Thoughts of a Living Christian

Musings of an amateur theologian and hopeful writer

Archive for the month “November, 2011”

John 15:12-27


John 15:12-27 is a central passage in the Farewell Discourse, in which Jesus discusses three major themes: the necessity of love, the inevitable persecution of Christians, and the assurance God sends believers. It can be broken up into two major sections, vv.12-17 and 18-27, though some argue for the inclusion of surrounding verses. Jesus’ command to love in the first section is both uncompromising and entirely selfless. In order to call oneself a follower of Christ, one must be willing to love another in the same way Jesus has loved his disciples. In other words, Christians must be willing to give their lives for each other. Jesus then discusses the inevitable persecution that comes with being a Christian. A servant, he says, is no greater than the master and, thus, if Jesus received great persecution from the world, the disciples will also receive great persecution. However, Christians are not alone, for Jesus sends another who will help with this great task. This essay exegetes this passage, attempting to critically and etymologically analyze the more significant and controversial words and phrases, resulting in the three major implications upon the contemporary reader.


The “Farewell Discourse” (13:31-16:33) inhabits a large proportion of John’s “Book of Glory” (13:1-20:31), discussing Jesus’ preparation of the new community, in which “the focus is on preparing his new messianic community for their Spirit-guided mission to the unbelieving world.”[1] The Passion narrative is also included (18:1-19:42). The Farewell Discourse deals with the revelation of Jesus to the world, with a focus on mission by the power of the Holy Spirit.[2] Most commentators include 15:1-16:33 as a single unit within this discourse,[3] though some argue for 15:1-6:4.[4] It seems more likely, however, that dividing chapter 16 into parts is unnecessary, as the subject matter does not change dramatically.[5] This is further supported by 16:33 and 17:1; the former referring back to Jesus’ discussion of persecution and hatred (cf. 15:18) and the latter (“After Jesus had spoken these words…”) beginning a new section. However, chapter 15 can be further divided into 3 or 4 subsections: vv.1-11, vv.12-17 and vv.18-27.[6] The focus of this essay shall remain with the final 15 verses.

John 15:12-17

Bracketed by the love command, “love one another,” (vv.12, 17)[7] this section emphatically answers the question of what Jesus’ commandments are.[8] The plural of v.10 (entolas) becomes singular in v.12 (entolē), hence Jesus’ commandments collapse into the one command of loving one another, of which Kostenberger notes, “Jesus’ entire ministry…is ultimately grounded in God’s love.”[9] This commandment is different to that of ch.13, in that it invokes a new standard;[10] the disciples are called to be willing to die for their friends. It was not an uncommon thought in the ancient world to die for friends, “yet what distinguishes disciples’ self-sacrificial love for one another is that it is grounded in and reflects Jesus’ self-sacrificial love for them.”[11] The love which the disciples are called to (agapate) is present tense, implying continuous love. However, Jesus’ love (ēgapēsa) is aorist tense, implying a completed action, hence Jesus’ love is focused on the cross.[12]

The laying down of Jesus’ life for his disciples is the greatest evidence of his love for them,[13] and it is this same willingness to die for each other that Jesus calls his disciples to. Meier notes that “the Johannine command to love is explicitly and necessarily grounded in the person and action of Jesus as he goes to his death out of love,”[14] hence Jesus’ love is the model by which the disciples were to measure their love, as well as the cause of their love.[15] Hellenistic tradition highly regarded self-sacrifice for another person,[16] and was often considered the “supreme duty of friendship.”[17] Jewish tradition prohibited the sacrifice of others for one’s self, but one’s own life took precedence over another.[18] The focus in this verse is on love for friends, but John does not present Jesus as limiting this love solely to friends, for Jesus himself died for his enemies.[19]

Jesus’ labeling his disciples “friends” is reminiscent of Moses and Abraham being called “friends of God,” thus speaking of the highest possible relationship with God.[20] Both Hellenistic and Jewish tradition places much emphasis on loyalty in regards to friendship; “true friends were known in times of trouble, when they were most needed.”[21] However, this friendship did not give freedom to disobey,[22] but refers to common aims and outlook,[23] hence obedience characterizes – rather than causes – friendship.[24] It should also be noted that while the disciples are said to be Jesus’ friends, Jesus is not said to be theirs.[25] This could be due to John attempting to avoid distorting,[26] or “fraternizing”[27]  this relationship.

The comparison made between friends and servants[28] in v.15 implies absolute disclosure.[29] Kostenberger argues that because of this, obedience can be joyful, rather than burdensome.[30] Full disclosure was a common ideal in Greek tradition; Isocrates said one should test friends on their trustworthiness in keeping secrets, Aristotle said true friendship requires absolute confidence, and Philo said “virtue makes God a friend of the righteous.”[31] According to Gench, “in the Greco-Roman world, friendship was a much-discussed and highly-esteemed relationship.”[32] The truth shared by Jesus is therefore further demonstration of his love.[33]

The fact that Jesus himself chooses his disciples is noteworthy, for generally disciples would choose their teacher, not the teacher choose the disciples.[34] This election is entirely Jesus’ initiative,[35] giving the disciples security in their knowledge of his faithfulness[36] and providing them ultimate encouragement.[37] However, election always has a purpose and that purpose, in this instance, is to bear fruit.[38] Beasley-Murray notes, “The verb ethēka, “set aside,” is used in v.13 of Jesus “setting aside” his life for others. The terms appears in Num 8:10 for the ordination of Levites,”[39] and elsewhere in the New Testament, as in this verse, to refer to being “set apart” for a particular ministry.[40]

John then links v.17 back to v.12 by repeating the love command, forming an inclusio. Morris argues that “all the commandments in the discourse are for a single purpose, that the disciples may engage in mutual love.”[41] Whereas the Synoptics tend to focus on love for neighbors and enemies, John’s focus is on the community of disciples.[42] This communal and sacrificial love for one another is, for John, the ultimate witness to the world of Jesus’ love.[43] These 5 verses focus entirely on love. The next subsection is thus an obvious contrast, focusing on hatred.[44]

John 15:18-27

Verses 18 through 21 discuss hatred toward the disciples as a continuation of the hatred shown toward Jesus.[45] Milne argues that this inevitable hatred is, therefore, a sign that their mission is a continuation of Jesus’ mission.[46] The synoptics present a more thorough outward mission, with a focus beyond the church, than does John, who focuses largely on martyrdom.[47] In John’s Gospel, particularly this passage, the disciples are recognized by their sacrificial love, whereas the world by its hatred.[48] According to Harrison, kosmos was generally thought of in terms of order. However, particularly in Johannine texts, the world is portrayed as hostile to God. Harrison presents the argument that it is still considered ordered; Satan organizing with efficiency.[49]

Verses 18 and 19 flow on well from 12-17, for a common political theme of the day was that if one was a friend of an enemy, one would become an enemy also. Hence, if one was a friend of Jesus, who was an enemy of the world, one would also become an enemy of the world.[50] The present tense misei expresses the continuing hatred and kosmos mentioned five times in the one verse emphatically convey the world’s utter hatred.[51] Heinz argues the common translation, “I chose you out of the world” (eg. RSV, KJV, The New English Bible) is ambiguous and that “from the world” is a preferred translation, based on: 1) ek is usually used partitively in John, and should be in this passage also; 2) The disciples need to remain in the world.[52] As the disciples represent Jesus to the world, Jesus’ “spiritual presence in them stirs the world’s antagonism toward God and his purposes in Christ.”[53]

Jesus’ reference to servants in v.20 does not contradict his calling the disciples friends, but refers to their sharing of his unwelcome state,[54] for if the master must suffer then surely his disciples must too.[55] Morris notes that Jesus quotes himself exactly, thus this reference must be important.[56] Jesus is emphatically arguing “that the response to their mission will be no different from the response to that of their master.”[57]

