Christian A. Eberhart

Professor of Religious Studies and Chair, Department of Comparative Cultural Studies, University of Houston

Don Schweitzer

McDougald Professor of Theology, St. Andrew’s College, Saskatoon


Don Schweitzer: I teach theology at St. Andrew’s College, a theological college of The United Church of Canada in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. During fall and winter semesters, communion is celebrated in our chapel weekly, using grape juice instead of wine and gluten-free bread. As participants pass the communion elements to each other, few say, “The blood of Christ shed for you.” Most use terms like “The cup of blessing,” or “The cup of the new covenant.” Underlying this preference in terms, for some, is an aversion to the notion of substitutionary atonement, the idea that Jesus’ death was a sacrifice that obtains God’s forgiveness.

Mark 14:24 seems to explicitly identify the contents of the cup with Jesus’ blood: “He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many’.” This verse raises several questions. While the notion of covenant is very important in the Hebrew Bible, it does not seem to have been part of Jesus’ proclamation,[1] which focused on the coming of God’s reign. Yet according to Mark, the night before he died, at what appears to have been a farewell meal with his disciples, Jesus invoked this notion and linked it to his death. What does “covenant” mean here? Jesus, according to Mark, says that his “blood … is poured out for many.” Who are the “many?” What did Jesus’ death do for them? Did Jesus or does Mark interpret his death as a substitutionary sacrifice? All the accounts of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples “agree that with it he left behind for the disciples something that was of abiding importance.”[2] What does the gospel of Mark understand this something to be and what is its abiding significance? What meaning might it have today?

Christian Eberhart: The communion praxis of chapel worships at St. Andrew’s College is slightly different from that of Sunday worship at Christ the King Lutheran Church here in Houston, Texas, which my family and I attend. This church belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and follows a traditional style of worship. At this church, communion is also celebrated more or less weekly, yet the participants line up in the middle aisle of the sanctuary. They slowly move toward the altar area located in the center of the church building, where they kneel down. Then the officiating minister and his/her assistants distribute bread and offer either a common or an individual cup with wine or grape juice. While receiving the cup, the officiating minister or assistants usually says the words, “the blood of Christ shed for you.” Thus these words are similar to those that some participants say at St. Andrew’s College.

We may well ask why Christians of the United Church of Canada and of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America celebrate the same ritual with bread and wine and use similar words to accompany it. In fact, almost all Christian churches around the world celebrate this ritual. Its origins are found in the New Testament where we read that Jesus Christ had a last supper with his disciples before he died on the cross. So while the roots of this celebration are biblical, it is interesting that the exact words “the blood of Christ shed for you” are nowhere attested in the Bible. Here is an overview of the four New Testament passages, arranged in chronological order, that relate the words of Jesus spoken over the cup:

1 Corinthians 11:25: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”

Mark 14:24: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”

Matthew 26:28: “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Luke 22:20: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

We see that, according to these four texts, Jesus either speaks about the “cup” of the “new covenant” or about “my blood of the covenant.” All four passages employ the word “covenant;” the “abiding significance” of the ritual that Jesus instituted and of his words thus have to do with this specific term. What exactly the word “covenant” means is indeed a problem that all four texts present for the modern reader. Before summarizing basic parameters of covenant theology of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, I wonder and would like to ask you: Does the United Church of Canada, which deploys ‘covenant’ terminology rather often in its liturgical practice, offer any guidelines or biblical reflections on its meaning, or more generally on the meaning of Communion?

Don Schweitzer: The United Church of Canada was formed in 1925, through a union of the Congregationalist and Methodist churches of Canada, a majority of Canadian Presbyterians, and the Local Union Churches. It inherited long traditions of Christian and specifically Reformed and Methodist reflection on communion, but it does not have a long tradition of such reflection of its own. Article XVI of the United Church’s Basis of Union refers to baptism and the Lord’s Supper as “signs and seals of the covenant ratified in His [Jesus’] precious blood.” [3] The term ‘covenant’ has been and is used in communion prayers and words of distribution in United Church worship resources. In expounding Article XVI of the Basis of Union, Thomas Kilpatrick defined covenant as “the relation between God and His people, made in the pouring out of His love and life upon the Cross.”[4] In the United Church the term covenant is often used in this way, to describe the relationship between God and the church inaugurated in Jesus Christ, particularly through the saving significance of Jesus’ death, understood in light of his resurrection.

