EAT MY FLESH!
and Drink My Blood! John 6:53-55
The Voices of Strange Shepherds -- Part C
By Edgar Jones
"The Church draws her life from the Eucharist."Introduction
This statement taken from the Encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, By Pope John Paul II, April 17, 2003.
Part A and Part B of this three part series affirms and confirms, respectively, the meaning of the utterance of the Lord in John 6:53-55 in context. These words constitute one of three separate screenings that the Lord used, in the Fourth Gospel, to screen out false disciples who believed in him for the wrong reasons and in the wrong way. The many Jewish false disciples, or would-be believers, were greatly impressed by his wonderful works and words and so believed him to be the Christ, "the prophet who is to come." But they wanted him to conform to their erroneous conception of his messianic mission and office, seeking to take him by force and make him king (John 6:15). The prospect of this mass movement among the Jews was the contamination of the Word of Life and the utter perversion of the messianic mission. It was therefore essential that the Lord take immediate and decisive action to eliminate this threat. He did it by delivering them a message they could not believe without first giving Jesus and his Word primacy over Moses and his Torah. The message is:
Jn.6:53 FNT 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 do not have zoe-life in yourselves.
But Moses wrote:
A little reflection will show why Jesus chose this particular word from Moses and the Torah for his screen. It has to do with the association of blood with life in each case. It was not a random choice, but one required by the circumstances of the case. It was not possible for the Jews whom he addressed here to continue to believe him (after hearing him) without setting Moses aside. They could not set Moses aside, therefore they could not continue to believe in Jesus. So we read,
Lev.17 For the life of every creature is the blood of it; therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.
Jn.6:66 FNT From this many of his disciples departed back and no longer walked with him.
This was precisely what Jesus intended, for he came to supersede Moses and the Torah with his Word of Life. Those who were unwilling to accept this did not accept Jesus, and thus were not accepted by Jesus. He screened them very deliberately.
The False Doctrine
Christians generally have not understood this event in John 6 as a screening process. It serves the purposes of their popes, bishops, administrators, pastors (shepherds), priests and teachers for them to believe that this segment of John 6 refers to the Eucharist or, as some call it, Holy Communion or the Lord's Supper. Unlike the Synoptic Gospels -- Matthew, Mark and Luke -- the Fourth Gospel omits to mention the sharing of the bread and the wine as the body and blood of the Lord at the Last Supper. The churchmen think this event so important that they cannot believe the Beloved Disciple omitted it. The similarity of the language in Chapter 6 draws their attention, and they conclude that it is there.
This belief that John 6 refers to the Eucharist is an ancient false doctrine, there being evidence that it was believed and taught by some of the "early fathers" of the Church. It has been a Catholic teaching from the earliest centuries, which is its strength. It has stood the test of time! It survived the East - West split that separated the Orthodox from the Catholics. It survived the Protestant Reformation, with the result that Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, Reformed and most Protestant denominations hold to the view that John 6 refers to the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. They do not give it the same interpretation as do the Catholics, but they continue, in general, to hold that John 6 speaks of the Eucharist. All err.
The Catholic Doctrine
It is not necessary to examine the doctrines of the all the major denominations to falsify this doctrine that places the Eucharist in John 6, but it is important that we understand how they misunderstand it, otherwise we may be subject to the same error. To this end we now turn to what is perhaps the origin of this error, the Catholic Church, to see how Catholics have managed to deceive literally billions of persons through the centuries.
I have selected a Catholic tract from the Web, "Christ in the Eucharist" that was written to explicitly state and justify the Catholic doctrine. The administrators of the site require proper attribution of material quoted from the tract, as follows:
Catholic Answers, “Christ in the Eucharist” (San Diego: Catholic Answers, 2005)
NIHIL OBSTAT: I have
concluded that the materials
CHRIST PRESENT IN THE EUCHARIST THROUGH TRANSUBSTANTIATION
46. To avoid any misunderstanding of this type of presence, which goes beyond the laws of nature and constitutes the greatest miracle of its kind, (50) we have to listen with docility to the voice of the teaching and praying Church. Her voice, which constantly echoes the voice of Christ, assures us that the way in which Christ becomes present in this Sacrament is through the conversion of the whole substance of the bread into His body and of the whole substance of the wine into His blood, a unique and truly wonderful conversion that the Catholic Church fittingly and properly calls transubstantiation.
