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A Response to Rev. Bacon’s Argument that Manna was not a Sacrament

by Mark Horne

Copyright © 1997, All rights reserved.

I wrote a response to Rev. Richard Bacon’s tract, What Mean Ye by This Service, a copy of which I borrowed from the library at Covenant Theological Seminary. However, I recently discovered that a new appendix was added to the version available on the Blue Banner’s web page. This new appendix is entitled "Manna & Manducation." Here, Rev. Bacon, addresses one of the flaws (at least, I think it was a flaw) in the body of his tract–his bald statement that manna was not a sacrament.

Rev. Bacon makes it quite clear he believes not only that manna was not a sacrament, but that paedocommunionists are desperately grasping at straws to claim that manna was a sacrament. He says, "the paedocommunionist has an uphill battle to prove that eating manna and drinking water (not wine) points to the New Testament sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. . ." Indeed, he asks rhetorically of manna and water from the Rock: "Why then do paedocommunionists want to bring it into the debate?" Furthermore, he claims the argument from manna is evidence of paedocommunionist desperation: "The fact that the argument has shifted from a sacramental meal to a non-sacramental meal gives the impression that it is the practice of the paedocommunion that is being defended rather than a covenantal hermeneutic."

That last claim is made near the end of the paper and I repeat it because I want readers to remember it as they read my response: "The fact that the argument has shifted from a sacramental meal to a non-sacramental meal gives the impression that it is the practice of the paedocommunion that is being defended rather than a covenantal hermeneutic."

Rev. Bacon claims that 1 Corinthians 10.1-4 does not correspond to Baptism or the Lord’s Supper. He claims that the baptism in this passage and in 1 Corinthians 12.13 corresponds to Pentecost. Furthermore, he asserts that John 6.49, 54 prove that manna was not a sacrament. My plan is simply to show that Rev. Bacon is making up things that are at odds with the entire history of Reformed Theology, while pretending that paedocommunionists are the ones breaking with the tradition.

John Calvin, in book 2 of the Institutes devotes a chapter (10) to the similarity of the Old and New Testaments. He sees a need to discuss this "because writers often argue at length about the difference between the Old and the New Testament, thus arousing some misgiving in the simple readers mind" (2.10.1–Battles, tr.).

Indeed, that wonderful rascal Servetus and certain madmen of the Anabaptist sect, who regard the Israelites as nothing but a herd of swine, make necessary what would in any case have been very profitable for us. For they babble of the Israelites as fattened by the Lord on this earth without hope of heavenly immortality (ibid).

According to Calvin one of the many similarities between the covenants, is that the Old Testament was given similar signs and seals to those we have been given. The reformer appeals to 1 Corinthians 10.1ff to prove his point:

Indeed, the apostle makes the Israelites equal to us not only in the grace of the covenant but also in the signification of the sacraments. In recounting examples of the punishments which, according to Scripture, the Israelites were chastised of old, his purpose was to deter the Corinthians from falling into similar misdeeds. So he begins with this premise: there is no reason why we should claim any privilege for ourselves, to deliver us from the vengeance of God, which they underwent, since the Lord not only provided them with the same benefits but also manifested his grace among them by the same symbols. It is as if he said: "Suppose you trust that you are out of danger because both Baptism, which which you have been sealed, and the Supper, of which you partake daily, possess excellent promises, but at the same time you hold God’s goodness in contempt and play the wanton. Know that the Jews did not lack such symbols, and yet the Lord carried out his harsh judgments against them. They were baptized in crossing the sea and in the cloud that protected them from the sun’s heat." Our opponents call that crossing a carnal baptism, which corresponds in a certain measure to our spiritual baptism. But if that were accepted as true, the apostle’s argument would not be effective. For Paul here means to disabuse Christians of thinking they are superior to the Jews through the privilege of baptism. Nor is what immediately follows subject to this cavil: "They ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink." This he interprets as referring to Christ (2.10.5).

Elsewhere he reiterates his point, appealing to the same passage, against the Roman Catholic schoolmen:

But we must utterly reject that scholastic dogma (to touch on it also in passing) which notes such a great difference between the sacraments of the old and new law, as if the former only foreshadowed God’s grace, but the latter give it as a present reality. Indeed the apostle speaks just as clearly concerning the former as the latter when he teaches that the fathers ate the same spiritual food as we, and explains that food as Christ. Who dared treat as an empty sign that which revealed the true communion of Christ to the Jews? (4.14.23)

Calvin quotes Augustine to substantiate his point from the same passage in 1 Corinthians:

In different signs there is the same faith; it is the same with different signs as it is with different words; for words change their sounds from time to time; and words are nothing but signs. The fathers drank the sam spiritual drink, but not the same physical one, as ours. See therefore, how faith remains while signs change. With them Christ was the Rock; for us Christ is that which is put on the altar. They drank, as a great sacrament, water flowing from the rock; believers know what we drink. If you look at the visible appearance, they drank something different; if you look at the inner signification, they drank the same spiritual drink.