Jesus then argues in v.21 that the world’s sin and the rejection of him and his disciples are due to their ignorance of God.[58] According to Kostenberger, “the three-step logic is as follows: when people oppose the disciples, it is because they oppose Jesus; if people oppose Jesus, it is because they do not know the Father (see 15:23); therefore, if people oppose the disciples, it is ultimately because they do not know God.”[59] The seriousness of this rejection is explicated in v.22, for, though the Jews would not be sinless had Christ not come, they rejected the ultimate revelation of God in Jesus, and are therefore without excuse.[60] This verse stresses the world’s culpability[61] and that the root cause of rejection is sin.[62]

The emphatic eme and patera mou in verse 23 are so tightly linked that the two are virtually indistinguishable; to reject one is to reject the other.[63] It is important to note, however, that the world does not always amount to hatred,[64] for there are instances in the Gospel where people respond kindly to Jesus.[65] Miseō carries connotations of rejection, hence those who reject Jesus are those who hate him.[66] Therefore, furthermore, this verse links neatly with the preceding verse. The emphatic eme and patera mou are again repeated in v.24, with the perfect memisēkasin further highlighting the world’s hatred.[67] According to Keener, “Jesus’ “signs” and other works revealed enough of his identity and sender that those who hated him could be said to have beheld both him and his Father.”[68] Despite this evidence, the world still rejects the truth and is thus condemned.[69]

Quoting “their law” “ironically points to even more revelation that judges their unwarranted anger,” says Burge,[70] as they stand condemned by the very law that bore witness to Christ.[71] This reference to law means more broadly “Scripture,” for Jesus quotes Psalm 69:4, a Psalm considered Messianic.[72] This implies that if David was hated, how much more will the people hate the Son of God?[73] However, this rejection does not hinder God’s plan, but in fact fulfils it.[74] A second implication is that this reference to Scripture has an apologetic function, “as it provides accusatory witness against the opposition.”[75]

There is much debate over the word paraklētos, some arguing it should be understood as a judicial title, aiding legal argument,[76] others saying it should not, but that it is revelatory in nature.[77] Prior to John the word generally meant “broker” or “mediator,”[78] and Burer and Miller argue for a mediatory understanding.[79] However, Mounce argues it refers to one who is sent or called to assistance.[80] The Greek Fathers originally interpreted it as “consoler” or “comforter,” but Morris argues that, while due respect should paid to the Fathers, it seems in this case they are incorrect, for there is neither Greek nor biblical use that would support them.[81] He argues it should be understood as carrying the implications of “‘called to the side of’ (i.e. for the purpose of helping).”[82] Jesus was the first Paraclete (14:16) and so understood the reference as a personality,[83] one who would help the disciples to endure.[84] The reference is usually voiced by Jesus, always in reference to the Spirit, except for two occasions of himself (14:16; 1 John 2:1) and usually in the context of the Spirit helping in difficult situations once he has gone. Because of the impossibly high standard set before the disciples, they need the paraklētos to help.[85] Therefore, as Morris argues, it should be understood as “the legal helper, the friend who does whatever is necessary to forward their best interests.”[86] Furthermore, the focus of the Spirit’s work is witness.[87]

Jesus’ command in v.27 allows no passive role for the disciples, humeis being emphatic.[88] The implication of this verse is that Christians carry a great deal of responsibility. Morris argues that disciples “cannot simply relax and leave it all to the Spirit. They have a particular function in bearing witness…There is a responsibility resting on all Christians to bear witness.”[89] The fact that the disciples have been with Jesus from the beginning further qualifies them as witnesses[90] to the message of love that must be spread, despite inevitable hostility and hatred.[91]

Contemporary Relevance

There are three main implications that this passage provides: the necessity for Christians to love, the inevitable persecution of being a loving Christian, and the assurance Christians receive from God.

Necessity of Love

The command to love in v.12 sums up Jesus’ ministry, being entirely grounded in love. Jesus’ love, in this verse, is focused on the completed action of the cross, yet we are called to a continuous love; we must always be ready and willing to die for a friend. Carson poignantly notes that despite the many problems the disciples had, Jesus still loved them, and so must we love all we encounter, no matter how pleasant they are.[92] This love demonstrates to others the love Christ has shown us, for we have been elected to bear the most important fruit: love (cf.15:16). According to Milne, “It is a mark of a worldly church…when we are content with short-lived ‘fruit,’” but “the fruit that honors God is the fruit that will last, and bring glory to the Father and the Son.”[93] Furthermore, v.27 explicates the responsibility that is placed on all Christian’s shoulders to love others, yet we are not alone for the Spirit helps us with this task. Gench states, “In our own day, the Johannine themes of mutual, self-giving love and the love of friendship are no less profound, with power to address our own deep hunger for community amidst the individualism, isolation, and transience that characterize much of modern, Western life.”[94]

Inevitable Persecution

Unfortunately the reality is that the world will respond negatively to Christian love. If one is to be a follower of Christ, one must inevitably receive the same response Christ received. Christ will be spiritually present in all those who represent him, thus if the world responded negatively toward Christ, the world will respond negatively, again, toward those who bear his name. This hatred is then confirmation of one’s continuation of Christ’s mission. As Jesus represented the Father, we represent Jesus, thus those who reject Christianity have no excuse, as the Jews had no excuse for rejecting Christ (cf. 15:22). In Romans 1 Paul argues that God has revealed himself through creation, hence further condemnation can be made against the world, just as the Jews were further condemned by not seeing Christ in the Scriptures (cf. 15:25). History has shown that Christianity has been subject to much persecution. The time between the ascension and consummation of Christ will be a time of great persecution for the church, as the Enemy resists and tries to neutralize the Church.[95] Two examples of such persecution are, firstly, the period of persecution in 303AD under Diocletian where many were forced to burn bibles,[96] and, secondly, the thousands of Chinese ministers who were arrested in the 1990s alone.[97] Burge comments, “If this is not our experience at present in the West, we need to support those suffer and ready ourselves for a day when we may…When this happens, 15:18-16:4 will be vital to us.”[98]

Assurance from God

Despite the seriousness of the necessity of sacrificial love and of persecution, this passage reminds us of the assurance God has given us. This assurance comes in two forms: our election, and the sending of the Paraclete. To be labelled as a friend of God implies the highest possible relationship with God, in which we receive absolute disclosure and joyful obedience. However, Jesus has chosen us to be friends and not the other way around. He elected us to bear fruit, hence we need not worry if we are good enough or not, and just remember that he chose us. Kostenberger notes, “This election…is what constitutes the basis for their inclusion in the new messianic community. This should keep the disciples humble as they go into the world as Jesus’ emissaries.”[99] The second comes in the sending of the Paraclete. Because of the difficult tasks of loving and evangelizing in great hostility, the Paraclete is sent to help us. With the Spirit comes fruit, such as that of love and Edward argued this fruit is absolute assurance for the believer and stated “let none rest in any supposed fruit of the spirit without witness.”[100] In other words, the fruit we receive when we have the Spirit helping in our lives is absolute assurance of Christ’s love in our lives.


Verses 12 through 17 significantly detail genuine love and the implications of such love. Jesus’ commandments can be entirely summed up in the commandment to love one another in such a selfless, sacrificial way. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is the greatest example of love for his people, and he commands his people to emulate this same love. He calls us his friends, connoting the highest relationship possible, for we have received revelation from God and, thus, our obedience is both joyful and that which characterizes our friendship; the world will see Jesus’ love in the way Jesus’ people love one another. He chose us to bear fruit, to love one another.

The following ten verses reveal that such love will not come without opposition, for we, bearing Christ’s name, will inevitably bear the same persecution that Christ bore. We share the same unwelcome state in this world that Christ received; being his servants we are hated as he was hated. But we are hated due to the world’s ignorance of God. The world has seen God, thus has no excuse, but despite evidence, the world rejects the truth and so shall receive condemnation. However, not all who responded to Christ responded negatively. Therefore, we can expect some to respond to our testimony in a positive manner.

The Paraclete is sent to help, to guide and support us in times of trial and difficulty. The Spirit is our friend, advocate, counsellor and comforter. Above all else, however, the Spirit comes to help us in the difficult tasks of loving selflessly and of evangelising in a world hostile to the message we preach. The three implications of this passage are: 1) the necessity of love, that this incredible love is no less necessary in today’s world of individualism; 2) the inevitable persecution that Christians shall receive, and have received, because of the name we bear; and 3) the assurance we receive from God, as his chosen people, and as the bearers of fruit, given to us by the Spirit. We must love, we must endure, and we must constantly be attentive to the helping hand of the Paraclete. John’s message is vital for the modern Christian in a world where individualism and persecution is increasing and the recognition of God is decreasing.


