Archive for the ‘Lord’s Supper’ Category

Objections to the Reformed Doctrine Regarding the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper

April 22, 2007
Objections
to the
Reformed Doctrine
regarding the
Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper

One Internet poster, who goes by the handle Timothy, responded to the Justin Martyr post thus:

Greetings! Found this while replying to your other post regarding the Catholic Church and Islam.>”This is a repetition of the same metaphor used in Scripture”Nope. If by metaphor you are referring to the Last Supper, there is no metaphor in Scripture. Some Christians have mistakingly interpreted some passages as metaphors, but that doesn’t make those passages metaphors.The error usually occurs from not reading the passages in light of the Old Testament, specifically Genesis and Isaiah. Short version:Throughout the 30 chapters of Genesis, we repeatedly see that when God speaks, things happen. “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Gen 1:1, KJV)We also find in Isaiah 55:11 that when God speaks that God’s voice does not come back empty:”So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11, KJV)So, when we read in the Gospels that Christ (God) sent forth His Word “This is my body” (Matthew 26:26), what happened? The Word of God, that created heaven and earth, came back void? The Word of God, that created all life on Earth, turned the bread that God was holding into nothing? God, who created the universe by voice alone, held a cup of wine and said “This is My blood” and nothing unique happened? Don’t think so.And that’s before tangling with the prophecy in Malachi 1:11 regarding gentiles offering a “pure offering”:”For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 1:11, KJV) Where among the Christian churches (Christians are gentiles, not Jews) does one find incense and a pure offering (Christ) being offered from the rising to the going down of the Sun (daily, worldwide)?No, when read in conjunction with all the other early Church fathers like Cyril, Justin Martyr’s words are consistent with meaning that the Eucharist is bread and wine that has been transformed into the flesh and blood of Christ. Now whether the terms “transmutation”, “transubstantiation” or “consubstantiation” best express that change is another arguement.By the way, I’d be curious as to how you interpet Justin’s words on baptism as “the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration.” Most folks who deny the Eucharist also deny that baptism does anything but get one wet.God bless…

There’s a lot of objections there.

I. Objection: “If by metaphor you are referring to the Last Supper, there is no metaphor in Scripture. “

Answer: There are numerous metaphors in Scripture, and there are numerous metaphors in Jesus’ teaching. The passover meal itself was a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice. And Christ’s own words include a figure of speech that even Roman Catholics acknowledge: by “cup” Christ meant the contents of the cup, not the cup itself.

Furthermore, Paul uses metaphorical language to describe the sacrament. Recall:

1 Corinthians 10:16 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?

There is simply no way to take those phrases literally. They are to be understood figuratively, as indicating that the Lord’s Supper is how we have fellowship with God and each other.

Paul continues the metaphor:

1 Corinthians 10:17 For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.

The church is a whole because we all partake of the same bread, we are one body because we spiritually united with Christ.

1 Corinthians 10:18 Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?

Notice how Paul compares eating the sacrifices with partaking of the altar (not of the sacrifice). The point is that when we eat the symbol of Christ’s sacrifice we are participating in His crucifixion (symbolically, like the Old Testament Israelites did by eating the sacrifices). Notice, as well, how Paul contrasts “after the flesh” Israel implicitly with “after the Spirit” Israel.

1 Corinthians 10:19 What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing?

Paul then turns to the pagan sacrifices that the Corinthians would be familiar with and questions whether they symbolize a reality.

1 Corithinians 10:20 But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.

Paul answers the question affirmatively that it does represent something, but what it represents is not God, but devils.

1 Corinthians 10:21 Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.

Note how Paul continues the comparison between the symbolic Christan feast and the pagan sacrifices. Paul is not teaching that the pagan offerings are devils under the accidents of meat, but that they are symbols of devils.

Thus, a few verses later, Paul declares:

1 Corinthians 10:25 Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake:

They will not be eating devils and communing with devils if they eat food that has been consecrated to devils. Nevertheless, Paul instructs:

1 Corithinians 10:28 But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof:

Why should they not do so? It’s not because they would then be aware that they were feasting on transubstantiated devils, it is because they would be giving the outward appearance that they were participating in devil worship.

The Lord’s Supper is a memorial and rembrance of the sacrifice of Christ. The bread and wine that we bless is the way that we participate and communicate our worship of Christ who gave his body and blood for us. It replaces the eating of the sacrifices in the Old Testament.

