PART 2 COMMUNION
Examples of the Literal and Figurative Interpretation of Scripture
How can we determine whether scripture is to be taken literally or figuratively? In most cases, this is determined by the use of certain words in scripture.
What if it’s difficult to determine whether something is meant to be taken literally or figuratively? I would suggest two things. First, use common sense; and second, compare scripture with scripture, finding other passages which speak about the same subject in order to see if there is any clue as to the correct interpretation.
Let’s take a look at some examples of scripture that are to be taken literally.
And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (Matthew 3:17)
Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. (Matthew 5:35)
When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. (Luke 5:8)
Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. (John 8:58)
Just because someone says something, which was meant literally, doesn’t mean that those who are listening will agree with the declaration. In John 8:58, (see above) the Jews didn’t believe what Jesus said about his life preceding that of Abraham’s when he declared that he was equal with God.
Now, let’s take a look at some examples of scriptures that are to be taken figuratively (symbolically).
And Joseph said unto Pharaoh, The dream of Pharaoh is one: God hath shewed Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good kine are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years: the dream is one. (Genesis 41:25-26)
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. (John 15:1)
For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother. (Matthew 12:50)
Let’s see if you can answer the following question. Is the following example to be interpreted figuratively or literally?
And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched (Mark 9:43)
The word offend could mean to cause someone to sin. Common sense would say that the word hand refers to a part of the body that is an instrument of an inward inclination. Would you say that the literal hand is causing a problem or that which provides the motive for the hand to do evil things, the heart? Should we take this literally and sever the hand or figuratively (symbolically) in regards to addressing the thoughts of one’s heart?
In contrast to this example, we looked at previously in John 6 Jesus response to the Jews saying that he was the bread that came down from heaven, and that whosoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood will receive eternal life.
Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:53-54)
What do you think? Was Jesus speaking literally or figuratively in regards to eating his flesh and drinking his blood? The point that I am trying to make here is that sometimes what we think is to be taken literally should be taken figuratively, and vice versa. With this in mind, let’s take another look at the following verse in question.
And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you. (Luke 22:19-20)
Was Jesus saying that the bread becomes his literal body and the cup his literal blood or was what he said to be taken figuratively? There are some churches that might use another approach to determine as to whether or not the elements of the bread and wine are to be taken literally or figuratively. This approach is founded upon using scriptures from the Old Testament in order to justify their view.
At Communion Is the Changing of the Bread and Wine into the Literal Body and Blood of Christ Supported by Old Testament Scriptures?
Scripture sections will be taken from the Old Testament and placed in a table format along with related content, a question as to determine whether the elements of communion are to be taken literally or figuratively, and the response to the question from opposing views. Before we take a look at these scripture sections, keep in mind what the central scriptures are from the New Testament that are used to support opposing views on this subject.
The literal view is supported by the following verses.
This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. (John 6:50-53)
And his disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover. And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many. (Mark 14:16, 22-24)
The figurative view is supported by the following verses.
Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. (John 6:53)
It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. (John 6:63)
Did God Give a Prohibition to Noah and His Family to Not Eat Animals with Blood Remaining in Them?
The Blood Thereof, Shall in Them?
Suggested Reading: Genesis 6:3-8; Genesis 8:13-18; Genesis 9:1, 4
I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth. (Genesis 7:4)
And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man… (Genesis 7:21)
And it came to pass in the six hundredth and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from off the earth: and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and, behold, the face of the ground was dry. (Genesis 8:13)
And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them… (Genesis 9:1)
But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. (Genesis 9:4)
Because of the wickedness of mankind, God told Noah to build an ark that would provide safety for himself, his family, and a certain number of animals from the impending flood that would destroy everyone and everything. Following the complete devastation, the waters subsided and God spoke to Noah telling him that his family was not to eat the flesh of animals with blood remaining in them. The prohibition did not require that no blood at all could be consumed, but only that it must be drained. Draining the blood before eating the meat was a way of returning the life force of the animal to the God who gave it life, offering recognition they had taken the life with permission and were partaking of God’s bounty as his guests2. This mandate would later apply to the sacrifice of animals, the offering signifying the surrender of its inmost life.
At Communion Are the Elements of Bread and Wine Changed into Christ’s Literal Body and Blood?
At Communion Are the Elements of Bread and Wine Changed into Christ’s Literal Body and Blood?
· Noah and his family were instructed not to eat the flesh of animals that had blood in them. In the New Testament, many of those who repented and believed in Christ were Jewish. They were required under the prohibition of the Mosaic Law to observe this same dietary restriction. Therefore, the drinking of Christ’s blood would be unthinkable and should be taken figuratively.
· Noah and his family were instructed not to eat the flesh of animals that had blood in them. However, this instruction was given to Noah and his family and should not be applied to those in the New Testament who repented and believed in Jesus.
