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Boyce on the Benediction and Lord’s Supper

June 25, 2009

lords-supper

James P. Boyce, the greatest of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s founding fathers, was one of the greatest Baptist minds on theology and church government.  This interview from 1887 originally printed in Broadway Baptist Magazine, reveals his very blunt viewpoint regarding a proper New Testament service:

Question: “What is your opinion as to the character of the wine used at the Lord’s Supper?”

Boyce: “The scholarship of the world is in favor of fermented wine on that occasion, though it may have been greatly diluted. If others prefer to use unfermented wine, there is no objection to it, unless their attempt in so doing be to bind the consciences of their brethren who believe otherwise. The main thing is to have the juice of the grape.”

Q: “What do you believe as to the unleavened bread?”

Boyce: “The bread used by Christ was unleavened simply because there was no other obtainable at that time. Unleavened bread was rather an accident than an essential of the Lord’s Supper. Christ said bread, and he does not restrict us to leavened or unleavened.”

Q: “Do you think the Lord’s Supper ought to be administered at night necessarily?”

Boyce: “No. It was not the custom in the time of Christ to have any meal which corresponds to our midday dinner. What we call supper was really their dinner taken later in the day, as many do theri six o’clock dinner in these days.”

Q: “What do you think of the benediction pronounced by the preacher as closing of our usual services?”

Boyce: “It is thoroughly pre-latical and is the outgrowth of popery. It seems to imply that one man has the right of conferring a blessing upon an assembly, a right which is claimed only by the papacy.”

428_large_imageBoyce’s views obviously cannot be considered normative of nineteenth century Baptists, but they are remarkably fascinating.  Boyce seems to reverse the argument of the “weaker conscience” regarding using wine in the Supper.  According to Boyce, those who prefer to use unfermented wine should not prohibit their brothers whose conscience require them to use fully fermented wine in the Supper out of a sense of obedience to Christ.  In modern times, the use of wine in the Lord’s Supper has become a source of division among Christian brethren. Also, whereas many Baptists today argue that the wine of the New Testament was likely unfermented, Boyce freely acknowledges it most likely would have been fermented, though greatly diluted.  Boyce’s insight that the main thing is to use the juice of the grape is a refreshing word of insight that avoids unedifying squabbling over the exact nature of the elements.  His comments about the problem of using leavened or unleavened bread are likewise level-headed.

Regarding the use of the benediction, Boyce’s comments are exceptionally provocative.  One can only imagine his view on this matter would have been greatly out of step with most of his fellow Baptists.  It is unknown to me whether he was influenced by other thinkers or traditions on this question or whether he simply arrived at this conviction independently.

This interview, entitled “Questions and Answers”, was originally published in The Broadway Baptist Magazine, Novemember-December, 1887, page 30.  It has recently been included in Thomas J. Nettles, Stray Recollections, Short Articles and Public Orations of James P. Boyce (Founders Press, 2009), page 118.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Matthew Crawford permalink
    June 29, 2009 2:33 pm

    As much as I admire Boyce as a theologian, I have to disagree with him on the benediction. Perhaps in his day the reading of a benediction among Baptists retained some of the baggage of Roman Catholicism. However, if a benediction merely consists of reading a conclusion to one of Paul’s letters to the gathered assembly of believers, surely there’s nothing wrong with that.

  2. June 30, 2009 11:56 am

    I agree with you, Matt. As much great stuff as there is in Boyce, his take on the benediction really does seem to come out of left field. To be sure, I guess we don’t really know how the benediction was being practiced in the places he had witnessed it. This is one of the few points where I find Boyce to be surprisingly wrong-headed.

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