John 6, The Eucharist, and Protestant Objections

By Matt1618

Those Protestants who reject the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist will often allege that the John 6:35-68 meaning of eating the flesh and drinking blood actually is believing in Jesus Christ for salvation. As has been presented by these Protestants, that is the only way one could interpret Jesus saying one must Eat the Flesh and Drink the Blood. Some will show a parallel of John 6:35 with John 6:54 which at first glance, may seem to say that eating the flesh and believing are the same thing. Let us see whether this is a plausible explanation of Jesus, and eating flesh and drinking blood means believing:

First, Jesus in John 6:35 and 6:39 says:
35 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.
39 and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day.

Then he writes:
54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

Since John 6:35 talks of bread, hunger and thirsting, and since Jesus says that whoever believes (in v. 35) he will raise him up on the last day, Protestants (those who reject the real presence in the Eucharist) say the same language is used in reference to eating the flesh and drinking of blood Jesus will raise on the last day as well. Thus, the Catholics supposedly ignore this clear parallel. The fact that Jesus let people go away without him explaining that eating flesh means believing is supposedly OK, because he said some people's heart will be hardened, and for those there was no need to explain the truth to them (Mt. 13:13-15).

First Let us look at the texts when the Jews left over the flesh and blood statement.

John 6: 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh."
52 The 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 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.

Then after that statement Jesus does not retract this understanding but affirms it all the more even to the disciples:

56 He who eats 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 he who eats me will live because of me.
58 This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever."
59 This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Caper'naum.
60 Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?"
61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, "Do you take offense at this?
62 Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before?
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.
64 But there are some of you that do not believe." For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him.
65 And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." 66 After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.
67 Jesus said to the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?"

The problem with the aforementioned Protestant idea is that Jesus always explained to the disciples what he meant. In fact, right after explaining that some are hardened of heart in his sayings (Mt. 13:13-15) he says to his disciples: Matthew 13:16 But blessed [are] your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear." Jesus always explained to the disciples what he meant. Mark 4:34 "But without a parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples." Nowhere in John 6 did Jesus say, "don't take me literally, folks". Notice, Jesus ALWAYS explained things to the disciples. After speaking of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, and people understanding him literally, the disciples took him literally as well (v. 60). According to the bible Jesus always explained to the disciples the meaning of his teachings. The context of John 6:51-67 shows that not only the Jews, but the disciples took him literally, and they left because of this understanding. In fact Jesus knew how they understood, did not correct their understanding, and let them leave him. This shows the literalness of his teaching that one must eat his flesh and drink his blood. There is no parallel elsewhere where Jesus let his disciples leave him w/o explaining what he really meant.

To those who hold that well, eating the flesh and drinking the blood is meant believing, because of the parallel of John 6:35, 39, and 54, let us examine that claim as well. It must be admitted that there is a figurative understanding of eating flesh and drinking blood. The question is, does this figurative understanding mean believe? Let us look at the Jewish understanding of figuratively eating flesh and drinking blood. It is something positive, no doubt, according to this Protestant BBS theory. Let us see whether in the bible, eating flesh is figuratively used in a positive way, believing, as must be, for this Protestant interpretation to hold up.

The Bible does mention "to eat someone's flesh" and "to drink someone's blood" symbolically, but in those passages, it means something completely different than Protestants want it to: it means to slander someone, to assault a person; to revile them (Micah 3:3, Psalm 27:2; Isaiah 9:18-20, for example). So, even if Jesus did speak symbolically, he would be saying, "You have to revile me to get to Heaven,", not a very plausible explanation. The passages themselves show it:

Psalm 27:2 When the WICKED CAME AGAINST ME to EAT UP MY FLESH, my ENEMIES AND FOES, they stumbled and fell.

Micah 3:1-4 - 1 And I said: Hear, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel! Is it not for you to know justice? 2 YOU WHO HATE THE GOOD AND LOVE THE EVIL, who tear the skin from off my people, and their flesh from off their bones; 3 who EAT THE FLESH OF MY PEOPLE, and flay their skin from off them, and break their bones in pieces, and chop them up like meat in a kettle, like flesh in a caldron. 4 Then they will cry to the LORD, but he will not answer them; he will hide his face from them at that time, because THEY HAVE MADE THEIR DEEDS EVIL.

