The Preterist doctrine of the Parousia presents a challenging question as regards the Eucharistic Supper. In 1 Corinthians 11:26, Paul said, "As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you do shew forth the Lord’s death until he come." The argument against the Preterist doctrine maybe best summarized in the words of Gus Nichols when he debated Max King, "Til he comes, we are to show his death by eating the supper. But if he came nineteen hundred years ago – in 70 AD – then the Lord’s Supper ought to have been stopped then." (Nichols-King Debate, 1973).
The question for the Preterist then is simple. If Jesus came for the final time in 70 AD, should Christians today continue to observe the Lord’s Supper?
I am a Preterist and affirm the Supper is to be taken today. My reasons are stated below.
In Matthew 26:26ff our Master instituted the Supper and promised, "I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom."
This text is generally interpreted to mean that when the kingdom was established on Pentecost and the church began to commemorate the Supper, this was the "new" way Jesus had in mind. Under the Old Covenant the Passover had a typical significance which found its fulfillment in the Supper of the Kingdom.
I accept this position on a limited basis. However, I believe it has serious flaws in it that do not sufficiently consider at least two different tenets.
First, the significance of "new." Arndt-and Gingrich says the word "new" from kainos (Greek), means new in the sense of never having been before, or new as in superior in contrast to old. In other words, in meaning, worth, or significance. Vines says it means "new as form of quality, of different nature what is contrasted as old." (Vol. III. p.109.) See also Thayer, p. 317. Kittel says that kainos emphasizes what is "new and distinctive…What is new in nature…better than the old, superior in value or attraction…" (Vol. III. p.447.)
This newness is an overlooked aspect of the Supper, especially in regard to the Parousia. The Supper was not a totally new institution. It was the Passover fulfilled. Even that greater meaning, however, was not brought to fruition until the salvation wrought by the death of Jesus was consummated. The consummation of that salvation was "ready to be revealed in the last time" I Peter 1:5. That this was imminent is proven by comparing I Peter 1:5 with I John 2:18.
This brings us to the second oft-neglected tenet: the maturation period of the church. We in the churches of Christ have taught, at least implicitly, that when the church was established on Pentecost it was complete, full-grown, lacking nothing. The only time we have qualified this in any way was in our debates with charismatics when we emphasized the on-going revelation-confirmation period of miracles was for the church to come to maturity. Such argumentation is hardly consistent. It is also interesting to hear such vehement insistence on the part of some writers that the church was established in totality and completeness on Pentecost. This doctrine has some serious implications as a future article will demonstrate.
During the period of time when the church was coming to maturity (this is sometimes called a period of transition) there are several things mentioned in the New Testament as being present realities, but which were also spoken of as coming realities. Invariably the future aspect of these coming things is one of imminency.
The following list will demonstrate a few of the things which were both present realities but also objects of imminent expectation.
Grace: Present: Romans 5:2, Galatians 1:6; Imminent Future: I Peter 1:5-7; 4:5,7,13,17; 5:10. Glory: Present: I Thessalonians 2:12; Imminent Future: I Peter 1:5- 7. Salvation: Present: Ephesians 2:8-9; Imminent Future: Romans 13:11; Hebrews 9:28; 10:37. Adoption: Present: Romans 8:15; Imminent Future: Romans 8:19ff. Kingdom: Present: Colossians 1:13; Imminent Future: Luke 21:29-32.
How does this transitional period relate to the present issue? We believe the answer is to be found in the term "new" (kainos).
It is incontrovertible that when the church began to observe the Supper from Pentecost, Acts 2, and onward, I Corinthians 11, they were partaking of it in a new way. It was not the Old Passover. It had a new meaning.
But, while the Supper had a new meaning during this transition period, it had not yet found its perfection. In the same way that those first Christians had life, glory, grace, salvation, adoption, and the kingdom (but were still expecting the imminent consummation of these things), so it was with the Lord’s Supper. It was new, but not yet perfected.
When would the Supper’s new meaning find perfection or consummation, so that far from ceasing, it would be taken in the predicted new way? The answer is to be found in Luke 22:15-18.
In these verses, Jesus promised, "I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God." In verse 18 he emphasized, "I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God shall come."
Jesus promised to partake of the Supper in a new way when the kingdom came. As noted it is usually taught the kingdom came in totality on Pentecost. Such is not the case however.
That the church/kingdom was set up on Pentecost we deny not. The church was present then and afterwards; but the kingdom was still future also!
