TBU: The Bible Unpacked: In-Depth Edition

I.  Symbolic Rites

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Chapter 29  Part I

Symbolic Rites

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are considered by many churches to be the Christian rites or sacraments. “Sacrament” comes from a Latin term meaning “military oath”. The sacraments are often spoken of as being an outward sign with an inner significance. They are practiced by churches in worship ceremonies. Circumcision was also a rite practiced by God’s people, under the first covenant, but has no such relevance under the second covenant.

Baptism

The Greek translated as “baptism” denotes washing in water. Opinions differ as to whether baptism need necessarily involve full immersion in water, as opposed to simply pouring or sprinkling water on the person being baptized.

God’s people are baptized in the “name” of Jesus Christ

See also:

Being baptized in – or into (cf. Gal 3:27 ; Rom 6:3 ) – the “name” of Jesus Christ, is in part a declaration of our identification and relationship with Jesus Christ, and their commitment or allegiance to him. This explanation reflects both the meaning of the Latin from which “sacrament” comes (i.e. military oath) and the concept of being united with him (discussed in the following subsection).

Acts 2:38  And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. ▤ 

Acts 8:14-16  Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. ▤ 

Note that an explanation as to why these Gentiles did not receive the Holy Spirit until some time after their apparent conversion is offered in Examples of people receiving the Holy Spirit.

Acts 10:47-48  “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. ▤ 

Acts 19:5  On hearing this, they were baptized inc the name of the Lord Jesus. ▤ 

c Or into

1Cor 1:13-15  Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. ▤ 

In pointing out to the Corinthians that they were not baptized into his name, Paul alludes to baptism involving one being baptized into the name of Jesus Christ.

  • Jesus said to baptize people “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”:

Matt 28:19-20  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them ind the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. ▤ 

d Or into

In view of the oneness of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, baptizing people in the name of Jesus Christ is effectively the same as what Jesus speaks of here.

Baptism into Jesus Christ signifies being united with him – with the corresponding implications

See also:

Rom 6:2-5  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. ▤ 

Being “baptized into Christ” (v. 3) signifies the spiritual union of the believer with Christ. This being so, Paul draws parallels between baptism and other aspects of this spiritual union. Paul appears to parallel one’s immersion at baptism, with being immersed in death with Christ in his death (vv. 3-4a, 5a). As such, baptism portrays the death of our old self which was enslaved to sin (cf. vv. 6-7), and so a death to sin (v. 2). Subsequently baptism symbolizes one being raised up in union with Christ to live a new spiritual life (vv. 4b, 5b). Colossians 2:11-12 below similarly speaks of baptism as signifying the removal of our old sinful selves (v. 11) and being raised with Christ (v. 12).

Col 2:11-12  In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. ▤ 

Gal 3:27  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. ▤ 

The expression “baptized into Christ” (v. 27; cf. Rom 6:3 ) appears to have a similar sense as being baptized into the “name” of Christ, as per the previous subsection. But not all commentators would agree that here (and in Romans 6:2-5 below) the expression is referring to water baptism. Assuming that it does, the verse is not teaching that water baptism itself brings us “into Christ”. Rather it is quite possibly speaking of baptism signifying this; i.e. that baptism signifies being united with Christ – “clothed” (GNT, NASB, NCV, NIV, NRSV) with or “placed” into him in a spiritual sense. Alternatively, “put on Christ” could instead refer to being “made like him” (NLT). The suggestion may then be that baptism signifies one being made like Christ.

  • In the Holy Spirit believers are “baptized” into the body of Christ:

1Cor 12:12-13  For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slavese or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. ▤ 

e Or servants; Greek bondservants

In receiving the Holy Spirit (v. 13b), believers are in a spiritual sense “baptized” by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ – which involves being united spiritually with Jesus Christ (and other believers) as members of his body. While this does not refer to water baptism, it is understood to be signified by water baptism. (For further comment see . . . Receiving the Holy Spirit is sometimes spoken of as being “baptized” with the Holy Spirit.)

