by Al Maxey

Issue #553 ------- October 26, 2012
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land.

Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894)

The Meaning of "Do This"
Seeking the Significance of Christ's
Command during the Last Supper

Anthropologists characterize humans as being "worshipful" by nature, which tends to distinguish them from the other living creatures. Every community of people, whether large or small, modern or primitive, will find some being, whether physical or spiritual, or some thing, whether tangible or intangible, to worship. In most cases, where such worshipful practice has existed for any length of time, traditions arise around these religious devotions, serving to bind a people together in a common spiritual experience. A vital part of this community experience are memorial feasts in which great leaders and events are regularly remembered by the devotees.

In the testament of Epicurus [Diogenes Laertius, x. 16-22], for example, an ancient Greek philosopher who lived from 341-270 B.C. and who was the founder of the school of philosophy known as Epicureanism, we find provision being made for an annual feast and celebration "in memory of us and Metrodorus." Joining memories to meals keeps the former alive in the hearts and minds of the people through the regular communal observance of the latter. One of the great days of remembrance for the Jews was/is the annual Passover. "And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it as a feast unto the Lord throughout your generations" (Exodus 12:14, KJV). Food facilitates fond memories. Just mentioning turkey and pumpkin pie brings to mind Thanksgiving Day to most Americans. Such memories are vital to the preservation of our identity as a people. These times of remembrance bind us together in spite of our many areas of diversity.

The main meal of remembrance of the Christian community is, of course, the Lord's Supper (Eucharist, Communion). The disciples of Jesus Christ "gather around the Table of the Lord" to commemorate His sacrifice on the cross, partaking of the bread and wine as their hearts and minds ponder His body and blood, and the spiritual significance of each. This is more than just a theological exercise, however. It is also very much a participatory event in which we share in His sacrifice. "Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf" (1 Cor. 10:16-17, NIV). Barclay writes that the greatest significance of this time of remembering is that "the memory turns into an experience and an encounter." In a very real sense we meet our Lord face to face in this memorial; a personal experience with our Savior and His sacrifice that should "end in renewed dedication." "No such experience can end in anything other than a renewed pledge to the One whom we have encountered" [William Barclay, The Lord's Supper, p. 112-113].

I think most Christians would agree that the Lord's Supper is a multi-faceted event: it speaks to us and ministers to us and others on a number of levels. It also has a rich and fascinating history over the past 2000 years. I have dealt with all of this in quite some depth in my book One Bread, One Body. Speaking of which, a minister here in New Mexico sent me the following email a couple of weeks ago: "I just finished reading your book One Bread, One Body. Good job! A little addendum: Paul reported Jesus' instruction, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.' When Jesus said 'do this,' what was the meaning of 'this'? Did He mean as often as we eat or drink, whether that be breakfast, lunch or supper? That's one possibility, which would support a rule-based prayer of thanksgiving at every meal, whether at home or at McDonald's. But, the context of Jesus' instruction was a Passover meal, which the Scriptures tell us was an annual celebration of God's rescue of His chosen people from slavery in Egypt. It was clear what the Jews were to remember. However, Jesus taught His disciples to remember Him: how He was rescuing them from slavery to sin and death, instead of remembering the escape of the Israelites from Egypt. As often as we celebrate the 'passing over' of our sins, we are to remember the death, burial and resurrection of the One who made possible our escape! The Lord bless you and keep you -- and also Shelly."

The texts that have the phrase in question are Luke 22:19 -- "And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me'" (NIV) and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 -- "For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, 'This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me.' For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (NIV). It should be noted that the gospel records of Matthew, Mark and John do not contain the command: "do this." It is unique to Luke and Paul. Almost all translations use this wording, although a few reverse it -- "this do." The New World Translation, keying in on the use of the Greek present tense, translates the phrase: "keep doing this." A couple of translations (Easy-to-Read Version and Contemporary English Version) do a bit of interpretation by rendering Luke 22:19 as "eat this" and 1 Cor. 11:24-25 as "eat this ... drink this." The Message has "eat it" in the Luke passage, but has "do this" in Paul's passage. The phrase in Greek is: touto poieite. The first word is a demonstrative pronoun (neuter singular, and the form may be either nominative or accusative) meaning "this." The second word is the present active indicative/imperative (it may be either), 2nd person plural form of the word poieo, which means "to make, create, do, accomplish, cause to be." If the phrase is viewed as an imperative (which most scholars take it to be), this is a command from the Lord -- "do this" (or "this do").

