The Verba and the Sacrament

In the Synodical catechism, regarding “The Lord’s Supper”, 23 out of 51 bible references are to the books of 1st and 2nd Corinthians. Nine more passages are from other epistles of Paul (if you include Hebrews). This means that 62% of the passages are from Paul. No problem as far as it goes. How many passages in Luther’s Small Catechism are from Paul? 1. Luther uses only the words of consecration, as recorded by “the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and Saint Paul.” He never looks anywhere else for support, but the words of our Lord. The repeated refrain, “These words ‘given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins'” – quoted in three of four questions regarding the sacrament – is not from Paul, but exclusively from Matthew. For Luther, Paul is not the driving force in determining the nature of the sacrament (including worthiness) but Matthew. (No this is not a paid political announcement by Dr. Scaer).

“But the small Catechism is so small, what about the Large Catechism?” Fair enough. In the Large Catechism, Luther quotes NO OTHER SCRIPTURE beyond the words of consecration, until his admonition to go to the Sacrament. (Recast as question #20 in Luther’s game of “20 Questions to Prepare for the Sacrament.) In that section, he quotes Matthew (twice), Galatians and Romans. So even when Luther is discussing a need for the Sacrament, he only uses Paul 50% of the time – to point out how miserable we truly are. For the benefit of the Sacrament, see the two passages from Matthew.

In Luther’s “Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper” (AE 37), he does go through Paul verse by verse, but only to show that the references to “bread and cup” must refer to the body and blood of our Lord, not to signs or a spiritual presence. In other words, Luther’s greatest use of Paul on the supper is to defend Paul from the charge that he teaches a symbolic presence. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of Pauline Theology on the Supper. Indeed, as Luther goes through the other passages, he keeps returning to the words of our Lord, which Paul quotes.

For Luther, the entire theology of the Sacrament is found, not in Paul’s extended Corinthian Discourse, but in the Words of our Lord’s institution.

While I have always felt that Luther goes too far in rejecting John 6 as Sacramental, he does so out of a zeal for the Words of Christ himself. I would gladly give up John 6 as Sacramental, if it would cause our Synodical discussions of the Sacrament to give up Paul’s discourse and return to the Words of our Lord.

As an extreme example – one which you will likely disbelieve because of its over-the-top-icity (thank you Dr. Weinrich),  the CTCR document “Admission to the Lord’s Supper” manages to conduct a 58 page discussion of admission to the sacrament without a serious study of any of the institution accounts. The closest they come is Paul’s (of course) 1 Corinthians essay, which discusses vs. 16-22 (the setting and problems) and then skips to vs. 27-34 for a discussion of the concept of “discerning the body.” Guess which verses contain “Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which he was betrayed…”? (Hint : 23-26)

In other words, we can construct an entire theology of admission to the Sacrament, without ever referencing our Lord’s institution. For you see, in modern Evangelical (the bad kind) Lutheran theology, the institution narrative only tells us what it is. We must look to other places (mostly Paul, because most Lutherans follow Luther in rejecting John 6 as Sacramental) for discerning the benefits, admission to, etc.

The practical implication is that our practice of the Sacrament is divorced from our Lord’s Institution. Jesus words solely institute. Paul’s Words tell us how to practice it. If Paul doesn’t say “no”, then there is really no reason for us to say “no” to a practice. Unfortunately, Close(d) Commun(ion) is har(d) to justif(y) without our Lord’s institution. Why? Because Closed Communion is grounded in out Lord’s institution – the words “For you” require all hearts to believe”. Without this understanding, we are woefully unprepared to explain why anyone can not simply come to the altar if they have reached the age of discretion. Paul’s directives may seem to encourage closed communion, but can be explained away by the sophist. Jesus words can not.


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