The Lord's Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.
It follows that the paper Christ in the Eucharist, to which I am directing you, is a polemic against Protestant views of the Eucharist. Nevertheless, reading it is very educational because of its obvious limitations that are evident to us who have learned, from the Holy Spirit and the Lord himself, that John 6 is a screening device that says nothing about the Eucharist. Here are the first three sentences of CE (Christ in the Eucharist):
Protestant attacks on the Catholic Church often focus on the Eucharist. This demonstrates that opponents of the Church—mainly Evangelicals and Fundamentalists—recognize one of Catholicism’s core doctrines. What’s more, the attacks show that Fundamentalists are not always literalists. This is seen in their interpretation of the key biblical passage, chapter six of John’s Gospel, in which Christ speaks about the sacrament that will be instituted at the Last Supper.
There is no attempt to justify the assumption that Chapter Six of the Fourth Gospel refers to the Last Supper (the sacrament). It is simply assumed. As I have already indicated, this is not a subject of contention between Catholics and Protestants, and in particular those Protestants designated Evangelicals and Fundamentalists. So CE simply assumes it and goes on from there, presenting very sophisticated argumentation to support a belief that has no foundation -- i.e., the assumption that Chapter Six refers to the Last Supper -- with which their Evangelical and Fundamental antagonists concur. In that the opening position of CE has no foundation in Truth, it follows that nothing within CE and its derivations from Chapter 6 have any foundation in Truth. We will see in what follows how this develops.
CE proceeds next to the "colloquy" that begins with John 6:30, and correctly informs us that the Jews seek a sign from Jesus to convince them that he is the Messiah. The Jews set the stage for this confrontation by stating how Moses brought forth manna from heaven to feed their ancestors in the wilderness. (Recall that these are the same ones whom Jesus had fed the day before.) We know that this is exactly as Jesus wanted it, because he proceeds immediately to set the screen according to which they must choose between him and Moses. He tells them:
Jn.6:32 FNT Truly truly I say to you, Moses did not give you bread from heaven, but my father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the [one] coming down from heaven and giving zoe-life to the world.
Not Moses, but me! That is the choice as he identifies himself with this bread of God. The choice is between Moses, who brought manna down from heaven, and Jesus, who is the bread of God coming down from heaven. CE fails to recognize the significance of this, and is concerned only with how to take the Words of Jesus, whether literally or figuratively (metaphorically). We read:
At this point the Jews understood him to be speaking metaphorically.
But the Lord proceeds to demand a choice -- himself or Moses -- by identifying himself with the bread.
Jn.6:48 FNT I am the bread of zoe-life . . . ..
Then he further identifies this bread of life:
Jn.6:51 FNT I am the zoe-living bread having come down out of heaven. If anyone eat of this bread, he will zoe-live to eternity. But the bread that I will give is my flesh in behalf of the zoe-life of the world.
This set the Jews atwitter with the idea of eating his flesh, and the Lord next piles on the offense as thickly as possible:
Jn.6:53 FNT Truly truly I say to you: unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood you do not have zoe-life in yourselves.
CE, having asserted that the Jews took Jesus metaphorically at first, now tells us this:
His listeners were stupefied because now they understood Jesus literally—and correctly.
Correctly? How so? Certainly we agree that Jesus was speaking figuratively when he identified himself as the bread of life, and the Jews would have done the same because it is obvious that the man speaking to them was neither a loaf nor a bun. He must have been speaking figuratively. But what does the figure mean?
When he continued to explain, we see that he is identifying the figure, the bread, with his flesh. This can mean either of two things:
1. He is explaining the figure as literally meaning his flesh, or
2. He is more specifically identifying the figure in a further figurative way.
The Catholics take the first option because, believing that this is a statement about the Eucharist, it is necessary to their dogma of Transubstantiation that it now be literal. Therefore the CE states that they understood Jesus literally -- and correctly. This is nonsense, because nothing in the The Fourth Gospel says anything about the Eucharist!
