Lipscomb on the Bread and Wine (Yes, “Wine”)

If the facts of science should shape our interpretation of Scripture (see my previous post), how do we understand what is happening at the table of the Lord?  Lipscomb uses an argument below that is rooted in an optimistic empiricism but something even more profound as I will explain. See what you think.

“But if this [transubstantiation, JMH] is a miracle, it is the opposite of every miracle mentioned in the Bible. Instead of appeal to the sense to produce faith in the unseen, the belief in the miracle rests in an existing faith contrary to the testimony of the bodily senses. A man’s bodily senses say there is no flesh and blood in the loaf or the wine. It takes a blind faith that sets aside the testimony of the sight, touch, taste, hearing, smelling of the body to believe this. God never required a man to believe a thinking contrary to the witness of his own senses.”

“Jesus said: “Do this [partake of the bread and wine] (DL’s words, JMH) in memory of me.” A memorial of a person or a transaction is not that person or transaction itself reproduced. A memorial is something that reminds one of the person or the thing done.”

“Christ said: ‘This is my body.” “This is my blood.” But did he mean it literally or figuratively? Jesus frequently used words figuratively: as, “Upon tis rock I will build my church.” He did not mean a literal rock nor a material building. He told the woman of Samaria “he would have given [her], living water…Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up into eternal life.” (John 4:10-14.) This was no real water of which Jesus spoke. It was a figurative use of the word. How do we determine this? Because to give it a literal meaning would contradict our bodily senses. Jesus called Herod a “fox.” Did he mean he was a literal four-legged animal? No one would so claim. Why not? Because our bodily senses contradict it, and we are forced to conclude it is untrue, or the word is used in a figurative sense. Now this is true when he says of the bread, “This is my body.” Our bodily sense know it is not, and we are compelled to say it is not true, or it is true in a figurative sense. Our bodily senses know it si not, and we are compelled to say it si not true, or it is true in a figurative sense. Our bodily sense are good witnesses to us of material things, and God at no time requires men to reject their testimony in reference to such things. He does not require us to believe the bread and wine are literal body and blood of Christ when all our senses tell us they are not. They are figuratively so. They bring these things to our remembrance,a nd his body and blood are spiritually present to bless our spirits. Our spirits, not our bodies, are blessed in remembering the body and blood of Christ. There is hardly a chapter, especially of John in which words are not so used.”  (David Lipscomb, Gospel Advocate, Dec 19, 1907, p. 807).

Lipscomb’s point has some merit.  Empirical reality, as perceived through the human mind, is a mode (in some sense) of knowledge. But I would suggest that a deeper point is at issue–one which, I think, Lipscomb would also argue if presented to him.

One of the reasons I reject transubstantiation is that it involves the annihilation of creation. Transubstantiation annihilates the presence of the bread and wine in order to replace it with the body and blood of Christ. This dishonors creation itself. The bread and wine are not transfigured into a form of new creation; it ceases to be bread and wine altogether. The telos of creation, however, is not annihilation but transfiguration (redemption in Romans 8). It does not cease to be but becomes new creation; not annihilated but renewed (as Lipscomb himself believed).

So, at the table, the bread does not cease to be bread or the wine cease to be wine. Rather, the bread and the wine become Spiritual (pneumatological and eschatological) means of experiencing the new creation in Christ. Bread and wine, as elements of creation itself, become means of Spiritual communion with the new creation that is Christ.

Transubstantiation does not fit the miracle stories of Scripture where the miracles perfect nature or utilize the elements of nature rather than annihilating or destroying nature. Lipscomb has a point, I think.

This is currently debated among some Roman Catholic scholars  For example, Terence Nichols (Transubstantiation and Eucharistic Presence,” Pro Ecclesia 11 [Winter 2002] 57-75) attempts to understand the miracle of the Eucharist in the context of modern physics while rejecting traditional theories of Thomistic Transubstantiation.

Does this mean we reduce the Supper to a figure or symbol where it becomes just a memorial?  I don’t think so. I think something Spiritual and eschatological is happening at the Eucharistic meal. But I won’t take the space to talk about that here; I have written elsewhere about that.

My point is that one’s theology of creation as empirical reality, as something good that should not be annihilated, and with an eschatological goal of transfiguration mitigates against a traditional, Thomistic understanding of transubstantiation. Something Spiritual happens, something mystical (thus the Greek church calls them the “mysteries”), but it does not subvert or deny creation. Rather, creation (bread and wine) retains its original function, that is, to mediate the presence of God and communion between God and humanity.

10 Responses to “Lipscomb on the Bread and Wine (Yes, “Wine”)”

  1.   Keith Brenton Says:

    To me, the bread and wine are what God provides to become part of me; to build my cells and provide the energy to do His work in the world. It is Christ in me physically as surely as His Holy Spirit is in me, so that I can be in Him. The elements of His body are indeed transformed into mine so that I may be transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory. Just as believers are clothed with Christ in baptism and filled with His Spirit, so we are also nourished by this feast of I-in-you-and-you-in-Me. It’s more than symbol but less than miracle — since, as Lipscomb points out, its purpose is not to cause belief but to testify to it. I think the transsubtantiation of the bread and wine is the ordinary miracle of Christ becoming more fully known in us.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      I don’t have a problem with that reading. However, I don’t think “transsubstantiation” communicates what you mean. I think a word more like “transfiguration” or “transformation” would better communicate. That is, through eating the bread and drinking the wine, God uses this as a means of transforming us into the image of Christ and communing with us.

