Is John 6 proof of the real body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist?

Here I’m basically just using this blog to promote a video I just posted. Readers who have followed my earlier posts on religious topics might find this interesting.

I am now a Christian. I am at work on a longish post “sharing my testimony.”

I am also at work on a book titled God Exists: A Philosophical Case for the Christian God, and am working on finding a publisher. In fact, before editing cuts it down anyway, the book will weigh in at over 500 pages. (I am currently editing page 445.) I have been working on it a little every day for about four years now, and I am now on the third draft.

I have also been reading the Bible a lot. I am currently on my fifth pass through the Bible in four years (and perhaps the 7th or 8th pass through the NT). What follows is a reaction to John 6, after reading it again.

For what follows, I took the transcript as provided by YouTube and fed it to ChatGPT-4, giving it a prompt I’ll put in a footnote. I lightly edited the end result.1

I’m going to take up what I think is an interesting question. Basically, John 6 is taken by Orthodox and Catholic believers as proof that the real body and blood of Christ is in the Eucharist. Is this correct?

Some people might be wondering: am I a Christian? I’ll talk about that later. But for now, I’m just going to address myself to this question. I didn’t want to write a blog post, mostly because I wanted to get this over quickly, just get these thoughts down in order to communicate with some people that I’ve been talking to, especially Orthodox people.

I’m making this on a Sunday morning, and that seems appropriate, although it would be more appropriate perhaps to go to church. But actually, one of the reasons why I’m not in church, I suppose, is that I don’t want to offend anyone by my unorthodox beliefs, so to speak. So anyway, let’s get right to it.


Let me summarize, because the argument here is kind of complex; but that’s because the source material, John 6, is complex. So the chapter is a unified discussion, first and foremost, of the divinity of Jesus and of his power to grant eternal life, particularly to those who believe in him and in his words. But there’s a lot more to it than that; there’s a lot more going on in the chapter.

The chapter begins with Jesus feeding the 5000, which is a spectacular miracle in which Jesus literally gives bread, literal bread, to the teeming masses. Then he walks on water: that happens right afterwards. He demonstrates his mastery over the elements and thus his godhood, which is important, important to the point of the video, really. Next in the chapter, the people chase after him, demanding more bread and seeking to make him the Messianic king, which will throw off the Roman power.

I would actually recommend that, if you haven’t read it recently, just stop and read John 6 now. It won’t take that long, like five minutes. So just read it, otherwise, this probably isn’t going to make that much sense.

It is not at all Jesus’ purpose, of course, to throw off the Roman power, and the rest of the chapter involves repudiating the worldly concerns of the people who are following him—and then driving them away, in fact. He wants to drive away people that are described in the text as “the Jews,” and also certain disciples. Disciples are different from Apostles. The Apostles are also called the Twelve, at least in John, and the disciples are a much bigger collection of people who are following Jesus. The English word “disciple” comes from (Latin) discipulus; it means a learner, basically. So, to drive them away—at least this is my theory—Jesus calls his power to grant eternal life his flesh and blood, and he compares the accepting of him and his words to consuming his flesh and blood.

Now, this is seriously paradoxical. It certainly sounds strange and even offensive. But he says it. I’ll explain why, as if it isn’t obvious. It certainly is offensive from a Jewish point of view, that’s for sure. But he says it to repudiate the idea that his power is primarily about bringing earthly plenty and a worldly kingdom to the earth. But how, you might ask, how does he repudiate that? Comparing his power to his flesh and blood and accepting eternal life from him as consuming his body and blood—that just sounds strange. And how does that really involve repudiating the idea that his power is primarily about bringing earthly plenty and a worldly kingdom to the earth? We’ll talk about that.

Then, in the end, he rejects the notion that flesh is what gives eternal life. He actually says, “The flesh profiteth nothing,” saying instead, “It is the spirit that quickeneth.” So, it sounds like a contradiction, almost. Is he contradicting himself? I don’t think so. We’ll see.

Finally, I want to address head-on the question on which Orthodox and Catholics differ from many Protestants: the question, do we actually consume the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist or communion?

I. The problem: verses 1-26

Verses 1-26 basically state the problem.

The chapter begins with the spectacular miracle of the feeding of the 5000 with the bread and the fish. I’m not going to tell the story, but I want you to notice that when he feeds the masses in this way, he is doing something very much like what God did when sending manna to feed the Israelites who were wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. You recall that story. Of course, this is not an original thought or anything. It’s actually a very standard interpretation, and it’s important in this chapter.

Now, later, his followers pursue him, saying, “This is of a truth that Prophet that should come into the world” (John 6:14). So they identify him as a prophet but not as the Son of God. Thus, they seek both more bread—literal bread—and to make the Messiah their king. Jesus escapes from them, rejecting their demand to make him their king.