The questions that arise, however, are: What does "this" refer to, and how specifically does one "do" or "accomplish" it? Most Christians simply take it for granted that Jesus was "commanding Lord's Supper observance." Albert Barnes (1798-1870), in his monumental work Barnes' Notes on the Bible, observes: "'This do ye' -- Partake of this bread and wine; that is, celebrate this ordinance" [e-Sword]. Barnes goes on to note that Paul twice uses the phrase "as oft as ye drink it," which he comments upon as follows: "Not prescribing any time; and not even specifying the frequency with which it was to be done; but leaving it to themselves to determine how often they would partake of it. The time of the Passover had been fixed by positive statute; the more mild and gentle system of Christianity left it to the followers of the Redeemer themselves to determine how often they would celebrate His death. It was commanded them to do it; it was presumed that their love to Him would be so strong as to secure a frequent observance; it was permitted to them, as in prayer, to celebrate it on any occasion of affliction, trial, or deep interest when they would feel their need of it, and when they would suppose that its observance would be for the edification of the Church" [ibid].

A number of biblical scholars, who take the command of Jesus to refer to the Lord's Supper, regard the phrase "do this" ("this do") as being even more specific as to certain particulars of that observance. The Expositor's Greek Testament, for example, states: "touto (this) includes, beside the act, the accompanying words, without which the 'remembrance' is imperfect" [vol. 2, p. 881]. In other words, it isn't enough to merely consume the elements of the Eucharist (bread and wine), one must also actually say the words that Jesus spoke over each in order to make the observance complete. Thus, "do this" would include not just eating and drinking, but also speaking. Others become even more specific, saying the command "do this" means one must replicate every detail of that meal. For example, we must use only unleavened bread (assuming that this was what Jesus used in the Passover meal), it must be broken and distributed in a specific manner (as per His pattern), and we must use only one cup, and the contents can only be red wine (although some insist it must be unfermented). The Pulpit Commentary, which takes a strong stand against Roman Catholicism and its "Mass," states, "The breaking of the bread ought not, therefore, to be abandoned, as in the case when 'wafers' are used" [vol. 19, p. 365]. The conflicts that have arisen throughout the centuries over the legalistic, patternistic particulars of this observance, as each sect or faction seeks to comply with our Lord's command to "do this," are endless ... and shameful.

Dr. C. K. Barrett believes the phrase "do this" simply means: "Say a thanksgiving, and break and distribute the loaf" [A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 267], and then, in like manner, "Take a cup, say the blessing over it, and distribute it" [ibid, p. 269]. As to frequency, this professor observes, "Christians must 'do this' not every time they have a meal, but whenever they drink wine. Bread was always available; in ordinary households wine was not" [ibid]. Thus, this remembrance of our Lord's blood sacrifice was tied to the drinking of wine, according to this scholar. Others, such as R. C. H. Lenski, see it as less specific: "The word 'this' includes what Christ has just done, namely: two essential acts which we usually term the consecration and the distribution" [The Interpretation of St. Paul's First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians, p. 468]. All of these tend to confer upon this act of remembrance a sacramental quality and significance, which has led to a number of abuses through the centuries (for a discussion of this see: Reflections #114 -- The Lord's Supper: A Brief Historical Overview).

Although most Christians perceive the words "do this" ("this do") to have reference to the Lord's Supper (and rightly so, in my view), yet we should be aware that there are other interpretations. Many Jewish Christians, for example, still observe the Passover as part of their heritage, even though they accept Jesus as the Messiah. Thus, they see the phrase "this do" as being an instruction to them specifically to remember JESUS as they observe the Passover, seeing HIM in the various elements on their table, which thus "forever after brought the Passover Seder to its full new covenant meaning" (from a Jewish Christian web site). Frankly, I see some merit to this view. Others believe "do this" may refer back to the foot washing incident, thus emphasizing the need for humble service to one another. This seems unlikely, however, due to the fact that Paul makes no mention of foot washing when using "do this" in his instruction to the Corinthian brethren (rather, the context centers on the Lord's Supper, and their abuses of that memorial meal). My own view is that Jesus was not "laying down LAW" with respect to specifics of a sacrament, but was simply instructing His disciples in that upper room (and by extension each of us who follow in the footsteps of their faith) that whenever they assembled and took food together (whether it be a Passover meal or an Agape Feast or any gathering of believers), they should take time, as they partook of the bread and wine, to remember Him, who united them as One Body. "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (1 Cor. 10:16-17, ESV). Whenever we "do this" ... as often as we "do this" ... let us remember Him who made us One Body!

