Word Study #76 — “Sacrament”

I have usually tried to provide studies of words that have appeared in the “search” lists on my web site. However, this is one, although it has been requested several times, to which I am unable to respond by examining its New Testament usage. The reason is quite simple: the word “sacrament” does not appear anywhere in the New Testament. Neither does the concept that it represents.

For a discussion of this subject, and a treatment of a few examples of symbolic observances that have sometimes been incorrectly labeled with the term “sacrament”, please refer to Part III, “Symbols of the Kingdom”, and especially chapter 9, “Symbol or Sacrament?”, in Citizens of the Kingdom.
That’s the best I can do, folks. It’s pretty hard to “study” a word that’s not there.

I’m afraid this is an instance that would probably fall into the category of what Jesus termed “the traditions of the elders” – and he did not have a very high opinion of those, their accompanying pomp and ceremony, or the way they had so often become tools for the oppression of “ordinary folks” by a dominant hierarchy (see Mt.15:2-6, and Mk.7:3-13). Paul also warned of the emptiness of “traditions” (Gal.1:14 and Col.2:8). Only in II Thess.2:15 and 3:6 did he use “tradition” (paradosis – “anything handed down, transmitted, or bequeathed”) in a positive light, and in both of those, he was referring to the teaching that he himself had given them. This was also the case in I Cor.11:2, where the same word was (“traditionally”) rendered “ordinance”. (Word Study #48 explores the varied uses of the concept of “ordain”.)

The closest thing to a concept of “sacrament” in the New Testament, if it is understood as persons benefiting from the presence of God among them, is Jesus’ promise to be present in any gathered group of his followers (Mt.18:20, Jn.14:23,25), especially when they are actively following his instructions (Mt.28:20). No ceremony or hierarchy is needed, intended, or even helpful. He had clearly stated, earlier, that no person was to be elevated above the rest (Mt.23:8) “You have one Master, and you are all brethren.”  The elevation of any individual is an act of direct disobedience to his instructions!

If we as his people have any “sacred” task, it is that each one mediate the gracious presence of the Lord Jesus to one another, as we/they function together as the Body of Christ, serving each other, and the world around us, “in his Name” (W.S. #24).

May we do so in faithfulness!

2 Responses to Word Study #76 — “Sacrament”

  1. terry welborn says:

    Thanks for this, Ruth. As you probably know, the noun sacrum (Lt.) means “holy”. Perhaps those who use “sacrament” are intending to elevate the bread and the cup observance above other Christian practices. I would appreciate your “take” on this.

  2. ruthpmartin says:

    Yes, and “sacramentum” is also used in the Vulgate translation — but it is not in the original text.
    If there is anything in the NT that suggests such an elevation, I have not seen it. Can you direct us to some such reference?
    And even so, there is nothing that suggests the magical attitudes that often accompany it, or the requirement of a duly certified individual to administer same.
    As you can see in the Citizens reference, it seems clear to me that Jesus was inviting ANY group of brethren to celebrate their belonging to him and to each other, every time they share the most basic of meals. Or, as our son Dan suggested, maybe as a “toast” to the Lord Jesus, “till he comes”! I like that.

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