This month: 184 - Grace and truth
Exploring the Heart of Restoration

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Chris Jones

I am the lead minister at Westgate Church of Christ in Dothan, AL and I am currently pursuing a Ph.D. in New Testament from Faulkner University.


By Chris Jones

In discussions of the roles of the elders and the ministry staff of churches, many turn to models of shepherding, equipping, and building up of the body as viable paradigms for church leadership. It is pointed out from passages such as Ephesians 4:11-12, 1 Corinthians 12:27-31, and Romans 12:3-8 that God has gifted the church with differing abilities and functions that serve to equip the local church and build up the body of Christ. These paradigms and models are biblical, relevant, and beneficial ways in which to see ministry, but there is one model that is oft-neglected or not even mentioned at all. Through all the literature and interaction with the text of Scripture on issues of church polity rarely does one see the concept of the ministerial priesthood as a viable model of gospel ministry. One exception could be found in Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Anglican apologetic material. The reason I find this omission as odd is because Paul alludes to his ‘priestly duty’ in proclaiming the gospel in Romans 15:16. My question is the following: “is this metaphor of priesthood for gospel proclamation of ministry neglected out of pure oversight or is it from an overreaction to the sacramental priesthood and clerical system of Roman Catholicism?” In this article, I will try to accomplish the following: examine Paul’s use of the metaphor of priesthood in Romans 15:16, discuss possible objections to the use of the priesthood metaphor, and provide possible contributions this model could make to ministry in the churches of Christ. 

When one turns to Paul’s discussion of his evangelistic mission in Romans 15:16, it is very noticeable that Paul uses two terms that are directly connected to the concept of priestly Temple duties. In Romans 15:15–16 Paul states, “But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister (leitourgos) of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service (hierougeō) of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit (ESV).” Interestingly, Paul combines the terms leitourgos and hierougeōin the same passage. Both terms are connected to the concept of priestly Temple ministry. I agree with Michael Bird in his assertion that Isaiah 61 is in Paul’s mind as he writes this section.[1] The reason this is an important insight by Bird is that Isaiah 61 tells us that the Servant is anointed to proclaim the good news and Isaiah tells us in verse 6, “but you shall be called the priests (hierais) of the Lord; they shall speak of you as ministers (leitourgoi) of God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory, you shall boast (ESV).” It is possible that Paul understands his mission as being a fulfillment of what Isaiah envisions. Isaiah is connecting the proclamation of the gospel among the Gentiles as a priestly type of venture. 

Also, Paul uses cultic language to describe his preaching mission, and he views the Gentile Christians as “an offering acceptable to God sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” What is telling about this passage in Romans is that Paul pulls together two terms that were commonly used in the LXX[2] to refer specifically to the Old Testament cultic services of the Temple and Tabernacle. When one combines the real possibility that Isaiah 61 is a possible echo that Paul is pulling into his thought-world as well as his overt Temple, cultic, priestly language in this passage, one starts to see the importance of priestly categories for understanding Paul’s view of ministry. Paul’s priestly image fits nicely with his very robust view of the church in Temple language that he has already displayed in places such as Ephesians 2:19-22. In summing up what we find in Romans 15:16, we can conclude the following:

  • The grace that Paul has received is that he is a leitourgos (priestly service language) for Jesus, the Messiah to the Gentiles.
  • Paul specifically describes his ministry as a “priestly service” using a word (hierourgeō), which means the services a priest performed in the Temple cult of Israel.
  • Paul is more than likely pulling from Isaiah 61, which is a passage that likens the gospel proclamation to the Gentiles as a priestly duty.
  • Paul views the Gentiles as an offering to the Lord in which they become an “offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”

Some may bristle at the idea of explaining ministry in terms of the priesthood due to an automatic aversion to Roman Catholic clericalism that many may attach to the notion of the ministerial priesthood. I understand that reaction, and that is not what is being proposed here. Paul is not advocating for the minister of the gospel as being a mediator of graces and sacraments, but he is advocating for some form of priestly ministry.

Another possible objection is that Paul is simply using a metaphor to describe ministry in this passage, and metaphors should not be stretched too far. That is true, but one could also say that Scripture uses the metaphor of shepherding to describe the office of an elder, and that metaphor could be stretched too far. We understand that an elder is not going out in the pasture to tend sheep. We also understand that the metaphor is still informative and is didactic in how we see pastoral leadership from our elders. Just as we have no problem with applying shepherding concepts to the pastoring of elders, we should have no problem with seeing ministry through the lens of priestly categories.

One of the more powerful objections stems from the very important doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. We are reminded in 1 Peter 2:4–5, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Peter makes it clear that all Christians are priests of God and that we all offer spiritual sacrifices. I wholeheartedly agree with Peter’s assertion but that still does not negate what Paul says in Romans 15:16. Just as God calls some to be shepherds in a special sense, that does not mean that every Christian does not have the responsibility of feeding one another spiritually and acting in ‘shepherding types of ways.’ In the same way we are all priests of God but according to Paul, those that preach the gospel are acting in a special priestly type of way that is in line with redemptive history and the Hebrew Bible. 

You may wonder, why waste all this space for this topic? I believe a priestly understanding of ministry can add layers of understanding and meaning to the life of a gospel minister in the churches of Christ. The other more obvious answer is that the Apostle Paul believes it is important enough to view his ministry in sacrificial and priestly categories. The ancient preacher John Chrysostom said it best in one of his sermons on Romans 15:16 when he said, “For me, the priesthood means to preach and to proclaim; this is the sacrifice I offer.”[3] In Romans 15:16, I find something sacred and moving. It transforms how I see my gospel work and proclamation. When I look at the congregation God has called me to minister to I now see a group of people that are precious in the sight of God and my calling is to consecrate them to the Lord through the gospel. This work of consecration of the gospel preacher is part of God’s redemptive plan that traces all the way back to the Levitical priesthood but finds its telos in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is humbling to realize that this is all the work of Jesus Christ from first to last and I get to participate in that work. As ministers of the gospel, our priestly task is to encourage, instruct, and model to our congregants so that they will prove to be blameless on the Day of the Lord as a fragrant and acceptable offering to the Lord. Yes, I will say with confidence that ministers of the gospel are priests in the fullest and biblical sense.

[1] Michael Bird, The Story of God Bible Commentary: Romans, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 505.

[2] The Septuagint (LXX) is the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was in common use in the time of Paul and it is quoted many times by Paul when he makes references to the OT.

[3] J. Patout Burns Jr. Romans: Interpreted by Early Christian Commentators (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012) 372.

Over the years I have proudly stated that “I am a New Testament Christian.” That statement sounds noble at first glance. Think about it – who would object to someone wanting to go back to the founding documents of the church to draw their theology and practices in their own Christian walk?

The problem with saying, “I am a New Testament Christian,” is found in the reality that the original Christians would have no idea what that phrase means. Imagine you were able to get in a time machine and travel back to Corinth to the year 60 A.D. Let’s say you found the local house church in Corinth and you proudly proclaimed, “Hey guys I am a New Testament Christian!” They would probably look at you with a confused look because the only Bible they knew was the Old Testament, the letter Paul had written to them, and maybe one of the Gospels. Now one could argue that the New Testament encapsulates the teaching of the Apostles that churches like Corinth adhered to and found authoritative. This argument is true and valid. The NT does provide us with the authoritative teaching of Jesus through his apostles or their associates. But there is a deeper issue with saying, “I am a New Testament Christian.” When one considers how NT[1] writers viewed and used the Old Testament it becomes apparent that 21st century Christians should be “whole Bible Christians.” I hope that in this article I can make the case for the position of “whole Bible Christianity.”

One problem is that our truncated view of the Bible and neglect of the OT has robbed us of understanding the nuances and beauty of the theology and depth of the NT. We must realize that the NT writers’ minds and imaginations had been baptized and saturated in the thought patterns and themes found in the Old Testament. The NT is filled with echoes and allusions to OT themes and the writers assume that their readers are versed in those same concepts. One could make a case for the importance of knowing the OT because of the use of OT prophecy to prove the Messianic mission of Jesus, but it goes much deeper than that. What many do not realize is that the strands of theology that tie the OT and NT together run much deeper than just fulfilled prophecy. This is evidenced by two things we observe in how NT writers employ fragments and passages from the OT called intertextuality[2] and metalepsis[3].

Intertextuality simply means the writers of the NT used older bits of the Bible (OT) to make their point and to show a connection between the grand themes of redemption in Israel and the work of Christ. Metalepsis occurs when a NT writer quotes an OT text and wants to call the reader’s attention to an echo of the meaning of the original OT passage. Both intertextuality and metalepsis closely tie together the theology of the OT and the NT.

One could think intertextuality and metalepsis as a musician writing a new song but riffing off an older tune or melody in their new work. When the listener hears the old tune or melody their mind is transported back to the older song from which it originated, and it heightens the experience of the new song. This is similar to what the NT writers did when they embedded fragments and texts from the OT. If the reader does not recognize those echoes and resonances from the OT they will miss the message of the author. In our modern vernacular we do this at times. For example, I could say, “the New England Patriots met their Waterloo in Super Bowl XLII.” There is a cultural currency of thought in which one would know that this meant that in some way the Patriots suffered a shocking defeat. Without some knowledge of Napoleon’s battle with Wellington at Waterloo, it would be impossible to understand the full implications of this quote. Not only did the Patriots lose the game but the outcome was a stunning and shocking defeat. The writers of the NT are expecting a currency of thought and shared imagination with the reader.

I want to provide a quick example of how intertextuality and metalepsis work in the NT and demonstrate how recognizing these themes gives flavor and meaning to the text. In Hosea 11:1 we read, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son (ESV).” This passage sounds familiar to us because we read in Matthew 2:14-15, “And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son (ESV).” It appears that Matthew is saying that Jesus went to Egypt as a child so that He could fulfill the prophecy found in Hosea 11:1. My question is this, “are there clues that Matthew is giving us something deeper to consider than what we normally think of when we read the word ‘fulfill’?” To begin to answer this question consider this – Matthew employs the word ‘fulfill’ differently than we typically think. When Matthew uses the word ‘fulfill’ the OT passages he cites are typically not true Messianic prophecies. The one place where Matthew does quote an explicit OT Messianic prophecy is in Matthew 2:5-6 when he quotes Micah 5:2 in reference to where the Messiah would be born. In other words, when Matthew uses the term ‘fulfill’ he is asking the reader to go back to the passage being quoted and consider its context.

The passage in question of Hosea 11:1 had a specific meaning for its day and time. Does Hos 11:1 explicitly state that the Messiah will go down to Egypt? Hosea is not even concerned with the Messiah. He is looking back to the Exodus and using Exodus material for his 8th century BC context. God is talking to the northern tribes of Israel in Hosea and is looking back when he showed his love by redeeming them from Egypt. Israel will soon be put under the yoke of the Assyrians in 722 BC. The Exodus is the birthing of the nation and is one of the ultimate signs of God’s love and care. Matthew is applying those same themes to Jesus. It is true that on the surface Jesus is called out Egypt to return home, but Matthew wants us to delve deeper. Matthew wants us to consider how the ministry of Jesus will be a new exodus. One will notice that all through the Bible the theme of the Exodus is recapitulated. We are called to see that Jesus is much greater than Moses because he is God in the flesh, and he is bringing redemption from sin. Jesus’ liberation will be from the very root of all evil and oppression – sin. Jesus is even better than the original Exodus. Matthew is using Hosea 11 and its theme of Exodus and deliverance to Jesus as the ultimate telos (goal) of God in His grand scheme of redemption. Understanding the theme of Hosea and his message heightens one’s understanding of what Matthew is trying to communicate to us about Jesus.

This whole Bible approach to our faith also helps us see things like the entire shape of Matthew’s gospel as showing us that Jesus is a new and greater Moses. For example, a mind baptized in the theology of the OT notices that Matthew has a water event in the baptism of Jesus (Matt 3), a 40-day wilderness event with trials (Matt 4), and a mountain experience in the Sermon on the Mountain (Matt 5). One quickly notices the resonances with Israel and their Red Sea crossing as a water event, 40-day travel to Sinai with trials, and the receiving of the Law on a mountain. An imagination saturated in OT theology can also see that in John’s account he is telling you that Jesus is ushering in a new creation. John’s gospel starts with, “in the beginning.” When the reader gets to the passion week In John, we start to see a pattern emerge. In the final week of Jesus, we see that on day six (Friday) Pilate cries out “Behold the man,” on Saturday Jesus rests in the tomb, and on the first day of the week, he is raised. This pattern recapitulates and escalates the first creation by realizing the man is created on day six (Friday), God rests on day seven, and the first day of the week represents the start of a new creation. When one is working from an imagination saturated in the OT, they also  see that the church in the NT is more analogous to the ‘qahal’ of Israel instead of the Greco-Roman city-state concept of the ecclesia. Understanding the church in terms of God’s gathered covenant people has a deeper connection to the OT than with Greco-Roman categories. There are multitudes of examples to be given but just this overview demonstrates how important it is to have a thought world influenced heavily by the OT. My point in all this is that a mind enchanted with the world of the OT quickly picks up the themes of the OT and the resonances found in the NT.

I propose to you that we should become unashamedly “whole Bible Christians.” Part of being “whole bible Christians” means that we know the major themes and great acts of God from the OT. If we are going to espouse patternism the best type of patternism is to look to patterns of redemption that are recapitulated throughout the Bible. In connecting the Bible back together we have some wonderful insights such as the realization that the same Trinitarian God that is revealed more explicitly in the NT is the same God of the OT. In being whole Bible Christians we must also understand how the OT fits within the NT and how Jesus fulfilled the purpose and was the telos of the OT.[4] To truly be a restorationist people we must restore the early church’s love and appreciation of the OT in our churches today. [5]

[1] For the remainder of this article I will use the abbreviations of OT and NT for the Old Testament and New Testament respectively.

