Friday, March 21, 2008

New Testament or New Covenant?

In the institution of the Lord's Supper Jesus instructs His church that "this cup is the new testament in my blood which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." Newer translations of the scriptures often translate the word diatheke as "covenant" instead of "testament." Footnotes will tell us that the word can be rendered either way. So which to use?

In all the hymnals I have used over my 20+ years of ministry the words of institution have always included the word "testament," obviously favoring the KJV translation and the subsequent tradition that followed, much like we have with the wording of the Lord's Prayer and the Twenty-third Psalm. However, aside from tradition, Martin Chemnitz, the great "father" of the Lutheran church, in his substantial defense of the Supper, based much of his argument for the real presence on the use of the word "testament."

Testament, as in "Last Will and Testament," underscores the weight we give to Jesus' words in the Supper, helping us to avoid slipping into the Reformed error of taking it symbolically. For in a Will the testator does not use symbolic language, nor does he leave his instructions vague and open for multiple interpretations. Rather, he is precise and exact, for what he is doing is far too important to risk that those who come after him will inject their own opinions into his final wishes.

The Reformed have traditionally insisted that the real presence is not reasonable, and that an interpretation of "this represents" is more logical. Yet if we seriously consider the true nature of our Lord as both true God and true man, the difficulties of taking his words as they are disappear. For we know that as God Jesus possesses all the divine attributes, including that of omnipresence. Having demonstrated his divinity on numerous other occasions, why should He now do something less than that in this most holy of meals? Thus, if it can be demonstrated that according to his very nature as God and man His words are consistent with that nature, then his final Testament must remain as written and not altered. If we give that much respect to the dead among us now, should we not afford as much and even more to our crucified and living Lord?

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