The New Manna

Let me recommend to you Brant Pitre's new book Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist. The book is just jam-packed with insights. I want to share one of those insights with you and then connect Pitre's Catholic analysis with a more Protestant understanding.

As noted in my last post, there are a variety of New Exodus themes in the life and teachings of Jesus. That is, in light of the prophecy of Deuteronomy 18:15-18, Jesus suggests in various places that he is the one Moses foretold--a second Moses leading a New Exodus.

As described in the last post there were a variety of things that were expected to accompany this second Moses--a New Exodus, a New Passover, a New Law, a New Covenant, a New Tabernacle, and a New Promised Land.

And along with all this there was also the expectation that the Exodus miracles would return with the second Moses. And one of these was the return of manna.

You'll recall the original manna story:

Exodus 16.4-5, 11-15
Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”

The LORD said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.’”

That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.

Moses said to them, “It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat."
"What is it?" As Pitre recounts, there was actually a great deal of rabbinic speculation regarding that question. And the bible gives some clues. For example, the manna "tasted like honey" (Ex. 16.31) suggesting that the manna was a foretaste of the Promised Land, a land "flowing with milk and honey" (Ex. 3.8). Supporting this association, that manna was Exodus food, is the fact that the day the Israelites began to eat the food of Canaan the manna stopped:
Joshua 5.10-12
On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.
Manna is the food of travelers and sojourners, the bread eaten between Egypt and Canaan, between Liberation and Consummation.

More, manna is bread from heaven. Manna is supernatural, the food of angels:
Psalm 78.23-25
Yet he gave a command to the skies above
and opened the doors of the heavens;
he rained down manna for the people to eat,
he gave them the grain of heaven.
Human beings ate the bread of angels;
he sent them all the food they could eat.
In light of the New Exodus expectations, the Second Temple Jews believed that one of the signs of the Messiah, the second Moses, would be the return of manna, the "bread from heaven." Given that expectation, and that in various places Jesus hints at being the second Moses, we can ask: Did Jesus ever speak of the return of manna?

Pitre argues that we find one reference to manna smack in the middle of the Lord's Prayer:
Give us this day our daily bread.
The echo of manna should be obvious in the phrase "give us this day." As you know, manna was collected each day and not kept over for the next. So the frame here in the Lord's Prayer is a New Exodus frame. And according to Pitre there is more.

You'll have noticed a repetition in the prayer: a mention of "day" and "daily." In the Greek these aren't the same word. The first occurrence is the word we all know as "day." But the second word, translated as "daily," is a bit of a mystery.

The word in question is a neologism and it occurs nowhere else in the bible or in antiquity. This is the only time the word is used which makes it hard to know its meaning. The word is epiousios:
Give us this day our epiousios bread.
What does epiousios mean? Opinions differ. Ousia means "existence," "being," or "nature." Thus, some translate "epiousios bread" as the "bread we need for being/existence." But Pitre points out that the prefix epi means "on," "upon," or "above." Thus he argues that the better translation of "epiousios bread" is the "bread above nature/existence." In short, "epiousios bread" is supernatural bread or heavenly bread--the manna spoken of in Psalm 78. In light of this, we could translate the Lord's Prayer like this:
Give us this day our heavenly bread.
Or, if you want to convey the New Exodus motif directly:
Give us this day our manna.
In this translation the Lord's Prayer become an Exodus prayer for a people liberated from bondage and journeying to the Promised Land. It is a prayer for manna, for supernatural sustenance during the journey. It is a prayer for those who have been set free from slavery but who have yet to reach the New Heaven and the New Earth, the land flowing with milk and honey.

While some may question this interpretation of the Lord's Prayer, we are aware of a more explicit discussion of Jesus and the new manna in the gospels: Jesus' Bread of Life discourse.
John 6:30-35
So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."
We see the New Exodus expectation voiced by the people: If Jesus is the Messiah, the second Moses, then where is the manna? (You can almost here Jerry Maguire saying "Show me the manna!") Jesus responds with "I am the bread of life." A few verses later Jesus makes the association with manna more explicit: He is "the bread of heaven."
John 6.48-51a
I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven.
There it is. Jesus himself is the new manna. Jesus is the bread that sustains the Exodus community. And if we read this back into the Lord's Prayer we might translate it like this:
Give us Christ this day.
Which makes me think of St. Patrick's Prayer:
Christ shield me today

