This is My Body (Pt. 3)

Back in late January I started a series of blog articles addressing the Lord’s Supper, specifically the Lutheran view of the “real presence”. The first two installments can be found here and here. In the first two articles I dealt mainly with the biggest hole I see in the positive argument from the Lutheran side for their eucharistic theology. I argued that in point of fact, the Lutheran view is not anywhere near as literal as the Lutheran polemic insists it is, and insists everyone else’s ought to be. You can read for yourself and decide if I made the case. In this article I want to discuss specifically the words of institution as recorded in the synoptic gospels, and how they should be understood. I will focus my attention on Luke because the material is largely identical in the other two gospels and it wont be necessary to analyze all three passages.

Before I get into the real substance of my article though, I want to address a point made by Nathan, who is a contributor to this blog, and is a Lutheran. In a comment thread on one of my articles he asked a question of me and another interlocutor. He asked “what would Jesus have said if he had meant his words to be taken literally?”.

At first blush, that rhetorical question appears to make a strong point; but I wish to head the argument off at the pass. I will do this by asking two rhetorical questions of my own. First let me acknowledge that if Jesus had meant to convey that the bread was literally his body, then he would definitely have said exactly what he said. He would have said “this is my body”. My first question though is this: What would Jesus have said in that situation if he were speaking metaphorically? Would “this is my body” not work equally as well as a metaphor? Such is the nature of a metaphor. It reads as a literal statement of fact, the context determining the reader’s understanding. Take the phrase “Teddy Roosevelt was a mountain”. What would I say if I wanted to convey the idea that Teddy Roosevelt was literally a naturally occurring pile of rock that stood over 2,000 feet tall? What if I wanted to convey the idea that Teddy Roosevelt was a really, really large human being? Would the phrase “Teddy Roosevelt was a mountain” not work just as well as a metaphor as it would a statement of literal fact as far as the grammar is concerned? Indeed it would.

The second question is this: What statement could we not do that with? Is it not in fact rather silly to argue that a statement is not a metaphor simply because a state of being verb is present? To repeat my argument from above, doesn’t a metaphor require a state of being verb? That line of questioning from the Lutheran is a non starter, and is in fact rather circular. But I digress…

Luke 22:16-23 says For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had 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.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.”

The sacramental literalist is quick to point to Christ’s words of institution as sufficient evidence of his position. But I would like to offer some counter points drawn from the very same words. After all, our Lord said a lot more than the words “this is my body” at the last supper.

Christ said “this is my body which is given for you”. Was he being literal? Seems to me it would be good to establish some facts about the giving of Christ’s body before we try to answer that. So there are some questions that need to be asked. 1. What was the nature of this giving? 2. To whom was the body of Christ given? 3. Do the words of institution contain any information about the giving as it relates to those who were not the receivers of the giving?

1. Christ’s giving up of his body was a propitiatory sacrifice (1 Jon 2:2). A propitiation is a sacrifice which removes the wrath of an offended party.

2. The giving of Christ’s body was a giving toward God The Father, in sacrifice. Christ’s body was given to God. “It pleased Yahweh to crush him“.

3. The words of institution make it clear that the giving of Christ’s body was for mankind. “Given for you”. I note that Christ did not say “This is my body, given to you”. Why not? I submit that it is because the disciples, and we, do not need Christ’s body in us. We need what his given body provided for us.

I don’t want to pick at grammatical nits here; but given the amount of attention our sacramental friends give to the presence of the little word “is” am I not justified in giving equal attention to the absence of the word “to” and the instead presence of the word “for”? This is important. Conjunctions define the relationships of words to each other. “To” and “for” are different relationships. I hasten to point out, in case anyone is tempted to bring it up, that unlike the word “is” in this passage, there is no way to understand these conjunctions in a metaphorical way and have them make any sense at all.

The words of institution do not in any way demand a woodenly literal understanding of the phrases “this is my body” and “this is my blood”. To insist on such a thing is to fail to take into account the very nature of Christ’s sacrifice, the internal logic of the atonement, if you will. At no point in scripture are we told that there is some kind of soteriological value in eating Jesus. In fact, in John 6, the only place in scripture where people are told explicitly that they must eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood in order to be saved, the eating and drinking are clearly defined in context as being a spiritual metaphor for faith in Christ. No, the atonement involved Jesus giving himself to the father for us. Our reception of it involves trusting in him and him alone as the only one who can, and has satisfied the Father.

