Is the Roman Catholic Eucharist Biblical?
by Cooper P Abrams III
The word Eucharist is the Greek noun "eucharistia" that means "thanksgiving." The noun is not found in scripture, however the verb "eucharisteo" is translated in 1 Corinthians 11:24 "giving thanks meaning to show gratitude. The observance is called the Eucharist by the Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Church, and Eastern Orthodox Church and some Protestants. Other Protestants and evangelicals prefer the term Lord's Supper, or Communion. Biblical fundamentalist simply use the term Lord's Supper.
In 1 Corinthians 11:23-32 records Christ's last supper, which was the Passover meal just before His capture, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection.(Mark 14:14) The event is recorded in the Gospels Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20 Paul gave several additional details in 1 Corinthians that are not in the Gospels.
There are various views and practices in observing the Lord's Supper. The purpose of this paper is to examine the Roman Catholic view applying sound biblical principles of hermeneutics. This means interpreting God's word considering its historical, cultural, and grammatical context.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the bread and wine become the actual physical body and blood of Christ based on their literal interpretation of John 6:53-54. They proclaim that when a observant takes the wafer and wine a miracle happens and the elements literally become Christ's flesh and blood. According to them the transformation of the elements into Christ's literal body is referred to as "transubstantiation." Further they see their Eucharist as a sacrament which effectually takes away sins. A sacrament is seen as an act or ritual that is a means by which God's grace is conveyed to people.
The Protestant view, presented by the Lutherans, says that Jesus is physically present "in, with, and under" the elements, spiritually even though they remain bread and wine. In other words Christ's body and blood and the bread and wine coexists at the observance which is referred to a "consubstantiation." They see the observance as a sacrament bestowing actual spiritual benefit to their members and as the most important of their seven sacraments. In Roman Catholic doctrine salvation is a joint venture, a combination of divine mercy and human good works called a "grace plus works salvation".
The Presbyterians view, as held by John Calvin taught that Jesus is spiritually present with the elements. Therefore, Christ imparted His presence to Christians through the observance of the Eucharist.
The Baptist and biblical view teaches that Lord's Supper is not a sacrament, but rather an ordinance given to the Christians who assembled in their churches. However, no where does the Bible state or imply that there are any sacraments or that any act or ritual conveys God's grace. There are no sacraments whereby God, through a rite or ceremony, bestows grace to the individual.
Baptists and biblical churches follow the teachings of the New Testament and correctly view the Lord Supper and baptism as ordinances that Christ instituted. An ordinance is a symbolic representation of Christ's death, suffering for sin, and His resurrection. It is not necessary for salvation, nor does it impart any spiritual benefit, other than the believer who by observing the ordinance is giving their confirmation to their faith in Jesus Christ for the atonement of their sins. Further, is a public testimony of their devotion and commitment to Christ in their lives and looking to His imminent return. They believe, based on the New Testament teachings, that the elements of the bread and wine symbolize Jesus' body. Jesus said in Luke 22:19-20 "And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you." (Luke 22:19-20)
Jesus said to take the Lord's Supper in "remembrance of Me." The Lord's Supper does not bestow God's grace on those who practice the ordinance and that is as 1 Corinthians 11:24-25 state is an act of remembrance of Christ's death and suffering for sin. Something that those who believe in transubstantiation miss is that when Christ instituted the Lord's Supper on the Feast of Unleaven Bread He was physically with them. He was present and serving them and how could He be offering them His flesh and blood.
What Does the New Testament Teach?
Let us first look at 1 Corinthians 11:23-34 which records what the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, recorded and instructed the churches through his letter to the Corinthian believers.
"For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:
"And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me." (1 Corinthians 11:24-25)
Paul begins these instruction plainly stating what he was instructing them to do was received by him from the Lord. He states that Jesus began by taking bread. This bread was unleavened (without yeast) because that was required in observing the Passover. The bread represented Christ's body, which had no sin. Leaven in the Bible represents sin and Christ had no sin, therefore the bread that represented His body had to be unleaven.
