Another Blog Update

I haven’t posted since June of 2021. It has been a busy time. I’ve spent a lot of time reading, plenty of theology. This is where much of my time has gone, hence the lack of blog posts. I did revise some of the old blog posts slightly, as I mentioned in the last post, but most of my plans for major revision will be going into the book form of the blog posts, which will be much better. Sadly, I have not worked on the book much since the summer of 2021.

The exciting news is that I started a YouTube channel with friends: Scholastic Lutherans. This is where a lot of my time that would have been on my blog has moved. We upload Fridays at noon Eastern time every week. I’ve also been updating the Audio Books page with a lot of new material that will interest readers. I recommend checking it out; I’ve done some remastering and a couple original recordings. I truly do hope to do a post on double predestination (I have notes), but I have not taken any time to write it still. Hopefully that will be the next post on here.

YouTube, Revisions, and new Audiobooks – Blog update

It has been some time since my last blog post. I’ve been occupied with other projects. Some of that work has been for future blog updates.

I started a YouTube channel for this blog, which will host the same audiobooks I’ve hosted on this blog, and maybe some original content if I find the time or desire to do so. I also have begun recordings for a new audiobook– this one more lengthy, though still more of an essay than a true book, another very important book by Luther adjacent to the confessions. All audiobooks in the future will be uploaded both to my YouTube and to this site.

A friend has also helped me with revisions to my blog posts. I have not made these revisions yet, but they will be coming in the future, and I’ll make a blog post notifying that the revisions have been made. In addition, these revisions will be helpful in a more ambitious project to be released (hopefully) in the future– a book format apology for Lutheranism, against other Protestant traditions. This will be a reformatted, revised edition of the soteriology and sacramentology blog posts in PDF format. It will also include some more explanations and opening and closing chapters discussing some context for the readers. I want this to be something that can be sent to Protestant friends that would perhaps convince them of Lutheranism, without needing too much introduction to the subject. I’ve decided to stay away from other topics (such as Christology or Theology proper) due to the depth required to understand the difference between the Lutheran view and other Protestant traditions. Work has already begun, but I’m still in the beginning of the book. I might, in the future, offer the book in print format (properly printed and bound), but I cannot guarantee this. If I get there, I’ll make a post certainly.

The blog post on double predestination that has been hinted on the homepage will come eventually and will be included in the book. I have the scripture references and some content from the fathers; I just haven’t taken the time to write out the post, but it will come.

Thanks for reading!

Romans 13 and the U.S. Revolution Clause

On January 6, 2021 a group of protesters broke into the United States capitol building. Some on Facebook, including pastors in the LCMS, spoke out against this act. Certainly, men are entitled to their political opinions; this post handles only the theology of the act, not its political implications. This is being written as the events are still occurring, but I will not be surprised if discussion of Romans 13 is brought into theology conversations very soon for good reason.

In the NKJV, Romans 13:1-7 is titled “Submit to Government.” This is a fitting title for the passage.

1 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

Romans 13:1-7 (NKJV)

Philip Melanchthon handles the topic of government in the final chapter of his Theological Commonplaces. He writes the following:

Diligently consider that the orders [of worldly authority] unite all human groups and that they are arranged for the knowledge of God, good customs, peace and unity, law, judgement, and punishment. Persons such as lords and office-holders should maintain such laws, judgment, and punishment; and subjects, who by their obedience exercise morality, should not shatter the peace. This is called politica societas, or politics….

Christians are not bound to the laws of Moses, except when they are the same as natural laws. Christians may use reasonable laws…. By “reasonable laws” I mean those which are in accord with the natural [sense of] right [Recht] that God has created in men so that we honor virtue and punish vice. This rule St. Paul also sets forth in Romans 13….

Deliberate disobedience against worldly authority, and against true or reasonable laws, is deadly sin, sin which God punishes with eternal damnation if we obstinately continue in it. Faith in God cannot be present in one’s heart at the same time as a design to act contrary to the open commandment of God.

Loci Communes (1555), Of Worldly Authority

With this passage in mind, it is hard to imagine how any revolt against government can be properly conducted without violating a Biblical command. I would contend that it is generally true that revolt violates Romans 13 and its interpretation by Melanchthon; however, U.S. law is anything but a general example on this subject. I should clarify that I am not condoning or condemning any particular action on current events in this post; I am only giving a take on the theology surrounding the events. With this stated, I believe that it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish the U.S. Congress, given the right conditions, and that this action is not a violation of Romans 13.

In U.S. law (among other states), there are generally documents accepted as “organic law,” a law, or system of laws, that form the foundation of a government. The U.S. Constitution would be an example of organic law accepted by the entire federal government. The Office of the Law Revision Counsel handles United States Codes, among which are the organic laws. The organic laws can be found in the U.S. Codes Front Matter, Organic Laws. Among these documents is The Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence contains what is sometimes called a “revolution clause.” This is a statement that gives citizens conditions under which a revolution is permissible; the intent of such a clause is to prevent tyranny. The famous clause follows:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

The Declaration of Independence

This passage is considered United States law, with an important caveat– the executive and judicial branches do not accept The Declaration of Independence as organic law. It is only accepted as such by the legislative branch, IE Congress. It is, thus, legal to revolt against the established congress if the proper conditions are met, namely when it is destructive of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I believe these conditions are currently met by the Congress. The Congress approves budgets which fund organizations such as Planned Parenthood, destroying life. The Congress approves legislation that limits constitutional rights of freedom, such as section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which allows for the censorship of speech through private organizations that receive government funding (such as Google). The Congress approves legislation that infringes on the pursuit of happiness (which refers to property rights) in passing restrictions to fire arm ownership guaranteed in the second amendment. These are a handful of examples of many.

Given the revolution clause and the met preconditions, my position is that a revolt against Congress is legal under US law and thus not a violation of Romans 13.

On the Differences Between the Continental (Dutch) and Presbyterian (Scottish) Reformed Traditions

The nomenclature among the Reformed tradition is often confusing. “Presbyterian” refers to a sub-tradition of the broader Reformed tradition and a church polity (structure). “Reformed” refers to the broad theological tradition as well as the Continental Reformed churches, most often the Dutch Reformed. This post clarifies the use of these terms and explains the differences between the two primary branches of the Reformed tradition– the Presbyterians, primarily from Scotland, and the (Continental) Reformed, primarily from the Netherlands.

Reformed is a theological term used to refer to a Christian tradition from the magisterial reformation (the primary set of Protestants) that believes in Calvinist soteriology, Covenant theology, and Confessional doctrine. This makes them stand apart from Lutherans and Arminians, who were both confessional but rejected Calvinist soteriology. (Arminians retained a modified Covenant theology; Lutherans do not have a particularly comparable Biblical hermeneutic, instead having unique Law-Gospel hermeneutic and Two Kingdom theology). Some of the biggest names of the early Reformed tradition were Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, Martin Bucer, Heinrich Bullinger, John Knox, and Theodore Beza. While different Reformed authors had differing viewpoints on many parts of theology, they remained united in the aforementioned principles.

The term “presbyterian” (lower case) refers to a type of church structure in which the pastors (called presbyters, from the Greek for “elder”) have a council that makes decisions for the church body, without any bishops. Deacons also work as church servants and lay-elders also assist. Presbyterian (upper case) refers to a sub-tradition of the broader Reformed tradition. Dutch Reformed refers to a sub-tradition of the broader Reformed tradition, not specifically those of Dutch heritage.

While the Lutherans agreed on the Book of Concord (or at least the Augsburg Confession and Luther’s Catechisms) as their set of beliefs and the Arminians the 1621 Arminian Confession, the Reformed developed a number of confessions; however, only two survived to this day in common use– the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards. Both are traditional Reformed confessions and both hold to a presbyterian church polity (as opposed to episcopal, congregational, or connexional).

Other Reformed confessions, such as those of the Congregationalists or Particular Baptists, see much less use today, the former seeing almost no use at all, and both are congregational in polity rather than presbyterian, meaning congregations have a loose association with each other rather than a set governing council of pastors that makes formal doctrinal decisions, with disciplinary power. Some Reformed churches, such as the Reformed church in Hungary, kept the episcopal system during the reformation. Others, such as the French Reformed (known as Huguenots) were very close to the Dutch and Presbyterians, maintaining a Reformed confession of faith and a presbyterian polity, but the Huguenots are so few in number today that they are not a significant part of conversation.

The Three Forms of Unity are the confessions of the Dutch Reformed tradition (RCA, CRCNA, URCNA, etc) and include the Belgic Confession, Canons of Dordt, and Heidelberg Catechism. The Westminster Standards are a set of eight documents, though three are primary– the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Smaller Catechisms– and these are the confessions of the Presbyterian tradition (PCUSA, PCA, OPC, etc).

Theologically, these two sets of confessions don’t have any substantial disagreement, and on any point of disagreement, there are generally ways to reconcile the two. Differences come down to preferred terminology and presentation. The Westminster Standards are, however, significantly longer, giving more detail on some theology and far more detail on some matters of church governance, but these details are generally not in disagreement with the Dutch Reformed positions.

Here are the differences in theology in the confessions (which may or may not be considered reconcilable, depending on interpretation):

The Three Forms says that all dying infants are saved (Canons of Dordt 1.17), whereas Westminster only gives this assurance for elect infants (WCF 10.3).

The Three Forms says full assurance and firm confidence are part of the definition of faith (Heidelberg 21), whereas Westminster denies infallible assurance as part of the definition of faith (WCF 18.3).

The Three Forms has very moderate rules for the Sabbath, mostly just pertaining to attending church and being extra careful to abstain from sin (Heidelberg 103), whereas Westminster forbids even secular work (WLC 117).

The Three Forms sees the tenth commandment as a summary of the other nine (Heidelberg 113), where as Westminster sees it as narrowly referring to coveting (WLC 147).

The Three Forms emphasizes prayer requests relating to our body and soul (Heidelberg 118), whereas Westminster emphasizes prayers related to God’s Glory and advancement of the Gospel (WLC 184).

The Three Forms include the Apostles’ Creed (Heidelberg 23), whereas Westminster only included it as an appendix to the Shorter Catechism.

The Three Forms (in particular the Canons of Dordt 7 and 10) lends itself better to infralapsarianism, where as Westminster is ambiguous, though it uses infralapsarian language at times. Supralapsarianism is the doctrine that the logical order of God’s decrees is as follows: God decreed election for some men, God decreed creation of man, and God decreed that man would be allowed to fall. Infralapsarianism has a different logical order: God decreed creation of man, God decreed that man would be allowed to fall, and God decreed election for some men. It can be argued that both confessions allow for either view, but the presentation in the Canons of Dordt seems more clearly to lean toward Infralapsarianism.

The Three Forms denies that the Word has any positive effect on the reprobate (Canons of Dordt 3, 4, B.4), where as Westminster teaches that the Spirit can work through the Word in some manner in the reprobate (WCF 10.4).

The Westminster Confession tend more toward looking at things from God’s perspective, which is more speculative, whereas the Belgic Confession tends more toward looking at things from man’s perspective, which is more concrete. Consider the first question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Compare this to the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism: “What is thy only comfort in life and death? That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” The former emphasizes God’s abstract quality of glory. The latter emphasizes the concrete reality of man encountering God enfleshed. This difference in emphasis is persistent throughout both confessions and perhaps later developments too.

