Posts Tagged ‘Eucharist’

In many contexts and formularies of the church, the Eucharist has been linked with sin and the forgiveness thereof. Being perchance under the spell of the conversation with Scot McKnight a few of us South Africans had the privilege to be part of, I began pondering on this connection. (Professor McKnight’s lecture can be downloaded as an MP3 from Tom Smith’s blog, who also blogged on the conversation.) Prof McKnight pointed out a fourfold “oversimplification” of the Gospel, which might pertain to the overemphasised connection of the Eucharist with sin:


1. God loves you

2. You are a sinner

3. Jesus died for the forgiveness of your sin

4. If you accept Christ as your Saviour, your sins are forgiven (with an emphasis on gaining heaven)


The four highly relevant texts for a discussion of the institution of the Eucharist are Matt 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:14-20 and 1 Cor 11:23-26. (Perhaps one could also add the reference to the Eucharist in 1 Cor 10:16ff, or more veiled references such as Cleopas and his friend in Luke 24. John omits the institution of the Eucharist. Some reference to it might be picked up in chapter 21 – depending on one’s view on that chapter, of course.) 

Only in Matt 26:26-29 is there a direct connection between the Eucharist and sin. Verse 28 reads: τοῦτο γάρ ἐστιν τὸ αἷμά μου τῆς διαθήκης τὸ περὶ πολλῶν ἐκχυννόμενον εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν. “Because this is my blood of the covenant, which for many is poured out for the forgiveness of sins.”

Mark 14 does not have “for the forgiveness of sins.” Mark 14:24b reads: τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ αἷμά μου τῆς διαθήκης τὸ ἐκχυννόμενον ὑπὲρ πολλῶν. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” As can be expected, Mark is harmonised to Matthew, in that some manuscripts add εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν (“for the forgiveness of sins”). NA27 lists the following: W, family 13, a few more Greek mss, a single Old Latin Witness (Codex Vercellensis), one ms of the Vulgate (followed by some sahidic manuscripts and the bohairic tradition). Rightly, NA27 does not even give the witnesses for the printed text. Mark is often harmonised to read with Matthew, since Matthew was considered the ‘stronger’ Gospel. (In this verse, some other harmonisations of Mark to Matthew occur – e.g., ἐκχυννόμενον ὑπὲρ πολλῶν has been replaced with περὶ πολλῶν ἐκχυννόμενον in A and the Majority of Greek manuscripts (including family 1), and the Harklensian Syriac version.)

Luke, on prima facie evidence, draws on both Mark and some other source. For one thing, Luke adds another cup (verse 17), then the bread (verse 19) and then the institution of the cup “in the same manner” (ὡσαύτως). Some verbal echoes to Mark is apparent, e.g.:

Mark 14:22: … λαβὼν ἄρτον εὐλογήσας ἔκλασεν καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς καὶ εἶπεν· λάβετε, τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ σῶμά μου.

Luke 22:19: … λαβὼν ἄρτον εὐχαριστήσας ἔκλασεν καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς λέγων· τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ σῶμά μου τὸ ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν διδόμενον· 

Luke shows some similarities to Paul, too, e.g.:

1 Cor 11:23b-24: ἔλαβεν ἄρτον καὶ εὐχαριστήσας ἔκλασεν καὶ εἶπεν· τοῦτό μού ἐστιν τὸ σῶμα τὸ ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν· … 

Luke 22:19: … λαβὼν ἄρτον εὐχαριστήσας ἔκλασεν καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς λέγων· τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ σῶμά μου τὸ ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν διδόμενον· 

These places of comparison can be multiplied. An important overlap between Paul and Luke is that the eucharist is instituted εἰς τὴν … ἀνάμνησιν (“for the remembrance”) of Jesus (1 Cor 11:24,25; Luke 22:19). For Paul, this implies the continuous preaching of the death of the Lord. Luke does not add this detail – one might propose that Luke considers the “remembrance” to point also to the reason of Christ’s death. Following the institution of the Eucharist, while still at the table, the disciples quarrel over which of them is the greatest. Jesus answers that it is the one who serves; after his own example, since he is ἐν μέσῳ ὑμῶν … ὡς ὁ διακονῶν (“in the midst of you … like a one who serves”). After this, of course, the passion takes its course. 

By no means exhaustive, the excursion above will suffice to indicate that the eucharist can not be reduced to simply the forgiveness of sins. At the very least, it should include the preaching of the death of Christ (and EVERYTHING that entails), as well as a remembrance of his death.


1) Matthew alone explicitly connects the Eucharist with the forgiveness of sins.

2) There are two main traditions of the Eucharist evident in the New Testament – Mark/Matthew and 1 Corinthians/Luke (although Luke draws on Mark, too.) Of course, all four authors of these books add their own emphases.

3) Luke probably made use of both Mark and Paul.

4) The Eucharist should (at least) also be a proclamation of the death of Jesus. This includes the grounds for his death – his life, lived as a servant.

Important CAVEAT: In this study, I’ve assumed that Luke 22:19b-20, one of the so-called “Western non-interpolations”  is part of the early tradition.


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