In the 1980s committed relationships between two people, two congregations, or one person or people and a community began to be described as covenant relationships and to be celebrated with covenanting services. A study of United Church worship practices described covenant as a relationship between two parties, preeminently between God and people, characterized by the commitment of each to the other.[5] As a guideline for understanding this term’s meaning, some United Church resources note the Jewish roots of Christian worship.[6] So in the United Church, the term covenant has been used to describe relationships established by God with humanity. The term “new covenant” refers specifically to that inaugurated through the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the past forty years or so, covenant has been used more generally to denote intentional relationships of mutual commitment and care between people.

The United Church follows the Protestant practice of describing communion as one of two sacraments through which Christ is uniquely and efficaciously present. Communion is frequently described in United Church materials as perpetuating “the fellowship between Christ and His disciples sealed in the upper room.”[7] Charlotte Caron has noted that in the United Church communion may be understood in eight ways: as a 1) remembrance of Christ, his ministry, death and resurrection, 2) celebration of this, 3) covenant between Christ and the church, 4) source of empowerment, 5) representation of atonement, 6) foretaste of the messianic banquet, 7) celebration and enactment of community, and 8) as a symbolic act of commitment to the public expression of values of justice and compassion as embodied in Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection.[8] These meanings should not be seen as mutually exclusive, but as different aspects of the same sacrament. All may be present in one communion service. While United Church resources typically emphasize Christ being mystically present in the celebration of communion, these resources generally follow New Testament communion texts in recognizing its multiple meanings. As William Kervin notes, these texts feature a “convergence of a rich, if not bewildering, array of related but distinct traditions at work.”[9] He identifies seven such “biblically-rooted eucharistic meanings, categories and metaphors …: remembrance, church, thanksgiving, invocation, community, repentance, future anticipation.”[10] This polyvalence results from the Last Supper narratives bringing together “all that has gone before and all that is yet to come, reaching both backward and forward in the drama of the Gospel.”[11] Like the meals Jesus shared with known sinners, in the United Church today the Lord’s Table is typically open to any and all who believe in Jesus Christ. Yet as communion makes Jesus present and recalls his ministry, death and resurrection, it calls us to follow his way of the cross in seeking justice for the oppressed and reconciliation with our enemies and those we have harmed. To conclude, the United Church tends to focus the meaning of communion on Jesus Christ and the saving significance of his ministry, death and resurrection. But it recognizes that much of this builds upon traditions in the Hebrew Bible and includes the participation of Jesus’ followers.

Christian Eberhart: You describe the multifaceted way in which your denomination uses the two terms “covenant” and “new covenant.” In fact, in the Hebrew Bible and in Early Christian literature, these terms appear just in this fashion. To begin with, a “covenant” (Hebrew berith) is frequently mentioned in different Hebrew Bible narratives.[12] God establishes the first covenant with Noah and his family before the great Flood (Genesis 6:18). Thus Noah, his family, and all animals survive the Deluge which exterminates all other life on earth. (It may be noted that Noah is instructed to bring one pair of every animal species into the ark according to verses 19–20, but “seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and its mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and its mate” according to Genesis 7:2. This difference can be seen as evidence that both texts belong to different Pentateuch sources that were combined later on.[13]) After the Flood, God said to Noah: “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth” (Genesis 9:12–13). Two related aspects are particularly noteworthy in this passage: First, the covenant is made not exclusively with Noah or, for that matter, with humans. It is explicitly stated that God establishes the covenant with “you and every living creature that is with you,” which even includes “the earth.” Hence this covenant is all-inclusive and conveys God’s promise to care for all of creation. It clearly refutes any anthropocentric interpretation which fails to respect other forms or expressions of life. And second, this covenant is established unilaterally. God speaks to Noah, who does not respond in any fashion.[14] This, however, fits the very characteristics of this covenant. If it is not only being established with Noah but with the entire world, then there indeed cannot be any response since Noah is unable to speak on behalf of the entire world. This covenant is, therefore, a one-sided promise or a self-imposed obligation of God to provide care of the earth and all of its life-forms.

God then establishes a covenant with Abram (soon to be called “Abraham”). Because Abram fears to remain childless, God promises that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars (Genesis 15:5). Abram believes in the divine promise, and it is “reckoned it to him as righteousness” (verse 6). He then performs a strange, archaic ritual that requires cutting animals in two; after sunset, a smoking “oven” and a flaming torch are said to have passed between these pieces (verses 10 and 17). This procedure is based on an ancient Akkadian magical ritual.[15] It might, at the same time, be mentioned in this narrative to explain the Hebrew terminology that a covenant is literally to be “cut” (karat). Genesis 17 repeats God’s promise; Abram is supposed to walk before God and be blameless (verse 1), is henceforth to be called “Abraham” (verse 5), and is to circumcise all male descendants as sign of the covenant (verses 9–14).[16]

The covenant with Noah and all of the earth, and the one with Abram / Abraham are indeed multifaceted. Yet they have in common that God counters existential fear and assures continuous life. After the deluge, when Noah is concerned whether such a catastrophe will happen again, God assures him – and the entire world with him – safety. Abram, on the other hand, fears that he, despite his economic success, will die without descendants; he fears the end of his lineage. In this situation, God assures him that an heir of his own flesh will be born. Thus covenants convey comfort and assurance; this is their “abiding significance.” They are also typically accompanied by a sign.