Another difference is coverage of topics. The Westminster Standards covers the following doctrines that are not covered in the Three Forms of Unity: The Covenant of Works, the invisible/visible church distinction, Christian liberty, marriage/divorce, elements of worship, the pope as the antichrist, threatenings and promises in the Ten Commandments, rules for a right understanding of the Ten Commandments, removal of Christian holidays, and burial of the dead. The Three Forms of Unity has one topic that is not discussed in the Westminster Standards: direct reference to historical heresies.

A nice comparison of the catechisms was done by W. Robert Godfrey. I’ve reproduced his table:

Person & work of Christ24%10.3%13.8%
Holy Spirit (explicit)23.3%9.3%18.4%
Church (explicit)4.7%.9%13.2%
A Comparison of Topic Breakdown of the Heidelberg, Westminster Shorter, and Westminster Larger Catechisms

While both are presbyterian, the Dutch Reformed (according to the Church Order given at the Synod of Dordt) have a fourfold office of minister, doctor (professor), elder, and deacons, whereas Presbyterians (According to the Form of Church Government) have a twofold office of elder and deacon, but the office of elder comes in the varieties of teaching elder (pastor) and ruling elder (lay-elder). The Presbyterians also see pastors as belonging more to the presbytery (this is the assembly of pastors) as a whole than the local congregation while the Dutch see pastors as belonging more to the local congregation since their equivalent of the presbytery, the classis, is only temporary and not a standing institution.

The primary differences, however, between the Dutch Reformed and the Presbyterian traditions come down to other developments, not explicitly in their confessions. The Presbyterians are more influenced by the Puritans than the Dutch, and the Dutch are more influenced by Neo-Calvinists. This is too big to unpack here and may be the most significant difference, but this should provide good guidance for those wanting to learn more. The linked Wikipedia articles provide good summaries.

There are also slight differences historically in their liturgies. While both the Dutch and Presbyterians long held to the Regulative Principle of Worship (the principle that only what the Bible commands for worship is permissible), the Dutch approved of using Biblical Canticles (such as the Nunc Dimittis or Moses’ Odes) while Presbyterians strictly used the 150 Psalms. Another notable differences is the presence of a declaration of pardon in some Dutch services, similar to a public absolution seen in Lutheranism; the pastor will declare the congregation to be forgiven of sins. This practice is rare in Presbyterianism. Historically, the Dutch also maintained a second sermon on Sunday after the main service; this second sermon was focused on catechesis.

This is the extent of the differences between the Dutch Reformed and Presbyterian traditions. Most other differences come down to particular church bodies or theological minutiae. Both traditions draw on many of the same authors and ideas and mutually use theologians from both traditions from their founding to this day. The differences should not be underplayed as if they do not exist at all, but for the great majority of circumstances, the differences mean little for laymen.

Introduction to Soteriology: Universal Atonement – a Scriptural and Patristic 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.

A key pin in soteriology debates is atonement doctrine. Atonement theories address the question of how Christ’s life, death, and resurrection play into the salvation of men (or perhaps the entirety of creation). There are a number of popular atonement theories. Some include Christus Victor, Penal Substitutionary Atonement, Satisfaction Theory, and Governmental Theory. Lutherans often borrow from more than one atonement theory but see Christus Victor and Penal Substitutionary Atonement as particularly important. Explaining these theories is beyond the scope of this post, but is helpful to know for those familiar with atonement theories that haven’t looked into Lutheranism and are wondering from which approach Lutherans consider the question of the extent of the atonement. For the sake of clarity, we will be primarily considering Penal Substitutionary Atonement.

The extent of the atonement is a debate primarily between Arminians and Calvinists in contemporary discourse. Generally, two sides are given: Limited Atonement (Calvinist) and Universal Atonement (Arminian). Arminians argue that the atonement is universal in extent; that is, Christ died for the redemption of every person that will ever live. Calvinists argue that the atonement is limited in extent; Christ died for the redemption of the elect (IE it is limited to the elect). For the clarification to the reader, John Calvin, the founder of Calvinism, may not have believed in Limited Atonement, and there is scholarly debate on this subject. That said, many who came after Calvin in the Calvinist tradition, did affirm Limited Atonement, and this view is now synonymous with “Calvinism” in common parlance.

Different subsets of Arminianism and Calvinism have different nuances to their approaches, but the below confessions contain a summary of both sides, and perhaps the most central focus of this debate in history. Best representing the Arminian view is Article 2 of the Five Articles of Remonstrance, which were condemned by the Continental Reformed at the Synod of Dordt. Best representing the Calvinist view is Article 8 of the Canons of Dordt.

That agreeably thereunto, Jesus Christ the Savior of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer, according to the word of the Gospel of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And in the First Epistle of John 2:2: “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Five Articles of Remonstrance, Article 2

Note the use of “savior of the world… for all men and for every man… for them all.”

For it was the entirely free plan and very gracious will and intention of God the Father that the enlivening and saving effectiveness of his Son’s costly death should work itself out in all his chosen ones, in order that he might grant justifying faith to them only and thereby lead them without fail to salvation. In other words, it was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father…

Canons of Dordt, Article 8: The Saving Effectiveness of Christ’s Death

Note the use of “chosen ones” to describe those for whom Christ redeems, and further, the section on “every people, tribe, nation, and language.” While the latter half sounds universal at first glance, this is an interpretation of the passages that say Christ died for the “world” as meaning “people from all over the world, but still only those were chosen.”

Lutherans, often left out of this debate, side with Arminians with regard to the extent of the atonement. The best expression of this in simple terms are in the 1592 Saxon Visitation Articles, which are generally considered an Appendix to the Lutheran Confessions.

The pure and true Doctrine of our Churches on this Article.

1] That Christ died for all men, and, as the Lamb of God, took away the sins of the whole world.

2] That God created no man for condemnation; but wills that all men should be saved and arrive at the knowledge of truth. He therefore commands all to hear Christ, his Son, in the gospel; and promises, by his hearing, the virtue and operation of the Holy Ghost for conversion and salvation.

1592 Saxon Visitation Articles, Article IV On Predestination and the Eternal Providence of God.

Calvinists often call Lutherans inconsistent when Lutherans state the universal extent of the atonement since Lutherans believe in Monergistic Election and Perseverance of the Elect. To this, the Saxon Visitation Articles provide further explanation.

3] That many men, by their own fault, perish: some, who will not hear the gospel concerning Christ; some, who again fall from grace, either by fundamental error, or by sins against conscience.

4] That all sinners who repent will be received into favor; and none will be excluded, though his sins be red as blood; since the mercy of God is greater than the sins of the whole world, and God hath mercy on all his works.

1592 Saxon Visitation Articles, Article IV On Predestination and the Eternal Providence of God.

Thus, Lutherans believe in a universal atonement but believe that those who reject God also reject God’s grace and the Gospel that is offered to them freely.

This post will not be addressing the related topics of monergistic election, perseverance and apostasy, or single vs double predestination (dedicated post in the future), which are discussed in other posts. Below, the Lutheran position is defended.

The Patristic Witness

In this post, it is sufficient enough to state that there is no significant support for the opposition in the church fathers and many discuss Christ’s death for the salvation of the world and for all. A handful of notable quotes are found below but are by no means comprehensive.

The entirety of Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John Book VI 37-38, which addresses this very topic but cannot all be placed here, is one of the earliest writings to address this question and concludes with a universal atonement.

The Father of Jesus is therefore a tender and loving Father, though ​”​He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up”​ as His lamb ​”for us all,”​ that so ​”the Lamb of God,”​ by dying for all men, might ​”take away the sin of the world.”​ It was not by compulsion, therefore, but willingly, that He bore the reproaches of those who reviled Him.

Origen, Against Celsus VIII.43 (248 AD)

Origen has several relevant quotes, but the two above examples seem sufficient.

Where our Lord Jesus Christ, who took upon Him to die for all, stretched forth His hands, not somewhere on the earth beneath, but in the air itself, in order that the Salvation effected by the Cross might be shown to be for all men everywhere: destroying the devil who was working in the air: and that He might consecrate our road up to Heaven, and make it free.

Athanasius of Alexandria, Letter 22 (297-373 AD)

“I have need to be baptized by You, and You come to me.”​ [ Matthew 3:14 ] For, because the baptism was ​”​of repentance,​”​ and led men to accuse themselves for their offenses, lest any one should suppose that He too ​”​comes to Jordan”​ in this sort of mind, John sets it right beforehand, by calling Him both Lamb, and Redeemer from all the sin that is in the world. Since He that was able to take away the sins of the whole race of men, much more was He Himself without sin. For this cause then he said not,​”Behold, He that is without sin,​”​ but what was much more, He ​”that bears the sin of the world,”​ in order that together with this truth you might receive that other with all assurance, and having received it might perceive, that in the conduct of some further economy He comes to the baptism. Wherefore also he said to Him when He came, ​”​I have need to be baptized by You, and You come to me?”

John Chrysostom, Homily 12.1 on the Gospel of St. Matthew (347-407 AD)

“​So Christ was once offered.​”​ By whom offered? Evidently by Himself. Here he says that He is not Priest only, but Victim also, and what is sacrificed. On this account are [the words] ​”​was offered.”​ ​”Was once offered”​ (he says) ​”​to bear the sins of many.”​ Why ​”of many,”​ and not ​”of all”? Because not all believed. For He died indeed for all, that is His part: for that death was a counterbalance against the destruction of all men. But He did not bear the sins of all men, because they were not willing.

John Chrysostom, Homily on the Pestle to the Hebrews 17.4 (347-407 AD)

Chrysostom has several relevant quotes, but the two above examples seem sufficient.

Moreover, he adores the only begotten God Himself, after His Father, and for Him, giving Him thanks that He undertook to die for all men by the cross, the type of which He has appointed to be the baptism of regeneration. He glorifies Him also, for that God who is the Lord of the whole world, in the name of Christ and by His Holy Spirit, has not cast off mankind but has suited His providence to the difference of seasons…

Apostolic Constitutions VII.43 (400 AD)

To this forgiveness the traitor Judas could not attain: for he, the son of perdition, at whose right the devil stood, gave himself up to despair before Christ accomplished the mystery of universal redemption. For in that the Lord died for sinners, perchance even he might have found salvation if he had not hastened to hang himself.

Pope Leo the Great, Sermon 62.4 (On the Passion, XI) (400-461 AD)

Here it is clear that redemption is universal, so much so that Christ even died for Judas.

In some pictures of the venerable icons, a lamb is painted to which the Precursor points his finger, which is received as a type of grace, indicating beforehand through the Law, our true Lamb, Christ our God. Embracing therefore the ancient types and shadows as symbols of the truth, and patterns given to the Church, we prefer ​”​grace and truth,​”​ receiving it as the fulfillment of the Law. In order therefore that ​”​that which is perfect​”​ may be delineated to the eyes of all, at least in colored expression, we decree that the figure in human form of the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world, Christ our God, be henceforth exhibited in images, instead of the ancient lamb, so that all may understand by means of it the depths of the humiliation of the Word of God, and that we may recall to our memory his conversation in the flesh, his passion and salutary death, and his redemption which was wrought for the whole world.

