Transubstantiation and the Christian Faith

transubstance

Introduction

Some time ago, one of the  guests on a friend’s podcast was asked for his thoughts on the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation (that the bread and wine used in Mass communion actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ). The guest’s reply was brief (86:30 – 90:00), but in that time he managed to make several claims that should raise red flags for all Christians regardless of their position (and indeed regardless of whether the doctrine is even true).

What is Transubstantiation?

In order to understand what the doctrine of transubstantiation teaches, and why the guest’s comments are so problematic, we first need to understand the philosophy of change that the doctrine employs.

Substantial Change

In Aristotelian philosophy, there are two types of change (substantial and accidental) that correspond to two components of a thing (its substance and accidents). Substance refers to what a thing is at its core, while accidents are modifications of that substance. So what something is at its deepest level is its substance, while how that thing can change while remaining the same substance are its accidents. So a cow in a field does not become a non-cow simply by changing its size or location.

This distinction gives rise to a distinction in the ways things can change: substantially or accidentally. If a person’s skin turns red from being in the sun too long, that is accidental change. Skin color is not determined by the substance of humanity, because it is a difference among humans. Thus, to change skin color is not to go from being human to being non-human.

accchange
Accidental Change

Now, to go from being human to being non-human would be a substantial change, because the “what” would have changed. Substantial change is not often recognized as such outside of philosophical circles, but it happens every day and is often reflected in how we name things. When a cow (which is a living substance) dies, it turns into meat (non-living material), and then – if eaten – turns into another living being. When a tree is cut down it goes from being a tree to being wood, and if the wood is burnt, it changes from wood to smoke. Those are examples of substantial change.

subchange
Substantial Change

This distinction explains why a thing may undergo accidental change without going through substantial change (a skinny dog can grow into a fat dog), and a thing might also undergo substantial change without immediately going through much accidental change (as when a sleeping cow dies). This is not entirely accurate in Aristotelian terms, but it will suffice for now:

treetruckTruck: Accidental Change without Substantial Change
Tree: Substantial Change without Accidental Change

Transubstantial Change

Now, transubstantiation is the Latin word for “substance” with the prefix “trans” which indicates change (e.g., transportation). So transubstantiation means the changing of a substance. In Catholic theology, it is the expression of the substantial change the elements of communion undergo when they change from being bread and wine to being the body and blood of Jesus Christ – the substantial change of bread and wine into flesh and blood without the accidental change of these elements’ physical properties. This is a unique, miraculous kind of change that Aristotle did not consider – but it is close enough to what we experience (e.g., when a thing dies), that it should not seem too far a reach with God involved.

The result of transubstantiation, then, is that the communion elements are perceived in the same way both before and after the process. Because of this, transubstantiation does not result in a change that is empirically detectable (or scientifically provable). The doctrine is thus not believed because of any perceived accidental change in the elements (for, according to the doctrine, there is none). Rather, it is believed to be the best explanation for biblical statements that identify the communion meal with Jesus’ body and blood (John 6:53-58; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:26-27), as well as the testimony of the historic church.

Theological and Philosophical Problems with Rejecting Transubstantiation

The guest on the show did not believe that transubstantiation takes place, or even could take place. He begins with the assertion that, “Obviously it’s contrary to the word of God, there’s just no doubt about that. If you just read the Bible, you know it’s just contrary to it.” Instead of providing biblical support for such an accusation, he simply goes on to ridicule the very idea of transubstantiation, saying things like,

“I don’t know how anybody makes sense out of that. I know that I could never believe in the viewpoint that something looks identical to bread and wine, but it’s actually the blood and body of a human being [is] just outrageous.”

The guest’s inability to make sense of transubstantiation is hardly an argument, of course – and it will not be treated as such here. But notice that it is the fact that bread and wine do not change in appearance that makes him think the idea of transubstantiation is “outrageous.” Ironically, that is exactly what the doctrine teaches should happen. He goes on:

“I mean just from a philosophical standpoint that is just . . . I don’t understand how someone could hold to that. It’s very counter-intuitive  In fact I would say that it’s more obvious that things can’t be that way. It’s impossible.”

