This article is written in response to those who assert that the sacraments of the Christian Church are purely symbolic and not filled with the Grace of the Holy Spirit. In particular, I have recently received a booklet written by Richard W. De Hann and published by the Radio Bible Class of Grand Rapids, Michigan, which makes such an assertion. Mr De Hann is of the view that the Scriptures can be used to prove the symbolic nature of the sacraments, in particular the sacraments of Baptism and Communion. This paper will attempt to show otherwise.
It should be noted from the start that there is no debate whether the Sacraments are real or symbolic. The Orthodox Faith was established by the Apostles and their successors and maintained in tact by the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church has held from the beginning that the sacraments are spiritual in nature, and only in relatively modern times have non-Orthodox Christians rejected this belief. Thus we do not have two parties with differing interpretations, but instead we have those who strive to preserve the faith of the Early Church and those who reject it.
It should also be noted that the true nature of the sacraments does not depend on scriptural evidence for its justification. The sacraments were established before the writing of the Bible, and they are not subordinate in rank. The same Holy Spirit which inspired the authors of the Holy Bible also inspired the Apostles and Fathers of the Church as they taught the Jews and Gentiles about Christ and the Holy Sacraments.
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: (Ephesians 4:11-15)
This is the Faith of the Apostles. This is the Faith that sustains the universe. (From the Vespers service on the Sunday of Orthodoxy)
Baptism in the Early Church and in the modern Orthodox Church is closely linked with Chrismation, which is more commonly referred to in the biblical context as the "laying on of hands." Induction into the Christian church was and is accomplished by Baptism, the spiritual birth that complements the physical birth, and Chrismation, the bestowing of the Holy Spirit onto the believer. Scriptural evidence for the meaning of both of these sacraments is abundant. Christ clearly states the need for a spiritual Baptism, and the Book of the Acts of the Apostles is full of demonstrations of these two sacraments in action. Except for one reference to the Book of Matthew, Mr De Hann makes no reference to any of the four Gospels when discussing Baptism, thus ignoring much of the evidence for a spiritual Baptism.
Then came to him the mother of Zebedee's children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom. But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able. And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father. (Matthew 20:20-23; also: Mark 10:37)
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20)
Afterward he [Christ] appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen. And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (Mark 16:14-16)
And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. (John 1:32-33)
When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,) (John 4:1-2)
The events of the Book of Acts provide numerous examples of a Holy Baptism in practice. In the very first chapter, Christ promises a spiritual Baptism, and from the day of the Pentecost, the day of the foundation of the Christian Church, new followers of Christ were Baptized unto the remission of sins and granted the Holy Spirit
Second, Mr Robertson's information about the preposition eis is flawed. According to Greek Grammar by Herbert Weir Smyth, page 376, eis has four uses: Local, expressing motion toward or into something, or presence before or at a place; Temporal, expressing the time at, by, up to, or until something happens; Measure and Limit with Numerals, expressing the number to which something is measured or counted; and Other Uses, which express a goal, purpose or intention. This fourth use, the expression of purpose, is the one contained in Acts 2:38. The preposition eis does not express cause.
Third, given Smyth's list of the uses of the preposition eis, Mr De Hann's statement that eis means because of in Luke 11:32 is incorrect. The NKJV translates Luke 11:32 as "... for they repented at the preaching of Jonah." That is, they repented when Jonah spoke, which is precisely the use of eis described by Smyth above as "Temporal". The implication is that they repented as a result of Jonah's words, but eis itself only indicates the time of repentance: when he spoke as opposed to before or after he spoke. As shown by Smyth's grammar, the implication made in Luke 11:32 cannot be applied generally to the preposition eis.
Finally, the argument that the mistranslation of a preposition has led to 2000 years of flawed theology is impossible. The Greek Church has always held that Baptism was for the remission of sins. In order for Mr De Hann's theory to be correct, the Greek Church would have had to have based the theological underpinnings of its belief on a mistake made in the King James translation of the Bible. The Greek Church understands the Greek language very well, and it understands the meaning of Peter's statement.
The Book of Acts contains many more examples of Baptism and Chrismation, but one is particularly noteworthy. It demonstrates the necessity of spiritual sacraments and how Baptism and Chrismation had distinct purposes though they were used in combination. Paul meets some disciples in Ephesus:
The Gospels contain just a few direct references to Holy Communion, perhaps because the practice was only established on the night before Christ surrendered himself. However in the Gospel of John, Chapter 6, Christ speaks of spiritual nourishment and says the following:
The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?
Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. (John 6:47-59)
And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom. (Matthew 26:26-29)
Many who reject the divine nature of Communion, including Mr De Hann, argue that Christ was speaking figuratively here as well. But this argument has at least two weaknesses. First, Christ uses no words that suggest he was using a metaphor. He says directly, "This is my body," and "This is my blood." The context provides no evidence which shows that Christ really meant "This bread symbolizes my body," and "This wine symbolizes my blood." Those who interpret these phrases as symbolic cannot do so based on this piece of scripture.
Second, and more importantly, we must look at how the disciples who were present interpreted Christ's words. In addition to the continuing witness of the Orthodox Church with regard to this sacrament, the definitive scriptural statement on their interpretation appears in Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 10. Here Paul is warning the Corinthians against sinful practices, and against participation in non-Christian sacrifices in particular:
Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils. (I Corinthians 10:16-21)
Paul continues speaking of Communion in Chapter 11, explaining that he is passing on the instructions of Christ. When passing on Christ's words to the Corinthians, Paul never explains that they are to be understood symbolically.
After describing the basis for the practice of Communion, Paul explains the reverence with which the sacrament should be approached.
This article was prepared by Jeff Beneker <firstname.lastname@example.org>