(image of Eucharist courtesy Wikipedia)
By Spencer D Gear PhD
It is not unusual to meet someone with an Anglo-Catholic understanding of the Eucharist who makes extreme claims like this:
If you are WRONG then you are divisive. When Jesus says this is my flesh/blood and you then say it isn’t….you are being divisive. One of us is right and the other is wrong.
No pointing fingers. He is flat out wrong and so are you if you don’t believe what Jesus said. I believe what Jesus said.
I had made the comment to another person online:
The Roman Catholic New Advent exposition of ‘The real presence as a fact’ states: ‘The whole structure of the discourse [John 6] of promise demands a literal interpretation of the words: “eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood”‘ (The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist).
Interpreting it literally sure sounds to be closer to being a vampire.
A. You are non-believers if you don’t accept what I believe about the teaching on Jesus’ body and blood.
This fellow became even more dogmatic:
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So 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. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day” [John 6:52-54]. Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him [John 6:66].
The Jews questioned Him and you can see what he told them. Now you are questioning Him. I think he has the same message for you. They walked away and so are you. How sad.
So I Tom55 say to you non-believers what Jesus told the Jews….VERY TRULY I TELL YOU IT IS HIS FLESH AND BLOOD. Walk away if you want. It won’t effect (sic) my salvation
As we know “This is a hard saying so who can listen to it?” Apparently those of you who don’t believe what Jesus said (blue font emphasis added).
So those who don’t accept his sacramental view of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his flesh are non-believers who don’t believe what Jesus said.
Really? Or is this tom55, the interpreter, imposing his view on the biblical text? Could Tom be engaging in eisegesis instead of exegesis of John 6:53-54?
See the article, ‘What is the difference between exegesis and eisegesis?’
Now let’s do some checking, using contextual interpretation of Scripture.
B. Which is the correct interpretation?
Let’s check who is really right or wrong. Could this be a classic example of misinterpretation because of failure to observe the context?
John 6:47-58 (ESV) states:
47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
52The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “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. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread[a] the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live for ever.”
C. Meaning of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood
1. Let us deal with the meaning of vv 53-54, which states,
‘53 So Jesus said to them, “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. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day’.
Here, Jesus repeats a truth he stated as the second part of v. 51, ‘If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever’. Note the emphasis in v. 53, ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man … you have no life in you.’ Now v 54, ‘Whoever feeds on my flesh … has eternal life’.
2. What will be the result of this? ‘I will raise him up on the last day’ (v 54).
3. Who is the one whose flesh is eaten? He has the title of ‘the Son of Man’ (v. 53). Yes, he is a fleshly human being – a man – but God has placed his seal of approval on him (Jn 6:27).
4. So the meaning is that the Son of Man is a title given to Jesus, but it does not overlook the fact that he is a flesh and blood human being. The supreme revelation of God is through Jesus, the Son of Man. Unlike any other fleshly human being, he has the amazing ability to grant a person eternal life if that one ‘eats’ of him.
5. ‘Drink his/my blood’ is added in vv 53 & 54. The Jews objected strongly to this statement (see v 51). Why? The Law of Moses forbade the drinking of blood (see Gen 9:2-4 ESV). So to drink the blood of the Son of Man was offensive to them.
6. John 6:54 & 40 have a close connection:
(a) v. 54, ‘Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day’, and
(b) v. 40, ‘For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day’.
The only major difference between these two verses is eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood vs. looking to the Son and believing in Him. We come to an obvious conclusion of interpretation: The eating the flesh and drinking the flood is a metaphorical way of referring to looking to the Son and believing in the Son. How come? The result of both activities is the same – receiving eternal life and being raised on the last day.
7. This caused the eminent church father, St. Augustine of Hippo, to state: ‘Believe, and you have eaten’ [Tractate 25.12 (John 6:15-44)]. This is a concise summary of the teaching of John 6:53-54.
