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In remembrance of me

Posted by on Feb 13, 2008 in ordinances/sacraments | 12 comments

The title of this post is more than a phrase carved in the side of the communion table at the front of most church buildings. The phrase comes from Luke and 1 Corinthians concerning the Lord’s Supper:

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.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:19-20 ESV)

For I [Paul] received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In 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.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25 ESV)

In each case, the bread and/or cup is said to be given “in remembrance of me”. Last weekend at the “House Church Workshop” by New Testament Restoration Fellowship, Tim Melvin said something interesting about this phrase. He said that this reminder is not for us, but for Jesus. I have not come to a conclusion about this phrase, but I wanted to put Tim’s argument down in print in order to consider it and in order to get feedback from others.

To begin with, the phrase “in remembrance of me” is a translation of the Greek phrase εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν (eis tÄ“n emÄ“n anamnÄ“sin). The main noun in the prepositional phrase is from ἀνάμνησις (anamnÄ“sis) which is usually translated “reminder, remembrance, or memory”. Every Christian group agrees that the Lord’s Supper is a form of reminder, although some would say that it is much more than that.

The questions concerns the pronoun ἐμὴν (emÄ“n) which is from the possessive pronoun ἐμός (emos). According to BDAG (the standard Greek lexicon), ἐμός (emos) always demonstrates possession (i.e. “my”, “mine”, “what belongs to me”), except in Luke 22:20 and 1 Corinthians 11:24-25. In those three occurrences, BDAG says that the pronoun ἐμός (emos) does not demonstrate possession but content. Thus, according to BDAG, the content of the reminder is Jesus. This is the normal interpretation of this passage.

Tim Melvin (and he told me that he got this from Steve Atkerson) says that we should translate the pronoun ἐμός (emos) as a possessive pronoun. Thus, the Lord’s Supper is not a reminder whose content is Jesus (that is, it reminds us of Jesus), but instead the Lord’s Supper is a reminder which belongs to Jesus (that is, it reminds Jesus of something).

This may sound very strange. Why would God need a reminder? However, this would not be unprecedented in Scripture. Consider what God told Noah about the rainbow:

And God said, “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 cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9:12-16 ESV)

While we normally think of the rainbow as a reminder to us, this is not what Scripture says. In this passage, God says twice that he will see the rainbow, and that the rainbow will remind him of the covenant.

Therefore, according to this argument, the Lord’s Supper is a sign of the new covenant, much like the rainbow was a sign of God’s covenant with Noah. And, just as the rainbow would remind God of his covenant with Noah, the Lord’s Supper reminds God (through Jesus) of the new covenant that he has made with his children.

By the way, NTRF is not the only people to suggest this interpretation of the phrase “in remembrance of me” or “for my reminder”. Apparently, Joachim Jeremias said that Jesus used ἀνάμνησις (anamnÄ“sis) (“remembrance, reminder”) in the sense of a reminder for God: “The Lord’s Supper would thus be an enacted prayer”. (from NIDNTT, Vol III, p. 244) I have not yet looked up this reference to check the quote in context.

As I said earlier, I have not decided what I think about this argument. I will say that in my cursory study, they are correct about the use of the pronoun ἐμός (emos). It seems that in all other occurrences of the pronoun, the pronoun is used to refer to possession, not content. Also, it is true that this would not be a unique reference to something reminding God (or Jesus) of his covenant. Therefore, the argument is persuasive.

I hope to continue to study this view of the phrase “in remembrance of me” or “for my reminder”. Furthermore, I hope to continue to think about some of the implications of this view concerning the Lord’s Supper. I would love to hear your thoughts concerning their position and any implications for the Lord’s Supper.


12 Comments

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  1. 2-13-2008

    Perhaps, too, in line with the blood on the doorposts during the original passover — a reminder, so to speak, to God to pass over that house and restrain from judging them.

    ?? I dunno. Just thinking “out loud”.

  2. 2-14-2008

    Alan,

    Thank you for being consistent in coming to your conclusions based upon scripture and not upon tradition, preconceived ideas, or what may make you feel comfortable.

    I may not always like your conclusions, but I appreciate how you come to them.

    Eric

  3. 2-14-2008

    Very interesting. I’ll have to look more into that interpretation as well. I do believe, however, that when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we are doing more than simply remembering a past event. I believe we as Christ’s body before God to reaffirm his covenant with us. This covenant of course was sealed with Christ’s blood and resulted in our reconciliation with the Father. How could Christians come to God reminding him of the reconciliation and fellowship he brought to us while at the same time harboring hatred for one another? No wonder the Lord becomes angry at such “worship.”

    Ben Laird

  4. 2-14-2008

    Very intriguing. I am not sure if I fully agree with it but it is something to consider.

    It may well be a “reminder” for him as he sees His people around the table that there is hope for His people.

