶτι τῶν ἀδελφῶν; compare Phoebe as προστάτις in Rom 16.2] bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to γένοιτο [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.

Thiselton observes:

‘The blessing is addressed to God; the cup clearly denotes participation in Christ redemptive act of giving himself for the blessing of others’ (p 761).

There is clearly much more to be debated about the relation of what Jesus did with what we now do, or think we are doing (about 2,000 years’ worth!). But whatever debate we have, it seems to me that that needs to be on the basis of clarity about what Jesus does in each of these New Testament accounts: he takes the bread, and blesses God, giving thanks to him for what he has provided to sustain our lives, before sharing it with others.

I think I would be quite happy doing the same.

How to Interpret the BibleNote: in looking at these texts, I am mostly deploying two of the four essential questions needed to read the Bible well: What does the text actually say (Content)? and What is the Context in which it says it? The other two essential questions are to ask the Canonical context, that is, where does it come in Scripture, and what Kind of writing we are reading. You can find an exploration of all these questions in my Grove booklet How to Interpret the Bible.

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76 thoughts on “What did Jesus do with bread?”

  1. Thanks for this reminder, Ian. Back in the day, at St John’s Nottingham, Tom Smail (remember him?) used to give the same explanation – especially in relation to 1 Cor 11.

  2. When Jesus instituted the Eucharist, He established it as an act of thanksgiving. We could dance around the meaning of “blessing” (is it to consecrate and set aside or is it to give thanks), but isn’t this really about the words Our Lord spoke after this blessing of the bread?

    Jesus’ words show that the bread was miraculously transformed into the substance of His body, blood, soul, and divinity – the whole Christ. When Jesus holds bread in His hands and says in relationship to what is in His hands: “This is my body,” shouldn’t we accept the clear meaning of His words? What was bread is now his body regardless of its external appearance.

    Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul all use words that can only mean the bread has changed into the body of Christ. Not one of these inspired authors employed symbolic language. To attempt to claim so (as some do) is to trample on the Greek meaning and grammatical construction of the words.

    Matthew (Mt 26:26), Mark (14:22) and Luke (22:19) use exactly the same Greek words: “Touto estin to soma mou”, i.e., (“This is the body of me”). Touto (this) is a neuter demonstrative adjective. It can’t modify or refer to bread, which is a masculine noun. Instead, it clearly refers to soma (body), which is a nominative neuter noun. Therefore the only possible translation in English is: “This [substance in my hands] is my body.”

    Paul uses a somewhat different Greek construction in his First Letter to the Corinthians (1
    Cor 11:24). “Touto mou estin to soma” (“This of me is the body”). Once again the meaning is clear. Paul’s positioning of mou (of me) strengthens the meaning of touto (this). The text is clear that Jesus is speaking about his body. What was bread is bread no longer. It is the whole Jesus.

    • Thanks Jack. Four quick observations.

      This article is about what Jesus does with bread. I don’t think there is much doubt that Jesus does not ‘bless’ it, but blesses God for it. I think that is just a matter of textual, contextual, and Jewish fact.

      Secondly, to talk of ‘instituting the Eucharist’ is to read later theology back into the text. I don’t think the NT offers evidence for that in the way your language suggests.

      Thirdly, if I say ‘It is raining cats and dogs’, then on your logic, I should look out of my window and expect to see animals falling from the sky. As a matter of fact, when Jesus says ‘This is my body’ the one thing is most definitely is NOT is his body, since he continues to inhabit it. It is a metaphor. This is not a ‘trampling of meaning’; metaphors have exactly the same grammatical and syntactical structure as literal speech. ‘He is a pig’; ‘he is a dog’ have identical grammar, but the first is a metaphor about a friend, the second a literal statement about my pet Barney.

      Finally, whatever the view of the RC church (to which I used to belong) the C of E and other Protestant churches do not agree, ARCIC notwithstanding.

      Article XXVIII of the 39 says: ‘Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.

      The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith.

      The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.’

      And the rubric to Communion in the BCP p 262 is very clear: ‘for the sacramental bread and wine remain still in their very natural substances and therefore may not be adored (for that or idolatry to be abhorred of all faithful Christians) and the natural body and blood of our saviour Christ are in heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ’s natural body to be at one time in more places than one.’

      Protestant churches don’t accept the (Aristotelian?) idea that something can be of one substance, but of another appearance.

      • ” … to talk of ‘instituting the Eucharist’ is to read later theology back into the text. I don’t think the NT offers evidence for that in the way your language suggests.”

        As late as St Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 and 1 Corinthians 11:27-30? How would you understand these verses?

        Jesus’ words “This is my body . . . This is my blood” taken by themselves can be interpreted literally or figuratively as you suggest. So, we need to understand them in the light of other evidence. If there is evidence that what Jesus is doing at the Last Supper is miraculous, then a literal interpretation is a more probable understanding. And there is an abundance of such evidence. The long ‘Bread of Life’ discourse being the principle one.

        When Jesus first made the promise to give his flesh to eat in John 6:51-52, He did so against the backdrop of the manna of old: “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die . . . the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

        This bread that God gave in the wilderness was not ordinary bread. It was miraculous bread. Therefore, the Eucharist at the Last Supper could not have been ordinary bread which is what it would have to have been on the view that Jesus was speaking metaphorically. It’s supernatural, and that supernatural quality leads us to interpret literally the words of institution (“This is my body . . . this is my blood”), meaning that the bread and wine became His body and blood.