Council of Trullo, Canon 82 (692 AD)

Notably, some will point to Augustine (354-430 AD) and later Augustinians Prosper of Aquitaine (390-455 AD) and Fulgentius of Ruspe (465-530 AD) as those who taught limited atonement. Augustine notably discusses double predestination, which can imply a limited atonement; however, he gives very little explanation of this doctrine at all, leaving him ambiguous at best for the Calvinists. Furthermore, Augustine writes the following:

The Passion of the Lord is the price for the whole world. He has redeemed the whole world.

Augustine, Letter 171 to Donatists

Just as our Lord was the Creator of all, so also as the Restorer of all He has absolved the whole world with a single death. For we must surely believe that He who has given more than the whole world was worth has ransomed the whole world.

Augustine, Sermon 193 (PL 39:902)

Furthermore, [Christ suffered] outside the city and outside its walls that you may understand that He is the universal victim offered for humankind and therefore is its universal purification.

Augustine, Sermon 155 (PL 39:2047)

And Prosper of Aquitaine writes in Pro Augustini Doctrina Responsiones Ad Capitula Objectionum Vincentianarum that Augustine said the following in response to opponents that accused him of teaching that Jesus did not suffer for the redemption of all men:

Against the wound of original sin by which the nature of all men was corrupted and made liable to death in Adam and out of which developed the disease of all lusts, the true and powerful and unique remedy is the death of the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, etc. As far as the magnitude and power of the price are concerned, and as that price is related to the one cause of the human race, the blood of Christ is the ransom for the whole world. However, those who pass through this life without faith in Christ and without the sacrament of regeneration are foreigners to redemption, etc. The cup of immortality, which was prepared from our weakness and from God’s power, has in itself indeed the power to benefit all people. But if they do not drink it, it does not profit them.

Prosper of Aquitaine, Pro Augustini Doctrina Responsiones Ad Capitula Objectionum Vincentianarum

Prosper of Aquitaine discusses double predestination (though different from Calvin’s doctrine). Prosper’s doctrine states that God reprobates (I.E. eternal condemnation, the opposite of election) based on their foreseen demerits, I.E. their actual sins. This is different from the view of any notable early Calvinist. Prosper later rejects this position, however, and holds to a single predestination. This is seen expressly in his work The Call of All Nations. Fulgentius of Ruspe embraces a universal atonement early in life and later embraces a more limited atonement (see To Euthymius II.2-3), but his view is, once again, different from the Calvinists. Fulgentius of Ruspe retains a very high view of sacraments. While Calvinists insist that sacraments are only efficacious for the elect, Fulgentius states that they are effective for all who receive them; furthermore, Fulgentius’ form of double predestination is even more explicit than Prosper’s that reprobation is based on foreseen demerits.

Prosper devotes large portions of The Call of All Nations to the topic at hand, but this quote is particularity relevant:

There can, therefore, be not reason to doubt the Jesus Christ our Lord died for the unbelievers and the sinners. If there had been anyone who did not belong to these, then Christ would not have died for all. But He did die for all men without exception. There is no one, therefore, in all mankind who was not, before the reconciliation which Christ effected in His blood, either a sinner or an unbeliever.

Prosper of Aquitaine, The Call of All Nations II.16.139-141 (450 AD)

Fulgentius states the following on predestination in his work Ad Monimum Book I:

God has not predestined the wicked to lose righteousness the way He has predestined the saints to receive righteousness… If we were to say that a man has been predestined by God to some wicked deed, we would be ascribing to a merciful God—heaven forbid!—the sort of work where one cannot find a merciful or just God… God could never have predestined man to that which He Himself determined to forbid by commandment, wash away with His mercy, and punish in His justice.


God destined those for punishment who He foreknew would depart from Him by the fault of their wicked will.

Fulgentius of Ruspe, Ad Monimum Bk 1 (465-530 AD)

With regard to the Vessels of Wrath in Romans 8, he writes the following:

[They] cannot be called the wrath of God except when the iniquity of man is believed to have preceded it.

Fulgentius of Ruspe, Ad Monimum Bk 1 (465-530 AD)

At best, Calvinists can only appeal to these figures by saying that they taught a position with some similarities to Calvinist doctrine, but with some apparent and important differences. Lutheran dogmaticians Martin Chemnitz and Johann Gerhard discuss the work of the Augustinians and notes that their form of double predestination is different from Calvinists.

There are later figures to which the Reformed can appeal for support for their doctrine, namely figures such as Thomas Gottschalk of Orbais (808-867 AD). Gottschalk, however, was condemned as a heretic for his views. Other figures after Gottschalk also have a similar doctrine to the Reformed (though these figures are not the major theological figures in their respective eras), but what is notable is that there is no robust support for such a view prior to the ninth century.

The Scriptural Witness

Salvation for All

Isaiah 53:6 reads, “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

“Him” in this passage refers to Christ and the context discusses Christ’s life and death.

John 12:30-33 reads, “Jesus answered and said, ‘This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.’ This He said, signifying by what death He would die.”

Jesus is answering the people by him who heard the Father from heaven speaking, who the people thought was an angel. Christ says he will draw all to himself in his death on the cross.

Romans 5:15-19 reads, “But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.) Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.”

This passage is clear that Christ’s atonement was comparable to Adam’s sin in that Adam’s sin brought death to all, yet Christ’s atonement brought life to all. For this passage to read otherwise, Adam’s sin, and with it death, would have to read as not applying to all people, yet it is clear that all sin and all die.

Romans 8:31-32 reads, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

1 Corinthians 15:20-22 reads, “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.”

See the note from Romans 5:15-19.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15 reads, “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.”

2 Corinthians 5:17-19 reads, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”

Here it is clear that Christ died for both all and the world.

Colossians 1:19-20 reads, “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.”

This passage, in line with 2 Corinthians 5:17-19, highlights that Christ died not only to reconcile men to himself but all of creation, which includes all men.

1 Timothy 2:3-6 reads, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.”

Here it is stated that Christ not only desires all to be saved but also that he ransomed (atoned) for all.

1 Timothy 4:9-11 reads, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.”

Apologists for limited atonement will point to this passage as example of the doctrine of limited atonement since the atonement is “especially for those who believe,” yet the clear intent of the passage is that Christ died for all, not only those who believe.

Titus 2:11-14 reads, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.”

The grace of God that brings salvation, which certainly includes the atonement, has appeared to all men in this passage.

Hebrews 2:8-9 reads, “For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.”

This passage uses slightly different language, “everyone” rather than “all,” in English, but the Greek reads the same as the other passages using the Greek word for all (Gr: pas).

2 Peter 3:9 reads, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

God is willing that all come to repentance. This is not an explicit statement against limited atonement but is implied in that a limited atonement would not generally suggest that Christ desired all to be saved.

Salvation for the World

After John the Baptist preached of the coming of Christ, John 1:29 reads, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'”

This famous proclamation from John the Baptist was considered essential to the early church and appears in the historic Sunday services in a canticle called the “Agnus Dei.”

John 3:14-17 reads, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

In this famous passage, the limited atonement must confess that John is using the word “world” in two different senses (though there is little contextual evidence to support this claim) or that God does not love the whole world but only people throughout the world.

1 John 2:1-2 reads, “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”

John is clear here that Christ died not only for the sins of the recipients of the letter but also the whole world. Apologists for limited atonement will argue that “holos” in Greek (translated as whole) here means “throughout” and/or that John is clarifying that Christ died not only for the recipients but also Christians throughout the world. The latter argument does not match the context of the letter. The former argument is not an entirely invalid reading, but is not the most common use of the term “holos.”

1 John 4:12-16 reads, “No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”

Salvation for the Ungodly

Romans 5:6-8 reads, “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Limited atonement apologists will point out that all men, even Christians are ungodly. This reading does work in context, but the phrasing does put into question the underlying beliefs of Paul. If Paul believed in limited atonement, would he use such phrasing in this context without clarification?

2 Peter 2:1-3 reads, “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.”

Here, it is clear that Christ bought (that is, atoned for, see Acts 20:28) the false teachers who “bring on themselves swift destruction” and whose “judgment has not been idle” and “destruction does not slumber.” The false teachers are apostate Christians who are condemned, yet Christ still bought them. Limited atonement apologists will respond that the false teachers merely thought that Christ bought them, but because they were not elect, Christ didn’t actually buy them (this rests on the premise of perseverance of the saints, IE that those who truly believe cannot fall away). This interpretation is wanting in the text. Alternatively, another argument is that the false teachers received evanescent grace, a doctrine taught by Calvin that some receive a fleeting and in-genuine faith. This interpretation (and the doctrine of evanescent grace in general) is wanting in the text.

Addressing Counterarguments

Arguments for Limited Atonement (as with many doctrines) generally fall into a defense against the opponents (negative arguments) or defending the doctrine with their own reasons (positive arguments).

Negative arguments generally consist of the following: Any and all of the passages saying Christ died for the (whole) world are referring to Christ dying for people throughout the world but not every person, and any and all passages saying Christ died for all are referring to all Christians or all of the people being immediately addressed. While perhaps being a possible reading in some passages, such usage of the Greek word “holos” (all world) and “pas” (all) is wanting in many (if not all) the above passages. To claim such an interpretation across such numerous passages without the context of the passage justifying this interpretation undermines this argument. The passages on atonement for the ungodly have been addressed above.

Generally, there are six positive arguments seen in favor of limited atonement. One is an appeal to a select few church fathers and medievals– this has already been addressed above. One is an appeal to reason; drawing from passages on predestination, the Calvinists conclude those that are not predestined to salvation are predestined to condemnation, and therefore, Christ did not atone for them. I will address double predestination in a future post.

The other four arguments are scriptural arguments. The first two scriptural arguments presented are very similar; both look at passages regarding Christ’s atonement that refer to the atonement as “for many” or “for the church” and after this conclude that the writer is implying that Christ did not die for the others. The flaw in this reasoning should be apparent to the reader. Dying for some does not preclude dying for others, especially when there are numerous passages that point to a universal atonement as seen above and the testimony of nearly the entire history of the church is in concord with such a doctrine. The relevant verses have been placed below for the reader to examine themselves. A few notes have been added for clarity.

The final two arguments are interpretations of sections of two passages– namely the Parable of the Good Shepherd and Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. These passages are addressed individually below.

Christ Died for Many

Matthew 20:27-28 reads, “‘And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.'”

Matthew 26:28 (cf. Mark 14:24, Luke 22:17-20) reads, “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many* for the remission of sins.”

*The text in Luke reads “shed for you (pl.)” rather than “shed for many.”

Hebrews 9:28 reads, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.”

Christ Died for His People/The Church

Isaiah 53:8, 11 reads; “He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken…. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities.”

Matthew 1:20-21 reads, “But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.'”

Acts 20:28-29 reads, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.”

Romans 8:33-34 reads, “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.”

In this passage the argument is roughly that if it is Christ that justifies and condemns and Christ that intercedes, then he must atone solely for those for whom he justifies and intercedes, but this is drawn from reason, not from the text. Some Lutherans also handle this text with an appeal to universal objective justification, but is beyond the scope of this article.

Galatians 1:3-4 reads, “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father”

Ephesians 5:25-27 reads, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”

A further counterargument given against the limited atonement interpretation is to apply the interpretation used to other texts and note the conclusions you must draw. An example of this is Galations 2:20, which reads, “‘I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.'” Applying the same rule to this text as the limited atonement apologists use in the above passages, we must conclude that Christ died for Paul, but not others, which nobody puts forth as a true interpretation.

John 10 – The Parable of the Good Shepherd

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them.

Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.”