    If you believe in a “vindicative” God, this would even match up more. The logic being: God wants to wipe us off the earth but He is reminded of His love to us when He sees us around His table.

  5. 2-14-2008

    Wow,If this is the case, then I think it supports a much more “covenantal” understanding of the table.

    Jon L

  6. 2-14-2008

    Alan,

    My initial enthusiasm for this translation was a bit tempered when I started looking at the support from Classical and Koine Greek that BDAG gives. It was further tempered when I looked in LSJ. There does appear to be adequate support for the traditional interpretation, but I don’t think that rules out the interpretation you are suggesting. Jeremias is a heavy-weight authority and I need to take his idea seriously.

    Keep digging!

    James

  7. 2-14-2008

    Steve,

    The passover episode may be similar, but I don’t know if it has the same lexical connections that we see in the rainbow/Lord’s Supper (remember/reminder). It would be worth investigating though.

    Eric,

    For the most part, this is not my conclusion. I’m not sure what my conclusion is yet. I appreciate your vote of confidence, though.

    Ben,

    I agree that the Lord’s Supper is more than a reminder. As I understand this argument, it is not an argument that the Lord’s Supper is only a reminder. It is simply investigating what type of reminder it is.

    Jeff,

    I’m not sure that I agree either. I need more time to study this view.

    Jon,

    I think the fact that the cup is the blood of the new covenant makes the Lord’s Supper very covenantal.

    James,

    Thanks for the additional information. I hope to have time to investigate this view more fully in the near future.

    -Alan

  8. 2-14-2008

    Alan,

    Thank you for being willing to stir the pot of complacent traditionalism which seems to contain most of evangelicalism.

    What great food for thought here.

    When discussing these matters, I’m very conscious that we need to be very careful that we don’t indulge in “either,or” arguments.

    The Body of Christ has lost much through sincere people dismissing some new thinking (moved by the Holy Spirit?)which brings to light some aspects we haven’t accepted.

    It is legitimate to pray,not so much reminding God, but holding on to His promises, by reiterating His promises, and what a great, majestic promise is found in the Lord’s Supper!

    A reiteration, a retelling, of God’s promise in His Son, a reminder to us of what He has done through the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ, and a reminder to us of the Body to which we belong, which exists only because of that work.

  9. 2-14-2008

    Alan,

    I think that there is still more here, in a covenantal sense, than meets the eye. What I mean is that if what Tim M. is saying is true, then when we take of the table there is a real interaction taking place between God and His people. The traditional (Baptist) teaching on the Lord’s table is that it is nothing more than a memorial, nothing more than symbolic. This would at least allow us to say that in some way God is active when we partake of the table. It is more than just mere symbolism.

    Jon L

  10. 2-15-2008

    Aussie John,

    Good thoughts on this understanding of the Lord’s Supper. I appreciate your fleshing out some of the implications.

    Jon,

    I think you are right that some (including some baptists) see the Lord’s Supper as merely a symbol. I think that some also see it as more, although it is sometimes difficult to understand exactly what “more” means. Also, you are probably right that this understanding of the Lord’s Supper would be even more covenantal.

    -Alan

  11. 2-15-2008

    (This posting is the paraphrase of a discussion between a couple of friends.)

    The literal meaning of the phrase is “as my memorial”.

    A memorial is a covenant reminder to God of his faithfulness and a plea for continued faithfulness and blessing. We present memorials to God to remind him of his promises to us. This is why the Table is a means of grace and for our salvation; when we proclaim the Lord’s death, God “remembers” his covenant with those who partake and extends blessing and righteousness to them.

    This is also why it is more appropriate for the pastor to say “as my memorial” during the liturgy. It emphasizes what we’re actually doing in the Supper. It isn’t merely our remembering what Jesus did, but it is our receiving what he has done and proclaiming, or offering, it back to God and saying “remember us, your people, continue to be a blessing of righteousness to us, and save us.”

    It is correct to relate this to the rainbow of the covenant of
    peace between YHWH and Noah. Every time God “sees” the rainbow, he
    remembers his promise to never again flood the earth. God as a faithful covenant-keeping God is what “God’s righteousness” is all about. It not only saves and protects us, but it transforms us as well.

    The remaining connection that needs to be made, however, is regarding the application Jon was referring to previously. Similar to the Noahic covenant, the family is involved here, not just the individual.

  12. 2-15-2008

    Other John,

    You said the “literal” meaning is “as my memorial”. Can you help me understand where you’re getting the word “as”?

    I agree with your comment, depending on what you mean by “the Table is a means of grace and for our salvation”. I’ve heard similar phrases used in many different ways.

    I appreciate the idea of a “family” covenant, because I’ve been thinking more and more about understanding the church as family. Perhaps this is something that I need to study a bit more also.

    -Alan

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