[2] Richard B. Hays defines intertexuality in the following quote: “The phenomena of intertextuality—the imbedding of fragments of an earlier text within a latter one—has always played a major role in the cultural traditions that are heir to Israel’s Scripture: the voice of Scripture, regarded as authoritative in one way or another, continues to speak in and through latter texts that both depend on and transform the earlier.” Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 14.

[3] Metalepsis can be understood as occurring when, “a literary echo links the text in which it occurs to an earlier text, the figurative effect of the echo can lie in the unstated or suppressed (transumed) points of resonance between the two texts.

[4] One great resource for understanding the relationship of the OT to the NT is found in N.T. Wright’s book Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today and pay close attention to his five acts of a play model.

[5] For more research on metalepsis and intertextuality see Richard Hays’ book The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as the interpreter of Israel’s Scripture and Hays’ Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul.

The Future of the Restoration Movement

            Teddy Roosevelt once said, “I believe that the more you know about the past, the better you are prepared for the future.” When one considers the great movements of history that changed the world, there is a common thread in many of those paradigm shifts. That thread is a going back to the past to move forward. The Renaissance went back to the Classical era to recover a way of looking at the world that drastically changed middle ages Europe. The Protestant Reformation changed the Western Church by going back to the sources (ad fontes) of Sacred Scripture with the help of the Early Church Fathers to recapture what they thought had been lost.

Currently, the churches of Christ face a crisis as we consider our future in the worldwide Christian movement. We can deny that the house is on fire, but when the attendance patterns are considered in our fellowship, it is obvious that we are in deep trouble. An article found in the Christian Chronicle that was published in August of 2018 entitled, “Can Churches of Christ be Saved?” served as a jolt like a strong cup of hotel coffee for many within our movement. So, what is the way forward?

As a father of three daughters, this question becomes a personal one. I love my heritage, and I want to see a robust Church for them and a vibrant future. I also believe that the Restoration principle is one that is needed. The Restoration is a movement worth fighting for because the greatest part of our heritage is a call to radical discipleship and an unwavering devotion to Jesus by turning to Scripture to challenge all human traditions. I believe the Churches of Christ within the wider Stone-Campbell tradition is worth saving for the following reasons: a deep devotion to discipleship, a high view of the local church, a sacramental view the assembly, the Supper, and baptism, and our history of seeing all Christians as a priesthood of believers. In this article, I would also like to present a theology of many things that we take for granted in the Restoration Movement that would give us more intellectual firepower to demonstrate why our heritage is a blessing. There is a beautiful simplicity about the Restoration Movement that is needed amongst the confusing tides of the consumeristic arms race between many evangelical churches today.

I am hearted to know that many ministers that I have talked to recently feel a sense of urgency when it comes to this topic. They see the need for a clear vision for the future as well as a prophetic call to return to the discipleship that we see in the New Testament. My prayer is that God’s Spirit is stirring within us to waken us from our materialistic, deistic, compromised slumber. The revival of our movement will have to be Spirit-powered, and I believe it will be led by going back to the foundation of Scripture, aided by the wisdom of the church throughout the ages, and understood through the lens of our Stone-Campbell heritage. In this article, I would like to humbly propose the beginnings of a way forward for our churches, and I would like to focus on the following: the perfect storm against us, a renewed ecclesiological vision, and a sacramental view of church life.

            To begin with, there are many reasons for the decline in our churches since the 1990s. With the rise of postmodernity, we have witnessed an unprecedented rise in emancipation from all authority, a suspicion of any narrative that claims truth, and a deep ambivalence toward anything traditional. This postmodern view of reality has filtered into the members of our churches and has led to a lack of certitude about anything, especially in matters of faith. Some charge that our fellowship has depended on rationalism to a fault, but we should remember that the Bible does lay out certain things that are to be accepted as true. When the influences of secularism come to bear upon the average Christian, it is almost insurmountable when adherents have no certainty of truth. When one couples this lack of confidence in revealed truth along with a steady diet of shame that the Churches of Christ should have for our past judgmentalism it leads people to ask, “is this heritage worth saving and why does it matter?”[1] The other element arrayed against us on this battlefield is the idol of personal peace, affluence, and comfort. Our members have relegated Christian ethics to a type of therapeutic, moralistic, deism, which makes it easy to chase the dream of personal peace and wealth. Taking into consideration that we lack certitude of truth, feel shame for our past judgmental sectarianism, have truncated Christian ethics to moralism, and drank deep from the American well of comfort and ease we realize we have a daunting task ahead of us in reviving our heritage. Some in the Churches of Christ are feeling the tractor beam pull of the attractional church model and the seeker friendly church model as the only path to our survival.[2] We have a massive hill to climb in just convincing the average member that our heritage is a blessing to Christianity and the answers to their biggest questions and needs are not going to be found in other evangelical fellowships. Research has shown that many other evangelical fellowships are also in decline and have many problems of their own.

            To start moving forward out of this morass, we must reclaim a radical ecclesiology that is fed by Sacred Scripture and understood considering our history. I propose that two things must inform our view of the church. First, we must reclaim the radical view of the church that Paul lays out when he says, “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:10 ESV).” God’s original plan was to use the local church to take down the strongholds of the principalities and powers in the spiritual realm. God did not plan to use parachurch organizations, governmental agencies, or armies to take down the forces of darkness that have hijacked, distorted, and defaced God’s good creation, but He chose the church. This view should elevate our perception of the role of the church and give us a sense of awe and wonder to be a part of God’s grand story of redemption. We need to understand the church as part of God’s Kingdom movement in this world. God’s kingdom has come to bear upon this world and our local churches, no matter how big or small, are kingdom outposts in enemy territory.[3]

Another revisioning of our ecclesiology is the taking on of an ‘exile’ and ‘sojourners’ mindset. One great example of how God’s people should live in a world that is hostile to faith is found in Jeremiah 29 in God’s letter to His people as they went into Babylonian exile. God exhorts His people to build houses in Babylon, have families, plant gardens but poignantly He says, “but seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Jeremiah 29:7 ESV).” The example of exile shows us a way forward as to how the church can remain distinctive and holy but at the same time bring shalom to a decadent culture. Just as Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego remained pure and holy, we can retain our distinctiveness in a sinful generation. At the same time, we can bring blessing, wise counsel, and excellence to our cities and communities just as those faithful Hebrews did in Babylonian exile. Peter seems to make this same argument when he writes to a group of Christians in a difficult situation when he writes, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:11–12 ESV).” In this passage, we observe both the exhortation to “abstain from the passions of the flesh” as well as to “keep your conduct among the Gentles as honorable.” There are both the components that we read in Jeremiah 29 in which the church is called to purity as well as being a blessing to those around us through our good works. I believe that without a good theology of the church that is based on the exile model we will continue to compromise with the wider culture as well as base our decisions as churches on our wants and needs. We cannot recapture the radical view of discipleship as we see in men like David Lipscomb if we don’t see ourselves as sojourners in this world.[4] We should revision our churches as places where holiness is celebrated as well as existing for the sake of others. This is a very difficult balance because many times when churches focus on holiness, people tend to become more self-righteous in their attitudes to outsiders. On the flip side of this, when churches get involved in social justice issues, they tend to compromise Christian ethics. The way of Jesus is to be both holy and exist as a blessing to the world around us. We should ask the question, “would this city/community miss this congregation if it were to vanish tomorrow?” The other question we should ask is, “how can we offer the world something like holiness and sanctity when we lack it ourselves?”

I believe one thing that is missing in evangelical Christianity is a sacramental view of the world. I am afraid that what many Christians are sinking into is a type of neo-Gnosticism. I know that Gnosticism was a multifaceted heresy, but one of the common threads of Gnosticism was a rejection of the physical and material world. I have heard people say, “I cannot believe a physical action like baptism could impart real grace or spiritual blessing.” That line of thought would have been comfortable among the Gnostics. In the Churches of Christ, we have had held onto a sacramental view of reality even though we did not have a deep theology as to why we did. I believe our view of the assembly, the Lord’s Supper, and baptism is a needed corrective to the low view of the sacraments in many evangelical fellowships today.

One may ask, “what is a sacrament?” The word sacrament is derived from the Latin term sacramentum, and it referred to an oath of loyalty that one would take. For example, a Roman soldier would make a sacramentum of loyalty to the Roman emperor. An early Church Father named Tertullian used this term about baptism. To the earliest Christians, a sacrament took on two connotations. In one sense, a sacrament such as baptism was an oath of loyalty that one would make to Jesus Christ, but another aspect of the sacrament was the mystery of God’s work in the sacramental action. In other words, God really ‘did’ something in baptism and the Supper. God imparted His grace, His presence, and His future reality for us in the sacrament. Sacraments are forward-looking in that they bring to our present God’s future reality.

An example of this would be when the spies went into the land of Canaan and brought back some of the fruit of the land for the Israelites to eat while still ‘outside’ the land. In the sacraments, we get a taste of God’s new creation that was inaugurated through the resurrection of Christ. In our baptism, we are immersed in water, our old person is put to death, and we are raised up in view of our future resurrection from the dead. In some sense, in our baptism, the gift of our future resurrection comes flooding into our present (Colossians 2:12 & Romans 6:4). In the sacramental view of baptism, we see the emphasis on personal faith and trust in the promises of God as well as God’s actual impartation of those gifts promised.

It is easy for us to see the sacramental reality of baptism, but it is a bit harder for us to accept the sacramental nature of the Lord’s Supper and the Sunday assembly. Many people in the Churches of Christ have been influenced by Ulrich Zwingli’s[5] view of the Lord’s Supper. In Zwingli’s view, the Lord’s Supper is simply a memorial service. It is like a funeral service for Jesus that we celebrate on Sundays. I want to propose a more biblical view that understands that the Lord’s Supper is a goal that God has had for us since the fall in the garden. If one were to track through Scripture, there is one theme that tends to manifest throughout, and that is that God’ wants to have fellowship and communion with us. The entire meaning of the Tabernacle and Temple was for God to have fellowship and communion with His people. It was through the eating of forbidden food that man lost shalom and fellowship with God. But in the Lord’s Table, we are being invited back into God’s presence to dine with Him. We can see that the Lord’s Supper is a fulfillment of the sacrifices in the OT. Under the Law of Moses, a worshipper would offer up a burnt offering (Olah/Ascension) that served as a general atonement for sin. Sometimes a worshipper would offer a peace offering along with the burnt offering to celebrate fellowship with God. In other words, the burnt offering achieves shalom with God so the worshipper would celebrate a peace offering (shelem -the verbal form of shalom) to celebrate peace with God. What made peace offering different was that the worshipper could eat from the sacrifice in a communal table with others. The other sacrifices of Israel were consumed by only the priests. One example of this type of offering is found in the story of Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and 70 elders eating in God’s presence on Mount Sinai in Exodus 24. In Exodus 24:11, we read that they ‘saw God’ and ‘ate and drank.’ I propose that the cross of Jesus was our once and for all sacrifice for sin, and the cross completed our atonement. In the cross of Jesus, we see the true Christian altar. The Lord’s Supper is where God’s children come together to eat and drink in God’s presence and celebrate the shalom that we have in Jesus. Jesus is truly present at the Supper as the host, and in the Supper, we are imparted grace because of His presence. Once again, a sacrament is a physical action in which God makes Himself present in our space and time and imparts a blessing.

In the assembly, we also have an intersection of heaven and earth. There are two passages that make it clear that Christ is ‘really’ present when we assemble with the intention to do so in His name. In Matthew 18:17, the Lord demonstrates that the context of his teaching in this passage is for the assembled church that has come together to make a judgment decision about a dispute among followers. In verse 20, Jesus makes the promise that He will be present with us whenever two or more assemble in His name. Even though the passage is about helping settle disputes, the kernel of truth that we can glean is that Christ is truly present in the assembly of the saints. The book of Hebrews takes this doctrine one step further. Why is the assembly sacramental? Hebrews 10:19-25 gives an amazing view of the assembled church when it states, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” This passage is packed full of OT imagery, and I am tempted to tackle some of those themes, but this article is already growing to an unwieldy size! The one statement that will grab many that have grown up in the Churches of Christ is the command not to neglect or forsake the assembly. We tend to equate this concept totally with the idea of ‘mutual edification,’ but we miss what the writer of Hebrews said earlier. One of the reasons given for the assembly is that we are invited into the Holy Place through the work of Jesus. The church assembly is elevated into the inner sanctum of God’s presence. We come with bodies washed through the waters of baptism, just as the high priest on the day of Atonement, and we enjoy His presence. The actual assembling of Christians in the name of Jesus brings about the real presence of Jesus in our midst. Our assemblies have lifted us into the heavenly places where we are invited to draw near in fellowship with our creator.

I want to take a second to show how this concept of supper and assembly work together to help us truly ‘know’ Jesus. As mega churches and evangelical churches slide into ‘evan-jellyfish’ when it comes to worship practices, discipleship, and sacraments let me share with you a fresh picture (from ancient sources!) of how it all fits together. On the road to Emmaus in Luke 24, we meet two followers of Jesus that are despondent. They have heard the teachings of Jesus and know the OT Scriptures, but they still do not understand the cross of Jesus. I find it compelling to look to Luke 24 and Jesus’s appearance to these two followers as a paradigm for our Sunday assemblies. Let me make my point. Jesus appears to these two followers on a Sunday. He walks along with them and explains to them from the Scriptures why He had to suffer. They don’t know Him or recognize Him until He breaks the bread.

