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The Book of Hebrews and the Real Presence

Preface

Based on the Book of Hebrews, this is a challenge for Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and anyone else who holds to the ideas that the bread and wine, during the Christian communion:

  1. Becomes Christ's flesh and blood literally;
  2. Becomes God, and is to be worshipped;
  3. Is to be re-offered in sacrifice to atone for sins.

I am offering this challenge because I love Christ and I love the people who love Christ. I believe you guys (in general) love Christ. I want to believe that your church is a legitimate face of Christianity.

But.

The worship of bread and wine seems so brazenly idolatrous to me. The claim that the sacrifice of Christ needs to be offered repeatedly seems to directly conflict with your own scriptures.

I acknowledge up front that my understanding of your unique beliefs is not expert-level. If I've misrepresented them or misunderstood them, I welcome correction.

Implausibility vs. Outright Contradictions

Before you read my actual challenge, I'd like to clarify that I'm not suggesting these passages of scripture are blatant contradictions with your view. They may be, they may not be -- that's not my point. Instead, I'm offering a contextual challenge that goes more like this... why would the author of Hebrews say these things that he says without clarification, which at minimum have strong appearance of contradiction, if, in his own mind, the bread and wine are to be offered over and over again in sacrifice to atone for sins? Why would he say these things if, in his own mind, your Eucharistic doctrines are for him normative Christian life, and he certainly doesn't want anyone to think otherwise?

Note that this is not a charge of contradiction, but more like a charge of implausibility. Let me give an example or analogy to draw out the difference.

An Analogy

My name is Tim McCabe. I attend a reformed Baptist church almost every Sunday. I own and run this website, which offers arguments that Trinitarian monotheism is true. I also own and run the God Contention website, where I've written numerous articles to make the case that Jesus is the Son of God, that Christianity is true, and that all created humans need to repent and turn to Christ for the forgiveness of our sins before the God who created us. Virtually all of my friends are evangelical Christians. I have the books of Hebrews and Philemon memorized, along with a large portion of Romans. For eight years, I worked for Ken Ham at Answers in Genesis, promoting the idea that the plain reading of Genesis is the correct reading -- that the earth is about 6,000 years old, that humans were specially created from dirt by God, and that there was a literal global flood in which the one true God judged the world.

Now, let's say you're one of my best friends, and you know all these things about me. We've talked about them many, many times. Now suppose I go missing and a man comes to you with a hand-written note, and he says that I wrote it. He claims the note represents my most important beliefs. Beliefs that I have had my whole adult life. The note says:

"The earth has always existed. There is no God, and there never has been."

You respond to this man, "Tim didn't write that. That's not his view at all. There's no way he wrote that."

The man says, "What do you mean? Of course Tim wrote it. This note represents his thinking. He wrote it himself."

You say, "Tim doesn't think that! Look at this: 'there is no God, and there never has been'? Tim went to church every Sunday! He worked at Answers in Genesis! He memorized books of the Bible and spent his free time coming up with logical arguments that God exists! There's no way Tim believes there is no God!"

The man says, "Oh, I see. No, you're misunderstanding what he wrote. Obviously Tim believed in God -- we all know that. He was very public about that. No, of course he didn't mean that there is really no God at all! What he meant when he wrote this is that there is no God... other than YHWH! I mean, obviously that's what he meant, because we all know Tim believed in God."

"What?" you say. "I... I... huh. That's not how this note came across to me, I guess. But here... this other part. It says 'the earth has always existed.' Tim worked at Answers in Genesis! I know he didn't believe that!"

"Huh?" the man says. "Oh, I see. Yes, of course Tim worked at Answers in Genesis. That's well documented. No, again, you're clearly reading this wrong. We all know Tim believed that the earth was only 6,000 years old. What he meant here is that 'the earth has always existed... ever since it was created, 6,000 years ago.' I mean, clearly. This note is written by Tim, and that's what Tim believed, so obviously, that's what this note means."

You screw up your face and stare at the note trying to see if you can believe that what the man is saying is true. Maybe it could be true. It could be that there is some hidden context that you just aren't picking up on. It's hypothetically possible to interpret the note the way the man is saying. But in the end you decide that his interpretation is just way too implausible to be believed. There's no way, in your mind, that I would have written those words as a statement of my beliefs without adding some very clear further context to dispel the rather obvious misinterpretations that would certainly arise from it. It just isn't plausible.

It's easy to read any text differently to remove apparent contradictions. The issue is whether the different reading is really plausible. And that's what I'm getting at here.

We know what Tim is like. Is it plausible to believe he wrote this note, intending the things we know about him? Likewise, we know what Roman Catholic theologians believe. Is it plausible to believe one of them wrote the Book of Hebrews, intending the things we know about them?

Now, the Challenge

I'm going to quote from the NAB for almost all the following passages, since it is approved by Rome. The only other quote will come from the Douay-Rheims, as explained below.