Beasley-Murray, George R. John. Vol. 36 Word Biblical Commentary. Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1987.

Brown, Tricia Gates. Spirit in the Writings of John Journal for the Study of the New Testament. London: T & T Clark International, 2003.

Burge, Gary M. John The Niv Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.

Carson, D. A. Jesus and His Friends. Grand Rapids, MI: Paternoster Press, 1995.

Caulley, T. S. “Holy Spirit.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

Gench, Frances Taylor. “John 15:12-17.” Interpretation 58, no. 2 (2004): 181-84.

Grenz, Stanley J. Theology for the Community of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994.

Harrison, E. F. “World.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

Heinz, Donald. “Brief Translation Note on John 15:19.” Concordia Theological Monthly 39, no. 11 (1968): 775.

Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. Vol. 2. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003.

Kostenberger, Andreas J. John Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004.

Kostenberger, Andreas J. A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters Biblical Theology of the New Testament, Edited by Andreas J. Kostenberger. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009.

Lincoln, Andrew T. The Gospel According to Saint John Black’s New Testament Commentary. London: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005.

MacArthur, John. The Macarthur New Testament Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007.

McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: An Introduction. 5th ed. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Meier, John P. “Love in Q and John: Love of Enemies, Love of One Another.” Mid-Stream 40, no. 1 (2001): 42-50.

Michael H. Burer, Jeffrey E. Miller. A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2008.

Milne, Bruce. The Message of John The Bible Speaks Today, Edited by John Stott. Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993.

Mitchell, Curtis C. “The Holy Spirit’s Intercessory Ministry.” Bibliotheca Sacra 139, no. 555 (1982): 230-242.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to John (Revised) The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

Mounce, William D. The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993.

Noll, Mark A. “John Wesley and the Doctrine of Assurance.” Bibliotheca Sacra 132, no. 526 (1975): 161-177.

Payne, J. B. “Servant of the Lord.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

[1] Andreas J. Kostenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004). 395.

[2] Andreas J. Kostenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters, ed. Andreas J. Kostenberger, Biblical Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009). 238.

[3] John MacArthur, The Macarthur New Testament Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007). Also, Kostenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters., Bruce Milne, The Message of John, ed. John Stott, The Bible Speaks Today (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993). George R. Beasley-Murray, John, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 36 (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1987).

[4] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, vol. 2 (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003). Also, Gary M. Burge, John, The Niv Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000).

[5] Kostenberger, John.

[6] Many commentators divide the chapter similarly, most further including 15:18-16:4a or 15:26-16:4a as one subsection. Cf. Burge. and Keener. This essay shall simply analyze vv.26-27 without a discussion on ch.16, though the subject and topic of 16:1-4 may be similar enough to be included in the same division as 15:26-27.

[7] Cf. Burge. 416. Also, Keener. 1004.

[8] Kostenberger, John. 457. Cf. 15:10.

[9] Ibid. 457. Cf. Beasley-Murray. 274.

[10] D. A. Carson, Jesus and His Friends (Grand Rapids, MI: Paternoster Press, 1995). 100.

[11] Andrew T. Lincoln, The Gospel According to Saint John, Black’s New Testament Commentary (London: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005). 406.

[12] Cf. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Revised), The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995). 598. This further implies a sacrificial love.

[13] MacArthur. 317.

[14] John P. Meier, “Love in Q and John: Love of Enemies, Love of One Another,” Mid-Stream 40, no. 1 (2001). 48.

[15] Ibid. 48.

[16] Keener. 1005.

[17] Kostenberger, John. 458.

[18] Keener. 1004. Hence, John has a focus on Greek tradition in this verse.

[19] Morris. 599. Cf. Romans 5:8.

[20] Burge. 416. Cf. Isaiah 41:8; Exodus 33:11. According to Keener, “early Jewish literature especially applies the title to Abraham. This is especially because of his intimate relationship with God, so that God could take Abraham into his confidence, not treating him as a servant.” (Keener. 1012-13.)

[21] Keener. 1009. This can clearly be seen in the Jewish writings, Sir. 6:7-10, 14-16, and 12:8.

[22] Ibid. 1015.

[23] Morris. 599.

[24] Kostenberger, John. 458.

[25] Carson. 104.

[26] Ibid. 104.

[27] Kostenberger, John. 458. The emphatic personal pronouns, humeis and egō, further mark this relationship to be distinct from the world.

[28] The NRSV translates doulous as servants, but a more accurate translation would be “slaves,” (William D. Mounce, The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993). 153). The difference may seem minimal, but each carries different connotations. However, “Servant of the Lord” (‘ebed yhwh) in the Old Testament could refer to devout worshippers (e.g. Abraham; cf. Ps. 105:6) or those God used to fulfill his plans (eg. Nebuchadnezzar; cf. Jer. 25:9), (J. B. Payne, “Servant of the Lord,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001). 1095). In this instance, however, it seems more likely Jesus is referring to the negative connotations of “slave,” particularly in contrast with “friend.”

[29] Burge. 420. Also, Keener. 1010, Lincoln. 406, Morris. 599, Carson. 105.

[30] Kostenberger, John. 459.

[31] Keener. 1011-12.

[32] Frances Taylor Gench, “John 15:12-17,” Interpretation 58, no. 2 (2004). 182.

[33] Milne. 223.

[34] Keener. 1015. Also, Morris. 600. Morris further argues, “ouk negates humeis, not exelexasthe; in other words, “it was not you that chose” rather than “you did not choose.”” The emphasis is on the disciples, not the verb.

[35] Lincoln. 407.

[36] Burge. 416.

[37] Milne. 223. Milne further notes, “Their standing and relationship with him is a matter of grace. Therein, however, lies the ultimate encouragement in mission. We go, not because we are worthy, or equipped, or attractive, or skilled, or experienced, or in any way suitable and appropriate. We go because we have been summoned and sent,” (p.223).

[38] MacArthur. 317. Also, Beasley-Murray. 275.

[39] Beasley-Murray. 275.

[40] Kostenberger, John. 460. Cf. Acts 13:47; 1 Tim. 1:12; 2:7. It can also refer to the pastor (Acts 20:28).

[41] Morris. 601.

[42] Gench. 181.

[43] Ibid. 182. Also, Milne. 223. Cf. 13:15; 17:20-26.

[44] According to Brown, “The shift from the theme of love between Jesus and his disciples to that of the hatred of the world for both is abrupt, yet the two sections are flip-sides of a broader theme. Both units express the integral unity between Jesus and believers,” (Tricia Gates Brown, Spirit in the Writings of John, Journal for the Study of the New Testament (London: T & T Clark International, 2003). 214.)

[45] Burge. 420. Lincoln argues that “when they experience the world’s ill will, Jesus’ followers are to recognize that this is a sign of their continuity with Jesus’ mission, since this is precisely the reaction Jesus himself experienced,” (Lincoln. 409).

[46] Milne. 224.

[47] Keener. 1018.

[48] Morris. 602.

[49] E. F. Harrison, “World,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001). 1297. Oikoumenē generally refers to the populated world (cf. Luke 4:5) and aiōn carries connotations of “age.” (ibid. 1297). Furthermore, cf. Eph. 6:12.

[50] Keener. 1019.

[51] Morris. 602.

[52] Donald Heinz, “Brief Translation Note on John 15:19,” Concordia Theological Monthly 39, no. 11 (1968). 775. Heinz further states, “The thought, then, of John 15:19 would seem to be this: If you were people who had the same basis of existence as the kosmos, then the kosmos would love you as its own kind of people. But because you now do not have your existence from (or belong to) the kosmos, although I chose and elected you from among those who were…drawing their existence from the kosmos, therefore the kosmos hates you,” (ibid. 775). Cf. 10:16, 26 (“sheep of this fold” – partitive, not “out of”).