The guest’s incredulity and intuitions may be interesting features of his psychology but, again, these provide no argument that transubstantiation is actually impossible. This connection, though, between his incredulous intuition and the doctrine are important, for as will be shown below, they threaten Christianity itself. He continues:

“It’s almost as if – I’ve heard it explained this way, I don’t even know if a Roman Catholic would agree with this – but God hides Christ, and he kind of deludes our senses and . . . God deceives us almost, and we are in fact seeing Christ’s body and blood right there. . . . You have God deceiving us in worship which I’m sure does not seem like something the most perfect being would do. . . . It’s God messing with our cognitive faculties.”

Fortunately the guest admits that this is just how he has “heard” transubstantiation described – for this is certainly not what the doctrine actually teaches. But since he apparently thinks it is relevant, some things should be said.

First, by complaining that the bread and wine do not appear to be flesh and blood, he is actually affirming the conclusion one would reach by believing in the doctrine of transubstantiation. Whether or not the bread and wine had been transubstantiated, the communion elements never appear to have changed (any more than a living tree branch might not appear different when initially cut off of a tree and becomes mere wood). That’s a feature of common substantial changes (to a limited degree) as well, thus, the philosophy behind transubstantiation is not at all threatened by mere empirical observation.

Second, as to being “deluded” or “deceived” by God, as noted above, the guest’s philosophical complaint would not even allow for regular instances of substantial change that do not appear to involve accidental change. Those who believe in transubstantiation are not making a false judgment based on “deluded senses” (whatever that means) any more than someone confusing a dead branch as a tree. Worse, his criticism poses a huge theological problem for a Christian who believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ. Being made “in the form of a man,” Jesus’ divinity could not be detected by any empirical means, and in fact his dual-nature is actually much harder to believe/conceive than a transubstantiated communion meal! This will be discussed more below.

In his closing statements, the guest continues to eschew argumentation and opts for more rhetoric:

“If you allow for such a thing it’s possible that . . .  a car could be the entire Soviet Union . . . you can see that this is just so beyond any common sense or any sort of rationality. I don’t know how people affirm this. I think it is extremely counter-intuitive and I find it highly implausible and that’s one of the reasons – apart [from] you know, the Gospel  and sola scriptura are just reasons –  why I just say on a theological level and on a philosophical level, I just cannot buy this – I don’t know how people do it.”

The fact that the guest cannot imagine how people believe in transubstantiation is, again,  simply a report on his own thinking. Analogies are not arguments, and false analogies (e.g., that a car could be the entire Soviet Union) are even more useless. Although the guest knows he is dealing with a philosophical explanation for a theological teaching, nothing is offered  in the way of philosophical, theological, or biblical disproof. All he offers is his personal invective against something he cannot see happening – an argument which, if sound, would threaten the conclusions of his own religion and common human experience.

Since the philosophical issue has been detailed above, I will turn to the more pressing theological concern.

Faith and Plausibility

For the guest, the fact that transubstantiation goes “beyond any common sense or any sort of rationality,” and is “extremely counter-intuitive,” and is “highly implausible,” makes the doctrine simply unbelievable for him. Now, all these unsupported assertions would hardly be worth mentioning except that they reveal something of great importance for all Christians. If the thinking behind this dismissal of transubstantiation is legitimate, it may threaten the Christian faith itself – for Christianity stands or falls on many truths that would fall into the above categories if his method is followed.

Consider the doctrine of the Atonement: Christianity teaches that because a man got nailed to a piece of wood and died that somehow humanity can be freed from the power of sin. Well, we don’t see that happening at the crucifixion. Thousands of people were nailed to crosses back then, and nothing came of it. It would certainly seem “highly implausible” that Jesus’ death could have been spiritually significant.

Moreover, consider the doctrine of Jesus’ Incarnation: Jesus was clearly a human being with all the limitations of humanity, yet Christianity teaches that he was also deity. Not only does such a doctrine go “beyond any common sense or any sort of rationality” . . . not only is such an idea  “extremely counter-intuitive” . . . it seems completely impossible! How can one thing be both material and immaterial, finite and infinite? These are not just big differences – they appear to be contradictory.

