Pretty much everyone who has ever been to church knows about the Lord’s Supper. Different denominations partake in the Lord’s Supper in different ways. Some have grape juice and wafers, some have grape juice and a loaf of bread, some have individual cups, some dunk the bread in one cup, some drink from the same cup, and so on. Catholic churches call the Lord’s Supper the Eucharist, and it is considered to be a sacrament. They believe that the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Jesus Christ through a process called Transubstantiation. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church it is a Holy Sacrament and is necessary for eternal salvation. Most non-Catholic churches do not believe that the bread and wine actually turn into Jesus’ literal body and blood. They view those passages in scripture as purely metaphoric, as many of Jesus’ teachings are. Most non-Catholics do not believe that the Lord’s supper has anything to do with eternal salvation. They view it as more of a way to remember Jesus’ sacrifice.
With different churches believing vastly different things regarding this subject and its connection to eternal salvation, it is important to see what the actual Word of God says.
The original event from which the Lord’s Supper originated is most often referred to as “The Last Supper”. It is the final meal that Jesus shares with His disciples in the “upper room”. It served the dual purpose of venerating Passover, the escape of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, and the establishment of a new tradition, Christianity.
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
The next record of the “Last Supper” is in the Book of Mark. It is almost identical to the description in Matthew’s gospel.
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.
“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
John records the event of the Passover meal on chapter 13, but he does not mention the Lord’s Supper ceremony. Although he neglects to mention that event, he does, in fact recite a very similar statement by Jesus in chapter 6. The context of this passage is that Jesus has just fed the 5,000 by multiplying the bread and fish. After that He and His disciples go across the lake to Capernaum. The large group of Jews, eager to see Him perform more miracles, follow him there.
When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”
“Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell 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 them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.
Further practices of the Lord’s Supper
Following those accounts of the original teachings of Jesus before His crucifixion, there are several more passages where the tradition of the Lord’s Supper is practiced.
On the road to Emmaus, two of Jesus’ followers encountered Him, in His resurrected body. They did not recognize Him as they walked with Him telling Him about their disappointment that Jesus’ body was missing from the tomb. Jesus calls them foolish and explains to them what the prophets said about Jesus having to suffer. He continued walking with them and they invited Him to eat with them.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.
Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left.
Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves.
We see in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth that One of the many things he is reprimanding them for is their failure to properly observe the Lord’s Supper. There are two passages that deal with that issue.
Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.
Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?
In the following directives, I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent, I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night 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, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.
So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.
There are two possibilities of the Lord’s Supper we can gather from scripture.
- Jesus literally changed the bread and wine into His own flesh and blood
- Jesus was using a metaphor to describe His death as the means of life for us.
In the synoptic Gospel’s account of the Last Supper, there is no indication that Christ miraculously turned the wine into blood or bread into His flesh. At the wedding in Cana, when He turns the water into wine, there is the indication that a miracle has occurred. There is nothing of the sorts in any of these passages.
If the bread and wine is literally turned into his flesh and blood, then there are some elements in the scripture that do not line up. In both Matthew and Mark, Jesus first takes the wine, then says it is His blood, and then refers to it as wine again (fruit of the vine). If it literally was turned into His blood, then this seems to indicate that it turns back into wine, or else He wouldn’t have referred to it as wine the second time.
In Luke, Jesus states “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
If it really were His blood in the cup, that would seem to contradict Hebrews 9:15 which states,
“Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” The Hebrews text states that His death on the cross was when the New Covenant happened, thus meaning that the cup was merely a symbol of Christ explaining what was about to happen on the cross.
Furthermore, the Catholic church teaches that the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper) is a true sacrifice. If that were true, then Christ Sacrificed Himself twice within hours. Once in the upper room, and again on the cross. If it were a real sacrifice of His literal body and blood, then His sacrifice on the cross was not needed.
Hebrews 10:11-14 tells us that “every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” If the Eucharist really were a sacrifice that we were to partake in over and over again to cover our sins as part of salvation, as the Council of Trent suggests in Sess. XIII, cap. ii, this passage would be false. Jesus was the final sacrifice that takes away all sins forever. And by that sacrifice, He has perfected (justified) those who are being sanctified. Notice the tenses there. “Perfected” (past tense), and “are being sanctified” (present and future tense). This means that we are are made perfect, or justified, in God’s eyes. We know from countless other verses that we are made perfect when we believe in His death and resurrection as the final payment for our sins. That is something that is in a believer’s past. The moment we believe, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to our account and we are seen as Christ’s perfection. To be sanctified means “to be made holy or to be set apart as holy”. We know from scripture that sanctification is an ongoing process in a believers life. It begins the moment we believe, and as we follow the Lord’s commands and life a life pleasing to Him with our works, we become more and more sanctified, more like Christ. This passage is saying that Christ’s once and for all sacrifice is what saves those who have believed and are being made more like Christ. We have nothing to offer as part of salvation. Christ paid the price because He knew that we never could. That is His grace.
Looking at the Book of John, his purpose statement of writing the book is written in chapter 20 verses 30 and 31,
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
His stated purpose of writing the book is that we may believe, and by believing, we may have life in His name. The Greek word “pisteuo”, which means “to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to place confidence in” is translated into English in the New Testament as the words “believe” “faith” “trust in”. In the Book of John alone, the word pisteuo is used approximately 76 times to as the sole means by which man receives eternal life. Not once are any of those uses paired with any type of action or work.
