Here is another example of Jesus’s use of apparently casual Old Testament linguistic allusions with a huge depth of meaning. Once more, a hat-tip to Peter J. Williams for recognising it.
In my book The Generations of Heaven and Earth I placed heavy emphasis on the kind of biblical theology proposed by scholars like Greg Beale and John Sailhamer, recognising an overarching Messianic theme that governs the story told in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. I built on it in a couple of ways, one of which was to note that this comprehensive metanarrative follows the form of classic folk tales, employing what is called “the literary rule of three.”
To summarise this far too briefly, God plans to transform his physical, perishable creation into an imperishable spiritual one through mankind. The first “attempt” (if we may use that word for a God who sees the end from the beginning and works everything according to his will), through Adam, ends in apparent failure because of sin. The second, through Israel, also ends in failure through national sin, culminating in the Exile and the abrogation of the Mosaic (but not the Abrahamic) covenant. Finally Jesus comes as the Second Adam and the True Israel and not only deals with the problems caused by the previous failures, especially in the form of sin and Satan’s usurpation, but he fulfills the original plan to the letter, through Adam’s race and through Israel. Hence Adam’s mission is recapitulated by Israel, together with his failure and judgement, and the mission of both, paradoxically together with their judgement, but not their sin, is recapitulated in Jesus. That’s the Bible overview done.
Now, I’ve always felt that the words Jesus uses in the Matthian and Markan renditions of the last supper, appear rather awkward. “Take, eat.” I assume that may be why Luke doesn’t quote them directly. But if one notes the awkwardness, and asks where in Scripture those two words occur in close proximity, the only instance I can find is in Genesis 3, where Eve, seeing that the forbidden fruit is good for food, pleasing to the eye, and desirable for gaining wisdom, takes some and eats it, also giving some to Adam. The Eden account, as Walsh and Auffret discovered, has a chiastic (palistrophic) that centres on this event: the taking and eating in disobedience to God is the very crux of the narrative.
So Jesus’s use of two words central to the Eden story invites us to meditate on the parallels between the two acts of taking and eating. In the case of Adam and Eve, they were commanded not to eat the fruit of a tree. But the disciples (and believers since) are commanded by Jesus to eat his body and drink his blood, spiritually speaking, made available by his death on a tree. We can see the Genesis command as a kind of covenant of works, broken on man’s side: but Jesus describes his command to take and eat as a new covenant of grace.
The penalty for Adam and Eve’s eating was death and separation from God: the free gift of eating the Eucharistic meal is forgiveness of sins, eternal life and fellowship with God forever.
In Genesis, it is the serpent’s devilish temptation that seduces Eve. At the last supper, all the gospels speak of Judas’s deceitful sharing of the meal. In John’s gospel, Jesus speaks of him as “a devil” in chapter 6, Luke later describes the devil entering him as he goes to the High Priest to betray him, and John again actually speaks of Satan entering him as soon as he takes the bread.
We might also note how the desire for wisdom, from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” is fulfilled in the true knowledge of the nature of God that is revealed in Jesus and his Passion. What demonstrates the goodness of God contrasted with satanic evil more than the Cross?
Scripture has already told us in various places that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” demonstrating that Adam and Eve’s disobedience was the very antithesis of wisdom. Wisdom is also, in Proverbs, said to be the means by which God created the world, very much as John says of Jesus the Word in the introduction to his Gospel. To know true wisdom, then, is to know Jesus, by “eating his body and drinking his blood.” It may not be at all coincidental that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 1, says that Christ Jesus “has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”
What fascinates me most about all this is that Jesus has an apparently entirely different scriptural take on the last supper, comparing his passion to the Passover they are gathered to celebrate. The “Take, eat,” remark appears casual and unrelated. That is not absolutely true, though, in that the Passover instructions in Exodus tell each family to take a lamb, and after some more verses of explanation, to eat it. Many commentators have pointed out that there is a parallel to the Cross in the application of the lamb’s blood to Israel’s door-posts in the Passover. Once our antennae are raised, “Take, eat” points us to Eden, but is found in the Passover account too.
The allusions of the Last Supper to the Passover are inescapable. Those to the Garden of Eden are far less so. But to those with ears to hear (and a familiarity with how Jesus breathes Hebrew Scripture), those two simple words, “Take, eat” bring the realisation that trusting in the scandalous death of the eternal Son is the direct antidote to the eating of the fruit that began mankind’s problems, as well as being the fulfillment of Passover bringing a liberation infinitely greater than anything Israel experienced in Egypt. In two words Jesus encompasses humanity’s problem at the beginning, and God’s comprehensive solution at the end, of salvation history – and everything in between.
It also shows that to Jesus, his mission was a conscious physical act in divine response to the problem set up by the events in the Garden of Eden. That ought to give us pause for thought, if we’re tempted to relegate Adam to the realm of mythology.