        In the Eucharistic discourse, He says, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51). Jesus’ tenacity and visceral language in the long Bread of Life discourse points to a literal meaning. What puts the nail in the coffin of the metaphor-only presumption on this discourse is what Jesus did at the Last Supper.

        Is Jesus really this bad at metaphors? Is this discourse part-metaphor, part-literal? “I, Jesus, am metaphoric living bread, and you will live forever if you metaphorically eat this metaphoric bread, which is me, and which is also my literal flesh, which I will literally give for the world.” This is untenable. Is Jesus is mixing metaphors, where “to eat” is actually “to believe” and where bread “is flesh” but only as the “representation of Jesus.”?

        And it can be Jesus’ body and blood even though He’s there, if we’re referring to Jesus performing a miracle!

        • Thanks—but I read Paul in 1 Cor as above in the article. The early Jesus community broke bread regularly.

          John 6 is notably unsacramental; it is striking that Jesus’ action here is the one occasion where we do *not* have the ‘fourfold action’ of take, bless, break, and give.

          And the discourse is not about ‘the eucharist’ but about feeding on Jesus the true bread = food, that is, feeding in our hearts by faith. To feed on Jesus is to listen to his teaching and obey him. Note how he switches the language from artos to brosis. I explore in more detail here: https://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/what-does-it-mean-to-eat-jesus-in-john-6/

          You make nonsense of the text by arbitrarily adding in qualifiers.

          And there is just zero indication in the descriptions of the Last Supper that Jesus was performing a miracle.

          I honestly think that you cannot derive RC doctrine on this from the NT. It needs to come from the later tradition of the Church.

          • @ Ian

            Happy Jack has read your linked article and you doesn’t think you’ve really tackled the structure or core themes of John 6.

            So, let’s take a (Catholic/Eastern Orthodox) look at John 6 in some detail.

            John 6:1-15 is the feeding of the five thousand, where Jesus uses miraculous bread and fish to meet the crowds physical needs. The people see that Jesus was capable of providing for their physical needs and tried to make Him their earthly king.

            [Note John 6:4, which says that this occurs at Passover time, which means it occurs almost exactly one year before the Last Supper and the Passion. Plus, the significant Eucharistic discourse in John 6:25-70 occurs the next day. (John 6:22)]

            John 6:26-29 – Jesus encourages them to pursue spiritual food (belief in Him), rather than physical food.

            John 6:30-31 – the people respond by begging for more food, and using the comparison of Moses.

            John 6:32-33 – Jesus points out that the Manna was Christological. It foreshadowed Christ, and specifically the Eucharist.

            John 6:34 – The people are confused and want the bread. At this point, they don’t take Jesus literally as being Bread or literally as being from Heaven. They’re still thinking He’s going to feed them like He did the day before.

            John 6:35-40 – Jesus explains that the Bread come down from Heaven is literally Him, but that they don’t believe.

            John 6:41-42 – The people grumble. They’re not taking Him literally about being Bread, but they now realise He literally means that He’s from Heaven.

            John 6:43-47 – Jesus subtly calls Himself God, notes that only He has seen God and that Faith in Him (Jesus) saves.

            John 6:48-51 – Jesus calls Himself the “Bread of Life”, calls Himself the “Living Bread” come down from Heaven, and says, “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

            John 6:52 – Now the Jews start taking Him literally about giving His flesh to eat, and they’re not pleased.

            John 6:53-58 – Rather than correcting their initial confusion (as we’ve seen Him do before, when they weren’t taking Him literally), He responds:

            “I tell you the truth, 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, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.”

            So if they’re misunderstanding Him, He’s purposely misleading them at this point by making such an incredibly Eucharistic statement.

            Count the Eucharistic statements: (1) unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no Life in you; (2) Whoever eats My Flesh and drinks my Blood has eternal Life, and I will raise him up at the last Day; (3) My Flesh is real Food and My Blood is real Drink; (4) Whoever eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood remains in Me, and I in him; (5) the one who feeds on Me will live because of Me. Then He says that This is the Bread come down from Heaven: His literal Flesh and Blood. Finally, in His seventh Eucharistic claim in six verses, He says that “he who feeds on this Bread will live forever.”

            If all He means is “faith is very important,” there are far less baffling ways of presenting that point which won’t lead millions of Jews and (later) Christians into error, thinking He’s advocating the eating of His Flesh and Blood.

            John 6:60 – The people are shocked at His Eucharistic teaching. They understand He’s literally claiming to (a) be from Heaven, and (b) give His Flesh and Blood. They respond, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” So obviously, they know He’s not just saying “Come, follow Me,” because they were already doing that, following Him across the lake that morning when He’d purposely withdrawn to get away from them.

            John 6: 61-62 – Rather than explaining what He really meant was just “Come, follow Me,” He challenges them, “What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before!” He’s fully aware that in just over 13 months, He will ascend, with His literal Flesh and Blood, into Heaven. This statement challenges their incredulity on both (a) and (b).

            John 6: 63 – The most confusing verse in John 6: The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” Taken as a literal absolute that flesh is always worthless amounts to a denial of the necessity of the Incarnation and Passion of Christ. What Jesus means then, is not that flesh itself is inherently and always worthless, but that it’s worthless without the Spirit. But this doesn’t dispel the Eucharist, it dispels a view of the Eucharist that It’s cannibalism. Eating dead flesh (that is, flesh separated from the spirit) is worthless. Killing Jesus and hacking Him into bits isn’t what He means.