One last point needs to be addressed. Often Baptists are chided for believing that Christ’s Supper is a memorial meal and not a consuming of Christ’s *real* body and blood. However it often goes overlooked that the only reason Jesus actually gives the disciples for the church’s observing the ritual in perpetuity is “in remembrance of me”. He never says “do this for the forgiveness of sins” or “do this” for any reason other than “in remembrance of me”. Why do you suppose that is? Could it be that the supper is primarily a “perpetual remembrance, and shewing forth the sacrifice of himself in his death” as the London Baptist Confession states?

To conclude, the words of institution do not demand a literal understanding as is so often claimed. This is seen to be so in light of the facts concerning the nature of metaphors, the internal logic of the atonement, the grammar of the entire account of Christ’s words at the supper, and Christ’s own stated purpose for the observing of the ceremony. Surely, given all of this, the case is in reality such that a symbolic understanding of Christ’s words is the only really tenable understanding of the words; and the sacramentally literal understanding of Lutherans and others is in fact the one foreign to the text itself.

Published by Andrew

God is good. I am not. Jesus saved me.

14 replies on “This is My Body (Pt. 3)”

  1. Andrew,

    Just getting a chance to read this quickly. Hopefully, I will be able to give you a good response soon (Monday?)



  2. Andrew,

    Hello, good sir. First of all, I want to make a brief point to all reading this. I think that this blog is about what the Reformed and the Lutherans take to be central and most important about the Reformation – vis a vis Rome. I am glad to be a participant here as I think it is a worthy endeavor to make these critical matters very clear. That said, it seems to me that this post has a decidedly different goal in mind – that is, it seems to me, to convince Lutherans that holding on to their view of the sacraments is not really essential to the Reformation (something I must disagree with, for Luther and the Lutherans, we must admit, did find themselves in the middle of both the Reformed and the Roman Catholics, pointing out what they were convinced were problems with each), and is actually counter to the purposes of the Reformation (from your conclusion in this post).

    So, this question naturally arises, and it probably comes to the surface for me more quickly now that I am contributing to this blog!: is this blog really the best venue for this question? Don’t get me wrong – I think it is great that you want to talk about the issue. That said, I wondered about posting my reply as a separate post – and I am confident that you and I can have a civil debate that will itself not bring shame to Christ… I am not sure if that is what most persons doing this blog here want, that is, a robust debate on these matters of the Lord’s Supper. After all, not much has changed in this debate for 500 years – except for perhaps the tone….

    In any case, my reply is here.

    In part III of your series “This is My Body” you say the following:

    “…[Nathan] asked “what would Jesus have said if he had meant his words to be taken literally?”.

    … let me acknowledge that if Jesus had meant to convey that the bread was literally his body, then he would definitely have said exactly what he said. He would have said “this is my body”…

    Please stop there. Maybe take a break and think about this for a good long while (now I realize that you cannot accept my statement that the burden of proof is on you here – even as, it seems to me, you have cut Christ off at the pass in His efforts to clearly communicate to you what He desires. For after admitting that if He did want to assert the real presence of His body and blood in the bread and wine He would use such words, you immediately begin talking about metaphorical language) – perhaps after reading this post that I just put up on my blog, and wish everyone who reads this blog has the chance to read: Yes, yes, I know you go on to say much more than those words above… it is most certainly true that I have selectively quoted you here in a very drastic way, and fear not, for I do mean to come back to the other words you speak… the full context of the remarks above! Still, please do pause. Here I point out that I, like those who authored the Apology to the BOC, can at the very least say “For it is up to [the Reformed] to prove that… the words of institution cannot, should not, and may not be understood in any other way than metonymically or figuratively.”

    That said, we can also say much more than this.

    First, let me clearly yet briefly lay out our argument for why we truly represent Christ’s teaching and then I will address your arguments…



  3. The Christian believer is connected to Christ in the deepest of ways. This is a great mystery. That said, “to you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God” (Matthew 13).

    Baptized into Christ, we are hid within Him. In like fashion, He is hid in us. That is, the fully glorified God man – hinted at in the transfiguration – inhabits us in our very bodies despite our un-glorious and simple appearance. In like fashion, He desires to be found in humble, simple, and weak things… not only human beings but also water, bread, and wine – and in the most intimate of ways! Here, the finite truly is capable of the infinite, as the God-man literally reaches and truly inhabits His people in many and various ways for their forgiveness, life and salvation.