More important for our purpose, however, is the observation that Abram responds to God’s promise. We see here that most covenants in the Hebrew Bible require bilateral commitments. The covenanting parties might not be equivalent at all, but either party has a responsibility.[17] The template for this “vertical” covenant is found in the horizontal, secular sphere. Jan Christian Gertz explains that the concept of “covenant” originally belongs to the “highly-developed legal culture of the pre-Hellenistic ancient Near East”[18] where it was mostly used to designate international contractual connections.

Such bilateral commitments are specifically manifest in the covenant ceremony at Mt. Sinai. This covenant is of interest here because it is established, among other things, with blood. Moreover, this is the first covenant made not with an individual or all of the earth, but specifically with the people of Israel. After the exodus from Egypt, Moses leads the Israelites towards the Promised Land and arrives at Mt. Sinai where God resides. The bilateral commitment established here consists of two components: First, Moses reads from the “book of the covenant,” and the people promise to follow its ordinances (Exodus 24:7). Next, Moses takes blood of sacrificial animals, “sprinkled it on the people and said: See the blood of the covenant that Yhwh has made with you in accordance with all these words” (verse 8). What is the existential concern of this covenant? When the Israelites arrived at Mt. Sinai, they were considered profane and impure; moreover, the fact that various sets of laws and commandments for Israel were being issued and proclaimed (Exodus 20:1–21; 21:1–23:19; 24:7) points to a moral dimension of these covenantal obligations and the need of the definition of right/righteous versus wrong/sin. As a consequence, the Israelites were not allowed to approach the mountain where the holy God of Israel resides (Exodus 19:12–13). After the covenant comprising readings from the “book of the covenant” (24:7) and the ritual with the “blood of the covenant” (verse 8), they were considered holy. This is manifest in the peculiar fact that seventy representatives of the Israelites could climb up Mt. Sinai where indeed “they saw God, and they ate and drank” (24:11). Only an act of consecration could have prepared previously profane and impure/sinful humans to appear before God and even have a celebration. We see that this covenant was a complex process. I have recently summarized its structure and “effects” for the Israelites by the following table:[19]

The Covenant on Mount Sinai

Two Components “Book of the Covenant”           (Exodus 24:7) “Blood of the Covenant”                  (Exodus 24:8)
Precondition The Israelites are separate from God


Moses reads the book read it to the people; they accept the laws (Exodus 24:7) Sacrifices are offered; Moses sprinkled the blood on the people (Exodus 24:5–6 , 8)
Effects Impurity and sin are being eliminated;                                                   the Israelites are now holy (consecrated)


The covenant between the Israelites and God is now established (Exodus 24:8);

the Israelites climb on Mt. Sinai to approach God; they see God and eat and drink in front of God (Exodus 24:9–11)


The “effect” of this covenantal ceremony is thus consecration; humans are made holy. The “effect” occurs both in the promise of obedience to ethical ordinances and through the sprinkling of sacrificial blood. How can the latter be explained?

The blood of humans and animals alike represents their life-force or vitality. This idea is commonplace in the ancient Near East. A few examples shall suffice: Most people in the ancient Near East cultures were nomads who frequently practiced animal slaughter by cutting an animal’s throat to drain its blood. Also in warfare, the idea of blood as life could be empirically verified through the observation that the loss of blood causes death. For that reason, this notion pervades ancient mythology. According to the Babylonian creation myth Enuma Eliš, humans are created from the blood of a slain god (6:33), and the Canaanite god El offers bread and “wine” to the goddess Anat; the latter is paraphrased as “blood of the grapevine.”[20] This idea is also expressed in the Hebrew Bible: Leviticus 17:11 states that “…as life, it is the blood that makes atonement.” It is important to know that atonement in the Hebrew Bible has nothing to do with punishment; it is rather a process of purification precisely through the life-force contained in blood. Thus the “blood of the covenant” at Mt. Sinai likewise purified the Israelites and consecrated them so that they were prepared for the approach of, and encounter with the holy God.