            St. Augustine explains this verse better than anyone, showing both how the absolutist position makes no sense, and what Jesus really meant:

            ”What does it mean when He adds, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the Flesh profits nothing”? Let us say to Him (for He permits us to ask, not to contradict Him but rather desirous to know): O Lord, good Master, how is it that the “Flesh profits nothing” since you say, “Unless anyone shall have eaten my Flesh and drunk my Blood he will not have life in him”? Is it that life is of no value? And why are we what we are except for the purpose of having eternal life, which you promise to us by your Flesh? Therefore, why do you say, “The Flesh profits nothing”? It profits nothing as they understood it: for they understood the flesh as it is when cut up in a corpse or sold in a meat market, not as it is when animated by spirit.

            And therefore it is said, “The Flesh profits nothing,” just as it is also said, “knowledge puffs one up” [1 Cor 8:1]. For, if flesh profited nothing, the Word would not have become Flesh so that he might dwell among us. If Christ has been such profit to us through the flesh, how it is that flesh profits nothing? Rather, through the Flesh the Spirit has acted for our salvation. The Flesh was a vessel. Pay attention to what it held, not to what it was.

            The Apostles were sent forth. Was their flesh of no profit to us? And if the flesh of the Apostles was of profit to us, can it be said that the Flesh of the Lord is of no profit? How would the sound of a word come to us except through the voice of the flesh? How would pen be moved and writing done by us except by the means of the flesh? All these are works of the flesh, but used by the spirit as its instrument. Thus, it is “the Spirit who gives life, the Flesh profits nothing” – as they understood flesh – but that is not the way I give my Flesh to eat.”
            [Tractatus In Jo. 27, 5; CCSL, vol. 36, p. 271-72 (quoted in Fr. James O’Connor, The Hidden Manna: A Theology of the Eucharist, p. 67-68)]

            John 6:64-65 – Jesus then says that only those who the Father has enabled can believe His message.

            John 6:66 – “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” Now they take Him literally, and it’s the Eucharist which serves as a stumbling block to these people otherwise willing to follow Him.

            John 6:67 – Jesus doesn’t let up. In other instances, where the crowds were confused about Jesus’ message, He either clarified or at least revealed the full meaning to the Apostles, if the crowds weren’t meant to get the full meaning just yet. Mark 4:34 tells us that in private, Jesus explained everything, including the meaning of His parables. So now, He’s just delivered His message, and the crowd thinks it’s literal. If it’s figurative, Mark 4: 34 means that He’s about to explain to them its metaphoric meaning. Instead, He says, “Will you also go away?” In other words, “That’s the message – take it or leave it.” There’s only one other point in Scripture where this happens, Luke 18:34, and it’s because the disciples can’t figure out what Jesus means by saying He’s going to die and rise again on the third day. They’re convinced it’s a metaphor, but not sure what for. But it was a literal, incredible statement.

            John 6:68-71 – Peter then speaks on behalf of the Twelve (yet another example of Petrine primacy) and declares their allegiance to, and faith in, Christ. Christ responds by telling them that they’re the chosen, but that one of them, Judas, is still “a devil.”

            So to conclude:

            At the beginning of John 6, the crowds take Jesus metaphorically. Then He convinces them He’s speaking literally about being from Heaven (not just metaphorically “Heaven-sent”). Then He convinces them He’s speaking literally about giving His literal Body and Blood to literally eat and drink (not just metaphorically “feast on My message”). At that point, they think the message is too much and leave. Then He presents the same message to the Twelve without explaining the metaphor (contra Matthew 13:36, etc.).

          • ‘Count the Eucharistic statements: (1) unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no Life in you…’

            These are only ‘eucharistic’ if you read the later ideas back into this text, and if you take them all literally. Why should I do either?

          • @ Ian

            Well, it seems to HJ that the structure of John 6 makes it evident what Jesus is saying. Plus, that’s how all the early Church Fathers understood the words of Our Lord, as did all Christians for 1500+ years. From the foundations of the church, it was believed Christ taught the Real Presence in the Eucharist and it has been taught in an unbreaking manner all the way down the years until the Reformation. Given the weight of this consensus, surely the onus is on you and your Protestant tradition to prove otherwise and show that Jesus was really speaking figuratively?

      • Just to take Ian’s argument a bit further, the same metaphor of “body” is used of the church – we are his body. Some are hands, feet, ears, etc. Somehow, everyone understands that in this case “body” is a metaphor. Context (rather than pure grammatical construction or lexical meaning) is king…

        Not to put too fine a point on it, but if we are going to really stick to the words as stated by Paul and Luke, it would be the “cup” that is his blood and not the wine. Again, somehow we understand the metaphor here – no one I know of has ever tried to drink the cup itself!

          • Ian – you are right to point out the metaphoric concept: A ‘is’ B —when it is not literally true. Thus, “The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11) —but we do not think the seed becomes holy.

            Unfortunately, in the theological academy there is very little study of metaphor theory, even though metaphors dominate the language about God. In my own study I was advised to change tack and concentrate on typology instead.

          • @ John

            Well let’s examine what St Paul teaches about the Eucharist.

            In addition to the words of institution found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 11:23-26), he makes additional statements in this epistle that affirms his belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

            Consider 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 ,“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we also are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul addressed the serious problem of idolatry that troubled the Corinthian church. In verses 1-5 of chapter 10 he recalled God’s displeasure and punishment of the Hebrew people in the desert. Then in verses 6-13 he warned this Christian community about the seriousness of idolatry and reassured these converts in Corinth that God gives them the strength to remain faithful. Paul continued his urging against idolatry in verses 14-15: “Therefore, my beloved, shun the worship of idols. I speak as to sensible men; judge for yourselves what I say.” At this point Paul goes to the heart of his argument by demonstrating the absurdity of participating in idol worship and receiving the Eucharist. “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation [koinonia – fellowship, communion] in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation [koinonia] in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:16-17). The words “blood of Christ” and “body of Christ” in verses 16-17 are clearly used in the literal sense. There is nothing in the passage to indicate these words have a symbolic meaning.

