Introduction to Sacramentology: Real Presence in the Eucharist – a Scriptural Apology

Note: For all Biblical quotations, the NKJV is used, unless I am citing the Greek Old Testament (LXX), for which the NETS is used. The italics in Biblical quotations are from the translators to note words added for clarity that are not present in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

Among the things in which the early church was in universal agreement that are debated today are three: people can apostatize from their faith; the Eucharist is the true body and blood of Christ; and baptism truly brings saving grace to the recipient (cit. Dr. Jordan B Cooper, Sola Fide in the Church Fathers).

During the Reformation, the topic of how Christ is present in the Eucharist was a heated debate. The most notable dispute took place at the Marburg Colloquy where Luther and Zwingli (as well as others on each respective side) debated whether Christ was corporeally present or not in the Eucharist.

In modern Christianity, a variety of Eucharistic traditions are seen. The Roman Catholic and Eastern churches hold to a doctrine of Transubstantiation/Metoousios, in which Aristotelian metaphysics are use to explain that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ in substance, but the accidents of bread and wine remain. The Reformed tradition (including the Remonstrants) holds that Christ is partaken in a spiritual, but not corporeal manner. Lutherans affirm a doctrine known as “mystical union,” which states that Christ is essentially and corporeally present in the Eucharist, yet the bread and wine also remain. The Wesleyan tradition affirms a middle ground of real, yet not corporeal presence. “Real presence” generally refers to the doctrine held be Lutherans, Rome, and the East, though the doctrine of some Wesleyans and Anglicans could also fall under this category.

The Lutheran Confessions define presence in communion as follows: “We believe, teach, and confess that the body and blood of Christ are received with the bread and wine, not only spiritually by faith, but also orally; yet not in a Capernaitic, but in a supernatural, heavenly mode, because of the sacramental union; as the words of Christ clearly show, when Christ gives direction to take, eat, and drink, as was also done by the apostles; for it is written (Mark 14:23): And they all drank of it. St. Paul likewise says, (1 Cor. 10:16) The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? that is: He who eats this bread eats the body of Christ, which also the chief ancient teachers of the Church, Chrysostom, Cyprian, Leo I, Gregory, Ambrose, Augustine, unanimously testify” (Formula of Concord Epitome Article VII: The Lord’s Supper, 6).

A Brief History of non-Real Presence

It may be a surprise to most Protestants that Christ being present in communion is the norm in Protestant tradition. The memorialist/symbolic position is largely absent, even in Baptist theology, until the 1800s. Reformed (Calvinist) and Remonstrant (Arminian) theologians both believed in a spiritual presence while Lutherans have always believed in a real corporeal presence.

Dr. Jordan Cooper, in the video cited in the first paragraph, makes a caveat that some scholars argue that Tertullian (c. 155-240) held a view closer to that of the Wesleyan or Reformed tradition than that of Lutherans, Rome, or the East. This is particularly seen in Against Marcion Book IV.40, but it is necessary to know that, at the time of writing Against Marcion, Tertullian had fallen into Montanist heresy, and that his view of Eucharistic presence must be taken in context of all of his writings, not Against Marcion alone. (Dr. Cooper states that he believes Tertullian held to real presence). Proto-Reformers John Wycliffe (c. 1324-1384) and Jan Hus (c. 1369-1415) both believed in a sort of presence in communion, though Wycliffe is unclear and loose with his language at times and could be read as holding a Reformed, Wesleyan, or Lutheran view of communion depending on how he is read (see Sermon LXI on John 6, among others). Wycliffe scholars disagree on his position (see John Wyclif : Scriptural Logic, Real Presence, and the Parameters of Orthodoxy by Ian Christopher Levy). The Lollard Confession seems to profess the Reformed position. Hus is clear in his belief in real presence, however. What is most notable is that the memorialist view, that Christ is not present in the supper at all, but the supper is solely a memorial of a past event is not found in the magisterial reformation at all or proto-reformers. It is found in the English Separatists who first united in confession in 1596 and in the radical reformation in the Anabaptists in the 1520s. Memorialism does not appear in the magisterial branch until the late 1600s, notably in 1691 in Baptist theologian Thomas Collier’s A Short Confession or a Brief Narrative of Faith, which is the first confession from the magisterial branch to profess memorialism. Prior to this, all magisterial protestants (Baptists included) believed in some sense of presence in communion. Memorialism remained relatively small among Baptists and others alike until the 1800s in light of the widespread acceptance of Voltaire’s radical enlightenment and the Second Great Awakening.