In Matthew 16:27-28 Immanuel promised to come in his Father’s glory, with the angels, to judge the world. He then stated emphatically that some then living would not die until they had seen Him coming in the kingdom. This did not happen on Pentecost! This then is a reference to a future coming of the kingdom subsequent to its establishment on Pentecost.
Further, in Luke 21:31 our Master looked forward to the signs preceding the fall of the Jewish Theocracy and said, "…when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand." Those "things" presage an event that did not happen until thirty-seven years after Pentecost; yet, they were portents of the soon to come kingdom! So the kingdom (in whatever sense Jesus was referring to it) would not have fully arrived until A.D.70.
Could it not be that while the church ate the Supper in a new, yet unperfected way, in the present yet unperfected kingdom, that when the time of the perfection arrived they ate the perfected Supper in the perfected kingdom?
I suggest this is the case. Thus, when Paul in I Corinthians 11:26 said they were to show forth the Lord’s death "till he come," he was eagerly looking forward, not to the cessation but to the consummation of the Supper.
The Lord’s return, most assuredly expected in the lifetime of the Corinthians (cf. I Corinthians 1:4-8; 7:29-31; 13:8-13,) was not so much for the purpose of destroying the old Levitical system as it was for fulfilling it and bringing to completion the Scheme of Redemption. As the early church communed with the Lord in his Supper (I Corinthians 10:16-21), they remembered his death and sufferings. They eagerly longed for his return when the Feast would not only be a remembrance of the past, but a celebration with Him in a completely established and triumphant Kingdom. After Jesus came in A.D.70 the Supper could finally be taken in the perfected "newness" of which he spoke.
Today as children of God we also participate in the Supper. It is not in anticipation of a coming salvation, but in realization of an accomplished salvation through the suffering of our Lord. The Supper was not to cease at Jesus’ return. It was and is to be taken in appreciation of his accomplished work.
The above are some of the reasons why I believe the Supper should be taken today. But the opponents of the Preterist interpretation need to realize that there are further serious problems with their argumentation and the traditional posit.
First, when it is argued that if Jesus came in 70 the Communion should not be taken today because it was to be taken "until he come," it must be realized that this contention has not one bit of bearing on whether Jesus did come! It has not one thing to say about whether the Lord kept his promise to return in that generation, Matthew 16:27-28. It does not address whether the Corinthians actually lived until the day of the Lord, I Corinthians 1:4-8; or deal with time statements such as "the time is short." 7:29.
The argument noted above is purely and simply a "What now?" argument. Further it is generally given in an emotional context in disregard of the truthfulness of the question at hand…did Jesus really keep his word and return in the first century?
To assert that if Jesus did return in 70 then the Supper is not for today is, as noted a simple matter of "What now?" Regardless of whether the Supper is to be taken today (and we have stated in positive terms our conviction that is is), one must answer the question of the time for Jesus’ Epiphany. And in the very text used by those opposed to the Preterist view is evidence which is being totally ignored.
You Do Shew Forth The Lord’s Death
One of the first rules of hermeneutics, whether Biblical or secular is to ask certain questions; who, what, when, where, why, and how. Have some forgotten these basic principles in attempting to defend traditional concepts?
When Paul wrote the book under view, to whom was it addressed? Was it not the Corinthians? Are the Corinthians still alive today? This is very vital. Who is the you that Paul said would take of the Supper until the Lord returned?
It is generally argued that Paul’s use of "you" is editorial. This is just another way of attempting to say Paul meant all Christians of all time will take of the Supper until the Lord’s return. Unfortunately this ignores Paul’s use of "you" in the context and the normal use of the editorial you.
A careful reading of the text will reveal Paul’s very personal use of "you:" that it is used to speak not of all Christians in a timeless sense, but of the Corinthians especially.
Notice then Paul’s use of "you."
1.) 11:17 – "I do not praise you…"
2.) 11:17 – "you come together not for the better…"
3.) 11:18 – "when you come together as a church…I hear there are divisions among you…" 4.) 11:19 – "there must be factions among you…that those who are approved may be recognized among you."
5.) 11:20 – "When you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper."
6.) 11:22 – "What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?"
7.) 11:22 – "Do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing?"
8.) 11:23 – "I received of the Lord what I delivered to you."
9.) 11:30 – "For this cause many are weak and sickly among you."