Thus Calvin relies on 1 Corinthians 10.1ff to formulate doctrines regarding the sacraments:

These things which we have said both of mortification and of washing were foreshadowed in the people of Israel, who were on this account said by the Apostle to have been "baptized in the cloud and in the sea." Mortification was symbolized when the Lord, rescuing the people from the domination and cruel bondage of Pharaoh, made a way for them through the Red Sea and drowned both Pharaoh himself and the Egyptian army, who were in hot pursuit and almost at their backs. For in the same way he also promises us in baptism and shows us by a sign given that by his power we have been led out and delivered from bondage in Egypt, that is, from the bondage of sin; that our Pharaoh, that is, the devil, has been drowned. . . In the cloud there was a symbol of cleansing. For as the Lord covered them with a cloud and gave them coolness, that they might not weaken and pine away in the merciless heat of the sun, so do we recognize that in baptism we are covered and protected by Christ’s blood, that God’s severity, which is truly an unbearable flame, should not assail us (4.15.9).

However, Calvin knows that some of the anabaptist and followers of Servetus will attempt to prove that manna was a true sacrament by appealing to John 6.49, 54. He replies that Jesus "passed over the principal feature of manna and noted only its lowest use" (2.10.6). He thus returns to 1 Corinthians 10.1-5:

Paul knew that when the Lord rained down manna from heaven he did not do so merely to feed their bellies, but also bestowed it as a spiritual mystery, to foreshadow the spiritual quickening we have in Christ. Therefore he did not neglect this aspect, the one principally worth considering. From this we can conclude with full certainty that the Lord not only communicated to the Jews the same promises of eternal and heavenly life as he now deigns to give us, but also sealed them with truly spiritual sacraments. Augustine debates this matter at length in his work Against Faustus the Manichee (ibid).

Thus, we see that not only does John Calvin hold to what Rev. Bacon claims is a view unique to paedocommunionists, but he actually rejects his counter-argument from John 6.

I don’t know if Calvin ever considered Rev. Bacon’s novel idea that 1 Corinthians 12.13 refers to Pentecost. I would guess that he didn’t consider Pentecost a possibility for the rather common-sensical reason that the Holy Spirit did not fall on the Corinthians at Pentecost. Thus, to appeal to the Pentecost as something that happened to the Corinthians would be a useless appeal. Calvin uses the passage to explain of the rite of Baptism:

But as far as it is a symbol of our confession, we ought by it to testify that our confidence is in God’s mercy, and our purity in forgiveness of sins, which has been procured for us through Jesus Christ; and that we enter God’s church in order to live harmoniously with all believers in complete agreement of faith and love. This last point was what Paul meant when he said, "We have all been baptized in one Spirit that we may be one body" (4.15.14)

According to Charles Hodge, Calvin, along with Luther and Beza, believed that being made to drink one spirit was a reference to the cup in the Lord’s Supper.[1] Next, we consider the Westminster Divines. I have already mentioned in my initial response to Rev. Bacon how the Confession of Faith uses 1 Corinthians 10.1-4 to prove that the sacraments of the Old Testament are the same in substance with those of the New Testament (27.5). There is an additional citation in the Larger Catechism. Question 174 asks "What is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in the time of the administration of it?" The answer includes a direction to "stir up themselves to a vigorous exercise of their graces." The prooftexts include 1 Corinthians 10.3-5. The Divines also considered manna and the water from the rock to be sacramental.

Furthermore, the Westminster Standards appeal to 1 Corinthian 12.13 to prove that baptism admits the baptized into the institutional Church (28.1), "the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation" (25.2). Likewise, the answer to question 165 of the Larger Catechism uses the text to prove that baptism is the sacrament "whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible Church."

Since I requested and received the Charles Hodge’s commentary on First and Second Corinthians (Banner of Truth single-volume edition) for my birthday, I am able to look up his comments on both 1 Corinthians 10.1-4 and 12.13. Hodge comments on v. 3, "As they had their baptism, so they had their eucharist; and they all had it."[2]

On 12.13, Hodge departs from the Westminster Standards because he had a much lower view of the visible Church.[3] He states that the sacrament of baptism is not in view here, but rather regeneration.[4] He uses Pentecost as an example of the use of the term "baptize" which does not involve water. But it never seems to enter Hodge’s mind that the event of Pentecost is here being referred to by Paul. Again, it would be nonsense for Paul to refer to the outpouring of Pentecost because the Corinthians weren’t there at the time. They were made partakers in that outpouring through their own baptisms, just as were the first converts on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2.38; 1 Cor 1.10-17). Just as Gentile proselytes who were circumcised could then celebrate their deliverance from Egypt, despite their physical ancestry, so those of us who are baptized into Christ’s body, the Church, are made participants in the Holy Spirit Who moved into the Church on the Day of Pentecost.