Against common belief, it is demonstrated repeatedly from the primary sources by E.M. Henning in The Architectonics of Faith: Metalogic and Metaphor in Zwingli’s Doctrine of the Eucharist (1986) that Zwingli, who is generally attributed as the theologian to spread memorialist doctrine, was not a strict memorialist, but rather in-line with others in the Reformed tradition, believing in spiritual presence in communion. His emphasis on presence is certainly less than that of Calvin or Bucer, but it is clear nonetheless. Zwingli attributes this doctrine to Cornelis Henricxz Hoen (Honius) who seems to have held the view prior to 1520. It should be further noted (again contrary to popular belief) that the Proto-Protestant movement started by Peter Waldo (c. 1140-1205), the Waldensians (both those of France and those of Lombardy), believed in real presence as is clearly shown many times over in the primary sources by Emilio Comba in History of the Waldenses of Italy, From Their Origin to the Reformation (English 1889). What is commonly mistaken for a rejection of real presence is, in reality, a mere rejection of the doctrine of Eucharistic sacrifice and particular Roman Catholic distinctions of how real presence came to be in the Lord’s supper, I.E. whether the words of institution in particular were the cause of a valid consecration or if the priest needed a valid ordination and whether real presence could be explained in particular Aristotelian philosophical terms or not. The earliest Anabaptist confessions (The Schleitheim Confession (1527) and Discipline of the Church (1527)) as well as later confessions (The Dordrecht Confession (1632) and A Declaration of People Called Anabaptists (1659)) are unclear on doctrine of presence in the Eucharist, though they sound most similar to the confessions of memorialists. At the very least, it is assumed that they intend to profess a memorialist position as Hubmaier Balthasar, perhaps the greatest of the Anabaptist theologians, professes a memorialist position in 1524 in A Simple Explanation of the Words “This Is My Body” (full text unavailable in English). Ridemann’s Rechenschaft (1540) is the confession that is most clearly memorialist.

It can be said, then, that while a couple theologians (Tertullian and Wycliffe) were ambiguous on Eucharistic doctrine, perhaps holding a view that can be considered close to that of the Reformed or Wesleyan traditions or a real presence view, all other Theologians prior to the 1500s believed in real presence in communion. The spiritual presence position is found first sometime prior to 1520, and the strict memorialist position, that of no presence at all, is seen at the earliest in the mid-1520s in the Anabaptists, becoming more explicitly memorialist over time, particularly by 1540, and later in the English Separatists in the mid-1590s. After this point in time, the memorialist position became a known and recognizable viewpoint, distinct from the spiritual presence view of the Reformed tradition but didn’t reach the magisterial (IE non-Anabaptist) branch in any substantial form until the 1800s.

The New Testament Texts

Matthew 26:26-28 reads, “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. ‘”

Mark 14:22-24 reads, “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, ‘Take, eat this is My body.’ Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, ‘This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many.'”

Luke 22:19-20 reads, “And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.'”

Luke 24:30-35 reads, “Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight. And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread.”

The breaking of bread would have been common at meals in this time. What is significant about this passage is that Jesus chose to use the breaking of bread as an indicator to Peter and Cleopas of His identity which tells us the Last Supper was significant to them. While it is possible that the institution of a memorial meal would recall some significance for them, an easier reading is that they understood a greater significance in the meal, I.E. Christ’s true body and blood for the remission of sins.

John 6:25-58 reads, “They said to Him, ‘Rabbi, when did You come here?’ Jesus answered them and said, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.’ Then they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.’ Therefore they said to Him, ‘What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ Then they said to Him, ‘Lord, give us this bread always.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.’ The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, ‘I am the bread which came down from heaven.’ And they said, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?’ Jesus therefore answered and said to them, ‘Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.‘ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.’ The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, ‘How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.'”

John 6 is debated among Lutherans as a Eucharistic text. While Martin Luther believed it was not a Eucharistic text, Martin Chemnitz did. The fact that John’s Gospel lacks the Last Supper narrative is notable, and John 6 may be the Eucharistic text instead. This passage is preceded by the feeding of the 5,000, which takes place near Passover. The Bread of Heaven narrative above takes place the next day. Jesus is clear and explicit in His statements about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Theophilus (d. 183-185), Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215), Cyprian (c. 210-258), Hilary of Poitiers (c. 310-367), Chrysostom (c. 349-407), Augustine (c. 354-430), Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376-444), Bede (c. 673-735), Alcuin of York (c. 735-804), Theophylact (c. 1050-1107+), and Wycliffe (c. 1324-1384), among others all believed that John 6 was a Eucharistic passage.