            The literal meaning is underscored in the next verses where Paul contrasts eating and drinking the Eucharist with the eating that occurred at idolatrous sacrifices. “Consider the practice of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (1 Cor 10:18-21).

            Paul also teaches that communion/participation [koinonia] in the body and blood of Christ by the reception of the Eucharist is the basis for the Church’s unique unity with the members of His Church who form one body with Him. Therefore, if one distorts the meaning of the words “the blood of Christ” and the “body of Christ” as mere symbols, it also undermines the meaning to the Mystical Body (1 Cor 12:12-30; Rom 12:4-5; Mt 25:40; Acts 9:4; Lk 10:10), which is also reduced to a mere symbol.

            Sacred Scripture never claims that the bread and wine merely represent Christ’s body and blood. On the contrary, it affirms that the bread and wine becomes Christ’s body and blood. If the Eucharist is only a symbol, how can St Paul claim that in Communion we “have a share in Christ’s body and blood?” Paul never claims that when receiving the Eucharist Christians are merely “witnessing to their unity in Christ as His body.” Rather he affirms that receiving the Eucharist is a “participation” in the body and blood of Christ.

            In 1 Corinthians 11:27-30, we read, ”Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” The key phrase in Greek is: “,i>enokos (guilty) estai (will be) tou (of the) somatos (body) kai (and) tou (of the) haimatos (blood) tou (of the) kuriou (Lord).” These words express violence to the person of Christ as if one was guilty of His murder. This graphic statement makes no sense unless Paul is confirming that the Eucharist is literally the body and blood of the Lord. If the Eucharist were merely a symbol, Paul could say the unworthy reception of the Eucharist is profaning the image of the Lord, but not His body and blood. ”Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” The word “examine,” dokimazo in Greek carries the meaning “to prove” or “to scrutinize,” “to discover if something is genuine or not, like precious metals,” “to deem worthy.” Why is such a careful examination necessary for a mere symbol? ”For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.” The Greek word translated as “discerning” is diakrino. That word means, “to judge,” “to separate,” “to withdraw from.” The Greek word translated, as “judgment” is krima, which means “damnation,” or “condemnation.” This is very strong language that makes no sense if Paul is speaking about a mere symbol. Paul affirms that the unworthy reception of the Eucharist brings damnation upon the recipient. This serious condemnation only makes sense if the Eucharist is truly Jesus under the appearance of bread and wine. ”That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” It is inconceivable that God would render such severe punishments for disrespect to a mere symbol.

          • HJ: ‘Paul also teaches that communion/participation [koinonia] in the body and blood of Christ by the reception of the Eucharist is the basis for the Church’s unique unity with the members of His Church who form one body with Him’.

            Wow. A pity he forgot to mention that to the Romans, the Galatians, the Ephesians, the Philippians, the Thessalonians…

            (and, I would add, the writers of Acts, Hebrews, and Revelation didn’t know it either…)

          • @ Ian

            Perhaps he didn’t need to. He was addressing specific issues in the Corinthian church, specifically participating in the sacrifices pagans offer to demons through sharing the sacrificed food.

            How do you understand 1 Corinthians 10:16-17: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The
            bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we also are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.””

        • But is Jesus using metaphor in John 6? That’s yet to be demonstrated.

          At the conclusion of the Eucharistic discourse in John 6 we learn Jesus lost many of His followers: “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’” (John 6:60). If He was speaking only at the symbolic level, why would this teaching be hard to accept? No one left Him when He observed that he was the “vine”, the “door”, the “good shepherd”, or the “light of the world”. Those were clearly metaphorical remarks and posed no great challenge. The very resistance of his disciples to the Bread of Life discourse implies that they understood Jesus only too well and grasped that He was making a qualitatively different kind of assertion. Unable to take in the teaching, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” (John 6:66) Jesus then turned to the Twelve and asked: “Do you also wish to go away?” (John 6:67).

          Bishop Barren has this to say:

          There is something terrible and telling in that question, as though Jesus were posing it not only to the little band gathered around him at Capernaum, but to all of his prospective disciples up and down the ages.

          One senses that we are poised here on a fulcrum, that a standing or falling point has been reached, that somehow being a disciple of Jesus is intimately tied up with how one stands in regard to the Eucharist.

          In response to Jesus’ question, Peter, as is often the case in the Gospels, spoke for the group: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68–69) As in the synoptic Gospels, so here in John, it is a Petrine confession that grounds and guarantees the survival of the Church. In the Johannine context, this explicit confession of Jesus as the Holy One of God is bound up with the implicit confession of faith in the Eucharist as truly the Body and Blood of the Lord. When the two declarations are made in tandem, John is telling us, the Church perdures. In light of this scene, it is indeed fascinating to remark how often the Church has divided precisely over this question of the Real Presence.

  3. A rather crude ripost I’ve heard/ read from an atheist is that Christians believe in canabalism.
    I had to stop and think about where on earth that idea came from, as the very idea was appalling, until transubstantiation came to mind and as a Protestant it had not been any part of teaching.
    BTW, Ian thank you for clear and thorough teaching on this, cumulatively, in the articles and rejoinders to HJ.

