Biblical proof for the Eucharist


Biblical passages

Some claim that the doctrine of the Eucharist is not found in the Scriptures, but this perspective is an indication of reading the biblical text through a confessional lens. The Last Supper accounts all describe Jesus as saying “this is my body, this is my blood” in Matthew 26: 17-30, Mark 14: 12-25, Luke 22: 7-20 and John 13: 1-30.

Saint Paul also writes about the body and blood of Christ during the breaking of bread in 1 Corinthians 10: 16-17 and 1 Corinthians 11: 23-29. Perhaps the strongest biblical proof comes from Christ himself in John 6: 22-59 which is known as the discourse of the bread of life. In this talk, Christ loses the follow-up because he is literally talking about his body and his blood.

Begins in the Old Testament

To fully understand these verses, we must examine certain passages from the Old Testament because these New Testament verses use a theological term known as typology. The typology studies the events and institutions that foreshadow something greater to come. On this subject, Dr. Scott Hahn writes: “The basis of such a study is the belief that God, who providentially shapes and determines the course of human events, imbues these events with prophetic and theological significance” (Catholic Bible Dictionary page 929).

Understanding the typology helps us understand the history of salvation as something fluid, and not as periods separated from one another. God does not change, and the subtle clues he gives us in the Old Testament find their final fulfillment in the pages of the New Testament.

Having said that, we see the beginnings of the Eucharist in the pages of the Old Testament, and there are two things that are important to our purpose here. These two things are the bread of the presence in the Temple and the manna in the wilderness.

Manna from heaven

The story of manna in the wilderness takes place in the book of Exodus. Moses, by the grace of God, brought the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage. Although they were in slavery in Egypt, they ate well. They wandered in the desert and they started to complain about their welfare in Egypt. In Exodus 16: 2 we read, “All the congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness” (NRSV).

They were naturally afraid and didn’t know where the next meal would come from as it was still being served in Egypt. Moses took their concerns before the Lord and the Lord answers. The Lord said to Moses in Exodus 16: 4, “I will rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people will come out and gather enough for that day. That way I will test them, whether or not they follow my instructions ”(NRSV).

This miraculous bread had come down from heaven each morning, and the Israelites were to pluck as much as they needed for the day. This is a foreshadowing of what Christ said in the Bread of Life discourse in John chapter 6. In this discourse Jesus says that he is the real manna that came down from Heaven.

The bread of life

The Bread of Life discourse takes up most of John 6, but only a few verses will be covered so that the relationship between manna and the Eucharist can be established. In John 6:32, Jesus told the Jews that Moses was not the one who gave the bread from heaven, but that the Father gave them the “true bread” from heaven. Jesus uses verbs in the present tense and not in the past tense as if he was just talking about what Moses did.

The Jews yearn for the bread Jesus describes, and he moves the conversation from the manna that gave life to the Israelites to true bread. Jesus says in John 6:35: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty ”(NRSV). In John 6:41, the Jews complain to Jesus because he says he is the bread of life. When Jesus was encountered, the Jews could not understand that they would feed on the living God (Benedict XVI paragraph 53).

John 6:41 and Exodus 16: 2 both state that the Jews began to complain. They both started to complain about something they believed to be literal. The manna in the wilderness was a real event just as Jesus said his flesh was to be eaten.

Jesus raises the bar

Although the Jews complained, just like the Israelites in the wilderness, it is repeating itself. In John 6:51, Christ says, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh ”(NRSV). It is interesting to note that the Jews not only complained but were indignant.

They wondered among themselves how Christ could give his flesh to eat (John 6:52). This leads to a very important question which is at the heart of this research. If our Lord spoke metaphorically, why would the Jews take it literally? The question they asked each other is literal in nature.

Jesus understood their confusion and raised the stakes. In fact, with his next sentence, he would remove all doubt and his audience would know exactly what he meant. In John 6:53, Jesus declares: “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” (NRSV).

Pay attention to the Greek

In this verse, Jesus uses a different Greek verb for the word “to eat”. The verb used by Christ is the Greek word trogo and it means “to bite, to bite, to bite” (Thomas # 5176). This word is never intended as a literary metaphor in the Greek language and is always used literally. At this word, many of those who followed Jesus left.