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
To return to Pitre, note that he is a Catholic scholar. Consequently, when he reads "I am the bread of heaven" he thinks of the Eucharist, of Christ being actually, if miraculously, present in the bread of the Eucharist. In this reading the Eucharist is the manna, the actual body and blood of Jesus. This reading is supported by the final part of the Bread of Life discourse:
John 6.51b-58
"Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.
As Pitre rightly points out, Catholic theology, with its doctrine of transubstantiation, is well positioned to interpret this text, and even more so in light of the new manna theme. The actual body and blood of Jesus is present in the Eucharist. Immanuel, God physically with us in the Eucharist, sustaining us as manna on our Exodus journey. And like we saw with the Israelites, the presence of Christ in Eucharist tastes like honey, it's a foretaste of heaven. The Eucharist is our daily manna, our taste of Christ, until we reach the Promised Land.

I admit, that argument is the most attractive argument for transubstantiation I've ever heard. The Eucharist, Christ's mystical presence among us, as manna--the bread of heaven that daily sustains the church on her journey to the Promised Land.

That said, I don't think Protestants are excluded from this understanding. Though we don't believe that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus, we do believe that when two or more are gathered in Jesus's name Christ is present amongst us. And thinking along these lines we might move Pitre's analysis in this more "Protestant" direction.

Specifically, where is the body of Christ? Is it found in the mystical doctrines of transubstantiation? Or in the koinonia of those gathered in the name of Jesus? True, it's not an either/or. But if the "body of Christ" can be associated with koinonia, if Christ is with us in the mutual love we share, then might not the corporate body of Christ be the new manna? Might manna look like this:
Acts 4.32-35
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
Might our mutual love be our manna, the "bread of heaven" that sustains us on our journey to the Promised Land?

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26 thoughts on “The New Manna”

  1. I heard much of this in the typology of the Baptist church, so the translation from transubstantiation is easy for me. However, I had not heard discussion about "epiousious" before. I'll have to check into that more.

  2. "Might not the corporate body of Christ be the new manna?"  Dear God, I hope not! If churchianity is supposed to be the new manna, it sure doesn't taste like heaven.  In fact, it's a compelling argument for anorexia.

  3. :-) Hence my use of Acts 4 as an operational definition.

  4. What a depressing, demoralizing, hope destroying notion that is too. Now if the corporate body of Christ is the whole wide creation that is something all together different. And if the journey is not about the "spiritual" journey of individual christian believers to heaven but rather is about the singular, lonely journey of Jesus (the bread of life) into absolute death to bring life to those who are entirely incapable of belief or of even putting one foot forward on that journey; then perhaps there can actually be a basis for good news for everyone and everything. Thanks be to Jesus for bringing the New Heaven and New Earth to us so that we don't have to make that impossible journey ourselves.

  5. Yeah--that's the challenge, isn't it?

    As I read the NT, the credibility of Jesus' claims to have instantiated God's kingdom, the credibility of Jesus' claims to be the bread of life, the credibility of Jesus' claims to build the temple in which forgiveness of sins can take place, the credibility of Jesus' claims to be the promised denouement of Israel's story, depends almost entirely upon us taking seriously the fellowship of called-together Christians as the tangible (if partial) instantiation of God's presence, God's provision, God's forgiveness, God's uniting of all things in heaven and earth.

    Those who can't see God's work in the church are, I suspect, proposing a radically different Christianity than anything I find in the NT--a spiritualized "God in me," a secularized "wherever I help the poor God is there," a pie-in-the-sky bid for a heavenly afterlife, a politicized agreeing-with-me-about-the-death-penalty-saves-you, or some of another hundred versions. Can we eat the gathered life of Christians and find Jesus there?

    Acts 4 is, of course, one (of many) guides for doing so--but does not (I think) let us off the hook. Didn't Paul say that we were not to even take the Lord's Supper without first "discerning the body of Christ"--specifically in our gathered Christian brothers and sisters?

