A reader asked:
Could you please explain Matt 26:26-27 when Jesus said this is my body and my blood. Was this a metaphor?
Matthew 26:26-29 – And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” (NKJV)
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My answer: Well first, some definitions:
- Metaphor – a figure of speech in which an expression is used to refer to something that it does not literally denote in order to suggest a similarity
- Symbolism – a system of symbols and symbolic representations
- Literalism – to interpret statements in their literal sense
Protestants have disagreed with the Roman Catholic Church since the declaration of their belief in “transubstantiation”. This was in fact one of the chief reasons for the Reformation.
Transubstantiation in essence means the “fruit of the vine” (grape juice or wine) and the bread LITERALLY, supernaturally become “in essence” the physical blood and body of Jesus Christ. How anyone can actually suspend reality (what all their physical senses know to be true) and ignore the fact the Bible simply doesn’t teach this, is beyond my ability to explain. The idea of transubstantiation is rooted in and thoroughly smacks of medieval mysticism, not reality or Scripture. The doctrine of transubstatiation is derived primarily from this passage:
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? (NKJV)
In context, this verse is clearly saying: “Isn’t it obvious the cup we drink represents Christ’s shed blood? Isn’t it obvious the bread we partake of represents Christ’s broken body?” Paul was being rhetorical, pointing out the obvious. He wasn’t engaging in a science lesson giving the literal chemical and organic make up of the items. To take this to mean “isn’t this cup the LITERAL blood of Jesus Christ, supernaturally transformed if only in essence inside your mouth when you drink it?” is to strain credibility beyond anything acceptable, and to ignore the context of the whole passage which was a reminder to flee sin.
Paul’s entire message was this: “flee idolatry and sin. Think about what you are saying and confirming when you drink the cup and eat the bread at the Lord’s table. Don’t shame Christ by remembering his sacrifice one minute then worshiping idols the next”.
That would be like me saying, “don’t hurt your children! Don’t you realize they are your flesh? Don’t your realize that is your blood running through their veins?” It’s not YOUR actual flesh and blood. To extract that meaning from my statement is to ignore the overall context, not to mention ignore REALITY. The same can be said when we try to make 1Cor 10:16 mean something akin to transubstantiation.
I know I’ll take a lot of grief from my Catholic readers over this. It seems every time I have any public disagreement with a Roman Catholic belief, I get hammered for being mean-spirited, judgmental, intolerant, hateful, blah, blah, blah… evidently there’s no such thing as honest disagreement anymore. It’s all or nothing, pull out the bazooka in a slingshot fight. Back to my point… the Bible simply does not teach IN ANY WAY that grape juice (or wine) and bread are anything but symbols of Christ’s body and blood. Consider the obvious symbolism:
- The fruit of the vine: it’s the life of the plant; it’s color represents royalty; it was a staple of life in those days as common as water is now; it is a picture of health and life;
- The bread: had no yeast (representing sinlessness); it was striped (brown marks) by the cooking process representing Jesus being whipped; it was pierced and beaten as part of the preparation, etc.
There’s a lot more than that but you get the point. Some people argue that if it’s “just a symbol” why not use a chocolate bar and Pepsi? Puh-leeze. Of course it’s a “symbol”… the bread and wine represent (symbolize) Christ’s body and blood.
One can argue that God intended real wine (not just grape juice) to be used because of the SYMBOLISM of the fermentation process (more of those symbols again) but regardless, you’re still talking SYMBOLS, not some unscriptural idea of a supernatural transformation into blood and flesh (which by the way would violate several moral principles about cannibalism and drinking blood, ie. pagan acts). Arguing whether it should be fermented or unfermented grape juice is not even on the same planet as arguing whether it should be bread or shrimp cocktails… or whether it’s bread or real human flesh (2000 year old resurrected flesh at that).
Scripture, the human experience, reality and even science would all conclude beyond question that the elements of Communion (wine and bread) are SYMBOLS of greater Truths from God. To believe they are anything more OR LESS, is to inflict man-derived religious ideas on the simple teaching of Scripture: we regularly observe the group partaking of unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine to remember that Jesus gave His body and blood for our salvation.
We don’t make them LESS by substituting sweet tarts and beef jerky; we don’t make it MORE by proclaiming it turns to human flesh and blood, if only in “essence”.
As usual, we sinful creatures tend to complicate what God has declared simply for our blessing and His glory. Sometimes I wonder how such obvious and simple things can even become a human debate… but never estimate how much man can mess up God’s teaching.
Yes, by definition, the elements of Communion are metaphorical in many ways. They are definitely symbolic. And it’s NOT rocket science… the Lord’s Supper is simply a celebratory reminder God has ordained and commanded us to observe until Jesus returns again and it is no longer necessary.
We should use the proper symbols (fruit of the vine; unleavened bread) because of 1) what they represent, and 2) because the Lord clearly commanded them to be used.
Why does it have to be more complicated than that?