Interestingly, Luke constructs Jesus’s breaking bread with these two exactly like his institution narrative in Luke 22 in Luke 24:30 when it says, “When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.”  The most compelling part comes from the report of the two when they say in verse 35, “Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.” Think for a minute what this passage is explaining to us. These two did not know Jesus by just the Scriptures, or the report of the empty tomb, or the teaching of Jesus before his death and resurrection. They finally ‘knew’ who Jesus was when the act of the Supper occurred. It was at the breaking of the bread that they recognized Jesus. We as Westerners have a hard time with this. We think that we ‘know’ Jesus by studying a bunch and listening to multitudes of sermons. I am not saying that study and hearing God’s word is not important; I am just making the point that in ‘doing’ things we come to know things. Luke is telling us that it is the entire action of the Scriptures being expounded along with the table that brought about the ‘knowing.’ Think about how many times in the OT you read of the Israelites ‘knowing’ God through the rituals of their festivals and sacrifices. I believe that the Sunday assembly complete with the Supper is a grand narrative that we are invited into where we begin to really ‘know’ Jesus.[6] Maybe we have not considered how assembling on the Lord’s Day and celebrating the Supper changes us and helps us see Jesus in ways that we don’t fully understand at this time. The assembly and the Supper come together with what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. We come together in the assembly, the Scripture is taught, our hearts burn within us as we are challenged, we partake at the Lord’s Table and experience his presence, and then we are sent out of the assembly as disciples and priests to minister to a decaying culture. It is also interesting to note that when they recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread, He disappears. How would the early church understand Jesus’s disappearance? Possibly they understood it to say that now Jesus exists through His church – the body of Christ. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus would be present through the church. The Lord’s Table would be a time to be reminded that we have been given the charge to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Just as the Father sent the Son, the Son now sends us out into the world after we are fed at the family table.

In conclusion, I believe the Restoration Movement is a wonderful gift to worldwide Christianity. The phrase ‘always restoring’ is one that all Christians should embrace, especially when calling Christians to put Jesus back at the center of all things. The view of returning to Sacred Scripture as our only guide to challenge all human traditions and norms is a noble endeavor. In celebrating and reviving our heritage, many things could have been said. My choosing of discussing a renewed ecclesiology and promoting a sacramental view of church life does not mean that I don’t think our heritage as a unity movement is not important. I chose the topics that I did because of the problems that I see in the greater evangelical church and how we are called to be a church that is neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant. I propose that the Churches of Christ represent a third way. A way that embraces a sacramental view of the world but also champions personal faith and discipleship with a radical view of the church as exiles and sojourners. It is a way worth sharing with others and saving!

[1] I am not arguing that our past lack of charity toward others is something to be winked at, but I am saying that some have stayed in apology mode for sins of the past generation while we try to minister to a generation that knows nothing of that past. As Rome burns to the ground, we play the fiddle to a small group that know why we are apologizing.

[2] Jared Wilson in his book The Gospel Driven Church challenges much of the tactics and deficiencies of the attractional church model. His book along with Tim Keller’s Center Church are good resources to challenge us to always place the gospel of Jesus Christ at the center of everything we do.

[3] I highly recommend John Mark Hicks and Bobby Valentine’s book Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding to get a picture of how this radical Kingdom vision fits into our heritage. We have a wonderful history of this viewpoint in the Churches of Christ and we need to reclaim that vision.

[4] To flesh out more fully how a church in exile may look I recommend Richard Hughes’s book Reclaiming a Heritage: Reflections on the Heart, Soul and Future of the Churches of Christ, especially chapters four through six.

[5] Ulrich Zwingli was a Reformer of the church that was based in Switzerland and was a contemporary of Martin Luther.

[6] I heartedly recommend Dru Johnson’s work Knowledge by Ritual: A Biblical Prolegomenon to Sacramental Theology or his more popular book Human Rites to learn more about how rituals and actions in Scripture are connected to knowing and epistemology.

One of the greatest gifts that I received from growing up in the Churches of Christ is being taught a love and respect for Scripture from an early age. My father and the teachers at my little rural church made the Scripture come alive, and I saw the text lived out among the people around me. I had always considered myself to be a “Christian only” but one day at the lunch table in junior high a fellow student called me a ‘Campbellite.’ By the tone of the other student, I did not take this moniker as a compliment. I went home that evening and asked my father what my interlocutor meant by the accusation of ‘Campbellism.’ It almost sounded like some dreaded disease. My dad explained to me on a very basic level that Alexander Campbell was a man that lived in the early 19th century that helped restore New Testament Christianity. He informed me that I did not follow Alexander Campbell because he was a mere man, but we follow Jesus. I was happy with that explanation and continued unhindered until my college years. In my college years, the challenges to my faith came from more robust and nuanced arguments. During that stage in my life, I became ‘self-aware’ that I had certain biases when I read Scripture that differed with other people that claimed to be followers of Jesus. I also realized that I had a method of interpretation that differed greatly from my Roman Catholic and Episcopalian friends.

I remember reading F. LaGard Smith’s book The Cultural Church during that period, and that reading made me more aware that my interpretive grid for reading Scripture was something I had taken for granted. As I have gotten older, I have grown to respect my heritage in the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement. Part of respecting one’s faith heritage means to celebrate the good but also challenge the parts that are lacking, and that can be improved.

Alexander Campbell came upon the religious scene in America in a very exciting and liberating time. Along with the freedom and optimism of a new nation, the religious leaders of the early 19th century were also experiencing a new freedom and optimism as they approached the Bible. The freedom that came at the end of the 18th century and the dawning of the 19th century opened the door to religious possibilities that were unheard of just a generation before. Alexander Campbell came to America from Ireland and Scotland during this exciting time and was a visionary when it came to unity and the challenging of long-held religious traditions. Campbell published his book The Christian System in 1839 and in that volume, he laid out his view of the Bible and his method of interpretation. Much of the vision that he gives in that volume is still very influential among members of the Churches of Christ today. In this essay, I will discuss the influences upon Alexander Campbell in his views of interpretation, and I will provide an analysis of the worth of Campbell’s method for the church today along with some critique.

Alexander Campbell’s view of the Bible did not occur in a vacuum. Campbell’s view of the world was one of order and reason. Campbell shared the Enlightenment period’s optimistic view of the objectivity and power of reason. One can see that the early 17th-century thinker Sir Francis Bacon’s method of scientific inquiry and view of empirical epistemology was part of Campbell’s mental map. Bacon’s methods revolutionized how people in the Western world understood how they gained and organized knowledge. Probably the greatest philosophical influence upon Alexander Campbell was John Locke. John Locke began his work in the 17th century after years of religious wars and strife in Europe. Locke was searching for a systematic way to look at government and the Bible that would bring about peace and an end to the religious conflicts of his time.[1] Locke believed that government had no right to enforce religious orthodoxy upon its subjects. Locke also proposed that religion be reduced to a minimal set of principles that could be deemed as essentials. Locke believed that Christianity could be defended through evidence and that it was reasonable especially in the areas of Jesus’ Messiahship and obedience to His clear commands. One could embrace other doctrines outside those core essentials, but those nonessential doctrines could not be used as a basis to coerce others. Campbell differed with Locke on what he considered to be the essentials of the faith but took the Lockean principle of rationality and unity. Campbell was also steeped in the Scottish Common Sense method of Biblical interpretation that was especially popular in the Presbyterianism of his day. Scottish Common Sense proposed that words are a direct representation of the objects they represent. The strong connection from sign to referent may not sound revolutionary, but this tenant of Scottish Common Sense is in direct opposition to some of the concepts laid down by Jacques Derrida in postmodern deconstructionism.

When one reads Campbell’s view of interpretation in The Christian System, they can observe strong rationalistic influences upon his thought. Campbell states that the Bible is the “full and perfect revelation of God and his will, adapted to man as he now is” (Campbell, 3).[2] Notice that Campbell endorses the Protestant Reformation ideal of the perspicuity of Scripture. The knowledge of Scripture is attainable by all. Campbell’s anthropology shows the role of reason in his thought. Campbell viewed man as an animal, intellectual, and moralistic in his constitution (Campbell, 3). Campbell observed God’s revelation to be two-fold in that it is displayed in nature and in the special revelation of Scripture (Campbell, 2). Because man is an intellectual being, Campbell believed that reason should be employed equally in the study of nature and the study of the Bible (Campbell 2–3). One can observe that Campbell is espousing an almost scientific view of interpreting the Bible. Just as Sir Isaac Newton had reduced the universe to predictable laws, one could use a systematic approach to the Bible, and through that approach, all could come up with the same conclusions. Through Baconian logic when scientist stuck to the facts of natural revelation, all scientists came to the same conclusion and Campbell reasoned that the same should be true of the Bible. If one applies a systematic approach, then consensus in biblical interpretation can be attained. Campbell believed unity would be achieved by honestly applying reason to the text.

In The Christian System Campbell lays out seven principles for proper and rational biblical interpretation and these seven principles are based on the bedrock belief that one should build their practice and belief on a specific command from Scripture or an approved precedent (Campbell, xi). Campbell’s seven rules of interpretation have a lot in common with today’s historical-grammatical approach to biblical interpretation. In this essay, we will only examine a few of Campbell’s principles. Campbell’s first principle dealt with the historical situation of a specific book of the Bible (Campbell, 4). The historical concerns included the following: the historical order of the book, the title of the book, the author, the date, the place, and the occasion for writing the book (Campbell, 4). Another principle of Campbell dealt with examining the people addressed in the book (Campbell, 4). One should consider the addressee’s prejudices, historical situation, and religious beliefs when interpreting a biblical text (Campbell, 4). Campbell also believed that if a word had multiple meanings, then the context of the passage and other usages of that word in the Bible should be considered (Campbell, 4). In a sense, Campbell was applying Occam’s Razor to biblical interpretation.[3] Campbell’s seventh rule emphasized humility in the reader as they come under the lordship of the text (Campbell, 5). In his last principle, Campbell put great import in a humble disposition in the reader of the book (Campbell, 5).

Many times, we practice intellectual snobbery as we look back from our postmodern high tower and cast aspersions at Campbell and his rationalistic methods. I find it humorous to consider that the same rationalistic thinking that influenced Campbell was what produced much of what we take for granted like modern medicine and many scientific advances that we hold dear. As I wrote this essay I kept coming back to the question, “why have we made rationalism such the bogeyman of the Churches of Christ?” I don’t know many people that want to go back to premodern medicine because we feel that rationality is a bad thing. The problem of throwing out rationalism is that when one wants to get to the original meaning of the text as the author intended, we must employ many of the tools of rationalism. I also find it hard to believe that ancient interpreters did not use the same tools of rationality without modern labels. I can read the early church fathers such as Justin Martyr and his dialogue with Trypho the Jew and see rationality in his argument. I can look forward in church history and see robust rationality in the work of Erasmus of Rotterdam. Is rationality as bad as some make it out to be? Should we abandon the approach bequeathed to us by Alexander Campbell? In answering that question, I believe it is important to look at Campbell with a sense of charitableness that comes from a sense of thankfulness for our Stone-Campbell heritage. Some things that we have in common with Campbell is our love for Jesus, respect for God’s revelation in Scripture, and a desire for unity.  These commonalities make this venture a family discussion that is worth having.

Even though I see a lot of strengths in Campbell’s rationalistic approach, I can see many blind spots in his method as well. One place of improvement is to consider the prejudices and assumptions that the modern reader brings to the text. The realization of reader bias is a blessing that postmodernity brings to us by making us aware of our preconceived notions. It is foolhardy not to believe that our socioeconomic, educational opportunities, and theological grid of interpretation does not affect how we read the text. I found this principle to be true when I read Grant Osborne’s The Hermeneutical Spiral. Osborne demonstrates that many 19th century interpreters reinterpreted Jesus to be a type of paleo-liberal scholar of his day that had more in common with them than He did with a 2nd Temple Judaism Jew. In my ministry, I have noticed how the bias and prior conceptions of the people I minister to work as a sieve through which they read the text. For example, many people I have ministered to over the years filter the Apostle Paul’s anthropology through the lens of platonic Greek thought. They fail to realize the integrated view of the human person that a Jew in the first century would have. Because of this predisposition to Greek categories, the reader deemphasizes the value of the human body as an integrated whole and misses the power of what the Bible teaches about the resurrection. The point of this is to emphasize that Campbell’s method lacked this view of reader bias. Campbell’s concept that one could be a truly objective reader was a bit naïve. I am not saying that because of this one can never find the truth behind the text but I am proposing that to find that true teaching we must be aware of our bias and frailties.

I would propose another critique of Campbell’s method is its weakness in dealing with the Old Testament. One of the weaknesses of our heritage is a very minimalist approach to the role of the Old Testament in the life of a Christian. Just the phrase ‘New Testament Christian’ betrays that weakness. I propose that we should become ‘whole Bible Christians.’ It is very naïve to think that the church had the twenty-seven books of our New Testament in a Tommy Nelson leather-bound Bible by the end of the first century. The Scripture of the early church was the Old Testament. The earliest Christians learned to read the Old Testament Christocentrically. I am not advocating for bringing back the sacrificial system or Solomonic Temple, but I am advocating for understanding that the New Testament was written with the understanding that the reader is steeped in Old Testament terms, motifs, and theology. Our hermeneutic has been robbed by our lack of respect for the validity of the Old Testament. The New Testament writers are writing with a shared economy of words and thoughts that originate from the Old Testament. The entire Bible should be read as God’s grand narrative of rescue for humanity. N.T. Wright has done great work in this view of the Old Testament. Wright makes the point that to correctly interpret how to use the Old Testament in the life of the Christian is to understand what act of God’s drama that you are a part of in the story. If you are in the ‘church’ act or the ‘age of the Holy Spirit,’ then there are certain parts of the Old Testament such as Hebrew ceremonial law that doesn’t apply to you or they have been fulfilled in the work of Jesus. This method is much better than the watertight categories that I grew up with such as the Patriarchal Age, Mosaic, Age, and Christian Age.