…. [Later] the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.”

John 10:1-16, 24-30

The limited atonement apologist interprets the phrase “I lay down My life for the sheep” to mean that Christ lays down His life for the church but not others. This argument fails on three grounds. First, like the other texts on Christ atoning for the church and for many, a text saying that Christ dies for one group does not exclude Christ dying for others. Second, when Christ says the he lays down His life for the sheep, he states it in context of being the good shepherd, contrasting that He lays down His life but the others do not. His focus is not on the extent of the atonement but in telling of His goodness and grace in protecting His flock. Third, if the limited atonement interpretation were to be taken at face value, this would still prove to be a poor passage on which to ground other doctrine. Parables are neither perfectly clear nor precise and thus shouldn’t be used to interpret other clear passages.

John 17 – Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer

“I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.

I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.

I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

John 17:6-24

In this passage, the limited atonement interpretation is that when Christ says, “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours,” He is referring to the fact that He is praying for the elect, but not for the non-elect; therefore, it follows that Christ did not die for the non-elect since He did not intercede for them here. This interpretation fails on two grounds.

First, not interceding for a group in this passage does not necessitate that Christ did not die for this group, but even if this argument were true, who is it that are given to Christ in this passage and who is the world? Christ says, “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” “Them,” “those whom You gave me” must refer to the Apostles as the next clause says “none of them is lost except the son of perdition.” It would not make sense to say “none of the elect is lost except the son of perdition” as the son of perdition (Judas) is not of the elect. Reading “them” to be the apostles also makes the most sense based on the previous clause that reads “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in your name,” suggesting that “them” is a group with whom Christ spent time while on earth.

This reading is further bolstered in the next paragraph. Christ says, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” “These alone” refers to “them” from the previous paragraph, and Christ then prays for “those who will believe in me through their word.” “Those who will believe” is self-explanatory and “their word” must refer to the preaching and writing of “them” from the previous statement, which can only be the Apostles as it was through the word of the Apostles that the rest who believed heard of Christ.

Thus, in this passage, Christ is first praying for the Apostles then for all the believers to come. Still some may argue that the second paragraph then reads, “I pray for the Apostles. I do not pray for the world but for the Apostles, for they are Yours.” Thus, Christ still did not pray for the world here. This argument fails on two grounds as well.

The first argument still holds. Not interceding for a group in this passage does not necessitate that Christ did not die for this group. The second argument regards the context of the prayer. In the end of John 16, Christ is telling the Apostles warnings and comfort, the work of the Holy Spirit, the sorrow and joy of His death and resurrection, and of how He has (ironically for the limited atonement apologist) overcome the world, thus worrying is of no need. The content leading up to the High Priestly Prayer is not regarding the elect, whom will and will not be saved, or other similar notions. The context is on comforting the Apostles and and the future church. The High Priestly Prayer is thus directed toward the same subject: the Apostles and the church. Christ is not outlining the doctrine of election or the atonement so much as praying for the comfort of the Apostles and the perseverance of the church to come.


Universal atonement is nearly unanimous in the history of the church. Among those who dissent, their framework for the doctrine is different from that of the most commonly promoted Calvinist position. The scriptures are clear in their assertion that Christ died for all people, the entire world, and even the ungodly. Supposed passages for limited atonement fail to support the doctrine upon further examination on multiple grounds. The doctrine of universal atonement stands as both the most historic and most scriptural teaching.

Further Reading

St. Prosper of Aquitaine’s The Call of All Nations

The Arminian Confessions

St. Anselm’s Why God Became Man

Introduction to Soteriology: Resistible Grace – 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 Protestants, debate surrounding Calvinism and Arminianism is generally focused on a presumed monergistic, irresistible, and final election until salvation vs a synergistic (though Arminians disagree with this term), prevenient, and contingent election. Lutheranism, rejects this paradigm. While Lutherans agree with Calvin, loosely speaking, on monergistic election and agree with Arminius on apostasy being possible, Lutherans take a middle-ground on the function of grace. More rightly speaking, since Luther (and the Lutherans with him) formulated their doctrine prior to the Arminian and Calvinist debates at the Synod of Dordt, Calvin (and the Reformed with him) took a more extreme stance than Luther, relative to the Roman Catholic Church, while Arminius (and the Remonstrants with him) took a more moderate stance than Luther.

For Lutherans, conversion is a monergistic process, that is to say, the will of man does not assent to agreement to conversion. Man does not “accept” Christ nor does he “choose” God. This is in accordance with Reformed doctrine. Lutherans, however, reject that grace is irresistible. Man is able to reject God as his will naturally does in its sinful state. This is not to detract from God’s sovereignty; God does act in ways that are irresistible to man, but as a broad scriptural theme, God permits man to reject Him with regards to salvation. This occurs on a corporate level in Israel and on an individual level in the New Testament.

The Lutheran confessions state the following:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith

Small Catechism Part II – Answer for the Third Article of the Creed

18] Now, if in St. Paul and in other regenerate men the natural or carnal free will even after regeneration strives against God’s Law, it will be much more obstinate and hostile to God’s Law and will before regeneration. Hence it is manifest (as it is further declared in the article concerning original sin, to which we now refer for the sake of brevity) that the free will from its own natural powers, not only cannot work or concur in working anything for its own conversion, righteousness, and salvation, nor follow [obey], believe, or assent to the Holy Ghost, who through the Gospel offers him grace and salvation, but from its innate, wicked, rebellious nature it resists God and His will hostilely, unless it be enlightened and controlled by God’s Spirit.

19] On this account the Holy Scriptures also compare the heart of the unregenerate man to a hard stone, which does not yield to the one who touches it, but resists, and to a rough block, and to a wild, unmanageable beast; not that man since the Fall is no longer a rational creature, or is converted to God without hearing and meditating upon the divine Word, or in external, worldly things cannot understand, or of his free will do, or abstain from doing, anything good or evil.

Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration II.18-19

39] There would also be overthrown and taken from us the foundation that the Holy Ghost wishes certainly to be present with the Word preached, heard, considered, and to be efficacious and operate through it. Therefore the meaning is not at all the one referred to above, namely, that the elect are to be such [among the elect are to be numbered such] as even despise the Word of God, thrust it from them, blaspheme and persecute it, or, when they hear it, harden their hearts; resist the Holy Ghost; without repentance persevere in sins, do not truly believe in Christ, only make [godliness] an outward show, or seek other ways to righteousness and salvation outside of Christ, 40] Moreover, even as God has ordained in His [eternal] counsel that the Holy Ghost should call, enlighten, and convert the elect through the Word, and that He will justify and save all those who by true faith receive Christ, so He also determined in His counsel that He will harden, reprobate, and condemn those who are called through the Word, if they reject the Word and resist the Holy Ghost, who wishes to be efficacious and to work in them through the Word and persevere therein. And in this manner many are called, but few are chosen….
78] But the reason why not all who hear it believe, and some are therefore condemned the more deeply [eternally to severer punishments], is not because God had begrudged them their salvation; but it is their own fault, as they have heard the Word in such a manner as not to learn, but only to despise, blaspheme, and disgrace it, and have resisted the Holy Ghost, who through the Word wished to work in them, as was the case at the time of Christ with the Pharisees and their adherents.

Formula of Concord, Solid Declartion II.39-40, 78

The Lutheran confessions are clear here that the Holy Ghost works in the Word and is always efficacious, yet men are able to resist the Holy Ghost working in the Word to convert. At the same time, men do not choose God. While somewhat mysterious, this doctrine upholds that salvation is entirely the work of God yet condemnation is the choice of man.

The reason for man’s resistance (his sinful state), the monergistic grace of God in working salvation, and the ability of man after being regenerate in faith to fall away (apostasy) have been addressed already. To better understand this, previous posts on Original Sin/Entire Depravity, Monergistic Election, and Apostasy/Perseverance should prove useful. Because the previous posts covered much of the argument surrounding this topic, merely falling short of addressing it directly, this post will be short, solely discussing the resistance to the Holy Ghost prior to regeneration.

The Scriptural Witness

Numbers 14:10-11 reads, “And all the congregation said to stone them with stones. Now the glory of the LORD appeared in the tabernacle of meeting before all the children of Israel. Then the LORD said to Moses: ‘How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them?'” God performed many signs to Israel, yet they rejected Him.

Isaiah 5:1-5 reads, “Now let me sing to my Well-beloved a song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard: My Well-beloved has a vineyard on a very fruitful hill. He dug it up and cleared out its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in its midst, and also made a winepress in it; so He expected it to bring forth good grapes, but it brought forth wild grapes. ‘And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge, please, between Me and My vineyard. What more could have been done to My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes? And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned; and break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.'” Here God works His vineyard, yet the vineyard brought forth wild grapes, suggesting that God allows man to resist His work.

Luke 7:29-30 reads, “And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.” The Pharisees and lawyers heard Christ preach to them yet they rejected the will of God. Examples of Christ preaching and man resisting that are less explicit are abundant.

Luke 13:34-35 reads, “‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!“‘” Israel heard the prophets but rejected them. Examples of prophets preaching and Israel resisting that are less explicit are abundant.

Acts 7:51-53 reads, “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” Stephen is speaking to the Jewish religious authorities in this context, explaining how they resisted the Holy Spirit, as Israel had done in the past repeatedly.

Acts 13:44-46 reads, “On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, ‘It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.'” Paul and Barnabas preached the word of God to the Jews, yet the Jews rejected God.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 reads, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.” Paul is clear that man can reject God after being called to holiness.

2 Timothy 3:6-9 reads, “For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.” Paul gives a clear example here of Jannes and Jambres resisting God (working through Moses) in the Old Testament and compares this to the perilous men that that resist the truth, which is none other than the Word of God, through which the Spirit works.

The above passages demonstrate that man resists God’s grace repeatedly, a common theme in scripture.

Addressing Common Counterarguments

“John 6 refutes resistible grace.”

John 6:37, 39, 44-45, 65 reads, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out…. 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…. 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…. Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”

Nothing in this passage addresses irresistible or resistible grace. Rather, it addresses predestination. Those given to the Son by the Father will be raised up on the last day. Nowhere does the passage make grace to be irresistible.

“Romans 8:28, 30 states that those whom God effectually calls necessarily come to full salvation.”

Romans 8:28, 30 reads, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose…. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”

Nothing in this passage addresses irresistible or resistible grace; nor does the argument address the subject at hand. The argument addresses the possibility of apostasy, not resistance to grace in conversion. I have addressed apostasy and perseverance in a previous post.

“Acts 13:48 states that those appointed thus believe, which suggests irresistible grace.”

Acts 13:48 reads, “Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.”

Nothing in this passage addresses irresistible or resistible grace. The passage addresses that those appointed, or in other passages often phrased as “elect” or “predestined” or “chosen,” came to believe. Monergistic election and perseverance of the elect have been addressed in previous posts.

“Acts 16:14 gives an example of irresistible grace.”

Acts 16:14 reads, “Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.”

Nothing in this passage addresses irresistible or resistible grace. The passage states that the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to the things spoken by Paul, which is affirmed by Lutherans as monergists. Even if this were an example of irresistible grace, to base a doctrine on this passage would be to take a single descriptive example as the general rule for all conversions.

“Daniel 4:35 and Psalm 115:3 state that God does as He pleases.”

Daniel 4:35 reads, “All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?'”

Psalm 115:3 reads, “But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.”