Now we would hasten to note that we today can and do learn from the Corinthian situation. We know it is wrong to turn the Supper into a common meal, and that those who observe the Supper must discern the body. But we learn this because we learn from the lessons specifically addressed to the Corinthians about their problems and situations.
Can the reader not see that Paul’s use of "you" in I Corinthians 11 is not timeless and editorial; that it is very specific, ever personal? Upon what exegetical or hermeneutic principle can one inject millennia into such a personal situation and language? Yes, Paul said "Whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup unworthily, eats and drinks damnation to his soul;" and the principle is still applicable. But he did not say that all would take the Lord’s Supper until the Lord returned. He told the Corinthians "as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you do show forth the Lord’s death until he come." And this brings me to the last point I wish to note.
Until He Come
Those who wish to argue the Supper was to be taken only "until" the coming of the Lord would do well to observe how the word "until" is used in regard to the Coming.
In I Corinthians 1:4-8 Paul rejoiced that the Corinthians had all spiritual gifts, vs.5,7. These miraculous gifts had confirmed the Corinthians, vs.6; and the gifts would continue to confirm the Corinthians "to the end," the day of the Lord Jesus Christ, vs.7-8.
The Corinthians were to refrain from judging "until the Lord come," 5:5. In a parallel passage to I Corinthians 1:4-8 Paul tells the Philippians that Christ had begun a good work in them and would continue that good work "until the day of Jesus Christ," 1:6. When writing to his young protege Timothy the aged apostle instructs him to "keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing," I Timothy 6:14.
You will notice of course that in none of these texts does it say the Lord would continue his work until the Corinthians/Philippians died; it specifically says the Lord would continue to work in them until the coming of the Lord. Paul did not tell Timothy to be spotless "until you die;" he told him to be righteous "until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing."
Our point is that in I Corinthians 11:26 when Paul told the Corinthians "ye do shew forth the Lord’s death until he come," that it was simply another example of inspired testimony that the Lord would return in the generation then living! If this is not the meaning of the words and text then ask yourself this question: If the Lord had wanted to tell the Corinthians they would take of the Supper until he returned how better could it have been expressed than it is already in verse 26?
A further short thought on "until." It need not be thought that the word is always used in the sense of "up to the point of and not after." Very often in scripture the word is used in a transitional sense without the sense of termination.
In Matthew 11:12 Jesus said the kingdom had suffered violence "until now." Did the kingdom suffer no violence after the days of John the Baptist? In verse 13 of the same text Jesus said the "Law and prophets were until John;" did the law pass away when John came? In Romans 5:13 inspiration says sin was in the world "until the law." Now was there no more sin after the Old Law came? Paul told Timothy "until I come give attendance to reading, exhortation, to doctrine," I Timothy 4:13. Was Timothy to stop the public reading of scriptures and doctrinal preaching when Paul came? Incidentally the correspondence of I Timothy 4 and the language of I Corinthians 11:26 is remarkable.
These few examples should demonstrate that we need not necessarily understand the word "until" in I Corinthians 11 as indicating an end to the institution of the Lord’s Supper.
I have delineated my reasons for believing the Supper is to be taken today even though I believe Jesus returned in 70 AD. The Supper today is to be taken not in anticipation but in realization in the predicted "new" manner. The kingdom has fully come and we today dwell in it.
Those who contend the Supper must cease if Jesus returned in 70 A.D. have ignored the contextual statements of I Corinthians 11. They have ignored Paul’s personal use of "you;" they have ignored the significance of the Supper being taken by the Corinthians "until he come;" and imposed a singular meaning on "until&quo
t; which is not contextually necessary.
For these reasons we believe the Supper was not to cease at the Lord’s return. It is to be taken in appreciation of his accomplished work.
"Let us therefore celebrate the feast…with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." I Cor.5:8.
For further study and corroboration I suggest a study of the typical nature of the Passover.
Israel ate the Passover in Egypt the night before they left, while the promised land was still a promise, Exodus 12-14.
Israel celebrated Passover after being delivered from Egypt, and as they traveled to their promised land, Numbers 9:2-5.
Finally, that Feast was taken after Israel had conquered their land and partaken of the sweet fruits of victory, Joshua 5:6-12.
Is this not symbolic of the Lord’s Supper, our Passover, I Corinthians 5:7-8? It was taken on the night of his betrayal, and by the church on its journey to the promised salvation, I Peter 1:5ff, 2:11. Today in the kingdom, as we enjoy the victory wrought by Jesus we take of the Supper in commemoration of that deliverance.