Now the doctrines of the Atonement and the Incarnation are not believed because of anything that can be verified by our senses or by philosophy, of course. They are matters of faith, founded on facts that point to the truth of Christianity and believed by God’s grace. Thus, a skeptic’s incredulity is of no consequence with regard to whether or not these doctrines ought to be believed. Christianity teaches them, and Christians believe them.

Further, these doctrines seem much more difficult to believe than transubstantiation. Which is more difficult to believe: that one finite, material thing can be changed into another finite, material thing via a process similar to that which occurs every day or contradictory properties can coexist in one person?  (One could argue that Protestants who pray for God to “bless this food” when they eat at McDonalds already seem to believe in transubstantiation!)

Does any unbeliever profess that the changing of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Lord is impossible? Then let him consider God’s omnipotence. Admit that nature can transform one thing into another, then with greater reason should you admit that God’s almighty power, which brings into existence the whole substance of things, can work not as nature does, by changing forms in the same matter, but by changing one whole thing into another whole thing.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Concerning Reasons of Faith, 8)

Conclusion

The fact that the guest not only did not provide good arguments against transubstantiation but also substituted his own intuitions and rationalisms for good arguments is a problem. His unsupported assertions are exactly the kinds of attacks atheists use against Christianity’s other non-empirically-verifiable claims. If one cannot accept transubstantiation simply because it “seems” so “counter-intuitive” or “implausible,” I fail to see why one would remain a Christian at all.

 

Advertisements

13 thoughts on “Transubstantiation and the Christian Faith

  1. No discussion of eimi-interpretive in Greek texts, or its Aramaic simile equivalents?

  2. DCP: As the article concerned the philosophical and theological problems with the guest’s responses to the doctrine, no. Feel free to add your thoughts on the matter though!

  3. A couple of points:

    1. This is not the hinge of your post, I know, but I’m pretty sure that Aristotle considered the gender of a person to be substance not an accident.

    2. Theology is not meant to prove everything. It is meant to help describe something that is already believed. In other words it is deductive, not inductive.

    So take an aspect of the faith like transubstantiation. Believers believe Jesus when He said “This is my body,” and they realize He meant it when he didn’t try to dilute or qualify this proclamation in the hopes of getting people to not walk away when He said it.

    Now, truth cannot contradict truth. So when philosophers start asking “How could this be, that the Eucharist is the true presence of Christ?”, using these Aristotelian terms is one way to describe what is actually happening.

  4. Thanks Burke!

    I’ll change the example in case you’re right. As to the rest – I absolutely agree. The notion of transubstantiation is not a proof of its truth, it is an explanation of a previously revealed truth. Given what the guest speaker said, though, I wanted to point out the implications of denying that explanation for the reasons he rejected it.

  5. Oh, OK. I was just surprised that it wasn’t discussed. But, I’ll be brief as to what I mentioned. What is called eimi-interpretive, or Interpretive eimi, is the use of forms of the word eimi in an interpretive fashion. That is to say that x is y, meaning that x means y. When used thus it means that something said represents or is representative of something rather than being literally that thing.

    For instance, Paul writes a short exposition of the meaning of events as recorded in the text of Exodus 34:28-35 in 2 Corinthians 3:6-18. In verse 17 Paul says: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.” In that passage, Paul uses the word “is” (a form of eimi) in such a way that it is interpretive of the meaning of the first part of the sentence. We can translate it as: “Now ‘the Lord’ means ‘the Spirit,’ and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.” The same kind of interpretive usage can be seen in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4. For instance, speaking of that rock that followed Israel, or the rock from which they drank (all allusions to Numbers 20:10-11) Paul states, “The rock was the Christ.” In other words, the rock from which the children of Israel drank water “meant” or “was representative” of Christ, not that the rock Moses had just broken open literally was the Christ or of his substance. Likewise, when scripture speaks of the Church being the body of Christ, it is representative but not to be taken literally. Jesus Christ has his own body of flesh and bones to which he had become hypostatically united. Rather, it has reference to the mystical union of Christ with bride, which is his Church, in which man and woman become one flesh, and which in a higher significance becomes “he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:17)

    So it is with the uses that Jesus made in the Greek texts when he spoke of the diluted wine and the bread were his body and blood. When he said, “This is my body” the Greek text can just as easily have meant of the bread that “This represents my body.” Likewise, with the wine. “This is my blood” just as easily could have and probably meant “this [cup] represents my blood” not that it actually meant that some part of it would transform into his blood or become the essence of his blood.