God is omnipotent and immutable, yet He permits and bestows free will onto people. God is sovereign, but this does not lead to a complete philosophical determinism. Man’s ability to resist God’s calls in the preached Word is not a violation of His sovereignty but a result of God’s permission of free will on man and man’s sinful nature.

Further Readings

Formula of Concord Solid Declaration Article II: Free Will, or Human Powers

Formula of Concord Solid Declaration Article XI: Election

Luther’s Small Catechism

High Church Wedding Liturgy for a Low Church Setting

I recently got married in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and had the privilege of freely working on the liturgy for the ceremony. I thought this would be a useful post for those who want a low church service that is still proper. Those who attended my ceremony were mostly Protestants from evangelical and reformed traditions, but everyone followed along quite well, and nobody seemed uncomfortable. This liturgy roughly follows a vespers service from The Lutheran Hymnal along with a marriage rite. The exact setting is modified from Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Detroit. I cannot publish the entirety marriage rite, as that belongs Zion. Modifications were made to direct the congregation more easily in a couple places and to remove kneeling. The entire liturgy was spoken, except the hymns, which were sung, of course.

The week before, the following banns should be published, and the following prayer prayed during the intercessions:

The Banns: On [day of the week], the [#th] Day of [month], this [#th] year of our Lord ✠ Jesus Christ, [Groom] and [Bride] desire to enter the holy estate of matrimony according to the Lord’s Word. They desire our prayers so that they may begin their marriage in God’s Name and with His blessing. If you can show just cause why these two persons should not be joined together in holy matrimony, you are to declare it before the wedding. May God grant them His blessing.

The prayer: Let us pray for [Groom] and [Bride], who are to be united before God and this congregation in Holy Matrimony (next/this) week: Heavenly Father, You have established matrimony and desire that we keep it holy. Behold with favor [Groom] and [Bride], who intend to have their union blessed by Your Word. Grant them Your grace that they may begin their wedded life in You, live according to Your Word, and rejoice in Your strong love and enduring blessings; Lord, in Your mercy… (hear our prayer).

The ordo:

Cover title: “The Divine Office at Vespers with the Wedding of [Bride] and [Groom].”

First page of liturgy title: “The Divine Office of Solemn Vespers with The Rite of Holy Matrimony [Bride] & [Groom] The [#th] Day of [Month] The Year of Our Lord [year].”

Words in bold are spoken by the congregation. CAPITAL UNDERLINED ITALICS are actions for the congregation.

The Prelude

Please STAND when the bride enters.

The Processional – It is traditional to bow as the Crucifix/Cross passes. When the wedding party has taken their places, please remain STANDING.

Opening Versicle

Pastor: Make ✠ haste, O God, to deliver me.

Congregation: Make haste to help me, O Lord.

All: Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: World without end. Amen. Alleluia.

The Psalm ✠ Psalm 127

P: Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it.

Except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.

C: It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.

P: Lo, Children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.

C: As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are the children of the youth.

P: Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.

Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it.


The First Reading ✠ Genesis 2:18, 21-24

The Responsory

P: But thou O Lord, have mercy upon us.

C: Thanks be to Thee, O Lord.

The Second Reading ✠ Ephesians 5:20-33

The Responsory

P: But thou O Lord, have mercy upon us.

C: Thanks be to Thee, O Lord.

Note: An interlude may be played while the pastor moves form the lectern to the pulpit.

The Homily

The Hymn

Note: Any of the following hymns is acceptable for the service. It may be best to choose a more well-known hymn tune for the setting or just a simple tune. I wrote a simple organ prelude for “Lord ‘Tis not that I did Choose Thee” that was played while people were arriving to get the tune into the ears of the congregation.

O Morning Star How Fair And Bright, LSB 395
Hail, Thou Once Despised Jesus, LSB 531 (TLH 367)
Salvation Unto Us Has Come, LSB 555 (TLH 277)
Lord ’tis Not That I Did Choose Thee, LSB 573 (TLH 37)
Thy Strong Word, LSB 578
The Law Of God Is Good And Wise, LSB 579 (TLH 295)
These Are The Holy Ten Commands, LSB 581
Lord Jesus Christ, with Us Abide, LSB 585 (TLH 292)
God’s Own Child I Gladly Say It, LSB 594
All Christians Who Have Been Baptized, LSB 596
Jesus Christ Our Blessed Savior, LSB 627 (TLH 311)
Built on the Rock the Church Doth Stand, LSB 645 (TLH 467)
Lord of Our Life and God of Our Salvation, LSB 659 (TLH 258)
What God Ordains Is Always Good, LSB 760 (TLH 521)
Our Father Who From Heav’n Above, LSB 766 (TLH 458)
O God O Lord Of Heaven And Earth, LSB 834
Go My Children With My Blessing, LSB 922

The Rite of Holy Matrimony

Note: Most of rite below follows what is seen generally in any of the Lutheran marriage rites published by the LCMS. I cannot publish the full text as it belongs to Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Detroit.

The Matrimonial Address

The congregation STANDS.

The Invocation

P: In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.

C: Amen

The congregation IS SEATED.

The Betrothal Vows

The Parental Consent and Blessing

The Marriage Vows

The Blessing of the Rings

The Exchange of Rings

The Pronouncement of Marriage

The Marriage Blessing

After the Marriage Blessing, the congregation STANDS.

The Marriage Prayer

The Magnificat

Note: For the Magnificat, the TLH setting “My Soul doth magnify the Lord” is an excellent choice to make this singable for the common Protestant. It’s Long Metre, so the words can be set to many well-known tunes. I used Old Hundredth (the famous tune for “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow/The Doxology”).


The Prayers

Note: I added ellipses into the ordo to save on space for formatting. The full prayers can be seen at the bottom of this post.

P: Let us pray.

The Kyrie

All: Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us.

The Our Father

P: Taught by Our Lord and trusting His promise, we are bold to pray:

All: Our Father who art in heaven. Hallowed by Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from ✠ evil. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

The Collects

P: The Lord be with you.

C: And with your spirit.

The Wedding Collect

P: Let us pray.

Almighty, eternal God, our heavenly Father… through Jesus Christ Your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

C: Amen

Commemoration of the Faithful Departed

O God of Life, Lord of Sabaoth… through the same Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

C: Amen

For Peace

O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed… through the merits of Jesus Christ, our Savior, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

C: Amen

The Salutation

P: The Lord be with you.

C: And with your spirit.

The Benedicamus

P: Bless we the Lord.

C: Thanks be to God.

The Nuptial Blessing

P: Almighty God bless, preserve and keep you… in the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.

C: Amen

The Blessing

P: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit ✠ be with you all.

C: Amen

The Silent Prayer

Pray that the love of Christ, by His Word, may abide in you and may strengthen and encourage [Bride] and [Groom].

The Pronunciation

Note: This pronunciation was an addition of preference and is not in the original liturgies. The officiant spoke, “It is my pleasure to announce to you, for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. [Groom’s full name]. You may kiss the bride.” Following this, the recessional music immediately began.

The Retiring Processional

When the Processional begins, please STAND.

It is traditional to bow as the Crucifix/Cross passes. When the wedding party has left the nave, please SIT. You will be ushered from your seats.

✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

On the back cover, it is fitting to place relevant Bible verses or quotes from church fathers or Lutheran theologians and credits for any cover art.

The full prayers that were used without ellipses:

The Wedding Collect: Almighty, eternal God, our heavenly Father, who has united this man and this woman in the holy estate of matrimony, grant them the grace to live therein according to Your Word; strengthen them in constant faithfulness and true love toward each other; sustain and defend them amidst all trials and temptations; and help them so to pass through this world in faith towards You, in communion with your holy Church, and in loving service one of the other, that they may ever enjoy Your heavenly benediction; through Jesus Christ Your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Commemoration of the Faithful Departed: O God of Life, Lord of Sabaoth, who has won for us eternal life in your Son Jesus Christ, we remember in thanksgiving all our loved ones who have gone before us with the sign of Faith and now sleep the sleep of peace. Grant to them, and to all who rest in the Church Victorious, as You have promised, a place of refreshment, light, and peace, through the same Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

For Peace: O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed, give unto Your servants that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be set to obey Your commandments, and also that we, being defended by You from the fear of our enemies, may pass our time in rest and quietness; through the merits of Jesus Christ, our Savior, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

The Nuptial Blessing: Almighty God bless, preserve and keep you; the Lord mercifully behold you with His grace; the Lord fill you with every spiritual blessing, so that, living together in His love in this life, you may enter with joy in His heavenly home; in the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Wine, Water, and Grape Juice in the Eucharist – A Historical Introduction

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.

In many protestant traditions grape juice rather than wine is used in communion. A number of arguments are used to support this practice, but historical and pragmatic analysis renders such arguments entirely invalid. On the other hand, the mixing of water and wine in communion is a historic practice of the church.

A Brief History of Grape Juice

It should be obvious to the reader that while the modern fermentation process as we know it was not known until the 1800s, fresh squeezed grape juice has been around since grapes were first pressed for juice. In the Old Testament, the word “tiyrowsh” is used to refer to this “new wine” or “sweet wine” as it is often translated, and it occurs 38 times. It is repeatedly used in the context of God providing it (often alongside oil or corn) as a blessing to His people. Juice will stay relatively unfermented for a short time, but primary fermentation is completed in 3-7 days, so it wouldn’t have been a common drink as it would need to be drunk soon after being pressed, which is time consuming.

We do know fresh juice was consumed on some occasions despite the time required to get the drink. Josephus in Antiquities Book II Chapter 5.2 (AD 93-94) writes, “He therefore said, that in his sleep he saw three clusters of grapes hanging upon three branches of a vine, large already, and ripe for gathering; and that he squeezed them into a cup which the king held in his hand; and when he had strained the wine [oinos], he gave it to the king to drink, and that he received it from him with a pleasant countenance.” In this context, drinking fresh squeezed grape juice is fitting as the king has servants to bring it to him.

The first evidence of some method of pasteurization is found in Aristotle in his book Meteorologica (384-322 BC). He writes, “For some kinds of wine [oinos], for example must [gleukos], solidify when boiled.” And later in the book, “Though called wine [oinos], it has not the effect of wine, for it does taste like wine and does not intoxicate like ordinary wine.” The word “gleukos” (meaning sweet/fresh wine) comes from “glukus” (meaning sweet or fresh). Aristotle uses the term here to refer to what seems to be a wine that is preserved, perhaps as a primitive jelly, by boiling, which is the same idea as pasteurization.

Athenaeus, the grammarian (about AD 200), explains in his book Banquet that “the Mityleneans have a sweet wine [glukon oinon], what they called prodromos, and others call it protropos.” Later on in the same book, he recommends this sweet, unfermented wine (protropos) for the dyspeptic: “Let him take sweet wine, either mixed with water or warmed, especially that kind called protropos, the sweet Lesbian glukus, as being good for the stomach; for sweet wine [oinos] does not make the head heavy.” Here the unfermented sweet grape juice is called “lesbian” (read “effeminate”) because the potency or fermentable power of the wine had been removed. It’s unclear exactly what protropos is in this occasion, but it seems that in some cases it was warmed, perhaps boiled, to achieve a sweet drink that lacks alcohol. On another occasion in this work, Athenaeus records the juice being drunk directly from the field: “At the time of festivals, he [Drimacus the General] went about, and took wine [oinon] from the field and such animals for victims as were in good condition.”

