Does the Didache Teach the Eucharist as a Propitiatory Sacrifice?

by Luke Wayne
2/13/2018

In Roman Catholic dogma, the bread and the cup of communion, called the Eucharist, are believed to be the literal body and blood of Jesus presented on the altar as a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of those partaking. In other words, every time a Catholic Mass is held, it is believed that Jesus' actual human body is re-presented before God as a Sacrifice to turn away His wrath anew and cover for present sins. The sacrifice never perfects. It is never full or final for those for whom it is offered. It must be offered again and again for the same people over and over in hopes that they will die in a state of grace.

Scripture and Tradition

This is contrary to the New Testament, which plainly states:

"Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself," (Hebrews 7:25-29).

And:

"Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified," (Hebrews 10:11-14).

Roman Catholics, however, claim that their teaching is an infallible, apostolic tradition that goes back to the very beginning of the Church. To substantiate this claim, they appeal to early Christian documents, attempting to find in them some testimony that the supper is, indeed, a propitiatory sacrifice for sins. By far the earliest source to which they appeal is the Didache, a document from the early second century or perhaps even the late first century.

The Didache and the Communion Meal

The Didache offers instructions for church life on a variety of subjects, including the communion meal. In particular, they focus on the portion that reads:

"Now concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way. First, concerning the cup: We thank thee, our Father, for the holy vine of David Thy servant, which You madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever.. And concerning the broken bread: We thank Thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever.. But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, 'Give not that which is holy to the dogs,'" (Didache Chapter 9).

The word here transliterated as "Eucharist," is the Greek word "eucharisto" which simply means "thanksgiving," and that is the theme of the meal! The cup and the bread are taken up with thanks, the meal progresses in thanks, and then it concludes in thanks, as this final prayer is prescribed:

"But after you are filled, give thanks this way: We thank Thee, holy Father, for Thy holy name which You didst cause to tabernacle in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality, which You modest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. Thou, Master almighty, didst create all things for Thy name's sake; You gavest food and drink to men for enjoyment, that they might give thanks to Thee; but to us You didst freely give spiritual food and drink and life eternal through Thy Servant. Before all things we thank Thee that You are mighty; to Thee be the glory for ever. Remember, Lord, Thy Church, to deliver it from all evil and to make it perfect in Thy love, and gather it from the four winds, sanctified for Thy kingdom which Thou have prepared for it; for Thine is the power and the glory for ever. Let grace come, and let this world pass away. Hosanna to the God (Son) of David! If any one is holy, let him come; if any one is not so, let him repent. Maranatha. Amen," (Didache, Chapter 10).

In these passages, the bread and wine are symbols of Christian unity (grain gathered together and made one loaf), of the bounty of God's creation, and of Christ who gives us spiritual food and eternal life. There is nothing in this thorough instruction about the meal serving to propitiate God's wrath. Nothing about it atoning for the sins of those present. Nothing about it bringing the faithful back to a state of grace. Nothing even about it being the physical flesh and blood of Jesus' human body. Everything is remembrance and proclamation in thanksgiving, as the New Testament says:

"And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, 'Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.' And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me,” (Luke 22:17-19).

"In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes,” (1 Corinthians 11:25-26).

The Lord's Day and Sacrifices

But a little later on in the document, Roman Catholics point out what is said about the "Lord's day" gathering:

"On the Lord’s own day gather together and break bread and give thanks, having first confessed your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one who has a quarrel with a companion join you until they have been reconciled, so that your sacrifice may not be defiled. For this is the sacrifice concerning which the Lord said, 'In every place and time offer me a pure sacrifice, for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is marvelous among the nations,'” (Didache, Chapter 14).

They point out that "break bread and give thanks" is a reference again to communion, which indeed it almost certainly is. They then point to this language of sacrifice. Doesn't that prove that they saw the bread and wine as Jesus' literal body and blood presented on an altar before God as a sacrifice for sins to propitiate God's wrath and atone anew for the sins of those present? Well, no. That's a lot to try and cram into these words, and it just doesn't fit.

First of all, the supper is the occasion here, but the elements are not emphasized. There is nothing here that says that the bread is itself the sacrifice or that the cup (which is not even mentioned) is the sacrifice. The sacrifice seems to be the worship of the gathering itself, not the physical components of the meal. In the Old Testament, the purity of the sacrifice had to do with the lamb itself. Was it spotless? Was it healthy? Etc. Here, the purity of the sacrifice is not at all focused on the bread or the wine, but on the worshipers. This is more like what Paul speaks of to the church at Rome:

"Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship," (Romans 12:1-2).

Secondly, the "sacrifice" in view here does not appear to be a sin offering or an atoning sacrifice. It is a praise offering, a freewill offering of thanksgiving. The author points to Malachi, which says:

"'For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My name will be great among the nations,' says the Lord of hosts," (Malachi 1:11).

The subject here is not the redemption of the nations from their sins but rather that all peoples everywhere would revere and honor the name of the one true God. Even the types of offering listed by Malachi are not propitiatory sacrifices. The author of the Didache saw in the prophecy not a literal prediction of physical temple sacrifices from all nations, but rather the worship and praise of the people of all nations in every place embodied in the gathering of the church on the Lord's day to thank and honor Him in the communion meal.

Conclusion

No human tradition, no matter how old, has authority over the plain, revealed words of Scripture. Even if the Roman Catholic dogma did go back to some ancient Christian source, this would not make it true since it contradicts Scripture. It would just make it a very early error. Still, it is worth noting that even the earliest human sources to which Roman Catholics appeal do not, in fact, agree with the teaching they seek to establish. Neither Scripture nor the earliest traditions affirm the communion meal as a propitiatory sacrifice.