Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Transubstantiation vs. Symbolic Language

Continued from this post...

I am of the mind that the Bible as a whole should be interpreted literally (an interesting topic in itself - perhaps a topic for later posts). This is a standpoint from which Catholic apologists often mount their defense of transubstantiation. However, let us not disregard that there are many times when the Bible does use symbolism and symbolic language. (This is not to say that you and I get to decide when the Bible uses symbolic language – the Word interprets itself in this matter!)

Jesus clearly utilized symbolism when teaching in parables. He also refers to Himself specifically using symbolic language; “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35, 48); “I am the gate” (John 10:9); “I am the vine” (John 15:5). Reading these passages in context, it is clear Jesus never means He is literally a piece of bread, a gate, or a vine. Those would be unnatural assertions. In like fashion, if I were to hand you a photograph and say “This is my family” it would be unnatural for you to assert that I mean that the photo itself is literally my kin. Rather, it is understood to be representative. I believe it is clear that the same is true when Christ says “This is My body” in reference to the bread. Consider the words of J.C. Ryle, a widely-respected English pastor from the 19th century:
    Does the New Testament authorize men to say that the Lord's Supper was ordained to be a sacrifice, and that in it Christ's literal body and blood are present under the forms of bread and wine? Most certainly not! When the Lord Jesus said to the disciples, "This is my Body," and "this is my Blood," He clearly meant, "This bread in my hand is an symbol of my Body, and this cup of wine in my hand contains a symbol of my Blood." The disciples were accustomed to hear Him use such language. They remembered His saying, "The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one" (Matthew 13:38). It never entered into their minds that He meant to say He was holding His own body and His own blood in His hands, and literally giving them His literal body and blood to eat and drink. Not one of the writers of the New Testament ever speaks of the Lord's Supper as a sacrifice, or calls the Lord's Table an altar, or even hints that a Christian minister is a sacrificing priest. (J.C. Ryle, The Lord’s Supper)
Furthermore, John Piper points out that if the words, "This [bread] is My body" (I Cor. 11:24) were intended to mean, "This [bread] has literally turned into My physical body," would we not expect the same meaning to hold for the statement about the cup? In the next verse Jesus says, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood." Yet, in the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist, this statement is not forced to mean “This cup has literally turned into a covenant.” Here, the cup is acknowledged as representative, a reminder that the blood secures or purchases or guarantees the blessings of the covenant. Honest exegesis requires consistency.

Continued next post...


curious servant said...

Of course, somehow the blood comparison makes us a little queesey. It is just a little too much like blood for that to be carried through.

Looking forward to the next post.

Matthew Wireman said...

Check out this link. It deals well with the RCC'smisinterpretation of John 6 regarding transubstantiation.

Also, I think the point drawn by your quote is extremely telling. How does it work for Jesus to say "This in my hand right now is my body"? It doesn't make sense. Our Catholic friend might say that it doesn't have to make total logical sense, accept it by faith. He might even begin to defend the thought with Thomist thought (Thomas Aquinas tried to differentiate between what it looks like and what the essence is - I believe fueled by Platonist philosophy (which is not thoroughly bad)). Anyway, check out the link and may we be gracious and clear and truthful with our Cathilic friends about the Bible and the Gospel.

Bigchumpito said...

I enjoyed reading your blog. Quite informative.

Oldhops said...

I think this is all very interesting, and I have to admit that you have done most all of my research on this subject. I have read all of teh blogs and comments on it and I have one question.
Why does it matter to the catholic church if the bread is the body of Christ or a peice of bread? I mean does it only work if it turns into the body of Christ. I embrace anyone who belives that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. So I mean no disrespect when I say that mabey this was a system set up to garantee that the priests were a necessity. I mean Martin Luther didn't go over so well when he said that you were saved by Grace, not by paying pennance to the church. I just wonder if that is how this started. I know I simplified a lot there, but the main idea is what I am asking about.

And I can't spell.

Christy said...

Very insightful! I find myself interacting with more and more non-practicing Catholics who don't know why they believe one thing and not something else.

Thank you for clearing up one subject for me.

Matthew Wireman said...

Thanks for the honest questions. The reason why this is so important to the Catholic Church has to do with their understanding of the sacrament itself (and priestly authority and penance in general). The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the priest is offering the body and blood of Christ again so that forgiveness of sins is effective for the person taking of them. So, the actuality of the bread and wine being the actual flesh and blood of Jesus is vital in order to fully commune and take part in the sacrifice.

Protestants must refuse this understanding...indeed, all Christians. Read Jason's first post on this. He did a good job of showing why the teaching is erroneous - there is only one sacrifice. To deny this is to sacrifice the Son of God again. To say that one must take communion in the Catholic way makes someone a slave to the Catholic Mass - because if you don't take communion in their manner, you will not be forgiven for sins committed.

Of course, the Mass is bound up with Confession. Thus, you can't take the Eucharist without confessing first. The problem is that this totally jettisons New Testament teaching against this.

batman said...

informative as the posts may be, as given by one person's perspective, it does not make them correct. if we are Christians and we love Christ, who are we to say that one person's form of worship is wrong and another's is right. my question is rhetorical, the answer however is not. we, and no other person are able to say 'you are wrong' and not be jeopordizing our standing with God. one Man was able, and even He Himself said, He came not to judge. notice what He came NOT to do. yours and my place as followers and desciples of Christ is not to tell others how they are wrong or mistaken, it is to draw them by love and compassion to their own personal understanding of the Holy Almighty Father, the Lord Jesus Christ and His marvelous Holy Spirit. i urge you all to that undertaking and cease from the present line of thought and action.

van.diesel said...


Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

“…As given by one person's perspective, it does not make them correct.”

You are correct. Simply because an individual presents a perspective on an issue doesn’t make it true. I fully agree with your statement in that respect. But it is folly to assert that a perspective cannot be true simply because it is presented by an individual. Regardless, this is a Scriptural issue and a Biblical perspective, not merely that of an individual. Scripture determines truth – not you or me.

“If we are Christians and we love Christ, who are we to say that one person's form of worship is wrong and another's is right.”

We should indeed say that one person’s worship is wrong or right - because we love Christ, not in spite of it. Christ loves His church – so much that He gave Himself up for her. May we never cease to lovingly speak truth and grace to those who view Christ and His church wrongly – and may we never cease to fervently desire that truth and grace be spoken to us when we ourselves therein wander. Out of love for God and love for my brother or sister would I correct them. God forbid that I ever wrongly worship Him in ignorance of the truths in His Word. God forbid that we allow our brethren to worship Him in ignorance for the sake of comfort. So who are we to say? We are workmen approved who, by His grace, seek to correctly handle His word of truth for the glory of God and the good of His people.

“we, and no other person are able to say 'you are wrong' and not be jeopordizing our standing with God.”

No? This is the Apostle Paul’s intent in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, where he chastises the Corinthian church for their practices regarding the Lord’s Supper. He observes their communion practices – their way of ‘worshipping’ – and tells them in unmistakable terms that they are wrong. Should rebuke be our focus as disciples? Not at all – let Christ alone be our focus. But do not doubt that there are times when correction is necessary. There are times when to not say “you are wrong” will jeopardize our standing with God.

“Yours and my place as followers and desciples of Christ is not to tell others how they are wrong or mistaken. it is to draw them by love and compassion to their own personal understanding of the Holy Almighty Father, the Lord Jesus Christ and His marvelous Holy Spirit.”

Truly, our objective as disciples of Christ is not to judge or condemn, or to simply point out the mistakes and wrongdoings of others – and as I stated in the first post of this series and reiterate now, it is by no means my intent. But to allow people to continue in a way that is contrary to Biblical truth – when you yourself have sought and been given Biblical truth - is both cruel to them and dishonoring to God. When your child or your friend or your wife are in error regarding an action or mindset, you would be a poor father, friend, or husband not to lovingly and appropriately restore them (Gal. 6:1). You would be negligent to allow them to continue down an erroneous (and dangerous) path. I would contend the opposite of your statement here – the humble restoration of struggling saints is very much part of one’s walk with Christ.

And let us proceed to do so, when necessary, with the motivation of glorifying God and compassionately loving His people. Certainly Christ did so. He did so. Love and compassion apart from action and truth is shallow at best. Truth, which should dictate our actions, is not relative. That’s why when you say “personal understanding” I hope you mean “intimate, close” and not “whatever anyone thinks is right in their own mind.”

Love and compassion draw. Truth sets free.

May the Lord bless us with grace, truth, and wisdom as we seek Him in all things. Grace and peace to you, friend.

David Wills said...

Batman, you are correct that we cannot judge another person insofar as we do not know what is in their heart and therefore cannot be the judge of any individual personally. However, we can and must make judgments on particular actions and particular beliefs, especially those that are fundamental to our life and worship. On a larger scale, for example, we must make a judgement concerning the existence of God, the divinity of Christ, and the inspiration of the Bible, to name a few, and it is out of love and compassion that we point these truths out to those who hold views about these issues that are contrary to that which we understand to be true and in line with what God has revealed. The existence of God, the divinity of Christ, and the inpsiration of Scripture are clearly 3 foundational aspects of the Christian faith, but one must likewise make a personal judgment upon and submit one's will to all that God has revealed; and he should also be willing to lead others in that same way. Though of course it should always be done in love.

Now I am a Roman Catholic, and it is my belief that is being argued against on this blog. Though I disagree with the point of view given here, I do commend the desire to know and understand God's truth as well as the desire displayed here to serve and worship God in a way that is in line with His Word. Thus, I do not take these arguments personal as I know they arise out of a heart that truly desires to know God and His truth. I do intend, however, to respond to the arguments given here against the Eucharist and the doctrine of Transubstantion and will attempt to explain what the Catholic position actually is and why it is so.

Your point of love and compassion is a good one; and we must seek to discuss matters of faith in a spirit of like manner. But just as one has the responsibility to speak out against sinful actions and call a brother to repentance if he is living an immoral life, so also it is our responsibility to speak out against false doctrine and uphold the truth of Christ. A brother would not be a good brother if he does not speak up when his brother lives in such a way that is harmful to his relationship with God. So also a brother should speak up when another holds a view of God or of any Christian doctrine that is unorthodox. The main issue, though, is that this should never be done in a spirit of pride, namely, in a way in which one may be trying to show off the amount of knowledge one has or in which one is simply trying to win an argument. But I do not believe that is what is taking place here. And though I am on the opposite side of the position taken on this blog concerning the doctrine of the Eucharist, I do commend the effort to seek after truth and to iron out one's own position in all matters concerning Christian doctrine. It will be my effort simply to help in that ironing process by giving the other side :)

God Bless.