Isaiah 9:18-20 - 18 For WICKEDNESS BURNS LIKE A FIRE, it consumes briers and thorns; it kindles the thickets of the forest, and they roll upward in a column of smoke. 19 Through the wrath of the LORD of hosts the land is burned, and the people are like fuel for the fire; no man spares his brother. 20 They snatch on the right, but are STILL HUNGRY, AND THEY DEVOUR ON THE LEFT, but are not satisfied; each devours his neighbor's flesh,

If the Protestant understanding that Jesus is being figurative is to be believed, we would have to say that in order to inherit eternal life, one must revile Jesus, and do evil deeds, and be wicked toward him. This makes no sense.

What about the fact that later Jesus says my words are spirit and life? Does that not mean symbolic? In fact there is not one time in the bible where spirit means symbolic. God is Spirit, he obviously is real and not symbolic. Surrounding vv. 6:61-65, Jesus says that the Son of Man will ascend into heaven. This is right before the words "My words are Spirit and Life". Do those Protestants who reject the Real Presence hold that Jesus symbolically or figuratively rose to heaven after his death? Or do they believe, with Catholics, that he literally bodily rose from the dead, not only by his power, (Jn 2:18), but by the power of the Spirit was made alive (1 Peter 3:18). How many bible believing Protestants believe that Jesus did not literally ascend into heaven? So they seem to take that part of the saying literally and the next verse make a symbol, just to avoid the overtones of Jesus' actual words. Honest exegesis requires consistency.

Notice back in vv. 51-52, it talks of him giving his flesh for the life of the world. This bread that he give is flesh. If one understands his flesh to be symbolic, he does away with that idea by saying that the same flesh will be given up on the cross. How many Protestants do not believe that Jesus literally gave his flesh on the cross? This flesh will be given to eat. If the flesh we eat for eternal life is meant in only a "figurative way" or "spiritually speaking", then so is the flesh of the crucifixion! Jesus equates the two. Either they are both literal, or they are both figurative.

Also, in regards to eating flesh and drinking blood the word used in v. 54 to eat (and three other places) is trogo. It is not the normal word used for eating. It literally means to gnaw or chew, thus emphasizing the literalness of the chewing. To those Protestants who mock the implications of us chewing Jesus I will throw out a challenge to those mocking Protestants. Show me one time where the word (to eat or chew, trogo) in the Greek is used symbolically anywhere in the New Testament, the Old Testament, the Septuagint, or even in ancient secular literature. If every time it is used in the bible and ancient literature it is used in a literal sense, we must use it that way in exegeting John 6. If it has never been used in the way that Protestants impose on John 6, then the figurative sense of eating flesh can not be possible.

One last objection is that the disciples, including Judas, and Jews left because they did not believe in Jesus, not because they did not believe that Jesus would literally give us his food to eat (although that is the very clearly what the Jews and disciples said before they left (vv. 52, 62), but because Jesus said that we had to believe in him in order to inherit eternal life. To dispel that myth, all we need to do is look at the prior chapter of John, prior to John 6. John 6 shows Jesus having power over life and death, and belief in him necessary for eternal life. However, Jesus had said this prior to John 6. Let us look at one part of John 5 which shows that Jesus already taught similar stuff:

5:23 That all [men] should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.
5:24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
5:25 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.
5:26 For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself;
5:27 And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.
5:28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
5:29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

We see Jesus already proclaiming himself equal to the Father. He proclaims that Jesus had authority to execute judgment over all men. He proclaimed that those who believed in Jesus passed from death to life, and will attain eternal salvation provided that they have done good (vv. 24, 28-29). Here we see absolutely no disciples leaving him in John 5. Thus, when Jesus gives us his discourse in John 6, if the theory was that he was only telling the disciples to believe him will not wash. The disciples had already heard him say this in John 5. Back then, they did not say, oh, this is a hard saying. In John 6, They took him literally, as did the Jews, and Jesus put them to the test even more. Here is when they said oh, it is a hard saying (6:61). If he saw that they misunderstood him he definitely would have explained it to them privately as Mark 4:34 proclaims.

When these factors are weighed, the literalness of Jesus words must be believed by those who follow Jesus. Is it easy to understand? No. However, all believers must proclaim with Peter, to "whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life" (John 6:67). This life-giving flesh and blood is made present in the way Jesus taught, through Jesus "words of life" in the Eucharist. Shall we look through eyes of men, who reject this hard saying, or do we look through the eyes of Jesus and those apostles such as Peter who stayed with him. I choose the latter.

1998 John 6, The Eucharist, and Protestant Matt1618. This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author.

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Last modified: March 24, 1998.