    • @ Geoff

      That’s precisely what the early non-Christians accused the early church of because Christians universally believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the bread and wine.

      St Justin Martyr’s First Apology addresses this very issue and defended against accusations that Christians partake of human flesh and blood and inveigh against those who argued that Christians engage in cannibalism.

      “For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of his word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.

      For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, said, “This do in remembrance of me, this is my body”; and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, he said, “This is my blood”; and gave it to them alone.” (First Apology, 66)

      And earlier, we have Ignatius of Antioch teaching:

      “I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ . . . and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible.” (Letter to the Romans 7:3 [A.D. 110])

      “Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1 [A.D. 110])

      Then later Irenaeus writes:

      “If the Lord were from other than the Father, how could he rightly take bread, which is of the same creation as our own, and confess it to be his body and affirm that the mixture in the cup is his blood?” (Against Heresies 4:33–32 [A.D. 189])

      “He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own body, from which he gives increase unto our bodies. When, therefore, the mixed cup [wine and water] and the baked bread receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, the body of Christ, and from these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life—flesh which is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and is in fact a member of him?” (ibid., 5:2)

      For 1500 years Christians have believed in the Real Presence – even Luther did!

  4. Ian—your comment as below is interesting —do you think this is how the majority of Anglican congregations understand this BCP wording?

    “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life: Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving.”
    “The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life: Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.”
    The referents of the words ‘body’ and ‘blood’ here are not the bread and wine, but the actual body of Jesus crucified on the cross, and blood of Jesus shed for us. The bread and wine are referred to as ‘this’ which the recipient eats and drinks. The ‘feeding’ that needs to take place is ‘in thy heart by faith and with thanksgiving.’

    • I haven’t got my notes on this at hand, but I seem to remember Diarmaid MacCulloch pointing out that Thomas Cranmer, with the support of Edward VI after the death of Henry VIII, changed the wording of the BCP on this to clarify a non- sacramental understanding—but Elizabeth I subsequently changed it back.

      Which to my mind suggests that the original, and the 1662 wording, allowed a sacramental meaning and Elizabeth reinstated it to sooth Roman Catholic sentiments.

      MacCulloch, Diarmaid. “The Later Reformation in England 1547 – 1603.” Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001.

    • I don’t think very many use the BCP wording! But we should, given this defines our doctrine.

      So, whatever service I am involved with, I always use the BCP words of administration to make it clear. (Of course, they have found their way into the invitation in CW.)

  5. People get attached to what they are used to liturgically, regardless of whether it is correct or not. The above (excellent article) gives one example. Another is the insertion of ‘it’ after ‘as often as you drink’.

    • In fact, the fact that both errors are of precisely the same nature (addition of ‘it’: ‘blessed it’ is wrong but ‘blessed’ is right; ‘drink it’ is wrong, but ‘drink’ is right) when they could have been of millions of types, is telling.
      The background wrong presupposition is that we are dealing with (or there is a focus on) some special ‘it’, when that is not what is being said.

  6. Ian P. – do Common Worship Communion Prayers G and H contradict the BCP?

    “Send your Holy Spirit that this bread and this wine may be for us the body and blood of your dear Son.’

    WWCS – What would Cranmer say?

    • ‘Send your Holy Spirit that this bread and this wine may be for us the body and blood of your dear Son’.

      This is a receptionist phrase—as we receive this bread and wine, we may receive Christ. This one has a studied ambiguity about it; are we invoking the Spirit on us, or on the elements? How would we know?

      Surely by comparing with the epiclesis other prayers. Not one of them says ‘on the elements’; but several say explicitly ‘on us.’

      If you think this one is saying something else, then you must be assuming that the different eucharistic prayers have different and conflicting theology, and that this one conflicts with the BCP. All the conditions of approval by Synod said neither of these interpretations is correct.

      • Ian – I hold a receptionist theology (and so does my receptionist!).
        But I don’t know how these words can bear that meaning as they seem to say something about the ontology of the bread and wine. Do they not mean that the nature of the bread and wine changes somehow?
        The prayers say ‘be’ and not ‘become’, but unless ‘be’ here means ‘signify’ or symbolise’ it is hard to avoid the idea that a change in the nature of the bread and wine is intended.
        I have long wondered if these prayers were inserted to ‘include’ Anglo-Catholic theology. ‘Studied ambiguity’ is the Anglican way – as another current business indicates!

        • Well, true. But they don’t say ‘be’; they say ‘be to us.’ So it all depends on our perception.

          But, as I say, you simply cannot take these words in isolation from the other prayers.

          • Hi Ian,
            Before the fall I imagine no metaphors for God existed. After the fall metaphors were the way what was lost could be unde4stood. Just before and during the last supper they all came crash8ng
            together , hence the confusion at the time.
            Therefore the ambiguity over the bread and wine being for us Himself.
            Question: Is Jesus and the Spirit the Flesh and Blood?

          • ‘Question: Is Jesus and the Spirit the Flesh and Blood?’

            Simple answer: no. Jesus was flesh and blood, and his death for us and the life he gives us symbolised by bread and wine.

            The Spirit in John 7 and 19 is symbolised by the water that flows from his side, just as the stream of living water flowed from the side of the new temple in Ezekiel 47.

      • I think Cranmer here is thinking he has not yet received complete understanding so is holding the two main positions in tension for the time being. Politically it is hard to see how he could have done otherwise. This is however often not a way to truth. Both Williams, Welby and Pope Francis took that approach (if there are widely held positions, the truth must give due weight to both or all these) when in fact the reason for there being widely held positions is often that some correspond to unevidenced ideals or preferences.