    From the beginning the Reformed separated themselves not only from the Lutherans, but from the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church on the issues of the sacraments, and that is the most tragic of issues. Really and truly, all of orthodox antiquity stands with us. The other day I noticed the quote from Bruce McCormack in the upper right of the blog. Perhaps I am wrong to say this, but I can see that quote “hitting” us as well, since we really do believe that it is given to the called and ordained servants of the Lord to administer God’s grace in its various fashions – not only in Word but the Sacraments – in their important particularities – as well.

    As “stewards of the mysteries of God”, we too call the sacraments “signs” but – like the early church – mean something much different from Zwingli and Calvin by this, for the early church understood the words far differently than they who were unhappy pioneers. Focusing on the Lord’s Supper, when the fathers called it a “symbol and sign of grace”, they meant that external elements – the earthly elements – are symbols and signs of the heavenly things – the body and blood of Christ, which are invisibly and yet truly and essentially present (see Irenaeus bk 4, ch. 34). Likewise Augustine: “The external signs of the divine things are visible, but invisible things are honored in them.” (Instructing the Uninstructed (in the same way he speaks in his Against Adimantus, ch. 12: “The bread is a sign of the body of Christ in the same way the blood is a sign of the souls, Deut. 12, because the soul of the flesh is in the blood, Lev. 17.” Now, however, the blood is not a sign of the absent, but of the present soul).

    As the Apology of the Formula of Concord (AFOC) notes, there are two kinds of signs. Some are signifying in that they are merely indicative of future, past, or also absent things. That said, others are presenting, as the dove in John 1 is a sign not of the absent but rather of the truly present Holy Spirit. The signs we speak of our of the second type.

    Again, the Lord Christ with his body is not “as far from the bread or external sign of the Supper as heaven is from earth” as Reformed men of the past have said, for heaven has more than merely touched earth in Christ. Christ brings heaven with Him in Himself and gives Himself to us. Ambrose, in On Those Who Are Initiated, ch. 9, distinguishes the manna of the Old Testament from the Lord’s Supper: “Consider, he says, whether the bread of angels is better, or the flesh of Christ, which certainly is a body of life.” He concludes with these words: “The light is better than the shadow; the truth better than the figure; the body of Christ than the bread from heaven.” (see also Jerome on Titus, chapter 1; also Cyril, On John, bk. 4, ch. 28; Augustine, Book of Questions, qu. 95; Ambrose, On 1 Cor. 10). With Chrysostom (I Cor. 11) and Cyril of Alexandria (On John, bk. 4, ch. 13) we believe it is certain that that very thing which flowed from the side of Lord is present in the chalice of the Lord. We refuse to ask how. Again, in the Apology to the Formula of Concord (AFOC) we read: “Theodoret, in his Dialogues 1 and 2, calls the bread symbol and sign, but in the same way as there are two natures in Christ, so there is also in the Supper the bread and the body of Christ. He here understands it by no means to be a sign of the absent body, as our adversaries imagine, but of the true, present body of Christ.” (see also Cyril, On John, bk. 3, ch. 36, bk. 4, ch. 14 and 17, bk. 10, ch. 13, bk. 11, ch. 26-27 ; Augustine, in his Confessions, bk. 7, ch. 10 ; Tertullian, in the book On the Resurrection of the Flesh ; Chrysostom, Homily 24 on 1 Cor., Homily 83 on Matthew ; and Hilary, On the Trinity, bk. 8)

    The words of Christ in the Supper are not simply a general promise of grace. The Fathers of the Church taught that by virtue of the institution of testament of Christ, the words “Which is given for you; which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sin,” make present the same body which was given for us into death and the same blood which was shed for our sin. This is why, as Augustine noted, even unbelievers, were they to partake (they should not be allowed to if they are known to be unbelievers) receive what is offered in the sacrament, that is, the true body and blood of Christ (Against the Donatists, bk. 3, ch. 14, bk. 5, ch. 8 ; Against Fulgentius the Donatist, vol. 7, Letter 162 ; also see his Sermon 2 on the First Sunday in Advent). Elsewhere, commenting on I Cor. 10 and 11, he talks about how persons “do not take the Lord’s body differently than any other food” (Tract. 62 on John ; see also Chrysostom [for example, in Homily 61 to the Antiocheans] and Oecumenius on this point ; also Cyprian, in the Sermon on Those Who Have Fallen; Theodoret, on 1 Cor. 11; Theophylact, on 1 Cor. 11.).

