Thursday, April 12, 2018

8.7 Communion (Biblical Theology)

8. The Theology of the Church (so far)
8.4-5 Apostolic, Eschatological Community
8.6 Baptism

8.7 Communion
8.7.1 Rule of Faith
  • Remembrance of Jesus death and Last Supper
  • Anticipation that we will eat with him again in the kingdom
  • A moment for self-examination, repentance, faith
  • A moment for individual transformation (means of grace, sacrament)
  • A moment of corporate unity, identity, fellowship
8.7.2 The Last Supper
  • A Passover meal, remembering the exodus and salvation from Egypt
  • Jesus anticipated his own death.
  • The tradition remembers the meal as the anticipation of a new covenant inaugurated with Jesus' blood.
  • A final meal anticipating the coming kingdom
8.7.3 New Testament Significance
  • 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 - earliest attestation of the Last Supper by Paul, within 25 years of the event. Very likely to refer to a historical event (as if you doubted)
  • It was a meal (cf. Jude 12 and the agape meal).
  • The problem of Corinth probably relates to the way meals functioned in the ancient world. Eating indicated approval/identification with the people you dined with (cf. Jesus and tax collectors). Cf. also 1 Cor. 5. Cf. also Pliny the Younger's famous letter.
  • So some were getting drunk and others going hungry. This is the problem at Corinth and what not discerning the body was about. It was about the equality of everyone in the body of Christ.
  • So examination here has to do with our relationships with others in the church.
  • 1 Corinthians 10:16-17. "Though we are many, we are one body, because we all partake of the one bread." Unity can be found in a common loaf. However, unity can also be symbolized if the congregation partakes of the tiny cup and wafer at the same time.
  • John 6:53-56 is a favorite transubstantiation passage, but that is probably an over-read. The vivid language probably is meant to counter Gnosticism rather than imply literality.
  • Likely a metaphor: "This is my body." "My fist is a hammer."
  • Hebrews 13:10 could be an allusion to communion, although I've never fallen off the log that way.
8.7.4 Points of Debate
  • The Reformation argued over 1) transubstantiation (Roman Catholic), 2) consubstantiation (Luther), 3) spiritual presence (Calvin), or 4) memorial (Zwingli).
  • Transubstantiation in its final form would seem to be linked to an Aristotelian/Thomistic metaphysic, which certainly is not a biblical paradigm applied to communion and quite foreign to a scientific worldview. Aristotle considered objects to be form (what appears) and substance (the underlying but imperceptible material). So Thomas held that the imperceptible substance of the bread and wine literally became the body and blood of Christ. This would not be observable.
  • The idea of the "adoration of the host," given that the bread and wine becomes Christ's body and blood, would seem rather difficult for Protestants to swallow.
  • Luther's consubstantiation would seem to be the translation of transubstantiation into Luther's nominalist paradigm. There is a real presence of the body and blood of Christ "with" the bread and wine, but the bread and wine remain present as well.
  • Zwingli would have none of this. For him it was simply a memorial of the Last Supper. He thus did not have a sacramental view of communion. For him it was not truly a means of grace. This disagreement with Luther resulted in the failure of the Marburg Colloquy of 1529 and any opportunity for the Protestant Reformation to have a single new church was ended.
  • Calvin's perspective would seem to be a kind of via media. Christ is spiritually present with the bread and wine. The bread and wine are a true means of grace, a sacrament of spiritual nourishing and sustenance.
Previous "chapters"
Chapter 1: What is Biblical Theology?
Chapter 2: Theology of God
Chapter 3: Creation and Consummation
Chapter 4: Sin and Atonement
Interlude: A Theology of Israel
Chapter 5: Jesus the Christ
Chapter 6: Salvation
Chapter 7: The Holy Spirit

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