The Doctrine of the Church (part 6)

September 06, 2009     Time: 00:18:05

I’m glad that we celebrated the Lord’s Supper today in service because that is the topic to which we are going to turn now in our lesson. We looked at baptism, and now we are going to turn to the other of the church’s ordinances or sacraments (depending on how you see it) which is the Lord’s Supper.

First we want to look at some of the biblical data concerning the Lord’s Supper.

First of all, the Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus himself. Just as Baptism goes back to the practice of Jesus, so the celebration of the Lord’s Supper goes back to the practice of Jesus himself. Mark 14:22-25. Mark says,

And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

Here Jesus takes the bread which was, at least in Mark’s representation, the Passover bread and says “this is my body” and invites them to partake of it. Then he takes the wine and says, this is my blood of the covenant, drink this. This is reminiscent of Exodus 24:8 which speaks of the sanctifying blood of the old covenant. Exodus 24:8: “And Moses took the blood and threw it upon the people, and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.’” This expression “the blood of the covenant” is not something that is new with Jesus of Nazareth. This goes back to Moses and to the old covenant. The blood which was the representation of the covenant between God and man, the old covenant. Now Jesus says, “This is my blood of the covenant” in contrast to the blood of these sacrificial offerings. Some manuscripts even insert the word “new” here - “this is my blood of the new covenant.” But it is clear this is not the old covenant in any case. “This is my blood of the covenant” that Jesus has instituted here.

We also have very early traditions of the Lord’s Supper preserved in the letters of the apostle Paul, but only in 1 Corinthians 11. In fact, as I said the other day, if people hadn’t been abusing the Lord’s table in Corinth we wouldnt’t have any knowledge of whether Pauline churches celebrated the Lord’s Supper because this is the only passage in Paul’s letters where he deals with the subject of the Lord’s Supper. But he does so at some length here in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25. I want to just focus on verses 23 to 25 because here he is delivering the Jesus tradition that he himself has received. Paul also was a recipient of the traditions about the historical Jesus, and he would pass these on to the churches that he founded. He says in verse 23, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you.” This is the technical terminology for handing on tradition – receiving and handing on tradition.[1] Then he quotes this tradition:

. . . that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Here we have an independent and alternate account of the Lord’s Supper from a very primitive tradition that Paul hands on. 1 Corinthians was probably written about AD 55. So these traditions that Paul is passing on are perhaps even older than those that Mark is based upon. It is impossible to date them, but we are in touch with very early historical Jesus traditions.

What is interesting is that Luke’s account of the Lord’s Supper is more reminiscent of Paul’s account than Mark’s. Look at Luke 22:19-20. I think what you’ll see here is the account given by Luke, though Luke knows the Gospel of Mark, he hands on more this Pauline tradition. Verse 19:

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

So you have here very early accounts of the Lord’s Supper, and I think it is interesting that Luke gives a tradition that Paul also knows because Luke was the traveling companion of Paul in the book of Acts. Remember much of Acts is written in first person plural - “we went here or there,” “we did this or that.” Paul’s traveling companion and biographer, Luke, hands on a tradition that is more like the tradition that Paul had than Mark’s. So we have this very early tradition about Jesus celebrating the Last Supper and inaugurating this commemorative meal or this commemorative ordinance where this is to be repeated in remembrance of Jesus.

Let’s look at Paul’s instructions more fully in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. I want to read the entire passage here. This really forms the basis for your theology of the Lord’s Supper. Paul says,

But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you assemble as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and I partly believe it, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you meet together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

Paul is very upset. Some people are going hungry at the meal. Others are getting drunk. He says this isn’t the Lord’s Supper that you are celebrating. Then he goes on,

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.[2] For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— if any one is hungry, let him eat at home—lest you come together to be condemned. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

In this passage Paul emphasizes the importance of self-examination before participating in the Lord’s Supper. He says that if someone participates, eats, and drinks and does not discern the body – doesn’t understand the deeper meaning of what he is doing – he eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why at JFBC the pastor always encourages those who are not yet Christians to refrain from participating for their own sake lest they eat and drink judgment upon themselves.

That is the foundational passage for what one will make of the Lord’s Supper.


Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: This is a huge issue that was in the early church, and that was when you have rites that are administered by heretics is the rite still valid or are those who have, say, been baptized by heretics or had what looked like the Lord’s Supper administered by a heretic priest, was it still valid? The church decided that the efficacy of the sacrament doesn’t depend upon the beliefs and practice of the person administering it. It is independent of the personal character and belief system of the person administering it. But it has to be administered properly. I think the answer to your question is if it is in some way wrongly administered . . . For example, I would feel squeamish, I think, about participating in a Lord’s Supper where, say, they offered coffee and danish instead of the typical elements. I think that would make me feel uneasy about that. Or if in some other way it was maladministered. So I do think that it calls for caution, but if you are in a standard Christian denomination I don’t think there need be concern. I’ve taken, for example, the Lord’s Supper in Catholic Mass and Catholic services when I was visiting friends with a good conscience even though my understanding of the Lord’s Supper is not the same as the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Oh, is that right? Oh, my! Well, this was done in a chapel at the University of Notre Dame where a meeting of the Society of Christian Philosophers was being held. Who was it? I’m trying to think of the man’s name – it escapes me now. He is not only a philosopher but he is an ordained Catholic priest, and he administered the sacrament to any of us who wanted to participate in this worship service. So maybe he was out of line in doing that.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: So we assume then he must have gotten permission to do this at Notre Dame’s chapel, I suppose.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: That is what we are going to talk about next time. I just wanted to read the passages for us. So we can’t say that I’ve read it with a post-Reformation understanding though, of course, I am a Protestant. But I haven’t tried to interpret them yet.[3] I think though we can all endorse in principle your hermeneutic, namely, you want to read it as the author understood it. I think that goes for Jesus, too. When Jesus said at this Passover meal, “This is my body” and he handed them the bread and “This is my blood” and gave them the cup, how did he understand it at the time? I want to endorse the hermeneutic, and that is what we will look at next time.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: The point was that a Christian who is living in sin also ought to refrain. I think that that is what Paul is saying to the Corinthians, isn’t it? He is not saying that these Corinthians were non-Christians, though at some places in the letter he does suggest perhaps some of them don’t really have the Spirit of God. But he is saying they are misbehaving and carnal and fleshly Christians and therefore they need to examine themselves and repent. I think that is right. Self-examination before the Lord’s Supper doesn’t mean to examine yourself to see if you are a Christian. It is more than that. We need to confess our sins and to be sure that we are clean. I think that is a good point.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: As you know from what I said about baptism, I am not a sacramentalist. I don’t think that these are sacraments. I can’t see how it could even possibly affect the efficacy of these things because I don’t think they have any efficacy in the sacramental sense. But the sacramentalist also says the same thing. This is the Catholic position that was taken against the Donatists that the sacrament’s efficacy belongs to the sacrament itself not to the man who administers it.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: You mean like what if a non-Christian administered the Lord’s Supper?

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I think I do understand what you are saying. I think the answer, from the sacramentalist point of view, is, no, your baby doesn’t need to be re-baptized. Those who have been administered the means of grace are not bereft of grace because of this man’s failing. They still received it.


These are good questions. Those will be the ones we pick up next time. We will look at Catholic, Lutheran, and two different Reformed views of the Lord’s Supper when we get together next time.[4]



[1] 4:56

[2] 10:02

[3] 15:00

[4] Total Running Time: 18:05 (Copyright © 2009 William Lane Craig)