by Herold Weiss

John coverToward the end of the first century the Christian Church established rituals through which members could cleanse themselves from sin and receive the benefits of the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. These are called sacraments. The Church also set apart persons with special powers who could mediate the power of the Spirit to the rest of the members. This established a distinction between the laity and the clergy. Eventually, it institutionalized different ranks among the clergy and defined their competency to administer the sacraments.
Most sacramental theology is based on the gospel According to John. It has become standard practice to use the conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus and the discourse in which Jesus contrasts the descent of manna from the sky during the Exodus from Egypt with the descent of the Son of Man in the person of Jesus as the basic sources for the theology of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The legitimacy of the use of these verses for such a purpose, however, is challenged by the way in which the conversation with Nicodemus and the discourse about the breads that descend from heaven are actually interpreted with the gospel itself.
Besides, in the accounts of the encounter of Jesus with John the Baptist, Jesus does not come near John and John does not baptize Jesus. On the other hand, this is the only gospel which reports that Jesus became a baptizer. The activity of Jesus the Baptizer caused the disciples of John to become upset because the one who had benefitted from John’s generous endorsement had become a competitor and was taking away John’s audience after him.
Moreover, the last supper Jesus ate with his disciples, as told in this gospel, was neither a Lord’s Supper nor a Passover Seder. In this account of the meal, Jesus does not call attention to the bread and the wine and pronounce words to sacramentalize them. Unlike the reports in the synoptic gospels and the letter of Paul To the Corinthians I, Jesus does not attach special significance to the moment within a historical horizon. These details in the narratives of the last supper found in these other sources are what make the meal into the Lord’s Supper. Besides, in According to John, when on the following morning Jesus was being tried before Pilate, the Jews did not enter the praetorium for fear of defiling themselves and thereby rendering themselves unable to eat the Passover meal that night. In other words, Jesus ate the last supper with his disciples on the day before Passover. This means that the last supper he ate with his disciples could not have been a Passover meal. In other words, as told in According to John the last supper did not enact or establish a ritual.
So, what does the gospel According to John teach about the sacraments?


  1. In the United Methodist Church I hear more discussion related to communion coming out of the walk to Emmaus passage in Luke rather than John’s bread of life discourses.

  2. Tim, I find this is true of my denomination, as well. It may be related to the “something happened” theory of the resurrection. Many, including myself, have a problem with the notion of a bodily resurrection. So, if a resurrected Jesus is a product of the experience of the community that arose out of coming together to celebrate his life, the Emmaus story fits nicely.

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