Jesus then gave thanks and broke the bread into pieces giving it to each of His disciples. The Lord then said to them Jesus then repeated this with the wine. In each time He concluded His statement with "this do ye in remembrance of me." This is why biblical Christians refer to the Lord's Supper at a memorial. He mentioned nothing about it being a sacrament which bestowed grace, but rather presented the observance as a symbolic memorial in which believers remembered His suffering, sacrifice, death, and resurrection.
Thus taking the Lord's Supper publicly is a memorial showing the believer is testifying to his belief in Christ atonement, in suffering on the cross and shedding His blood as payment for the sins of man, and resurrection. Note also as verse 26 states, the believer in taking the Lord's Supper is actively looking for the return of his Lord and Savior. "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come." (1 Corinthians 11:26)
However, the Roman Catholic Church and Protestants proclaim that their Eucharist is a sacrament that when preformed takes away sins or imparts some spiritual benefit to the observant. As stated earlier they teach what is called "transubstantiation" which means that a miracle takes place when the wafer and wine are taken in communion and it literally becomes the actual blood and flesh of Jesus Christ. They believe and teach that the little wafer the priest puts on their tongue literally becomes Christ's body and the wine the priest drinks becomes His body. 1 Note the following:
"The Holy Eucharist is a sacrament and a sacrifice. In the Holy Eucharist, under the appearances of bread and wine, the Lord Christ is contained, offered, and received.
However, they have made a tragic error in ignoring what the New Testament actually teaches and failing to use proper hermeneutical principles in their interpretation. They refer to Christ's discourse and in particular to John 6:56-58 as the proof verses for their belief. They proudly proclaim they are taking Christ's words literally.
However, they ignore the subject and teaching of Christ's discourse which are revealed by the context and grammar of His statements. It must be understood that Jesus was using the common element of speech called the metaphor. According to the English World dictionary a metaphor is a figure of speech in: (1) which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance, as in "A mighty fortress is our God." Compare mixed metaphor, simile ( def 1 ) . (2) something used, or regarded as being used, to represent something else; emblem; symbol. 3
The context of Christ's discourse was that the day before He had preformed the miracle of feeding the five thousand giving the multitude bread and fish to eat. Jesus used the metaphor in presenting Himself as "the bread of Life." Bread is the staple food all over the world. Millions of people have starved because they had no bread to eat. Bread is nutritious and sustains life. Thus, Jesus was using bread and its properties, as a sustaining food as an illustration of the spiritual truth that He was the Messiah come down from heaven. And as material bread gave temporarily life to those who consumed it, so He was telling them He was the spiritual bread of life come from heaven.
These were multitude of Jews who had earlier seen Him feed the five thousand and had followed Him even to Capernaum. In verses 26 Jesus exposed their selfish reasons for following Him and rebuked them. He had been preaching the Kingdom and spiritual truths, but they were only interested in material things...the bread He provided for them. "Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled." (John 6:26) Jesus was rebuking them saying they were foolish seeking on physical bread when He was offering was spiritual salvation and everlasting life. (John 6:40) He then using the metaphor of bread began to teach them that He was the Messiah and was offering them the Kingdom.
He told them not to labor for meat (food) which perished but rather to seek everlasting life which He could give them. Jesus had rebuked their reasons for following Him and they understood He was talking to them about the coming Kingdom that God had promised Israel. They then asked, "What works of God they should do to do the work of God." In other words, were saying what work can we do to earn the Kingdom. This was the fatal flaw of Judaism. They believed falsely that good works, rituals, ceremonies were necessary to inherit the Kingdom of God. Works was the core practice of Judaism The Jews had perverted God's message in the Old Testament and concluded they had to merit or earn God's acceptance by their good works. What was Jesus' response? "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." (v29) Jesus said good works is not the way to receive everlasting life, or the Kingdom. He said the way was to believe on Him.