[53] Kostenberger, John. 464. Kostenberger further notes that “this does not call believers to physically separate themselves from the world; to the contrary, they are sent into the world to bear spiritual fruit (15:16; 17:18; 20:21),” (ibid. 464).

[54] Burge. 420.

[55] Keener. 1019.

[56] Morris. 603.

[57] Lincoln. 410. Furthermore, Keener outlines Berg’s presentation of a chiastic structure:
A “If the world hates you, it hated me first.”

B “If you were of the world, they would have you (but you are not).”

C. “Because I chose you, the world hates you.”

D. “The servant is no greater than the master.”

A’ “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.”

B’ “If they kept my word, they will keep yours.”

C’ “They will persecute you for Jesus’ and the Father’s sake.”

Keener notes that A and A’ could replace C and C’, but the emphasis still lies on D, (Keener. 1019).

[58] Lincoln. 410. Lincoln states, “for the Fourth Gospel the primary expression of sin is failure to believe in Jesus as the one sent by the Father,” (p.410). Cf. Kostenberger, John. 465.

[59] Kostenberger, John. 465.

[60] Morris. 604. Rejection of Christ, MacArthur argues, is the worst sin possible, for it is rejecting God’s truth, (MacArthur. 319).

[61] Kostenberger, John. 466.

[62] Kostenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters. 290.

[63] Morris. 604.

[64] Beasley-Murray. 276, Carson. 114. Carson states, “This passage does not deny that the world can show any love at all. Pagan parents may love their pagan infants; unbelieving men and women fall in love. But it is natural for the world to hate. The ‘world’ is made up of people who have never acknowledged the supremacy of Christ nor known the love of God…these people are absorbed either with themselves or with their self-created gods. It is impossible for them to love God or to love his people unless and until they set aside their false values, come to terms with the truth, and see their own position and role in the light of God’s sovereignty and grace,” (ibid. 114).

[65] E.g. the Samaritan woman (ch.4) and the man cured of blindness (ch.9).

[66] Kostenberger, John. 466.

[67] Ibid. 466.

[68] Keener. 1021.

[69] Kostenberger, John. 466.

[70] Burge. 421.

[71] Beasley-Murray. 276. Also, Morris. 605.

[72] Kostenberger, John. 467. There is some debate over which Psalm Jesus is actually quoting, but most commentators argue for Pslam 69:4, (ibid. 467.)

[73] MacArthur. 319.

[74] Kostenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters. 290.

[75] Lincoln. 411. It is likely this opposition is directly the Jewish religious authorities, due to the emphatic tō vomō autōn, (ibid. 411).

[76] Burge. 421. Burge argues that the Sprit, thus, “will become a witness, supporting their trial (either literally or figuratively),” (p. 421).

[77] Beasley-Murray. 276-77. Beasley-Murray argues that the Spirit’s task is to “bear witness concerning Jesus (peri emou). His witness therefore is not here conceived of as that of an advocate, speaking in defense of the disciples…not is it that of a prosecuting attorney, giving evidence against the world…The witness of the Spirit, conjoined with that of the disciples, is to bring to light the truth of the revelation of Jesus in his word and deed, and death and resurrection,” (p. 276-77).

[78] Brown. 180.

[79] Jeffrey E. Miller Michael H. Burer, A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2008). 196.

[80] Mounce. 353. There is no great distinction between these definitions, but each carry different connotations and implications; the former implying a forensic sense, the latter a relational sense.

[81] Morris. 588.

[82] Ibid. 587. Morris argues that “helper” may be a good definition, but does not deal enough with the passive nature of the word, (p. 589).

[83] T. S. Caulley, “Holy Spirit,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001). 569.

[84] Milne. 228. Brown further argues it is important to note that the Paraclete is not sent into the world, but is sent to the disciples. Hence, it should be understood as more of a helper than advocate, consoler, etc. (Brown. 216).

[85] Morris. 588-90. On the idea of the Paraclete as a helper, Mitchell argues that Paul clearly uses paraklēton in Romans 8:26-27 in reference to the Spirit helping Christians, (Curtis C. Mitchell, “The Holy Spirit’s Intercessory Ministry,” Bibliotheca Sacra 139, no. 555 (1982). 231).

[86] Morris. 591.

[87] Ibid. 605.

[88] Burge. 421.

[89] Morris. 607.

[90] Kostenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters. 244. Kostenberger further notes that “from the beginning” commonly denoted eye-witness testimony, e.g. Luke 1:3, (ibid. 244).

[91] Lincoln. 411.

[92] Carson. 103. V.14 reveals that obedient love characterizes the friendship we have with Jesus. Cf. 15:17.

[93] Milne. 224.

[94] Gench. 183-84.

[95] Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994). 620.

[96] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th ed. (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). 18.

[97] Burge.

[98] Ibid. 430.

[99] Kostenberger, John. 464.

[100] Mark A. Noll, “John Wesley and the Doctrine of Assurance,” Bibliotheca Sacra 132, no. 526 (1975). 170. Cf. 15:26.


The Trinity in Calvin’s Theology of the Lord’s Supper in Light of Contemporary Thought


John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion[1] has been an immensely influential collection of books in the last half millennia. The fourth book, in particular the 17th chapter, has influenced people’s understanding of the Supper, even to this day. Calvin’s “Spiritual Presence” of Christ diplomatically steered a course between the Lutheran ubiquity and consubstantiation and the Zwinglian memorial, and responded heavily against the Catholic transubstantiation. Emphasizing Christ and the Spirit’s roles in the Supper, Calvin’s doctrine does not explicitly detail the relationship between it and the Trinity, but Calvin’s doctrine is evidently influenced by his understanding of the triune God. However, contemporary Trinitarian thought has revealed a need for a deeper understanding and explication of the role of, and relationship between, all three persons in the Godhead in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. This essay analyzes Calvin’s doctrine on the Supper, with particular focus on Calvin’s understanding of the Trinity in its celebration and administration. The essay will then analyze recent literature on the role of the Trinity in the Supper and attempt to present a revised adaption of Calvin’s doctrine on the Supper in light of this contemporary Trinitarian thought.

The Lord’s Supper in Calvin’s Theology

By the 16th century, three prominent approaches to the Lord’s Supper existed: the Roman Catholic transubstantiation, the Lutheran consubstantiation (that the bread and wine are both bread and wine and physically Jesus’ body)[2] and the Zwinglian memorialism (that Jesus did not refer to the bread and wine as literally his body and blood, and hence Christ is not really present).[3] The term ‘transubstantiation’ was coined to refer to the literal change in substance of the bread and wine into Christ’s physical body and blood.[4] Thomas Aquinas developed this theology and the “Fourth Lateran Council in 1215…had officially defined the doctrine of seven sacraments and the doctrine of transubstantiation as binding dogma for every Christian.”[5] Luther and Zwingli rejected this; Luther arguing that “Christ was in a sense physically present – in, with, and under the elements,” not purely the elements alone being Christ’s physical body[6] and Zwingli arguing the Supper was merely a memorial and nothing else. Calvin responded to all three, seeing the Lutheran ubiquity[7] as denying the ascension,[8] seeing the Zwinglian perspective as not prescribing enough power to the sacrament,[9] and that transubstantiation robbed God’s honour and is a damnable idolatry.[10]

In 1549, Calvin and Bullinger declared in the Zurich Consensus that the Lord’s Supper is more than a mere sign,[11] steering a course between Luther and Zwingli by arguing that because Christ ascended as human, and shall remain there until the eschaton, he cannot return physically in the bread and wine, but is actually present by the Holy Spirit,[12] and so his doctrine is often considered “christocentric-pneumatological.”[13] Hart states, “If we take Scripture seriously, we find that Christ’s humanity is ‘in heaven’ at the right hand of the Father, from where we are to await his return in glory and for judgement.”[14] Furthermore, according to Reymond, “it is a fact that Calvin does teach that by the Spirit’s empowering, Christ’s human nature, although in heaven and not endowed with ubiquity is nonetheless brought to us (or perhaps better, by faith we are lifted to it) and that we derive spiritual life from feeding specifically upon it by faith.”[15]

