We began our Lent observance on Ash Wednesday, which leads to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The central place of the Lord’s Supper within the worshiping community is highlighted throughout Lent and culminates in Maundy Thursday. I serve a congregation that celebrates the Lord’s Supper every Sunday, every service, which reflects the importance of it among God’s people, and especially for our people.
As Lutherans we confess the Lord’s Supper that in it we receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, a teaching that is different from Protestants(the bread and wine are symbols/representatives of the body and blood, which are not present).
One issue related to the Lord’s Supper is how to understand διαθήκη (diatheke) and how to translate it, whether “testament” or “covenant.” As I have been reflecting on this heritage of theology, some history of translation is helpful. In 1963 William Beck published his NT translation called An American Translation (AAT), but popularly know as Beck’s Bible (Beck died in 1966, but his OT was published in 1976 with two scholars [Schmick and Kiehl] finishing his work). In 1963 I was a freshman in high school, and our church began using Beck’s NT for Sunday School. Rather different than KJV for understandability!
Regarding this topic, the KJV used the word “testament” for διαθήκη. In 1986 the process of revising AAT began. Soon, the project became known as God’s Word to the Nations. I remember the “testament/covenant” issue that faced the translators of God’s Word to the Nations (GWN, 1986-1988), later New Evangelical Translation (NET 1988-1992), and eventually God’s Word (GW 1995).
I had the privilege of serving congregations from 1987-1995 that were testers for GWN, later NET, eventually GW. In 1992 there was a change in translation direction, much to my frustration about translating specific words in context. So when it was finally published as God’s Word (GW 1995), I opposed several of these changes because I thought they weakened the translation and changed the focus of the underlying Greek. Beginning in 1992 I had written repeatedly over the years to ask that the GW translators revert back to the 1992 NET renderings.
Several critical changes: (original refers to the NET; change refers to the GW move in 1992-1995).
διαθήκη original: “last will and testament” changed to “promise”
χάρις original: “grace” changed to “good will”
ἅγιοι original: “saints” changed to “holy people” or “God’s people” or “believers”
This article explains the reasoning for using “testament” in the NT rather than “covenant” as a translation of διαθήκη.
Here is the NET (New Evangelical Translation) of Matthew 26:26-28
While they were eating, Jesus took bread and gave thanks. He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take and eat; this is My body.”
Then He took a cup and spoke a prayers of thanks. He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you. For this is My blood of the last will and testament, which is being poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
So, what is the significance of translating διαθήκη as “last will and testament” (or “testament” as in KJV) rather than “covenant.” I think it becomes clear in Matthew 26:26-28 (and parallels and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26) regarding the Lord’s Supper. It is also why when speaking the words of institution, I use “testament” (and occasionally “last will and testament” —with explanation) not “covenant.”
Regardless of this discussion, in the Lord’s Supper Jesus offers his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. For that we rejoice.