John 13:18-20, 25-26, 30 reads, “‘I do not speak concerning all of you. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me’ (Psalm 41:9). Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.’…. Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he [Peter] said to Him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ Jesus answered, ‘It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.‘ And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him…. Having received the piece of bread, he then went out immediately. And it was night.”

Those who object to real presence doctrine point out that this passage, as well as 1 Corinthians 10 and 11 and Proverbs 9:5 refer to the elements as bread and the cup/wine. Lutherans, however, hold that the elements are truly bread and wine and truly body and blood. Scripture speaks of the elements as both realities, so this doctrine is maintained.

1 Corinthians 10:14-17 reads, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say. 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? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.”

This passage is clear in its statement that the cup is “the communion of the blood of Christ” and the bread is “the communion of the body of Christ.”

1 Corinthians 11:23-30 reads, “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broke for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.”

Paul recounts the Gospels here then goes on to make statements about those who eat and drink unworthily. We must ask why it is that those who eat and drink unworthily are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord if the bread and cup are not the body and blood. Furthermore, Paul attributes the judgment for unworthy reception to be a result of “not discerning the Lord’s body,” which is to say that it is the Lord’s body that is being received, but not treated as if it truly is the Body of Christ. John Chrysostom (c. 349-407) writes, “But why does he eat judgment to himself? Not discerning the Lord’s body: i.e., not searching, not bearing in mind, as he ought, the greatness of the things set before him; not estimating the weight of the gift. For if you should come to know accurately Who it is that lies before you, and Who He is that gives Himself, and to whom, you will need no other argument, but this is enough for you to use all vigilance; unless you should be altogether fallen.”

Revelation 2:7, 17 reads, “‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God…. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.‘”

Alcuin of York (c. 735-804) and Bede (c. 673-735) both take these verses to be Eucharistic texts (see more below in the Tree of Life discussion).

Remembrance and Anamnesis

What is notable about the Luke narrative of the Last Supper is that it includes the clause regarding remembrance, which is absent in the other Gospels. While it is an important clause as it is both here and in 1 Corinthians 11, it cannot be the primary focus of the account as it is missing from both Matthew and Mark. Memorialists tend to emphasize this clause in error, holding it over and above the parts of the passage that are in all accounts. Moreover the Greek does not help the memorialist case. “τοῦτο ποιεῖτε εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν” is most literally translated as “do this into my remembrance.” The famous Lutheran scholar Joachim Jeremias notes in The Eucharistic Words of Jesus (pg. 252), “The command for repetition [of the Lord’s Supper] may be translated: ‘This do, that God may remember me.’ How is this to be understood? Here an old Passover prayer is illuminating. On Passover evening a prayer is inserted into the third benediction of the grace after the meal, a prayer which asks God to remember the Messiah. . . . In this very common prayer, which is also used on other festival days, God is petitioned at every Passover concerning ‘the remembrance of the Messiah.'” The remembrance in the Luke and 1 Corinthians passage is not our remembrance of God but God’s remembrance of us. This is the most straightforward reading of the Greek and the most in-line with historical context. If some are to say that God need not a reminder of us, then God need not our prayers at all as He already knows our thoughts, needs, sins, and desires; such an argument does not follow. Past this, the final word, “ἀνάμνησιν,” is hard to render in English. “Remembrance” is close but falls short. It is used five times in the Greek Old Testament: Lv 24:7, Nm 10:10, Ps 37:1, Ps 69:1, Wsd 16:6.

Leviticus 24:5-9 reads, “And you shall take fine flour and make it twelve loaves; two-tenths shall be the one loaf. And you shall lay them in two piles, six loaves per one pile, on the pure table before the Lord. You shall put on the pile pure frankincense and salt, and they shall be as loaves for remembrance, set before the Lord. On the day of the sabbaths he shall set them out before the Lord continually as an everlasting covenant from the sons of Israel. And they shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat them in a holy place, for they are holy of holies; this is for him from the things sacrificed to the Lord, a perpetual precept.” (NETS)

The parallel between this passage and that of the Eucharist should be apparent. The continual showbread is treated with great reverence, to be handled by the highest clergy, and kept in the holy of holies, where God dwells. It can be reasonably inferred that this is a foreshadowing of God’s dwelling in the Eucharist. The bread here is not a mere symbol of the covenant, but truly a part of the covenant (see more below in the Continual Showbread discussion).