Exodus 12:8-11
8And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; his head with his legs, and with the purtenance thereof. 10And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remaineth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire. 11And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD’S passover.

And likewise:

Exodus 29:32-33
32And Aaron and his sons shall eat the flesh of the ram, and the bread that is in the basket, by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. 33And they shall eat those things wherewith the atonement was made, to consecrate and to sanctify them: but a stranger shall not eat thereof, because they are holy.

So then, we do not feed on Christ physically, but spiritually in the supper. The bread is not God, but the bread represents God. It is an icon (and the only authorized New Testament icon) of God.

2. The second objection is that the Reformed Doctrine denies the reality of a miracle

This objection, however, is based on several invalid premises:

First, Christ did not say: “Let this bread be,” but “this bread is.” It is false to analogize to the creation, because Christ does not use creative words. He does not command the bread to become His body, He simply identifies the bread with His body.

Second, Christ’s words did not return void, because they did not fail to establish this sacrament that memorializes Christ’s sacrifice. After all, the promise is that God’s word accomplishes the purpose God intended, not that it accomplishes whatever purpose a Roman Catholic finds convenient.

3. The third objection takes a carnal, Jewish view of the Malachi 1:11 prophecy. It asks where incense and a pure offering are offered today, and suggests that the place is in the Roman Catholic church, and not the Reformed churches.

Malachi 1:11 follows:

Malachi 1:11 For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the LORD of hosts.

We, Reformed, understand that this prophecy uses physical language to point to a spiritual reality. In this case, incense and a pure offering point to prayer of the faithful to God. We can learn this both from the Psalms:

Psalm 141:2 Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

And also from the association of prayer with incense in the New Testament:

Luke 1:10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.

And again:

Revelation 8:3-4

3And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. 4And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand.

And as for the fulfilment of the pure offering aspect, the same passage of Psalms speaks, as well as:

2 Timothy 2:22 Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

and again:

Romans 15:16 That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.

And similarly:

1 Peter 2:5 Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

Finally, of course, the prophecy has its fulfilment in Christ:

Ephesians 5:2 And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.

Christ crucified is the pure offering, and His prayers for His people are sweet smelling incense to God. It is by His blood that we are made clean, so that we and our prayers are made acceptable to God.

4) The final objections relate obliquely to the Justin Martyr post to which the comment originally replied. They simply assert that Justin Martyr believed in physical transformation – a claim that is not supported by the evidence, and then attempt to change the topic to Justin Martyr’s views of baptism.

However, if we are going to permit a Roman Catholic to argue that Justin Martyr believed that Baptism produces regeneration or remission of sins (rather than symbolizing those things), then we must ask the Roman Catholic to explain Justin Martyr’s apparently sola-credo-baptist position expressed in the same places.

And, of course, the answer on the topic of Baptism is that Justin Martyr, like most people, probably recognized that the washing of the body with physical water in Baptism was a symbol of the washing of the spirit by the Blood of Christ, thereby cleansing us from sins.

Like a newborn infant, we are born again covered in the Blood of Christ and made clean from our sins by the same blood.

-Turretinfan

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John 6 – Christ’s Spiritual Nourishment – to Lurker

April 17, 2007

An internet poster inappropriately handled “Lurker” provided a typical RCC view of John 6.
In the following I respond.
Lurker wrote:

I fail to see how one can take it as symbolic considering the reaction of his disciples in John 6.

I respond:
Jesus comment was that he was the fulfillment of the Old Testament manna:
John 6:31-33
31Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. 32Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.

That the manna was a symbol of Christ is beyond reasonable question.

The main initial objection by the Jews was: “you’re not from heaven, you’re from your father, Joseph, and your mother, Mary.”

John 6:41-42
41The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven. 42And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven?
Jesus’ response was to say that if they knew His Father, they would know Him.

But Jesus continued to repeat His claim to be the fulfillment of the manna:

John 6:47-51
47Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. 48I am that bread of life. 49Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. 50This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. 51I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

Jesus’ point is that he gives life through faith. The fathers ate manna and died, but if someone eats Jesus’ flesh and blood they will live and not die.

Now, very few Christians – if any – would be so vain in their imagination as to think that Jesus was saying that the life that he gives is physical life. Instead, it is spiritual life – eternal life. Jesus is the spiritual fulfillment of the physical Old Testament symbol.

If we take “life” spiritually we ought also to take the consumption of his body and blood spiritually. It is by faith in Him that we are nourished by Him.