When, according to Mark 14:24, Jesus used the words “blood of the covenant” during the Last Supper, he could be certain that everybody recognized them as a quotation from the well-known Torah narrative of Mt. Sinai.[21] Jesus wanted these words to be understood just as the story in Exodus 24. And in a situation of existential fear that was not the least the result of the failure of his disciples, he wanted them to know that their status as beloved children of God would not cease because of his death, which could have been interpreted as an expression of divine judgment and the ultimate end of his mission. The cup of wine that Jesus shared with them was thus a sign of God’s unconditional love.[22] Its “effect” would have been like that at Mt. Sinai: humans who come into physical contact with blood – represented here by wine – are being consecrated.[23]

Was the covenant that Jesus established bilateral like the one at Mt. Sinai? There, the obligation of the Israelites was manifest in the readings of the “book of the covenant” and their subsequent promise of obedience. However, what would have been the obligation of the disciples in the context of the Last Supper? It is reduced to eating and drinking. This can barely be called a covenantal obligation.[24] Moreover, it is interesting to note that Jesus, while referencing the “blood of the covenant” from the narrative of Exodus 24, did not reference the “book of the covenant.” He replaced it with another sign, namely the sharing of the bread representing his body (Mark 14:22). Instead of imposing new ethical obligations, this sign reminded his disciples that he had come to nurture humans with God’s love, and that, during his life, meals were time and again focal points of acceptance and divine power. The covenant established by Jesus is, thus, rather a unilateral one, conveying the offer of God’s forgiveness.

Finally, the importance of this covenant cannot be underestimated, as it has been considered to epitomize the whole of the good news of Christ’s ministry, death and resurrection. What we usually call “New Testament” is actually the “new covenant” (kainē diathēke) in Greek. Therefore, the whole authoritative body of 27 early Christian writings is being subsumed under this term that Jesus employed during the Last Supper, which in turn is referenced from the Mosaic covenant at Mt. Sinai. The church later translated the Greek kainē diathēke as Latin novum testamentum – “New Testament.” It now uses terminology of a final, legal decree with an emphasis on unilateral provisions in favor of the heirs. As these reflections indicate, this is an apt summary of what Jesus had in mind.

Don Schweitzer: Let me try to summarize our discussion of Mark 14:24 so far. According to Mark, Jesus looked ahead to his imminent death while holding a symbolic meal with his inner circle of disciples. This verse speaks of how the cup of wine represents his death, which unilaterally inaugurates a new covenant. The words of this verse probably represent Mark’s redaction of an earlier tradition that stemmed from a ritual Jesus celebrated with his disciples in which he proclaimed that his death would be part of the basis of a new covenant. In Mark’s version of this, Jesus’ words over the cup take up the abysmal guilt and suffering associated with his crucifixion and yet proclaim these to be realities that have already been “anticipated and overcome.”[25] Here the saving significance of Jesus’ resurrection illuminates his cross and gives it salvific meaning. Jesus’ death remains the officially sanctioned execution of an unarmed prophet. Yet it also becomes a sign of God’s self-giving, unconditional love. Jesus’ words describe his cross and his preceding ministry as the basis of a new relationship to God, which will be fully realized in the coming of God’s reign. This counters his disciples’ fears and their subsequent guilt over abandoning him, and through this, empowers them to continue to follow him.

Mark 14:24 concludes with the words that Jesus’ blood is “poured out for many.” Who were these “many” in Jesus’ time? Who did Mark understand them to be?

Christian Eberhart: It is interesting that all disciples drank from the cup during the Last Supper (Mark 14:23), but then Jesus said that his blood would be poured out for many (verse 24). However, the Greek word for “many” is polloi, which means “a whole lot,” so it does not stand in sharp contrast to the term “all.” Yet the exact choice of terminology is most likely reflecting an earlier statement of Jesus about himself. Just before Jesus arrived in the city of Jerusalem, James and John, the sons Zebedee, ask him for privileged seats in his “glory” (Mark 10:37). They seem to be specifically interested in gaining status through following Jesus. But this kind of self-interest is not what the mission of Jesus is all about. Therefore Jesus replies that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Several scholars have rightly suggested that these words of Jesus reference passages from the Fourth Servant Song in Isaiah 53:10b–12 according to the Septuagint. According to these texts, God intends to “vindicate the just one who serves many well”; therefore the servant “will be the heir of many”, “has borne the sins of many and was handed over on account of their sins.”[26] The term “many” occurs three times in these lines and is thus highly characteristic of the Fourth Servant Song. So Jesus referred to this text from Isaiah to convey his own mission; later he also re-used some of its language during the Last Supper.