8. There are no indications in John 6:53-54 that this refers to the Lord’s Supper. If we make it refer to the Eucharist, it means that one of the things necessary to receive eternal life is to participate in the Lord’s Supper to eat the body and drink the blood. This would amount to works religion which is antithetical to New Testament Christianity (Eph 2:8-9 ESV).
9. There are cannibalistic overtones if one accepts the literal body and blood instead of the metaphorical meaning that points to looking to Jesus and believing in Him to receive eternal life.
10. When John stated, ‘And I will raise him up at the last day’ (John 6:40, 54), it demonstrates that eating the flesh and drinking the blood literally does not confer immortality/resurrection at the last day. The Lord’s Supper/Eucharist is not designed for immortality. However looking to the Son and believing in Him are for that purpose.
D. How to add confusion: Tom’s responses
This fellow added bewilderment with his deliberate distortion of what I wrote. This is his answer to the 10 points above.  I’ll reply as Oz between each point to determine if he had understood what I wrote and responded accurately:
1. Thank you for making my point. I agree with you. “Jesus repeats a truth” which means it was important which is why he repeated it.
Oz: He has not known the truth to which I referred. I’ll repeat what I stated: Jesus repeats a truth he stated as the second part of v. 51, ‘If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever’. Note the emphasis in v. 53, ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man … you have no life in you.’ Now v 54, ‘Whoever feeds on my flesh … has eternal life’.
The truth repeated is this: When Jesus said anyone was to eat his flesh, it meant that it was the means of receiving eternal life, living forever. It was not referring to eating Jesus’ literal flesh but to living forever through faith in Jesus Christ. To eat his literal flesh then or now was impossible. He was not dead when he said this. After his death, there was no literal flesh to consume (and so to avoid the charge of cannibalism).
This demonstrates that Tom is so entrenched in his Roman Catholicism of interpreting the eating of the flesh and drinking of the blood as literal that he cannot understand the context is referring to a metaphor for receiving eternal life.
What’s a metaphor? A metaphor is ‘a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money); broadly: figurative language’ (Merriam-Webster Dictionary. s v metaphor).
2. And the result of this truth is ‘I will raise him up on the last day’
Oz: The result of eternal life is that the believer will be raised up at the last day. The result of eating the flesh and drinking the blood literally is not being raised up. The resurrection at the last day is dependent on a person receiving eternal life before that person’s physical death.
3-4-6 is double speak, confusing and rubbish
Oz: This is an offensive way of addressing me and does not deal with the content of what I wrote. Therefore it is a red herring fallacy of a reply.
What did I say in #3? I referred to the one whose flesh was eaten had the title of ‘the Son of Man’ (v. 53). While on earth, he was a man of flesh and God approved him (Jn 6:27). What’s double speak, confusing and rubbish about that? I know I needed to explain further the meaning of the Son of Man. To explain the meaning of this title for Jesus, see What does it mean that Jesus is the Son of Man? (gotquestions.org).
In #4 I continued with the emphasis that the Son of Man title for Jesus does not overlook his being a flesh and blood human being. This amazing, fleshly Son of Man has the ability to grant anyone eternal life if he/she ‘eats’ of him, i.e. eats = has faith in him.
My point at #6 of the close connection between John 6:40 and 54 was not explained well enough by me. The close connection is that those who look to the Son and believe in Him have eternal life (John 6:40) and that’s the message of John 6:54 except that Jesus uses the metaphor of eating his flesh and drinking his blood to have eternal life.
5. You are right about the Jews and it being abominable to them. They walked away and then Jesus doubled down on what he said. He didn’t clarify and say it was a metaphor or a symbol. He let them walk away and asked his Apostles if they were going to walk. IT WAS A HARD SAYING!! They didn’t believe him….. Just like you don’t.
Of course the Jews would object to the eating of flesh and drinking of blood that Jesus used (see my comment in #5) because they didn’t understand the metaphor Jesus was using. This is not a rubbish of an explanation but a fact. If anyone reads John 6:53-54 in a literal fashion, they would find it abhorrent. It was a hard saying because it would require the Jews to believe in the Son of Man to receive eternal life. They were not near ready to do that.
7. I am glad you brought up Augustine. Like a good protestant you only quoted what fit your belief. Here is more of what he said:
“I promised you, who have now been baptized, a sermon in which I would explain the sacrament of the Lord’s table. . . . That bread that you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ” (Sermons 227).
“What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ. This has been said very briefly, which may perhaps be sufficient for faith; yet faith does not desire instruction” (ibid., 272).
“Nobody eats this flesh without previously adoring it” (Explanation of the Psalms 99).
“He took flesh from the flesh of Mary . . . and gave us the same flesh to be eaten unto salvation. . . . We do sin by not adoring
Oz: Like a good Roman Catholic you did two things:
(1) You ignored the quote I gave from Augustine, ‘Believe, and you have eaten’ [Tractate 25.12 (John 6:15-44)]. Augustine knew exactly what John 6 was referring to with the eating and drinking. It dealt with believing in Jesus.
(2) You quote some other examples from Augustine and then don’t understand that Augustine used further metaphors to explain his position. These metaphors are the ones you have highlighted:
‘That bread … is the body of Christ’.
‘That chalice … is the blood of Christ’.
‘The bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ’.
‘gave us the same flesh to be eaten unto salvation’.
Every one of those examples is a metaphor, just like when Jesus said,
- ‘I am the door’ (John 10:9 ESV). He was not a literal door.
- ‘I am the light of the world’ (John 8:12 ESV). He was not a literal, physical light.
- ‘You are the salt of the earth’ (Matt 5:13 ESV). Christians are not literal salt.
The problem Tom runs into is that his RCC fixation on literal flesh and blood will not allow him to see that the context is using these metaphors as believing, in order to receive eternal life and to be resurrected at the last day.
8. During the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said “this is my body/blood do this in remembrance of me” and your theory there are no indications John 6:53-54 it refers to the Lords Supper?? You TWISTED that so much it broke!!!
Oz: No, Tom, I have ‘twisted’ nothing. I have read the verses in context and there is not a word in John 6 to indicate a thing about the Lord’s Supper. There is not a word that Jesus was here referring to the Eucharist – not a single word.
9. Look up the definition of the word cannibalism.
Oz: Why didn’t you provide me with that definition, Tom?
Look again at what I wrote at #9: ‘There are cannibalistic overtones if one accepts the literal body and blood instead of the metaphorical meaning that points to looking to Jesus and believing in Him to receive eternal life’.
What’s the definition of cannibalism? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s first definition is that cannibalism means ‘the usually ritualistic eating of human flesh by a human being’ (s v cannibalism).
What I wrote was true to the definition. It is Tom’s position that plays into the overtones of cannibalism in the ‘ritualistic’ eating of the flesh and blood of a human being – Jesus.
10. Makes no sense.
Oz: Perhaps my explanation was not as clear as it ought to have been. I wrote at this point: When John stated, ‘And I will raise him up at the last day’ (John 6:40, 54), it demonstrates that eating the flesh and drinking the blood literally does not confer immortality/resurrection at the last day. The Lord’s Supper/Eucharist is not designed for immortality. However looking to the Son and believing in Him are for that purpose.
This is what I meant: To be able to speak of resurrection at the last day (John 6:40, 54), one has to have received eternal life. Therefore, what John is stating in using the metaphor of eating flesh and drinking blood is to give a picture of how to receive eternal life. To engage in physical eating of human flesh and drinking human blood does not bring eternal life that leads to last day resurrection. What does do this? Looking to the Son and believing in him.
That’s exactly what John was teaching in John 6:40, 54. He was not dealing with a literal eating of flesh and blood but referred to a metaphor of eating flesh and blood that was designed to represent the faith in Jesus to receive eternal life.
E. John 6:60, 66: Why did many of Jesus’ disciples desert him?
Let’s deal with two verses that Roman Catholics sometimes use to support their claim that John 6:53-54 refers to the bread and the wine literally becoming the flesh and blood of Jesus when the Eucharist is celebrated. Tom indicated in his statement about John 6:66 that those who don’t believe this refers to literal flesh and blood are regarded by him, a Roman Catholic, as non-believers (see above).