    • Hi James – “What would Cranmer say?”

      I am certain he would not like it. Perhaps we will get chance to ask him one day.
      Have we ever thought what the languageof heaven will be?
      Hebrew would be impossible except for a select few —so surely British English?


      • Of course it is Hebrew (the puns or paronomasia in Genesis 2-3 only work in that language), so if you haven’t learnt any, I advise you to get started, otherwise you’ll find the first couple of years of heaven a bit rough. Still, you will have eternity to sort out the difference between binyanim and Binyamin and where to put your soph passuq.
        My reference to Cranmer was an allusion to a Grove booklet many years ago by Colin Buchanan, ‘What Did Cranmer Think He Was Doing?’
        Happy Jack is his chipper, bullish self, shedding light on benighted Protestants, bless him, and I think he is right that a Realist belief about the eucharist was pretty early among the Church Fathers. A high Mariology can be found in this time as well (cf The Protevangelium of James). I have sometimes wondered if these deve reflect the church-synagogue split of the early second century, when the church became predominantly gentile rather than Jewish.
        But even Jack has to admit that 1 Cor 11.26 affirms that what we eat in the eucharist is *bread – which is a denial of transubstantiation. The most one could say was consubstantiation. It’s interesting that polls show most US Catholics don’t seem to believe in transubstantiation, and recently Bishop Robert Barron wrote a book defending that doctrine, which is being distributed around US Catholic churches at $2 by Word on Fire Press.

        • @ James

          You need to understand this in the light of 1 Cor 10: 16-22 and read it as part of the full verses in 1 Corinthians 11:23-30. HJ addressed these verses above. Paul’s saying whenever you eat the bread and drink from the cup, you’re eating, drinking and participating in the Lord’s body and blood.

          • Jack: Anglicans would agree: when we receive the bread and wine with faith in Christ, repenting of our sins and seeking to live in love with others, we receive the benefit of his life sacrificed for us. To receive otherwise is unworthy and brings us into condemnation.
            But I do want to put our differences in perspective. I have just watched an EWTN programme on YouTube about the Catholic Church in Mongolia and it was very moving to learn how missionaries from Tanzania, Indonesia and elsewhere had moved there to bring the love of Christ in that most remote place.

          • @ James

            HJ would say that falls short of what Paul is teaching, but, in truth, sadly, that’s probably more than many current Catholics believe – at least those polled in America.

            Yes, one forgets in the ‘heated’ climate of Western Christianity with all its controversies that there are many humble folk across the world serving others through the love of Christ.

          • I always found the Catholic view odd. When Jesus held the last supper and said ‘This is my body, this is my blood, do this in remembrance of me’ etc, the bread and wine at that meal were clearly NOT his body and blood because He was sitting right next to them. So during the last supper they would have understood it metaphorically and logically later when they did as He had instructed – remember my death for you when you meet and share bread and wine. It is after all belief in His death and resurrection that leads to eternal life, just as He said as recorded in John 6.


      • A friend told me that, in the 1970’s, the Rev. Dr. Henry Hart in Queens’ College chapel had 1 Cor 13 to read as a lesson, and said:

        “I may speak in the tongues of men and of angels – and the tongue of angels is of course Hebrew – …

  7. I have often noticed how frequently people start interpreting what is plainly a metaphor as if it has a life of its own in terms of conveying other or more subtle truths than the plainly intended one. I suppose it’s a case of over thinking something, or maybe even of wanting to gain brownie points for one’s innovative intellectual subtlety. It could of course even involve the less than worthy pushing of a particular agenda. Give me clarity of understanding from simple but obvious truth over dodgy linguistic gymnastics any day!

    Certainly a great deal of unnecessary controversy and confusion has been hung on the plainly obvious ‘this is my body’ metaphor. Many of us Christians have very limited knowledge of Greek but we can all understand the Passover context in which Jesus spoke these words and note that his literal body was present right there in front of the disciples, and rather obviously distinguishable from the bread he was breaking.

    • Indeed Don.
      It cannot be properly and plainly understood without understanding the context of the Hebrew Passover. There is both a continuity and discontinuity.
      Jesus is the the Pasover Lamb of God. Not literally.
      It is also interesting that lamb was not mentioned in the gospels
      as being part being part of the Passover meal Jesus ate with his disciples.
      Feeding on Jesus is looking on, in rembrance on his sacrificial substitional shed blood + a sacrfice once for all- on the doorposts of our lives and bread of life for the journey. In him our eternal- life- salvation is complete. And we far too often forget.

    • @ Don

      >>Certainly a great deal of unnecessary controversy and confusion has been hung on the plainly obvious ‘this is my body’ metaphor.<<

      Well, it wasn't controversial for 1500 years! Then, during the Reformation, protestants broke with Rome but there were bitter disagreements amongst them, notably between Zwingli and Luther.

        • @ Ian

          You keep saying “later tradition”. Just what period are you referring to?

          So far as HJ is aware, all the early Church Fathers believed in the reality of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. Can you cite any evidence it was a “later tradition”? In fact, it seems there was greater theological clarity over this than the Incarnation and Trinity because it was so clear. So, really it’s the positions of the 16th century Reformation on Christ’s teachings that are novel.

          • I wouldnt always go by what the church fathers taught. They werent infallible and interpreted Scripture just as we do (though which writings they viewed as Scripture no doubt varied depending on which father you asked…)

  8. Thank you, I love this, and find your argument entirely persuasive. It gives further weight to my increasing dissatisfaction with the way ‘we’ understand priesthood.