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce & Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

(A 193 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution & Extremism

(A 230 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

Immersed By One Spirit
Rethinking the Purpose and Place of
Baptism in NT Theology and Practice

(A 304 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Illinois:

I find your studies on such controversial doctrines as baptism, the Lord's Supper, and life after death to be extremely enlightening. Therefore, please send me your two-CD set on The Nature of Man and His Eternal Destiny. My check is enclosed. Thank you.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

I ordered and received your CDs on The Nature of Man and His Eternal Destiny, but I did not receive the written handouts that you used in that class.

From a Reader in Canada:

Your Reflections article "Dead Body - Dead Faith" is truly timeless: needful for all of us to reflect upon and act upon daily. I will put this article on my blog site, if that is okay with you. I have several other articles of yours on there already. Thanks once again for all you do to build up the saints to become more like their Lord and Savior Jesus the Messiah.

From a Reader in Michigan:

Sorry to be so late in responding to your latest Reflections ("Dead Body - Dead Faith"), but it was surely an important one! It will be disturbing to those who think the "soul flies away" somewhere at death. Too many people I know define death simply as a separation, implying the "soul" separates from the body at death. Death, however, is a loss of life. Those characteristics of life such as animation, thought, movement and breathing are all gone at death, replaced by a decaying body. I hope some will think about that.

From a Reader in California:

I truly appreciate your last Reflections ("Dead Body - Dead Faith"). The interpretation of pneuma as "breath" rather than "spirit" powerfully conveys the "raw truth" that is so characteristic of James' writing (which continues to inspire me). I always thought that the word "spirit" in that passage seemed a little out of place, because it appeared to be an abstract concept forced into a practical illustration -- these illustrations being one of the main characteristics of James' writing. This is the same man who asks, "Come now, you who say, 'today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a city.' What is your life? It is like a vapor." James reveled in the practical metaphor, much as his brother Jesus did. To suddenly "go Platonic" would have been truly out of character. I believe you have given the correct meaning of this word and placed it in its appropriate setting, thus making the treasure of James' teaching shine even brighter for us English readers.

From a Reader in Arizona:

I was raised a Nazarene and a Jehovah's Witness, and then started reading my Bible and came to faith in Christ. I have also read most of your Reflections, and I enjoy them very much. I have been studying baptism for a few months now, and your writings have really helped me to get a grasp on what the proper interpretation of this act is. I have never been involved with the Church of Christ denomination, but I have found their teachings are hard to avoid when searching the Internet, and I will admit that some of them can be very convincing. Anyway, I just wanted to write and encourage you in your work, and to say thank you. Your writings have really helped me. Again, I really do thank you.

From a Reader in Alaska:

I hadn't taken the time to read your latest article in New Wineskins about you being called to serve as the Chaplain at an Execution on November 6, 2001, but after all your readers' comments, how could I not?! It is an incredible story, well told, about applied faith. Theoretical faith, frequently found in church buildings, often differs from the more difficult applied faith, which is more often found amidst the ugliness of daily life. I personally can't imagine a more individually obscene story than the criminal savagery of this case. And yet, so many Scriptural concepts come to my mind because of how you applied your faith in our Lord in this circumstance. Your work often points me to reflect upon Christ, and how I ought to honor God Incarnate in my daily life. I can offer no higher compliment. Blessings in your ministry.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

In Sunday night's sermon, our preacher said that the Greek word translated "division" in 1 Corinthians 1:10 could also be translated "denomination." I've never heard of that view. What do you think?

If you would like to be removed from or added to this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. These articles may all
be purchased on CD. Check the ARCHIVES for
details and past issues of these weekly Reflections: