Skip to comments.John 6 and the Eucharist
Posted on 12/12/2013 7:50:01 AM PST by GonzoII
In my 2011 debate with Dr. Peter Barnes, a Presbyterian minister and apologist in Australia, the topic was the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and it centered on Jesus famous words in John 6:53: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you. After about three hours of debate, I could sum up Barness central objection in one sentencea sentence which just happens to be found in the New Testament:
How can this man give us his flesh to eat? (John 6:53)
Dr. Barnes could not, and would not, deny the Lord said what he said in Scripture. His only recourse (as is the case with all who deny the real presence), ultimately, was to claim Jesus was speaking metaphorically. And after all, he had to be right? I mean, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? In other words, his ultimate objection to the Catholic and biblical position is not so much rooted in the text as it is in a fundamental incredulity when it comes to the words of the text.
I argued in that debate, and I will again in this post, that if we examine the text carefully, not only is there nothing in it that indicates Jesus was speaking purely metaphorically, but the text itself actually points in the opposite direction.
Here are the Facts
First, everyone listening to Jesus actual discourse 2,000 years ago believed him to have meant what he said. That is significant. This is in stark contrast to other places in the gospel where Jesus did, in fact, speak purely metaphorically. For example, when Jesus spoke of himself as a door in John 10, or a vine in John 15, we find no one to have asked, How can this man be a door made out of wood? Or, How can this man claim to be a plant?
Compare these to John 6. Jesus plainly says, in verse 51, I am the bread come down from heaven and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world (vs. 51). The Jews immediately respond, as I said above, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? They certainly understood him to mean what he said.
Moreover, when people misunderstand Jesus, he normally clears up the misunderstanding as we see in John 4:31-34 when the disciples urge our Lord to eat and our Lord responds, I have food to eat which you do not know. The disciples ask each other if anyone had brought any food because they thought our Lord was saying he had to bring his own food because they had forgotten to do so. They misunderstand him. But our Lord immediately clears things up saying, in verse 34, My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.
A Real Barnes Burner
In our debate, Dr. Barnes had a very interesting rejoinder to this point. He claimed, in essence, that in at least some cases when his listeners misunderstood our Lord, he purposely made no attempt to clear up the misunderstandings. And Dr. Barnes then cited three more examples claiming this to be a pattern in the gospels.
1. In John 3:3-4, Dr. Barnes claimed, Jesus left Nicodemus in the dark when after he declared to him, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” Nicodemus responded, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
Response: Even a brief perusal of John 3 and John 6 shows a substantial difference between the two. In John 6:52-53, the Jews were disputing among themselves and saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? That is the context in which Jesus then appears to confirm them in their thoughts and reiterates, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.
No matter how one interprets Jesus response to Nicodemus beginning in John 3:5, he doesn’t come close to saying anything like, Amen, amen I say to you, unless you climb back into your mothers womb a second time and be born anew, you cannot have eternal life. He says you must be born of water and spirit the wind blows where it will, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit (vs. 5-8). This seems to me to be clarification that he is not speaking about climbing back into a mothers womb. Being born anew is a spiritual experience that transcends literal birth from a womb.
2. In John 4:7-15, Dr. Barnes claimed, Jesus left the famous Samaritan woman at the well in her misunderstanding when she thought Jesus was offering her literal, physical water. But is that really what we find in the text?
Response: When Jesus asked this Samaritan woman for a drink in verse seven, she was most likely not only shocked that a Rabbi would speak to a Samaritan woman in public, but that any Jew would ask an unclean Samaritan to draw water for him. But in verse 10, Jesus answered her,
If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, Give me a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.
The woman then responds, in verse 11, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? To which, Jesus responds, in verse 13-14,
Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
In verse 15, the woman then begs our Lord, Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.
There is no doubt the Samaritan woman has it wrong here. But far from leaving her in her error, our Lord responds most profoundly, beginning in verse 16, Go, call your husband And when the woman responds, I have no husband, in verse 17, Jesus reads her soul and tells her, You are right for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband.
He now has her attention, to say the least. And he then turns the conversation to what he was really speaking about in terms of the living water he came to give that would well up to eternal life. In verse 23, he declares,
But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
When the woman then responds, in verse 25, I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things,” Jesus then tells her plainly, in verse 26, I who speak to you am he.
It seems clear that the woman then understood that Jesus words were metaphorical concerning the living water, because she immediately left her water jar, went back to her fellow countrymen and urged them to, Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ (verses 28-29)? And according to verse 39, Many Samaritans believed in him because of the womans testimony. Notice, she did not go and say, “You’ve got to meet this man that will give us a limitless supply of water!” She came to realize Jesus was about much more than filling war jars.
3. Dr. Barnes also claimed that when Christ said beware of the leaven of the Pharisees in Matthew 16:6, the apostles thought he was speaking literal, which is true. But Matthew 16:11-12 could hardly be plainer that Jesus did not leave them in their ignorance:
How is it that you fail to perceive that I did not speak about bread Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Spirit vs. Flesh
There is much more about the text of John 6 and the greater context of the New Testament in general that make a Catholic understanding of John 6:53 unavoidable. In our debate, Dr. Barnes and I grapple with many of those texts.
But John 6:63 is probably the most important of all to deal with as a Catholic apologist. This is a verse that is set within a context where not only “the Jews” who were listening, but specifically the disciples themselves were struggling with what Jesus said about “eating his flesh” and “drinking his blood.” This is a hard saying; who can listen to it (verse 60)? It is in this context that our Lord says to the disciples: It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
The Protestant apologist will almost invariably say of this text, See? Christ is not giving us his flesh to eat because he says the flesh is of no avail.
There are at least four points to consider in response:
1. If Jesus was clearing up the point here, hes a lousy teacher because he didnt get his point across. According to verse 66, many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him immediately after this statement. They obviously still believed his earlier words about “eating [his] flesh” to be literal because these “disciples” had already believed in and followed him for some time. If Jesus was here saying, I only meant that you have to believe in me and follow me, why would they be walking away?
2. Jesus did not say, My flesh is of no avail. He said, The flesh is of no avail. There is a big difference! He obviously would not have said my flesh avails nothing because he just spent a good portion of this same discourse telling us that his flesh would be given for the life of the world (John 6:51, cf. 50-58).
The flesh is a New Testament term often used to describe human nature apart from Gods grace (see Romans 8:1-14; I Cor. 2:14; 3:1; Mark 14:38).
3. That which is spiritual, or spirit used as an adjective as we see in John 6:63, does not necessarily refer to that which has no material substance. It often means that which is dominated or controlled by the Spirit. For example, when speaking of the resurrection of the body, St. Paul writes: It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body (I Cor. 15:44). Does this mean we will not have a physical body in the resurrection? Of course not! Jesus made that clear after his own resurrection in Luke 24:39:
See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.
The resurrected body is spiritual and indeed we can be called spiritual as Christians inasmuch as we are controlled by the Spirit of God. Spiritual in no way means void of the material. That would be a Gnostic understanding of things, not Christian.
4. In verses 61-62, Jesus had just said, Do you take offence at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before?
Jesus wants to ensure the apostles do not fall into a sort of crass literalism that would see the truth of the Eucharist in terms of gnawing bones and sinew. It is the Holy Spirit that will accomplish the miracle of Christ being able to ascend into heaven bodily while also being able to distribute his body and blood in the Eucharist for the life of the world. A human bodyeven a perfect oneapart from the power of the Spirit could not accomplish this.
Thus, Jesus words, It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail refers to the truth that it is only the Spirit that can accomplish the miracle of the Eucharist and it is only the Holy Spirit that can empower us to believe the miracle.
"Jesus did not say, My flesh is of no avail.
He said, The flesh is of no avail. "
Perfect example of biblical eisegesis ...
John is the only gospel that doesnt mention the Lords Table during the passover. If John 6 is meant to foreshadow the "real presence," then his omission in the upper room discourse is not answerable with a cogent explanation. It will always be "John didnt have to mention it because the other 3 did ..."
On the surface of things, why would one want to argue against the bodily presence of Christ is His Supper? Of what benefit is it to participate in Christ only by way of Platonic notions? No wonder it has been the practice of the Church to catechize and commune only those who take Christ at His Word, and do not turn away when the sayings are hard.
The Bread of Life Discourse.
22* The next day, the crowd that remained across the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not gone along with his disciples in the boat, but only his disciples had left. 23* Other boats came from Tiberias near the place where they had eaten the bread when the Lord gave thanks. 24When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 25And when they found him across the sea they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 26Jesus answered them and said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. 27Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life,* which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”l 28So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” 29Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” 30So they said to him, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do?m 31* Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written:n
‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
32So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.o 33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34p So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35* Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.q 36But I told you that although you have seen [me], you do not believe.r 37Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me, 38because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me.s 39And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it [on] the last day.t 40For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day.”u
41The Jews murmured about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” 42and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”v 43Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring* among yourselves.w 44No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. 45It is written in the prophets:
‘They shall all be taught by God.’
Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.x 46Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.y 47Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;z 50this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”a
52The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?” 53Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. 54Whoever eats* my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. 55For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. 57Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.b 58This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” 59These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
The Words of Eternal Life.*
60Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” 61Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? 62What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?* 63It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh* is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.c 65And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”
66As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. 67Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” 68Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”d 70Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?” 71He was referring to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot; it was he who would betray him, one of the Twelve.
53 Jesus said to them, Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever. 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
Jesus spoke and taught in parables and metaphors. He didn’t mean to actually EAT His flesh or drink His blood. He didn’t mean to eat a wafer, cracker, or drink grape juice or wine. Maybe you should ask the Holy Spirit to explain it to you. It’s about wholeheartedly, completely, believing in HIM. It’s totally accepting Him, making Him your one and only God. Taking in His teachings and commandments and living a righteous life that makes Him proud.
If you want to eat wafers and drink wine as a “symbol” of those things mentioned above, then I wouldn’t be a stumbling block to you.
4 “Who are you to judge someone elses servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”
But, Jesus IS the “Truth”.
“..... Jesus said, If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
To claim that the wafer actually IS Jesus’ body and the wine actually IS Jesus’ blood, seems to totally miss the point. Eating a wafer gives you what, Jesus vitamins? “You are what you eat”, is that it? No, it’s taking in His love and teachings. It’s living FOR Him. You have “free will”. He wants you to CHOOSE to do what is good, not to “choose” to eat a wafer.
Before you attack me, Don’t waste your time. I don’t read responses. I stand by what I said, let God be my judge.
Can you give a cogent answer as to why, if John 6 refers to the eucharist, he doesnt mention it where it has the most meaning ... namely, the upper room discourse?
It is ... I just don't read it through the lens of Romanist doctrine.
The hubris to think that a created human by magic can shalom b'SHEM Yah'shua HaMashiach
turn a Pesach Matzoh into the Creator of the universe.
Christ dwells in our hearts through faith.
We don’t need to eat Him.
The flesh profits nothing. The words Jesus spoke are SPIRIT and truth.
You can ask exactly why the opposite is not argued. Why would a Romanist argue FOR the bodily presence?
I think the answer is simple ... Roman doctrine REQUIRES it ... since there is no life in anyone who does not partake of it ... of necessity partaking of the eucharist is NECESSARY for salvation.
So where are all the people who are 2,000 years old who never died because they ate the eucharist?
For that matter, why are there Catholics dying by the day when they eat the eucharist?
After all, Jesus did say that those who eat Him will never die.
What’s with this death thing going around among Catholics then?
You keep using the term “Romanist” as a pejorative.
Perhaps you do not know that the Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodox Churches all agree with the Real Presence?
I understand that John Calvin defended it as well. Perhaps just another guy following Romanist doctrine?
eternally die. Please think about this.
are you not familiar with the Gospel of the souls arising from their graves at the Crucifixion of Christ — visible only to the believers? These were the souls who had been waiting for Christ to be the first person into heaven.
What happened to your catechesis?
Are you not aware that there are many rites of the Catholic Church? Please check out the chart in this link -- for we are all Catholics -- not Romanists. LOL!
The sacred Scriptures say it plainly enough, so that one is more surprised to find it spoken against, except that the world is not inclined to receive Him Who created all things.