  2.   John Says:

    I have corresponded a good bit with an Orthodox Catholic. I gathered they did not believe that the bread and wine literally (in the most strict sense) became flesh and blood. So I asked if they did a chemical analysis of the bread and wine after the priest had blessed it, if they would expect it to return a result of human flesh and human blood. He said they would not expect that, which was what I thought he would say. We dropped the discussion at that. I am not sure if what Lipscomb wrote would directly address their position.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Orthodox Catholics focus on the mystery rather than the empirical reality. The Eucharist is primarily about participation and thus the mystery of the Eucharist is the mutually indwelling of God and creation; more particularly, the communion between God and humanity through the bread and wine as it has “become” (not in a substantial way but in a participatory manner) the body and blood of Christ.

  3.   rich constant Says:

    john mark
    their ya go again usin them big words
    i had to look that term up (Thomistic Transubstantiation)

    “go figure”
    wasn’t that somewhere around the “middle” of the Dark Ages.
    i mean “really” dark
    were not talking a flat earth in the face of the discovery of new trade routes.

    i would not write off a lot of work hear.
    it is just some times people smart people go sailing into the mystic
    and with no anchor of Science to hold on to,to say nothing of Scripture what a tragity to live in those bleak times
    which in this case , oh well…

    and then there are men that perpetuate this.
    i have no doubt they will answer to God. as we when we fail to acknowledge our error.
    god hep us all,
    how do you put it

    anthropological theology based in ontology?
    “tradition feeding off of tradition”

    “The earliest known use of the term “transubstantiation” to describe the change from bread and wine to body and blood of Christ was by Hildebert de Lavardin, Archbishop of Tours (died 1133), in the eleventh century and by the end of the twelfth century the term was in widespread use.”

    •   rich constant Says:

      i have a little question.
      this would be about a 12 century diet, which is in this case is not that obtuse, anyway to me.
      was rye bread in their diet?

  4.   Clark Coleman Says:

    One of the primary problems with the Catholic doctrine of transsubstantiation is that it is an obvious melding of neo-Platonic philosophy with Christianity. The idea that the bread and wine have two natures, the substance a.k.a. essence on the one hand and the form a.k.a. accidental nature on the other hand, with the form remaining the same (hence it still tastes like bread and wine) while the substance is transformed into the “essence” of Christ’s body and blood is pure neo-Platonism. It is not a first century Judean Hebrew way of thinking in any way. Hence, it is not credible that Jesus meant any such thing at the Last Supper, nor is it credible that Jesus would expect his disciples, with their Jewish background, to understand any such thing.

    One of the students of one of the famous German theologians did a thesis on this neo-Platonic origin of transsubstantiation in the early 1960s, if I recall correctly, I could come up with the reference if anyone wanted it.

  5.   Ralph Williams Says:

    I would direct your attention to a word invented by Joseph Campbell (the rhetorician and student of myth, not the Campbell of restoration history). Campbell used the term “consubstantiation,” as a way of explaining his notion of “identification.” Consubstantiation describes what happens as we identify with characters in narrative (myth) and we become one with them; so we act out their story within ourselves in some way. Campbell describes consubstantiation and identification as powerful means of persuasion.

    When we take Christ’s body and blood into our own body, we take his death into our self as well (“proclaiming his death until he comes”) and in a sense we re-enact dieing and being buried with him. At the same time, we are taking in true nourishment; for his flesh is real food and his blood is real drink. So we are made alive in his resurrection.

  6.   Abasnar Says:

    As far as I understand the concept of transsubstatiation it is based on a scientific worldview that makes a distinction between the essence and the substance. So while the outword form of bread and wine remain bread and wine their substance changes. Read this way it is not more than an attempt to explain how the bread can at the same time be more than simple bread (and accordingly the wine be more than wine).

    Early Christian understanding always was more than symbolic. From the very beginning it was considered a spiritual food (Didache, 1Co 10) that nourishes our new life like the Manna nourished the people of Israel in the wilderness. therefore being barred from communion was a serious thing to them, because it cut them off from the nourishment essential to sustain them spiritually. Based on John 6 where we are called to eat His flesh and trink His blood in order to REMAIN in Him this actually makes perfect sense. The symbolic (reduced) understanding of the Lord’s Supper originated with the Swiss Reformation and was unknown before and rejected by the Lutherans.

    Justin Martyr first spoke of a kind of transformation in his 1st apology. Which is quite early. Ignatius viewed the Lord’s Supper as an antidote to mortality. But this – over time – sort of required a “theory” to explain how and why and to what extent. This led to transsubstatiation which (sadly) became a dogma on which orthodoxy was decided. That’s unnecessary, and it is going beyond scripture.

    But while the Catholics added to scripture in this point, Protestants typically took away, reducing the Lord’s Supper to a mere symbol of rememberence. And the churches of Christ who came out of this wing of Protestantism (so far) did not really question it. Speaking of a spiritual presence is definitely better that no presence at all; yet we are still far from understanding our need for this food. The ECF sometimes exaggerated this point, but we definitely downplay it.


    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Aquinas made the classic argument on the distinction of substance essence) and accident (outward form). In class transsubstantiation, the bread is no longer bread, which is why Luther want to affirm impanation (the bread remains but the substance of Christ is in, with or under the bread).

      I, too, would affirm it is more than symbolic. It is an authentic nourishment on the new creation life of the resurrected Lord by the Spirit which is how I read John 6. I find myself in more Calvin’s camp than eithr Zwingli or Luther.

      Thanks for your comments, brother.

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