Thoughts of a Living Christian

Musings of an amateur theologian and hopeful writer

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

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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.


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