Brief Book Review: Table and Temple

Table and Temple:
The Christian Eucharist and Its Jewish Roots
By David L. Stubbs

Who should read this? This book is a thoughtful history of worship and would be a beneficial read for anyone who 1) wants to know how to think about the connections between the God of the Hebrew Bible and the God of Christian witness; 2) cares about the relationship between liturgical practices of Jews and Christians; and 3) has wondered to what extent the early church––with members who retained Jewish traditions and faith––developed liturgically from Jesus’s own people.

What’s the main point? This book surveys a wide range of fascinating, contentious, complex, and important approaches to the practices of both the Jewish Temple and the Christian Table pulling out connections between temple theology and practice and Christian eucharistic theology and practice. His goal is to enrich eucharistic theology by tying it typologically (he also refers to figural connections) to the worship practices of Jesus’s own people.

Why does it matter? The question whether the Christian eucharistic meal had its roots in Jewish practice (particularly Jesus’s Last Supper) has remained unresolved for these millennia, compelling Stubbs to explore the evidence and to conclude that Christians have borrowed a lot more from Jewish tradition than we tend to think. Connections between Jewish and Christian meal practice are important as a means by which to see continuity rather than division between our faiths, and particularly because tracing theological motifs is a fruitful avenue for arriving at the core of meanings.

What will get you thinking? Stubbs contends that prejudice against Jews has kept Christians from grasping the relationship between our worship traditions. He uses the extensive research––from the liturgical theology of the renowned Orthodox teacher and writer Alexander Schmemann to the historical work of Paul Bradshaw––to make the case that Christians have reason to embrace those who, we say in the Good Friday Bidding Prayer, were the first to hear God’s word.

What will most inspire you? Shifting the focus of the eucharist from forgiveness of sin (emphasizing the crucifixion and sacrifice) to thanksgiving for food (emphasizing Jesus’s practice of feeding the hungry and insisting on care for the poor) moves the meaning of the meal from what it does for individuals to what it encourages in community. It is a theological position that favors immanence over transcendence, and Stubbs convincingly articulates how reasonable it is to make this shift.

Implications. Stubbs uses four “central meanings” of temple worship as the outline for demonstrating the two traditions’ commonalities: 1) God promised to be present in the temple; 2) heaven and earth meet in the temple; 3) because of the meeting of heaven and earth, humanity and creation are given a “conduit to the kingdom of God;” and 4) past and future are connected.

Applying these central meanings to the eucharist, Stubbs seeks to accomplish a re-thinking of Jewish/Christian connections while also making the argument that the table is central to Christian worship. Coming from the Reformed (i.e., a PCUSA) tradition he urges his church not just to balance word and meal but to elevate meal to the heights now held by the word read and preached.

Arguing for more attention to the table, he surveys discussion about whether the Christian eucharist derives from the Passover seder or the Last Supper as Jesus’s actions are described in the Gospel books.

In this way, Stubbs lets the scholarship give presiders and assemblies permission to think anew especially about the scope of the Christian eucharistic prayer, specifically to include all of creation in the prayer. His rationale has to do with the increasing importance of attention to the natural world and also with a shift he traces between earlier emphasis in the eucharist on forgiveness while, instead, he sees a greater meaning in tying it to Jesus’s feeding ministry.

David L. Stubbs, Table and Temple: The Christian Eucharist and Its Jewish Roots, foreword by John D. Witvliet (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2020), 403 pages.

REVIEWER: The Rev. Melinda A. Quivik, PhD

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