Regarding faith, Calvin argues, “It is certain, therefore, that the Lord offers us his mercy, and a pledge of his grace, both in his sacred word and in the sacraments; but it is not apprehended save by those who receive the word and sacraments with firm faith.”[16] If the partaker receives the bread and wine without faith in Christ, the bread and wine remain nothing more than bread and wine. It is only when one responds to the Spirit in faith that what is offered in the Supper can be received.[17] The Spirit makes the sacrament efficacious, uniting us to Christ by lifting us up to his physical being in heaven.[18]

Calvin asserts Christ’s divinity and humanity,[19] and so “what happens in the Supper…is no mere sociological phenomenon, but the gracious approach of a holy God to sinful creatures.”[20] Calvin places emphasis on the incarnation, to the point where his atoning work required Christ’s humanity and divinity. Hebrews 9:24-26 reveals that Christ’s ascension was part of his atoning work, thus he ascended in physicality.[21] Further, Calvin argues, due to his humanity in heaven, Christ is presented to us by the Spirit.[22] Calvin argues,

The body with which Christ rose is declared, not by Aristotle, but by the Holy Spirit, to be finite, and to be contained in heaven until the last day. I am not unaware how confidently our opponents evade the passages which are quoted to this effect. Whenever Christ says that he will leave the world and go away (John xiv. 2, 28), they reply, that that departure was nothing more than a change of mortal state. Were this so, Christ would not substitute the Holy Spirit, to supply, as they express it, the defect of his absence, since he does not succeed in place of him, nor, on the other hand, does Christ himself descend from the heavenly glory to assume the condition of a mortal life. Certainly the advent of the Spirit and the ascension of Christ are set against each other, and hence it necessarily follows that Christ dwells with us according to the flesh, in the same way as that in which he sends his Spirit.[23]

So the Spirit descends to lift us up to the physical Christ,[24] unifying us with Christ by dwelling within us,[25] and through doing so presents us to the Father.[26]

So what does Calvin say regarding what the Lord Supper accomplishes? According to Godfrey, “For Calvin, the simple way to understand the Lord’s Supper was as food that God gave to nourish his people…the sacrament assured that what Christ promised was surely theirs.”[27] Calvin states that “after God has once received us into his family, it is not that he may regard us in the light of servants, but of sons, performing the part of a kind and anxious parent, and providing for our maintenance,” thus, “he has given another sacrament to his Church by the hand of his only-begotten Son – viz. a spiritual feast…on which our souls feed.”[28] As our Father, he provides spiritual food to sustain us and “Christ is the only food of our soul, and, therefore, our heavenly Father invites us to him.”[29] Elsewhere Calvin states,

For seeing we are so foolish, that we cannot receive him with true confidence of heart, when he is presented by simple teaching and preaching, the Father, of his mercy, not at all disdaining to condescend in this matter to our infirmity, has desired to attach to his Word a visible sign, by which he represents the substance of his promises, to confirm and fortify us, and to deliver us from all doubt and uncertainty…Now our heavenly Father, to succour us from [death]; gives us the Supper as a mirror in which we contemplate our Lord Jesus Christ crucified to abolish our faults and offences, and raised to deliver us from corruption and death, and restoring us to a heavenly immortality.[30]

According to Calvin, Jesus is physically present, by the Spirit,[31] who lifts us up to him, before God the Father.[32] Where we have been received into the Church through baptism as children, the Father then feeds and sustains us; “Like a good father in the home he fulfills the obligation to feed us and to provide everything we need…for that reason he provides not only for our physical needs, but because the life unto which he has regenerated us is spiritual, the food with which he nourishes this life needs to be spiritual as well…God has blessed us with a spiritual meal in the Lord’s Supper, where Christ presents himself as the living bread that feeds our souls.”[33] This adds nothing to our salvation, but confirms our unity with Christ.[34]

Calvin does not explicitly outline the relationship between the trinity and the Lord’s Supper, and this relationship is somewhat obscure and unclear. However, as has been seen, the three persons of the Godhead each have their roles in his doctrine of the Supper, thus the trinity is, albeit inexplicitly, evident in Calvin’s doctrine. In the Supper, Calvin places emphasis on Jesus and the Spirit, with little reference to the Father, but as was noted above, the Father is the one from whom we receive grace, and the one to whom we are taken, hence the Father is not absent. Calvin argues that a) Jesus is absolutely present, not as in the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, or as the Lutheran consubstantiation, for he is physically present in heaven, and thus cannot be physically present on earth; b) Christ is present, then, only by the Holy Spirit, who makes efficacious the Supper, uniting us to Christ and to each other; and c) the Supper is instituted by the Father, who lovingly seeks to nurture us and feed our renewed spiritual bodies, and it is to the Father whom the Spirit and Son draws us toward.[35] According to Selderhuis, Calvin saw the trinity as a necessary doctrine in understanding the atonement,[36] and as Calvin saw Christ’s sacrifice and the Supper as intrinsically linked, the Supper is, then, inevitably linked to the Trinity. In sum, Calvin’s doctrine of the Supper is surely, and predominately, “Christocentric-pneumatological,” in that it remains centered on Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Role of the Trinity in the Lord’s Supper in Contemporary Thought

Smith argues that “the sacramental actions of the church…are given to us specifically so that the Trinitarian character of the living God might be formed in us,”[37] and that “through the sacraments, the mystery of the trinity of God becomes the mystery in which we live.”[38] Torrance and Kasper, furthermore, argue that the whole Trinity must be worshipped in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper.[39] According to Thiselton, while the phrases “Eucharist,” “Holy Communion,” and “Lord’s Supper” are often associated with a particular denomination, the three are each used in the New Testament in reference to the Lord’s Supper.[40] Eucharistō (meaning to give thanks) is found in Luke 22.19; kuriakon deipnon (meaning Lord’s Supper) in 1 Cor. 11.20; and koinōnia (meaning communion, fellowship, association) in 1 Cor. 10.16. It is thanksgiving to the Father, a memorial (anamnēsis; 1 Cor. 11:24) of Jesus and an invocation of the Spirit.[41]

Anamnēsis is not a simple remembering, but implies our very participation in this event. This remembrance is caused by the Holy Spirit,[42] and Torrance argues that as we remember Christ it is in fact not us who reminds ourselves, but Jesus himself through the Holy Spirit, “as our ever-living and ever-present Lord, who, in his own person, is our Memorial in the presence of the Father. In other words, our memorial is the earthly counterpart of the heavenly Memorial.”[43]

A basic pattern arises according to recent literature: give thanks to the Father, in remembrance of Christ, as we invoke the presence of the Spirit.[44] Blessing and thanksgiving are fundamental in the Lord’s Supper in Mark 14.22,[45] remembrance fundamental in Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor. 11:17-34,[46] and throughout Scripture, it is through the Spirit that God’s grace comes to us, and so the Lord’s Supper is an epiklēsis (meaning invocation), in that the Spirit – in similar fashion to Calvin’s theology – makes the Supper efficacious.[47] The same Spirit in 1 Cor. 12:13 is the same Spirit who unifies us at the Supper. At the Supper, our relationship with God is not initiated, but presupposed,[48] and is an act of humble worship[49] at which we confess we deserve death and recognize Jesus as the Lamb sent from God.[50]

There are evident links between the Supper and the Old Testament Passover feast. 1 Cor. 5.7 labels Christ as our Passover (pascha) on which Torrance comments the word derives from paschein, meaning to suffer. Hence, it was a celebration of Jesus’ sacrifice as Lamb of God.[51] According to Kasper, Jesus is the new covenant, as the Lord’s Supper replaces the Passover and, further, “it is precisely in his giving of himself to the Father that in the Lord’s Supper he makes himself the gift of salvation for men and women.”[52] In 1 Cor. 11.23-24, the bread can be seen as the equivalent to the Passover Seder, reminding Christians of their exodus from sin, as the Jews were reminded of their exodus from Egypt.[53]

The Lord’s Supper must also be seen as a communal event. As mentioned above, koinōnia is found in 1 Cor. 10.16, on which MacArthur comments, “Commemorating the Lord’s Supper was a regular and cherished practice in the early church, by which believers remembered their Saviour’s death and celebrated their common salvation and eternal life which reflected their perfect spiritual oneness.[54] It was this communion that Paul had to remind the Corinthians of in the following chapter.[55] Furthermore, 2 Cor. 13:13 directly links this communion with the Holy Spirit. Hence, when we talk of communion at the Supper, we must acknowledge the Spirit’s presence and activity. Thus contemporary thought has provided a more explicitly Trinitarian understanding of the Lord’s Supper as does Calvin, and reveals a need for this understanding to be made explicit.[56] We give thanks to the Father for sending his Son, the Lamb of God, and recognize the Father as the one to whom we are drawn and from whom we receive grace and blessing. We remember the Son, a remembering which is far more than a strictly cerebral memory but rather a remembrance which draws us into participation in that which we remember, namely Christ’s atonement and thus our unification in Christ. He is the new covenant equivalent of the lamb shed at Passover; we remember him as the Jews would remember their exodus from Egypt – a full participation, as though they were there themselves. This is done through the work of the Spirit, without whom the Supper is no more than a simple meal. As an epiklēsis, we invoke the presence of the Spirit, who draws us and unifies us to Christ, and we celebrate the koinōnia we have with each other and with God.