Baptism signifies belief

Baptism is a declaration and confirmation of belief.

Mark 16:16  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. ▤ 

This appears to closely link belief and baptism, suggesting that the latter signifies the former – as do the following verses.

Acts 2:41  So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. ▤ 

Acts 8:12-13a  But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. ▤ 

Acts 8:35-38  Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. 36And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”f 38And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. ▤ 

f Some manuscripts add all or most of verse 37: And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

This passage correlates baptism with belief – and even more so if the text in the text note is accepted. Note that the text in the text note is included by some translations as v. 37.

Acts 16:14-15  One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. ▤ 

Acts 16:31-34  And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. ▤ 

Acts 18:8b  And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. ▤ 

Acts 19:4-5  And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5On hearing this, they were baptized ing the name of the Lord Jesus. ▤ 

g Or into

Paul’s hearers had believed (cf. vv. 1-2).

Baptism signifies the washing away of sins

Baptism, the external washing in water, symbolizes one being internally (or spiritually) washed and cleansed of one’s sins.

Acts 2:38  And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. ▤ 

In speaking of baptism along with repentance (from sin) and forgiveness of sins, this at least reflects the assertion that baptism signifies the washing away of sins.

Acts 22:16  And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name. ▤ 

This should not be interpreted to mean that baptism in itself brings the forgiveness of sin. As noted above, the external washing in water is symbolic of one’s spiritual cleansing.

1Cor 6:9-11  Or do you not know that the unrighteoush will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,i 10nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. ▤ 

h Or wrongdoers

i The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts

Possibly “washed” alludes to baptism and so would here be pointing to baptism signifying cleansing, with the accompanying forgiveness of sin. Although forgiveness of sin is not specifically mentioned, it is certainly in view with Paul speaking of the formerly ungodly Corinthians (vv. 9-11a) as now being “sanctified” and “justified” (v. 11b).

Titus 3:5  … he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, … ▤ 

Some consider “washing” here to allude to water baptism, but this is not necessarily the case (cf. CEV, GNT). If it is alluding to water baptism, it would be as that which symbolizes the divinely effected “washing” or cleansing from sin that occurs when one is spiritually reborn, having died to one’s former sinful ways. Such washing points to the removal of and forgiveness of sin.

Heb 10:22  … let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. ▤ 

The clause “our bodies washed with pure water” may be a reference to baptism as signifying being cleansed from sin – hence the verse’s inclusion here. However, more often it is seen simply as a reference to being cleansed by Jesus’ sacrifice (cf. v. 19). As with the earlier phrase “hearts sprinkled clean”, the expression appears to draw a parallel with the washing of the priests under the old covenant (cf. v. 21) – and so not necessarily a reference to baptism.

1Pet 3:20-21  … becausej they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, … ▤ 

j Or when

Baptism is not simply about the removal of dirt from the body, but its washing in water has a deeper meaning, signifying the removal of sin from one’s inner self. In keeping with this, by being baptized one effectively makes “an appeal to God for a good conscience”. In subsequently living accordingly, we are saved by Christ’s resurrection – the significance of which, baptism is in a sense an acknowledgement.

Baptism signifies or is linked with receiving the Holy Spirit . . .

See also:

Acts 2:38  And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. ▤ 

Acts 10:47  “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” ▤ 

Acts 9:17-18  So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; … ▤ 

Acts 19:1-6  And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inlandk country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5On hearing this, they were baptized inl the name of the Lord Jesus. 6And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. ▤ 

k Greek upper (that is, highland)

l Or into

This correlates baptism with receiving the Holy Spirit. But it is not necessarily indicating that these disciples (v. 1) had not received the Holy Spirit because they had not been baptized into the name of Jesus. A number of commentators think that these disciples were disciples of John the Baptist (cf. v. 3) and had only a limited understanding of the gospel. Verses 4b-5 may well mean that it was only at this point that Jesus became the focus of their faith – which would explain why they received the Holy Spirit here rather than beforehand.