Usage of Gleukos and Oinos

The Greek word for wine is “oinos.” This is the obvious translation in almost all contexts of the word, but as shown in examples above, there are exceptions. Aristotle, Josephus, and Athenaeus all use “oinos” to refer to grape juice/sweet wine. In the Bible, out of the 38 occurrences of the word “tiyrowsh” in the Old Testament, 36 times it is translated into the Old Greek LXX as “oinos.” This shows that “oinos” is used broadly to refer to liquid from grapes.

Gleukos is seen only twice in the Bible. Once it is seen in Job 32:19 in the LXX in which it is a translation of the Hebrew word “yayin,” which translates directly as “wine.” This translation choice is used as the wine is still new: “Indeed my belly is like wine that has no vent; it is ready to burst like new wineskins” (NKJV, from the Hebrew). “And my belly is like a bound wineskin of new wine in ferment or like a burst bellows of a blacksmith” (NETS, from the Greek). It is clear in this case, however, that gleukos is referring to “sweet wine/new wine” rather than grape juice as the bursting is a result of gas release from bacteria, which suggests that fermentation is occurring. The other place that gleukos appears is in Acts 2:13: “Others mocking said, ‘These men are full of new wine.'” This is directly after the men had begun speaking in tongues. In verse 15 Peter tells the people, “For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day.” It is clear then that here gleukos also refers to sweet/new wine rather than grape juice as the men are thought to be drunk yet are not.

The argument from some for the use of grape juice is that since “oinos” can refer to grape juice and since primitive pasteurization is from antiquity, using pasteurized grape juice is permissible for communion, but this argument does not follow as will be demonstrated.

The Last Supper Narrative

The last supper narrative records Christ refers to drinking wine as drinking “gennēma ampelos” (lit. fruit of the vine). This would seemingly be support for the validity of using grape juice, as it is equally as fruit of the vine to wine. The phrase “gennēma ampelos” is absent from outside texts, so the use of the phrase offers no help to the reader, but historical context plays a large role in answering whether or not the fruit of the wine in the last supper fits the normal use of “oinos” as wine or the alternative “gleukos” as sweet wine/grape juice. We know from Mishnah Pesachim 10:1 that the Jews used fermented wine (yayin as opposed to tiyrowsh) specifically for the Seder meal, and, while this source is later than the Gospel accounts, there is no reason to assume that this practice changed from grape juice to wine at some point. The Mishnah was written in the first and second centuries, finally being set in stone in the third century. Mishnah Pesachim is thought to date to 190-230 AD, but the intention of the Mishnah is to put into writing the ancient oral Torah, which dates far earlier than the Gospel accounts. Some will point out that yayin sometimes refers to mixed wine (cut with water) as opposed to “shekhar,” which refers to unmixed wine, but this only further emphasizes the use of fermented wine over the use of gleukos. Wine need not be cut with water lest it has already fermented. Mixing wine with water was common in the ancient world to reduce alcohol content, mitigate the poor vinegary tastes of some batches, and extend the drink. In addition to this, yayin comes from a root word that means “to effervesce,” which necessitates fermentation.

If the Mishnah is not to be considered reliable, it should be noted that while grape juice was found as a drink in Greco-Roman and Jewish culture, the overwhelming abundance of wine over grape juice in this period necessitates that “fruit of the vine” be taken simply as wine unless otherwise specified.

Water with Wine in Communion

As Mishnah Pesachim 10 records, yayin, which often means mixed wine, is used for the Seder meal. While there is debate over whether the last supper was a Seder meal, the Eucharist is certainly a replacement of the Old Testament Seder. Should communion wine then be mixed with water?

The practice of mixing wine with water is abundant in the church fathers. It can be seen in Justin Martyr’s First Apology 65 (~150 AD), Irenaeus Against Heresies IV.33 (~180 AD), Clement of Alexandria The Instructor II (~200 AD), Cyprian Epistle 62 (~250 AD), Liturgy of St. James (~370 AD), Ambrose On the Sacraments V (~375 AD), Gregory of Nyssa The Great Catechism III.37 (~375 AD), Apostolic Constitutions VIII.12 (~380 AD), John Chrysostom Divine Liturgy (~400 AD), Council of Carthage Canon 37 (419 AD), Augustine On Christian Doctrine IV (~420 AD), Council of Trullo (692 AD), and various others.

Notably, Aquinas (1225-1274 AD) writes in Summa Theologica 3:74, “Water ought to be mingled with the wine which is offered in this sacrament. First of all on account of its institution: for it is believed with probability that our Lord instituted this sacrament in wine tempered with water according to the custom of that country: hence it is written (Proverbs 9:5 [Come, eat of my bread​​ and drink of the wine I have mixed]). Pope Alexander I [107-115 AD] says (Ep. 1 ad omnes orth.): ‘In the Lord’s chalice neither wine only nor water only ought to be offered, but both mixed because we read that both flowed from his side in the Passion.’ Thirdly, because this is adapted for signifying the effect of this sacrament, since as Pope Julius I [337-352 AD] says (Concil. Bracarens iii, can. 1): ‘We see that the people are signified by the water, but Christ’s blood by the wine. Therefore, when water is mixed with the wine in the chalice, the people is made one with Christ.’ Fourthly, because this is appropriate to the fourth effect of this sacrament, which is the entering into everlasting life: hence Ambrose says (De Sacram. v): ‘The water flows into the chalice, and springs forth unto everlasting life.'”


It is demonstrated then that the mixing of wine and water together is found in the foreshadowing of the Eucharist in the Seder in the Old Covenant, in the earliest days of the church as early as 107-115 AD, and throughout the entire history of the church from thenceforth. The use of gleukos in communion is absent from the history of the church entirely and contradicts the practice of mixing water with the wine as well as mirroring of the Old Testament Seder meal. Furthermore, there is scriptural support for the practice of mixing wine with water in that both water and blood flow from Christ’s side, and also in Proverbs, in which Wisdom (which is Christ) calls us to eat of His bread and drink of the wine He has mixed. In following the teaching of scripture and the historic church, proper practice for communion should be to use wine mixed with water.

Some will say that is necessary to have grape juice for alcoholics, but this is easily resolved by adding a drop of the consecrated element to water instead. Considering that part of the practice of cutting wine with water was to reduce alcohol content, it is only fitting that this be the method for which alcohol content is cut to a negligible amount for those who cannot consume any alcohol. Introducing grape juice into communion, especially pasteurized grape juice which has been intentionally changed so that it may not become wine, should not be practiced as it introduces doubt in the validity of the sacrament for the recipient. Wine mixed with water has always been used, so we can know that it is most certainly valid, so there is no need ever to deviate.

Introduction to Sacramentology: The Office of the Keys – a Scriptural and Patristic 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.

The practice of confession and absolution is absent, if not rejected outright, in much of the protestant tradition. Coming out of Roman Catholicism in the 1500s, this is understandable in some respects. Reformers spoke against the medieval practice of confession many times, criticizing it for its absuses: the requirement of the enumeration of all sins, hefty penance (good works) after the absolution, and binding all sins that go unconfessed prior to death. While the church in Rome has seemingly changed doctrine with regard to enumeration of all sins and has lightened penance requirements, the binding of all sins that go unconfessed prior to death has remained. In two branches of the reformation, confession and absolution were retained— Anglicanism and Lutheranism. The Anglican doctrine of this practice will not be discussed in this post.

Lutheranism has continued this practice on the ground of both scripture and tradition, going as far as declaring is one of the six chief parts of the Christian faith in the Small Catechism alongside the Creed, Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. It is also given its own article in the Augsburg Confession and Apology and the Smalcald Articles and some editions of the Large Catechism.

The term “Office of the Keys” refers to Matthew 16:19 in which Christ tells Peter that He will give Peter the Keys of Heaven to bind and loose sins. The keys are a twofold responsibility: Loose the sins of the repentant and bind the sins of the unrepentant. This is where the practice of confession-absolution and the ban and excommunication are founded for the church in the New Testament. The protestant tradition has historically maintained the ban and excommunication, though many church bodies today practice seemingly antinomian practice in that they do not withhold communion from the unrepentant and allow clergy in great sin to continue preaching despite their failure to uphold ordination vows and the scriptural requirements for clergy.

A defense of the Lutheran position of the Office of the Keys entails an apology for the practice of confession to a pastor, the absolution bestowing Christ’s forgiveness to the confessor, and the practice of church discipline.

From the Lutheran Confessions:

The keys are an office and power given by Christ to the Church for binding and loosing sin, not only the gross and well-known sins, but also the subtle, hidden, which are known only to God, as it is written in Ps. 19:13: Who can understand his errors? And in Rom. 7:25 St. Paul himself complains that with the flesh he serves the law of sin. For it is not in our power, but belongs to God alone, to judge which, how great, and how many the sins are, as it is written in Ps. 143:2: Enter not into judgment with Thy servant; for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified. And Paul says, 1 Cor. 4:4: For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified.

Since Absolution or the Power of the Keys is also an aid and consolation against sin and a bad conscience, ordained by Christ [Himself] in the Gospel, Confession or Absolution ought by no means to be abolished in the Church, especially on account of [tender and] timid consciences and on account of the untrained [and capricious] young people, in order that they may be examined, and instructed in the Christian doctrine. But the enumeration of sins ought to be free to every one, as to what he wishes to enumerate or not to enumerate. For as long as we are in the flesh, we shall not lie when we say: “I am a poor man [I acknowledge that I am a miserable sinner], full of sin.” Rom. 7:23: I see another law in my members, etc. For since private absolution originates in the Office of the Keys, it should not be despised [neglected], but greatly and highly esteemed [of the greatest worth], as [also] all other offices of the Christian Church.

The greater excommunication, as the Pope calls it, we regard only as a civil penalty, and it does not concern us ministers of the Church. But the lesser, that is, the true Christian excommunication, consists in this, that manifest and obstinate sinners are not admitted to the Sacrament and other communion of the Church until they amend their lives and avoid sin. And ministers ought not to mingle secular punishments with this ecclesiastical punishment, or excommunication.

If we call Sacraments rites which have the command of God, and to which the promise of grace has been added, it is easy to decide what are properly Sacraments. For rites instituted by men will not in this way be Sacraments properly so called. For it does not belong to human authority to promise grace. Therefore signs instituted without God’s command are not sure signs of grace, even though they perhaps instruct the rude [children or the uncultivated], or admonish as to something [as a painted cross]. Therefore Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Absolution, which is the Sacrament of Repentance, are truly Sacraments. For these rites have God’s command and the promise of grace, which is peculiar to the New Testament. For when we are baptized, when we eat the Lord’s body, when we are absolved, our hearts must be firmly assured that God truly forgives us for Christ’s sake. And God, at the same time, by the Word and by the rite, moves hearts to believe and conceive faith, just as Paul says, Rom. 10:17: Faith cometh by hearing. But just as the Word enters the ear in order to strike our heart, so the rite itself strikes the eye, in order to move the heart. The effect of the Word and of the rite is the same, as it has been well said by Augustine that a Sacrament is a visible word, because the rite is received by the eyes, and is, as it were, a picture of the Word, signifying the same thing as the Word. Therefore the effect of both is the same.  