When Melchizedek brought forth bread and wine was this prophetic of the elements involved in Christ’s last supper?
Melchizedek, King of Salem, Brought Forth Bread and Wine
Suggested Reading: Genesis14:17-24
And the king of Sodom went out to meet him after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king's dale. And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. (Genesis 14:17-18)
After four Mesopotamian kings had taken Lot, Abram’s nephew, captive along with all the goods of the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abram and his armed servants followed after and attacked them recovering Lot and all of the booty. Upon Abrams return, the king of Sodom along with Melchizedek, who was both the King of Salem and a priest of God (Hebrews 7:1), came out to meet him. Melchizedek brought forth some bread and wine and blessed him, after which Abram gave Melchizedek tithes of everything, and returned the remainder of the spoils over to the King of Sodom.
The question is, what is the significance of the bread and wine?
There are three views.
~ The bread and wine was served as refreshment to Abram and his weary and famished army.
~ The bread and wine indicated there was a peaceful agreement between Abram and Melchizedek.
~ The bread and wine are prophetic of the elements that are involved in Christ’s last supper, establishing this duty as an ordinance.
At Communion Are the Elements of Bread and Wine Changed into Christ’s Literal Body and Blood?
· The bread and wine indicated there was a peaceful agreement between Abram and Melchizedek, which was a common practice during this time.
· There is no correlation to be made in regards to the elements of communion.
· The bread and wine are prophetic of the elements involved in Christ’s last supper, and therefore establish this duty as an ordinance.
When the Words “This Is” Or “It Is” Are Used, Is What They Refer to Always to Be Taken Literally?
The Great Hallel, Psalms 118-136
Suggested Reading: Exodus 12:1-12
Four hundred thirty years of Jewish captivity in Egypt was coming to a close. God told the people to sacrifice a lamb, apply its blood to the doorposts of their homes, and then eat the lamb. That same night an angel of the Lord passed by and the houses marked with blood were spared the death of the first-born son and animal, while those houses without blood experienced the death of the first-born son and animal. This event, the 12th plague, caused Pharaoh to finally allow God’s people to leave Egypt.
Moses and Aaron were told to continue observing this event being described as the Feast of Passover on the tenth day of the same month in each successive year, when both a sacrificial lamb and unleavened bread were to be eaten. During Jesus’ incarnation on the earth, the Jews, who observed the Passover, would make a proclamation over the unleavened bread. They would say, "This is the bread of affliction our ancestors ate when they came from Egypt3."
Should this statement be taken literally or figuratively? Common sense would say that the unleavened bread is figurative, a representation, of the bread of affliction their ancestors ate when they were in Egypt.
And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house: And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the Lord's passover. (Exodus 12:1, 3, 11)
The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron and said that the lamb was to be eaten in haste because “it is the Lord’s Passover”. Was the Lord saying that the lamb was literally the Lord’s Passover? Again, Common sense would say no, the lamb is figurative, a representation, of the Lord passing over the houses of the Israelites. It should be noted that the words “this is” or “it is” do not necessarily mean that the reference should be taken literally.
Another observation to consider is that some churches recite particular words at certain times during their service, and I wonder if this practice is derived from the one mentioned here. For example, when the Passover lambs were slain, either in the temple or in a person’s home, it is believed that Psalms 113-118, the psalms of praise also known as the Hallel, were chanted. After eating the lamb and taking a 5th cup of wine (one above the amount allotted for the feast), the Great Hallel, Psalm 136, would be read. After each verse, the response would be, "For His loving kindness is everlasting4".
· These verses clearly show there are times when the words “this is” or “it is” are used meaning that a particular relationship is not to be taken literally.
· When Jesus told the disciples to take and eat the bread for “this is my body”, this was to be taken figuratively.
· And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. (Mark 14:22)
· While it is true that in the verses mentioned here the words “this is” or “it is” are used to mean that a particular relationship is not to be taken literally, this is not always the case when the same words are used elsewhere in different scriptures.
If the bread and wine at communion are considered as being Christ’s literal body and blood, would these elements be considered as a graven image?
Thou Shalt Not Make unto Thee Any Graven Image, Or Any Likeness of Any Thing That Is in Heaven above, Or That Is in the Earth Beneath, Or That Is in the Water under the Earth
And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.
The Lord asked Moses to meet with him at the top of Mount Sinai where he was instructed to go back down the mountain and speak to the people and the priests, telling them not to proceed up the mountain but to stay where they were and wait for a word from the Lord. God spoke to the people out of the thick darkness giving them certain commandments they were to obey. One of the commands was that the children of Israel were not to make a graven image, which refers to something made or carved into the shape of an animal, human, or some other object5 or any likeness, an image of any sort, for the purpose of worship.
· The Jews were clearly told by Moses they were not to worship any kind of graven image of an animal, human, or some other object.
