Following a Pattern of Sound Words

St. Paul admonishes St. Timothy to “follow the pattern of the sound words,” which he heard and received from the Apostle, “in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13). And in various places within the Pastoral Epistles, St. Paul refers to faithful and trustworthy sayings, which are fundamental to the Ministry of the Gospel and the pastoral care of the Lord’s Church on earth (1 Timothy 1:12-17; 3:1-7; 4:8-10; 2 Timothy 2:11-13; and Titus 3:1-8). Along similar lines, St. Paul hands over (paredoka) to the Church what he himself received (parelabon) from the Lord, namely, the administration of the Lord’s Supper with the Verba Domini (1 Corinthians 11:23-26) and the fundamental creed and kerygma of the Christian faith (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).

These patterns of sound or healthy words are not formulaic clichés; they are living and Life-giving Words, because they convey to us and to the Church the forgiveness, life, and salvation of our dear Lord, Jesus Christ. They do not belong to any one of us, but to all of us together as the Body and Bride of our Savior, the beloved and incarnate Son of God. As the Word became Flesh and tabernacles with us in His Body and Blood, so does He convey Himself and His Life to us by the way and means of His Word. And especially for us who are called and ordained as ministers of His Word, it is imperative that we retain and follow “the pattern of sounds words” which we have heard and received from Him within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Of course, all of the Words of our Lord Jesus are priceless treasures, more precious than gold and sweeter than honey from the honeycomb. But there are those particular Words that stand out among them, which encapsulate the Gospel so precisely and profoundly that we focus on them, highlight them, savor them, and rehearse them – especially in catechesis and in the Liturgy. And it is of great value and benefit that those words not be constantly shifting and changing, neither from place to place, nor from one generation to the next. Obviously, there are developments of language, even as there are differences of language across the wide span of the Lord’s Church. But, as Dr. Luther strongly advocates in his Catechisms, there ought to be a steady consistency and stability to the words we confess and pray, especially for the sake of the children of God.

Among those priceless and precious “patterns of sound words,” the Verba Domini certainly do possess a special preeminence in both theology and practice. Those Words, with which Christ gives His Body and Blood for us Christians to eat and to drink, are at the heart and center of the Church’s Life; and Dr. Luther, in various places, urges that we should focus especially on those Words and cling to them above all, as the best and most appropriate preparation for receiving the Sacrament in faith. To that end, I have been so pleased and grateful that, with the publication of the Lutheran Service Book (2006), the LCMS finally has a uniform translation of the Words of Institution in both the Catechism and the Liturgy. Prior to that point, with both the old and new versions of the Catechism still in use, and with both TLH and LW in use, we actually had four different translations of the Verba Domini competing for attention within our congregations.

As valuable as the consistency of the translation is – and it is my strong encouragement that we be consistent in using that translation for catechesis and the celebration of the Holy Communion – some aspects of the translation could be improved and strengthened. By way of example, when we hear the phrase, “on the night when He was betrayed,” we cannot help but think of Judas and his betrayal of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, the word that St. Paul uses in this case, paredideto, echoes the word that he has used for handing over what he has received from the Lord. And with that word, he points us – not to Judas and his betrayal, nor to the Jews, nor to Pilate – but to God the Father, who hands over His Son to the death of the Cross in love for all of us poor sinners, and to Christ Jesus, who hands Himself over to His voluntary suffering and death on our behalf, and who also now hands Himself over to His disciples in His Supper for the forgiveness of sins.