“Your Word Is Truth”
“This Is” or “This Means My Body . . . My Blood”—Which?
‘BUT you have changed the Word of God. According to my Bible, Jesus said regarding the loaf and the wine: “This is my body,” and “this is my blood.” He did not say: “This means my body,” and “this means my ‘blood,’” as does your Bible.’ Such might be the statement of a sincere Roman Catholic to one of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses on the subject of religious communion.—Matt. 26:26, 28, Douay.
Many translations do use the word “is” in rendering Jesus’ words. But there are also others that translate them similarly to the way they are rendered in the New World Translation. For example, Moffatt’s translation uses the word “means” for “is,” and that of C. B. Williams uses “represents” instead of “is.”
But what is the reason for the difference in the renderings of various translations? Translator Richard Weymouth in a footnote of his Third Edition states the following about the verb “is” in this text: “Or ‘signifies,’ ‘represents,’ ‘symbolizes my body.’ In many places both in the O[ld] T[estament] and the N[ew] T[estament] the verb ‘is’ or ‘are,’ expressed or (as here) understood, may be thus rendered.”
Among the examples Weymouth gives is that of Jesus’ illustration involving a sower and four types of soil. In this illustration Jesus repeatedly states (according to the rendering of the Catholic Jerusalem Bible) that one thing “is” another: “The one who received it on patches of rock is the man who hears the word and welcomes it at once with joy.” “The one who received the seed in thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this world and the lure of riches choke the word.” “The one who received the seed in rich soil is the man who hears the word and understands it.” (Matt. 13:20, 22, 23) In these passages “is” signifies “represents” and is so rendered in the Regina translation, a Catholic version in the Spanish language. The Catholic translation by Monsignor Knox, in a parallel passage, uses “stands for” instead of “are.” (Luke 8:15) So while some translators choose to render the verb literally as “is” or “are,” others use terms that convey the particular sense of the verb.
Be it also remembered that Jesus often used metaphors and similes. For example, he said: “I am the door of the sheep.” “I am the vine, you are the branches.” (John 10:7; 15:5) If viewed literally, such statements become nonsensical. They must be understood in harmony with the impression that they made upon their hearers.
Similarly, for us to understand the significance of Jesus’ words about the bread and the wine, we must look at matters from the standpoint of those present at the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Would they have concluded that the bread had been miraculously transformed into Jesus’ dead body? Did Jesus’ words lead them to believe that the wine had actually been changed into his blood? Could they imagine that, while Jesus was there before them, they were literally chewing and digesting his body? Could they deduce that they were really drinking Jesus’ blood despite the fact that Jesus still had all of his blood? How could they ever have believed such things when the drinking of human blood was a violation of God’s law? (Gen. 9:4; Lev. 17:10) Had Jesus’ disciples thought that they were really eating his body and drinking his blood, this would mean that they were knowingly making cannibals of themselves.
Surely, then, it is clear that Jesus’ words mean that the bread represented his body and the wine stood for his blood. This is confirmed by what Jesus said about the cup: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood which will be poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20, JB) Manifestly the cup of wine used on that occasion was not the new covenant. The cup merely had a symbolic connection with the new covenant. What was that symbolic connection? The answer to this question is evident from the relationship of blood to the new covenant.
When Jehovah God, through his prophet Jeremiah, foretold the making of a new covenant, he stated: “I shall forgive their error, and their sin I shall remember no more.” (Jer. 31:31-34) The basis for such forgiveness is revealed in the principle stated at Hebrews 9:22: “Unless blood is poured out no forgiveness takes place.”
Of the old covenant, Hebrews 9:18-20 tells us: “Neither was the former covenant inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment according to the Law had been spoken by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of the young bulls and of the goats with water and scarlet wool and hyssop and sprinkled the book itself and all the people, saying: ‘This is the blood of the covenant that God has laid as a charge upon you.’” Blood was also needed to put the new covenant in force.
Accordingly, the cupful of wine represented the shed blood of Jesus, which put the new covenant in force and provided the real basis for God’s forgiving sins. Says Hebrews 9:11, 12: “When Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come to pass, through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, he entered, no, not with the blood of goats and of young bulls, but with his own blood, once for all time into the holy place and obtained an everlasting deliverance for us.”
At the time that Jesus Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper the shedding of his blood was yet future. He did not say, ‘my blood which is being poured out’ but “my blood which will be poured out.” Had Jesus miraculously changed the wine into his blood, he would have shed at least some of his blood in behalf of his disciples right then.
It should not be overlooked that, unlike animal sacrifices under the Mosaic law, Jesus’ sacrifice needs no repeating. At Hebrews 9:27, 28 a modern Catholic translation reads: “Just as it is appointed that men die once, and after death be judged, so Christ was offered up once to take away the sins of many.”—New American Bible.
For the bread and wine to be changed into the literal body and blood of Jesus would mean that Jesus was being offered up continually. This is wholly inconsistent with the Scriptures. Jesus himself told his disciples: “Do this as a memorial [not sacrifice] of me.” (Luke 22:19, JB) Obviously Jesus meant that this observance was to be in commemoration of his sacrifice, but not a repetition of it.
Thus it can be seen that the renderings “This means my body” and “this means my ‘blood’” are in full agreement with the rest of the Bible. They convey the real sense of Jesus’ words as they must have been understood by his disciples at the time the Lord’s Supper was instituted.