Numbers 10:9-10 reads, “And if you go out to war in your land against the adversaries who oppose you, you shall also give a signal with the trumpets, and you shall be remembered before the Lord, and you shall escape to safety from your enemies. And in the days of your gladness and at your feasts and at your new moons, you shall trumpet with the trumpets over the whole burn offerings and over your sacrifices of deliverance, and it shall be for you a reminder before your God. I am the Lord your God.” (NETS)

The trumpets then, which are used in times of deliverance from enemies and deliverance from sin at the sacrifices are then reminders, not of God to man but of man to God, “καὶ ἀναμνησθήσεσθε ἔναντι Κυρίου” in v. 9 and “ἔσται ὑμῖν ἀνάμνησις ἔναντι τοῦ Θεοῦ ὑμῶν” in v. 10. In the New Testament, we are delivered from sins in Christ’s body and blood.

Psalms 37:1 and 69:1 both use “ἀνάμνησιν” in their titles. 37:1 reads, “A Psalm. Pertaining to David. As a reminder [of Sabbath]” and 69:1 reads, “Regarding completion. Pertaining to David. As a reminder, for the Lord to save me.” Both Psalms, when read, show themselves to be that of reminders to God to deliver man from anguish and sin, not reminders of God to man.

The one case where “ἀνάμνησιν” is used for God reminding man is in the apocrypha. Wisdom 16:5-6 reads, “For even when the terrible rage of wild animals came upon them and they were perishing through the bites of twisted snakes, your anger did not continue to the end; for a short while they were troubled as a warning, professing a symbol of salvation to remind them of the command of your law.” This is referring to the bronze snake of Moses that delivered them from the venom of the snakes that bit them in Numbers 21. While the snake is called a symbol of salvation to remind them of the command, the snake truly saved the people by God’s power: “Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived” (Numbers 21:9, NKJV).

It is seen then that, “ἀνάμνησιν” is used in the Old Testament 4/5 times to refer to God remembering us, and all five passages are related to God’s deliverance from sin and enemies and/or foreshadowing the Eucharist. This is the context for how the New Testament writers are familiar with the word “ἀνάμνησιν.” It is not a simple remembrance, but has a sacramental sense in that a reality of God’s deliverance unto salvation is being made true, whether through bread in Leviticus, the annunciation of the Lord in Numbers, the Word of God in the Psalms, or the Bronze Serpent in Wisdom.

The Importance of Old Testament Foreshadowing

Passover Parallels

The connection between the Passover and the Lord’s Supper should be apparent to any reader, namely in that the Last Supper was for Passover and that Christ was sacrificed for our sins two days after Passover. 1 Corinthians 5:6-7 reads, “Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” It’s seen that Christ is the new Passover Lamb. It follows that, just as the Passover lamb of the Old Testament was eaten solely by the Jews (Ex. 12:48) as a means for the forgiveness of sins (Num. 9:13), Christ is truly eaten solely by Christians (Heb. 13:9-10) as a means for the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:28).

Among the Old Testament feasts, some meals are “todah” meals. “Todah” is a Hebrew word which means “thanksgiving.” The Passover meal is one of the “todah” meals. In the Greek Old Testament, it is rendered “eucharistia.” This thanksgiving (eucharistia) is found in all four accounts of the Lord’s supper and is where the English word “Eucharist” comes to us. The Jewish writer Philo (c. 20BC-50AD) writes in Special Laws II.XVII, “And this festival is instituted in remembrance of, and as giving thanks for, their great migration which they made from Egypt, with many myriads of people, in accordance with the commands of God given to them.” A feast of remembrance and thanksgiving is given as the primary means of forgiveness in the Old Testament. This is paralleled in the feast of remembrance and thanksgiving in the New Testament.

The Blood of the Covenant

All four accounts of the Last Supper include the cup being blessed by Christ as “the new covenant in my blood.” This is a clear parallel with the blood of the covenant in Exodus 24:3-8: “So Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words which the LORD has said we will do.’ And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. And Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient.’ And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.'” Just as the blood of the oxen was not a mere symbol of the covenant, but truly what made the covenant a reality, the cup in the New Testament is not a mere symbol of the covenant, but truly what makes the covenant a reality.