I have not the energy to write quotations from Louis Berkhof”s Systematic Theology. I simply invite you to investigate the Scriptural index at your leisure.

The conclusion of all this, is that Rev. Bacon’s appendix is even more insulting to paedocommunionists than the body of his tract. He acts as if we were all a bunch of bizarrities simply because we have taken our own tradition seriously. All we have done by mentioning manna and water from the Rock is reproduce the Reformed consensus of the past four and a half centuries! Yet Rev. Bacon shamelessly "opines": "The fact that the argument has shifted from a sacramental meal to a non-sacramental meal gives the impression that it is the practice of the paedocommunion that is being defended rather than a covenantal hermeneutic."

The fact that Rev. Bacon is willing to simply re-write the Reformation Tradition in sacramental hermeneutics, without admitting it to his readers, gives the impression that he is more interested in winning an argument with the ignorant in favor of an unbiblical human tradition than dealing honestly and openly with the issues involved.

Since we’re supposed to be "always being reformed," I suppose I should explain why I am not addressing Rev. Bacon’s actual arguments for denying the sacramental nature of manna and the water from the Rock. The main reason is I find them entirely implausible. Had Rev. Bacon admitted that he was dealing with errors he had found in Reformed notables from Bucer[5] to Berkhof, then perhaps I would feel a need to let him know why I am not persuaded by his exegesis. But, as it is, I am content with an expose of his revisionism. What reason do I have to think he is truly interested in whether or not paedocommunion is the covenantal position?

A second reason is that Dr. Ken Gentry, in his sermon series "Paedocommunion: Faith or Fad?"[6] gives some excellent reason for closely associating manna with Passover. Though strenuously (and fallaciously, in my opinion) opposing paedocommunion, Dr. Gentry points out that the directions are identical for both choosing the Passover lamb and gathering manna ("according to the mouth of eating") . Furthermore, the Israelites were forbidden in the case of both the Passover lamb and the manna to save any for the next day. If Rev. Bacon has a reply for Dr. Gentry, I would like to hear it.

As it stands, Rev. Bacon is the innovator; and thus he reveals that paedocommunionists are the conservatives who are simply trying to be consistent with Reformational hermeneutics. The fact is that, according to Rev. Bacon, John Calvin, the Westminster Divines, and Charles Hodge all ought to have been paedocommunionists. They all believed that manna and water from the rock were sacraments. In the final analysis, then, Rev. Bacon is actually arguing that paedocommunion is the more truly Reformed practice.[7]

I’m glad to be able to conclude that we agree on something!

Copyright © 1997, All rights reserved.


 1. A Commentary on 1 & 2 Corinthians (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), p. 255. Hodge disagrees with them.

2. p. 172.

3. One might confirm this by looking at his essay, "Is the Roman Church, a Part of the Visible Church." In general, I have discovered this by looking at various articles in the Princeton Review, which were later compiled in The Church and Its Polity. Hodge constantly invoked the answer to the Larger Catechism’s question (62), "What is the visible Church?" The answer is that the visible Church is "a society made up of all those such as . . . do profess the true religion, and of their children." Hodge treated this definition as if it was antithetical to the claim that one joined the Church through baptism. I find this alleged antithesis implausible, completely at odds with the Reformation Tradition, and with true Christianity as it has existed at any time before or after the Reformation.

4. p. 254. To his credit, Hodge does not hesitate to claim that "the baptism of the Spirit often attends the baptism of water." This is a bolder admission than I commonly hear today in Presbyterian circles.

5. Common Places of Martin Bucer, D. F. Wright, tr., The Courtenay Library of Reformation Classics, vol 4, (Appleford, Abingdon, Berkshire, England: Sutton Courtenay Press, 1972), p. 287.

6. You can order these 4 cassettes from Covenant Media Foundation for $18. Call 1 (800) 553-3938. Or see their website at cmnfnow.com. My critique of Dr. Gentry, "God’s Uncovered Pit: Kenneth Gentry on Paedocommunion," is available for $2.50 from Biblical Horizons, P.O. Box 1096, Niceville, FL 32588.

7. There is one other alternative, which I would consider to ridiculous to mention except that Rev. Bacon mentions it as if he realizes he might need to resort to it: He claims that we are not "forced to conclude that children, much less infants, must have been partakers of manna. I would be unable to prove that exegetically (the paedocommunionists are equally unable to prove it, but I am willing to concede the point)." First of all, paedocommunionism is concerned with weaned children, not suckling infants. Secondly, to claim that such weaned children might not have eaten the manna, or that such a thing cannot be proven (or even needs to be proven) exegetically, is simply a ludicrous claim which merits no counter-argument. That Rev. Bacon would attempt to raise a shadow of a doubt on this point is rather amazing.

Copyright © 1997



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