There have been many advances in biblical scholarship in the last century when it comes to the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament. It is easy for us to make this critique of Campbell’s lack of nuance in interpretation as it relates to the Old Testament now because of the more recent contributions of scholars like Richard Hays and Michael Fishbane when it comes to the study of intertextuality. Intertextuality means that the New Testament writers used words and phrases that anchor the New Testament text to the Old Testament. Some early restoration leaders advocated that we should read the Bible as if fell from the sky. We are finding now that that is impossible. There is a shared currency that the New Testament writers have with the antecedents in the Old Testament. There are many echoes of older texts within more recent texts of the Bible.

It is easy for the interpreter to pick up direct quotes from the Old Testament that are given with introductory formulas such as ‘this was done to fulfill,’ but it is much more difficult to pick up on quotations that flow naturally in the text. For example, Philippians 1:19 has a section that is a direct quote from the LXX version of Job 13:16. When Paul quotes from Job 13:16 he is not saying that his suffering is a fulfillment of Job’s suffering. He is embedding an older text into his writing of Philippians to take the reader back to the situation of the writing of Job. Job was a fellow sufferer who was vindicated. The interpretation of Philippians 1:19 is enriched when the reader realizes that Paul wants you to take part in the ‘great conversation’ with the Old Testament text.

Another aspect of Campbell that I find lacking in his work is the absence of developed pneumatology. In the Churches of Christ, we have a great strength of being Christocentric in our theology of the church, but we have been sorely lacking in a theology of the Holy Spirit. I believe that it is almost unbiblical to champion a very individualistic reading of the Bible that takes it out of the heart to the Spirit-filled church. Biblical interpretation that endorses a radical individualism fails to take into account how communal the New Testament is. Even when John is bearing testimony of the veracity of his Gospel he does so with communal language when he states, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true (John 21:24 ESV).” When one reads the Pauline epistles, it is staggering how much the ‘you’ admonitions are in reality ‘ya’ll’ exhortations. In other words, much of what we have read to be individualistic instructions are written to entire groups of people.

We quickly forget that the church is the temple of the Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 Paul states, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple  (ESV).” The ‘you’ of verses sixteen and seventeen are plurals. The church is filled and animated with God’s Spirit. I believe that the interpretation of Scripture is best done in the heart of the church alongside other believers. This no guarantee that we are interpreting the Bible correctly but it does safeguard against fringe readings and interpretations. It is powerful to consider that the early church gathered for the communal reading of the text and the same Spirit that inspired the text of the Bible imbibes and animates the church.

Another aspect that I find troubling about Campbell is his suspicion of traditional readings. I understand that the religious divisions of his day influenced his thinking, but I believe we should turn to the wisdom of ancient Christians to help in interpreting the text. We have a treasure trove in the Early Church Fathers. Extensive writings by men such as Iraneaus, who was a spiritual grandchild to John the Apostle, are still available to us today. I am not saying that the Early Church Fathers’ writings are authoritative, but I am proposing that their writings give us some guidelines to how certain passages were interpreted in the period closest to the lives of the authors of the New Testament. G.K. Chesterton once said that tradition is the ‘democracy of the dead.’ Just as the church should read the Bible communally, I propose we should read it with the entire great cloud of witnesses that have gone on before us like the early Church Fathers.

In conclusion, much can be commended to Campbell’s approach to interpreting Scripture. I believe that members of the Churches of Christ should embrace and celebrate the heritage we have been given. Part of that celebration is to improve upon the methods of interpretation that we have been given. It is also imperative that we keep our spiritual ears open to the leading to the Holy Spirit. Leonard Ravenhill once said, “The Holy Book of the living God suffers more from its exponents today than from its opponents.” Let us prayerfully endeavor not to do violence to the text or misrepresent our Savior through poor exegesis. It is surely a noble endeavor to continue to strive to find the truth that God reveals to us in Holy Scripture. I can confidently say our brother Alexander Campbell would encourage us to do just that.

[1] For a good examination of John Locke and his influence on Alexander Campbell see C. Leonard Allen and Richard T. Hughes’s book Discovering Our Roots: The Ancestry of the Churches of Christ pgs. 78–80.

[2] All in text citations are from Alexander Campbell’s The Christian System.

[3] Occam’s Razor can be easily described as, “the simpler solution that requires the least speculation is probably the best answer.”

When Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” in Luke 22:19, the question would soon have to be answered by the Christian community as to exactly what they would be celebrating. Since the earliest days of the church, Christians have grappled with this statement of Christ.  The Lord’s Supper has been a subject of much exegetical and theological debate as to the nature of the Supper, the frequency of its celebration in the life of the Church, and its sacramental or nonsacramental nature. 

            This essay will come to the Supper from another angle.  For a long period of time the debate has centered around the concept of the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper.  Since the sixteenth century, Christians have been divided on whether Jesus is truly, mystically, and sacramentally present in the elements of the bread and wine.  Some have simply asserted that the Lord’s Supper is purely a memorial service. Paul Blowers challenges the simple memorial view of the Supper by stating, “it was never merely a repeated funeral for the martyred Jesus.”[1] Blowers points out that the Lord’s Supper was viewed as a multilayered mystērion by the earliest Christians.[2] The simple debate that devolved into the either/or of the sacramental versus the memorial view may have clouded some biblical concepts that can be recovered by rigorous exegesis and by reading the Bible as a complete story.  A reassessment of the biblical data and renewal of emphasis may help this impasse. 

            This essay proposes that looking at the Supper through the lens of the Old Testament covenant meals will give theologians, ministers, and lay people a new perspective on what exactly happens during the Supper.  This discovery has practical ministerial applications.  If the Lord’s Supper is truly a covenant renewal meal it gives new emphasis to the Sunday assembly and the shape of that assembly.[3]  For many free-church and Zwinglian influenced churches the view of the Supper as a covenant renewal will challenge the view of the Supper as being purely a memorial. 

            To achieve an understanding of the Lord’s Supper as a covenant renewal meal some groundwork will need to be laid down. Part of this foundational work will be exploring the possibility of antecedents for the Lord’s Supper, found in the Jewish Scripture, as a lens through which to understand the institution narratives found in the Synoptic Gospels as well as Paul. It will pick up those antecedents and explore the possibility of understanding the Lord’s Supper in sacrificial terms. The establishment of a connection between the Lord’s Supper and sacrificial terms is critical due to the connection of sacrifice and covenant. Because this concept of sacrifice and covenant is so important, this essay will show the relationship between sacrifice and covenant in the Jewish Scriptures. After this, the pertinent phrases of Jesus from the Last Supper will be investigated in light of the subject of this exploration. Lastly, the essay will consider the Supper in light of covenant renewal and explore the ramifications of this understanding for practical ministry.


Hartmut Gese points out the following concerning the background to the Lord’s Supper:

Even if we hold that the Lord’s Supper had its origin in a specific situation in the life of Jesus, we cannot ignore the assumptions and the traditions that lie behind it. Deriving an observance from a situation is not an alternative to understanding it in terms of tradition. Neither is it the purpose of a historical investigation to ignore what is specific and distinctive. By investigating the origin of the Lord’s Supper in the pre-Christian tradition, we are not overlooking what is distinctive; we are seeking to understand it correctly.[4]

Gese skillfully points out that an investigation into the Lord’s Supper will not to rob the Supper of its Christian distinctiveness, or its central role in the life of the church, but the purpose of understanding the Supper’s background is to bring more meaning and significance to the Church. One must consider how the earliest Christians would have understood the Lord’s Supper in light of the revealed Scripture of Israel. It is a legitimate pursuit to delve into the possible traditions and assumptions that shaped the early Christian understanding as to what exactly took place at Jesus’s Last Supper, and how that understanding related to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper in the life of the Church.

The Passover Feast and the Lord’s Supper

The most obvious antecedent through which to filter the action of Jesus is the Passover feast of the Jews.[5] The Passover is a fitting backdrop for Jesus to institute the Lord’s Supper due to the Jewish expectations swirling around the Passover feast. Joachim Jeremias demonstrates the Passover, in the time of Jesus, was a feast looking ahead toward a final deliverance in which the Exodus from Egypt was only a prototype.[6] Jeremias also points out that Messianic hopes and expectations were tightly bound to the time of Passover.[7] Understanding the Jewish expectations that were connected to Passover will shed light on the words and actions of Jesus at the Final Supper.

            One could propose that the understanding of the Lord’s Supper is multilayered, and the Passover gives one lens through which to observe the Lord’s Supper.[8] Jeremias points out that the Lord’s Supper is to be considered in light of the Passover Seder due to fourteen parallels witnessed between the Gospel accounts and the Seder customs.[9] In 1 Cor 5:7–8 Paul makes it clear that Jesus’ sacrifice is connected with the Passover lamb. For the thesis of this paper, examining the Passover as a possible background to the Supper is helpful due to the Passover’s connection to covenant renewal. The Passover celebration immediately followed the renewal of the covenant with Joshua (Josh 3:7–5:12). The Passover feast also accompanied the covenant renewal and reform of Josiah (2 Kgs 23). Taking note of the close connection between the Passover feast and the times of covenant renewal in the Jewish Scriptures demonstrates the importance of examining the Passover for the purpose of connecting the Lord’s Supper with covenant renewal.

            Since the Lord’s Supper occurred during the Passover feast of the Jews, it will help to examine what is known about the structure of the Passover meal during the time of Jesus. According to the Mishnah, the Passover meal had a basic fourfold structure: a small preliminary meal, the Passover liturgy, the main meal, and the concluding rights.[10] If this pattern reflects first-century custom, one can reason from this information that the breaking of bread by Jesus would have occurred before the main meal, but the cup that Jesus offered would have occurred after the main meal as Luke tells us in Luke 22:20.[11] Jesus clearly departs from the Passover liturgy when He pronounces that the bread is “My body which is given for you” and by calling the cup “the new covenant in my blood.” There is a definite continuity and discontinuity as one compares the celebration of the Passover to what occurred in the Lord’s Supper narrative of the Gospels.[12] One can quickly discern that the early Christian community did not understand the Lord’s Supper to be a re-creation of the Passover feast because the Passover is a yearly feast, and the Lord’s Supper was at least a weekly celebration in the early Church.[13]  By the synoptic tradition’s singling out the bread and the cup from the Passover setting it becomes obvious that those elements will be the focus of this new celebration. Only after the crucifixion and resurrection, could the earliest Christians understand exactly the referent to which to attach the Last Supper of Jesus. One cannot understand the Last Supper without the passion and resurrection of Jesus.  Also, it should be noted that one of the fullest explanations of the meaning of the cross is given by Jesus at the Last Supper. It appears that the cross and Supper are inseparable and both cast meaning on one another. The sacrificial death of Jesus can be connected to the Passover, and the Passover provides a beautiful background by connecting the work of Jesus as a type of new exodus.[14]  Also, one cannot ignore the deficiencies of the Passover liturgy as the Sitz im Leben for the Lord’s Supper in toto.[15] When one considers the deficiencies of the Passover as being the only antecedent for the Lord’s Supper, it is evidence that a more holistic approach must be attempted at understanding the background of the supper. The Passover is just one of the many lens through which to view the Lord’s Supper.

The Todah Offering and the Lord’s Supper

Another possible Old Testament lens through which to view the supper is the thank (todah) offering of Israel. The thank (todah) offering is important to this current investigation due to connection of this sacrifice to the Davidic Kingdom. As will be demonstrated below, the todah sacrifice would be especially connected to God’s covenant with David. The thank offering, more specifically, was usually offered by someone that had been delivered from great peril.

According to Leviticus, the todah was a subset of the peace offering (sh’lamim) (Lev 7:11–17). The sh’lamim offering was multifaceted and the Hebrew word behind this offering has been interpreted as peace offering, communion offering, or fellowship offering.[16] Specifically, the sh’lamim is broken down into the thank (todah) offering, vowed (neder) offering, and the freewill (nedaba) offering (Lev 7:11–17 ).[17] The general occasion for a peace offering would be for the following reasons: for an unexpected blessing, for deliverance when a vow was made, and for general thankfulness.[18] Jacob Milgrom points out that the purpose of all of the types of the peace offering is to “provide a ritual by which all the Israelites could acknowledge the miracles of their lives and express gratitude for them.”[19] Usually the todah sacrifice was offered by someone who had been delivered from peril and came to God with a heart of thankfulness. Examples of todah being offered in the Hebrew Scriptures would be Jonah promising to offer a todah in the Temple if he is delivered (Jon 2:3–10), and Hezekiah offering up a todah song at his deliverance from his life-threatening illness (Isa 38).[20] There are four compelling reasons to consider the todah as a background to understanding the Supper and they are the following: the Passover and todah sacrifice were closely related to one another in Jewish thought, Justin Martyr connects the Supper with the leper’s thank offering, the concept of the New Exodus and its connection with the Davidic covenant, and the possible connection between 1 Cor 10:18 and the todah sacrifice.