Toward a Revised Theology of the Lord’s Supper

Before developing a revised theology, some issues in Calvin’s doctrine must be noted. The first is of a somewhat confusing explanation given by Calvin regarding Christ’s real presence while remaining in heaven. Reymond notes this has been an issue for reformed theologians since Calvin.[57] The second is the confusing link between sacrifice and sacrament in Calvin’s doctrine. Tylenda notes that while Calvin rejects the Supper as a new propitiatory or expiatory sacrifice, he elsewhere talks about the Supper as being, in some way, a sacrifice.[58] Calvin does not make explicit what he is referring to, but Tylenda suggests he meant a sacrifice of praise.[59] The third is in regard to Reymond’s statement that “by urging that Christians feed by faith upon the literal flesh and blood of Christ at the Lord’s Supper and that by doing so they derive from his humanity the ‘life-giving’ virtues which flow into it from the Godhead, Calvin, by his language…comes perilously close to suggesting the Godhead’s apotheosizing of Christ’s humanity and to transferring, at least in the Lord’s Supper the saving benefits of Christ’s atoning death directly to his human nature now localized in heaven.”[60] In other words, Calvin’s understanding that in the Supper we feed upon his human nature to be redeemed nearly implies that his humanity is, instead, his divinity. A response to this objection could be that it is important to see Christ’s humanity in heaven as post-resurrection,[61] and thus redeemed humanity, hence a clear distinction between his divinity and humanity may not be necessary or helpful. A last note is that chapter 17 of book 4 of the Institutes is lacking in biblical reference. From the rest of the Institutes, it is clear that Calvin is working closely with biblical texts, but his discussion on the Supper has minimal biblical support. It is clear, however, that his doctrine presupposes theology developed earlier, which is strongly supported by biblical reference, and this essay has attempted to provide this biblical support to his argument where possible.

A revision of Calvin’s doctrine on the Supper, in light of contemporary Trinitarian thought is required, but only in subtle ways. The biblical account clearly emphasizes Christ in the Supper, and this is evident in both Calvin’s doctrine and contemporary thought, hence Calvin’s “christocentric-pneumatological” approach is helpful. However, also important is thanksgiving toward the Father. While, as has been seen, Calvin does not exclude the Father’s role from his doctrine, thanksgiving toward the Father is lacking. Thus, thanksgiving is an important aspect in a revised theology.[62] A second aspect that must be considered is that of anamnēsis, a remembrance of Christ’s suffering, in which one participates. As the paschal Lamb, remembrance of Christ is the new covenant equivalent of the Passover feast. This feast, Calvin argues, is a gift from God and sustains and nourishes us, but it is something we are literally partaking in. We are nourished by being reminded of our unification with Christ. The Spirit, as both Calvin and many contemporary theologians argue, makes the Supper efficacious, who lifts us up to Christ and presents us to the Father. Regarding Christ’s physical body in heaven, Christ’s body should be explicitly recognized as post-resurrection and, thus, by feeding spiritually on him we are receiving the blessings, now, of the eschatological Kingdom of God and of Christ, to whom we are unified.[63]


As can be seen by the proposed revision above, the major re-evaluation of Calvin’s doctrine involves the Trinity and the roles of the persons therein. In sum, this essay argues the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, heavily influenced by Calvin’s doctrine and recent Trinitarian thought, should be understood as a christocentric, pneumatological, eucharistic and celebratory remembrance of Christ as the paschal Lamb of God, in whom we are unified and in whose death and resurrection we participate. For the Supper to be lacking in any of these areas is to do it an injustice. In being christocentric, we recognize Christ’s centrality at the Supper and our unity with Christ; in being pneumatological, we recognize the efficacious work of the Spirit, who draws us to Christ; in being eucharistic and celebratory, we offer thanks and praise to the Father for his nourishing and sustaining grace, and for sending his Son. The Supper is fully Trinitarian in nature, a fact which Calvin does not make explicit but is implicitly presupposed in his doctrine of the Supper. Recent thought has revealed the necessity of the Trinitarian nature of the Supper to be made explicit for a more comprehensive understanding of it. As Torrance comments, “Just as the whole undivided Trinity was involved in redemption so the whole undivided Trinity is worshipped in our celebration of the Eucharist.”[64]


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Bavinck, Herman. “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.” Mid-America Journal of Theology 19 (2008): 127-142.

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Clowney, Edmund P. The Church. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995.)

Gerrish, B. A. Grace and Gratitude: The Eucharistic Theology of John Calvin. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.)

Godfrey, W. Robert. “Calvin, Worship, and the Sacraments.” In A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes, edited by Peter A. Lillback David W. Hall. (New Jersey: P & R Publishing Company, 2008.)

Grenz, Stanley J. Theology for the Community of God. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994.)

Gunton, Colin E. Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Toward a Fully Trinitarian Theology. (London: T & T Clark Ltd., 2003.)

Haight, Roger. Ecclesial Existence: Christian Community in History. (New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc., 2008.)

Hart, Trevor. “Calvin and Barth on the Lord’s Supper.” In Calvin, Barth, and Reformed Theology, edited by Carl Trueman Neil B. MacDonald. (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2008.)

Hesselink, I. John. “Calvin’s Theology.” In The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin, edited by Donald K. McKim. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.)

Kasper, Walter. Theology and Church. (London: SCM Press, 1989.)

MacArthur, John. The Macarthur New Testament Commentary. (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007.)

McClean, John. “Calvin on the Supper: Puzzling and Proactive.” In Engaging with Calvin: Aspects of the Reformer’s Legacy for Today, edited by Mark D. Thompson. (Nottingham, England: InterVarsity Press, 2009.)

McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: An Introduction. 5th Edition ed. (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.)

Ngien, Dennis. Gifted Response: The Triune God as the Causative Agency of Our Responsive Worship. (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2008.)

Oulton, J. E. L. Holy Communion and Holy Spirit: A Study in Doctrinal Relationship. (London: S. P. C. K. , 1954.)

Ray E. Ciampa, Brian S. Rosner. The First Letter to the Corinthians. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.)

Reymond, Robert L. A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith. (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc. , 1998.)

Sampley, J. Paul. “The First Letter to the Corinthians.” In The New Interpreter’s Bible: Acts, Introduction to Epistolary Literature, Romans, 1 Corinthians, edited by Leander E. Keck et al., 10. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2002.)

Selderhuis, Herman J. The Calvin Handbook. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009.)

Smith, Gordon T. “The Sacraments and the Embodiment of Our Trinitarian Faith.” In Trinitarian Theology for the Church: Scripture, Community, Worship, edited by David Lanber Daniel J. Treier. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009.)

Thiselton, Anthony C. The Hermeneutics of Doctrine. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.)

Torrance, James B. Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace. (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster Press, 1996.)

Torrance, Thomas F. The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being, Three Persons. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark Ltd., 1996.)