It follows that the second option is the correct one. The Lord is more specifically identifying the figure of the bread with the figure of his flesh and blood -- both metaphors -- because this intensified the offense to the Jews. It rendered the screen even finer -- very fine, indeed and made the choice between him and Moses even more compelling. Yes, like the Catholics, the Jews mistakenly took him literally and it was the Lord's intention that they do so, although he meant it figuratively. It was only thus that he could make the issue perfectly clear -- that they were to choose either him or Moses. They could not hold to both. But the transition from one figure to the other is the obvious one. He is the bread of life, and bread is for eating. One must therefore eat him, and how to do this other than by eating his flesh, and drinking his blood? We know that the literal way is otherwise, and he had already informed them of it:
Jn.6:40 FNT For this is the will of my father, that everyone beholding the son and believing in him have zoe-life eternal, and I will raise him up in the last day.
But they did not hear. They wanted bread, and it was impossible for them to literally accept the implication of eating his flesh and drinking his blood because Moses had prohibited the eating of flesh with the blood in it and the drinking of blood. The Lord presents the figure to them such that they understand it literally. The screen is set, and rather than explain the figure to the Jews, the Lord repeated it again and again, offending their devotion to Moses in the most direct manner possible. The fact is, however, that he is still speaking figuratively, contrary to the Jews' perception at the time, and contrary to the Catholic dogma.
Under the topical heading of "No Correction" CE reads as follows:
Notice that Jesus made no attempt to soften what he said, no attempt to correct "misunderstandings," for there were none. Our Lord’s listeners understood him perfectly well. They no longer thought he was speaking metaphorically. If they had, if they mistook what he said, why no correction?
To the contrary, there was nothing but misunderstanding, and the Lord did not correct them because that would have torn the screen. He had already informed them of the literal Truth (vs. 40) and they would not hear. So now, with every word, the Lord repeatedly hardened what he said and the reason is obvious for everyone who understands the significance of this event.
Next, the CE paper takes us to John 6:66, where we read,
Jn.6:66 FNT From this many of his disciples departed back and no longer walked with him.
Then we have this commentary from CE:
This is the only record we have of any of Christ’s followers forsaking him for purely doctrinal reasons. If it had all been a misunderstanding, if they erred in taking a metaphor in a literal sense, why didn't he call them back and straighten things out?
We know why, because his screen was producing its intended effect. All who were not of a mind to accept that Jesus was superseding Moses were not qualified to be disciples, so they departed. The Lord was surely pained to see them go, but the preservation of the Word of Truth required that it be distinguished from devotion to Moses. These were the people who had attempted to make him king on the previous day! CE asks:
Why didn't he call them back and straighten things out?
"Oh, fellas, come back please! I didn't really mean it.! You don't have to eat my flesh and drink my blood to have life. I was just joking!"
The Lord was speaking figuratively up to this point. After sensing that many of his genuine disciples were also offended though they did not depart from him, he explained the metaphors briefly and succinctly. He said:
This is literal. No more figures. The many disciples who were highly offended did not care to hear more. He simply did not speak their language, and they had had enough. Then the Lord asked the Twelve,
Jn.6:63 FNT The spirit is the [one] making zoe-alive, the flesh profits nothing. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are zoe-life.
Don't you also want to be going away?
Lord, towards whom will we depart? You have words of eternal zoe-life.
Right answer, stalwart disciple! Remember -- the Twelve had heard everything, and they were doubtless also very shook up by it. They, too, had to this point a lifelong devotion to Moses. They passed the screening, however, because they were ready to accept the supersession of Jesus over Moses. Otherwise, they also would have departed.
CE next addresses some of the objections of Fundamentalists to the literal interpretation of "eat my flesh" and "drink my blood" and then puts up its own explanation of John 6:63. Here is the scripture:
Jn.6:61 FNT Now Jesus having known in himself that his disciples grumble concerning this, he said to them: Does this stumble you? 62 What if you beheld the son of man going up to where he was formerly? 63 The spirit is the [one] making zoe-alive, the flesh profits nothing. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are zoe-life.
CE explains vs. 63 as follows, under the heading, Their Main Argument:
For Fundamentalist writers, the scriptural argument is capped by an appeal to John 6:63: "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." They say this means that eating real flesh is a waste. But does this make sense?
