The Eucharist As Christian Sacrifice: How Patristic Authors Can Help Us Read The Bible -- By: C. John Collins
WTJ 66:1 (Spring 2004) p. 1
The Eucharist As Christian Sacrifice:
How Patristic Authors Can Help Us Read The Bible
[C. John Collins is Professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Mo.]
What is the connection between the Old Testament sacrifices and the Christian Eucharist? The usual answer among Christians today is that the death of Christ “fulfilled”—and thus abolished—the OT sacrifices, and that the Eucharist has its basis in the Passover.1
In the early church (that is, just after the apostles), however, it was common to see the Eucharist as the Christian sacrifice, using such passages as Mal 1:11 and Matt 5:23–24, or else such terms as “offering” (προσφορά) and “altar” (θυσιαστήριον). Many evangelicals are critical of this way of speaking. For example, Michael Vasey writes, “Two facts are clear: the New Testament never speaks of the Eucharist as a sacrifice, and the early church very quickly began to do so.. .. To partake of the Eucharist is to partake of the sacrifice of Christ (1 Cor. 10.16); therefore the Eucharist is not a sacrifice.”2
The purpose of this essay is to see if there is in fact a proper “sacrificial” background to the Eucharist, to which the first and second century Fathers testify. My goal certainly includes a better grasp of this Christian rite; but it extends further to an exercise in method—namely, to see if there is any way to profit from the early Fathers (or intertestamental literature, for that matter), observing evangelical convictions about Scripture.
WTJ 66:1 (Spring 2004) p. 2
One way to approach the Fathers is to take them as authorities who show the church’s belief in its development. Similarly, we may wish to show how “enlightened” they were: “They clearly anticipated the view I hold!” On the other hand, we might just dismiss them: “They show how early the pristine apostolic beliefs were lost.”
All of these are similar in that they start with what I believe already; they then either enlist the tradition in support of it, or else enlist it to show that the tradition cannot be trusted.
But what if we use these authors for another purpose—to see Scripture through another set of eyes? We still face the problem of distinguishing the baby from the bathwater; but now we apply that task to our own beliefs and preunderstandings, as well as t...
Click here to subscribe