“This Is My Body”
“TAKE it and eat; . . . this is my body.” (Matthew 26:26, The New Jerusalem Bible)
With these words, Jesus Christ passed unleavened bread to his apostles when instituting the Lord’s Evening Meal. But what did he mean by the words, “This is my body”?
THE answer to this question is important to Roman Catholics, since Jesus’ words form the basis of the doctrine of transubstantiation. According to this belief, when Catholics celebrate the Mass and swallow the wafer, it turns into Christ’s literal body, or flesh. They would, therefore, strongly disagree with the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, which renders Jesus’ words: “Take, eat. This means my body.” This rendering suggests that the bread was a symbol of Jesus’ flesh, not the flesh itself. Which translation conveys the correct thought?
The Greek word translated “is” or “means” is e·stinʹ. It basically means “is,” but it can also mean “to denote, signify.” Which rendering is better in this context?
Noteworthy is a footnote on Mark 14:22 in the Spanish-language La Sagrada Escritura, Texto y comentario por Profesores de la Compañía de Jesús, Nuevo Testamento I (The Holy Scripture, Text and Commentary by Professors of the Company of Jesus, New Testament). It states: ‘The translation, from the grammatical point of view, could just as well be rendered signifies or symbolizes as is—meaning literal identity. As examples in which the meaning is symbolizes, Genesis 41:26; Ezekiel 5:5; Daniel 7:17; Luke 8:11; Matthew 13:38; 16:18; Galatians 4:24; Revelation 1:20 could be cited. The meaning of is ([in the sense of] identical with) is inferred, as can be seen from the manuals of dogma, excluding the possibility of the metaphor, or symbolism, and also by the way the Early Church understood the phrase.’
As this Roman Catholic version frankly shows, grammatically Jesus’ words could be understood either way. In fact, the Greek word e·stinʹ is translated “the meaning of” elsewhere in the Catholic New Jerusalem Bible. (Matthew 12:7) Which word should a translator choose at Matthew 26:26? Since Jesus was still alive in a perfect body when he spoke the words of that text, the bread that he offered to his followers could not have been his literal flesh. Moreover, his entire perfect human body was offered as a ransom sacrifice. (Colossians 1:21-23) Hence, the best rendering of this verse is: “This means my body.” The unleavened bread symbolized Jesus’ body, which was about to be sacrificed in behalf of mankind.
Even if your personal Bible has the expression “This is my body,” you need not be confused. Jesus often used similar language. When he said, “I am the door” and, “I am the true vine,” no one understood that he was a literal door or a literal vine. (John 10:7; 15:1) And when, according to The New Jerusalem Bible, he went on to pass a cup of wine to his disciples and said: “This cup is the new covenant,” no one thought the cup literally was the new covenant. (Luke 22:20) Likewise, when he said the bread ‘was’ his body, we have to understand that the bread ‘meant,’ or symbolized, his body.