  6. Protestants don't believe that we partake of the substance of Christ in the Eucharist? Most of the Reformers strongly held that we do, and most of the Reformation confessions explicitly affirm that we do (though others leave themselves open to interpretation on the matter). The debate with the Roman Catholics was not really about whether we eat Christ's flesh and drink his blood in the sacrament, but primarily concerned with the question of the manner in which we do so. For instance, Calvin, commenting on the manna as 'spiritual food', claims 'it follows, that it is not bare emblems that are presented to us in the Sacraments, but that the thing represented is at the same time truly imparted, for God is not a deceiver to feed us with empty fancies.' Sign and reality are bound together, yet not to be confused, much as the dove at Jesus' baptism is a true manifestation and conferral of presence of the Spirit. Luther's statements on the matter are even stronger. If anything, the idea that we do not genuinely partake of the flesh and blood of Christ in the sacrament is the one with the poorer pedigree in the Protestant tradition.

    This parallel between the 'spiritual food' of the manna and the sacrament is even clearer in 1 Corinthians 10, where the Eucharist is paralleled with the manna and the sacrifices of Israel (which were the 'bread of God' - Leviticus 21:6). The Augustinian point that spiritual food, in contrast to fleshly food, is not transformed into us but transforms us into itself shows us that the primacy of the manna-Eucharist parallel need not exclude an extension of it to include the manner in which, through communion, we are transformed into life-giving bread to be distributed to others. Of course, this point isn't original with Augustine, because Paul already observed that we are all one loaf because we share in the sacramental bread. As we feed on and are conformed to Christ in Word and Sacrament, we also become food for the world.

  7. Hi Patricia

    I completely relate to the emotional context of your post.  However, my own experience, for what it's worth, has been that God has used the celebration of communion in particular to remind me (slightly sternly) that I belong to the church, that I have responsibilities towards it - and that it's not for me to hold myself aloof from it.  IF I'm hearing right - and God is prepared to work with my fellow jars of clay - then I guess I don't have much right to demur.  I guess all churches are very different places, but we ended up at mine on Sunday evening starting to be able to look back on the difficulties and crises that had taken place over the last few years and recognising that God had worked in those situations to squeeze koinonia out of us.  I have lots and lots I want to bring to my church, but my conviction is that I should be doing so from within.  But that's just me...


  8. Jonathon, I'm not "proposing" the type of Christianity you delineate in paragraph 3. lol  I also don't think Jesus' claims depend on organized weekly meetings.

  9. Thank you for this post.  As a Catholic, I do believe in transubstantiation, but it has always bothered me that we do not have open communion with our Christian (non-Catholic) brothers and sisters (though they do not believe in transubstantiation...if you enter into a Catholic mass with reverence and respect I just don't get why a Christian should be turned away from the body of Christ).

    Anyway, your point on koinonia was enlightening.  A crucial part of Catholic doctrine is that the church itself exists wherever a group of believers meets and celebrates Christ - though from the outside we may seem to be a people who worship in buildings and at shrines, there is quite a large portion of us who are trying to remove ourselves from that teaching and really understand the teachings of our bodies as temples of God (my pastor wrote his dissertation on this subject).  I have never met a Catholic who would deny that we are all the body of Christ and I do think that if Catholics were to meditate on and understand that theological point, then our practice of Communion would become much less exclusive and more Christ-like.  I look forward to reading Pitre's book.

  10. I tend to see it more in terms of "I belong to Christ" rather than "I belong to the church." But then, I'm recovering from some pretty nasty churchianity and family fundamentalism, and I think God will have to get me past that, if even He can. I know I'm not there yet.

  11. For my part, Patricia, I see what you are saying. The "church" isn't often very life-giving, not manna.

    And for others here: the Acts 4 reference isn't meant to be a comprehensive and exhaustive ecclesiology. The point is rather simple: The body of believers is manna--sustenance on the journey--insofar as it is life giving and characterized by mutual love and sacrifice.

  12. Thanks, Richard.
    And you're right - there IS sustenance to be found in brothers and sisters in Christ - here, for instance at E.T., just not necessarily always in terms of the classic concept of organized grip-and-grin churchianity.
     I'm on a roll this week, eh? 

  13. So your understanding is that there is no disagreement between Catholics and the Reformers on the doctrine of tansubstantiation? 

  14. I admire your grace (in reply) under a history of fire, Patricia.  You have been very honest in sharing a few of your experiences of 'church' recently and I have no right or desire to make any judgement.  Its only that I know myself well enough to be receptive to warnings against adopting positions of independence.  That's just where I'm coming from.   Church isn't 'special' in this regard - it's just another group of flawed people I know that need love and reconciliation, which makes me well-qualified for membership.  As Gandhi put it so well: let us become the change we want to see in the world.  Please pray for me on the journey as I will (with your permission) for you.

