I am interested in the Eucharist. Specifically, I want to know is the bread and wine just a symbol of the body and blood of Jesus Christ or as the Catholic and Orthodox churches teach, are they actually the body and blood of Jesus Christ? I would appreciate a detailed response to this question.
What is written in the Bible?
In order to have a good overview of this topic, I would like to present the references to the Eucharist in the New Testament. All of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) shed light on the subject of the Eucharist by sharing the Words f Jesus Christ when He instituted it. Here are the passages:
26 While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat ; this is My body.” 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. 29 “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26)
22 While they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is My body.” 23 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 And He said to them, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 “Truly I say to you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mark 14)
14 When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. 15 And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer ; 16 for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves ; 18 for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. 21 “But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table. 22 “For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined ; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed !” 23 And they began to discuss among themselves which one of them it might be who was going to do this thing. (Luke 22)
John the evangelist, in his Gospel, tells us of another time, in a different context, when Jesus spoke of His body being food and His blood being drink and whoever does not drink of His blood and eat of His flesh cannot have eternal life. Here is the passage:
48 “I am the bread of life. 49 “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 “This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven ; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever ; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” 52 Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat ?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 “For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. 56 “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. 58 “This is the bread which came down out of heaven ; not as the fathers ate and died ; he who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. 60 Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement ; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble ? 62 “What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before ? 63 “It is the Spirit who gives life ; the flesh profits nothing ; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. (John 6)
Another text that speaks of the Lord’s Supper is St. Paul’s first epistle to the church of Corinth and it reads as follows:
23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread ; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood ; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. 27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. 33 So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come. (I Corinthians 11)
Differing opinions among different denominations
An Orthodox priest named Serafim Joanta has written that it is his opinion that, “the Holy Eucharist brings Jesus into our souls and our bodies. Jesus is not only with us in a spiritual sense, unseen, but since we are also flesh and blood, Jesus is also with us in a material sense in the form of the bread and the wine” In another Orthodox catechism, the following is written about the Lord’s Supper, “The gifts that we bring that transform into the body and blood of Jesus Christ during the Holy Liturgy, are pure wheat and pure wine. The act must be performed by a priest or an overseer, as he raises his hands, head, and heart to the Lord and prays fervently”. As we have seen, Orthodox theology states that during the Holy Liturgy the bread and wine transform into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. This is also believed by Catholics as well as some protestant denominations.
Looking at the Biblical text above, we notice that each passage tells us that the bread is His body and that what is in the cup is His blood. At the same time, there is no indication that the bread or the wine transform into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In the Biblical passages, the word “transform” is never used. Also, immediately after Jesus speaks of the contents of the cup being His blood as He institutes the Lord’s Supper, He makes reference to the cup again and its content as being “the fruit of the vine” (not blood) when He says He will not drink of it again until that day when He drinks it new in the kingdom of God with His disciples. The contents of the cup did not transform into blood. It remained what it was all along, the fruit of the vine.
In Luke’s Gospel and Paul’s epistle to the church of Corinth, Jesus’ explanation of the purpose of the Lord’s Supper is given. Specifically, He states, “Do this in remembrance of Me”. That is why Paul explains that some people can take the Lord’s supper without judging the body rightly, that is, they do not know and understand the true meaning of the Lord’s Supper, the body and the blood. It is true that there are many Christians who take the Lord’s Supper but do not actually realize the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ nor do they benefit it because they have not repented and are not born again. They believe falsely about the Lord’s Supper, what the Lord’s Supper is not and to be more precise, that the Lord’s Supper cleanses you from your sins (by believing this they take the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner, adding more sin and judgment to their lives). Or, they believe that the Lord’s Supper has healing qualities or brings about salvation, or who knows what all some people believe about the Eucharist. People need to understand that the Lord’s Supper is a form of judgment, or self-examination.
The importance of understanding figures of speech
God uses many different figures of speech in the Bible and these must be closely examined in order to be understood correctly. One of the most used figures of speech by Jesus Christ is the metaphor. A metaphor is a comparison when the terms of comparison are not used, such words as, “like or as”. Here are a few of them used by Jesus Christ:
- I am the Light of the world (John 8:12) – it is clearly seen that Jesus means that He is like the light of the world
- I am the door of the sheep (John 10:7) – it is clear that Jesus compares Himself to the door of a stable where the sheep are kept
- I am the Good Shepherd (John 10:11) – Jesus does not use this metaphor literally to exclaim that He herds literal sheep. Instead, it is a literal comparison to explain a spiritual truth.
We must keep in mind the use of metaphors when we see Jesus comparing His body to bread and His blood to wine.
What does the Lord’s Supper mean to you? What do you believe about the bread and wine used during the Lord’s Supper?
Translation by: Erik Brewer