John 3:5  Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. ▤ 

There are a number of interpretations as to what “water” refers to, one of which is water baptism. Being “born of… the Spirit” probably refers to receiving the Holy Spirit. As such – if John the Baptist’s baptism for repentance is not primarily in view – the verse would associate baptism with receiving the Holy Spirit. Other possibilities as to what “water” denotes are: spiritual cleansing; physical birth; an allusion to the role of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 7:37-39); and God’s word (cf. Eph 5:26; 1Pet 1:23).

. . . Receiving the Holy Spirit is sometimes spoken of as being “baptized” with the Holy Spirit

The receiving of the Holy Spirit is on occasions referred to as being baptized with the Holy Spirit. This reflects the link between baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit, spoken of in the previous subsection.

Matt 3:11  I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. ▤ 

Note that “fire” may well be referring to Jesus Christ’s judgment on the wicked – particularly in light of the reference in v. 12 to him burning up “the chaff … with unquenchable fire.” However some see it as referring to the purification associated with the aforementioned baptism with the Holy Spirit. Possibly the “tongues of fire” that came with the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:3-4) could also or instead be in view.

Acts 1:5, 8  … for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized withm the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” ▤ 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. ▤ 

m Or in

The fulfillment of the prophecy that the apostles would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit” (v. 5) occurs in the subsequent chapter: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (2:4)

Acts 11:15-16  As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ ▤ 

1Cor 12:13  For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slavesn or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. ▤ 

n Or servants; Greek bondservants

The segment “in one Spirit we were all baptized” refers to the cleansing and renewal effected by the Holy Spirit in new believers. It is akin to phrases such as “baptized with the Holy Spirit”. The final clause clearly speaks of believers receiving the Holy Spirit (cf. NLT).

  • The Holy Spirit alighted on Jesus immediately following his baptism:

Matt 3:13-17  Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him,o and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son,p with whom I am well pleased.” ▤ 

o Some manuscripts omit to him

p Or my Son, my (or the) Beloved

This passage – and passages in this and the previous subsection – should not be interpreted to mean that people only receive the Holy Spirit on being baptized. For Jesus’ baptism was at least partially to signify him being set apart for God’s work – and his anointment with the Holy Spirit was probably more to do with the commencement of his ministry than his actual baptism. Furthermore John’s baptism had a different emphasis to the baptism practiced by the early church and today. Moreover, in some of the passages in this and the preceding subsection, the receiving of the Holy Spirit occurs before baptism, clearly not as a result of it.

Note that the clause “to fulfill all righteousness” (v. 15) probably means something like “to fulfill God’s will”, with God’s will in regard to Jesus’ mission being primarily in view. As to why Jesus being baptized was God’s will, a number of explanations have been given. In addition to it signifying Jesus being set apart for God’s work, possibly by it Jesus was identifying himself either with sinners or with the new or renewed people of God (cf. NBC), i.e. those who had been turning to God in repentance through John’s ministry.

Further notes on baptism

1Cor 1:16-17  (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. ▤ 

The priority which Paul gives to the gospel reflects the fact that salvation comes through the gospel not baptism itself, the latter simply signifying a positive response to the former.

1Cor 15:29  Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? ▤ 

Here Paul refers to people being baptized on behalf of dead people to validate his argument for the resurrection, without approving or disapproving of this obscure practice. Note that he only refers to other people doing this, not himself or his co-workers.

Eph 4:4-5  There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, … ▤ 

There is only one rite of baptism for God’s people – a once and for all baptism in the name of Jesus Christ.

Note: John the Baptist’s baptism, for repentance

John’s baptism had a different emphasis and significance to the water baptism practiced later by the early Church and in the Church today, which has aspects of the gospel in view that had not been revealed at the commencement of John’s ministry. John baptized people primarily for repentance. John’s baptism was also an integral part of his ministry in revealing Jesus Christ (cf. Matt 3:11 ; Acts 19:4 ; John 1:31 ).