Jesus warned in Matthew 7:22-23 "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." (Matthew 7:22-23)
With that said think about what the Roman church is teaching. Taking their Eucharist is a work they teach that gives God's grace and eternal life. If one accepts the Roman Catholic belief they should understand that their belief contradicts what Jesus said and God tells us in other scriptures. He said works do not earn anyone the eternal life or Kingdom of God. If one ignores this they are disregarding Jesus own statement.
Jesus compared the bread He was speaking of with the manna in the desert. It came each day of the week and with a double portion on Friday. In Verse 49 Jesus reminded them that the Hebrews ate the manna in the desert, but they died. But the bread He represented was Himself and he that ate it, meaning believed and received Him for their salvation, would never die. He was telling them He, Jesus Christ, was the only means of salvation.
The Jews like the Roman Catholic Church made the error in thinking He was talking about physically eating the Lord flesh. The Jews responded saying "The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" (John 6:52) In Verse 58 Jesus said "This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever." (John 6:58) Who came down from heaven? Clearly He was referring to Himself and telling them that believing in Him would give them eternal life.
Without question Jesus was not speaking not of literally eating His flesh and drinking His blood, but of spiritually receiving Him by faith and the truth He was revealing to them. This cannibalistic interpretation of the Roman Church is ridiculous and contradicts God's own word. The Catholic Church has the same mind set as the worldly self righteous Jews who thought some work or ritual they could preform could be offered for atonement of their sins.
The Catholic Eucharist is a work, a ritual and an act of man and no such work of man atones for sin as Ephesians 2:8-9 state: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9) Thus, the Roman Church blasphemes God and makes a man's religious ritual a part of man's atonement. Their practice belittles Jesus' righteousness, His being perfectly Holy as a the lamb without spot or blemish, and the only One who could offer a perfect sacrifice and suffer and die for sins. How degrading of Christ for a sinful man to believe he came take a wafer into his mouth and that take away sins! This discourse of Jesus Himself make it abundantly plain that salvation is wholly of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ a part from ritual or any works that a man can do.
Should Christ's words be taken literally or figuratively?
The Roman Catholic will counter and proudly proclaim that they believe what the Bible literally states in that Jesus said they must physically eat his flesh and drink His blood to receive eternal life. However, they take His statement in John 6:53-54 literally which disregards sound principles of interpretation.
Jesus also said in John 10:9 "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture." (John 10:9) In verse 11 He further said He was the good shepherd that giveth His life for the sheep. No one would conclude that Jesus was a literal door, and that He was a literally a good shepherd that give His life for literal sheep. Jesus used the metaphor of referring to Himself a door, meaning He was the way to enter in to eternal life. He further used the metaphor of being a good shepherd to illustrate His devotion in offering Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of man.
In John 15: 1 Jesus called Himself a vine. "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman." (John 15:1) In this metaphor Jesus makes the point of the comparison a vine that as a vine yields nourishment to all its branches, whether these are large or small. The nourishment given to each branch passes through the main stalk of the vine that springs from the earth. So Jesus is the source of grace, salvation, and strength to those who believe in Him. As their leader and teacher He imparts to them, as they need, grace and strength to bear the fruits of rightness.
Many such metaphors was used by the Lord. Jesus said, "He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." (John 7:38) I would be purely foolish to preclude that Jesus' words meant that rivers of living water would flow from the belly of the person who believed in Him.
Clearly, when metaphors are used, the context and exaggerated words would clearly show that the statement was not meant to be accepted literally, but understood as a statement that compared one thing and its characteristics to something else. As stated earlier this is a common and very effective tool of writing and conversation. To understand this rule of interpretation go to my article "Biblical Principles for Interpreting God's Word." (http://bible-truth.org/Principles.htm#01a)
Why does the Roman Catholic Church Interpret John 6:53-54 Literally?
