We read in 1 Cor 10:16-17 (ISV):

The cup of blessing that we bless is our fellowship in the blood of the Messiah, isn’t it? The bread that we break is our fellowship in the body of the Messiah, isn’t it? Because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body, because all of us eat from the same loaf.

St Paul appears to be using the term "one loaf" in the literal sense while referring to the Bread Breaking Ceremony that the early Christians practiced (Acts 2:42, Acts 20:7). However, some denominations believe that transubstantiation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ during the Holy Eucharist is not something to be taken in a literal sense. My question, therefore, is: How do denominations which do not believe in transubstantiation, view 1 Cor 10: 16-17?


4 Answers 4


A definition of transubstantiation in a Reformed Protestant book is:

"Change undergone by the physical elements of the Eucharist, according to Roman Catholic teaching. The bread and wine, in this view, materially change into the body and blood of Christ, although the accidents of the bread and wine (their appearance, taste, and smell, for instance) remain unchanged." (Pilgrim Theology p.472, Michael Horton, Zondervan, 2011)

Trusting that such a definition is acceptable, I will quote further from the same book, where it explains the Reformed Protestant reasons for not viewing the communion elements the same way.

"Against views of deification suggesting that creatures somehow merge with God's essence or teaching that grace is a created substance infused into the soul [ft.46], the Reformers insisted that in salvation the gift is Christ - the God-Man himself. We cannot receive Christ's gifts, Calvin argued (along with Luther) without receiving Christ himself.

Ft.46 This is the ontology that supports the dogma of transubstantiation, according to which bread and wine no longer retain their creaturely essence but become the divine body and blood, worthy of adoration. However, with the middle category of energies, God's gracious working ("the powers [dynameis] of the age to come" Heb.6:5) may be seen as divine action without being collapsed into the divine essence; the rays, but not the sun. We do not worship the Bible, baptism, or the Lord's Supper, but we also do not regard them simply as created things. United to God's activity, they are means of grace. Similarly, believers are never sharers in the divine essence, but they are made beneficiaries of God's gracious energies, glorified to the degree that creatures can ever be like God." (Ibid. p.337)

This raises the point as to how believers 'receive Christ'. Reformed Protestants believe that happens at the point of saving faith in Christ as Saviour and Lord; the repentant criminal on a cross next to Jesus might be a good example of him 'receiving Christ' by faith alone, without benefit of any sacraments. Now follows explanation about distinguishing between sign and reality, following after details about two extreme positions (that baptism and the Supper "are basically human and not divine acts" and that of collapsing distinctions between sign and reality):

"The sign simply is (or becomes) the reality itself, as in the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, in which the creaturely substance of bread and wine is annihilated. Grace elevates nature beyond itself, transforming it into something supernatural... Though differing sharply from the Roman Catholic as well as the Luthern position, the Reformed view is nevertheless in agreement with the catholic heritage, over against Anabaptist traditions, in regarding the sacraments as objective means of grace. As Francis Turretin put the matter, 'The question is not whether or not the sacraments are efficacious in some sense. This is granted by both sides. The question is how they exert their efficacy'." (Ibid. pp.358-9)

Now comes the scripture text in question. First, the context is examined, starting from verse 1, to see how covenant and idolatry and circumcision (as a sign of the covenant) relate to Christian sacraments:

"Circumcision was the 'seal' of their justification (v. 11). Similarly, an adult convert is justified the moment he or she trusts in Christ, but this justification is sealed or ratified by baptism. The choice, then, is not between salvation by grace through faith and salvation by sacraments; the latter signify and seal the former. Precisely for that reason, they must not be withheld from entitled recipients. In fact, withholding the visible sign and seal excommunicates one from the visible covenant Community" (Ibid. p.362)

1 Corinthians 10:1-22 is then invoked as providing that dire warning. Further, vss.1-4 are quoted to show how Israel kept participating in the redemptive acts in their history, how those who left Egypt "were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea," and drank of the rock in the wilderness, "and the Rock was Christ." The book then goes on to explain what it means for the signs to 'participate' in the reality they signify.

Conclusion: The bread and wine combine as a sign of Christians being in the new covenant, in Christ, but a sign is not that which it signifies. A sign points to the reality - in this case, Christ. Likewise, biblical language about the one loaf speaks of "the [one] body of Christ" which is comprised of every member of his Church, his 'bride'. Therefore the bread is a sign pointing to being a part of that spiritual 'body of Christ', which is one symbolic body. The wine is language about the shed blood of Christ, communion wine being the sign pointing to how Christians are cleansed by that shed blood. Literal, physical objects are exquisitely simple signs of the most profound spiritual realities for Christians: the body and blood of Christ, broken and shed for us. It's almost too awesome for words, yet the Bible simply uses words about simple elements to stagger us with their symbolic realities.