Matt 3:11  I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. ▤ 

John’s words suggest that his water baptism would be superseded by the baptism done by the Christ.

Mark 1:4-5  John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. ▤ 

Note that v. 4 speaks of repentance for the forgiveness of sins – which was also a common theme of the OT prophets.

Acts 13:24  Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. ▤ 

Acts 19:4  And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” ▤ 

John’s baptism was to demonstrate a person’s commitment to repent (cf. NLT) – to turn away from their sins and turn to God. John’s ministry, with his baptism of repentance, was preparatory to Jesus Christ’s ministry (cf. John 1:31 ) – with John emphasizing the need to deal with sin and to believe in Jesus Christ (v. 4b), whom would fully realize forgiveness of sins.

Luke 7:29-30  (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just,q having been baptized with the baptism of John, 30but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.) ▤ 

q Greek they justified God

The people acknowledged the rightness of God’s way for them – which encompassed “calling them to repentance” (AMP); accordingly they were baptized by John. In contrast their religious leaders “rejected the purpose of God for themselves” (v. 30) as they did not submit themselves to being baptized by John and embrace the repentance that it signified.

  • John’s baptizing and ministry was preparatory to the emergence of Jesus and his ministry:

John 1:31-33  I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ ▤ 

In vv. 32-33 John effectively bears witness to Jesus being the awaited Christ, in conjunction with his purpose of revealing Jesus (v. 31). Note that v. 33 refers to God sending John to baptize.

Pray for persecuted Christians

The Lord’s Supper

The Lord’s Supper is regularly practiced in churches. It primarily symbolizes and commemorates Jesus Christ’s death for us. The breaking of the bread symbolizes the breaking of his body, and the pouring out of the wine symbolizes the pouring out of his blood. Eating of the bread and drinking of the wine is in part a declaration of our own belief in Christ’s death and its implications – and correspondingly signifies our participation in the forgiveness and other outcomes that it made possible.

Observe the Lord’s Supper – in remembrance of Jesus Christ and his death

Matt 26:26-28  Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28for this is my blood of ther covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. ▤ 

r Some manuscripts insert new

Luke 22:19-20  And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.s ▤ 

s Some manuscripts omit, in whole or in part, verses 19b-20 (which is given . . . in my blood)

“This cup … is the new covenant in my blood” (v. 20; cf. Matt 26:28 ; 1Cor 11:25 ) speaks of Jesus Christ’s blood, shed in his death, introducing the new relationship – or covenant – between God and his people. In part at least this was achieved by his death bringing forgiveness for the sins of God’s people. The shedding of his blood inaugurated the new covenant and ratified or sealed it (cf. AMP, GNT, NCV, NLT) – just as the sprinkling of “the blood of the covenant” by Moses ceremonially confirmed the old covenant (cf. Ex 24:5-8).

1Cor 11:23-25  For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is fort you. Do this in remembrance of me.”u 25In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” ▤ 

t Some manuscripts broken for

u Or as my memorial; also verse 25

Acts 20:7  On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. ▤ 

The phrase “break bread” appears to refer to the observance of the Lord’s Supper (but not all commentators would agree). As such this would illustrate that the Lord’s Supper was practiced in the early church, from which one can infer that it should likewise be practiced in today’s church.

  • In observing the Lord’s Supper we proclaim Jesus’ death:

1Cor 11:26  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. ▤ 

This indicates that the purpose of the Lord’s Supper is not only to serve as a reminder to ourselves, but also to proclaim Jesus’ death (with its implications) to others. By practicing it we are “telling others about the Lord’s death” (NCV™; cf. CEV, NLT).