Smalcald Articles Part III Articles VII, VIII.1-2, IX; Apology XIII (VII) 3-5

The Old Testament Witness

The Office of the Keys is rooted in the Old Testament and is rightly understood in that context. While the role of priests and prophets did not directly transfer into the New Testament, much of the role was retained, particularly the pastors’ role as stewards of God’s mysteries (1 Cor. 4:1-2) (Greek “mysterion”) which is the word for “sacrament” or in the Latin Vulgate “sacramentum.” The Office of the Keys is paramount to this idea, as Chrysostom (349-407 AD) writes in his 1 Corinthians commentary, “‘Stewards,’ says he, indicating that we ought not to give these things unto all, but unto whom it is due, and to whom it is fitting we should minister.”

Confession in the Old Testament

Leviticus 5:1-6 reads, “If a person sins in hearing the utterance of an oath, and is a witness, whether he has seen or known of the matter— if he does not tell it…. Or if a person touches any unclean thing…. Or if a person swears, speaking thoughtlessly with his lips to do evil or to do good … then he shall be guilty in any of these matters. And it shall be, when he is guilty in any of these matters, that he shall confess that he has sinned in that thing; and he shall bring his trespass offering to the LORD for his sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin.”

Leviticus specifically commands that Israelites confess their sins to a priest and receive atonement in the burnt offering. While the absolution is not given as a command for the priest in this text, the atonement for uncleanness following confession to a priest, is clear. It’s important to remember that the Old Testament atonement in the temple is for uncleanness rather than moral guilt, but this is the parallel for all atonement from the Old Testament to the New Testament.

Numbers 5:6-7 reads, “Speak to the children of Israel: ‘When a man or woman commits any sin that men commit in unfaithfulness against the LORD, and that person is guilty, then he shall confess the sin which he has committed. He shall make restitution for his trespass in full, plus one-fifth of it, and give it to the one he has wronged.”

Numbers gives a similar command to that of Leviticus, but with restitution towards the one wronged rather than burnt offering. The text is, however, unclear with regard to whom confession is made. It is possible that confession is made from offender to offended rather than to the priest.

1 Samuel 15:24-26 reads, “Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin, and return with me, that I may worship the LORD.’ But Samuel said to Saul, ‘I will not return with you, for you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel.’”

Saul confessed his sin to the prophet Samuel, but Samuel saw through Saul’s false repentance and instead bound his sin rather than loosing it. The story that follows demonstrates that Samuel was correct in his judgement against Saul as Saul continued in evil unrepentantly.

2 Samuel 12:13 reads, “So David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the LORD.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.’”

After committing adultery with Bathsheba and killing Uriah, David confessed his sin to the prophet Nathan, and Nathan absolved him. This is the clearest Old Testament text regarding the practice of confession to the clergy and absolution in return.

Nehemiah 9:1-3 reads, “Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, in sackcloth, and with dust on their heads. Then those of Israelite lineage separated themselves from all foreigners; and they stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for one-fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the LORD their God.”

This is an example from the Old Testament of corporate confession, which is included in the Lutheran liturgy. The congregation confesses their sins and receives the Word of God in return. A traditional confession in liturgy reads, “I confess to almighty God, before all the company of heaven, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed through my fault, through my own fault, through my own most grievous fault; wherefore I pray almighty God, for the save of Jesus Christ His Son, to have mercy on me, forgive me my sins, and bring me to everlasting life.” The pastor responds, “Upon this, your confession, I, by virtue of my Office as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God to all of you. In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” All then say, “Amen.”

Baruch 1:13-14 reads, “And pray concerning us to the Lord our God, for we have sinned against the Lord our God, and the anger of the Lord and his wrath have not turned away from us until this day.” Baruch 1:15-3:8 details the confession of Israel to the high priest Joachim. Baruch 4:21-24 then reads, “Take courage, O children; call out to God, and he will deliver you from domination, from the hand of enemies. For I have hoped in the Everlasting for your salvation, and joy has come to me from the Holy One because of the mercy that will soon come to you from your everlasting savior. For I dispatched out with mourning and weeping, but God will give you back to me with delight and merriment forever. For as the neighbors of Zion have seen your captivity now, so they will quickly see your salvation from God, which will come to you with the great glory and splendor of the Everlasting,” and in 5:9, “For God will lead Israel with merriment, by the light of his glory, together with the mercy and righteousness that is from him.”

Israel confessed their sins to the high priest and received the Word of god entailing salvation, mercy, eternal delight/merriment, and righteousness, which is to say, forgiveness from sin and bestowed righteousness, which is the definition of justification in the New Testament. This, along with the Numbers passage below, is perhaps the closest to the idea of corporate confession and absolution as seen in the Lutheran liturgy.

Absolution in the Old Testament

Leviticus 14:2, 6-7 reads, “This shall be the law of the leper for the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the priest…. As for the living bird, he shall take it, the cedar wood and the scarlet and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water. And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed from the leprosy, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose in the open field.”

The concept of uncleanliness in the Old Testament does not transfer directly into the New Testament, but as sinners, we are spiritually unclean towards God (1 Cor. 7:14, Eph. 5:5). In the Old Testament, the priest would pronounce the unclean Israelite as clean.

Numbers 6:22-27 reads, “And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, “This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel.” Say to them: “The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, ​And give you peace.” So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.’”

This text may be familiar to many as the benediction that is given at the end of services, even in many Protestant churches. While it is not a direct absolution for the confession of sins as in some other texts, it is clear that the priests are declaring God’s grace and peace unto the congregation, which is the purpose of an absolution.

Church Discipline in the Old Testament

The Hebrew word for uncleanness (tum’ah) occurs 37 times in the Old Testament, and the word for unclean (tame’) occurs 161 times in the Old Testament. The numerous things which make someone unclean are too numerous to list here, but include touching a dead animal or person, bearing children, male or female discharging, disease, touching anything that is unclean, and various other acts. Uncleanness required a period of separation from the camp for a varying amount of time depending on circumstances and a washing by the priest upon re-arrival. While this is not a direct parallel to New Testament church discipline, it is related in that various things make people unclean to come to God’s presence in the temple, and a washing is needed. Similarly, our sin makes us unclean, and a failure to repent and be washed (IE absolved) prohibits us from coming into God’s presence in communion (1 Cor. 11:27-29).

The Pentateuch documents the things which require that an individual be “cut off” from Israel (which is to be excommunicated). Israelites were to be cut off for being uncircumcised (Gen. 17:4), eating Leavened bread during Passover (Ex. 12:15,19), making chrism oil or incense for use outside of the temple (Ex. 30:33,38), breaking the sabbath (Ex. 31:14), eating peace offerings while unclean (Lev. 7:20-21), eating animal fat or blood from an offering (Lev. 7:25,27, 17:14), not making offering to God when slaughtering animals (Lev. 17:4,9), various sexually immoral acts (Lev. 18:29, 20:17-18), eating meat on two days after sacrificing it (Lev. 19:8), approaching holy things while unclean (Lev. 22:3, Num. 19:13), lack of conviction during the Feast of Atonement (Lev. 23:29), failing to keep Passover (Num. 9:13), and presumptuous acts (Num. 15:30-31).

Two examples of church discipline are seen in the Old Testament.

Numbers 12:14-15 reads, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘If her father had but spit in her face, would she not be shamed seven days? Let her be shut out of the camp seven days, and afterward she may be received again.‘ So Miriam was shut out of the camp seven days, and the people did not journey till Miriam was brought in again.”

Miriam is cut off for seven days after she and Aaron spoke against Moses to God.

Ezra 10:7-8 reads, “And they [Ezra and the priests] issued a proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem to all the descendants of the captivity, that they must gather at Jerusalem, and that whoever would not come within three days, according to the instructions of the leaders and elders, all his property would be confiscated, and he himself would be separated from the assembly of those from the captivity.”

Those who did not go to Jerusalem after the final release from captivity were separated from the congregation.

The New Testament Witness

Confession in the New Testament

Matthew 3:1, 5-6 (cf. Mark 1, Luke 3) reads, “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea…. Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.”

Those who came to John the Baptist confessed their sins before baptism. Though John was not a priest, he was certainly a prophet in that he prophesied the coming Messiah.

Luke 15:20-24 reads, “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.”

In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the son confesses to the father and the father forgives the son in return. While this is certainly a parable about Christians and God, the parable uses people as its example for confession and forgiveness.

Acts 19:17-18 reads, “This [a failed exorcism by Jews] became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver.”

Those who believed came and confessed their sins and recanted their practices. This example is seemingly a public confession as it is narrated immediately before the public book burning.

James 5:16 reads, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”

This is the most direct command in the New Testament for confession. While it says to confess to one another, not specifically to a pastor, the Lutheran confessions address this: “For wherever the Church is, there is the authority [command] to administer the Gospel. Therefore it is necessary for the Church to retain the authority to call, elect, and ordain ministers. And this authority is a gift which in reality is given to the Church, which no human power can wrest from the Church, as Paul also testifies to the Ephesians when he says, Eph 4, 8: He ascended, He gave gifts to men. And he enumerates among the gifts specially belonging to the Church pastors and teachers, and adds that such are given for the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. Hence, wherever there is a true church, the right to elect and ordain ministers necessarily exists. Just as in a case of necessity even a layman absolves, and becomes the minister and pastor of another; as Augustine narrates the story of two Christians in a ship, one of whom baptized the catechumen, who after Baptism then absolved the baptizer” (Of the Power and Primacy of the Pope, Of the Power and Jurisdiction of Bishops, 67), and also “We will now return to the Gospel, which not merely in one way gives us counsel and aid against sin; for God is superabundantly rich [and liberal] in His grace [and goodness]. First, through the spoken Word by which the forgiveness of sins is preached [He commands to be preached] in the whole world; which is the peculiar office of the Gospel. Secondly, through Baptism. Thirdly, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourthly, through the power of the keys, and also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren, Matt. 18:20: Where two or three are gathered together, etc.” (Smalcald Articles Part III, Article IV. Of the Gospel).

It is seen then that the Office of the Keys is not given to pastors alone, but to the church as a whole. Pastors are to be the stewards of the sacraments and God’s Word and are necessary for good order in the church, but in emergencies or in cases where one man sins against another, the keys are employed by laymen.

Absolution in the New Testament

Matthew 16:17-19 reads, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

The keys are here promised to Peter as the representative of the church. They are given to the church in Matthew 18 and John 20.

Matthew 18:15-20 reads, “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

John 20:21-23 reads, “So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’”

Matthew 18 and John 20 are the key texts for defending the Office of the Keys. They are clear in that Christ is the one who forgives, but the apostles are given the keys from Christ to forgive in his stead, or “in persona Christi,” in the person of Christ as it is often said. The church then has received the keys and great authority to “bind” and “loose” sins on earth and in heaven, which is to say, not only temporal, but also eternal forgiveness. Roman Catholic and Eastern Christianity may argue that because the apostles were given the keys that only pastors (particularly those in apostolic succession) may forgive sins, but this seemingly contradicts the ancient interpretation of Matthew 16, which holds that Peter received the promise of the keys as representative of the church and contradicts Matthew 18:20, which is clear that the keys are there where two or more are gathered in Christ’s name. This is not to say that any and all should use the keys at their own discretion as this would not be in good order or wisdom, but rather that all can, and in some cases (as stated in the section on confession in the New Testament) should absolve others.