    In sum, I find it difficult to disagree with the analysis of the AFOC regarding the Reformed view. “[They might say that] ‘Christ’s body is distributed for spiritual food in the Supper’, but this means that the name of the thing signified is attributed to the sign or that no more than the power of the body and blood, which were given and shed, but are now far distant from us and absent, is communicated to the believers.” Again, “…the name of the thing signified is ascribed to the sign, only because the thing signified is only indicated in and with the sign”.

    No – it is not, as some Reformed have said “a distribution of the communion with the body of Christ”, but a true distribution of the body and blood of Christ – given “for you” for the forgiveness of sins. And, as Luther says, where there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation. As the authors of the AFOC said, “we desire nothing but to remain with Christ’s almighty words alone and to be protected by Christ’s Spirit and grace from the paths of the murderer, Psalm 17”.


  4. On to your objections.

    “[In the first posts] I argued that in point of fact, the Lutheran view is not anywhere near as literal as the Lutheran polemic insists it is, and insists everyone else’s ought to be.”

    Andrew, I’ve read a bit more here now, and I think I have a good answer. We really do believe that we are consuming Christ’s body and blood. Full stop.

    A note of clarification here though. Sometimes it might seem that we get away from this a bit, for example, in using the words “in, with, and under”. Here is that the Apology to the Formula of Concord (AFOC from here on) says:

    “In particular, we retain the prepositions ‘in,’ ‘with,’ and ‘under,’ which have been in use in the Church of God at all times, also for that reason lest we appear to be willing to defend the Papist transubstantiation in our churches, which teaches that the bread is totally changed into the body of Christ, as will be discussed later.”

    But other times we talk about consuming Christ with our mouth. Luther even said this in his Great Confession concerning the Supper: “It is therefore said correctly that he who eats this bread eats Christ’s body and he who crushes this bread with teeth or tongue crushes the body of Christ with teeth or tongue”

    He says this because there really is a sacramental union, because Christ’s body and blood are given to us there for the sacrament – in this instance, Luther felt using such language was necessary to make his point. But he goes on to say: “And yet it remains always true that ***no one sees, grasps, eats or chews to pieces Christ’s body as other flesh is seen and chewed to pieces visibly.***”

    Again, to speak to Luther’s statement about how no one eats Christ like “other flesh is seen and chewed visibly” the AFOC speaks to this more: “There is, therefore, no doubt, that the body of Christ is received by the mouth, ***even though the mouth does not understand or taste it, and does not know what it eats***, but the faith in the heart knows and understands from and according to God’s Word what the mouth eats and drinks” and “And since such eating and drinking ***does not happen in the natural way in which other flesh is eaten***, etc., it must take place in a different, supernatural, heavenly manner which Christ has reserved for himself.”

    This is why you also find words like this, which again, might seem like “backtracking” to some (also from the AFOC): “Yet from this by no means follows some kind of Capernaitic eating of the flesh of Christ which is not eaten in the Supper in such a crude, bodily, fleshly manner as the Capernaites thought Christ to teach to eat his flesh in John 6, but in a supernatural manner which is known best to the Lord himself who, according to his own words, distributes his body in the Supper as something present to eat”.

    And also words like this (also from the AFOC): “Accordingly, we also do not teach that Christ’s flesh is locally present in the Supper ***according to the way and manner of this world***, but in a supernatural, spiritual, heavenly, hidden manner – it takes place without destruction of the essential attributes of the body of Christ and the ***first, natural, bodily manner,*** according to which Christ walked here on earth, gave and took up space – which we neither can nor should fathom in this life” and “Christ’s flesh in the Supper, according to the words of Christ’s testament, is truly but not locally present. This is why it ***must be present in a supernatural manner which to know Christ has reserved for himself alone*** and which we will first learn in the world to come.”

    I hope this helps.


  5. Andrew,

    “[Does] Teddy Roosevelt was a mountain” not work just as well as a metaphor as it would a statement of literal fact as far as the grammar is concerned? Indeed it would.”

    I am not sure how well this example fits with “this is my body”. It seems to apply more to “I am the bread of life”, which, as I have argued, is metaphorical on one level but is also literally true on another level in that just like real bread helps us live, the same is true of spiritual bread (in other words, thinking about the physical bread we eat should put us in mind of the Spiritual Bread of Eternal Life that gives “real bread” its meaning).

