First of all, we need to understand that the Bible commands God’s disciples to eat a piece of unleavened bread and drink a small portion of red wine ONCE a year–at the annual festival of Passover. When Jesus instituted the new symbols of bread and wine, replacing thereby the Old Testament Passover lamb, He did so during the evening of Passover (Matthew 26:18-20; compare Luke 22:11-20). Christ did not teach that we should partake of the symbols of bread and wine, in memory of His Sacrifice, any time we please. It is to be observed annually–once a year (compare Leviticus 23:4-5).
When Christ said that the bread and the wine “were” His flesh and blood, He used symbolic language. He had stated earlier that His disciples were to “eat His flesh” and “drink His blood” in order to have life and lasting fellowship with Him (compare John 6:53-55). Jesus used this kind of language to TEST His disciples. He knew fully well that at that time, none of His disciples would understand the meaning of His saying. But He wanted to find out how many would leave Him, and who would stay with Him, even though nobody understood what He was teaching them. Sadly, “many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it’… From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more” (John 6:60, 66).
Jesus asked the twelve apostles whether they would also forsake Him. Peter did not understand Christ’s saying, either, but he knew who Christ was. And so, he answered for all of the twelve, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68-69).
Christ’s sayings in John 6, and His words at the last Passover which He kept with His disciples as a human being, were to be understood symbolically. They were not to be understood to mean that at the moment when Christ gave the bread and the wine to His disciples–and at the moment when we partake today of the symbols of bread and wine at Passover–those symbols were or are “transforming” or “changing” into the actual body and blood of Jesus. The Roman Catholic dogma of the “transubstantiation,” which was also believed in and taught by Martin Luther, is in fact unbiblical.
The reasons for our conclusion are many, including the following:
1) First of all, Christ is no longer today a human being. He WAS God (John 1:1), BECAME man (John 1:14), and was CHANGED again into a God being–a life-giving Spirit being–at the time of His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:45; Titus 2:13). Paul said that we do not know Jesus Christ any longer as a human being–“according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 5:16). As a Spirit being, Christ does not have flesh and blood. Therefore, the wine and the bread could not possibly change today into the flesh and blood of Jesus.
2) We also read that Jesus was offered ONCE to bear the sins of many (Hebrews 9:28). His supreme Sacrifice was necessary, but also sufficient for the forgiveness of our sins. The claim that the bread and the wine change today–and have been changing for the last 2,000 years–into the body and blood of Christ would mean that Christ was and is being sacrificed again and again–every time when His disciples have been partaking of the symbols of bread and wine.
This concept is clearly contradicted by Scripture–in fact, the Bible contains a strong warning for those who attempt to sacrifice Christ again through their conduct or belief. We read in Hebrews 6:4-6: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, SINCE THEY CRUCIFY AGAIN FOR THEMSELVES THE SON OF GOD, AND PUT HIM TO AN OPEN SHAME.”
3) In addition, we are prohibited in God’s Word, the Bible, to consume any kind of blood (Acts 15:19-20, 28-29; 21:25; Leviticus 17:14). Therefore, the wine could not possibly change into the literal blood of Jesus, to be consumed by His disciples.
4) We should also note that when Christ spoke His words to His disciples, giving them the bread and the wine, He was a human being, and He–the human being–was present with His disciples. The bread and the wine were not “identical” with–but separate from His body; and they were not changed, in any way, to become (part of) His blood or body–as otherwise, Christ would have somehow “divided” Himself at that moment into eleven or twelve “components.”
Many commentaries have pointed out the utter absurdity of a belief in the dogma of “transubstantiation.”
a) Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible point out:
“It is not improbable that our Lord pointed to the broken bread, or laid his hands on it, as if he had said, ‘Lo, my body!’ or, ‘Behold my body!’ – ‘that which “represents” my broken body to you.’ This could not be intended to mean that that bread was literally his body. It was not. His body was then before them ‘living.’ And there is no greater absurdity than to imagine his ‘living body’ there changed at once to a ‘dead body,’ and then the bread to be changed into that dead body, and that all the while the ‘living’ body of Jesus was before them.
“Yet this is the absurd and impossible doctrine of the Roman Catholics, holding that the ‘bread’ and ‘wine’ were literally changed into the ‘body and blood’ of our Lord. The language employed by the Saviour was in accordance with a common mode of speaking among the Jews, and exactly similar to that used by Moses at the institution of the Passover [Exodus 12:11:] ‘It’ – that is, the lamb – ‘is the Lord’s Passover.’ That is, the lamb and the feast ‘represent’ the Lord’s ‘passing over’ the houses of the Israelites. It serves to remind you of it. It surely cannot be meant that that lamb was the literal ‘passing over’ their houses – a palpable absurdity – but that it represented it.