Who, indeed, could be the people for whom the blood of Jesus is poured out, hence who receive forgiveness of sins? While it is clear that Jesus strongly associated with outsiders and marginalized folks of his society, he did not exclude anybody who accepted his offer of redemption. In that sense, I think that the “many” at the time of Jesus were the same sort of community as those 40 years later when Mark finalized his Gospel account. They were all those who thirsted for salvation through Jesus and who, therefore, attended worship meetings and the celebration of Eucharist/Communion. Can we assume that all those who do the same today belong to those “many” as well?

Don Schweitzer: Yes, and then some. Jesus’ declaration concerning the saving significance of his death, regarding who is included in the covenant it renewed or inaugurated, is open-ended. Its field of meaning is broad, extending infinitely into the future and around the globe. Mark 14:25 indicates that the promise implicit in it will only be fulfilled with the coming of God’s reign.

Today the “many” of Mark 14:24 refers to those who gather to worship in Jesus’ name. Elizabeth Johnson relates how Augustine once told his congregation that in relation to their ancestors in the faith, they were the church of the future.[27] The disciples who gathered with Jesus for the last supper could never have foreseen the church of Augustine’s time, or the church of the present in all its varied forms around the globe. But in what Jesus did that night, and through the disciples’ faith in this, their memory of it and the way they lived this out, the foundations were laid for the church that exists today. Similarly we today, through our worship and discipleship, are helping build the church of the future that will come after us. The “many” for whom Jesus died includes all Christians who have gone before us, all who will come after us, and we ourselves.

But the “many” for whom Jesus consecrates himself includes more than those who worship in his name. The covenant that Jesus makes here is inaugurated unilaterally. It does not depend on our response, on our own righteousness, or even on our faith. It extends to all creation. The doctrine of justification by grace is not developed in Mark’s gospel with the clarity with which it is set forth in Paul’s letters, but it is present here in Jesus’ declaration of the saving significance of his death. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, every person has been justified before God once and for all. From a Christian perspective every person’s relationship to God, to each other and to themselves is essentially determined by this.[28] The doctrine of justification by grace points towards universal salvation and every person is to be related to in light of this. As Christ consecrates himself in Mark 14:24 to the salvation of “many,” he consecrates all who worship in his name to responsibility for the well-being of all those for whom he died. Thus Christ’s words here commit his followers to an inclusive solidarity which has no limits. As Jesus is the way that Christians must follow, Christians are called and empowered by his teaching, example, and the saving significance of his death and resurrection, to care for all, regardless of who they are or what they have done, particularly for the suffering.[29]

Jesus’ public ministry “followed a particular direction in history … because that was what truly proclaiming the Reign of God demanded.”[30] This direction led to his death on the cross: a place of exclusion, vulnerability and denigration. The universal solidarity that faith in Jesus consecrates Christians to becomes concrete by following this trajectory through attending to the victims of society today. If one asks who are the “many” to whom this universal solidarity should be specifically directed today, several groups stand out. There are some, like the mentally differently abled, whom Jean Vanier called the wounded, or the economically poor, to whom this universal solidarity must always be preferentially directed. But today in the contexts of the United States and Canada we can name three groups specifically.

A first group to whom Jesus’ words direct Christian care and attention today are Syrian refugees, fleeing the chaotic violence that has engulfed their country. Their plight was tragically depicted through photographs of the body of toddler Alan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach. Kurdi’s family had been hoping to join relatives in Canada. He, his brother and mother drowned September 2, 2015, in an attempt to reach Greece. Kurdi’s image became a symbol of the suffering of Syrian refugees and an indictment of Western indifference to their plight.

A second group are Black citizens of Canada and the United States. The shooting of unarmed Black citizens by police officers in the United States and evidence that Black Canadians are subject to harsh prejudice[31] necessitates that the solidarity inspired and empowered by celebration of the Eucharist be directed towards preserving the lives, dignity and opportunities of Black citizens in both countries.

Finally, in Canada, a third group are Aboriginal women. The number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and the indifference towards their fate on the part of many Canadians is indicative of how Aboriginal women bear the brunt of prejudice, exclusion and denigration in Canada. They are among the “many” for whom Christ died and to whom solidarity must be particularly extended at this time.

In the library of St. Andrew’s College is a poster with the caption, “Refugees Welcome.” Refugees Welcome is an ad hoc network of organizations dedicated to seeking justice for refugees and displaced persons that came into being in response to Alan Kurdi’s death.[32] The St. Andrew’s College library is at the far end of the hall from the chapel where communion is celebrated. This poster symbolizes the solidarity that Jesus’ words in Mark 14:24 call for. Its location is representative of how the meaning of what communion celebrates reaches to the far corners of our worlds. The “many” of Mark 14:24 encompasses all those who recognize Jesus as the Christ, and includes all others as well.