But the disciples were again confused, and did not recognize the the spiritual sense of Jesus’ words.

So Jesus again compared his work to that of the physical manna:
John 6:52-58
52The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? 53Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. 54Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. 55For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. 57As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. 58This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.

Jesus even explains (in verse 57) that the way in which we “eat” him is the same way in which He lives by the Father. All who realize that His Father is not Joseph, should realize that Father does not have a body. The way that the Father nourishes Jesus is through spiritual union. Even so, we are nourished through spiritual union with (by faith in) Jesus Christ.

Those who are nourished by spiritual union with Christ will have spiritual and eternal life. They will still physically die. We should recognize that Christ is not speaking of literal, physical life.
Nevertheless, some of His disciples were offended by what Jesus said, for we read:

John 6:60-66
60Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? 61When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? 62What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? 63It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. 64But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. 65And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. 66From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.

Notice that Jesus addresses the main source of their offense first: his deity. Jesus asks them whether they will believe if they see Him ascend to the place from whence He descended. In other words, Jesus identifies that objection (the first one the Jews raised) as the primary objection and did not back down from it.

As for the issues regarding His flesh comments, Jesus also clarified, in verse 63, that He is comparing spiritual nourishment (the nourishment he provides) with fleshly nourishment (manna), and says that the fleshly profits nothing.

Indeed, Jesus points them back to the words that He speaks (the words we now have recorded in Scripture) and says that they are spirit and life.

Nevertheless, Jesus points out there were some of the disciples who did not believe His words – as noted above, they were offended by His claim of divinity. Jesus explains that the reason they do not all believe is because God the Father did not give all of them to Him. This failure to recant His claim turned away many disciples.

Lurker continued:

They were literally aghast at the implication.

I respond:
They were primarily aghast at the claim of divinity. They mocked with a literal interpretation his claim to provide his flesh and blood.

Lurker continued:

IN fact, many of them left him over the claims they’d have to eat His flesh and drink His blood.

I respond:
As noted above, they left because He claimed to be God and claimed they didn’t believe Him because they didn’t know His Father and His Father did not give them to Him. They were offended and left.

Lurker continued:

Note also how they disputed among themselves saying “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

I respond:
Notice how “the Jews” were the ones who made that inquiry, as distinguished from His disciples. Notice how verse 59 divides the account into the public comments of Jesus (before verse 59) and the private comments of Jesus (after verse 59).

Lurker continued:

But Our Lord, rather than explaining it as figurative, like He did when they didn’t understand some other teachings of His, instead re-emphasizes things! “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 you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him”

I respond:
Actually, as noted above, Jesus did emphasize the spirituality of His nourishment, both in his private discourse to the disciples and by comparing it the nourishment He receives from His Father.

Lurker continued:

If you look at this in aramaic, you’ll find the language here is quite carnal and forceful, as if He was deliberately emphasizing the literalness of His statements.

I respond:
A) Of course, John was written in Greek, not Aramaic. The Peshitta is a translation of the Greek original. That said, the idea that the language is “carnal and forceful” is contradicted by verse 63, which says that the words He speaks are spirit.

B) I have no doubt that this “carnal and forceful” is the spin placed on this text by some (probably contemporary) Roman Catholic (or possibly Eastern Orthodox) commentator. The reason for that view of the text is clear (without getting entangled in arguments over the “tone” of an ancient language): the author is seeking to support by tone what cannot be supported by exegesis.

Lurker continued:

He then warns them not to think with just their human minds, but to open it up to the Holy Spirit to give them understanding and help them believe when He says, “It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life”

I respond:
No, that is not a warning not to think with their human minds (or “just their human minds”). It is distinguishing a fleshly, literal interpretation of his description of his nourishment from a spiritual and correct interpretation of his nourishing provision for His people.

Lurker contineud:

The plain reading of the scripture seems to leave the burden of proof on those who insist it to be symbolic.

I respond:
Actually, the plain reading of the Scripture is that Christ was speaking of spiritual nourishment, not physical nourishment.Indeed, this is confirmed by Peter’s explanation as to WHY he and the other disciples (in general, Judas had other reasons) stayed:

John 6:68-69
68Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. 69And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.

Peter confessed that they believed the words of Christ and His claim to deity.

