Transcending Time With Marty

martym

No, not that Marty!

THIS one:

martyc

Martin Chemnitz was a German reformer who outlived Luther, helping to carry on the reformation when Luther was gone. He wrote (more than) two works which have endured fairly well, as they are still used as doctrinal references today. The first is one I’ve spoken of recently via a set of lectures from Rod Rosenbladt. It’s called The Two Natures in Christ. The second is simply entitled The Lord’s Supper. This particular book is hailed as a classic, useful for an outstanding defense of the Lutheran understanding of this sacrament.

I cannot say that I fully agree with that assessment, though it’s certainly the most comprehensive work on the subject that I’ve (almost completely) read. Chemnitz was writing for a different time and people, so I guess it’s natural that I wouldn’t find this work as engaging as some others I’ve read on different topics. The main source of my discontentment with the work is that Chemnitz’s primary line of argumentation for a large portion of the book is pertaining to the words of institution, that if Christ meant something different than the plain definitions of the words, he would have instead plainly said that “something else” simply because this was the night before he was to be put to death. This means that his words were a last will and testament. Following this to its conclusion, Chemnitz bases a large portion of his argument on civil law governing inheritance by virtue of another’s death. I find such an argument unconvincing. However, there are other parts of this book that make it worth reading, and most of my thoughts in this post are based on Chemnitz’s work.

 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

As I’ve written before, the position I’m addressing primarily is the memorialistic view of the sacrament, where the elements and Christ’s words are not taken literally and what is offered in this ceremony is only a memory of the work that Christ has performed for us. In the memorialist’s viewpoint, the phrase “in remembrance of me” is given priority over the other phrases in this passage.

I was an FE for quite some time. I intend to be charitable when I am able to, especially regarding this passage. I know how easy it is for one to read this memorialistic interpretation into it, and especially when it’s what one has been taught all of his life. If someone was to read just this part of the passage, “in remembrance of me” and give the rest very little treatment, then I understand why he would view the passage this way. But one cannot escape what it is that is the biggest point of contention, “This is my body…” As Luther said, “is” means identity. It speaks of existence, a state of being. What Christ was giving the disciples was his body and blood.

If it was this simple, then there would obviously be no contention. There would have been no argument between Zwingli (a reformer with a memorialist stance) and Luther. Obviously, human languages provide for metaphor. Grammatically speaking (in English), there is no reason why one cannot read this passage and come to the conclusion that Jesus was speaking in metaphor. The words have a valid meaning metaphorically, as they do literally. I was serious when I wrote that I understand why the memorialist reads this passage as he does. But what would such a metaphor even mean?

“This symbolizes my body” does not explain why one should want to eat or drink this symbol. What is the physical eating and drinking to symbolize? Is it to point back to the manna in the desert? Is it to remind us that our every need, including forgiveness of sins, is offered in Christ? Very well, so they are. But here, I would have to agree with Chemnitz: why wouldn’t Christ come out and say this rather than leaving us to figure it out?

I remember the Baptist church I grew up in. The pastor would slightly modify the words of institution sometimes, to better explain the “correct” interpretation of the passage:

Take and eat. This is my body, broken just for you.

But there is an actual problem with this interpretation, and it’s not an argument from silence. “Is” cannot be teaming together with “broke” to create symbolic imagery in this passage. We cannot say in this passage that Jesus’ broken body is represented by a physical element. It’s impossible.

Why?

It is because Jesus’ body was not broken. This is prophesy.

He keeps all his bones;
not one of them is broken.

And then

For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.”

If Christ was not broken on the cross, than what sense can a symbolic interpretation make? “This bread that I am breaking represents my body, which is broken for you” is meaningless if Christ’s body was not broken. Indeed, either the passage is a blatant contradiction with other scriptures, or the word “broken” does not carry the meaning that it seems it ought.

And that is the case. Don’t come to me with questions on Bible languages (I’m not a Bible languages scholar), but I have read that the word “broke” in the Lord’s Supper is a different word/idiom than used in the passages above from Psalms and John. When Luke used the word “broke” before the words of institution, he used a word that refers to the breaking of bread (imagine that!) and when John used the word “broken,” he referred to disintegration or crushing.

Chemnitz calls attention to the fact that it is a common Biblical idiom to use the word “break” in the “breaking of bread” sense to mean “distribution.” He cites some quotations throughout the Bible where the phrase is used in such a manner. One of particular interest is the point in Genesis when the grain that Joseph had stored up was distributed. The phrase that means “the breaking of bread” was used here. This is to draw attention to the fact that we are easily distracted by the physical separating into pieces of the bread, when that isn’t the point at all! The point is Jesus, and his presence in the sacrament for the forgiveness of sins.

Since we know that “broke” in this passage means “distributed,” then if we keep with a symbolic interpretation of the passage whereby the distribution of the bread symbolically points to an actual distribution of Christ’s body (because Jesus said “this is my body”), in what manner could we say that Christ’s body has been distributed if not in the sacrament? I imagine that there are a number of creative ways to explain this, but I must ask: how many are drawn directly from scripture without violating other passages? I think to defend this will be a very difficult task. No; Christ is present in this meal. More than a mere memory, He does what he promises.

I had wanted to end this topic with this post, and maybe I shall. There’s more that can be said, but this is ending up being what exactly I didn’t want it to be: a multi-post explanation of how I have come to understand the Bible on this sacrament, why I believe what I do in the face of nearly 30 years’ opposite teaching. I have not decided yet, whether I will continue on this topic and try to finish it out or to let it stand as it is.

Our Lord has instituted a means of grace, where we meet his body and blood to receive the forgiveness of sin. May the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve us in the one true faith unto life everlasting. Amen!

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One thought on “Transcending Time With Marty

  1. Pingback: Boastful Sinner | Communion with Condemnation

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