Christian Eberhart: Your closing reflections on the meaning of the “many” today are an impressive testimony to the continuing relevance of the words that Jesus spoke over the Eucharistic cup according to Mark 14:24. In the previous paragraphs, we have analyzed them historically and in the context of the Bible. We also scrutinized the meaning of the accompanying rite with wine in light of early Jewish sacrificial rituals and covenant theology. Hopefully these paragraphs could demonstrate that neither the words spoken by Jesus nor the rite with the cup of wine have anything to do with what is usually understood as substitutionary atonement. They do not draw on any ancient type of punishment. Instead they refer to traditional Jewish covenant concepts, which usually established bilateral commitments between covenanting parties. The covenant at Mt. Sinai, in particular, had sacrificial atonement at its core. Based on blood rituals in the context of animal sacrifices, the “effect” of such atonement was purification and thus consecration of humans, who were made holy through the life-force that blood contained. Looking ahead to his imminent death, Jesus adopted this specific ancient tradition when he spoke of “my blood of the covenant” during the Last Supper (Mark 14:24). He thus inaugurated a unilateral covenant that conveyed the forgiveness of sins to those who participated in it, and the love of God. Thus God offers salvation to many humans in a promise that is still valid today and extends infinitely into the future. This promise applies specifically to those who suffer from rejection, exclusion, poverty, marginalization, etc., among them refugees, Black citizens, and Aboriginal women. Their existential fear is still taken serious by God who hears their cries of anguish and whose love and care does not cease even in hopeless situations. God still invites humans into a covenantal relationship of love today.

[1] Jürgen Becker, Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1998), p. 341. However, Jesus’ proclamation of God’s coming reign did have covenantal aspects, in that those who received it were to respond by striving to live by the high moral standards of his ethical teachings.

[2] Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz, The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998), p. 431.

[3] Thomas Buchanan Kilpatrick, Our Common Faith (Toronto: The United Church Publishing House; Ryerson Press, 1928), p. 192.

[4] Ibid., p. 193.

[5] Charlotte Caron, Eager for Worship (Toronto: The United Church of Canada, Division of Ministry, Personnel and Education, 2000), pp. 39–40. Caron specified that covenant theology “stresses God’s faithfulness and people’s response of faith;” ibid, p. 39.

[6] For example, Richard Davidson, “The Lord’s Supper,” in Ordered Liberty, edited by William Kervin (Toronto: United Church Publishing House, 2011), p. 204.

[7] Article X of the 1940 Statement of Faith. Quoted from John Dow, This Is Our Faith (Canada: The Board of Evangelism and Social Service, The United Church of Canada, 1943), p. 182.

[8] Caron, Eager for Worship, pp. 64–8.

[9] William Kervin, “Beyond the Last Supper: The Institution Narrative Revisited,” Touchstone 27/2 (May 2009), p. 28.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., pp. 30–31.

[12] I need to mention that a comprehensive discussion of the theme “covenant” cannot be presented here. Specifically, I will only be able to study selected occurrences of this term; however, notions of covenantal agreements are also manifest wherever God declares to the Israelites or their representative: “I will take you as my people, and I will be your God” (Exodus 6:7; see also Leviticus 26:12; Jeremiah 7:23; 11:4, etc.). For a fuller treatment of this topic, see, e.g., Rolf Rendtorff, The Covenant Formula: An Exegetical and Theological Investigation, translated by Margaret Kohl (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998); Walter Groß, Zukunft für Israel: Alttestamentliche Bundeskonzepte und die aktuelle Debatte um den Neuen Bund, SBS 176 (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1998); Udo Rüterswörden, “Die Liebe zu Gott im Deuteronomium,” in Die deuteronomistischen Geschichtswerke: Redaktions- und religionsge­schichtliche Perspektiven zur ‘Deuteronomismus’-Diskussion in Tora und Vorderen Propheten, edited by M. Witte et al., BZAW 365 (Berlin; New York: DeGruyter, 2006), pp. 229–38; Christoph Koch, Vertrag, Treueid und Bund: Studien zur Rezeption des altorientalischen Vertragsrechts im Deuteronomium und zur Ausbildung der Bundes­theologie im Alten Testament, BZAW 383 (Berlin; New York: DeGruyter, 2008); Robert D. Miller, Covenant and Grace in the Old Testament: Assyrian Propaganda and Israelite Faith, Perspectives on Hebrew Scriptures and its Context 16 (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias, 2012).