Lurker continued:

The reaction of the crowd, Jesus re-emphasizing the literalness instead of explaining it as otherwise, His warnings that it cannot be understood without the Spirit, and the fact that many disciples left after this seem to be quite clear that He said something that made no sense to them. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

I respond:
No, it is not just that it cannot be understood without the spirit: it is that the nourishment that Christ gives is better than manna for it is spiritual nourishment, not fleshly nourishment. It gives spiritual life that never dies – whereas manna gave only mortal life for a season.

Lurker continued:

How? Because He is Lord. If Jesus wanted to, He can make stones into bread. How can I doubt Him when He says that the bread IS His body?

I respond:
And – of course – the response is that we are not to doubt Him, but rather to understand Him. We are not to impose a foolish physical interpretation on His words, like that unbelieving Jews, but to understand that the Lord’s Supper, like manna, is a physical symbol of Christ.It is the one proper icon of Christ.

May our Manna be praised!

-Turretinfan

Justin Martyr Discussing the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper

March 18, 2007
Justin Martyr
Discussing the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper
From Justin’s First Apology

An Internet poster with the handle Agomemnon quoted Justin Martyr thus:

“We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [i.e., has received baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus” (First Apology 66 [A.D. 151]).

Justin Martyr has been quoted to attempt to support the Roman Catholic doctrines of transubstantiation and the “real absence” of the bread and contents of the cup.

In this case, the translation itself – while it may not be optimal – is not the issue. Schaff similarly translates Chapter 66 of the First Apology:

And this food is called among us ******* (Greek font is not working) [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. 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 ye 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. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.

The bull whose horns need to be grabbed here is the comparison: “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.”

The Roman Catholics read this comparison as suggesting the doctrine of transubstantiation.

However, let’s look at the comparison:

“in like manner as Jesus … had flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise … the food which is blessed … is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”

This is a repetition of the same metaphor used in Scripture – it is not a transsubstantial explanation.

But some Roman Catholics may insist that we make the comparison not between the flesh and blood of Christ being compared with elements but rather:

“in like manner as Jesus … having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood … so likewise … the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word … is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”

This is not the comparison that is being made. We can deduce this several ways. One way we can deduce it is from considering that if this is the intended comparison then (primarily) the first verb should be parallel in its conjugation to the second verb and (secondarily) the prepositional phrase should have the same or a similar object. In other words, the sentence would be worded:

“just as Jesus was made flesh by the Word of God, even so the food is made flesh by the word of God in the blessing.”

If Justin was trying to say that with what he said, he chose an exceptionally clumsy way to do so.

One way we can deduce that Justin was not clumisly trying to describe a Roman Catholic concept can be seen from the immediate context and the extended context.

In the immediate context, Justin begins by saying that the “food” is called “Eucharistia” [the Eucharist] and that consumption of the food is restricted to those who have professed faith and been baptized, because the food is not treated as “common food” but as the flesh and blood of Christ.

Justin’s point is to distinguish this food from ordinary food, much like the shewbread was distinguishable from ordinary bread. Justin claims that this distinction is based on the teachings of the Apostles: the written teachings recorded in the gospels.

For the extended context, we should also read the 65th Chapter of Justin Martyr’s Apology (“Administration of the sacraments”):

But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, ring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren 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 ******* (Hebrew font is not working) [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.

Notice how even after the presiding brother has consecrated the bread and water/wine, what the deacons bring to the people is still called “bread and wine mixed with water.”

A few less sophisticated Roman Catholic apologists will sieze on the phrase: “from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished.” But this phrase, in context, proves exactly the opposite of what they wish to claim. For Justin is speaking of the digestive process whereby the bread and wine nourish us as food nourishes us. But the nourishment that the body and blood of Christ provide is not physical nourishment, but spiritual nourishment. Thus, Justin explains that the practice was to restrict this symbol to those who are – to outward appearances – already feeding by faith on Christ: i.e. those who believed and were baptized.

The bottom line is that Justin Martyr describes the consecration of the bread and drink to serve and be regarded as the body and blood of Christ: not to have a change of substance into the physical body and blood of Christ. Likewise PVI’s doctrine of “real absence” is entirely absent from Justin’s knowledge.

Praise and Glory be to Him Who has sat down at the right hand of the Father!

-Turretinfan

Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans

March 10, 2007

The same Internet poster, Agomemnon, cited a second passage that is sometimes attributed Ignatius, from a “Letter to the Smyrnaeans.”

Agomemnon quoted Ignatius as saying:
“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 Savior 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]).”