Those verses are:
- John 6:60 (ESV), ‘When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”’ and
- John 6:66 (ESV), ‘After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him’.
1. Who were these disciples?
You will note from John 6:67 (ESV), the context of John 6:66, ‘So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”’ So the ‘disciples’ of John 6:66 are separate from the Twelve.
Who were these disciples who were not among the Twelve? The larger context from John 6:59 infers that they were Galileans (from Capernaum) and were from a larger group of disciples who followed Jesus. A sifting of the larger group of disciples began to take place here (John 6:60, 66). Verse 66 says ‘many of his disciples turned back’. It does not say that all of his extra disciples deserted him; however, many did. We do know that of the number who remained true to Jesus, there were more than 500 brothers and sisters who assembled to meet the risen Jesus after his resurrection, according to 1 Cor 15:6 (ESV).
2. How did the disciples respond to Jesus?
According to John 6:60, the disciples (not the Twelve) reacted with skleros to Jesus’ message. They, figuratively, reacted in words that were ‘hard, harsh, unpleasant’ (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:763.1.b). Lenski describes the skleros reaction as ‘“stiff,” dried out and hard, like a twig that has become brittle. The word does not here mean dark and difficult to understand but objectionable, offensive, impossible to accept and to believe’ (Lenski 1943:504-505).
In John 6:60, where it states, ‘This is a hard saying’, the Greek, ho logos houtos (Lit. the saying this), we need to comprehend that this refers to the entire Bread of Life discourse (John 6:22-59). What offended them and caused the stiff, unbending, harsh reaction? In this discourse there seems to be four main issues about which they reacted (stated by Carson 1991:300):
(a) They were more interested in food (6:26), Jesus’ becoming a political king (6:14-15), and manipulating the miraculous (6:30-31), than in dealing with the spiritual realities of eternal life.
(b) They were unprepared to give up their personal, sovereign authority, even in Christian matters. So they did not take the first steps of genuine faith (see 6:41-46).
(c) What particularly got up their noses was Jesus’ claim that he was greater than Moses and was sent by God and uniquely qualified to give life (John 6:32ff., 58), and
(d) The stark metaphor of eating the flesh and drinking the blood (John 6:53-54) was offensive to them.
Those who consider that in John 6:60, 66, John is speaking in terms of the human body or humanity, have a general objection that this is referring to the ‘the idea of eating and drinking the human nature of the one whom these disciples saw standing before their eyes like any other man’ (Lenski 1943:505). This is how the Roman Catholics interpret it – as literal body and blood. Tim Staples gives his RC explanation:
When we examine the surrounding context of John 6:53, Jesus’ words could hardly have been clearer. In verse 51, he plainly claims to be “the living bread” that his followers must eat. And he says in no uncertain terms that “the bread which I shall give . . . is my flesh.” Then, when the Jews were found “disput[ing] among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” in verse 52, he reiterates even more emphatically, “Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you”….
Moreover, when we consider the language used by John, a literal interpretation—however disturbing—becomes even more obvious. In John 6:50-53 we encounter various forms of the Greek verb phago, “eating.” However, after the Jews begin to express incredulity at the idea of eating Christ’s flesh, the language begins to intensify. In verse 54, John begins to use trogo instead of phago. Trogo is a decidedly more graphic term, meaning “to chew on” or to “gnaw on”—as when an animal is ripping apart its prey (Staples 2010).
However, the wider context (as I have tried to show in this article) demonstrates that the eating of the flesh and drinking the blood is used as a metaphor to demonstrate the nature of belief in Jesus that leads to eternal life and the resurrection at the end of the world, i.e. ‘I will raise them up at the last day’ (John 6:54 NIV).