The Todah Sacrifice and Passover

C. John Collins posits that the early church (immediately after the Apostles) began to see the Lord’s Supper in terms of a Christian sacrifice.[21] If Collins’s assertion is true, it becomes evident that the Passover provides an inadequate background for this understanding. The weekly repeated pattern of the Lord’s Supper demonstrates that the early Christians saw the Supper through an augmented Passover lens or through multiple Jewish antecedents. Jutta Leonhardt points out that in Philo’s writings about the Jewish festivals the Passover feast was special because the laity had the purity of priests and could offer the sacrifice.[22] Leonhardt goes on to propose that the entire Passover feast can be categorized as a time of thanksgiving and a festival of thanks-offering.[23]

            Stephen Pimental and Brant Pitre claim that both the Passover and the todah were peace offerings.[24] The closest scriptural connection between the Passover and the peace offering can be found in 2 Chr 30:21–22 which states:

the sons of Israel present in Jerusalem celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days with great joy, and the Levites and the priests praised the Lord day after day with loud instruments to the Lord. Then Hezekiah spoke encouragingly to all the Levites who showed good insight in the things of the Lord. So they ate for the appointed seven days, sacrificing peace offerings and giving thanks to the Lord God of their fathers. (NASB)

This passage shows that during the seven-day cycle of the feast of Unleavened Bread there were peace offerings being performed. It cannot be stated for sure that the Passover meal and the peace offering were one and the same, or that the Passover feast was a subset of the peace offering. What can be determined is that there were similarities between the Passover meal and the peace offering. Both in the Passover feast and in the peace offering the worshipper was allowed to eat the sacrificed victim. One can take this a step further by looking at the todah’s similarity with the Passover meal. Passover and the todah had elements that separated them from the peace offering such as the following: unleavened bread, an assumed narrative of deliverance, and the requirement to consume the sacrifice entirely on the day it is offered.[25] The Passover feast also employed Ps116, which is part of the Hallel Psalms, and it follows the todah pattern.[26] In Ps 116 the psalmist laments his suffering to the point of death (v. 3) and prays that God would deliver him (v. 4).[27] When God delivers the psalmist the response is a sacrificial meal in which wine is consecrated (vv. 12–13), and the sacrifice described in the final section is classified as a todah sacrifice (v. 17).[28] Josephus sheds more light on the possible connection between the Passover and todah when he says the Israelites “offered sacrifices of thanksgiving (χαριστηρίους) because the divine will had brought them again to the land of their Fathers and to the laws of this land.”[29] Josephus gives a possible direct link to the todah and Passover by calling the sacrifices offered during the time of Passover thanksgiving sacrifices. The Greek word χαριστηρίους that Josephus uses to refer to the sacrifices during Passover will be important later in this essay due to its connection to early Christian language used to refer to the Lord’s Supper. One can see a possible connection between the Passover meal and the todah offering. Since the Passover feast was connected to the todah offering in the time of Christ, it is not a giant leap to consider the todah sacrifice as one background to understanding the Lord’s Supper.[30] Reasons to connect the Passover to the todah are the following: both in the Passover and the todah sacrifice the laity could participate in the sacrifice, both celebrations allowed for the celebrants to eat the sacrificed victim, both sacrifices marked a time of thanksgiving due to God’s deliverance, 2 Chr 30:21–22 connects the Feast of Unleavened Bread as a time marked by peace offerings, one of the Hallel Psalms sung at Passover has been categorized as a Psalm to be used in the liturgy of the todah offering, and Josephus refers to the offerings during Passover as thanksgiving sacrifices.

Justin Martyr and the Todah Offering

Justin, in his dialogue with Trypho, makes a connection between the thank offering made by a leper in Lev 14 with the Eucharist. Justin’s attitude toward the Eucharist is important because it dates to the middle of the second century and gives us an early insight into the understanding of the Lord’s Supper by the generation that comes immediately after the apostolic age. In making the case for a connection between the Eucharist and the todah sacrifice, the following quotation from Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho is critical for the argument:

“Likewise,” I continued, “the offering of flour, gentlemen, which was ordered to be presented for those cleansed from leprosy, was a type of the bread of the Eucharist, which our Lord Jesus Christ commanded us to offer in remembrance of the Passion that he endured for all those souls who are cleansed from sin, and that at the same time we should thank God for having created the world, and everything in it, for the sake of mankind, and for having saved us from the sin in which we were born, and for the total destruction of the powers and principalities of evil through him who suffered in accordance with his will.

Thus, as I stated already, God speaks through Malachi, one of the twelve prophets, concerning the sacrifices you then offered up to him, I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord and will not receive your sacrifices from your hands. For from the rising of the sun even to its going down, my name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a clean oblation; for my name is great among the Gentiles, says the Lord, but you profane it.”

By making reference to the sacrifices which we Gentiles offer to him in every place, namely, the bread of the Eucharist and the chalice of the Eucharist, he predicted that we should glorify his name, but that you should profane it.[31]

            Justin makes a direct reference to the leper’s thank offering for healing as a type of the Eucharist. This provides early evidence that Christians in the mid-second century were making a connection between the thank offerings of Israel and what takes place at the Lord’s Table. In his Dialogue with Trypho 41, Justin also quotes Mal 1:10–12 in reference to a pure sacrifice that would continue into the Messianic age, and many of the prophets pointed toward an age when the thank offering would continue. Justin actually uses sacrificial language and directly connects it to the Lord’s Supper in that same passage. In Dialogue with Trypho 41, Justin refers to the bread asἄρτος τῆς εύχαριστίας.[32] Hartmut Gese quotes from Pesiqta de Rab Kahana and claims that in rabbinic thinking Malachi 1:10–12 was interpreted as a todah offering.[33] “In the coming Messianic age all sacrifices will cease, but the thank offering [todah] will never cease.”[34] According to Leviticus Rabbah 9:7 and Pesiqta Rabbati 12 many rabbis looked to the ending of the sacrificial system of the Second Temple period to give way to a Messianic Age that would focus on a todah-centric sacrificial system. There is a universal aspect of the todah that is found in Justin’s thoughts when he makes reference to the Gentiles. In connecting the lines of thought, one can see that Mal 1:10–12 has a history of being interpreted as a todah sacrifice, and in Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho 41 there is an early Christian source connecting the passage from Malachi directly to the Lord’s Supper.

New Exodus, The Davidic Kingdom, Covenant, and Todah

The period of Second Temple Judaism was shaped by a hope for vindication. N. T. Wright frames the situation in the following terms:

The great story of the Hebrew scriptures was therefore inevitably read in the second-temple period as a story in search of a conclusion. This ending would have to incorporate the full liberation and redemption of Israel, an event which had not happened as long as Israel was oppressed, a prisoner in her own land.[35]

This hope for liberation is tied together with the expectation of a new exodus in which the Messiah would become a new Moses.[36] Israel was waiting for God to conclude his story of redemption in the messianic age. The old covenant that Moses established was put in place with a burnt offering, peace offering, ratification of the covenant, and a fellowship meal in the presence of God on Sinai (Exod 24:9–11).[37] Understanding the method in which God established the old covenant with Moses may shed light on how God would form his new covenant in the age to come. Jeremiah speaks of a new covenant that God would establish with all Israel.

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jer 31:31–33 NASB).

            A few striking details stand out in this text. First of all, God will establish a new covenant with His people and therefore it is differentiated from the covenant made with Moses. Secondly, this covenant is made with the two southern tribes found in Judah and the ten northern tribes. Isaiah 11:11–13 also speaks of a restoration of the twelve tribes of Israel to the land and a time of renewal.[38] This would be a difficult task because of the scattering of the ten northern tribes by the Assyrians in 722 BCE. The new covenant will also focus on the internalization of the covenant.

            As was presented prior, there is a possible connection between the todah and the Passover, and this is an important point when one considers the concept of a new exodus. N.T. Wright points out the expectation of the new exodus and its connection to the Passover when he states the following:

“Passover looked back to the exodus, and on to the coming of the Kingdom. Jesus intended this meal to symbolize the new exodus, the arrival of the kingdom trough his own fate. The meal, focused on Jesus’s actions, with the bread and the cup, told the Passover story, and Jesus’s own story, and wove the two into one.”[39]

Wright shows that the Passover feast was a natural time for Jesus to inaugurate a new exodus and a true return from exile. Another piece of the puzzle that helps this connection come into focus is the LXX version of Jer 38:7–9 (MT’s Jer 31: 7–9). According to the Septuagint, the prophecy of Jeremiah concerning the new covenant explains that the establishment of this new covenant would come during the feast of Passover.[40] The todah and Passover both have connections to the concept of the new exodus and the establishment of a new covenant.

            Part of the expectation of a new exodus is bound up in the expectation of God’s placing of a Davidic King back on the throne of Israel.[41] In 2 Sam 6 the text tells of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Zion, which leads to God making an everlasting covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7. This covenant made with David would also shape much of the expectations of Second Temple Judaism in that the new exodus was tied together with the return of the Davidic King.[42] Of the importance of the Davidic covenant Michael Barber states the following:

In all of this, then, we see how the Davidic covenant is not simply a private oath sworn to David. It is a climatic event in the history of God’s covenant dealings with mankind in the Old Testament. Through the Davidic king, God will restore his covenant relationship with humanity that was lost since Adam fell at the dawn of time.[43]

            This future return from exile and new exodus will also be marked with a change in the entire focus of the cult of Israel. The Old Testament comes to an end in the book of Malachi with a possible prophecy about sacrifice in the age to come to focus on the todah sacrifice. Earlier in this essay it was demonstrated that rabbinical interpretations of Mal 1:10–12 with that of Justin Martyr connected this passage to the todah sacrifice and the Lord’s Supper. If those assumptions are correct, one can see Malachi, as one of the later prophets of the Jewish Scriptures, looking forward to a time of the todah sacrifice as the only sacrifice remaining in the messianic age to come.[44]

            Scott Hahn proposes that the covenant made with David concerning the kingdom will be shaped by the todah, and this covenant looks forward to a universal opening to all nations so that even the Gentiles will be able to truly worship God.[45] The fulfillment of the Davidic covenant will be marked by todah and will include all the nations. In this new time of deliverance, the Deuteronomic covenant will finally reach its main objective of the circumcised heart with an internalization of God’s teachings. According to Barber:

The todah Psalms are principally a request to be delivered from suffering. Deliverance is not understood as the alternative to the self-offering of the individual, but as the acceptance of his sacrifice, since it reveals that the Lord has truly heard his prayer. The todah represents the internalization of and, thus, fulfillment of the Deuteronomic covenant.[46]

Barber connects the internalization of the Deuteronomic code with the todah centric worship during and after the reign of David. A time of deliverance, renewal, and heart transformation will mark this new epoch in God’s dealings with Israel.

            One passage that pulls the streams of thought of the new Davidic King, new covenant, and new exodus is found in Zech 9:9,11.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you (italics mine); He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. As for you also, because of the blood of My covenant (italics mine) with you, I have set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. (italics mine)” (Zech 9:9,11)

Zechariah connects the coming of the king to the images of a blood established covenant and freedom from bondage. Zechariah is casting an eschatological vision of a day when the king would come and a covenant would be established to release the prisoners from Sheol.[47]

            All of these hopes of new exodus, the realized Davidic Kingdom, and the internalization of God’s law find their perfect fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The hope of the new exodus is marked by following: a Davidic king coming to power, establishment of a new covenant, the expectation of the new covenant being established at Passover, and the todah sacrifice as the only sacrifice to remain during this epoch. It is also important to note the connection of the Passover and todah in the coming of the new exodus.

1 Corinthians 10:18 and the Todah Sacrifice

The most compelling and complete case one could make in connecting the todah sacrifice to the Lord’s Supper is the proverbial smoking gun of a direct scriptural reference linking the two. One possible direct scriptural link to the Lord’s Supper and the peace offering is found in 1 Cor 10:18. Connecting the Lord’s Supper to the peace offering is important due to the fact that the todah offering was a subset of the peace offering. Johnathan Klawans points out that 1 Corinthians 10:18 underscores the seriousness and legitimacy of Israel’s sacrificial service and connects the Eucharist as similarly serious, legitimate, and efficacious.[48] In 1 Corinthians 10:18 Paul states, “Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar?” This passage is interpreted by some as referring to the peace offering. The reason for this interpretation is that only the peace offering would be shared by the people of Israel. The other sacrifices of Israel would only be eaten by the priests. The peace offering is the only offering that could be consumed by the laity.

             If this is referring to the peace offering, as Gordon Fee asserts, it would be very fruitful to this study because the context of this passage is Paul’s teaching on the Lord’s Supper.[49] In verses 16–17 of that same chapter Paul says, “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.” Paul is linking the taking of the Lord’s Supper and the sharing (koinonia) in Christ with the sharing of the altar of Israel.

            C. John Collins believes this passage forms the backbone of the basis of sacrificial language in the earliest Christian writers as they relate to the Lord’s Supper.[50] Gordon Fee makes the point that 1 Cor 10:18 is specifically referring to a peace offering such as found in Deuteronomy 14:22–27.[51] The logic for seeing this passage’s connection to the peace offering is found in the fact that only in the peace offering could the laity actually partake in the sacrifice from the altar. If Fee is correct in his interpretation, it would make a definite connection between the peace offering and the Lord’s Supper. This could explain how sacrificial language arose very early in the history of the Church surrounding the Lord’s Supper.

            Looking at the Supper through the lens of the Passover and the todah sacrifice is very helpful in trying to understand how the earliest Christians viewed the Lord’s Supper. The todah sacrifice is an important possible antecedent to the Supper because of the following: the todah had an assumed narrative of deliverance, it was connected with covenant making, and its celebration of table fellowship in the presence of God. Also, it was believed by some that the Messianic age would be identified as a todah centric epoch in the history of redemption. In the next section of this paper, the focus will turn to sacrifice and covenant. It will be observed that covenants and covenant making were many times accompanied by sacrifice and table fellowship.


