The New Covenant Meal

One of the great insights of the Reformation was the recovery of the biblical concept of “covenant.” This recovery was fueled by the “new learning” of the Renaissance humanism, the return ad fontes, “to the sources,” of theology in the original texts of the New and Old Testaments and in the writings of the church fathers. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Muslim Turks brought a flood of Greek and Hebrew scholars with their manuscripts into Western Europe. For the first time in a thousand years in the West the Bible was being studied in the original languages, and in particular, the Old Testament was being given close attention. The expression, “Erasmus laid the egg that Luther hatched,” is well known and refers to his publication in 1516 of the first critical edition of the Greek New Testament, barely a year before the posting of the 95 Theses. Less well known is the fact that Luther was one of a handful of tri-linguists (Greek, Hebrew, Latin) on the whole continent of Europe. No longer would the church’s theologians be content to study the Bible in the Latin of the Vulgate.

The biblical covenants were given careful study by Zwingli, Bucer, Calvin, and Bullinger, often in relation to sacramental theology. What they came to understand was that the Lord’s Supper is a supper, that is, a covenantal meal. It should not be understood as a sacrifice offered upon an altar by a priest, but a supper offered upon a table by a pastor. The Lord’s Supper is the Christian Passover in which, as with many covenantal meals before it, the agreement between the two participating parties is ratified or confirmed (Ex. 12:24; see also Gen. 14:17–20; 18:1–13; 27; Prov. 9:1–6). Jesus announced, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (1 Cor. 11:25; see Matt. 26:28). By participating in the meal, the covenant with Christ is ratified and confirmed, the Reformers argued. God confirms His promise to redeem those who come to Him through the cross of Christ. Communicants in turn promise to be faithful servants of the Christ whom they trust.
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