Before continuing, we should note that this is the point at which the Lord provides an explanation of the figures he has just advanced to the Twelve and the larger group of "many disciples" and to the Jews in general who had gathered at Capernaum. But CE explains it thusly:
Are we to understand that Christ had just commanded his disciples to eat his flesh, then said their doing so would be pointless? Is that what "the flesh is of no avail" means? "Eat my flesh, but you'll find it’s a waste of time"—is that what he was saying? Hardly.
This is the sort of response that is necessary for those who insist, as does CE, that the utterances concerning eating his flesh and drinking his blood are literal, because, to come off of that even a little bit makes it figurative, which the Catholic dogma does not allow. There are to be no compromises here with the literal interpretation of the flesh and the blood. Then we read:
The fact is that Christ’s flesh avails much!
How about that! Let's put these two quotations together to see what has taken place here (Note that the underscored nothing is a double negative -- very strong!):
Jesus: the flesh profits nothing.
CE: The fact is that Christ’s flesh avails much!
Next, observe how CE wiggles (vainly) to save the Catholic dogma:
In John 6:63 "flesh profits nothing" refers to mankind's inclination to think using only what their natural human reason would tell them rather than what God would tell them.And in the next paragraph:
In John 6:63 "flesh" does not refer to Christ's own flesh—the context makes this clear—but to mankind’s inclination to think on a natural, human level.
The context makes this clear? Hardly!
Seeking to carve out some wiggle-room from the fact that Jesus does not specify "my flesh" in Vs. 63 but does specify the flesh as his in the preceding (screening) verses, CE maintains that the flesh of Vs. 63 refers:
. . . to mankind's inclination to think on a natural, human level.
In response to this, it should only be necessary to state that the absence of the identification of the flesh as "my flesh" in Vs. 63, or any other qualification, must indicate a general application that includes all flesh, the Lords and ours. The entire discourse has focussed only on one persons flesh, that of Jesus, and now the CE would have us believe that this, the Lord's explanation to his troubled disciples of the previous words, does not include his flesh. Then CE attempts to set up a counter explanation, involving:
mankind's inclination to think on a natural, human level.
But where does the context make room for this explanation? Let's substitute this explanation in Vs. 63 and see how it looks:
The spirit is the [one] making zoe-alive, but mankind's inclination to think on a natural, human level profits nothing. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are zoe-life.
Nonsense! Could the disciples who heard this explanation have derived this from "flesh?"
The context does not call for recourse to mankind's inclination, but for an explanation of what he means by eating his flesh and drinking his blood. The disciples are pretty shook by that figure, and they need an explanation. He intended the screen to eject only those who were unwilling to have him supersede Moses. Referring them to mankind's inclination does not help them. They still have the concept of the flesh to deal with and Vs. 63 does supply exactly what the context demands. The flesh -- all flesh, including the flesh of Jesus -- profits nothing; it's not really the flesh that makes alive,
Jn.6:63 FNT The spirit is the [one] making zoe-alive,
The full explanation is right there in Vs. 63, provided one understands that the references to his flesh and blood were figures and not literal. But, if one is stuck on literal for the flesh and blood, one must find some other explanation for Vs. 63, lame as it may be, because it is at Vs. 63 that the Lord switches from the figurative to the literal expression of the Truth. This is literal, intended to give his closest disciples relief from the macabre references to eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Those who have accepted his supersession of Moses are, at this point, still troubled about how it is they are able to eat his flesh and drink his blood. The last phrase of Vs. 63 tells the whole:
Jn.6:63 FNT The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are zoe-life.
Zoe-life comes only from the words, of which the flesh and blood of Jesus are carriers, and for which the death of his flesh (and the shedding of his blood) on the cross will be, for those who remain faithful to him, the ultimate explanation of the words. This is what he had told them at the outset of this encounter at Capernaum, as I indicated above. Here it is again:
Jn.6:40 FNT For this is the will of my father, that everyone beholding the son and believing in him have zoe-life eternal, and I will raise him up in the last day.
One believes in him by believing his words, and it is the words that are both spirit and zoe-life!