In the lengthy conversation Jesus has with the Jews in John 6 he reiterates to the Jews that they will not have eternal life unless they eat His flesh and drink His blood. This disturbs them and they think He is crazy and they leave.
The context of this passage, as previously stated is that Jesus has just fed the 5,000 by multiplying the bread and fish. After that He and His disciples go across the lake to Capernaum. The large group of Jews, eager to see Him perform more miracles, follow him there. Six times in this chapter Jesus says to these people that eternal life (salvation) is received by faith alone (6:29,35,36,40,47,64). He even states several times that He knows that these people do not believe in Him. From their attitude and words and from what Jesus says to them, it is obvious that they are only drawn to Him because of the miracles. They chase Him all the way across the lake to see more miracles after being miraculously fed by the fish and bread. They were in awe and amusement over the miraculous things, yet they did not seek salvation or to follow Him as God, they simply wanted a magic show. You can tell in their exchanged that Jesus is obviously getting frustrated with them. After He has told them 6 times that they must believe in Him alone for eternal life, they still do not understand and ask for more miracles. It is then that He makes the statements about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. That really confuses them and disgusts them and they leave. After that the disciples are confused as well, but unlike the thousands of followers, they remain with Jesus. They ask Jesus about it and He responds with “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
So, after saying that they have to eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to have eternal life, Jesus then turns to those who did not leave him and tell them that it is the Spirit that gives life, not the flesh, the flesh counts for nothing. The messages He has spoken to them are spirit and life.
The logical conclusion to this passage is that Jesus, talking to a group of Jews that He knows is only following Him for a magic show, after telling them half a dozen times that the only way to eternal life is believing in Him, uses a metaphor that He knows with freak them out, in order to get them to go away. He then tells His disciples that it is not the flesh, but the spirit and message that He teaches that gives life.
I find it really neat that even though He knows they aren’t there for Him, and that they don’t believe in Him, He still takes time to share the gospel with them six times before He scares them off. This really shows us the patience of God and that no matter how annoying we are and how much we don’t want anything to do with Him, He still shares with all the way to eternal life.
If what the Catholic teaching says is true, and it is His literal blood and body through the Lord’s Supper that gives us eternal life, then this passage would show Jesus contradicting Himself six times about salvation. And it would have an additional 70 contradictions about salvation being by faith in Christ’s finished work alone. If Jesus contradicted Himself, then that makes Him a liar, which makes Him sinful, therefore disqualifying Him from being God, thus making Christianity not true. Additionally, if their teaching of the Lord’s Super being part of salvation is true and that contradicts 70 other places in this book, that begs the question, how can we trust any of the Bible as true if there are so many contradictions? The very belief of anything other than salvation by grace through faith alone in the finished work of Christ, completely unravels Christ’s deity and the very fabric of Christianity as a whole.
If it literally was Christ’s actual blood and body, why didn’t the disciples call it that? We see in the Book of Acts that they still refer to it as “breaking the bread”. If it were really His body, wouldn’t they say “breaking His body”?
In 1 Corinthians we see Paul reprimanding the church in Corinth for partaking in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. They came together for a feast, as was the custom, and some were being greedy and eating too much, and some were drinking too much of the wine and getting drunk. Paul tells them that as they partake in the feast, they are supposed to do it in remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice for them. He points out that they were clearly not doing that. They were just being as Corinthians usually were. Another point here that seems to contradict the claim of the literal blood of Christ being present in the Lord’s Supper is that the people are getting drunk off of the Cup of the Lord. If it truly were Jesus’ literal blood, they wouldn’t be getting drunk off of it.
The lack of any indication of a miracle in these passages, combined with the obvious contradictions of this particular belief in scripture seems to indicate that the phrases spoken by Christ in these passages are a metaphor. It is not unreasonable to view this as metaphoric. Throughout scripture we see Jesus talking in metaphors quite often. If they were not metaphoric, then that brings into question many other passages where Jesus speaks. If the Catholic teaching is true, then, logically, these other passages must also be taken literally. It would mean that Jesus is a literal door and gate that opens and closes (John 10:19), a literal vine (John 15:5), a literal shepherd (John 10:11), a literal light (John 8:12), and a literal temple (John 2:19). Additionally, we, as Christians would be literal branches (John 15:5), literal sheep (John 10:11), and literal light, salt, and a city (Matthew 5:13-16). Taking these literally opens up a whole other series of contradictions from Jesus and the Bible, furthering the unraveling of Christianity.
Upon studying the historical records it is revealed that the teaching of Transubstantiation wasn’t taught until 1134 A.D.. The first recorded teaching of this was by Hildebert de Lavardin, over 1,100 years after the death of Christ. Furthermore, it didn’t become official Catholic doctrine until a papal decree in 1215 A.D.. 81 years after it was initially introduced and taught, Pope Innocent III declared it an official Catholic doctrine.
In conclusion, there are countless aspects that disprove the teaching of Transubstantiation. Additionally, there are literally hundreds of passages in scripture that discredit the idea of the Lord’s Supper being part of eternal salvation. When studying scripture, it is imperative that one reads the verses in context of the other verses, that is how to understand the meaning of the text. One must understand what the words mean in their normal sense in the context in which they are written. Not doing so results in confusion, contradiction, and perversion of the Word of God. As previously stated, if this teaching is true, then it opens up hundreds of contradictions in scripture, discredits Christ from being God, and completely unravels the very fabric of Christianity.