Participating in the Lord’s Supper also symbolizes participating in the blood and body of Jesus Christ

Participating in the blood and body of Christ is understood to symbolize one’s participation in the redemption brought by Jesus’ death. Additionally it appears to point to participating in the church as the body of Christ. Note that one could argue that the references in the preceding subsection to eating the bread as the body of Christ and drinking the wine as the blood of Christ, also allude to participating in the body and blood of Christ.

1Cor 10:16-17  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? 17Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. ▤ 

The two rhetorical questions in v. 16 appear to imply that drinking from the cup and eating of the bread – in addition to remembering Jesus Christ and his death – symbolize one’s participation in what Christ’s death accomplished, i.e. forgiveness and thus salvation. However, in view of v. 17, the second rhetorical question may well additionally or alternatively mean that eating from the one loaf of bread symbolizes one being part of and participating in Christ’s body, the church.

1Cor 11:27, 29  Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. ▤ 29For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. ▤ 

The phrases “the body and blood of the Lord” (v. 27) and “the body” (v. 29) probably refer to Jesus’ sacrifice of himself – along with what this accomplished – but some would contend that his body the church is also or alternatively in view (as per 10:16-17 above and the comment there). To participate in the Lord’s Supper is to symbolically and spiritually participate in these things, and one must take part appropriately in recognition of this – as is emphasized below in Do not participate in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner.

  • The need to “feed” on Christ for everlasting life:

John 6:33, 35, 47-58  For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” ▤ 35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. ▤ 47Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the breadv the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” ▤ 

v Greek lacks the bread

Here Jesus speaks of himself as the source of everlasting, spiritual life – whom all need to partake of in order to obtain this life. (For further comment, see Through Jesus Christ we can have eternal life as opposed to death.) Some see in this passage a link with the Lord’s Supper. As such they see participation in the Lord’s Supper as indicative of the truth that we need to “feed” on Christ for life.

Further insights on the Lord’s Supper

Matt 26:29  I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. ▤ 

It can be inferred from this that celebrating the Lord’s Supper (cf. vv. 26-28) also looks forward to communing anew with Christ in the consummated kingdom.

Acts 2:42  And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. ▤ 

This verse and 1 Corinthians 11:26 (immediately below) suggest that the Lord’s Supper should be practiced regularly. Note that Acts 20:7a – above in Observe the Lord’s Supper – in remembrance of Jesus Christ and his death – raises the possibility that the early church regularly did this on Sundays.

1Cor 11:26  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. ▤ 

1Cor 5:7  Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. ▤ 

Paul is drawing a parallel here between the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (with the resultant salvation) and the sacrificial lamb of the Passover meal (which signified the deliverance/salvation from Egypt). Particularly in light of this parallel, by instituting the observance of “the Lord’s Supper” at a Passover meal (cf. Matt 26:17-19, 26-28), Jesus himself may have been intimating a parallel between it and the Jewish Passover meal. As such, observing the Lord’s Supper similarly celebrates and signifies God’s salvation – but a greater, ultimate salvation effected through Jesus Christ.

Do not participate in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner

1Cor 11:20-22  When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. ▤ 

Early churches often ate a celebratory meal – later known as the Agape (or Love) Feast – prior to and in conjunction with observing the Lord’s Supper. The practice was open to abuse as was the case with the Corinthians, with rich people bringing and selfishly consuming much while others went hungry.

1Cor 11:27-34a  Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.w 31But if we judgedx ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplinedy so that we may not be condemned along with the world. 33So then, my brothers,z when you come together to eat, wait fora one another— 34if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. ▤ 

w Greek have fallen asleep (as in 15:6, 20)

x Or discerned

y Or when we are judged we are being disciplined by the Lord

z Or brothers and sisters

a Or share with

The instruction to “examine” oneself before participating in the Lord’s Supper (v. 28) is effectively reiterated in the reference in v. 31 to judging ourselves. It refers primarily to examining the manner in which one is approaching the Lord’s Supper (v. 28), so as to not do so in a flippant, unworthy manner (vv. 21, 27), not bearing in mind its significance (v. 29). Paul may also have in view the need – in preparing to participate – to examine the right state of ourselves before God, examining our hearts for unconfessed sin.

