The Breaking of Bread as a Sacrifice

I am a Pentecostal, yet on August 3rd 2015 I strolled into a service at an Anglo-Catholic Church. My wife was away at a conference and having a love of liturgy and ceremony I decided to attend the church on my own. The priest was friendly. There was only one other person present. I enjoyed the service but at one point during the Eucharistic Prayers I started to feel very uncomfortable. The language that the priest used started to take on a sacrificial character. I was shocked. I had attended an Anglican Church elsewhere for three years, I had even been confirmed as an adult and yet I had never heard this language.

The concept of the Breaking of Bread as a sacrifice is a very old one. Jesus didn’t give us a book, he gave us the church. Peter, Paul and the other Apostles established churches, and instructed them on how to worship whilst they were with them, see 1 Corinthians 11:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and 3:6. The Letters of the New Testament were not written as a ‘how to do church’ guide, but only to correct wrong practises, see 2 Corinthians 2:4. The church argued about which books should even be considered scripture until at least 367 AD[i] / 54 AEM (after the Edict of Milan, when Constantine legalised Christianity).

One early Christian document called the Didache from around 96 AD/ 217 BEM (before the Edict of Milan) says “Assemble on the Lord’s Day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist: but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one. Anyone who has a difference with his fellow is not to take part with you until he has been reconciled, so as to avoid any profanation of your sacrifice [Matt. 5:23—24]. For this is the offering of which the Lord has said, “Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled, for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is the wonder of nations” [Mal. 1:11, 14]” Didache Chapter 14.[ii] This was written 271 years before the final list of New Testament books was finalised.

The language of sacrifice is self-evident. All of the earliest Christians spoke of the Breaking of Bread in this manner. The name given to the Breaking of Bread service in the Aramaic spoken by the Christians of the Middle East is the Holy Qurbana meaning “Holy Offering” or “Holy Sacrifice”.[iii] The name for the sacrifices offered in the Temple of Jerusalem was a “korban” so you can see the two words are similar.[iv]

The Liturgy of Addai and Mari used by the historic churches outside the eastern boundary of the Roman Empire, and possibly dates to the 3rd-century in Edessa, says in the Oblation “in the commemoration of the body and blood of thy Christ which we offer unto thee on thy pure and holy altar as thou hast taught us, and grant us thy tranquillity and thy peace all the days of the world.”[v] This liturgy belongs to Christians outside the Roman Empire to a time before the Emperor Constantine and yet the language is the same.

After further investigation I discovered that all the historic churches spoke about the Breaking of Bread in this manner. Eastern Orthodox use the language of “bloodless sacrifice”[vi]. The Coptic Orthodox (Oriental Orthodox) Church says “Besides being a sacrament, the Eucharist is also a sacrifice.”[vii]

The question I was left with on that August evening was “Where is this in the Bible?”. Here are a few of my findings:

Take Malachi seriously as a prophet.

Malachi is the last of the prophetic books and looks forward to what God is going to do in the future. Malachi 1:11 has God speaking saying “My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty.”[viii]

God reveals to his messenger a future time when all over the world, not just in Jerusalem, incense and pure offerings will be given to God. The Hebrew word used for “pure offering” here is minchah. It is translated elsewhere as a meal offering in Exodus 30:9 or as a grain offering in Leviticus 9:4. It is the word used to describe unbloody sacrifices as opposed to zabach the Hebrew word for a bloody sacrifice.[ix] It is to this passage that the Didache alluded to, so we can be sure that early Christians were not ignorant of this prophesy.

Justin Martyr in his Dialogue with Trypho Chapter 41 quotes this verse and then says “[So] He then speaks of those Gentiles, namely us, who in every place offer sacrifices to Him, i.e., the bread of the Eucharist, and also the cup of the Eucharist, affirming both that we glorify His name, and that you profane [it].”[x] Justin wrote this letter around 155 A.D (158 BEM). Irenaeus in Against Heresies 4:17:5 written around 189 AD (124 BEM) makes the exact same connection. These Church Fathers wrote 212 and 178 years before the final list of books in the New Testament was finalised.

Early Christians therefore both within the Roman Empire, such as Justin and Irenaeus and those without, such as in the Liturgy of Addai and Mari, see the Breaking of Bread as the minchah unbloody sacrifice prophesied by the prophet Malachi.

Take Jesus’s words seriously at the Last Supper

In Luke 22:19 Jesus says “Do this in remembrance of me,” or “Touto poieite eis tan eman anamnesin” in the Greek.[xi] The word ‘do / poieite’ as poiésis is used within the Septuagint for מַעֲשֶׂה/maaseh.[xii] This word derives from asah which is used in Exodus 29:38 for example as ‘to offer’ a sacrifice upon the altar. Often poieite is translated within the New Testament as ‘make’.[xiii] Some scholars therefore argue that Jesus is saying “offer this in memorial of me”.[xiv]

As we have already seen, the early Christians saw Malachi 1:11 as being fulfilled in the Breaking of Bread and it is from Jesus’s own words they found the command to offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving.