The Continual Showbread

The showbread (or more literally “continual bread”) is one of the most notable foreshadowings of the Eucharist in the Old Testament. The rubrics for this bread are written in three passages:

The making of the table for the bread is described in Exodus 25:23-30: “You shall also make a table of acacia wood; two cubits shall be its length, a cubit its width, and a cubit and a half its height. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, and make a molding of gold all around. You shall make for it a frame of a handbreadth all around, and you shall make a gold molding for the frame all around. And you shall make for it four rings of gold, and put the rings on the four corners that are at its four legs. The rings shall be close to the frame, as holders for the poles to bear the table. And you shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold, that the table may be carried with them. You shall make its dishes, its pans, its pitchers, and its bowls for pouring. You shall make them of pure gold. And you shall set the showbread on the table before Me always.”

The making of the bread is seen in Leviticus 24:5-9: “And you shall take fine flour and bake twelve cakes with it. Two-tenths of an ephah shall be in each cake. You shall set them in two rows, six in a row, on the pure gold table before the LORD. And you shall put pure frankincense on each row, that it may be on the bread for a memorial, an offering made by fire to the LORD. Every Sabbath he shall set it in order before the LORD continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy to him from the offerings of the LORD made by fire, by a perpetual statute.”

The preparation of the table for the bread is seen in Numbers 4:7-10: “On the table of showbread they shall spread a blue cloth, and put on it the dishes, the pans, the bowls, and the pitchers for pouring; and the showbread shall be on it. They shall spread over them a scarlet cloth, and cover the same with a covering of badger skins; and they shall insert its poles. And they shall take a blue cloth and cover the lampstand of the light, with its lamps, its wick-trimmers, its trays, and all its oil vessels, with which they service it. Then they shall put it with all its utensils in a covering of badger skins, and put it on a carrying beam.”

The rubrics describe a highly ornate and reverent treatment for the showbread. Leviticus attributes the reverence to the fact that it is part of the everlasting covenant. Similarly, in the new covenant, the bread is consecrated each Sunday in our churches. The great reverence in the Old Testament demonstrates that it is foreshadowing something of great reverence in the New Testament as well. A symbol is not treated with such reverence of ornate gold, cloths, and incense, but the covenant of the Lord in His blood surely does.

The Tree of Life in Genesis and Revelation

The tree of life is one of two trees seen in the Garden of Eden. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is partaken by Adam and Eve unto their detriment, but the tree of life is said to bring immortality: “Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’— therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken” (Gen. 3:22-24). Augustine (c. 354-430) writes in his Genesis commentary, “Thus Paradise is the Church, as it is called in [Song of Songs 4:13], the four rivers of Paradise are the four gospels; the fruit-trees the saints, and the fruit their works; the tree of life is the holy of holies, Christ; the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the will’s free choice.” Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-395) writes in his Genesis commentary, “It seems to me that I may take the great David and the wise Solomon as my instructors in the interpretation of this text: for both understand the grace of the permitted delight to be one—that very actual Good, which in truth is every good—David, when he says, Delight thou in the Lord , and Solomon, when he names Wisdom herself (which is the Lord) a tree of life (Proverbs 3:18). Thus the every tree of which the passage gives food to him who was made in the likeness of God, is the same with the tree of life.”

Later in Revelation 2:7, the tree is mentioned again: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” Bede (c. 673-735) writes in his Revelation commentary, “The tree of life is Christ, by the vision of Whom in the celestial paradise, and in the present body of the Church, holy souls are refreshed.”

If the tree of life is Christ and it is food unto eternal life, how are we to receive eternal life? Eternal life is granted in the remission of sins, which is in Christ’s sacrifice poured out for us, which is to say that we truly receive Christ in communion and eat of the tree of life.

Melchizedek and Christ

One of the most obvious parallels communion in the Old Testament is in Melchizedek. Hebrews 5-7 demonstrates that Melchizedek is a “type of Christ” in the Old Testament. He is only mentioned twice in the Old Testament, Genesis 14:18 and Psalm 110:4: “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said:​​​ ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High,​​ Possessor of heaven and earth; ​​And blessed be God Most High,​​Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ And he gave him a tithe of all” (Gen 14:18-20). “Your people shall be volunteers​​ in the day of Your power;​​ In the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning,​​ You have the dew of Your youth. ​​The LORD has sworn​​ and will not relent,​​’You are a priest forever​​ according to the order of Melchizedek'” (Psalm 110:3-4).