    As to Aramaic (and Hebrew also), the language has means of saying similar similes by using a copulative. I neither case does saying “This ‘is’ x” necessarily mean that it was literally or substantially to become x. Rather, they were to do this in remembrance of his body and blood (Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:24-25), not that it was part of him or would be transformed into his blood and broken body. They were spiritually to remember and themselves be spiritually renewed and transformed by participating in the mystical symbols of his broken flesh and his spilled blood, thereby being mystically filled with his life.

    However, at the time Jesus actually said what he did, he had not yet had his flesh broken nor his blood shed. And no one of his apostles questioned him about what he said or asked for further clarification of what he meant. It was meant as a remembrance of his sacrifice which he was about to commence but had not yet accomplished or even begun at that point. His disciples seemed to have understood that and did not question how it was that the bread and wine mystically would become his body and blood. They did not seem to misunderstand as had those in John 6. By focusing on the remembrance of his body and blood in the symbols or representations thereof, we mystically participate in the benefits of his sacrifice and live and have his life in us because of him just as he lives and has life in himself because of the Father. That is the short version of what I referred to when I mentioned what I did.

    I’d give additional information and more specifics but most all of my books now are packed away in preparation for an upcoming change in circumstances.

  6. DCP:

    First, I am not sure why you would find it surprising that I would not deal with an issue such as this when responding to a specific set of claims made by someone else. The purpose of my article was fairly clear, and as it was not a general discussion of Transubstantiation arguments nor Greek grammar – it was instead a discussion of the philosophical and theological results of holding to the claims made by the guest on the show. I therefore find your continued statements of “surprise” to be odd.

    Second, your detailed explanation of “eimi-interpretive” actually helps explain why I wouldn’t discuss it even if I was making general arguments about transubstantiation. What it amounts to is the simple point that the being verb in Greek and Aramaic is not always indicative of literal identification. That’s unsurprising – such usage is common in English as well (it’s called metaphor). If I say, “My wife is a rose,” there is no need to go into a detailed grammatical analysis to figure out whether I am being literal. Nor, indeed, would such an analysis help, as there is no grammatical clue in English of literal or non-literal usage of the being verb “is” (a point Bill Clinton tried to take advantage of sometime back!). Nor does grammatical analysis get us anywhere in Greek. There is no “eimi-interpretive” form in Greek grammar, therefore whether an “eimi” statement is to be taken literally or figuratively remains interpretive (philosophically or theologically) and not linguistic. I have never heard an argument made for transubstantiation that involves Greek grammar, so I am really not sure what purchase you think this “eimi-interpretive” is getting your position – the bare possibility that “eimi” is not being used literally here is no argument that it isn’t.

    DB

  7. “Eimi-interpretive” is just one name for it. Others call it “interpretive eimi.” I’ve seen “interpretive estin” and several others, all yet describing the selfsame usage in Greek texts. There also is other terminology for the usage, with which I thought you might be familiar or may have heard about (but apparently not). I just cannot recall the other terms for it at the moment and most all my books are packed away so I cannot at present look the information up, either. However, only the more advanced Greek grammars cover it in any detail at all.

    A few lexicons also mention this usage of the word in certain Greek phraseology, but not providing grammatical discussion in any detail. Some other lexicons, however, do mention the word used in a certain phrase as referring to having the actual definition of “means,” etc., and specifically reference the passages in Matthew involving the Jesus’ statements regarding the bread and wine.

    Sometimes, if only a form of the word eimi occurs context and structure can determine its actual meaning. But some of the more advanced or detailed lexicons also are pretty specific as to intended meaning when the full phrase is used, as at the Matthew and other passages. I managed to find my copy of my Gingrich Lexicon (the more expansive Bauer Lexicon (BAGD) on which Gingrich is based is somewhere else and I have no clue which box it is in at the moment, and would rather have cited that), and the Gingrich Lexicon is specific that the word in a particular phrase has the specific definition of “means” in Matthew 26:26. I also managed to locate my Newman UBS Lexicon. It does not mention the specific scripture verses where the usage of the word in the phrase occur, but also reads: “ho estin, tout’ estin that means, that is to say.” That phrase also just happens to be the same one that occurs at Matthew 26:26 and elsewhere.

