SYMBOLISM & LITERALISM
In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul provides instructions for two important symbolic practices within Christianity. The most well-known is the Lord’s Supper, also called “Communion” or “the Eucharist.”
The Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.1) 1 Cor. 11:23b-26, NASB.
The death of Jesus — the powerful event behind our salvation — is symbolically portrayed here in the Lord’s Supper. And just as Jesus commanded, this personal and meaningful tradition has been regularly practiced by the Church for the last 2000 years.
Unfortunately, though, some Christians have mistakenly understood this passage to mean that during the Lord’s Supper, the bread literally becomes Jesus’ body, and the drink literally becomes Jesus’ blood. This belief is called “transubstantiation” and is often associated with the Catholic Church. In effect, transubstantiation substitutes the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus (Heb. 10:10) with a recurring sacrifice of His “real” body & blood during the Eucharist portion of each Catholic Mass.2) “The Eucharist performs at once two functions: that of a sacrament and that of a sacrifice… the sacrament is intended privately for the sanctification of the soul, whereas the sacrifice serves primarily to glorify God by adoration, thanksgiving, prayer, and expiation [atonement for sin]. The recipient of the one is God, who receives the sacrifice of His only-begotten Son; of the other, man, who receives the sacrament for his own good. Furthermore, the unbloody Sacrifice of the Eucharistic Christ is in its nature a transient action, while the Sacrament of the Altar continues as something permanent after the sacrifice.” Pohle, Joseph. “Sacrifice of the Mass.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 24 Mar. 2019 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10006a.htm>.
In addition to the statement, “This is my body,” Jesus made a variety of other comments that were also intended figuratively. For example, He said, “I am the door” (John 10:7), “I am the Bread of Life” (John 6:35), and “I am the true vine” (John 15:1). These words were obviously not meant to be understood literally, but rather as figures of speech. However, an opposite type of confusion can also occur: Christians sometimes disregard the plain (and literal) statements in Scripture, as they seek to discover “deeper” figurative or symbolic meanings behind those statements. Read more
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