They left because they knew what he meant, and that meaning was literal. He then turned to the twelve disciples in John 6:61 and asked them if they were offended and wanted to leave. Many will say that Jesus also said he was a gate and a vine, and he said these things.

However, he never willingly lost followers because of these statements. The comparison between Exodus 16 and John 6 shows that the manna was a foreshadowing of the Eucharist. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI says: “The mystery of the Eucharist reveals the true manna, the true bread from heaven: it is the Logos made flesh, who gave himself up for us in the paschal mystery ”(Verbum Domini para 54).

Bread of the Presence

The bread of the presence is also a foreshadowing of the Eucharist in the Old Testament. According to Exodus 25:30, this bread was to be continually before the Lord. This bread reminded all who saw it that God was always present.

The bread was placed on a golden table outside the Holy of Holies, and each Sabbath new bread was placed and the priests ate the old one (Hahn 929). Four times a year, during the great feasts, the bread of the presence was shown to the people to remind them that God was with them.

The bread of the presence finds its fulfillment in Christ who establishes it in the Eucharistic celebration, just as it is Christ who sustains our spiritual life. The link between the bread of the presence and is not lost for our Protestant brothers. Protestant scholar Paul Karleen states: “The specially prepared bread that rested on an ornate table in the Holy Place of the Tabernacle; describes Christ as the sustaining (spiritual) life ”(Karleen 359).

The Twelve Tribes and the New Covenant

The bread consisted of twelve loaves of bread for the twelve tribes of Israel. In the New Covenant, Jesus has twelve disciples to represent the same thing. As the priests of the Old Testament lifted the bread to show the people that God was with them, Jesus did the same at the last supper.

Using the principles of the typology and what Jesus said in John chapter 6, we see Jesus, in his role as high priest, offering himself to be eaten by his disciples. This is done every day in the celebration of the Eucharist at Holy Mass.

So far, two Old Testament preludes to the Eucharist have been detailed, but what about the New Testament? For this, we will examine the accounts of the Last Supper in the New Testament, but more specifically the Gospel of Matthew. The sequence of events is familiar when Jesus takes the bread, as Matthew 26:26 says “Take, eat; this is my body ”(NRSV).

The word “is” is a crucial component of the study of the Eucharist. The Greek word used is esti which is a third person singular verb meaning “to be” (Thomas # 1510). What’s even more interesting about this word are its origins.

Word esti has its root in the present infinitive Greek verb einai “To be, to exist, to be present” (Thomas # 1510). In Matthew 26:27, Jesus then states, “This is my covenant blood, which is shed for many in remission of sins” (NRSV).

The Passover

A study of the Greek language is a good place to start, but it has a very real connection with Passover. The gospels are clear and state that Jesus and the disciples gathered to celebrate the Passover. The Passover meal was made to remember the event of the exodus and was a sacrificial meal in its own right.

Before Passover, a lamb was slaughtered and the whole lamb was to be eaten. The Passover was a communal feast and parallel to the gathering we see with Jesus and the disciples. During the meal, the chef de table made comments and was ritualistic in nature.

Jesus goes against the script

There was a formula that was followed. Jesus did not follow the prescribed formula and said the words mentioned above in Matthew 26: 26-27. He also commanded the disciples to follow his example and do this act in the future.

There are a few other ways the last supper deviates from the traditional Passover meal. Noteworthy in its absence is the roast lamb. This is important because Jesus took the place of the paschal lamb (Zizoulas 5).

When Christ spoke the words of the institution, the bread and wine that were present became his body which was the sacrifice of the New Covenant given for the sins of the world. Concerning the link between the Passover and the Eucharist, Jean Zizoulas writes: “Understanding the memory in this way makes the Eucharist not only a re-presentation of the sacrifice and the resurrection of Christ, but also a taste of the Kingdom to come»(Zizoulas 5).

MENTIONED WORKS

Benedict XVI. Verbum Domini. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2010. Printing.

Hahn, Scott, ed. Catholic Biblical Dictionary 2009: n. pag. To print.

Karleen, Paul S. The Bible Study Manual: With A Guide to the Scofield Study System. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. Printing.

Thomas, Robert L. New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek dictionaries: updated edition 1998: n. pag. To print.

Zizioulas, John D. Eucharistic communion and the world. Ed. Luc Ben Tallon. London; New York: T&T Clark, 2011. Print.

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