In Christian News (Sept. 9, 1985, p. 12) there is an interesting article by a Rev. Armand J. Boehme about the proper translation of the Greek word diatheke, whether that should be “covenant” or “testament.” The discussion centers especially on the question how this term should be translated in the words of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. I should probably note here, for those who are not aware of it, thatChristian News is a conservative Missouri Synod Lutheran paper.
In this editorial I am not so concerned about the translation issue, though that is in itself an interesting and worthwhile subject.
My concern is about the fact that in the course of the discussion there is reference made to Reformed theology, and in that reference Reformed theology is misrepresented on two counts. In discussing this subject and in arguing for the translation “testament,” the Rev. Boehme writes as follows:
“. . . To accept the translation of ‘diatheke‘ as ‘covenant’ removes from the Sacrament of the Altar one thing that is central to it—the death of God incarnate whose spiritual gifts, won by His death, we receive in this sacrament.
“The denial of the death of God is a Reformed argument (F. Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. II, pp. 87, fn. 66; 93-94; 136-139). The Reformed denial of the death of God is tied to their denial of the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in, with, and under the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. The Reformed prefer to think of the Lord’s Supper as a covenant meal of remembrance. This theology is called ‘covenant theology’ or ‘federal theology.'”
Now I do not have at hand F. Pieper’s Christian Dogmatics to verify this reference or to see what proof he may or may not offer for this twofold claim.
However, if the Rev. Boehme wants to make claims of this kind, he should back them up not with F. Pieper, but with quotations from the Reformed confessions. This, however, he will find to be impossible. In the first place, our Reformed confessions strongly maintain that the death of our Lord Jesus Christ was indeed the death of the Son of God. Proof: Heidelberg Catechism, Q. and A. 40; Belgic Confession, Article 19; Canons of Dordrecht, II, A, 4. In the second place, Rev. Boehme is apparently ascribing the Zwinglian view of the Lord’s Supper—the memorial idea—to the Reformed. This is not correct. For proof, I offer the following quotations from Article 35 of our Belgic Confession: “In the meantime we err not, when we say that what is eaten and drunk by us is the proper and natural body, and the proper blood of Christ.” And again: “This feast is a spiritual table, at which Christ communicates himself with all his benefits to us, and gives us there to enjoy both himself, and the merits of his sufferings and death, nourishing, strengthening and comforting our poor comfortless souls by the eating of his flesh, quickening and refreshing them by the drinking of his blood.”
Christian News and the Rev. Boehme should make appropriate corrections on these two counts. It does not strengthen one’s argument to misrepresent someone else’s position.
Meanwhile, I also suggest that it is not inconsistent with good, sound covenant theology to speak of a testament and to translate the Greek term diathekeby “testament” in some instances. I also point out that the Hebrew word berith (covenant) is rendered by the Greek diatheke many times.