Now we come to the confirmation of our assertion that the whole encounter was a screening process for the purpose of eliminating false disciples from his following.
The text continues:
Jn.6:54 FNT But there are some among you who do not believe. For Jesus had known from the beginning who are those not believing and who is the [one] who will deliver him up. 65 And he was saying: Because of this I have said to you that no one is able to come towards me except it has been given to him from the father.
Jn.6:66 FNT From this many of his disciples departed back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve: Don't you also want to be going away? 68 Simon Peter answered him: Lord, towards whom will we depart? You have words of eternal zoe-life.
The screen has served its purpose. The some among you who do not believe have departed, but the Lord wants to confirm that the now troubled Twelve have not misunderstood as did the many who left him. So he asked the question, and Peter responded with the correct answer. It's the words of Jesus that are life, as he had asserted in Vs. 63. Peter has the message, and has accepted the supersession of Jesus over Moses. He knows that the bread of Moses (the manna/Torah) made no one live forever, but the words of Jesus, which is the bread from heaven, is zoe-life.
Therefore, Vs. 63 is the literal explanation of the figures that went before. Let's summarize this literal / figurative transition in a table:
LITERAL- FIGURATIVE SUMMATION
To use a cliché, I feel like I am beating a dead horse because the entire context is so simple and easily understood that no explanation whatever should be necessary. And yet, for almost twenty centuries this Catholic error has prevailed over millions upon millions of poor souls that trusted the priests and the Pope to lead them correctly. The merciful Father can forgive the laity who had only the priest to feed them during the centuries when the Church withheld access to the scriptures. But now there is no excuse because the Word is available to almost everyone and, as the Lord has declared, that Word will be our judge.
Jn.12:48 FNT The [one] setting me aside and not receiving my words has [one] judging him: the word that I spoke - that will judge him in the last day.
Truly, the Catholic Church speaks through the voices of strange shepherds! Forgive me if my feelings are ruling for the moment; I do feel a heavy burden for the "many disciples" who long ago left him and never came back, for those who are still leaving him and never coming back and for those who will continue to leave him and never come back as they enter into the Catholic Church.
I take solace from the fact that our Lord knows now, and knew then, how we who seek to remain true only to him in these times must feel, being in sorrow for those who depart. His consoling words are these:
Jn.6:36 FNT But I said to you that you have seen me and do not believe. 37 All that the father gives me will come to me, and the [one] coming to me I will not cast out.
This was his explanation for the ones that departed from him.
CE does not stop with the above referenced explanation, but goes on to provide more support for the Catholic view. So it moves us immediately to . . . . . Paul! (I Corinthians 10:16 and 11:27,29) This also suggests where the guilt ultimately lies for the promulgation of this great error.
Then, after quoting Paul, CE moves on to cite the Church Fathers, beginning with Ignatius of Antioch (AD 110) and continuing with Justin Martyr (AD 150), Origin (AD 244), Cyril of Jerusalem (mid 300's) and Theodore of Mopsuestia (Firth Century). Finally, CE concludes with this statement:
One suspects, had they been asked by the Creator their opinion of how to bring about mankind's salvation, Fundamentalists would have advised him to adopt a different approach. How much cleaner things would be if spirit never dirtied itself with matter! But God approves of matter—he approves of it because he created it—and he approves of it so much that he comes to us under the appearances of bread and wine, just as he does in the physical form of the Incarnate Christ.
Catholics (and Christians generally) err greatly in believing that John 6 has something to say about the Eucharist. By taking a position contrary to the Catholics on John 6 and the Eucharist, I am not supporting the Christian position. CE was written by a Catholic polemicist to counter the Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christian belief that the flesh of John 6 is only symbolic. It seeks to do this by promoting the Catholic dogma of Transubstantiation and the Eucharistic interpretation of John 6. In Truth, both err because, as I have shown in the prior Part A and Part B of this series, John 6 says nothing whatever about the Eucharist.
We began with this statement from an encyclical of John Paul II:
"The Church draws her life from the Eucharist."
Those whom the Lord has blessed with the revelation that there is no life in the flesh, not even the flesh of Jesus but only in his Word, perceive the tragic implications of this statement. May our Father have mercy on that day when the Word is the judge.