[13] Scholars usually assume that Genesis 6 belongs to the Priestly Source (P) while Genesis 7 was written by the Yahwist (J). Cf. E.A. Speiser, Genesis: Introduction, Translation, and Notes, Anchor Bible, vol. 1 (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1964), p. 52; Claus Westermann, Genesis 1–11, translated by John J. Scullion, Continental Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994), p. 428.

[14] Cf. Westermann, Genesis 1–11, p. 471.

[15] Cf. Speiser, Genesis, p. 113.

[16] An interesting question is whether or not all those who were circumcised were included in the covenant with God. Among the first to be circumcised was, in fact, Ishmael (Genesis 17:23–27), who was born to Abram from Hagar, the slave woman (16:15–16). However, the line of promise was continued through his second son Isaac. It is important to notice that many ancient Near East nations knew and practiced the custom of circumcision (Jeremiah 9:24–25). It was by no means unique to Israel or its ancestors; hence not every circumcised person was therefore a member of the covenant (Matthias Köckert, “Gottes ‘Bund’ mit Abraham und die ‘Erwählung’ Israels in Genesis 17,” in Covenant and Election in Exilic and Post-Exilic Judaism: Studies of the Sofja Kovalevskaja Research Group on Early Jewish Monotheism, vol. V, edited by Nathan MacDonald, FAT 2/79 [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015, pp. 1–28], pp. 17–18).

[17] This is also what Steven D. Mason observes in his study of the term “eternal covenant,” which he finds to be “a bilateral, conditional, and breakable covenant involving the obligations of God and humans” (Steven D. Mason, “Eternal Covenant” in the Pentateuch: The Contours of an Elusive Phrase [New York, NY: T&T Clark International, 2008], p. 226 [italics original]). See also Gerhard von Rad, Das erste Buch Mose: Genesis Kapitel 12,10 – 25,18, ATD (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1952), p. 168.

[18] Jan Christian Gertz, “Covenant II. Old Testament,” Religion Past & Present: Encyclopedia of Theology and Religion, edited by Hans Dieter Betz et al., vol. 3 (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2007, pp. 526–8), p. 527. See also George E. Mendenhall, Law and Covenant in Israel and the Ancient Near East (Pittsburgh, Biblical Colloquium, 1955); Gerhard von Rad, Theologie des Alten Testaments, vol. 1: Die Theologie der geschichtlichen Überlieferungen Israels (Munich: Chr. Kaiser, 1987), p. 146.

[19] Adapted from: Christian A. Eberhart, What a Difference a Meal Makes: The Last Supper in the Bible and in the Christian Church, translated by Michael Putman (Houston: Lucid Books, 2016), p. 70 (table 2).

[20] Cf. Christian A. Eberhart, “Blood. I. Ancient Near East and Hebrew Bible/Old Testament,” Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception vol. 4 (Berlin; New York: Walter DeGruyter, 2012, pp. 20112), pp. 2024.

[21] The limited space of this essay does not permit an exhaustive discussion of the complex problems of the four words of institution from the perspectives of form criticism, tradition history, etc. However, most scholars recognize the words of Jesus spoken over the cup according to Mark 14:24 (and Matthew 26:28) as derived from the covenant at Mt. Sinai in Exodus 24:8 (cf. Johannes Behm, “αἷμα, αἱματεκχυσία,” ThWNT 1 [1933, pp. 171–76], p. 174; Joachim Gnilka, Das Evangelium nach Markus: 2. Teilband Mk 8,27–16,20, EKK 2/2 [Neukirchen-Vluyn; Zürich: Neukirchener, 1979], p. 245; Xavier Léon-Dufour, Le partage du pain eucharistique selon le Nouveau Testament, Parole de Dieu [Paris: du Seuil, 1982], pp. 170–72; Hermann Lich­ten­berger, “‘Bund’ in der Abendmahls­über­lieferung,” in Bund und Tora: Zur theologischen Begriffsgeschichte in alttestamentlicher, früh­jüdischer und urchristlicher Tradition, edited by id. and Friedrich Avemarie, WUNT 92 [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1996, pp. 217–28], pp. 221–25; Peter Wick, Die urchristlichen Gottesdienste: Entstehung und Entwicklung im Rahmen der früh­jüdischen Tempel-, Synagogen- und Hausfrömmigkeit, BWANT 150 [Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2002, pp. 248–49]). By contrast, the different terminology in 1 Corinthians 11:25 and Luke 22:20 points to the “new covenant” written on the hearts of Israel and Judah according to Jeremiah 38:31 LXX (cf. Ferdinand Hahn, Theologie des Neuen Testaments, vol. 2: Die Einheit des Neuen Testaments: The­ma­ti­sche Darstellung [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2nd ed. 2005], pp. 479–80). However, this covenant narrative does not mention any blood, so that a partial reference to Exodus 24:8 should nevertheless be assumed for 1 Corinthians 11:25; Luke 22:20. For a more detailed discussion, see Christian A. Eberhart, Kultmetaphorik und Christologie: Opfer- und Sühneterminologie im Neuen Testament, WUNT 306 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013), pp. 118–23.