He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sacrifice day after day, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did that once for all when he offered himself. Hebrews 7:27

Why would the author say this if he truly believed that the sin sacrifice of Christ needed to be offered day after day? Why would he speak in the past tense ("offered") with respect to the "once for all" sin-offering of Christ, if it continues to be needed repeatedly? Why would he seem to suggest that the over-and-done-with, once-for-all, past-tense offering erases the need for daily sin-sacrifice if the daily sin-sacrifice of Christ is still needed? This passage comes across as the exact opposite of what a good Roman Catholic believes. Why, if the author agreed with you, is there no explanation offered by the author for the apparent conflict of his own text with his own beliefs? And he does it again and again throughout the book.

For Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one, but heaven itself, that he might now appear before God on our behalf. Hebrews 9:24

Why does the author say that Christ "did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands" if Christ enters into the manmade containers holding bread and wine in the manmade sanctuary in every Roman Catholic church several times every week? This seems like a very odd thing for a Roman Catholic to say.

Not that he might offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters each year into the sanctuary with blood that is not his own; if that were so, he would have had to suffer repeatedly from the foundation of the world. But now once for all he has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sin by his sacrifice. Just as it is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment, so also Christ, offered once to take away the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him. Hebrews 9:25-28

Why does this passage indicate that Christ is not offered repeatedly (because if He were, per verse 26, He would have to suffer repeatedly), but only and exactly once, if in fact He is offered repeatedly in every Roman Catholic church several times every week? Surely a Roman Catholic author would have clarified his meaning somehow.

Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of them, it can never make perfect those who come to worship by the same sacrifices that they offer continually each year. Otherwise, would not the sacrifices have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, once cleansed, would no longer have had any consciousness of sins? Hebrews 10:1-2

Why does this passage indicate that Christ is better than old covenant sacrifices specifically because He is not offered repeatedly, if in fact He is offered repeatedly in every Roman Catholic church several times every week? Why does it seem to indicate that sacrifices offered repeatedly have clearly not succeeded at accomplishing what Christ's sacrifice accomplished, them being merely a shadow of Christ's sacrifice, if in fact Christ is to be offered repeatedly too, just like those insufficient shadows?

By this "will," we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Hebrews 10:10

Why does this passage indicate that Christ's body was offered exactly once, for all, if it is offered repeatedly in every Roman Catholic church several times every week?

Every priest stands daily at his ministry, offering frequently those same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But this one offered one sacrifice for sins, and took his seat forever at the right hand of God... Hebrews 10:11-12

Why does this passage seem to indicate that the offering of Christ was one time, contrasted with those offerings of the old covenant priests, if Christ is offered repeatedly in every Roman Catholic church several times every week?

But this one offered one sacrifice for sins, and took his seat forever at the right hand of God; now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool. Hebrews 10:12-13

Why does Hebrews 10:12-13 seem to contrast the waiting of Christ in heaven with the continuous offerings made by priests in the old covenant if He likewise is continuously offered repeatedly in every Roman Catholic church several times every week?

For by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated. Hebrews 10:14

Why does Hebrews 10:14 seem to indicate that those who are being consecrated are already made perfect forever by His one offering if, instead, He should be offered repeatedly to continuously make those who are consecrated perfect?

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer offering for sin. If we sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains sacrifice for sins. Hebrews 10:18, 26

Why do both Hebrews 10:18 (happily) and 10:26 (sadly) seem to indicate that there is no longer an offering for sins if there is still an offering for sins, offered repeatedly in every Roman Catholic church several times every week?

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching. It is good to have our hearts strengthened by grace and not by foods, which do not benefit those who live by them. Hebrews 13:9

Why would someone who receives grace daily by means of eucharistic food ever claim that "it is good to have our hearts strengthened by grace and not by foods, which do not benefit those who live by them," as Hebrews 13:9 claims? Why would he choose wording that appears to conflict with his own daily way of life?

The NAB does not make the following particular connection between verses 10 and 11, but the Douay-Rheims does, and it appears to my unskilled eyes that the Greek does as well. So here's the Douay-Rheims.

We have an altar, whereof they have no power to eat who serve the tabernacle. For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the holies by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people by his own blood, suffered without the gate. Hebrews 13:10-12

Why would the author of Hebrews seem to make the case in Hebrews 13:10-12 that the reason old covenant priests cannot eat from the Christian altar is because the sin offering is not to be eaten, if in fact our sin offering is to be eaten as Rome insists?

Additional Question (Extra Credit!)

And they shall not teach, each one his fellow citizen and kinsman, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for all shall know me, from least to greatest. Hebrews 8:11

Why does Hebrews 8:11 (Jeremiah 31:34) seem to indicate that no one in the new covenant will need to be introduced to the Lord, because all will know Him, if baptized infants are in the new covenant, yet do not know Him but need to be introduced to Him?

Conclusion

Thanks for bearing with me this far. I am genuinely interested in any thoughtful and meaningful responses you may have. Please let me know how my thinking is off on the Book of Hebrews from your perspective, and God bless.

World Religions and Cults (volume 2)

In Printed Form

Along with numerous other authors including Don Landis, Bodie Hodge and Roger Patterson, Timothy McCabe contributes analyses of various world religions and cults in this volume from Master Books.

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