  • 9
    Up-voted +1. A sign is not that which it signifies. Would I could up-vote that another ten times. The sign outside my town says 'Upton'. But I do not live at the top of a four foot pole. I live in the town of Upton. . . . . Nor does God live in a tent in the wilderness. He lives in that which the tent signifies. Nor does Christ manifest himself in bread. He dwells in that which the bread signifies : The Body of Christ.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Feb 14, 2022 at 18:05
  • 2
    Very good. 1 Corinthians 11 contains a chastisement of those who partake of the Lord's Supper in unworthy fashion. The picture is one of a meal wherein some eat first while others go hungry and some get drunk (rather than eating and drinking at home to promote self-control), there is no charity and the Lord's body (the Church) is not recognized in the process. The concluding statement by Paul, "Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another." cements this idea. Commented Feb 14, 2022 at 21:10

Actually, Paul refers to Christians as bread, the one loaf. It is a metaphor.

For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. 1 Cor 10:17

I highly doubt anyone believes themself a loaf of bread.

So, with this in mind, it is clear that the whole Thanksgiving (Eucharist) is symbolic. Again, as Paul says, the bread and wine are communion. Communion means fellowship. Paul does not say the bread and wine are flesh and blood.

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? 1 Cor 10:16

So, to answer the OP, the denominations that see the wine and bread as symbolic read this verse as it is written; that is, the cup and bread are a communion, not a transubstantian requiring a priest.

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    +1 for "read this verse as it is written", we don't se the problem the OP has because nothing in the text points that way, it's a simple gesture simply explained (with deep meaning behind it!).
    – deep64blue
    Commented Feb 14, 2022 at 21:43

While many translations are careless, and cause considerable confusion and misunderstanding, the Greek text for 1Cor 10:16 leaves little doubt about the author's intended meaning. The Greek words, herein literally rendered "The Blood", "The Body", and "The Christ" are all spelled in the genitive manner, by which the author emphasizes that "the blood" and "the body" of "the Christ" are all generators/sources/owners of the "κοινωνία" (koinonia/fellowship) "ὃ εὐλογοῦμεν" (which-we-are-presently-speaking-well-of/celebrating/praising). Accordingly, the author's intended meaning appears to be, "The blood and body of the Christ are the generators/causes of the fellowship that is presently being celebrated/praised".

  • OK, if that be the case, the statement presupposes that Body and Blood of Jesus has no separate existence than in Christ himself. Then, why not simply say that Jesus Christ is the generator/ cause of the fellowship ....? Commented Apr 19, 2022 at 2:25

I lay forth to you the test. What do you say to the person who has epipen level wheat allergy?

There is only one answer.

The physical and biological definition of the host has not changed. The bread is bread. The wine is wine (but most of use grape juice now). But the definition in spirit is as it was on that day when Jesus spoke "Take eat, this is my body" and "take drink, this cup is the new covenant in my blood." And those that partake in reverence fulfill what is written.

  • Thanks for all the inputs. One thing, however, needs clarification: Jesus says in John 6:53 “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." We see many disciples leaving him, after hearing that (Jn 6:66) . He does not call them back saying "Friends, I did not mean it literally ..."but rather permits all the 12 apostles to leave in case they too failed to believe what he had said ( Jn 6:67) which Peter counters with his acknowledgement of faith (Jn 6: 68-69). What do all those incidents translate into? Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 8:15
  • @KadalikattJosephSibichan: Considering the thief on the cross, I would argue that John 6:53 is not talking about communion. I don't know anything like an official argument because I have not heard any discussion from a protestant source linking that verse to communion at all.
    – Joshua
    Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 15:56
  • The passage is normally taught as follows: the people had returned again seeking more of the miraculous bread. And thus Jesus spoke words that nobody would yet understand (note that whether or not it is a communion reference they can't understand it) and tested the hearts of those who came. This statement would be wildly offensive to the hearer whether or not it was to be taken literally.
    – Joshua
    Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 16:07
  • And the interpretation given is a link to old ways of thinking (you will find this in old old superstitions), that to partake of means to take up the spirit of. We know "to take up the spirit of" is a true teaching. But the question I would have to ask is would they have had a fair chance to understand.
    – Joshua
    Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 16:10
  • Thanks, Joshua. But, let us agree to disagree on your statement that the people had returned again seeking more of the miraculous bread, and thus Jesus spoke words that nobody would yet understand. One cannot imagine that Jesus was telling a parable of the spiritual food of his own body and blood . Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 5:12

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