        • @ James

          Happy Jack agrees with Ian on this. It’s why Anglican ‘ordinations’ were deemed to be “absolutely null and utterly void” by Pope Leo XIII in 1896. Instead of a sacrificing priesthood Cranmer reduced ordination to an ecclesiastical institution. This bothers some Anglicans more than others.

      • Thus reversing the change which happened, if my memory of my reading is correct, in about the 5th and 6th centuries when a presbyteral ministry became a sacerdotal ministry.

          • I haven’t checked this but I recall Chrysostom (late 4th century) wrote a piece ‘On the Priesthood’. Perhaps this sheds some light on the question.

        • The Eucharist was always regarded as a sacrificial remembrance – a making present and re-presentation of Jesus’ offering, His passion and death. Hence the need for a sacerdotal priesthood from the beginning.

          Protestant early Church historian J. N. D. Kelly writes that in the early Church:

          “[T]he Eucharist was regarded as the distinctively Christian sacrifice. . . . Malachi’s prediction (1:10–11) that the Lord would reject Jewish sacrifices and instead would have ‘a pure offering’ made to him by the Gentiles in every place was seized upon by Christians as a prophecy of the Eucharist. The Didache indeed actually applies the term thusia, or sacrifice, to the Eucharist.

          “It was natural for early Christians to think of the Eucharist as a sacrifice. The fulfillment of prophecy demanded a solemn Christian offering, and the rite itself was wrapped in the sacrificial atmosphere with which our Lord invested the Last Supper. The words of institution, ‘Do this’ (touto poieite), must have been charged with sacrificial overtones for second-century ears; Justin at any rate understood them to mean, ‘Offer this.’ . . . The bread and wine, moreover, are offered ‘for a memorial (eis anamnasin) of the passion,’ a phrase which in view of his identification of them with the Lord’s body and blood implies much more than an act of purely spiritual recollection.”
          (J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines [Full Reference], 196–7)

          Here what the Didache says:

          “Assemble on the Lord’s day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one. Anyone who has a difference with his fellow is not to take part with you until he has been reconciled, so as to avoid any profanation of your sacrifice [Matt. 5:23–24]. For this is the offering of which the Lord has said, ‘Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled, for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is the wonder of nations’. [Mal. 1:11, 14]”
          (Didache 14 [A.D. 70])

          • ‘The Eucharist was always regarded as a sacrificial remembrance – a making present and re-presentation of Jesus’ offering, His passion and death. Hence the need for a sacerdotal priesthood from the beginning.’

            Except it wasn’t in the beginning. In the New Testament, there are only two priesthoods: that of Christ, and that of all the people of God, a ‘holy priesthood’ (1 Peter 2.5, Rev 1.6 = Ex 19.6). That is why there are no ‘priests’ (or any hierarchy) in the NT, and there are no priests around the throne in Revelation.

            The Didache talks of offering the ‘eucharistia’; there is no reason to consider the offering to be anything other than the offering of our worship and gratitude, as per Ps 51.17.

            But if that is what the Didache means, it clearly contradicts the canonical scriptures. And for any Reformed church (like the C of E), what matters is the apostolic teaching in Scripture, because it is tied to the testimony about Jesus, our Great High Priest, who completes and therefore brings to an end the sacrificial system and its priesthood (see Hebrews!).

          • There is a bit of a give-away here: ‘The words of institution, ‘Do this’ (touto poieite), must have been charged with sacrificial overtones for second-century ears; Justin at any rate understood them to mean, ‘Offer this.’’

            Kelly points out precisely that Jesus did *not* say ‘offer this’! He is highlighting precisely that Justin’s is a misunderstanding!

          • You’re misreading J. N. D. Kelly. Later in the same book, he writes: “Eucharistic teaching, it should be understood at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e., the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Saviour’s body and blood.”
            (Early Christian Doctrines, 440)

            One would then have to conclude the early Church fell into error within a generation and it took 1500 years for Christians to correct this!

            The point Kelly is making is that Jewish ears would have understood the sacrificial meaning of Christ’s words at the Last Supper. Jesus said to his disciples, “Do this in memory of me.” In Greek, “Touto poieite eis tan eman anamnesin.” The phrase touto poieite can be translated as “do this” or as “offer this”. In the Old Testament, God commands the Israelites “you shall offer (poieseis) upon the altar two lambs” (Ex. 29:38). This use of poiein is translated as “offer this” or “sacrifice this” over seventy times in the Old Testament.

            Jesus also uses the word anamnesin. Every time this word appears in Scripture it is within a sacrificial context (see, for example, Numbers 10:10). It also can be translated as “memorial offering” or “memorial sacrifice”.

            One ex-Baptist, now Catholic, asks: “What if the very reason sincere and prayerful students of Scripture can “examine the data” for years, decades and centuries and not agree on the nature of the Eucharist is that the writings of the Apostles need to be read and understood in the light of that teaching preserved and handed down within the Church?”

            Before posing this question he writes:

            As a general principle, it seemed reasonable to me to think that the teaching of the Apostles would be reflected in the faith and practice of the early Church, more than reasonable to think that when one found unanimous consent among the early Church Fathers on a particular issue, what the early Church believed would be a very good indicator of what the Apostles had taught. This made sense to me.

            Given that we know all about the debates that took place in the early Church over issues both great and small (e.g. the correct day for celebrating Easter), it did not seem reasonable to me to imagine that when it came to the Eucharist, the very center of Christian worship, the Apostles would teach one thing and the Church turn around and immediately teach another and there be no record of a debate on the issue.