  • One cannot participate in pagan feasts as well as the Lord’s Supper:

1Cor 10:18-22  Consider the people of Israel:b are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? ▤ 

b Greek Consider Israel according to the flesh

Sacrifices are an act of worship of the one to whom they are made. In v. 18 Paul refers to some kinds of OT sacrifices where those who brought the sacrifices also ate of the sacrifices. This signified participation in the worship of God, as the one to whom the sacrifices were made. In the same way, by eating and so participating in pagan feasts involving sacrifices to idols, which are in fact made to demons, one takes part in the worship of demons. This is clearly incompatible with participation in the Lord’s Supper.

Pray for persecuted Christians

Circumcision: Its Needlessness

Circumcision of males is the cutting off of the foreskin. Jewish males undergo circumcision in keeping with both God’s covenant with Abraham (their ancestor), and God’s covenant and law for Israel, i.e. the Mosaic Law.

In regard to God’s covenant and law for Israel, being circumcised signifies one’s adherence to the law – on which the covenant was based – as the way to righteousness. This is in contrast to and at odds with the way of faith in Jesus Christ, which God introduced in conjunction with the new covenant.

Circumcision was the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham – and included in the Mosaic Law

Gen 17:7-14  And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” 9And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” ▤ 

Acts 7:8  And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs. ▤ 

Lev 12:1-3  The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2“Speak to the people of Israel, saying, ‘If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. 3And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. ▤ 

John 7:22-23  Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. 23If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? ▤ 

  • Jesus was circumcised:

Luke 2:21  And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. ▤ 

Note that earlier (cf. 1:59) Luke also tells of John the Baptist being circumcised.

Circumcision does not bring salvation

The following passages show that circumcision does not bring salvation nor various aspects of salvation, in particular: justification (Rom 3:29-30); righteousness (Rom 4:9-12); and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:45).

Acts 15:1-2, 5-11  But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. ▤ 5But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” 6The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 7And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” ▤ 

Peter’s argument in vv. 7-11 is basically as follows. God had shown that he saved Gentiles, despite the fact that they were not circumcised (vv. 7-9). So therefore the Jewish believers should not insist that the Gentiles be circumcised and so impose on them the “yoke” of the law as the means to salvation, which had proved futile for the Jews (v. 10). For it is by grace that all are saved – not by the law (v. 11), which circumcision signifies adherence to. Note Galatians 2:1-3 also tells of the apostles in Jerusalem not insisting on circumcision for non-Jewish believers, with Paul recalling in v. 3: “But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.”

Rom 3:29-30  Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. ▤ 

God justifies people by faith – quite apart from whether or not they are circumcised.

Rom 4:5-12  And to the one who does not work but believes inc him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” 9Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. ▤ 

c Or but trusts; compare verse 24

Having been credited by faith as righteous before he was circumcised (vv. 9-11a), Abraham is the “spiritual father” (NLT) or predecessor of all who by faith are credited as righteous – forgiven of their sins (vv. 7-8) – irrespective of whether or not they have been circumcised (vv. 11b-12).

Acts 10:45  And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. ▤ 

This verse illustrates that receiving the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with being circumcised. Otherwise, as is implied, such Gentile believers – who would not have been circumcised – would not have received the Holy Spirit.

  • The way of circumcision is in fact contrary to that of Christ and grace:

Gal 5:1-4, 11  For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4You are severed from Christ, you who would be justifiedd by the law; you have fallen away from grace. ▤ 11But if I, brothers,e still preachf circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. ▤ 

d Or counted righteous

e Or brothers and sisters; also verse 13

f Greek proclaim

In v. 1, “do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” refers to obeying the law as a means of obtaining justification. Being circumcised would signify that one had contracted to do this. Paul strongly exhorts the Galatians not to be circumcised, as it would obligate them to obey the whole law to be justified – a position incompatible with salvation through grace, meaning Christ’s work would be of no value to them (vv. 2, 4). In v. 11 Paul further highlights the incompatibility of the way of circumcision and that of Christ’s death – the latter being offensive to those advocating circumcision, which had led them to persecute Paul.