“So Paul and Luke say of the bread, ‘This is my body broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.’ This expresses the whole design of the sacramental bread. It is to call to ‘remembrance,’ in a vivid manner, the dying sufferings of our Lord. The sacred writers, moreover, often denote that one thing is represented by another by using the word is. See [Matthew 13:37:] ‘He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man’ – that is, represents the Son of man. [Genesis 41:26:] ‘the seven good kine [cows] are seven years’ – that is, ‘represent’ or signify seven years… The meaning of this important passage may be thus expressed: ‘As I give this broken bread to you to eat, so will I deliver my body to be afflicted and slain…'”
b) Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible adds the following:
“‘This is my body’ – Here it must be observed that Christ had nothing in his hands, at this time, but part of that unleavened bread which he and his disciples had been eating at supper, and therefore he could mean no more than this, viz. that the bread which he was now breaking represented his body, which, in the course of a few hours, was to be crucified for them. Common sense, unsophisticated with superstition and erroneous creeds, – and reason, unawed by the secular sword of sovereign authority, could not possibly take any other meaning than this plain, consistent, and rational one, out of these words.
“‘But,’ says a false and absurd creed, ‘Jesus meant, when he said, Hoc Est Corpus Meum, This is my body, and Hic Est Calix Sanguinis Mei, This is the chalice of my blood, that the bread and wine were substantially changed into his body, including flesh, blood, bones, yea, the whole Christ, in his immaculate humanity and adorable divinity!’ And, for denying this, what rivers of righteous blood have been shed by state persecutions and by religious wars! Well it may be asked, ‘Can any man of sense believe, that, when Christ took up that bread and broke it, it was his own body which he held in his own hands, and which [he] himself broke to pieces, and which he and his disciples ate?’…
“Besides, our Lord did not say, hoc est corpus meum, (this is my body), as he did not speak in the Latin tongue… let it be observed that, in the Hebrew, Chaldee, and Chaldeo-Syriac languages, as used in the Bible, there is no term which expresses to mean, signify, denote, though both the Greek and Latin abound with them: hence the Hebrews use a figure, and say, it is, for, it signifies… And following this Hebrew idiom, though the work is written in Greek, we find in [Revelation 1:20:] The seven stars Are (represent) the angels of the seven Churches: and the seven candlesticks Are (represent) the seven Churches. The same form of speech is used in a variety of places in the New Testament, where this sense must necessarily be given to the word…”
c) John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible agrees, adding the following observation:
“Now when he says, ‘this is my body’, he cannot mean, that that bread was his real body; or that it was changed and converted into the very substance of his body; but that it was an emblem and representation of his body, which was just ready to be offered up, once for all: in like manner, as the Jews in the eating of their passover used to say… of the unleavened bread, this is ‘the bread of affliction’, which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Not that they thought that was the selfsame bread, but that it resembled it, and was a representation of the affliction and distress their fathers were in at that time: to which some think our Lord here alludes: though rather, the reference is to the passover lamb, which is frequently, in Jewish writings, called ‘the body’ of the lamb…
“And now it is, as if Christ had said, you have had ‘the body’ of the lamb set before you, and have eaten of it, in commemoration of the deliverance out of Egypt, and as a type of me the true passover, quickly to be sacrificed; and this rite of eating the body of the paschal lamb is now to cease; and I do here by this bread, in an emblematical way, set before you ‘my body’, which is to be given to obtain spiritual deliverance, and eternal redemption for you; in remembrance of which, you, and all my followers in successive generations, are to take and eat of it, till I come.”
In conclusion, the Bible does NOT teach the dogma or doctrine of “transubstantiation.” Rightly understood, that unbiblical teaching changes, and actually denies the very meaning and essence of Christ’s Sacrifice.
The Sacrifice of Jesus Christ is of unspeakable importance for us. It is God’s greatest gift to mankind. We must never belittle it by partaking of the symbols of bread and wine in an unworthy manner (compare 1 Corinthians 11:27-29); or by partaking of the symbols more than once a year; or by doing so on any other occasion than the annual Passover; or by falsely believing and teaching that the symbols of bread and wine change into the very body and blood of Christ.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link