3. Alleged disciples do not make Christian believers
Since many of Jesus’ disciples here found his teaching to be harsh, the question needs to be asked: Were these ‘disciples’ true believers who became hardened by his message and stiffly resisted it, or were they really unbelievers who gave up pursuing Jesus? Carson explained:
“Disciples” must be distinguished from “the Twelve” (cf. vv. 66-67). More importantly, just as there is faith and faith (2:23-25), so are there disciples and disciples. At the most elementary level, a disciple is someone who is at that point following Jesus, either literally by joining the group that pursued him from place to place, or metaphorically in regarding him as the authoritative teacher. Such a “disciple” is not necessarily a “Christian”, someone who has savingly trusted Jesus and sworn allegiance to him, given by the Father to the Son, drawn by the Father and born again by the Spirit. Jesus will make it clear in due course that only those who continue in his word are truly his ‘disciples’ (8:31). The ‘disciples’ described here do not remain in his word; they find it to be hard teaching…. These “disciples” will not long remain disciples, because they find Jesus word intolerable (Carson 1991:300).
The conclusion is that John 6:60 and 66 refer to a bunch of disciples (not the Twelve) whose faith was so frail or non-existent that they found it easy to drift away when they couldn’t tolerate the stiff, hard, harsh or unpleasant teachings of Jesus in his whole Bread of Life discourse. Therefore, they did not continue in his teachings and can be written off as his disciples.
F. When will the supply run out?
One fellow asked these two brilliant questions:
Regarding the eating and drinking of “Jesus’ flesh and blood” being ‘literal’, how long will it be before it has all been consumed and none remains?
Or is it not that ‘literal’?
In context, the meaning of John 6:53-54 is easy to discern. It has to do with obtaining eternal life and being raised at the last day. Therefore, it could not refer to the literal eating of Jesus’ body or drinking of Jesus’ blood. It is a metaphor for believing in Jesus.
It does not refer to a sacramental view of the Eucharist. Therefore, those who disbelieve in the literal meaning of the body and blood of Jesus are not non-believers but are Christians who correctly interpret these two verses in context. This is a classic example of how eisegesis can overcome a passage and cause it to become void of sound exegesis.
It is important to believe what Jesus stated but the meaning of some of his statements are sometimes misconstrued because of lack of knowledge of the culture from 2,000 years ago or failure to engage in careful hermeneutics in context. That’s the issue with tom55. He has failed to interpret contextually and then has labelled people who don’t believe as he believes, as non-believers. He thus has become a dogmatic extremist in his approach to other believers.
Augustine summarised the biblical content well: ‘Believe, and you have eaten’.
It was expected that a Roman Catholic would distort this metaphorical meaning of eating the flesh and drinking the blood to indicate believing in Jesus to receive eternal life. He could not get out of his fixation with a literal eating and drinking, which makes no sense in context or throughout Scripture.
As for the disciples who deserted Jesus, these were not the Twelve but part of a larger group of followers who may not have been believers. However, there was a separation of the wheat from the weeds in discerning true believers from the false.
H. Works consulted
Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature . Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).
Carson, D A 1991. The Gospel according to John. Leicester, England / Grand Rapids, Michigan: Inter-Varsity Press / William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Lenski, R C H 1943. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (1943 The Wartburg Press; assigned 1961 to Augsburg Publishing House).
Staples, T 2010. What Catholics believe about John 6. This Rock 21(6), November. Available from Catholic Answers (1996-2016) at: http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/what-catholics-believe-about-john-6 (Accessed 1 September 2016).
 Christianity Board 2012. In Reference To CyBs Statement of Faith – Christian Forum (online), tom55#251. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/17009-in-reference-to-cybs-statement-of-faith-christian-forum/page-9 (Accessed 20 August 2016).
 Ibid., OzSpen#250.
 Ibid., tom55#252.
 Got Questions Ministries 2002-2016. What is the difference between exegesis and eisegesis? (online) Available at: http://www.gotquestions.org/exegesis-eisegesis.html (Accessed 20 August 2016).
 Many of the following points are based on Carson (1991:296-297).
 Ibid., tom55#254.
 My response is at ibid., OzSpen#257.
 Ibid., Oneoff#256.
 This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev & augmented edn 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).
Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 1 September 2016.