· The idea of bread turning into the literal body of Christ and the wine turning into the literal blood of Christ would be a clear example of worshipping a graven image.
· The New Testament saints are to worship Christ, so the changing of the bread and wine into his literal body and blood in this instance would be considered acceptable.
· Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:24)
Why Was No One Was Allowed to Eat Meat from Which the Blood Had Not Been Drained?
No Soul of You Shall Eat Blood, Neither Shall Any Stranger That Sojourneth among You Eat Blood
Suggested Reading: Leviticus 1:1-2; Leviticus 17:1-16
The children of Israel were residing in an area around Mount Sinai. Moses built an interim or provisional tabernacle where no sacrifices were to be offered but where he would consult Yahweh on behalf of the people, applying for divine counsel (tokens of divine favor) and receiving revelations of the divine will.
And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils, after whom they have gone a whoring. This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations. (Leviticus 17:7)
Moses and the children of Israel would soon pick up camp and go on their way through the wilderness to the land that God had promised, the land of Canaan. God instructed Moses to build a different tabernacle, a portable one, that would accompany them on this journey (Exodus Chapters 25-40). This tabernacle would be the place where the sacrifice of animals would be made for sin so that the Israelites would not be tempted to offer sacrifices to other gods at unapproved shrines or at any place other than the tabernacle.
What man soever there be of the house of Israel, that killeth an ox, or lamb, or goat, in the camp, or that killeth it out of the camp, And bringeth it not unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, to offer an offering unto the Lord before the tabernacle of the Lord; blood shall be imputed unto that man; he hath shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people; For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul. (Leviticus 17:3-4, 11)
If a person sinned, they would bring an animal to be sacrificed. The object of the atonement was not the sin, the impurity, or the sinner, but the blood. The blood of the animal was to be taken and be sprinkled upon the altar in order to purify it on behalf of the sin, impurity, or the person that tarnished it6. This decontamination of the sanctuary rendered the offerer clean and paved the way for his reconciliation with God7.
Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood. (Leviticus 17:12)
No one was allowed to eat meat from which the blood had not been drained. What was the basis for this prohibition? It was because the blood of the sacrificial animal was the means of atonement for sin. God appointed the blood for the altar, as containing the soul of the animal, to be the medium of expiation (to atone for; to make amends) for the souls of men, and therefore prohibited its being used as food8. Its purpose was to maintain the sanctity of God’s presence in their midst9.
· The shedding of an animal’s blood is the means of atonement (satisfaction for a wrong or injury10) for sin.
· This is a type of Christ shedding his own literal blood on the cross as the means of atonement for sin in order to satisfy the justice of God.
· The partaking of the bread and wine at communion is done in order to bring to remembrance Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as payment for all of mankind’s sin.
· The shedding of the animal’s blood as the means for the atonement for sin is a type of Christ shedding his own blood for the atonement of the sins of the whole world in order to satisfy the justice of God.
· In the Old Testament, the shedding of the animal’s blood was a type of Christ shedding his blood.
· However, in the New Testament the changing of the bread and wine into the literal body and blood of Christ causes the type to become a reality inside the body of a child of God where the soul is nourished.
We have looked at five scripture sections from the Old Testament which are used to support or not support the idea that the bread and wine are changed into Christ’s literal body and blood at communion. Why is this important? Earlier, we learned that the Catholic faith believes that when the bread and wine changes into Christ’s literal body and blood at consumption the disciple is progressively transformed into Christ. This mystical and spiritual union of the soul with Jesus they would claim causes a person to grow in love for God the Father, and the more that the elements are consumed the more recognizable is Christ-like fruit in one’s life. Such fruit will include decreased racial and national prejudices and neighborhood resentments; and increased neighborliness, compassion, patience, and forbearance towards others.
Do the Old and New Testament scriptures support this perspective? If the answer is no, then what causes a disciple to bear fruit? Hopefully, this question will be addressed as we continue on in this study.
In the next chapter, we will continue to look at scriptures sections whose format will be the same as those we have just looked at. However, these scripture sections will be taken from the Incarnation of Christ, the time when he lived on earth.
2IVP Bible Background Commentary Pc Study Bible version 5, 2005, 25 March 2009 ˂http://www.biblesoft.com>.
4The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary Pc Study Bible version 5, 2005, 26 March 2009 ˂http://www.biblesoft.com>.
5UBS Old Testament Handbook Series Pc Study Bible version 5, 2005, 26 March 2009 ˂http://www.biblesoft.com>.
6IVP Bible Background.
7IVP Bible Background.
8Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament Pc Study Bible version 5, 2005, 27 March 2009 ˂http://www.biblesoft.com>.
9IVP Bible Background.
10Dictionary.com, 28 March 2009 ˂http://dictionary.reference.com>.
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