DISSERTAZIONI DI DOTTORATO
The Eucharist in Relation to the Priesthood of Christ in the Letter to the Hebrews
The title of the present dissertation might appear surprising as it would seem that it is the consensus of opinion among the majority of exegetes that the author of Heb does not refer directly either to the Last Supper or to the Eucharist in the presentation of his central theme: Christ as High Priest offering a sacrifice for the expiation of sins and, simultaneously, as Mediator of a New Covenant. If however we examine the so called “words of institution” in either of the two traditions: This is my body. This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many (for the forgiveness of sins); This is my body which is given for you. This cup is the new covenant in my blood (which is poured out for you), it cannot be denied that they contain the idea of an expiatory covenant sacrifice, and hence, that they implicitly depict Christ in the roles of a Priest offering His body and blood in sacrifice for sins, and, simultaneously, of a Mediator of a new covenant, inaugurated in this same sacrifice. Hence the possibility arises that the author of Heb in representing Christ as High Priest and Mediator of New Covenant, might have been developing a concept implicitly contained in His words at the Supper. But how is this to be demonstrated ? In Heb 9,11-14 the author depicts Christ manifesting Himself as High Priest in the “offering of Himself”, and goes on to affirm in 9,15 that, consequently, this makes Him the Mediator of a New Covenant. Unfortunately he does not tell us where precisely this occurred. Exegetes have generally assumed that the author was referring to the moment of Christ’s death on the Cross, and this would be justified if 9,15 is translated in the following manner: And for this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred which redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant. This verse has however been translated in a different way: And for this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that after a death occurred to bring redemption from the transgressions under the first covenant, those who are called might receive the promised eternal inheritance. Now, according to the second translation Christ is the Mediator of a New Covenant at some point before His death which then has to intervene in order that “the called” might receive the promised “eternal inheritance”. That the second translation is the correct one would seem to be indicated by the immediately following verses 9,16-17: For where a testament is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a testament takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. (It has to be noted that the author uses the same Greek word diatheke to denote both covenant in v.15 as well as testament in vv. 16,17). Now the only point in the life of Christ before His death where He could reasonably be depicted as the Mediator of a New Covenant is the Last Supper which would then become the Sitz im Leben of the central theme of Hebrews.