    “I submit that it is because the disciples, and we, do not need Christ’s body in us. We need what his given body provided for us.”

    On what basis would you assert that we do not need Christ’s body in us? It is true that John 6 is to be taken in a spiritual way. As the AFOC says: “because Christ had not instituted his Supper at that point yet and also because he does not talk to the Capernaites about the kind of eating of his body that is dealt with in the context of the Supper, but only about the spiritual eating of his flesh, which takes place by faith, it was not necessary for him to answer the coarse fleshly objection of the Capernaites based on the doctrine of the Supper or to differentiate the eating of his body…”


    “….. one cannot conclude from the words of the sixth chapter of John that the words of the Supper should be figurative. The reason is this: First, the words of John 6 ‘eating and drinking’ are taken metaphorically for the word ‘believing.’ Yet the words in the Supper ‘eat and drink’ cannot be taken metaphorically for the word ‘believing.’ For if this were the case, the entire Supper of Christ would have to be abrogated, and neither bread nor wine should be distributed or eaten or drunk orally.

    Second, nothing at all is posited in John 6 concerning the consumption of the external elements of bread and wine, but in the words of the Supper the same are explicitly commanded to be consumed.

    Third, even Calvin himself confesses that the words in John 6 are applied badly and unjustly to the institution of the Lord’s Supper, which had not been instituted at the time when Christ gave the sermon recorded in John 6….”

    Enough said here. All this said, when Christians who have now received the institution of the Lord’s Supper – unlike the disciples at the time described in John 6 – now here these words they cannot help but think of our Lord’s institution of the Supper on the night that He was betrayed. Likewise, they cannot help but realize *how deep this truth goes* – how desperately we need Christ at the most intimate levels. The whole Christ, divine and human, really is in us – the hope and the glory – and far be it from us to say that it is not necessary for this to be the case!

    To get back to the matter at hand, regarding these words of institution, as it says in the AFOC, “[Jesus Christ] said that he wants to be present in the Supper with his body which he has given into death and with his blood which he has shed for the forgiveness of sins and that he wants to distribute the same among us.” As such, I don’t really get what you are getting at with your distinction between the “to” and the “for”. And yes, Christ’s actual death on the cross was certainly “for” the Father, but it also was “for” us in a very real sense as well. Isaiah 53, for example, should indicate to us that it is not one of these without the other one. Christ both died to fulfill the wrath of the Father and to bring us to God, because of His great love for us.

    “However it often goes overlooked that the only reason Jesus actually gives the disciples for the church’s observing the ritual in perpetuity is “in remembrance of me”. He never says “do this for the forgiveness of sins” or “do this” for any reason other than “in remembrance of me”.”

    Regarding the words, “do this in remembrance of me” I also quote from the AFOC: “the word remembrance is also called a present thing’s remembrance, Ex. 20: ‘Where I will establish a remembrance of my name, there I will come to you and bless you.’ Here the word remembrance certainly does not carry the meaning that the almighty God will not be truly present with his congregation because one should remember his name, but it, rather, clearly insists that where the remembrance of the name of the Lord will be, there he too would certainly be present. Therefore, also in the Supper, the word remembrance does not force Christ to be absent with his body and blood, especially because he has clearly promised that he wishes to distribute his body and blood in the Supper truly and as present.”

    Finally, you end with this: “given all of this, the case is in reality such that a symbolic understanding of Christ’s words is the only really tenable understanding of the words; and the sacramentally literal understanding of Lutherans and others is in fact the one foreign to the text itself.”

    Let the reader decide. Again, please see the more complete list of quotes from the fathers as well.



      1. Hi Nathan,

        Were you a member of a Lutheran church prior to meeting your wife? Just curious.


        1. TUAD,

          Yes – I have been an LC-MS Lutheran my whole life, even as I was extremely skeptical of Lutheranism for a stint in college (when I got involved with Campus Crusade for Christ) – a skepticism that was still rather strong around the time I met my wife.



  6. This is a long one, Nathan. I may not get to this for a few days or even a week or so. I’m pretty busy lately. But I will get to it. Thanks for chiming in.


  7. All,

    Please note above I talked about the Apology to the Formula of Concord, or AFOC. Actually, I should have written Apology to the Book of Concord, or ABOC. Currently, it only exists in the German, although my pastor, Paul Strawn, and Dr. Holger Sonntag have translated it and will be hopefully publishing it relatively soon.



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