Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist

One of my favorite topics to study is how ancient Judaism relates to Christianity.  As a Latter-day Saint, I was attracted to the writings of various LDS apologists and scholars attempting to connect ancient Israelite beliefs and practices with current LDS beliefs and practices, in areas such as a plurality of gods, God the Father married to Heavenly Mother, priesthood, and temple worship.  While some arguments seemed more tenable than others (for example, I never was convinced by the arguments about the Old Testament peoples believing in multiple gods.  While they may have fallen into false beliefs in worshipping more than one deity, the Old Testament records are clear on God always chastising them and calling them back to worshipping the one God), the area that I specifically was interested in was how the ancient Israelite temple practices compare to the LDS temple practices.  I think I’ll devote a separate post to that topic specifically later on, but for now, I’d just say that after awhile, the LDS apologetics on that topic seemed less convincing.  Indeed, when I read the works of non-LDS temple scholar Margaret Barker (praised by many LDS apologists and scholars), I actually became more convinced of the ancient Israelite temple origins and connections of the Catholic and Orthodox liturgical rites and church architecture.  For more on that from Barker, I highly suggest reading her Temple Themes in Christian Worship.  Her website also has various papers she’s written on related matters.   Catholic and Orthodox readers may be interested in: Our Great High Priest: The Church as the New Temple, Temple and Liturgy, The Holy Anointing Oil, Belonging in the Temple, and Temple Roots of the Liturgy, if you don’t read all of the articles (there are a lot!).  It is clear to me, and many others, that Catholic and Orthodox churches, cathedrals, basilicas, etc not only carry on architecture and practices related to the Jewish synagogue, but also architecture and rites associated with the temple.  Eastern Catholics and Orthodox even refer to their churches as “temples”.

One practice that relates to the temple quite explicitly is the Eucharist, the consecrated bread and wine.  Catholics and Orthodox believe that their church buildings are sacred ground.  Each church is regarded as a literal House of God, where His presence literally dwells.  This is typified in the Eucharist, which is reserved in a tabernacle.  Catholics and Orthodox believe that during the liturgical rites of the church, we join with the Heavenly angels, as well as the deceased saints, in worshipping God.  They worship God in the Heavenly liturgy (as we see in Revelation.  For more on that, please see Dr. Scott Hahn’s popular book The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth).  In the church, Heaven and Earth join together, and we are in the presence of God, clearly tying to the Old Testament temples.

One book that is relevant to this topic, and which I highly recommend, is Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper, by Dr. Brant Pitre (Professor of Sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary, PhD in New Testament and Ancient Judaism from University of Notre Dame).  Quite often, Evangelical Protestants, as well as Mormons, who do not share the belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist with the most ancient Christian churches (i.e. Catholic, Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, etc), attempt to demonstrate that it is not only contra-Biblical, but is not found anciently, and goes against the Jewish context that Christianity developed in.  Dr. Pitre not only demonstrates that this is false (and countless Catholic/Orthodox apologists and scholars have demonstrated not only its ancient origins, but how it comports with the Biblical record as well, for centuries), but connects the Eucharist to three ancient Jewish practices:

  1. The Passover
  2. The Manna
  3. The Bread of the Presence in the Temple

I highly recommend this book to all Catholics, Orthodox, and LDS readers interested in understanding how the belief in the Real Presence not only is Biblical, but is tied quite significantly to ancient Jewish beliefs and practices, including temple practices, and that it was not invented centuries after Christ, after corruption by Greek philosophy, as some LDS and Evangelical apologists would have us believe.  Here is some information about the book:

In recent years, Christians everywhere are rediscovering the Jewish roots of their faith. Every year at Easter time, many believers now celebrate Passover meals (known as Seders) seeking to understand exactly what happened at Jesus’ final Passover, the night before he was crucified.
Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist shines fresh light on the Last Supper by looking at it through Jewish eyes. Using his in-depth knowledge of the Bible and ancient Judaism, Dr. Brant Pitre answers questions such as: What was the Passover like at the time of Jesus? What were the Jewish hopes for the Messiah? What was Jesus’ purpose in instituting the Eucharist during the feast of Passover? And, most important of all, what did Jesus mean when he said, “This is my body… This is my blood”?

To answer these questions, Pitre explores ancient Jewish beliefs about the Passover of the Messiah, the miraculous Manna from heaven, and the mysterious Bread of the Presence. As he shows, these three keys—the Passover, the Manna, and the Bread of the Presence—have the power to unlock the original meaning of the Eucharistic words of Jesus. Along the way, Pitre also explains how Jesus united the Last Supper to his death on Good Friday and his Resurrection on Easter Sunday.           

Inspiring and informative, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist is a groundbreaking work that is sure to illuminate one of the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith: the mystery of Jesus’ presence in “the breaking of the bread.”

You can also view a lecture Dr. Pitre gave on the same subject.

Discovering the temple nature of Catholic and Orthodox sacraments, liturgies, devotions, beliefs, etc helped me realize that an apostasy of the Church didn’t happen, at least as related to understanding the Eucharist/Communion/the Sacrament.  The most ancient Christian churches did not invent this belief, and instead find continuity with the Judaism it fulfilled.  Further, Catholics and Orthodox continue offering to God bread and wine, just like Melchizedek did (having the same priesthood that he did), but they also have a sacrificial priesthood, just like we read about in the Old Testament, and just like the priesthood that functioned in the ancient temples (which LDS do not have).  Today, they re-present (not re-do) the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus Christ to the Father, in the Sacrifice of the Mass and Divine Liturgy.

Latter-day Saints considering Catholicism or Orthodoxy don’t have to be worried about losing the temple.  The temple is found in Catholicism and Orthodoxy, was never lost, and you can join in many of the same practices found anciently, together with the angels and saints worshipping God in the Heavenly temple, in the presence of God on the sacred ground of the church.  The Eucharist is manna from Heaven, and God is waiting to feed you with Himself through His holy mysteries.

A later post will explore the concept of a temple further.


Changing the Ordinance?-The Fallacy of the LDS Argument Against the Mode of Baptism

The Church of Jesus Christ of  Latter-day Saints purports to be the Restoration of the original Church established by Jesus Christ anciently, as we read in the New Testament.  It claims to have the same priesthood authority and organization, as well as the same ordinances (what Catholics refer to as “sacraments” or “mysteries”) necessary for eternal life, including baptism, confirmation, priesthood ordination for men, the temple Endowment, and the temple Sealing.  The priesthood of God is necessary to perform these ordinances, and they must be performed in a correct way, with the correct words, matter, etc.  A similar principle is also found in the Catholic Church.

But what happens when we change the words or change how the ordinance is performed?  Latter-day Saints frequently refer to such a thing as an evidence of apostasy.  A popular example of this thinking is on the mode of baptism.  Mormons believe that baptism was originally performed by immersion.  Because the Catholic Church performs baptism by pouring water on the head three times, this is a change in the ordinance, and is a sign of apostasy, an example of man changing the things of God.  LDS further believe that God provided latter day revelation as to immersion being necessary for baptism.  Various LDS prophets and apostles have also taught the importance of not changing the ordinances, as they were instituted in Heaven.  Here are a few relevant quotes:

“Following the deaths of the Savior’s Apostles, the principles of the gospel were corrupted and unauthorized changes were made in Church organization and priesthood ordinances. Because of this widespread wickedness, the Lord withdrew the authority and keys of the priesthood from the earth.”-

“Ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world, in the priesthood, for the salvation of men, are not to be altered or changed. All must be saved on the same principles.”-Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 308.

Through time and apostasy following Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension, however, the divine authority of the priesthood and the sacred ordinances were changed or lost, and the associated covenants were broken. The Lord revealed His displeasure over this situation in these words:

“For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant;

“They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god.” 8

This situation required a restoration of knowledge pertaining to the importance, significance, and appointed administration of sacred gospel ordinances, both live and vicarious, as well as the divine authority of the priesthood and priesthood keys to administer them.”-Ordinances and Covenants

“The corruption of the necessity of immersion in the form of baptism came fairly early as the 2nd century “Didache” (the so-called “teaching of the twelve apostles”) shows”-

“During the Apostasy, many ordinances were altered or added without proper authority. The church allowed infant baptism and baptism by sprinkling or pouring, instead of by immersion.”-What Happened to Christ’s Church?

“During the Great Apostasy, the pure doctrines and ordinances of Christ’s Church became corrupted.”-Doctrine and Covenants Manual

“The Apostasy (falling away from Jesus’ true church) happened after Jesus Christ was crucified and Peter and the other Apostles were killed. Without living prophets or apostles the Church no longer received revelation. Teachings that were not true were added to the Church and some of the truths Jesus Christ had taught were taken away. The priesthood (the authority to act in God’s name) was lost from the earth. People were baptized by methods such as sprinkling instead of being immersed as Jesus was.”-Primary 5: Doctrine and Covenants and Church History

As we see, Latter-day Saints believe that after the Great Apostasy, Christians did not have the pure doctrines of the Gospel, the priesthood authority to perform ordinances, nor were the ordinances, such as baptism, performed the way they originally were.  The Catholic Church performs baptism by pouring, therefore they introduced a change in the ordinance that was not sanctioned by God.

The problem with this argument is that it is not only circular, because it depends on the LDS understanding and latter day revelation from God on the necessity of immersion, but it only condemns the practices of the LDS Church itself.

When a Mormon goes to the temple for their own Endowment, they  first participate in what is known as the Initiatory, or the Washing and Anointing.  In this ordinance, they are symbolically washed and anointed, and are then authorized to wear the garments, or “Mormon underwear”.  Although the covenants of keeping things “sacred” or not divulging something only are related to very specific components of the Endowment ceremony, many LDS refrain from talking about the ordinances at all, outside of very vague references.  Therefore, I will try not to go into too specific in detail.  What I am talking about is readily available if one searches the Internet with a simple Google search.

When I went to the temple for my Endowment and was ready for the Initiatory Washing and Anointing, not too long ago, I sat in a chair, and the temple ordinance worker put some water on my forehead, pronounced blessings on specific body parts (such as my eyes, ears, back, loins, legs/feet, etc).  This blessing was sealed by another worker, then we went into another area, oil was put on my head, and the same blessings were pronounced, then sealed on various body parts.  The Initiatory really was my favorite part of the Endowment, mostly because of a specific reference to ancient Old Testament practices at the beginning of the ordinance, and that we perform those ordinances.  I felt a connection to the tabernacle and OT temple, and felt that because the ordinances are unchangeable, we were doing the same things they did.  This is quite a common understanding, as I’ve gathered from LDS I’ve talked to in real life, and online.

The problem is, if you talk to LDS and ex-LDS that went through the temple ordinances prior to certain dates, you’ll find out that the mode of these ordinances have changed!  There are books written on the topic of the changes of the temple ordinances, such as “The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship” and “The Development of LDS Temple Worship, 1846-2000: A Documentary History”.

Talking specifically about the Initiatory Washing and Anointing, this ordinance has changed in mode more than once in LDS history, most recently in 2005.  In the earlier days of LDS temple worship, patrons would wash their whole bodies, naked, and each body part would be anointed as it was mentioned in the blessing.  In more recent times, prior to 2005, each body part was touched with water and oil as it was mentioned in the blessing.  After 2005, in the Initiatory as I experienced it, only the head is touched with water and oil, and the body parts are only “symbolically” washed and anointed, as mentioned in the ordinance itself.  This change is documented quite well, and a Google search on “LDS Initiatory 2005” will turn up multiple resources.

So as we see, the LDS Washing and Anointing has gone through quite a significant change in mode.  Previously, it involved a full bath and anointing of each body part.  Now, only the top of the head is touched with water and oil, and the rest are washed and anointed symbolically.  This sounds like a change in the mode of the ordinance in the same way that Mormons accuse Catholics of changing the ordinance of baptism.  If the Catholic Church changed the ordinance of baptism, it’s clear that the LDS Church changed the ordinance of the Initiatory.

But how would faithful LDS look at this issue?  In researching the matter of changing the mode of baptism, it seems as if the issue is that it was an “unauthorized” change (that word is even specifically used in some instances), and the changes in the temple ordinances would be assumed to have been authorized.  LDS do not believe that God authorized the change in the mode of baptism.  However, it’s clear that Catholics, who believe that Church leadership has the authority and keys of the Kingdom to bind and loose, certainly could have been, and was, guided and authorized by God to introduce pouring as a valid means of baptism, along with immersion (which is still practiced in Catholicism).  If the LDS Church itself has the power to actually change how an ordinance is being performed, quite dramatically, then I fail to see how the Catholic example would be an example of apostasy, while the LDS changing of the mode of the Initiatory isn’t.  I wonder if there is a revelation somewhere authorizing the LDS leaders to change the Initiatory.

So, whenever I read of a Latter-day Saint referring to pouring baptism as an evidence of apostasy, I immediately think of the symbolic temple washing and anointing as another evidence of apostasy, if we accept their reasoning.  Or, we can simply accept that the ancient Church, like the LDS Church claims for itself, had the authority to allow for pouring as an acceptable form of baptism, and that they had the authority to make such a “change” (or addition, more accurately). (a faithful view on the Initiatory changes, viewing them as “inspired adjustments”, which again, could be an equally valid way to look at the adjustments made to the mode of baptism anciently to also accommodate pouring).