Tylenda, Joseph N. “A Eucharistic Sacrifice in Calvin’s Theology?” Theological Studies 37, no. 3 (1976): 456-466.

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans., Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989).

[2] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th Edition ed. (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011).419

[3] Ibid. 420.

[4] Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994). 532. This is based on a very literal interpretation of Mark 14:22, 24; Matt. 26:26-28; Luke 22:19-20.

[5] W. Robert Godfrey, “Calvin, Worship, and the Sacraments,” in A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes, ed. Peter A. Lillback David W. Hall(New Jersey: P & R Publishing Company, 2008). 372.

[6] I. John Hesselink, “Calvin’s Theology,” in The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin, ed. Donald K. McKim(Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004). 87.

[7] ‘Ubiquity’ is the Lutheran term to describe the way in which Christ, in his humanity, shares in the divine attribute of omnipresence, and thus, in his physicality, can be everywhere. (Godfrey. 382.)

[8] Ibid. 383. Calvin responds to consubstantiation: “They insist, then, that the body of Christ is invisible and immense, so that it may be hid under bread, because they think that there is no other way by which they can communicate with him than by his descending into the bread, though they do not comprehend the mode of descent by which he raises us up to himself,” and “they insist on the local presence of Christ. How so? Because they cannot conceive any other participation of flesh and blood that that which consists either in local conjunction and contact, or in some gross method of enclosing.” Calvin. Institutes. 4.17.16.

[9] Godfrey. 372.

[10] Calvin. Institutes. 4.17.36.

Furthermore, Calvin labels transubstantiation as superstition (4.17.12) and Hart notes that Calvin believed transubstantiation “robs the bread of its integrity as bread, confuses the two realities within the signifying relation with one another, and effectively denies the need for faith (since Christ is de facto present as the bread and wine which are physically consumed).” (Trevor Hart, “Calvin and Barth on the Lord’s Supper,” in Calvin, Barth, and Reformed Theology, ed. Carl Trueman Neil B. MacDonald(Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2008). 41). Cf. Institutes 4.17.33.

[11] Ernest Bartels, Take Eat, Take Drink: The Lord’s Supper through the Centuries (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2004). 166.

[12] Herman J. Selderhuis, The Calvin Handbook (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009). 351. Cf. Institutes 4.17.26-29, 33.

[13] Hesselink. 87.

[14] Hart. 43. Rom. 8:34 places Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension in the same category, and thus can be understood as a physical death, physical resurrection, and physical ascension. Also, 1 Cor. 15:20-28; John 3:13, 16:5-7; Hebrews 4:14, 8:1.

[15] Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc. , 1998). 962. Cf. Institutes 4.17.9, 10. John 6:51-58 recounts Jesus declaring that in order to have eternal life, one must “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,” (v.53). Furthermore, John 15:26 and 16:13 state that it is the Spirit who testifies on our behalf before the Father and who guides us into truth and, thus, to the Father. Therefore, seeing that it is the Father who gives eternal life through Christ (John 3:16) and it is the Spirit who unifies us to Christ (1 Cor. 12:13) and guides us to the Father, the source of eternal life, we must acknowledge – with Calvin – that it is by Spirit that the Supper becomes efficacious.

[16] Calvin. Institutes. 4.14.7.

[17] Hart. 40.

[18] Calvin. Institutes. 4.14.7; 4.17.2. Cf. Godfrey. 375-77.

[19] Calvin. Institutes. 2.12.1.

[20] Hart. 39.

[21] John McClean, “Calvin on the Supper: Puzzling and Proactive,” in Engaging with Calvin: Aspects of the Reformer’s Legacy for Today, ed. Mark D. Thompson(Nottingham, England: InterVarsity Press, 2009). 210 – 211. He further states, “Christ’s physical absence from Earth is due to his physical presence in heaven,” (p. 212). Cf. Institutes, 2.16.14.

[22] B. A. Gerrish, Grace and Gratitude: The Eucharistic Theology of John Calvin (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993). 137-38. According to Gerrish, Calvin “held that the Holy Spirit is the bond of union between the worshipper and the true, life-giving flesh of Christ…the sacraments are strictly the Spirit’s means or instruments: where the Spirit is absent, the sacraments achieve no more than the sun shining on blind eyes,” (p. 138). Furthermore, Selderhuis states that “the presence of Christ’s body and blood in the elements effected by the Holy Spirit is an actual or true presence of his person.” (Selderhuis. 351).

[23] Calvin. Institutes. 4.17.26.

[24] Calvin. Institutes. 4.17.31. Furthermore, Ngien states, “The ‘perichoretic’ unity of the Son and Spirit in the same Godhead accentuates the central role of the Spirit as the efficacy of God’s action in Christ, rendering tangible and real the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper…By the Spirit, our faith recognizes that in the mystery of the Supper, Christ is truly present through the symbols by which our souls are fed elegantly, and that the power of his vicarious obedience in obtaining righteousness for us is truly felt by us,” (Dennis Ngien, Gifted Response: The Triune God as the Causative Agency of Our Responsive Worship (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2008). 165-66.

[25] Calvin. Institutes. 3.1.2-4. McClean argues that “for Calvin, a union with the body of Christ comes about through the indwelling of the Spirit and the response of faith,” and “this union…is a union with the whole Christ, particularly with the ascended, incarnate Christ,” (p. 217-18).

[26] Gerrish. 60.

[27] Ibid. 377.

[28] Calvin. Institutes. 4.17.1. John 3:16 tells us that God the Father sent the Son to bring us eternal life, and John 6 tells us that only those who feed upon the Son’s body and blood can have access to eternal life. Hence, God the Father has given us this spiritual feast.

[29] Ibid. 4.17.1.

[30] John Calvin, “Short Treatise on the Lord’s Supper,” in The Library of Christian Classics: Calvin: Theological Treatises, ed. et al. John Baillie(London: SCM Press Ltd., 1954). 144-45.

[31] While Calvin does not explicitly list biblical reference to his argument, this theology could be argued based on John 14:15-18 (with a focus on the word another, implying one who will act similarly to Christ, even one who represents Christ), and Romans 5:5.

[32] Calvin. Institutes. 4.17.19.

[33] Herman Bavinck, “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper,” Mid-America Journal of Theology 19, no. (2008). 131. Cf. Calvin. Institutes. 4.17.19.

[34] Ibid. 132.

[35] Calvin. Institutes. Book 4. Also, Calvin. Short Treatise. 143-45.

[36] Selderhuis. 245-57.

[37] Gordon T. Smith, “The Sacraments and the Embodiment of Our Trinitarian Faith,” in Trinitarian Theology for the Church: Scripture, Community, Worship, ed. David Lanber Daniel J. Treier(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009). 185.

[38] Ibid. 186. He goes on to state of the sacraments, the Lord’s Supper particularly, “We need to affirm that God remains sovereign (as Karl Barth insisted) and so is not constrained by the sacraments, which are located within the church but not owned by the church. Hence, the church together responds in thanksgiving to God as the summit of our common life in Christ. But more, this act of response is not merely with an idea that we have; it is not purely cerebral – something we are remembering or recalling, or even a principle with which we are identifying (such as the cross) – but rather, it is a real-time encounter with the living Christ, crucified, risen and ascended, and therefore it is necessarily salvific. We can only speak this way, however, if we enter our celebration of these sacred acts with a consciousness of their Trinitarian character,” (p. 187).

[39] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being, Three Persons (Edinburgh: T & T Clark Ltd., 1996). 256. Walter Kasper, Theology and Church (London: SCM Press, 1989). 194.

[40] Anthony C. Thiselton, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007). 525.

[41] Roger Haight, Ecclesial Existence: Christian Community in History (New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc., 2008). 211.

[42] In all things, the Spirit is the one who initiates. In Luke 9:1-2, Christ gives the disciples the authority of the Holy Spirit to drive out demons, etc. Hence, it is only through the Spirit that these things can be done, and in Luke 24:49, Jesus commands the disciples to wait for the Spirit. Paul writes that the Spirit enables a true confession of Christ as Lord (1 Cor. 12:3), is the seal of our salvation (Eph. 1:13-14) and assures us of our future glorification with Christ (Rom. 5:1-11). John 16:8-13 tells us that the Spirit convicts us of sin and shall lead us toward truth. Eph. 2:8 tells us that “it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,” and God’s grace and love have been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5).  Hence, our participation in Christ is initiated in our lives by the work of the Holy Spirit, and not ourselves.

