The Biblical Data which Advocate the Lord’s Supper as a Means of Grace
Introduction: Time does not permit me to do justice to all the biblical data on this issue. I have chosen to limit this section to two types of texts: 1. First of all, we will look at one of the most (if not the most) important texts which speaks about the nature of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Cor. 10:16 and 2. We will look at two texts which address the ministry of the Holy Spirit in relation to our exalted Redeemer in bringing mediatorial, redemptive benefits to the souls of believers.
1 Corinthians 10:16 – An important (if not the most important) text on the nature of the Lord’s Supper as means of grace (1 Cor. 10:14-22 [esp. v. 16]):
1) In 1 Corinthians Paul deals with several church-problems, one of them being idolatry (10:14).
2) Specifically, some Corinthians thought “they were free to continue participating in pagan sacrificial meals” (Keith A. Mathison, Given For You, 227).
3) Paul strongly disagreed with them (10:14, “…flee from idolatry”).
4) Paul ends up shedding light on the nature of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17. The important word here for our purposes is koinwnia and its qualifying phrases – “the blood” and “the body of Christ.”
An important word and important phrases:
1) What does “sharing,” “participation,” or “communion of the blood of Christ” mean?
2) And what does “sharing,” “participation,” or “communion of the body of Christ” mean?
3) So there are actually two questions: 1) What does koinwnia mean in this text? and 2) How should we understand the phrases “of the blood of Christ” and “of the body of Christ”?
Translational options for koinonia: “sharing” (NAU), “participation” (ESV, NIV); “communion” (ASV – 1901, KJV, NKJV).
1) BDAG (552) gives this definition under koinwnia: participation, sharing
2) koinonia is used in 1 Cor. 1:9 as well, which says, “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Here it obviously has a vertical element to it. Anthony Thiselton argues for a more vertical element here and translates it “communal participation.” Commenting on 1 Cor. 1:9, he says, “Communal participation may seem to make heavy weather out of Gk. koinonia which is usually translated fellowship. But the use of fellowship in church circles may convey an impression quite foreign to Paul’s distinctive emphasis. He does not refer to a society or group of like-minded people, such as a Graeco-Roman societas. Certain specific uses of the word may have this meaning (e.g., Rom 15:27), but not this type of passage. Normally in Paul the word means communal participation in that of which all participants are shareholders, or are accorded a common share. It is not simply or primarily the experience of being together as Christians which is shared, but the status of being-in-Christ and of being shareholders in a sonship derived from the sonship of Christ.’ Just as the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13:13) means participating in the sharing out of the Spirit (which then secondarily gives rise to fellowship experience within a community), so the fellowship of his Son (1 Cor. 1:9) means communal participation in the sonship of Jesus Christ.”
3) Of 1 Cor. 10:16, he says that in this context, koinonia has a more “vertical and theological priority of emphasis over the horizontal and social.” The Lord’s Supper certainly has horizontal and social aspects to it, but in 1 Cor. 10:16 in light of Paul’s argument against idolatry, he is dealing with its nature in terms of its vertical aspect.
4) John Jefferson Davis says, “…participation implies living communion and actual personal contact” (Davis, Ibid., 140).
5) Anthony Thiselton says it means “having an active common share in the life, death, resurrection and presence of Jesus Christ as the Lord” as quoted by Davis, 140.
6) Ernst Kasemann notes that in this text Paul is expounding the word “is” (estin) in the words of institution in the sense of “participation,” koinonia; the cup and the bread are not bare symbols in some Zwinglian sense…” Kasemann further observes, “whatever objections may be raised against the term ‘Real Presence,’ it expresses what Paul wants to say.” (Cf. Davis, 140).
What about the phrases after the noun koinonia? KJV, NKJV, and ASV translate the genitive phrases “of the blood…of the body…” bringing out the genitive more than other versions.
1) However they translate, they could be what grammarians call the genitive of source. If so, we could read it this way, present “communion derived from or dependent upon the body and blood of Christ.” Thiselton, quoting Thornton says, “A genitive following the word koinonia expresses…that of which one partakes…the object shared.” In this case, the objects shared are Christ’s blood and Christ’s body.
2) The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology says, “koinonia in 1 Cor. 10:16 means “participation” in the body and blood of Christ and thus union with the exalted [emphasis mine] Christ.”
3) If Paul is talking about a present communion with the blood and body of Christ and if Christ is no longer dead, then the communion he is referring to is communion with the exalted Christ now. This is present communion with the living and exalted Lord of glory!
4) Geoffrey B. Wilson says, “The fact that Paul here refers to the sharing of the cup and the bread as a ‘communion’ of the blood and body of Christ proves that the Lord’s Supper is something more than a memorial meal. For the believer shares in all the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice as he partakes of the tokens by which it is recalled but not re-enacted. ‘The bread and wine are vehicles of the presence of Christ. …Partaking of bread and wine is union (sharing) with the heavenly Christ’ (F. Hauck, TDNT, Vol. 3, p. 805)” (Geoffrey B. Wilson, 1 Corinthians, 147).
5) We know this much for sure, these are at least Eucharistic genitives of real presence.
What about 1 Cor. 10:18 – “sharers in the altar”?
Thiselton, 772, “[Those who eat the sacrifices] appropriate the reality or influence which the altar of sacrifice represents and conveys.”
What about 1 Cor. 10:20, “…sharers in demons”?
1) Participating in pagan sacrificial meals opens one up to the influence of demons in one’s life. It involves some sort of contact with demons and is, thus, a form of idolatry.
2) Hear John Gill on this: “The apostle’s view in this instance, and his argument upon it, is this, that if believers, by eating the bread and drinking the wine in the Lord’s supper, spiritually partake of Christ, of his body and of his blood, and have communion with him; then such who eat of things sacrificed unto idols, have in so doing communion with them, and partake of the table of devils, and so are guilty of idolatry, which he would have them avoid” (Gill, 1 Cor., 676).
The point I am seeking to make from this text is that bread and wine are signs which signify present participation or present communion in the present benefits procured by Christ’s body and blood. This is why someone like Benjamin Keach said, “There is a mystical conveyance or communication of all Christ’s blessed merits to our souls through faith held forth hereby, and in a glorious manner received, in the right participation of [the Lord’s Supper]” (Weaver quoting Keach, 24). Likewise, Spurgeon said, “At this table, Jesus feeds us with his body and blood…”
Koinwnia in the blood and body of Christ brings spiritual nourishment to souls. It is present participation in the present benefits of His death for those properly partaking. In other words, the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace!
Q: How do the benefits of His death become present? That leads us into our next consideration.