Another Internet poster brought this alternative version that is also floating out there in cyberspace:
“In about 106, Saint Ignatius of Antioch criticized those who ‘abstain from the Eucharist and the public prayer, because they will not admit that the Eucharist is the self-same Body of our Savior Jesus Christ, which [flesh] suffered for our sins, and which the Father in His goodness raised up again’ (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 6, 7).”

Quotations Inaccurate:

Like Agomemnon’s quotation from Ignatius, this quotation is not a particularly accurate quotation for two reasons that will be discussed below. Furthermore, there is some difficulty here, because there is a difference between the longer and shorter forms of the letter. In other words, there is some textual critical questions about whether the shorter or longer version is original.

The first of the two reasons that the quotation is inaccurate is that it combines the thoughts in chapter 6 with those of chapter 7. Furthermore, the translations of the respective portions of chapter 6 and 7 are not particularly accurate.

Suffice that the shorter version of the quoted portion of chapter 6 is translated by Schaff as:

“But consider those who are of a different opinion with respect to the grace of Christ which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. They have no regard for love; no care for the widow, or the orphan, or the oppressed; of the bond, or of the free; of the hungry, or of the thirsty.”

And the longer version of the quoted portion of chapter 6 is translated by Schaff as:

“Do ye, therefore, notice those who preach other doctrines, how they affirm that the Father of Christ cannot be known, and how they exhibit enmity and deceit in their dealings with one another. They have no regard for love; they despise the good things we expect hereafter; they regard present things as if they were durable; they ridicule him that is in affliction; they laugh at him that is in bonds.”

Similarly, the shorter version of chapter 7 is translated by Schaff as:

“They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again. It is fitting, therefore, that ye should keep aloof from such persons, and not to speak of them either in private or in public, but to give heed to the prophets, and above all, to the Gospel, in which the passion [of Christ] has been revealed to us, and the resurrection has been fully proved. But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils.”

And the longer version of chapter 7 is translated by Schaff as:

“They are ashamed of the cross; they mock at the passion; they make a jest of the resurrection. They are the offspring of that spirit who is the author of all evil, who led Adam, by means of his wife, to transgress the commandment, who slew Abel by the hands of Cain, who fought against Job, who was the accuser of Joshua the son of Josedech, who sought to “sift the faith” of the apostles, who stirred up the multitude of the Jews against the Lord, who also now “worketh in the children of disobedience; from whom the Lord Jesus Christ will deliver us, who prayed that the faith of the apostles might not fail, not because He was not able of Himself to preserve it, but because He rejoiced in the pre-eminence of the Father. It is fitting, therefore, that ye should keep aloof from such persons, and neither in private nor in public to talk with them; but to give heed to the law, and the prophets, and to those who have preached to you the word of salvation. But flee from all abominable heresies, and those that cause schisms, as the beginning of evils.”

Critical Portion of Quotation In Doubt:

The reason for quoting the entirety of chapter 7 (both versions) is to show that I am not simply quoting the wrong portion of the long version. Why would I worry that someone might think that? Because the long version makes no mention of the Eucharist.

Thus, while many scholars view the shorter reading of the letters (in general) as the better reading (because the longer version tends to exhibit interpolation in many places), there is a serious textual critical question about whether Ignatius’ Letter to the church at Smyrna even mentions the Eucharist in chapter 7.

Accordingly, one response is simply to say that we cannot even be confident that Ignatius wrote what is here attributed to him. However, let’s see whether the shorter version teaches the RCC claims of transubstantiation or the “real absence” of the bread and wine.

Context of Quotation – Debate over Christ’s Incarnation:

For context and ease of reference, here are the entire combined 5th-7th chapters in the shorter reading:

“5. Some ignorantly deny Him, or rather have been denied by Him, being the advocates of death rather than of the truth. These persons neither have the prophets persuaded, nor the law of Moses, nor the Gospel even to this day, nor the sufferings we have individually endured. For they think also the same thing regarding us. For what does any one profit me, if he commends me, but blasphemes my Lord, not confessing that He was [truly] possessed of a body? But he who does not acknowledge this, has in fact altogether denied Him, being enveloped in death. I have not, however, thought good to write the names of such persons, inasmuch as they are unbelievers. Yea, far be it from me to make any mention of them, until they repent and return to [a true belief in] Christ’s passion, which is our resurrection. 6. Let no man deceive himself. Both the things which are in heaven, and the glorious angels, and rulers, both visible and invisible, if they believe not in the blood of Christ, shall, in consequence, incur condemnation. “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” Let not [high] place puff any one up: for that which is worth all is faith and love, to which nothing is to be preferred. But consider those who are of a different opinion with respect to the grace of Christ which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. They have no regard for love; no care for the widow, or the orphan, or the oppressed; of the bond, or of the free; of the hungry, or of the thirsty. 7. They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again. It is fitting, therefore, that ye should keep aloof from such persons, and not to speak of them either in private or in public, but to give heed to the prophets, and above all, to the Gospel, in which the passion [of Christ] has been revealed to us, and the resurrection has been fully proved. But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils.”

The Gist of Ignatius’ Complaint:

The gist of Ignatius’ complaint is that these heretics denied Christ’s incarnation. He establishes that this makes them heretics and provides evidence of support for his charge against them of unbelief and heresy.

The Detail of Ignatius’ Argument:

Ignatius begins by saying that there are people who ignorantly deny Christ. He states that these people are not persuaded by Scripture (Moses, the prophets, and the Gospel) or by persecution of Christians to believe the truth. He states that deny that Christ has a body is to blaspheme the Lord. Indeed, Ignatius refuses to mention these people by name because they are unbelievers. He says that he will continue not to mention their names until they will repent and return to a belief in the Incarnation, which provides our hope of resurrection.

Ignatius repeats the Apostle Paul’s warning to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 3:18, “Let no man deceive himself.” Then he restates the Apostle John’s warning to in 1 John 3:18, “… he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Then he added a variation on the letter to the Angel of Smyrna in the Apocalypse, Revelation 2:17 “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches ….” And continued by mentioning the pre-eminence seeking that is apparently referenced in Revelation 2:15 (“the doctrine of the Nicolaitans”) or possibly a reference to I Corinthians 13:4 “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.”

But, in any event, Ignatius teaches the primacy of faith and love, as Paul puts it: 1 Timothy 1:14 And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.

Then Ignatius sets forth several evidences of these folks’ non-Christianity:
1) They despise the grace of God.
2) They are opposed to the will of God.
3) They are not interested in love, or its expression toward the needy.
4) They do not participate in the Eucharist or prayer. And this, Ignatius claims, is because they do not confess the Eucharist to be the flesh of Christ, which suffered for our sins and was raised by the Father.

Ignatius notes ironically that these very blasphemers die while making these anti-Incarnation arguments, and it would be better for them to believe in the Incarnation and be resurrected with Christ.

With that description and warning, Ignatius calls on the people of Smyrna to stay away from such teachers but instead to cling to Scripture (prophets and especially the Gospel) which teaches us of both the Incarnation and Resurrection. Finally he mentions that they should avoid divisions, which starts into the next topic he discusses.

Examination of the Statement in question in light of the context:

Considering the statement: “They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.” in light of the context of Ignatius’ argument, we can see that Ignatius is providing evidence of their departure from the truth of Scripture and its link to their practices. They do not pray or partake of the Eucharist. Why? Because they do not believe Christ was made flesh, died, and was resurrected!

There is nothing here about the bread and wine being really absent, or about the elements physically transforming into the substance of flesh and blood. Indeed, that view would make little sense in context.

Suppose that Ignatius was trying to say that the heretics denied that the Eucharist was the flesh and blood of Christ (a mistaken notion that some Catholic apologists attempt to establish). If that were the case, why would the heretics refuse to eat the Eucharist? Why would they not do as all Christians do and eat the Eucharist as a reminder of Christ’s death? The answer should be obvious: they refused to eat because they did not believe Christ was body, and therefore that Christ either died or was resurrected. Thus, any memorial to the death of Christ was alien to them. That is the contextual, reasonable, explanation for their refusal to partake of the Eucharist.

Conclusion:

Thus, we can see that Ignatius Letter to the Smyrnaeans, if it even mentions the Eucharist (which is in doubt), discusses heretics who deny the Incarnation, not with transubstantiation or the “real absence” of the bread and wine. Furthermore, we observe Ignatius relying on Scripture both as the grounds of his argument and some of the words of his argument, but also the authority for the Christians to whom he is writing. Scripture, according to Ignatius, proves the Resurrection, so don’t believe the heretics who fail to observe Scripture’s teachings.

Praise be to our Incarnate Christ!

-Turretinfan


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