            This did not make sense.

            And yet, here I was staring at quotations spread over the first four centuries of Christian history, quotations from the most prominent bishops, apologists and theologians of the Church at that time. I’m looking at quotations from every corner of the Roman Empire: from Syria (Ignatius), from Rome (Justin Martyr), from the south of France (Irenaeus), from Egypt (Clement and Origin), from Carthage and Hippo in North Africa (Tertullian and Augustine), from Milan (Ambrose).

            Four centuries of witness from every corner of the Christian world supporting the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and no record of any dispute? Not even one priest or bishop rising up to say, “this is not what we received from the Apostles!”?

            His series of 5 short posts on this are well worth a read.

  9. Since the destruction of Second Temple, the words “Ha Lachma Anya” (This is the bread of affliction) are said during the Passover Seder.

    This suggests to me that these words, and perhaps the words “this is my body” and “this is my blood”, are delivered and understood like a play. They are true in the sense of association but not in a literal sense.

  10. Two small comments.
    One, in addition to Ian’s four questions to use to interpret a text I suggest that it’s also fruitful to ask something like, ‘In what kind of community would this text originally have made sense, been useful and been valued enough to preserve it?’ (Three questions in one actually.) That’s an act of imagination as well as linguistic and historical judgement that has an almost poetic aspect to it. Of course it mustn’t be allowed to spin off into total speculation but good historians do something like this all the time.
    Secondly, in the discussion of Jesus’ use of bread we may perhaps be confusing two things. One is belief in the real presence of Christ at Holy Communion/the Eucharist mediated or expressed through the consecrated elements on the one hand . And on the other belief in transubstantiation which is one particular way of trying to understand and explain his presence in the elements using Aristotelian categories of substance and accidents. It’s possible to hold to the first without holding to the second.

    • >>It’s possible to hold to the first (reality of Christ’s presence) without holding to the second (Aristotelian transubstantiation).<<

      Indeed. The understanding that the substance of bread and wine is changed into Christ’s body and blood was present in the Church’s faith before the term "transubstantiation" was coined. In fact, it’s why the term was coined. The Catholic Church teaches this change is "fittingly called transubstantiation," without endorsing any particular philosophical school of thought.

      From the 15th century the Eastern Church also used the term "transubstantiation" without the Aristotelian theory and used it as synonymous with the term “change” (conversion), in Greek “metabole.” The Eastern Church simply says that the bread and wine are changed into the Very Body and Blood of Christ by the descent of the Holy Spirit, through whom these things surpassing reason and understanding are achieved.

    • Isn’t the presence of Christ, at any time, not mediated through the Holy Spirit: certainly not through the elements? Neither does the Holy Spirit turn the bread and wine into Jesus.

        • HJ
          Q. Why are bread and wine turned into Jesus. Sure, Jesus is not dead. The cross is empty. The tomb is empty. There are no relics to be found and worshipped. He is alive and risen. But neither is he actually bread and wine.
          1. The Triune God of Christianity created ex nihilo.
          2 The will of God, the whole Counsel of God, can only be found in and determined from scripture from Genesis through Revelation.
          3 There is no whole Bible, scriptural warrant, in support of transubstantiation either in categories of Biblical theology or Systematic theology, which reveals God’s desire or will in support.
          4. It is contended that transubstantiation is accepted only by those schooled or indoctrinated in it in the Roman church. I was not, converted to Christ as a 47-year-old atheist lawyer.
          But, we are not going to agree on this.
          It is not a minor matter. It is a question of salvation and sanctification. My aunt, of Irish descent, who attended RC Eucharist every day, frequently twice a day, morning and evening, thought that was how to be a Christian, with the very command to be born again/from above, of conversion, being alien and incomprehensible and untaught. Her controlled faith was in the liturgy (not in Jesus) and in her final years in a care home when she couldn’t attend and no one visited her, abandoned, she was bereft of hope and faith, as was her adult daughter who had been raised in R Catholicism.
          Yours in Christ,

    • HJ is credited with far more intelligence and comprehension than HJ’s feigned obtuseness misrepresents.
      Unless HJ is seeking to disappear down the dead end rabbit hole of the omnipotence paradox which can not be discussed without looking at the nature of God and his will and desires and puposes in redemtive history, yhe whole Counsel of God as revealed in the whole of scripture from Genesis to Revelation., which I have addressed.
      This for me draws a line under our exchanges in this matter a one that has been been contentious down the centuries and clearly remains so. Ian Paul has been clear and comprehensive in rooting this in scripture.

  11. Rather than looking at subsequent thoughts on the bread and wine in post death of Christ etc.
    I would suggest that the feast that was being celebrated was Passover hence the understanding of the Lord’s Supper must be predicated on the Passover Meal/ Seder.
    See https://www.preceptaustin.org/exodus-12-commentary
    and see section headed “How do the elements of the Passover Seder point to Christ”?
    The Holy Scriptures [i.e.the Old Testament ] are able to make you wise unto Salvation.

    • Alan, It would be interesting to look at how Jesus becomes the fulfillment of all the metaphors associated with Him. He is real bread. Real truth, a rock to cling to.

  12. Ian you may have comment elsewhere, but sometimes I have taken communion from both Anglican and non-Anglican ministers with words ‘the body of Christ which was broken for you’. I understand there is not textual basis for this, but a variance of Jesus’ words ‘my body which is (given) for you?


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