2 Corinthians 2:10 reads, “Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ.”

The interpretation of the passage as absolution is supported by Cyprian (210-258 AD), Chrysostom (349-407 AD), and Theophylact (1050-1107+ AD). The Greek rendering is more clear than the NKJV; the forgiveness is given “en prosopon Xristou” which renders “in face/person of Christ,” (as KJV reads), (Vulgate reads “in persona Christi”) which is to say, it is in Christ’s stead, demonstrating the authority of the Office of the Keys.

2 Corinthians 5:18-19 reads, “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”

The “ministry of reconciliation” must be taken as it plainly reads. Christ made the apostles ministers, and, in this ministry, they reconcile people to God, through Christ, who gave them this ministry in the keys.

Church Discipline in the New Testament

1 Corinthians 5:4-5 reads, “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one [the sexually immoral] to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”

Paul tells the church in Corinth here to deliver the sexually immoral to Satan for destruction of the flesh, which is to drive them to repentance that they may be saved. This is a clear example of excommunication.

2 Corinthians 1:23-24 reads, “Moreover I call God as witness against my soul, that to spare you I came no more to Corinth. Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand.”

Paul clarifies in his second letter to Corinth that he did not return there any longer so that more may be spared, suggesting that he was exercising church discipline in the church. The text is clear that Paul does not have authority over their faith in excommunicating but rather over church order, which is confirmed in Smalcald Articles VIII.1-2 as cited at the beginning. The pastor can make judgements on members and excommunicate them, but it must be clear that the excommunication itself does not give them a certain sentence to hell if they do not come back to confession before they die– that is a result of unbelief and lack of repentance. This theme of church discipline in good order and not over the eternal soul is repeated later in Titus.

1 Timothy 1:18-20 reads, “This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”

Paul gives an example to Timothy of two individuals who were delivered to Satan as he spoke in 1 Cor. 5:4-5 and demonstrates that handing them to Satan is to drive them to repentance.

2 Timothy 3:2-8 reads, “For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith.”

Paul tells Timothy that the church is not to accept the unrepentant sinners, IE excommunicate them, as they will bring their sins into the church to lead others astray.

Titus 3:9-11 reads, “But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.”

Paul again tells one of his disciples to exercise church discipline, this time for those who unnecessarily stir dissension in the church. He again is clear that these sinners condemn themselves, but the church, in good order, is to exercise discipline.

The Patristic Witness

Didache 4:14, 14:1 (49-70 AD) reads, “In church you shall confess your transgressions, and you shall not approach your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life…. On the Lord’s own day gather together and break bread and give thanks, having first confessed your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure.”

This is possibly an example of public confession in the early church. The two passages demonstrate that confession took place on Sundays in church. This would seem to imply that it is during the liturgy, though it is possible that it occurs prior to the liturgy in the church on Sunday.

This same wording is found the Epistle of Barnabas 19:12 (70-79 AD): “You shall confess your sins. You shall not come to prayer with an evil conscience.”

Ignatius Epistle of Philadelphia 8:1 (<108 AD) reads, “The Lord, however, forgives all who repent, if in repenting they return to the unity of God and the council of the bishop. I believe in the grace of Jesus Christ, who will free you from every restraint.”

Ignatius seemingly connects the forgiveness through repentance and returning to the unity of God also to the council of the bishop, which could imply confession to the bishop.

Irenaeus Adversus Haeresis 1.13.7 (174-189 AD) reads, “Some of them, [women deceived by heretics] indeed, make a public confession of their sins; but others of them are ashamed to do this, and in a tacit kind of way, despairing of [attaining to] the life of God, have, some of them, apostatized altogether.”

Public confession is seen again here, this case may refer to the ceremony of restoration of the lapsed, which was a practice for bringing the formerly apostate church members back into Christianity. Werner Elert’s Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries discusses this topic thoroughly if further reading is desired.

Tertullian On repentance (<206 AD) Chapter 10 reads, “What a son asks is ever easily obtained. Grand indeed is the reward of modesty, which the concealment of our fault promises us! To wit, if we do hide somewhat from the knowledge of man, shall we equally conceal it from God? Are the judgment of men and the knowledge of God so put upon a par? Is it better to be damned in secret than absolved in public? But you say, ‘It is a miserable thing thus to come to confession.’ Yes, for evil does bring to misery; but where repentance is to be made, the misery ceases, because it is turned into something salutary. Miserable it is to be cut, and cauterized, and racked with the pungency of some (medicinal) powder: still, the things which heal by unpleasant means do, by the benefit of the cure, excuse their own offensiveness, and make present injury bearable for the sake of the advantage to supervene.”

Here it is easily seen that Tertullian writes that it is good to go to confession and be absolved in public for the sake of comforting the soul. This is one possible support for the use of public absolution in the Lutheran liturgy, though Tertullian could be suggesting that this confession is “public” in that it is shared between the confessor and the clergyman.

Origen Homily 2 on Leviticus 4.5 (238-244 AD) reads, “And there is still a seventh remission of sins through penance, although admittedly it is difficult and toilsome, when the sinner washes ‘his couch in tears’ (Ps 6.7) and his ‘tears’ become his ‘bread day and night,’ (Ps 41.4) when he is not ashamed to make known his sin to the priest of the Lord and to seek a cure according to the one who says, ‘I said, “I will proclaim to the Lord my injustice against myself” and you forgave the impiety of my heart’ (Ps 31.5).”

Penance refers to the process of confession, absolution, and tasks afterward which are to accompany this to show repentance.

Cyprian Treatise 3 – The Lapsed 15-16, 28 (251 AD) reads, “Also, the apostle testifies, and says, ‘You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils; you cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table and of the table of devils’ (1 Cor. 10:21). He threatens, moreover, the stubborn and Lord unworthily, is ‘guilty of the body and blood of the Lord’ (1 Cor. 11:27). All these warnings being scorned and contemned — before their sin is expiated, before confession has been made of their crime, before their conscience has been purged by offering and by the hand of the priest, before the offense of an angry and threatening Lord has been appeased, violence is done to His body and blood; and they sin now against their Lord more with their hand and mouth than when they denied their Lord…. Moreover, how much are they both greater in faith and better in their fear, who, although bound by no crime of sacrifice to idols or of certificate, yet, since they have even thought of such things, with grief and simplicity confess this very thing to God’s priests, and make the conscientious avowal, put off from them the load of their minds, and seek out the salutary medicine even for slight and moderate wounds, knowing that it is written, God is not mocked (Gal. 6:7).”

Cyprian is clear in this case on the practice of private confession to a clergyman as a necessity before communion. The purging by offering is unclear in the text. This could be communion, though that would seemingly contradict his point, since the lapsed individual would have to commune once first in order to commune the second time rightly. It’s possible this refers to penance or a sacrifice of praise, incense, or worship. He writes further on this topic on numerous occasions (Epistles 9, 10 11, 39, 51, 61, 72, 74).

Aphrahat Demonstrations 8.8 (337 AD) reads, “Then Moses wished by his priestly power to absolve Reuben from his transgression and sin, in that he had lain with Bilhah, his father’s concubine; that when his brethren should rise, he might not be cut off from their number.”

Aphrahat connects the practice of absolution to the Old Testament priesthood.

Council of Antioch in Encaeniis Canon 2 (341 AD) reads, “All who enter the church of God and hear the Holy Scriptures, but do not communicate with the people in prayers, or who turn away, by reason of some disorder, from the holy partaking of the Eucharist, are to be cast out of the Church, until, after they shall have made confession, and having brought forth the fruits of penance, and made earnest entreaty, they shall have obtained forgiveness; and it is unlawful to communicate with excommunicated persons, or to assemble in private houses and pray with those who do not pray in the Church; or to receive in one Church those who do not assemble with another Church. And, if any one of the bishops, presbyters, or deacons, or any one in the Canon shall be found communicating with excommunicated persons, let him also be excommunicated, as one who brings confusion on the order of the Church.”

Athanasius Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 19 (<373 AD) writes, “Just as a man is enlightened by the Holy Spirit when he is baptized by a priest, so he who confesses his sins with a repentant heart obtains their remission from the priest.”

Basil the Great Rules Briefly Treated 288 (374 AD) reads, “It is necessary to confess our sins to those to whom the dispensation of God’s mysteries is entrusted. Those doing penance of old are found to have done it before the saints. It is written in the Gospel that they confessed their sins to John the Baptist (Matt 3:6); but in Acts they confessed to the Apostles, by whom also all were baptized (Acts 19:18).”

Council of Laodicaea Canon 2 (390 AD) reads, “They who have sinned in various particulars, if they have persevered in the prayer of confession and penance, and are wholly converted from their faults, shall be received again to communion, through the mercy and goodness of God, after a time of penance appointed to them, in proportion to the nature of their offense. “

Ambrose Concerning Repentance I.7-8 (388 AD) reads, “The Church holds fast its obedience on either side, by both retaining and remitting sin; heresy is on the one side cruel, and on the other disobedient; wishes to bind what it will not loosen, and will not loosen what it has bound, whereby it condemns itself by its own sentence. For the Lord willed that the power of binding and of loosing should be alike, and sanctioned each by a similar condition. So he who has not the power to loose has not the power to bind. For as, according to the Lord’s word, he who has the power to bind has also the power to loose, their teaching destroys itself, inasmuch as they who deny that they have the power of loosing ought also to deny that of binding. For how can the one be allowed and the other disallowed? It is plain and evident that either each is allowed or each is disallowed in the case of those to whom each has been given. Each is allowed to the Church, neither to heresy, for this power has been entrusted to priests alone. Rightly, therefore, does the Church claim it, which has true priests; heresy, which has not the priests of God, cannot claim it. And by not claiming this power heresy pronounces its own sentence, that not possessing priests it cannot claim priestly power. And so in their shameless obstinacy a shamefaced acknowledgment meets our view. Consider, too, the point that he who has received the Holy Ghost has also received the power of forgiving and of retaining sin. For thus it is written: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit: whosoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven unto them, and whosoever sins you retain, they are retained’ (John 20:22-23). So, then, he who has not received power to forgive sins has not received the Holy Spirit. The office of the priest is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and His right it is specially to forgive and to retain sins. How, then, can they claim His gift who distrust His power and His right?”

Jerome Commentary on Matthew 3:16-19 (398 AD) reads, “Just as in the Old Testament the priest makes the leper clean or unclean, so in the New Testament the bishop and presbyter binds or looses not those who are innocent or guilty, but by reason of their office, when they have heard various kinds of sins, they know who is to be bound and who loosed.”

Confession, absolution, and church discipline can be further found among numerous fathers, and the citations are too numerous to include all here. Some examples are John Chrysostom (347-407 AD), Augustine (354-430 AD), and Leo the Great (395-461 AD) each in numerous works, Socrates’ (379-450) Ecclesial History book 5, Sozomen’s (375-477 AD) Ecclesial History book 7, Theodore of Mopsuestia Catechetical Homilies 16, and various others. Ecclesiastical canons and local councils also tend to address the topic of church discipline thoroughly.


The practices of confession, absolution, and church discipline are abundant in the Old and New Testaments, not only in descriptive, but also prescriptive texts. The fathers continued in this tradition in all ages of the church. God uses His people to bestow forgiveness to the world not only in the preaching of the Gospel, Baptism, and Communion, but also the Absolution.

Further Readings

Ambrose Concerning Repentance

Tertullian One Repentance

Apology to the Ausgburg Confession Article XI: Of Confession

Luther’s Brief Admonition to Confession

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.


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