One attribute of the Hebrew scriptures that is very helpful for the investigation laid out in this thesis is the connection between sacrifice and covenant making. This connection is important due to the fact that God had promised in Jeremiah 31 to establish a new covenant with all of Israel. It is important to observe the connection in the Hebrew scriptures between covenant and sacrifice as we follow those lines into the New Testament.

            Ps 50:5 states, “Gather to me the faithful ones who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.” The covenants that God established in scripture were established by sacrifice and confirmed in the eating of meals.[52] Throughout the narrative of the Jewish Scriptures God forms and ratifies his covenants by sacrifice.[53] In the story of Laban and Jacob found in Genesis 31 the idea of covenant, sacrifice and meal are connected. According to John Mark Hicks the very purpose of God leading Israel out of Egypt was to form a covenant with Israel so that communion could be experienced in the wilderness.[54] In Exod 19–24 the ideas of covenant, sacrifice, and fellowship meal are displayed in great detail. Exod 19:3–8 exhibits God’s desire to form a covenant with Israel, a covenant ratified by blood sacrifice and a meal in Exodus 24. Because of this sacrifice and covenant, Moses and the elders are called into God’s presence to experience this sacrifice and covenant making. On Mount Sinai the following takes place: the word of God is spoken and the people affirm it (Exod 24: 3), Moses writes down the words of God (Exod 24:7), sacrifices are offered (Exod 24:4–6), the words are read by Moses (Exod 24:7), the people affirm the covenant along with blood being sprinkled from the sacrifice (Exod 24:7–8), and Moses and the elders sit and eat in the presence of God (Exod 24:9–11). In this example of covenant making we see many of the same elements that are found in the todah sacrifice of Israel. Just as the example of God’s covenant with Israel on Mount Sinai, so also in the todah we see sacrifice and a meal in the presence of God. The idea of meal and covenant being closely linked sheds light on our current investigation due to the fact that Jesus identifies the cup of the Lord’s Supper with the “new covenant in my blood.” Richard Hays directly connects the institution narrative in Matthew’s Gospel with Exod 24 when he states the following:

Just as Moses and the chief men of the people ate and drank in the presence of God, so also the twelve disciples (Matt 26:20) eat and drink in the presence of God in order to celebrate and solemnize the covenant of which Jesus speaks—a covenant that foreshadows an eschatological future (“that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom”) in which God’s presence with Israel will be fully realized and celebrated.[55]

With the echoes of Exod 24 playing in the background of Matthew 26 one can see the close connection between the establishment of the old covenant with sacrifice and the establishment of the new covenant with sacrifice. God established his covenant with Israel at Sinai through animal sacrifice, and he forms his new covenant through the sacrifice of Jesus and his blood.

Covenant and Sacrificial Language in the Institution Narrative

If one is to posit that the Lord’s Supper is possibly connected to covenant making and covenant renewal the most obvious place to look would be in the institution narratives of the Lord’s Supper. This essay will not try to work back to an original narrative or pit the “Lukan-Pauline” narrative over and against the “Markan-Matthean” narrative of the Supper. This current study will look at basic elements that appear in all of the narrative traditions of the Supper.

The Blood of the Covenant

All four accounts of Jesus’ words over the cup of the Last Supper agree in claiming that Jesus takes a cup of wine, and speaks words of interpretation over it in which he identifies “my blood” with the establishment of a “covenant.”[56] In the accounts of Mark and Matthew, Jesus explicitly says that this “blood is being poured out for many” while Luke and 1 Corinthians connect the blood with the formation of a “new covenant.”[57] What does it mean for Jesus to establish a new covenant in his blood?  How would the first-century reader understand these words of Jesus in the context of the Jewish Scriptures? What does Jesus mean by stating that his “blood is being poured out for the many?” These important questions must be addressed if one is to work toward an understanding of the narrative as it relates to covenant.

            The basic issue at play is the connection of Jesus’ blood (haima) to the establishment of a covenant (diathēkē). As was mentioned prior, Exodus 24 gives us a full picture of God forming a covenant with His people through blood sacrifice and then celebrating that covenant through table fellowship. Many commentators point to Exodus 24 as a background to understanding Jesus’ words concerning his blood and covenant.[58] Pitre acknowledges that Exodus 24 is the most explicit connection to the words of Jesus in the institution narrative, but it is not the only background passage.[59] The following is the main passage that many believe is in the background of Jesus’ words:

Then He said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel, and you shall worship at a distance. Moses alone, however, shall come near to the Lord, but they shall not come near, nor shall the people come up with him.” Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!” Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. Then he arose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. He sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar (italics mine). Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words (italics mine).” Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank (italics mine). (Exodus 24:1–11)

            The similarities in the account found in Exodus 24 and the Lord’s Supper institution passages are striking. In the Markan-Matthean account of the Supper, Jesus’ identification of the cup with “my blood of the covenant” (to haima mou tēs diathēkē) parallel the words of Moses “the blood of the covenant” (haima tēs diathēkē) found the LXX of Exodus 24:8.[60] The original readers would have certainly understood Jesus’ words to have a connection to the covenant ceremony at Sinai.

            Another similarity is found in the image of Jesus’ blood being “poured out” in sacrifice in the Markan-Matthean accounts. This image is similar to the blood of the peace offering being “thrown against” or “poured out” on the altar as is reported in Exodus 24:6.[61] The image of Jesus’ blood being poured out and the blood being poured upon the altar at Sinai are pictures of sacrificial libations of blood.[62]

            Next, one symbolic action that Jesus accomplishes at the Last Supper is eating in the presence of the twelve disciples. Pitre proposes the twelve disciples of Jesus represent the twelve tribes of Israel.[63] One can see the connection between the Last Supper and Moses’ covenant ceremony at Sinai when it is observed that Moses forms the covenant with the twelve tribes of Israel. In Exodus 24:4 we witness Moses build an altar with twelve pillars to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. The connection between the forming of the new covenant through the blood of Jesus with his new community of twelve is obvious when one considers that Moses ratifies the covenant with God in blood with the twelve tribes of Israel.

            It should be remembered that Jesus speaks of his blood and the covenant in the context of a banquet. Moses’ covenant ceremony culminates in a heavenly banquet where Moses and the elders of Israel are invited to ascend the mountain and eat in the presence of God.[64] In putting the Exodus 24 text in summary, the reader can observe that burnt offerings and peace offerings are offered to God. Blood is poured out to bind Israel to the covenant, and a banquet is participated in to celebrate this new covenant relationship.

Jerry Hwang focuses on Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 11:25 of “the new covenant in my blood” in relation to covenantal feasting.[65] Hwang points out that past scholarly studies focused on the words “new covenant” in its relation to Jer 31:31.[66] Hwang asserts that what scholars have overlooked in the past was the genitival relationship between “blood” (τὸ αἵμα) and “covenant”(τὴσ διαθήκης).[67] This is important due the fact that this genitival connection between blood and covenant only appears in the LXX version of Exod 24:8 and Zech 9:11.[68] Hwang goes on to conclude that Paul’s argument in 1 Cor 10 is centered around covenantal feasting as it relates to the abuses of the Corinthian church and the Lord’s Supper.[69]

            In summary, several aspects of the Institution Narrative of the Lord’s Supper present us with significant parallels to Exod 24. The following are the most obvious parallels: Jesus’ identification of the cup with “my blood of the covenant,” the image of Jesus’ blood being “poured out,” the celebration of this covenant meal with the twelve disciples, and the context of the blood of the covenant with a banquet meal. Michael Barber sums up these connections by stating the following:

 all four accounts have Jesus linking his blood with the motif of a covenant while celebrating a meal mirrors not only Moses’ words concerning the “blood of the covenant” but also the fact that the ceremony in Exodus 24 culminates in a sacred feast (Exodus 24:8-11). These points of contact are too strong and numerous to be written off as mere coincidence.[70]

When one considers the connection of the phrase “my blood of the covenant” to Exod 24 and Zech 9 some fruitful insight starts to emerge. The phrase “my blood of the covenant” refers to the atoning blood of Jesus as well as a future release of the captives.[71] The future release of the captives achieved by the blood of Jesus is reminiscent of the bloody sacrifice of the Passover lamb on the occasion of the Exodus.[72] By attaching the “blood of the covenant” to the cup, Jesus is pointing the disciples to the atoning nature of his blood as well as the new exodus achieved by the release of the captives.

Do This!

When Jesus commanded, “Do this!” the question would soon have to be answered by the Christian community as to exactly what they would be celebrating.[73] When considered in the cultic actions of Israel, the command to “do this” (touto poieite) (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24–25) takes on new meaning.[74] Barber contends that the phrase “do this” has cultic connotations that connect Jesus’ commands with the cultic actions found the Jewish Scriptures.[75] Two passages from the Jewish Scriptures that bring out this possible cultic connection are Exodus 29:31–33, 35 and Numbers 15:8–11, 15.

“You shall take the ram of ordination and boil its flesh in a holy place. Aaron and his sons shall eat the flesh of the ram and the bread that is in the basket, at the doorway of the tent of meeting. Thus they shall eat those things by which atonement was made at their ordination and consecration; but a layman shall not eat them, because they are holy. “Thus you shall do (LXX poiēseis…houtōs) to Aaron and to his sons, according to all that I have commanded you; you shall ordain them through seven days. (Exodus 29:31–33, 35)

When you prepare a bull as a burnt offering or a sacrifice, to fulfill a special vow, or for peace offerings to the Lord, then you shall offer with the bull a grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with one-half a hin of oil; and you shall offer as the drink offering one-half a hin of wine as an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the Lord. Thus it shall be done (LXX houtōs poiēseis) for each ox, or for each ram, or for each of the male lambs, or of the goats. As for the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns with you, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before the Lord. (Numbers 15:8–11, 15)

            When considering Jesus commands to “do this” one can see the possible connection between Jesus words and the cultic, repeated actions in the sacrificial system of Israel. When Jesus utters touto poieite during the institution narrative one could possibly hear the resonant echoes of God’s command in Israel’s priestly ordination rite (Exodus 29), and God’s special instructions for burnt offerings and peace offerings (Numbers 15). This opens the possibility that Jesus command to “do this” has cultic implications and can be connected to the concept of sacrifice. Jeremias strengthens this possible connection by connecting touto poieite with Exod 29 and Num 15 as well as the Qumran texts.[76] Jeremias asserts that touto poieite is specifically designated to be used as a repetition of a rite as is evidenced in the Jewish Scriptures and the Qumran texts.[77] With this in mind, one could understand that Jesus meant the Supper to be a repeated rite that had sacrificial connotations.


            When Jesus told his followers to “do this,” he specifically told them to do this in “remembrance of me.” Pitre proposes that the concept of “remembrance” is connected to the Jewish Scriptures and the idea of ritualized reenactment.[78] Pitre states, “the ritualized reenactment of the Passover sacrifice that set the exodus in motion is consistently associated with the remembrance of the original saving event.”[79] With Jesus’ command to repeat his actions “in remembrance of me” (anamnēsin) in mind, one might compare the following passages from the Jewish Bible with the words of Jesus:

Also in the day of your gladness and in your appointed feasts, and on the first days of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; and they shall be as a reminder (italics mine) (LXX ἀνάμνησις) of you before your God. I am the Lord your God. (Numbers 10:10)

Now this day will be a memorial (LXX μνημόσυνον) to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance. (Exodus 12:14)

There is a direct parallel between Num 10:10 and Jesus’ words “in remembrance.” In Num 10 there is a connection to sacrifice and the concept of remembrance. The sacrificial ritual was intended to help the worshipper remember the mighty saving acts of God in the past and appropriate those acts to the present. Remembrance in the Jewish Scriptures was not simply recalling a past event from Israel’s history, but it often entailed extending the efficacy of that past event into the present.[80] An example of this past-coming-to-the-present motif can be found in Exod 6:5–6. God “remembers” the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and because of his remembering he delivers Israel from Egypt.

The fact that Jesus states “do this in remembrance of me” during the Passover adds even greater significance to his words. Barber states, “Given the Passover context of Jesus’ meal, it may be significant that the word ἀνάμνησις, closely resembles the term μνημόσυνον used for the Passover (Exod 12:14)”[81] This is important when one considers Rabbinical teachings from the Mishnah concerning the Passover such as the following:

In every generation a man must so regard himself as if he came forth himself out of Egypt, for it is written, And thou shalt tell thy son in that day saying, It is because of that which the Lord did form when I came forth out of Egypt [cf. Exod 13:8]. Therefore we are bound to give thanks, topraise, to glorify, to honour, to exalt, to extol, and to bless him who wrought all these wonders for our fathers and for us.[82]

Those who participated in the Passover feast were to take the great saving acts of God by liberating Israel from Egypt, and bring those actions present into their own contemporary context. In some sense, the worshipper at Passover in the time of Jesus was with Moses and the Israelites on the great night of the original Passover. Pitre says that Passover “memory” is not a mere recollection of past events, but it is best understood as a participatory commemoration.[83]

Connecting this concept of “remembrance” from the Jewish Scriptures to the context of the Lord’s Supper can shed light on the words of Jesus and how the original readers of this text would have understood it. “Remembrance” would certainly be connected to sacrificial concepts in the Hebrew framework. David Garland aptly summarizes this realization for the Lord’s Supper by stating:

The memorial requires Christians reenact ritually what Christ did at his last meal to betoken his death and to explain its significance. The repeated imperative, ‘do this unto my remembrance,’ then, commands ritual remembrance of this foundational saving event (cf. Exod 12:14; Ps 77:12—12; 105:5). It is related to Jewish liturgical remembrance that praises and proclaims the mighty acts of God.[84]

            By looking at the words of Jesus at the institution of the Lord’s Supper, a fuller picture starts to emerge. Jesus statements concerning his blood and the blood of the covenant definitely have a connection to sacrifice and covenant. The command to “do this” also carries with it cultic connotations of an action that would be repeated with sacrificial overtones. Jesus declaration to “do this in remembrance of me” also firmly connects the words of institution with the Jewish Scriptures’ narrative concerning sacrifice and cultic ritual actions. One can conclude that the words of institution further buttress the hypothesis that the Lord’s Supper is connected to sacrifice and covenant.