[43] James B. Torrance, Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster Press, 1996). 75. Cf. Hebrews 4:14 – 5:10.

[44] Smith. 188.

[45] Kasper. 184.

[46] J. Paul Sampley, “The First Letter to the Corinthians,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible: Acts, Introduction to Epistolary Literature, Romans, 1 Corinthians, ed. Leander E. Keck et al.(Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2002). 935. Also, Brian S. Rosner Ray E. Ciampa, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010). 551. Sampley states, “What is involved in “remembering” in Israel’s traditions may be seen, for example, in Deut 26:5-11, where the narrative begins as a story told in the third person…and then shifts to the second-person plural “us”…The old story becomes the teller’s story; liturgy unites the old story with current worshipers’ story. What happened back then is retold to incorporate the new tellers and hearers as a part of the narrative, as participants in the old and ongoing story. So it is with Paul’s understanding of the Lord’s supper,” (p. 935).

[47] Kasper. 186.

[48] J. E. L. Oulton, Holy Communion and Holy Spirit: A Study in Doctrinal Relationship (London: S. P. C. K. , 1954). 19. Also, Edmund P. Clowney, The Church (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995). 276. Clowney notes that “the sacraments are a word of divine power, given in visible form…receiving does not create the blessing of Christ’s presence, but accepts it, all through the Holy Spirit,” (p. 276).

[49] Colin E. Gunton, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Toward a Fully Trinitarian Theology (London: T & T Clark Ltd., 2003). Gunton quotes Jenson of saying that “all life belongs intimately to God, so that the killing involved in eating – which we do not at all avoid by eating vegetables – is an intrusion into his domain…Sharing a meal is therefore always a communal act of worship.” (p. 222). This might well be eisegesis, limiting the distinction between the Lord’s Supper and any other supper, but the emphasis on the importance of recognition of worshipping the triune God – the Father who initiated, the Son who by, through and for, creation came about, and the Spirit who made creation efficacious – is well placed.

[50] Clowney. 286. 1 Cor. 11:26.

[51] Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being, Three Persons. 255. Cf. John 1:29.

[52] Kasper. 180.

[53] Ray E. Ciampa. 550. He further notes that “Jesus’ statement that we are to partake of the Lord’s Supper in his remembrance reflects the nature of the Passover as a “memorial” (Exod. 12:14) during which the Israelites were to remember the day of their exodus redemption (Deut. 16:3). Each Jewish father (including those who lived generations and centuries after the fact) was to explain to his son that he celebrated the Passover Seder the way he did “because of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt” (m. Pesahim 10:5). This background suggests that the act of remembrance entailed profound meditation upon and proclamation of that which was remembered,” (p. 551).

[54] John MacArthur, The Macarthur New Testament Commentary (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007). 497. Emphasis mine.

[55] Cf. Sampley. 934.

[56] We should not stress, however, the role of the Father in order to make an entirely Trinitarian theology of the Supper. The Father is involved and must be recognized as having an important role in the Supper, but the biblical accounts, along with Calvin and contemporary theologians, place the emphasis on Christ.

[57] Reymond. Cf. Selderhuis. 351-52.

[58] Joseph N. Tylenda, “A Eucharistic Sacrifice in Calvin’s Theology?,” Theological Studies 37, no. 3 (1976). 457-58. Cf. Calvin. Institutes. 4. 18. Cf. Hebrews 10:12.

[59] Ibid. 458. Cf. Hebrews 13:15.

[60] Reymond. 963.

[61] John 20 reveals Jesus’ physical resurrected body to be different, in fact Mary barely recognized him at first. He could eat just as before but he could walk through walls and even disappear at any point (Luke 24). Jesus’ new, post-resurrection body is the same as that which Paul refers to in 1 Cor. 15. It is imperishable (vv.41-42), glorious (v.42), spiritual and from heaven (vv.44, 47), immortal (v.53) and victorious (v.57).

[62] As can be seen by the use of eucharistō in both Matthew and Luke’s discussion on the Supper.

[63] To continue this eschatological motif, Luke 22:16 tells us that the Lord’s Supper is a sign of the eschatological banquet to come, as mentioned in Isaiah 25:6, 1 Cor. 11:26 and Rev. 2:7, 19:9.

[64] Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being, Three Persons. 256.

John Translation

JOHN 3:1-10
1. And there was a person from the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2. This man came to him at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one is able to do these signs which you are doing, if God is not with him.” 3. Jesus replied and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone is not born from above, he is not able to see the Kingdom of God.” 4. Nicodemus said to him, “How is a person able to be born again, being an old man? Is he not able to enter the womb of his mother a second time and be born again?” 5. Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if someone is not born from water and spirit, he is not able to enter the Kingdom of God. 6. What has born from flesh is flesh, and what has born from spirit is spirit. 7. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘you must be born from above.’ 8. The wind blows where it wants and you hear its noise, but you do not know where it comes from and where it is going. This is the same for the one who is born from spirit.” 9. Nicodemus answered and said to him, “How can these things be?” 10. Jesus answered and said to him, “You are the teacher of Israel and you do not know these things?”
1. And there was a man, a Pharisee and authority in the Sanhedrin, named Nicodemus. 2. This man came to Jesus by the cover of night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come directly from God, for no one can perform the miracles that you are performing, unless God is with him. 3. Jesus replied by saying to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you: no one who is not begotten from above and from God can see or participate in the Kingdom of God.” 4. Nicodemus asked him, “How could a grown man possibly be born again? How is it possible for him to enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born again?” 5. Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you: unless someone is begotten from water and Spirit, and is spiritually renewed, he will enter the Kingdom of God, 6. for what has been born from flesh remains merely flesh, but what has been born Spirit remains Spirit. 7. Do not be astonished when I tell you that you must be begotten from above. 8. As the wind blows wherever it wants and, despite not knowing where it comes from or where it is going, you hear it and see its effects, so you hear and see the effects of those who are begotten from Spirit.” 9. Nicodemus responded by asking, “How can this be possible?” 10. Jesus answered, “How is possible that despite you being the teacher of Israel you do not know these things?”

JOHN 6:60-71
60. Then, after many of his disciples heard this, they said, “This word is hard, who is able to understand?” 61. But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were complaining about this, he said to them, “Does this offend you? 62. Then what if you see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63. It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is not helpful at all. The words that I have said to you are spirit and life. 64. But there are some from you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who were the ones who did not believe and who was the one who would betray him. 65. And he said, “Therefore, I have told you this, that no one is able to come to me if they have not been given from the Father.” 66. Because of this, many from his disciples turned back and no longer went with him. 67. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you not also want to leave?” 68. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom will we follow? You have words of eternal life, 69. and we have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” 70. Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet of you one is a devil.” 71. He was speaking about Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, for he was going to give him up, even though he was one of the twelve.
60. Then, after many of his disciples heard this, they asked, “Who could possibly be able to accept this difficult teaching?” 61. But Jesus, knowing within himself that his disciples were discontent and were complaining about this, he asked them, “Are you insulted by what I say and cannot understand it? 62. Therefore will you not be even more insulted when the Son of Man is ascending to where he was before? 63. For it is the Spirit that gives life, while weak humanity is not at all helpful. 64. Yet amongst you there are still some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the very beginning who did not believe, and who would be the one to betray him, 65. and said, “Therefore, I have told you this – that no one can come to me unless the Father has presented them to me.” 66. Because of what Jesus said, many of his disciples turned away, departing from him, no longer to follow him anymore. 67. Jesus then said to the twelve, “Do you not also want to leave me?” 68. But Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, where else could we go, and who else could we follow? You have words of eternal life, 69. and we have come to believe and know for sure that you are the Holy One of God.” 70. However, Jesus responded to them by saying, “Was it not I who chose you twelve to know such things? Yet one of you is a devil.” 71. He was speaking about Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, for Judas, despite being one of the chosen twelve, was going to give him up.

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