Understand that Passover is the context of the Last Supper

The phrase ‘Lamb of God’ is used of Christ repeatedly throughout the New Testament. Within the Old Testament sacrificial system lambs were used for sacrifice. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:7b “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” (ESV). Paul calls Christ the Passover Lamb. He couldn’t be any more explicit. We also know that Christ died at Passover.[xv] In Exodus 12:8 the Israelites were told to eat the Passover Lamb and death would be warded off. In the same way Jesus says in John 6:54-56 “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.”

The Breaking of Bread therefore is our New Passover[xvi] in which remember our liberation not from Egypt, but from sin, death, and the powers and principalities (Colossians 2:15) that held us in bondage. The Passover Lamb however must be consumed. This is what happens in the Breaking of Bread, the faithful consume the flesh and blood of their Passover Lamb. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:16 “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?”.

See the Breaking of Bread as the fulfilment of the תֹּודָה todah sacrifice

תֹּודָה todah is Hebrew of thanksgiving. The name Eucharist comes from the Greek εὐχαριστία/ eucharistia, meaning again thanksgiving.[xvii] Leviticus 7 makes mention of the thanksgiving offering. Jesus in Luke 22:19 says “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks” the thanksgiving element of the institution of the Breaking of Bread cannot be overlooked. Paul would later say 1 Corinthians 10:16a “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ?” The meal itself is a cup of thanksgiving.

Philo, a first-century Hellenistic Jew, describes the Passover as a festival of thanksgiving: “And this festival is instituted in remembrance of, and as giving thanks [eucharistia] for, their great migration which they made from Egypt.”[xviii] In the same way the Christian New Passover is a Eucharist (thanksgiving).

Even within Rabbinic Judaism the expectation is that: “In the coming Messianic age all sacrifices will cease, but the thank offering [todah] will never cease.”[xix]The Eucharist is therefore the minchah unbloody sacrifice prophesied about by the prophet Malachi that will endure.

The todah sacrifice was often offered by someone who had been saved from death. This was true of the Israelites coming out of Egypt at Passover when death passed over them. It is thought that Psalms 22, 40, 69, and 105 were composed as todah sacrifice celebration songs.[xx] Shane Kapler says that “The offerer brought an animal—a symbol of the life that God had restored to him— to the Temple, along with unleavened bread. A portion of the animal and bread was offered by the priests on the Temple’s altar, with another portion set aside for a festal meal that the worshiper celebrated with family and friends. The meal began with the blessing of bread and wine. At its high point, the host lifted a cup of wine—the “cup of salvation” (Ps. 116:13)—and verbally proclaimed how God had saved him from death. In this way the todah was a true “sacrifice of praise.”[xxi]

Christ through his sacrifice for us has liberated us from death itself. Protestant theologians down the centuries have tied the Sacrifice of Praise that Christians offer in Hebrews 13:15 with the todah sacrifice. The Bishop of Gloucester Charles Ellicott (1819–1905), does this in his Commentary for English Readers.[xxii] The Presbyterian Rev. Marvin Vincent (1834- 1922) also follows this line of thought in his Word Studies in the New Testament.[xxiii]

Sacrifices throughout the Old Testament were eaten by the priests. Leviticus 19:6 says “It shall be eaten on the day you sacrifice it or on the next day; anything left over until the third day must be burned up.” Sacrifices were meant to be eaten.

In Hebrews 13:10 it says “We have an altar from which to eat, that those who minister at the tabernacle have no rights,” Two things should be noted in this verse, firstly, Christians have an altar, and secondly, they eat what is on the altar. What do you place upon an altar if not a sacrifice? So the flesh and blood of Christ is the sacrifice on the Christian Altar that the Levites have no right to eat, Hebrews 13:10.

Revelation 8:3 mentions clearly that there is an altar in Heaven. The altars and tables that Christians use in their worship services are only copies or symbols of that great altar in heaven.

Hebrews also reminds us that Christ is a priest in the Order of Melchizedek and in Genesis 14:18-20 we see Melchizedek offering a thanksgiving sacrifice of bread and wine on Abraham’s behalf, following his victory in battle.[xxiv] Abraham had been saved from death. This was a תֹּודָה todah sacrifice.

If the Breaking of Bread is a sacrifice, is Jesus being re-sacrificed again every time it is celebrated?

This is a good question. The short answer is no. The longer answer depends on your view of the Breaking of Bread. Some Pentecostals like D.P. Williams speak of the Breaking of Bread as the “mystical union of eating His flesh and drinking of His blood”[xxv] in which “we can and should by faith experience, and by that communion be made partakers of the Living Christ.[xxvi] If like D.P. Williams you believe in the Real Presence of the Living Christ in the Breaking of Bread then the once-for-all sacrifice of the cross is made present simply because Christ, the sacrificial victim, is present.

If like some other Pentecostals you are a memorialist and believe in a Real Absence then Christ is not present and the sacrificial element is limited to simply an offering of praise or thankfulness to God.