[22] It is not warranted to insist on too strong a distinction between “cup” and “wine/blood” in the words of institution. The cup that is emphasized in 1 Corinthians 11:25 clearly contains wine, which represents the blood of Jesus so as to convey his death. Furthermore, the words “poured out” are not standard terminology for the “sharing” of a cup among participants of a meal; instead they typically refer to the outpouring of liquids such as wine (Matthew 9:17; Luke 5:37). Cf. Lich­ten­berger, “‘Bund’ in der Abendmahls­über­lie­ferung,” pp. 222–3.

[23] Jesus celebrated his Last Supper ritual during the Passover festival, a traditional Jewish feast that commemorated salvation from slavery in Egypt. The food of the Last Supper was also a symbol of commemoration, as is indicated in 1 Corinthians 11:24, 25; Luke 22:19. The focus of commemoration was Jesus who brought salvation from danger (cf. Eberhart, What a Difference a Meal Makes, pp. 54–8). Hence, the Last Supper combines several important Jewish traditions like Passover and sacrificial atonement. However, the words of institution pertaining to the cup do not evoke the peculiar apotropaic Passover blood rite according to Exodus 12:7, 22, which stipulates the application of blood to doorposts and the lintel of a house.

[24] Reflections on translation matters further elucidates this point. The Bible used by the early Christians was the collection of writings commonly called “Old Testament” today. But these Christians soon distinguished themselves from their Jewish environment by giving preference to the Greek translation of the Hebrew text, which is now commonly called “Septuagint” (LXX). In this translation, various Greek terms could have been employed for the rendering of berith, the Hebrew word for “covenant.” Martin Rösel explains that terms denoting bilateral contractual obligations like synthēke or spondē would have been available. Instead, the early translators chose the Greek legal term diathēke to render Hebrew berith which designates a unilateral provision or ordinance (cf. Martin Rösel, “Exkurs: Zur Übersetzung von διαθήκη,” in Septuaginta Deutsch: Erläuterungen und Kommentare zum griechischen Alten Testament, vol. I Genesis bis Makkabäer, edited by Martin Karrer and Wolfgang Kraus [Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2011], p. 170). It is this Greek term diathēke that has been adopted in the early Christian texts for the covenant established by Jesus. The very terminology thus suggests its rather unilateral character. Due to this lack of mutuality that is already manifest in the Old Testament and to highlight its legal character, Rösel goes on to suggest that a more appropriate rendering for diathēke in the Septuagint would be “disposition” or “obligation.” However, my preference for the usage of the translation of diathēke as “covenant” is guided by considerations of the conceptual goal. The various covenant events in the Old Testament as well as the covenant that Jesus establishes in the Eucharist aim at a connection and have an underlying relational dimension, specifically an existence vis-à-vis God.

[25] Michael Welker, What Happens in Holy Communion? (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), p. 108.

[26] Cf. Adela Y. Collins, Mark: A Commentary on the Gospel of Mark, Hermeneia (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2007), p. 500; Ulrike Mittmann, “Jes 53 LXX – ein umstrittener urchristlicher Referenztext: Zum traditions- und rezeptionsgeschichtlichen Hintergrund der Einsetzungsworte,” in Die Septuaginta und das frühe Christentum: The Septuagint and Christian Origins, edited by Thomas S. Caulley and Hermann Lichtenberger, WUNT 277 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011, pp. 216–32), pp. 221–22.

[27] Elizabeth Johnson, Abounding in Kindness (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2015), p. 3.

[28] Hans Küng, Justification, 40th anniversary ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1964/2004), p. 231.

[29] Johann Baptist Metz, “The Last Universalists,” in The Future of Theology, edited by Miroslav Volf et al. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), p. 50.

[30] Ignacio Ellacuría, Essays on History, Liberation, and Salvation, edited by Michael Lee, with an “Introduction” by Michael Lee and “Commentary” by Kevin Burke (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013), p. 206.

[31] Will Kymlicka, Finding Our Way: Rethinking Ethnocultural Relations in Canada (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 80.