It is a grave error to teach that Jesus was literally saying to receive forgiveness one must literally eat His flesh and drink His blood. The question one must try to determine why such a blatant misinterpretation was made. The reason is seen in that the Roman Catholic Church teaches that it is the sole means of a person receiving salvation. This has given the Roman Catholic Church and their Pope at great power over their people. Anyone who is not baptized, is not a member in good standing of the Roman church, and do not receives its sacraments are outside God's grace and must come to the Roman Church for redemption. The Lation phrase "extra Ecclesiam nulla salus" is their historic doctrine and means "outside the church there is no salvation. An example of this is seen in that their church can withhold the Eucharist from a member the church or even a whole nation, and according to their teaching, withholding the grace of God and for giveness of sin from those people. 4 The Roman church practices excommunication in which it denies the sacarments to those who commit grave sins. This means the offender cannot receive the sacraments and those are denied God's mercy and grace.
This gave the Pope and the Roman Church great power to force its will on people, and even nations through the practice of the "Anathema." During the Middle Ages Roman used excommunication and the denial of the Mass and the Eucharist to obtain political power over the kings and rulers of Europe.
CARM (Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry) correctly represents the Roman Church view:
"Those who are justified are saved and salvation is a free gift (Rom. 6:23), something we cannot earn (Eph. 2:1-10). However, Roman Catholic doctrine denies justification by faith alone and says:
"If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema" (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 9).
"If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema." (Canon 14).
Anathema, according to Catholic theology means excommunication, "the exclusion of a sinner from the society of the faithful." The Greek word anathema is also translated as "accursed" (Rom. 9:3; Gal. 1:8-9, NASB & KJV), "eternally condemned" (Gal. 1:8-9, NIV), and "cursed" (Rom. 9:3, NIV),. We can see that Roman Catholic theology pronounces a curse of excommunication, of being outside the camp of Christ if you believe that you are saved by grace through faith alone in Jesus." 5
William Webster, former devout Roman Catholic states Catholic theology on Justification and Salvation":
"In Roman Catholic teaching there is no salvation apart from participation in the sacraments mediated through its priesthood. The Roman Church teaches that she is the mediator between Christ and the individual. Saving grace is mediated through these sacraments. John Hardon, author of The Question and Answer Catholic Catechism (which carries the official authorization of the Vatican) says this:
Why did Christ establish the Church?
What does the Catholic Church believe about the forgiveness of sins?
How does the Church communicate the merits of Christ's mercy to sinners?
The Church communicates the merits of Christ's mercy to sinners through the Mass and the sacraments and all the prayers and good works of the faithful.Are the sacraments necessary for salvation?
According to the way God has willed that we be saved the sacraments are necessary for salvation (John Hardon, The Question and Answer Catholic Catechism (Garden City: Image, 1981), Questions # 401, 402, 461, 462, 1119).
These words clearly express the official position of the Church of Rome. There is no salvation apart from participation in the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church. There is no other means of obtaining saving grace. Hardon's words echo the teaching of the Council of Trent:
If any one saith that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary unto salvation...and that without them, or without the desire thereof, men obtain from God, through faith alone, the grace of justification...let him be anathema (The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent. 6 "
Applying the proper rules of grammar, hermeneutics, considering the context of Christ's discourse in John 6:1-56, the statements Jesus made as to eating His body and drinking His blood is certainly not to be taken literally. Further, to the Roman Catholic the Eucharist is a sacrament that bestows grace and justification which is contrary to the teachings of God's word. Good works, rituals, ceremonies, and religious acts cannot save. Only the pure and perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross saves when a person believes and accepts God's free gift of salvation as Ephesians 2:8-9 plainly state.
The Lord's Supper is an ordinance by which biblical born again Christians, in there assemblies, take the bread and cup which symbolically represents Christ's broken body and shed blood for the atonement of sin. It is an important memorial whereby true believers remember Christ's suffering for their sins, a time of thanksgiving, and a time to examine one's life for unconfessed sins. (1 Cor. 11:23-34).
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