            When reading the words of Jesus and the Institution Narrative for the Lord’s Supper it becomes evident that the words of Jesus were not uttered in a vacuum. When Jesus spoke them, there was a capital of language that was built up from the Hebrew Bible and possibly the intertestamental literature. When Jesus spoke those few words, they would have been read and filtered through the past experience of Israel. If we ignore that tradition of covenant, sacrifice, and ritual we will rob the words of Jesus of their real power.

            It is evident from this exploration that Jesus’ words of institution were connected to the past covenantal rituals of Israel. Specifically, one can easily see the connection between the words of Jesus at the Last Supper and the covenant formed with Moses at Sinai in Exodus 24. The similarity in language, especially between the LXX and the Institution Narrative, is too great to be a coincidence. With that thought in mind, the concept of covenant making, sacrifice, and table fellowship are tied to the Lord’s Supper.

            Also, the Church Fathers early in the life of the church started to use sacrificial language in reference to the Lord’s Supper. This sacrificial language may sound strange to our modern ears but one must consider how that language developed early in the life of the church. Alexander Campbell once said:

I have endeavored to read the Scriptures as though no one had read them before me, and I am as much on my guard against reading them today, through the medium of my own views yesterday, or a week ago, as I am against being influenced by any foreign name, authority, or system whatever.[85]

            One can appreciate Alexander Campbell’s devotion to the Bible and to the Bible alone, but a student of the Bible may be deprived of great insight and wisdom from generations of Christians from the past if we take this stance. It would be prudent to consider the views of the Christians who lived immediately after the writing of the New Testament to mine some insight from their knowledge and interpretation of Scripture. It cannot be denied that early Church Fathers such as Justin Martyr and Ignatius were using sacrificial categories for the Lord’s Supper at a very early date in the history of the Church. Ignatius stated concerning the Supper, “Be ye careful therefore to observe one eucharist for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup unto union in His blood; there is one altar,….”[86] The question must be taken on as to just how did these sacrificial categories arise so quickly among the Christians living within a few decades of the writing of the last book of the New Testament canon. The best answer to this question can be found in going back to the Bible and being open to the possibility that the Supper was meant to be much more than a mere memorial service or as Blowers put it not just, “a funeral for the martyred Jesus.”[87]

            It also logical to consider the concept of the todah sacrifice being a type of fulfillment of the new covenant and the sacrifice par excellence of the new Davidic King. Some scholars, as was displayed prior in this essay, believe that Jesus was bringing a true return from exodus and the Messianic Age would be marked by todah sacrifice. If this view was in the water of Second Temple Judaism, it would not be a stretch to believe that some early followers of Jesus may have filtered their view of the Lord’s Supper through that expectation of todah.

            Also, compelling evidence for the connection of the Lord’s Supper as viewed as a sacrifice comes from the Apostle Paul. 1 Corinthians 10:18 may be the closest connection in the Bible between the Lord’s Supper and sacrificial categories. One must strongly consider the possibility that Paul is connecting the Lord’s Supper with the peace offering of Israel and in doing so is giving a strong argument for the important of the Supper in the life of a Christian.

The proposal of this essay is that a new and fresh look should be taken on the Lord’s Supper and the concept of covenant and sacrifice.

            First of all, we must realize that the Lord’s Supper is a time in which we eat in the presence of God. Just as Moses and the elders went up to Sinai to eat in God’s presence we do the same on Sunday when we gather around the Table of the Lord. The Lord’s Supper is best understood as a time of remembrance of that great narrative story that we celebrate. There is also a sacrificial element to the Supper. Dennis R. Lindsay points out that the Christian worshipper brings the offering of bread and wine but most importantly gives himself as a living sacrifice.[88] The true sacrificial nature of the Supper is found in that we bring the elements to the table and offer up our lives before God. Just as the knife was used to cut up the victim, the word of God cuts up the worshipper as they bring their life as the sacrifice.

            The Supper is also a time of covenant renewal. It was at the original Supper that Jesus connected the new covenant with his sacrifice. The Table is connected to the sacrifice of the cross. One could theorize that the Lord’s Supper should be a time for believers to renew and reflect on their vows made at their baptism. Just as the todah celebrated the worshippers’ communion with God and their fellow Israelites, we celebrate our communion with God through the blood of Jesus and our unity as the body of Christ as we assemble together. One of the most important aspects that we could bring to our assemblies is that communion with one another and communing in God’s presence is something we should celebrate and desire. To understand the Lord’s Supper in that light we not only tell the story of Scripture proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes, but somehow, we become part of that grand narrative of salvation.


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——— “The Historical Jesus and the Cultic Restoration Eschatology: The New Temple, the New Priesthood, and the New Cult.” PhD diss., Fuller Theological Seminary, 2010.

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Blowers, Paul M. “The Lord’s Supper as Covenant Renewal.” Leaven: Vol. 22.4.6 (2014): 194–196, . P 189.

Collins, C. John. “The Eucharist as Christian Sacrifice: How Patristic Authors Can Help               Us Read the Bible.” Westminster Theological Journal 66 (2004): 1-21.

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            Notes. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publisher, 2011.

Garland, David E. 1 Corinthians Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003.

Gese, Hartmut. “The Origin of the Lord’s Supper.” Essays in Biblical Theology.

            Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1981.

Gray, Tim. “From Jewish Passover to Christian Eucharist: The Story of the Todah.” Lay              Witness (2002).

Hays, Richard B. Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016.

Hahn, Scott. Letter and Spirit: From Written Text to Living Word in the Liturgy. New                   York: Doubleday, 2005.

Hicks, John Mark. Come to the Table: Revisioning the Lord’s Supper. Orange, CA:                      Leafwood, 2002.

Hwang, Jerry. “Turning the Tables on Idol Feasts: Paul’s use of Exodus 32:6 in 1 Corinthians 10:7.” JETS 54.3 September 2011.

Jenson, Philip P. “The Levitical Sacrificial System.” Pages 30-31 in Sacrifice in the Bible. Edited            by Roger T. Beckwith and Martin J. Selman.Carlisle, UK: Paternoster Press, 1995.

Jeremiahs, Joachim. “Ist das Dankopfermahl der Ursprung des Herrenmahls?.” Pages 64–67 in Donum Gentilicium: New Testament Studies in Honour of David Daube. Edited by E. Bammel et al. Oxford, 1978.

——— The Eucharistic Words of Jesus. London: SCM Press, 1966.

Josephus, Falvius. Josephus: The Complete Works. Translated by William Whiston. Nashville: Nelson, 1998.

“Flavius Josephus, Antiquitates Judaicae B. Niese, Ed.”

Justin Martyr. St. Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho. Translated by Thomas B. Falls. Washington D.C.: Catholic University Press of America, 2003.

Lightfoot, J. B. The Apostolic Fathers. New York: MacMillan, 1889.

Linsay, Dennis R. “Todah and Eucharist: The Celebration of the Lord’s Supper as a ‘Thank Offering’ in the Early Church.” Restoration Quarterly 39,2.(1997).

Keener, Craig. The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.

Klawans, Johnathan. “Was Jesus’ Last Supper a Seder?,” BRev 17 (2001).

Leonhardt, Jutta. Jewish Worship in Philo of Alexandria. Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001.

Lindsay, Dennis R. “Todah and Eucharist: The Celebration of the Lord’s Supper as a

            ‘Thank Offering’ in the Early Church” Restoration Quarterly 39,2 (1997).

Loehr, Hermut. “The Eucharist and Jewish Ritual Meals: The Case of the Todah.” Early Christianity 7.4 (2016): 474–480.

Marshall, I. Howard. The Last Supper and the Lord’s Supper. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,


Milavec, Aaron. The Didache: Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary.                                Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2003.

Milgrom, Jacob. Leviticus: A Book of Ritual and Ethics. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress

            Press, 2004.

——— Leviticus 1-16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary.

            New York: Doubleday, 1991.

Pimental, Stephen.“The Todah Sacrifice as Pattern for the Eucharist.” Inside the Vatican.                         16 no. 3, March 2008.

Pitre, Brant. Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper. New York: Doubleday, 2011.

——— Jesus and the Last Supper. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015.

Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. God is Near Us. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003.

Staples, Jason A. “What do all the Gentiles have to do with “All Israel”? A Fresh Look at

            Romans 11:25-27.” Journal of Biblical Literature 130, no. 2 (2011).

Strauss, Mark L. The Davidic Messiah in Luke-Acts: The Promise and its Fulfillment in Lukan Christology. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1995.

Tabory, Joseph. “Towards a History of the Passover Meal,” Passover and Easter: Origin and History to the Modern Times. Edited by Paul F. Bradshaw and L.A. Hoffman. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 1999.

Thomas, Cecil K. Alexander Campbell and His New Version. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011.

Tidball, Derek. The Message of Leviticus: Free to be Holy. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2004.         

Trollope, Rev. W., ed. S. Justini Philosophi et Martyris cum Tryphone Judaeo Dialogus. Cambridge: Pitt Press, 1846.

Walton, John H., Andrew E. Hill. The Old Testament Today: A Journey from Original Meaning to Contemporary Significance. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004.

Wright, N.T. The New Testament and the People of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.

——— Jesus and the Victory of God. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1996

[1]  Paul M. Blowers, “The Lord’s Supper as Covenant Renewal,” Leaven Vol. 22.4.6(2014): 196.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 196.

[4] Hartmut Gese, “The Origin of the Lord’s Supper,” Essays in Biblical Theology (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1981), 117.

[5] This paper assumes that Jesus saw the Last Supper as a Passover meal (Luke 22:15–16, Mark 14:12, Matt 26:17-19).

[6] Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus (London: SCM Press, 1966), 206–207. Also see Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist (New York: Doubleday, 2011), 66–67.

[7] Ibid.

[8] For a more robust discussion on the other possible Jewish undercurrents for the Lord’s Supper see Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist (New York: Doubleday, 2011).

[9] Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, 42–61.

[10] Cf. m. Pes. 10.5. I have used the translation by Hebert Danby, The Mishnah: Translated from the Hebrew with Introduction and Brief Explanatory Notes (1933; repr. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2001), 150–51. Also see E.P. Sanders, Judaism: Practice and Belief 63 B.C.E.–66 C.E. (London: SCM Press, 1992) for a discussion on judicious use of the Rabbinic sources to construct a view of practices in the time of Jesus.

[11] There is great debate as to the reliability of the Mishnah in giving an accurate description of the Passover during the first century. For a more skeptical approach to the Mishnah’s description of a first century Passover see Joseph Tabory, “Towards a History of the Passover Meal,” Passover and Easter: Origin and History to the Modern Times (ed. Paul F. Bradshaw and L. A. Hoffman; Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 1999), 63.  Brant Pitre tends to give more credence to sources such as Philo and the Mishnah in their depiction of a first century Passover.  For Pitre’s view see Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Last Supper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 318-319.

[12] For a discussion of the Last Supper as a Passover meal see Johnathan Klawans, “Was Jesus’ Last Supper a Seder?,” Bible History, 12 January 2017,

[13] I. Howard Marshall, The Last Supper and the Lord’s Supper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 155.

[14] For a fuller discussion of the motif of Jesus as a type of “New Moses” see Dale C. Allison Jr., The New Moses: A Matthean Typology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993).

[15] Stephen C. Barton, ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Gospels (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 146.

[16] Philip P. Jenson, “The Levitical Sacrificial System,” in Sacrifice in the Bible, ed. Roger T. Beckwith and Martin J. Selman(Carlisle, UK: Paternoster Press, 1995), 30–31.

[17] Gary A. Anderson, “Sacrifice and Sacrificial Offerings,” Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 1.878.; Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, AB 3 (New York: Doubleday, 1991), 218–19.

[18] Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16, 218–19; John H. Walton and Andrew E. Hill, The Old Testament Today: A Journey From Original Meaning to Contemporary Significance (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 76.

[19] Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus: A Book of Ritual and Ethics (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004), 28.

[20] Tim Gray, “From Jewish Passover to Christian Eucharist: The Story of the Todah,” Lay Witness (Nov–Dec, 2002), 20.

[21] C. John Collins, “The Eucharist as Christian Sacrifice: How Patristic Authors Can Help Us Read the Bible,” Westminster Theological Journal 66 (2004): 1.

[22] Jutta Leonhardt, Jewish Worship in Philo of Alexandria (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001), 29.

[23] Ibid., 29.

[24] Stephen Pimental, “The Todah Sacrifice as Pattern for the Eucharist,” Inside the Vatican 16.3 (March 2008), 46–47; Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Last Supper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 336. See also Richard Averbeck, “Peace Offering,” NIDOTTE 4:141.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Stephen Pimental, “The Todah Sacrifice as Pattern for the Eucharist.” Inside the Vatican 16 no. 3 (March 2008), 46.