  15. Thank you, Andrew, and I would welcome your prayers. I think maybe we hear the word "independence" and get different notions from it. From Baptist fundamentalism, thinking for yourself is considered a full-on evil. That's "independent." You're supposed to defer to an authoritarian figure. If the preacher didn't preach it, then it's your own evil heart leading you astray. And that, to me, is at complete odds with Jesus saying the first and foremost is to love God by engaging your own heart, mind, soul, and strength. So I don't tend to think that individuation is a bad thing, though I was brought up that way.  To me, truly independent would be to own an island like Kenny Chesney, grow your own food and go off grid. Not an option for most of us.

  16. Hello Patricia,
    Admittedly the same reflex/response took place in my mind ... a kind of  "you've gotta be kidding" thing. I'm sure we both agree with this in principle.  But there's a chance, like the Pharisees and religious community back then,  we've also become obsessed with the "temple", all while failing to recognize THE TEMPLE right under our nose.   I have been  involved with 2 startup churches ... and their inaugural book of study  was the book of Acts.   But despite the best of intentions,  the initial work or model became an idol in and of itself.  The Body of Christ is a living/dynamic spiritual organism but pretty much all Christians I know (pragmatically speaking) insist that unless we literally meet in a building every week to sit "submissively" and listen to a man-centered monologue, we are  "forsaking the assembly". 
    Gary Y.

  17. A very insightful reminder of how differently even those of us who seem to agree on most things can still bring different meaning to the same words.  Like you, I consider this place to be church as much as, perhaps more than, any other.  Having just finished 'The Elect Lady', I think MacDonald would appreciate the sentiment.  Thanks again for your fellowship.

  18. Great post, Richard, which has made me think again about the Lord's prayer, about the nature of sacrament and (with some help from Patricia) about what church is.  Thanks for sharing these insights.

  19. Ain't it the truth, Gary! The way that verse gets thrown out so piously makes me gag sometimes. The Acts church didn't have the internet, though, too, so who knows what "assembling together" might have looked like if they'd had it back then.

  20. My 2 cents...

    Seems to me that the "Church" as the "body of Christ" or the "bride of Christ" has to refer (at least) to everyone, everywhere who is a "Christ follower" of some sort. Can't really be limited to a denomination or a local gathering or any other type of division. As such you'd have to say that Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Baptists, Lutherans, CoC, etc. are all the "Church" whether any of those particular groupings would be comfortable with that notion or not. Might be that a whole lot of people who don't even self-identify with any such groupings, or even identify as Christian at all, are part of the "body of Christ": In other words sheep in other sheep-folds.

    As someone who has given up trying to find a denomination to call home, and has even given up on finding a supposed "non-denomination" to call home, it's not hard at all to call everyone, everywhere brothers and sisters in Christ, even though many would certainly not extend the same to me. And as such a person without a "church home" I can most definitely say that going it alone is NOT a good option and almost certainly not how it ought to work. I very much desire and need fellowship and community. It is like manna and without it I am starving. I've just got to find some people who are willing to put up with me and have a little patience with my doubts, fears, questions and all my other crap. And I suppose I have to be willing to be hurt and disappointed yet again; that's the hardest part.

  21. I'm not sure if Pitre makes this reference, but there's another manna parallel in Matthew 4:4 and Luke 4:4. When Satan tempts Jesus in the Wilderness (another Exodus parallel?) to tell the stones to become bread, Jesus answers with a quotation from Deuteronomy - the famous "man shall not live on bread alone". The full passage from Deuteronomy is about manna:

    Deuteronomy 8:3
    He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

    Perhaps the gospel writers are suggesting that Jesus, like manna, teaches you to rely on the word of the Lord.

  22. That's helpful. But what I'm struggling with, and is still not clear to me, is how exactly you believe the Catholic church and the Reformers to have differed on the doctrine. You say they disagreed, but reading this it still sounds like they didn't. Is there a substantive disagreement? If so, where?

  23. Now it's come clear. Thanks! Though I have an undergrad degree in ministry, I've not done grad work in theology or biblical studies. So I appreciate comments like these as it helps fill in the spotty parts of my education.

  24. Using Tom (N. T.) Wright's "Everyman's Gospel of John" (from his "Everyman" series), I just today have been going over John 6 and its Exodus connections re the "bread" / manna. Your post was pointed out by a facebook friend, and I find it quite compelling and thoughtful. Thank you.

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