For believers, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any consequence

1Cor 7:18-19  Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. ▤ 

Note that this and the following verses from Galatians underline circumcision’s lack of importance by concluding with a reference to an aspect of the faith that in contrast really “counts”.

Gal 5:6  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. ▤ 

Gal 6:15  For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. ▤ 

Col 3:11  Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave,g free; but Christ is all, and in all. ▤ 

g Greek bondservant

In the new life in Christ, distinctions that were previously considered significant – such as that between circumcised and uncircumcised – are no longer important.

  • Circumcision is only of any value if you observe the law:

Rom 2:25-27  For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regardedh as circumcision? 27Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written codei and circumcision but break the law. ▤ 

h Or counted

i Or the letter

Circumcision symbolizes adherence to the law. Apart from observing the law, the symbol alone is useless. One can infer from this that circumcision in itself is of no value. This is because all people break the law and so therefore those who are circumcised become as though they have not been circumcised (v. 25). Furthermore, if any uncircumcised people were able to keep the law’s requirements, they would be regarded as though they were circumcised (v. 26) – in a sense giving them the right to condemn any circumcised person who failed to keep the law and so failed to live up to their implied standing (v. 27).

It is our hearts that must be circumcised – as is ultimately accomplished by God

Circumcision of the heart involves changing to become responsive to God. It involves “cutting off” the rigidity of sin from a person’s heart.

Deut 10:16  Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. ▤ 

Jer 4:4  Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds. ▤ 

“Circumcise yourselves to the Lord” may mean much the same as “remove the foreskin of your hearts” – i.e. “Cleanse your minds and hearts before the Lord” (NLT). Alternatively it could be referring to the people dedicating themselves to the Lord (cf. GNT, NCV), in conjunction with such cleansing.

Jer 9:25-26  “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh26Egypt, Judah, Edom, the sons of Ammon, Moab, and all who dwell in the desert who cut the corners of their hair, for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart.” ▤ 

Deut 30:6  And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. ▤ 

Note that this and the following verses point to the fact that our hearts are circumcised ultimately by God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Col 2:11-12  In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. ▤ 

This speaks of the circumcision of cutting off one’s sinful nature (v. 11; cf. NLT) – which is essentially the same as circumcision of the heart.

Rom 2:28-29  For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. ▤ 

  • Aspects of true, inner circumcision:

Phil 3:3  For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of Godj and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh ▤ 

j Some manuscripts God in spirit

True, inner, spiritual circumcision involves such things as worshiping by the Holy Spirit and exulting in Jesus Christ and what he has accomplished for us. It also involves not putting any confidence in external circumcision, to gain a righteousness of our own making through the law (cf. v. 9).

Denunciation of people advocating circumcision

Acts 15:5, 10  But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” ▤  … [Peter:] 10Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? ▤ 

Gal 5:11-12  But if I, brothers,k still preachl circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! ▤ 

k Or brothers and sisters; also verse 13

l Greek proclaim

Gal 6:12-13  It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. ▤ 

Advocating circumcision helped those whom Paul is denouncing here to avoid persecution from the Jews (cf. Gal 5:11 ) for maintaining that Jesus’ death alone provided the means for salvation (v. 12). Having the Galatians circumcised would also boost their standing before the Jews (v. 13b). Additionally, Paul may have in view in the final clause that it would also provide them with their own followers amongst the Galatians (cf. NLT).

Phil 3:2  Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. ▤ 

Titus 1:10-11  For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. ▤ 

Pray for persecuted Christians