    It is a real phenomenon in Greek texts, and the most likely meaning based on grammatical usage rather than on theology. I did not just pull that out of thin air. I don’t expect you to agree, however. It is understandable that you would not. But I was surprised that it did not come up. But that is because In discussions between individuals that I personally have watched over the years, it frequently has come up.

  8. Just found my Louw-Nida. Here is what it states (I have no idea whether the font will come through correctly after pasting it from my word processor to the Blog’s software, which is why I haven’t typed any above text in Greek until now) about the above mentioned usage of εἰμί:

    58.68 συστοιχέω ; εἰμί: to correspond to something else in certain significant features – ‘to correspond to, to stand for, to be a figure of, to represent.’ συστοιχέω: τὸ δὲ Αγὰρ … συστοιχεῖ δὲ τῇ νῦν Ἰερουσαλήμ ‘Hagar … is a figure of the present Jerusalem’ or ‘… corresponds to …’ Ga 4.25; Σινᾶ ὄρος … συστοιχεῖ δὲ τῇ νῦν Ἰερουσαλήμ ‘Mount Sinai … corresponds to the present Jerusalem’ Ga 4.25 (apparatus). In a number of languages συστοιχέω in a context such as Ga 4.25 may be best rendered as ‘points to’ or ‘is really talking about,’ so that one may render this expression in Ga 4.25 as ‘Mount Sinai … really points to the present Jerusalem’ or ‘Hagar … really points to the present Jerusalem.’ The full form of Ga 4.25 may be rendered as ‘Hagar, who stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia, represents the present Jerusalem.’ εἰμί: τὸ δὲ Αγὰρ Σινᾶ ὄρος ἐστὶν ἐν τῇ Ἀραβίᾳ ‘Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia’ or ‘Hagar represents Mount Sinai in Arabia’ Ga 4.25.

    89.106 τοῦτ᾽ ἔστιν ; ὅ ἐστιν: markers of an explanation or a clarification in the same or a different language – ‘that is, that means.’ τοῦτ᾽ ἔστιν: κοιναῖς χερσίν, τοῦτ᾽ ἔστιν ἀνίπτοις, ἐσθίουσιν τοὺς ἄρτους ‘they were eating their food with unclean hands, that is, with unwashed hands’ Mk 7.2; οὐκ οἰκεῖ ἐν ἐμοί, τοῦτ᾽ ἔστιν ἐν τῇ σαρκί μου, ἀγαθόν ‘good does not live in me, that is, in my human nature’ Ro 7.18. ὅ ἐστιν: Βοανηργές, ὅ ἐστιν Υἱοὶ Βροντῆς ‘Boanerges, which means Men of Thunder’ Mk 3.17. In some languages one must make more specific the interpretation of a term in another language. For example, in Mk 3.17 it may be necessary to translate ‘Boanerges, which in another language means Men of Thunder’ or ‘Boanerges, for which we would say, Men of Thunder.’

    So, hopefully the fonts come through. If they don’t then at least I tried and wasted a little time formatting text. But at least the English text should show up OK. But this also reminded me of another term used for the meaning and usage in the Greek, which is “explanatory estin.” Still don’t recall the others, though, but that is neither here nor there.

  9. DCP – I am still not seeing how this is a grammatical issue. The τοῦτ᾽ ἔστινe examples are of explanation/clarification, not non-literal identification. The συστοιχέω ; εἰμί example points to a metaphor that is clear from the text itself. St. Paul actually says, “These things are being taken figuratively” in verse 24, thus requiring no “eimi-interpretive” (or whichever term you wish to use). It is not the εἰμί term or its form that indicates the phrase’s non-literal identification meaning, it is the text itself (and philosophy would have an easy time explaining the usage as figurative even if the author had not pointed it out). Further, none of the above examples concern the verses under discussion in the Transubstantiation debate. Indeed, I am pretty sure that if a slam dunk case could be made from the grammar, Protestants would be leading off with it at every opportunity!

  10. Yet, Paul still uses it below that, even in the very example you cited. He may not have needed to use it in the surrounding context, but he still did.

    And, yes, the Gingrich citation (I did not quote him but did cite the information)–and, by extension, Bauer, of which Gingrich is an abridgment–does specifically refer to Matthew 26:26 as carrying that meaning. Here is Gingrich:

    εἰμί ptc. ὤν, οὖσα, ὄν; inf. εἶναι be Mt 11:29; 12:11; Mk 3:11; Lk 16:1, 19; J 3:1. Exist Ro 4:17; Hb 11:6. Be present Mk 8:1. Live Mt 23:30; stay, reside 2:13. Take place 24:3. Mean 9:13; 13:38; 27:46; 1 Cor 3:7; 10:19. Belong w. gen. 1:12; 3:4; w. ἐκ or ἐξ Lk 22:3; Col 4:9. There is, there was, etc. Lk 16:1, 19; 1 Cor 8:5; 12:4ff. Impers. it is possible 1 Cor 11:20; Hb 9:5. In explanations or interrogations, esp. with τοῦτο or τί means Mt 26:26; 27:46; Lk 18:36. W. dat. have Lk 1:7. With a participle as periphrasis for a single verb form Mk 1:22; 2:18; 4:38; Lk 1:20; 5:10, 17; 2 Cor 9:12. ὁ ἦν, where ἦν is a substitute for a past ptc. the one who was Rv 1:4, 8. ἡ οὖσα ἐκκλησία the church there Ac 13:1. Followed by εἰς become Mk 10:8; Ac 8:23; 2 Cor 6:18; serve (as something) 1 Cor 14:22; Js 5:3. There are obviously many other possible translations of εἰμί in various contexts.

    Matthew 26:26, as you know, is where Jesus says of the bread: “This is my body.”

    It is true that many more Protestants would make use of it–if they knew about it and understood it, that is. I’ll give you that. But most Protestants don’t get into the nuances of advanced Greek grammar. Many have never read anything on the subject. Most of those who have never get past either Basic or Intermediate Greek grammar. For most it is a time-constraint thing. It’s one of those life-quandaries we all face: “Do I put food on my table or do I learn something I probably won’t use in my lifetime?” Most also do not consider the dialectical changes of Greek and it meanings over the centuries, either. But it all is important for one to keep in mind if one wishes to avoid reading a later idea into an earlier text.

  11. DCP – This was helpful, thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to find a reference for the claims.

    Lexicons describe potential language usage – which, in the case of a simple being verb, can certainly be a non-literal explanation (in Greek, Aramaic, English, etc.). The Greek construction τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ, therefore, certainly could be used to indicate a sort of explanatory aside (again, just as it can in English – i.e., “that is to say….”). But simply putting the words τοῦτό ἐστιν (“that is”) together in a sentence does not indicate, by itself, such usage (e.g., in English, “the Toyota over there, that is my car”).

    Beyond the mere potential usage, that construction is actually used in several places in Scripture in a literal explanatory manner where translating it as “this means” would be inaccurate (e.g., Acts 2:16; John 6:29, 1 John 4:3; and even in the LXX – e.g., Joshua 18:14). Thus this “interpretive” use of εἰμί (in its ἐστιν form here) is simply one of many common functions of the being verb (again, just as it is in English). The conclusion seems clear: the grammar forms no interpretive rule here.

    The understanding of the phrase as indicating literal vs. non-literal, therefore, can only be ascertained by textual specification (e.g., Gal. 4:26), or by prior metaphysical / theological knowledge (e.g. Mt. 13:38) which, in this case, is the very thing under dispute. The examples Gingrich includes are not demanded by the text, and could be just as easily explained by his Protestant assumptions.

  12. It is true that lexicons describe potential usage, but they also often state specific examples of particular usages. We then progress to grammar and structure of the sentence, as well as surrounding context, and regular usage. Translating every occurrence as “mean” would be ridiculous because in some cases while the sense is roughly the same it would not be good English. There are no exact equivalents in English for every Greek word, phrase or usage. Sometimes we have to use multiple words to get the entire thought across of a single word in Greek. Sometimes, we have to do the opposite. Some words and particles have no equivalent in English and these sometimes are left untranslated. Your English example is not quite the same. If you punctuated or phrased it differently it would be closer.

    Your example from the Septuagint shows that the phrase is used as a clarification referring to a specific area of in the place described. One could barely translate as “this means” there, but one could render “meaning” there, or render it “that is” there. Same goes for the various passages where forms of eimi occur. It is similar as to English as to how it is used in places, but this is not always made apparent by using a word to state such before using it. Examples I provided above show how it is used when there is no specific word used.

    It is not only determined by textual specification. Sometimes it is determined by the wording and usage in the passage without specification. Again, see what I stated about what Paul did with texts of Exodus and Numbers and how he exposited them in 1 Corinthians 10. See also the usage found in 2 Corinthians 3 wherein he exposits the meaning of words and phrases in an Exodus text. No textual specification appears there in either place, but the usage itself still does appear there nonetheless. Or, was Christ really the very rock Moses cracked open and from which Israel drank? No, it “represented” Christ or “meant” Christ. It does not always have to have the article to carry that sense, either. This is why there are names for the phenomenon based on their form or usage.

    Now, as to what is at dispute, namely prior metaphysical/theological knowledge, Gingrich provides more than just examples of disputed texts. Maybe it might be based upon his theological predilections. Maybe not. The point is that when Jesus said what he did, it did not elicit further questioning from his disciples. Jesus also had not yet sacrificed himself. There was as yet no broken flesh nor spilled blood. His disciples did not become offended. His disciples did not misunderstand. They simply took it as stated at the time. We already know that Jesus had told them that they would be doing this in remembrance of him. This represents my body. This represents my blood of the new covenant, which is being shed. Had he actually stated this after his resurrection, it would well have been taken either way. But none of the future reality had happened yet. The only way they could have taken what he said was as representative or explanatory. If they had taken it differently, as in literally or as based on a future reality, it more than likely would have elicited further questioning. That is all I am suggesting.

  13. DCP – First I want to thank you for your continuing dialogue and demeanor.

    I think with this last reply we have come full circle. Perhaps we were focusing on different points – but I see what you say here as vindication of mine, which was simply that nothing in the Greek can resolve the question. I have been in agreement from the beginning that no textual specification is mandatory to call out eimi usage as non-literal. Metaphor is probably the most common example of that (i.e., versus simile). This is why I closed by saying that either that or metaphysics had to come into play, because (again) the grammar itself is inconclusive.

    The logical leap you seem to keep taking, however, is to go from this inconclusive mere possibility to actuality without further argument, as if it was simply obvious from the Greek when I have shown it is not. Another mistaken move I see is trying to support your point by treating figures of speech as if they were identified linguistically when they are really identified metaphysically. Your own examples show this to be the case, for instance: “Or, was Christ really the very rock Moses cracked open and from which Israel drank?” Why not? Only your metaphysical presuppositions about the nature of Jesus and rocks (which in this case I share!) make it clear that some kind of non-literal representation is going on here. (I would venture to guess that no one reading this verse ever went running to their interlinear looking for an “eimi-interpretive” in order to interpret it this way.)

    Finally, you make much of Jesus’ disciples reaction. I would simply point out that this was not the first time they heard such language. As recorded in John 6, Jesus in fact lost most of his disciples the first time he taught such things. The very things you supposed would have happened had he been taken literally had already happened. His statements elicited further questioning several times, in fact, and each time he made it more difficult to take in a non-literal manner! (note the progression of “eating” terms in the Greek). When they would not believe him, Jesus’ response was to let them go rather than to correct their assumption of literalism (“How did you guys miss my eimi-interpretive???” haha). And the fact that he had not yet died when he said these words seems to me a moot point. Jesus’ death did not transform his body and blood into some new elements – they stand as a sort of metonymy for this sacrifice which instituted the New Covenant. Just as in the Old Testament, it was literal body and blood that confirmed covenants – not (merely) representative memorials.

Comments are closed.