Presbyterian Dr. Peter J. Leithart talks about the sacrifice as “the tokens of Christ’s death (bread and wine) are presented to the Father, that He remembers His promise, and that Christ gives Himself with all His gifts”.[xxvii] He uses the language of “presented to the Father” so that God will be reminded of his Covenant with us. As a Calvinist he goes on to say that “Christ gives Himself with all His gifts”. A memorialist who does not see the Breaking of Bread as a Sacrament or a Means of Grace would of course not use this sort of language. Dr. Peter J. Leithart is therefore taking the Calvinist middle road.

The Lutheran dogmatician David Hollatz (1648-1713) said in his Examen Theologicum Acroamaticum: “If we view the matter from the material standpoint, the sacrifice in the Eucharist is numerically the same as the sacrifice that took place on the cross; put otherwise, one can say that the things itself and the substance is the same in each case, the victim or oblation is the same. If we view the matter formally, from the standpoint of the act of sacrifice, then even though the victim is numerically the same, the action is not; that is, the immolation in the Eucharist is different from the immolation carried out on the cross. For on the cross an offering was made by means of the passion and death of an immolated living thing, without which there can be no sacrifice in the narrow sense, but in the Eucharist the oblation takes place through the prayers and through the commemoration of the death or sacrifice offered on the cross.[xxviii]

David Hollatz is again affirming that if Christ is present then his sacrifice is present. The victim is the same even though the actions of the victim differ. Hebrews 10:14 says “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” The sacrifice of Christ cannot be repeated. It happened once for all time. Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away sin. He is the victim but he is also the priest. Hebrews 7:27 says “Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” He does not keep offering different offerings day after day, rather he is a perfect sacrifice sufficient for all time. Hebrews 7:25 says “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” Jesus Christ lives to intercede for us. Whenever we sin we have a High Priest who turns to the Father on our behalf and says “he/she is covered by my blood”. No new blood is being offered but our High Priest calls to remembrance his perfect sacrifice and so it is again made effective in the present.

In Revelation 5:6 John sees Jesus Christ in heaven as “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders”. It is not that Jesus suffers again and again but rather he constantly appeals to God on the basis of his work on the cross for us. Romans 8:34 says “Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” He reminds God about his work for us on the cross.

So for those Pentecostals like D.P. Williams who believe in the Real Presence of the Living Christ in the Breaking of Bread, the Living Christ, our High Priest is made present in the bread and wine. He offers himself to God as our eternal Passover Lamb for the forgiveness of our sins. Then by eating that Lamb we receive all of the blessings that he has won for us namely eternal life. As John 6:54 says “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

To quote another Pentecostal George Perfect: “Come and gather round the Table spread, Come and drink the wine and break the bread. Here we shall meet our risen Lord, Here we shall feast upon the Word.”[xxix]

Ultimately we have nothing to offer to God, rather Christ our High Priest offers himself. To quote another Lutheran Johann Gerhard (1582 –1637) “For this and all my sins and failures, I offer to You, my God, the faultless and perfect obedience of Your Son, who, in the days of His flesh, loved You perfectly with His whole heart and depended completely on You.”[xxx] We can only offer to God his Son Jesus Christ in place of our sins.

[i] accessed ‎29th ‎November ‎2016

[ii] Eucharist and Ecumenism: The Eucharist across the Ages and Traditions, by Owen F. Cummings, accessed ‎4th January 2017
[iii] accessed ‎29th ‎November ‎2016
[iv] Ibid.
[v] accessed ‎29th ‎November ‎2016
[vi] accessed ‎3rd January 2017
[vii] accessed ‎3rd January 2017
[viii] Malachi 1:11 NIV
[ix] accessed ‎29th ‎November ‎2016
[x] accessed ‎29th ‎November ‎2016
[xi] accessed ‎29th ‎November ‎2016
[xii] accessed ‎29th ‎November ‎2016
[xiii] For example: Matthew 3:3; Matthew 21:13; Matthew 23:15; Luke 3:4; John 2:16
[xiv] accessed ‎29th ‎November ‎2016
[xv] John 19:14; Matthew 27:62; Luke 23:54
[xvii] accessed ‎29th ‎November ‎2016
[xviii] 5.Philo, The Special Laws, II, 145. The Works of Philo, trans. by C.D. Young (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993), 582. As quoted on accessed ‎29th ‎November ‎2016
[xix] 1.Taken from the Pesiqta as quoted in Hartmut Gese, Essays On Biblical Theology (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1981), 133. As quoted on accessed ‎29th ‎November ‎2016
[xx] accessed 6th January 2017
[xxi] Ibid.
[xxii]  accessed 6th January 2017
[xxiii] accessed 6th January 2017
[xxiv] accessed 6th January 2017
[xxv] accessed 6th January 2017
[xxvi] Ibid.
[xxvii] accessed 6th February 2017
[xxviii] Examen theologicum acroamaticum, II, 620 Translated by A.C. Piepkorn in The Church, p. 135. As quoted on accessed ‎29th ‎November ‎2016
[xxix] accessed 6th February 2017
[xxx] Meditations on Divine Mercy (translated by Matthew Harrison, CPH 2003), 39. As quoted on accessed ‎29th ‎November ‎201