[27] Ibid., 47.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Flavius Josephus, Josephus: The Complete Works, trans. William Whiston (Nashville: Nelson, 1998), 351; “Flavius Josephus, Antiquitates Judaicae B. Niese, Ed.,”

[30] For a more robust discussion on the possibility of the Lord’s Supper as having a todah background see the objections of Joachim Jeremias and answers to those objections by Hermut Loehr.  For the negative opinion see Joachim Jeremiahs, “Ist das Dankopfermahl der Ursprung des Herrenmahls?” Donum Gentilicium: New Testament Studies in Honour of David Daube (ed. E. Bammel et al.; Oxford,1978), 64–67. For the rebuttal to Jeremias see Hermut Loehr, “The Eucharist and Jewish Ritual Meals: The Case of the Todah.” Early Christianity 7.4 (2016), 474–480.

[31] Justin Martyr, St. Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho, trans. Thomas B. Falls (Washington D.C.: Catholic University Press of America, 2003), 62-63.

[32] Rev. W. Trollope, ed., S. Justini Philosophi et Martyris cum Tryphone Judaeo Dialogus (Cambridge: Pitt Press, 1846), 84.

[33] Hartmut Gese, “Origin of the Lord’s Supper,” 133.

[34] Ibid., 133.

[35] N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 217.

[36] Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist (New York: Doubleday, 2011),28–31.

[37] Ibid., 27.

[38] Jason A. Staples, “What do all the Gentiles have to do with “All Israel”? A Fresh Look at Romans 11:25-27.” Journal of Biblical Literature 130, no. 2 (2011), 277–280.

[39] N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1996), 559.

[40] Pitre, Jesus and the Last Supper, 388.

[41] Barber, Singing in the Reign, 52–57.

[42] Mark L. Strauss, The Davidic Messiah in Luke-Acts: The Promise and its Fulfillment in Lukan Christology (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1995), 294.

[43] Barber, Singing in the Reign, 57.

[44] See George L. Klein, “An Introduction to Malachi,” Criswell Theological Review 2.1 (1987) 24. for an examination of the dating for Malachi.

[45] Scott Hahn, Letter and Spirit (New York: Doubleday, 2005), 66.

[46] Michael Barber, Singing in the Reign (Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road, 2001),79.

[47] The term pit is used to refer to Sheol in the following passages: Ps 28:1; 30:3; 143:7; Isa 38:18; Ezek 31:16.

[48] Johnathan Klawans, “Interpreting the Last Supper: Sacrifice, Spiritualization, and Anti-Sacrifice,” New Testament Studies 48 (2002): 11.

[49] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 470–71.

[50] Collins, “The Eucharist as Christian Sacrifice: How Patristic Authors Can Help Us Read the Bible,” 3.

[51] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 470–71.

[52] John Mark Hicks, Come to the Table: Revisioning the Lord’s Supper (Orange, CA: Leafwood, 2002), 27.

[53] Ibid., 28–29.

[54] Ibid., 30.

[55] Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016), 134.

[56] Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Last Supper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 92.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Craig Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 300.

[59] Pitre, Jesus and the Last Supper, 93.

[60] Ibid., 94.; Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 134.

[61] Pitre, Jesus and the Last Supper, 94.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Ibid., 95.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Jerry Hwang, “Turning the Tables on Idol Feasts: Paul’s use of Exodus 32:6 in 1 Corinthians 10:7,” JETS 54.3 (September 2011), 586.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Ibid.

[70] Michael Barber, “The Historical Jesus and the Cultic Restoration Eschatology: The New Temple, the New Priesthood, and the New Cult” (PhD diss., Fuller Theological Seminary, 2010), 601.

[71] G. K. Beale and D.A. Carson, eds., Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 382–383.

[72] Ibid.

[73] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, God Is Near Us (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003), 58.

[74] Pitre, Jesus and the Last Supper, 417.

[75] Barber, “The Historical Jesus and the Cultic Restoration Eschatology,” 673–674.

[76] Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, 251–252.

[77] Ibid., 252.

[78] Pitre, Jesus and the Last Supper, 419.

[79] Ibid.

[80] Barber, “The Historical Jesus and the Cultic Restoration Eschatology,” 631.

[81] Ibid., 603.

[82] Herbert Danby, The Mishnah: Translated from the Hebrew with Brief Explanatory Notes (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publisher, 2011), 150-151.

[83] Pitre, Jesus and the Last Supper, 420.

[84] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 548.

[85] Cecil K. Thomas, Alexander Campbell and His New Version (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011), 117.

[86] J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers (New York: MacMillan, 1889), 564.

[87]  Blowers, “The Lord’s Supper as Covenant Renewal,” 196

[88] Dennis R. Linsay, “Todah and Eucharist: The Celebration of the Lord’s Supper as a ‘Thank Offering’ in the Early Church” Restoration Quarterly 39,2 (1997): 90–91.

David Lipscomb and Civil Government[1]

               David Lipscomb’s work, On Civil Government, challenges some of the basic assumptions many have concerning the relationship of the church and the state. This volume was written in the mid-nineteenth century, but its message resonates today in our current charged political environment. In the last decade, the work of Trinity College economic professor Edward Stringham has brought renewed interest in the political theory of David Lipscomb.[2] Stringham sees a connection between the thought of Lipscomb and many modern radical libertarians. Stringham believes that Lipscomb’s work is a timely treatise on how one can be a Christian and a libertarian. Lipscomb’s Civil Government was originally a set of articles that were written in the Gospel Advocate from between 1866-1867. The timing of these articles is important due to the aftermath of the carnage and destruction of the American Civil War.

               Lipscomb’s biblical wisdom can help modern American Christians as they navigate the choppy waters of how one should relate to the empires and kingdoms of man. It is hard not to notice the deep political divisions in the country and those fault lines run through the center of the church. From gauging the vitriol in many social media posts and animosity between members of Christ body regarding politics Lipscomb’s corrective on government is needed. In this article, I will examine and respond to the following tenets of Lipscomb’s political theory: his view of the origin of civil government, the early church’s relationship to the civil government, and the relationship of contemporary Christians with the government.

               To begin with, Lipscomb differentiated government into the categories of God’s kingdom rule and the governments of man in a strict antithesis (Lipscomb, 43). Lipscomb said that man’s kingdoms typically exist to “enrich, gratify the appetites and lusts, and promote the grandeur and glory of the rulers” (Lipscomb, 25). Lipscomb traces the beginning of human government to the founding of Nimrod’s kingdoms in Genesis 10:8–10 (Lipscomb, 12). Lipscomb believed that God ordained these kingdoms due to man’s rebellion (Lipscomb, 12). In the same way that God capitulated and gave Israel a king, God allowed humanity to rule autonomously and, in a sense, to be their gods (Lipscomb, 23). The ultimate origin of the schism between God’s rule and man’s rule came when Adam and Eve gave into the serpent and abdicated their sovereignty under God to the Devil (Lipscomb, 12). In Lipscomb’s schemata, God ordained government to punish the disobedient (Lipscomb, 23).

               Next, Lipscomb demonstrates the relationship of the early Christians to the government of their day. The juxtaposition of the Christian movement and the secular authorities is highlighted at the beginning of the story of Christ in that Herod the Great attempts to destroy the Christ child because he is deemed as a threat to Herod’s hegemony (Lipscomb, 46–47). Lipscomb also shows that in the temptation of Jesus Satan has the authority to give Christ the kingdoms of this world, and this shows that Satan has dominion over the secular powers (Lipscomb, 55). The clash with God’s kingdom is further evidenced in the persecution of the early church by the secular powers (Lipscomb, 64–65). Lipscomb effectively shows that the earliest Christians were under authoritative apostolic teaching to do the following: live peaceably in their lives, honor the emperor, pray for the civil magistrate, pay taxes, and seek the good of their communities (Lipscomb, 69–75). To Lipscomb, for a Christian of the first century to be involved in the political order would be absurd.

               The one great strength of Lipscomb’s argument is found in his application of the Bible’s teaching as it relates to how Christians relate to the government. Lipscomb masterfully points out that the phrases used in the New Testament such as “be subject to” and “submit to” display a relationship of the subject and the government that is antagonistic and separate (Lipscomb, 76). The Christian is distinct from the government and in the Bible’s admonitions about a Christian’s relationship with the government it never tells the Christian to love the government or participate in governmental affairs (Lipscomb, 77). In contrast, the Christian is told to submit to the spiritual authorities of the church and to love the church through active participation and joint support (Lipscomb, 77).  I believe this is one of the strengths of Lipscomb’s argument. It acts as a corrective for some of the rabid jingoism that I witness in the church today.  

               Another strength of Lipscomb’s argument is his call to radical separateness from the world. The story of Abraham shows how God called him to leave his natural ties to family and to go to a land and live wholly to the Lord (Lipscomb, 17). I believe the heirs of the Restoration Movement have compromised too much in our affections for this world. We have been sectarian about some ecclesial issues, but we are worldly in dress, entertainment options, and are uber-patriotic in our attitudes toward the current political climate. We have put our faith hope and trust in political systems and candidates and not in Jesus Christ. Lipscomb believed that politicians and elected officials would use Christians to advance their cause and agenda. Lipscomb believed that if Christians voted or participated in governmental affairs, then their devotion to Christ would be compromised. It seems that Lipscomb is calling for sectarianism that emphasizes a radical kingdom concept when it comes to the world. I find it fascinating that we will call for separateness on matters of church practice and worship patterns but then accept without discernment the radical hedonism and political compromise of our age.

               Lipscomb also promotes a strong sense of pacifism. Lipscomb rightly points out that many wars come from the whims of governments that force people into warfare that would normally live peaceably (Lipscomb, 95). Lipscomb explains that a person from Maine and Texas or India and England would typically live in peace with one another, but governmental authorities bring them into conflict to promote their self-aggrandizing position.  Many blame Lipscomb’s pacifism on his experience with the Civil War, but that position is untenable.  In the last chapter of Civil Government Lipscomb traces the development of Christian thought in matters of civil government from the fourth to the fifteenth century showing that he was well read on the subject of pacifism. Lipscomb was heavily influenced by his mentor Tolbert Fanning and was also conversant other movements that refused to participate in civil affairs such as the Quakers, the Anabaptists, and Dunkards.

Lipscomb did not adhere to the post-Enlightenment fact-value dichotomy. As I read Lipscomb, I was inspired and challenged by his radical view of kingdom ethics. Lipscomb did not allow Christians to carve up their lives into a public sphere and private religious sphere. If a Christian is called to a robust role as a peacemaker, then it Lipscomb’s thought it would be impossible for them to take up the sword for the state. Lipscomb would go so far as to say that a Christian that voted for a regime that brought about warfare and bloodshed would be just as guilty as the one shedding the blood.

                Let us take to heart Lipscomb’s warning concerning making unholy alliances with the state and compromising with power. I also believe we need to take Lipscomb’s approach to the critique of government seriously. What I mean by that is that we should look at the concept of the modern state in light of Scripture and Scripture should be sovereign in that critique. What many modern Christians have done is to draw their theory about government and politics from the current system and then turn to the Scripture to make that prevailing theory fit. Lipscomb brings a paradigm shift by beginning with Scripture. That is why it is so hard for our modern hearts and minds to fathom the implications of Lipscomb’s thought. We push back on Lipscomb’s political theory because it means we must divest of power (kenosis -Phil 2) and become servants. Divestment of power or kenosis is the opposite of the concept of modern political sovereignty. Contemporary sovereignty in politics believes a candidate or elected official has a political agenda and they will cajole, connive, or use raw power to get their agenda pushed through. In an age when bipartisanship in Washington is a joke the idea of divestment of power is like an alien from another planet.

               Lipscomb’s Civil Government has challenged my heart.  As I read Lipscomb, I tried to imagine the compatibility of being a Christian and a statesman. Lipscomb would chide me and say that I am asking the impossible. Possibly it is too much of Abraham Kuyper’s political theory rolling around in my head, but I do believe there is a paradigm that we can turn to in the Bible to see a way forward for a postmodern Christian political theory. I propose that Christians should take a viewpoint that is totally in line with the narrative arc of Scripture and that is the view of God’s people being exiles. We are aliens in a strange land. But that does not mean that we should practice dispensationalist escapism. We can’t have the view that any political involvement or work for a better social order is like polishing the deck rails on the Titanic. Jeremiah tells those that are about to go into Babylonian exile, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7 ESV)” We belong to God’s kingdom, and as Christians, we are advanced signs for the world to see what God meant by the dominion mandate in the Garden. Jesus was the ultimate example of what true humanity looks like and what sovereignty means. We live in exile in a world that has been taken captive by the evil one, but by our involvement in every aspect of life, we bring God’s kenosis love to this world. I propose Daniel as an example of what a Kingdom-centered diplomat is. Daniel never compromised his identity but served the Babylonian administration in a way that brought honor to God and brought God’s wisdom to bear to our broken world.

               In conclusion, I hope this article will renew interest in an amazing man and challenging thinker. This little book will stay with me for a while as I wrestle with my view of the relationship between the state and the believer. I do wholeheartedly agree with Lipscomb in that God is the only trustworthy lawgiver and ruler that we can give our allegiance too. As one comes into the Kingdom rule of Jesus, the need for the rule of man diminishes. As humanity is transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit, our affections are drawn away from man and his empire, and we are drawn to the self-emptying love of King Jesus.

[1] All in text citations come from Lipscomb’s Civil Government.

[2] See Edward Stringham’s “The Radical Libertarian Political Economy of 19th Century Preacher David Lipscomb,” Mercatus Center: George Mason University, April 2009.