The very brief account of Melchizedek in the Old Testament is a seemingly odd and insignificant story without the New Testament context. If Genesis 14:18-20 is removed from the chapter, the story with the king of Sodom on either side of it actually reads more smoothly. Three verses seemingly derail the story without reason, and the bread and wine are given no explanation. If it were not for the Eucharist, the account would seem altogether unnecessary to the Biblical narrative, that is to say that if the Eucharist is solely a symbol, then the story of Melchizedek is even less significant as it is a foreshadowing of a future symbol that grants no grace or significance to the recipient. This renders the emphasis on Melchizedek in Hebrew 5-7 hardly readable.

The Seraphim’s Coal

Isaiah 6:1-7 reads, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said, ​​​’Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!’​ And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am undone!​​Because I am a man of unclean lips,​​ and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;​​For my eyes have seen the King, ​​The LORD of hosts.’​ Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said, ‘Behold, this has touched your lips;​​ your iniquity is taken away,​​ and your sin purged.'”

Perhaps the most debatable foreshadowing of the Eucharist in the Old Testament is the Seraphim’s coal in Isarah 6. While various modern theologians have proposed this is a foreshadowing of the Eucharist, the historical for precedence for this interpretation is mixed. Martin Luther compares it to baptism. Cyril of Aleandria says it is the Word preached. Notably John Damascenus (c. 675-749) writes, “With eyes, lips, and aces turned toward it, let us receive the divine burning coal so that the fire of the coal may be added to the desire within us to consume our sins and enlighten our hearts, and so that by this communion with the divine fire we may be set afire and deified. Isaiah saw a live coal, and this coal was not plain wood but wood joined with fire. Thus also, the bread of communion is not plain bread but bread joined with the Godhead. And the body joined with the Godhead is not one nature. On the contrary, that of the body is one, whereas that of the Godhead joined with it is another– so that both together are not one nature but two” (Orthodox Faith 4.13).

Addressing Counterarguments

“The elements remain to all senses bread and wine./The accidents of bread and wine cannot remain without the substance of bread and wine remaining.”

This argument is most simply addressed in that Lutherans believe that the bread and wine remain after consecration. The body and blood are united to the bread and wine through the sacramental (I.E. mysterious) union. We do not attempt to explain this philosophically, but do compare it to two examples from Christianity: the ascended Christ walking through a closed door (Jn. 20:19) and, as is tradition, Christ passing through Mary’s womb without it being opened. This is a miracle just as the bush burned in front of Moses yet was not consumed, and as Christ used mud to heal the blind. The fire did not interact with the world as it would naturally, yet it was there. The mud was a substance of the world, yet Christ used it as a means for miracle. Memorialism spread after the radical enlightenment, in which science became a means to trump scripture rather than work hand-in-hand. This philosophy leads to the conclusion that the senses trump the plain words of Christ and the denial of the miraculous Biblical accounts.

“It is cannibalism to eat a person. Cannibalism is a sin, so the elements cannot be Christ’s body and blood.”

The flaw in this reasoning is that it presumes a capernaitic (AKA carnal) form of eating, which is to say a natural eating of the body and blood rather than a sacramental/ supernatural eating. This was an argument made against Christians from the earliest times and is addressed as early as the mid-first century by Justin Martyr in his Second Apology (defense) for Christianity. This is actually a testament to the widespread belief in real presence in the early church. They did not respond by saying it is merely a symbol or a spiritual eating; they gave responses explaining the nature of the eating as the true body and blood, but not in a capernaitic manner. Dr. Jordan Cooper gives a response to this objection.

Other arguments (such as those regarding remembrance) have been addressed above.

Conclusion

The Old Testament witness demonstrates a clear witness of something great and astounding to come in the New Testament, something greater than a symbol. The words of Christ are clear and simple and the broader New Testament witness and treatment of the Eucharist show a belief that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, while the bread and wine simultaneously remain. The history of the church demonstrates a clear universal belief in real presence, lest perhaps two Theologians (one a heretic) who believe in some sort of presence, though it is unclear how this comes to be in their theology. Memorialism is foreign entirely to historic Protestantism, found only in the radical reformation between the 1520s and the late 1600s and not widespread until the 1800s. The evidence is abundant for the doctrine of real presence and should be the natural conclusion of both the theologian and historian.

Further Readings

Formula of Concord Solid Declaration Article VII: The Holy Supper

Large Catechism on the Sacrament of the Altar

Philo’s Special Laws Book II

St. Ambrose’s On The Sacraments

4 thoughts on “Introduction to Sacramentology: Real Presence in the Eucharist – a Scriptural Apology

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