So, next, there is the story of Jesus walking on the water. And immediately after getting into the boat, the ship “was at land whither they went” (John 6:21). So with this, Jesus (and John, the gospel writer) demonstrate that Jesus is not merely a prophet but the divine Son of God. Again, this is a standard sort of interpretation of this particular miracle. He rebuked the wind and the waves in a different gospel. These are things that no previous prophet had ever done before. So he wasn’t just a prophet.

On the shore, the people meet him, asking, “How did you get here so fast?” But now he has a new task which lasts until the end of the chapter. He says the people want more of the bread that he gave to fill their bellies, essentially. But this is likely a symbol for the mundane kingdom that they hope he will usher in, which they should not expect, or at least not yet. He keeps coming back to this comparison between the sort of earthly bread which he gave and which the Lord gave to the wandering Israelites in the form of manna, and the bread of life which he is.

II. The lead-up to the hard saying: verses 27-45

Verses 27-45 are, I think, a kind of unit. Jesus promises the bread that gives everlasting life. This is the first time that he says that in this chapter. But this sets up an interesting situation because the people naturally don’t understand what he means. They think he means something mundane or fleshly. But that would mean actually giving his flesh and blood, at least that’s what it will sound like soon when he elaborates his claim. And that, as we will see, will sound absurd. So this is the beginning of the—shall we say—conflict between himself and his true followers on the one hand, and let’s call them the rebels on the other hand.

In this connection, we can look at John 4 and the story of the Samaritan woman to whom he offered “living water.” But this is a symbol of Christ himself who gives eternal life for all who follow him. So then the question really is—this is the question I want you to entertain as you read this through—might Jesus mean something similar in chapter 6?

He says that to earn (“labor for”) the “meat” of “everlasting life”—again this is the KJV verbiage—one need only “believe on him whom he [God] hath sent.” (John 6:27) So that’s what they need to do to “earn” the meat of everlasting life. Now the people say that, to believe, they need a sign. They need a sign! Note that these same people are those who followed him from his spectacular sign of the feeding of the 5,000. So I guess they want more signs, then. They add, building on the bread theme, that their “fathers,” their forefathers, received manna from heaven. This was the sign they received, right? So, that was enough for them, apparently. So, they now say, please give us a similar sort of sign—you know, more bread!

Jesus in response says allusively—he doesn’t say it explicitly yet—that he himself is the true bread given by the Father which gives life unto the world. So in context, then, it appears the miracle is a real-world illustration of Jesus as the symbolic bread of life. So when he talks about himself as the bread of life, he’s saying, in effect, “So, you were impressed about the feeding of the 5,000? That’s great. But I am the true bread, the bread of life—of eternal life.”

Now there’s actually a tension that is being set up here, and it’s very clear if you read through the text carefully. This tension, qua symbol, may be understood this way: the people believe this means that Jesus is the giver of bread—literal bread—and has the power to do much more, like set up the restored kingdom of Israel, which they want him to do. So Jesus is about to correct them in a startling fashion, one that will put them off—deliberately.

Next, he reiterates that as he is the bread of life, anyone who comes to and believes in him will never hunger nor thirst spiritually. They will live forever; that is to be understood literally, that is, in the hereafter. So now we’re up to verse 35.

What follows is Jesus’ first stern rebuff. The people see him, they don’t believe in him, that is, they fail to understand who he is—the Son of God who came down from heaven—or what the nature of the life that he offers is. That’s in verse 36. So in particular, he goes on at some length explaining how he will resurrect them to eternal life, he himself will do so, in verses 37 to 40.

To all this, “the Jews”—that’s the phrase that’s used, “the Jews”—murmur, or object. Now, of course, Jesus and the disciples, indeed most of the people there, were Jews. So what he’s talking about are people who are devout Jews, observant, especially the Pharisees and Sadducees. The latter are described as “the Jews” elsewhere; these people represent the Jewish establishment, essentially.

They murmur or object that they know this is a local man, saying, in effect, “We know his father (or knew his father). He’s not the Son of God.” Jesus explains their unbelief by saying that only those drawn by the Father can come to the Son. The implication is that the Jews are not in fact drawn by the Father. So this is a rebuff, this is a repudiation of them. He’s saying, “Well, the Father has essentially not drawn you and has even perhaps blinded you.” They’re not drawn by the Father, which fits well with many other things that he says elsewhere against these sorts of people who demand a sign and who are described as “the Jews” or as Pharisees and Sadducees.

III. The hard saying: verses 47-59

We come to the meat, I would say, of the chapter, or at least the part that I’m interested in here: the hard saying section, verses 47-59. What happens next is the part of the exchange that, taken out of the introductory context that I’ve given so far, is so easily misunderstood. It’s very easy to misunderstand this. Yet notice, Jesus is quite aware that he might be misunderstood. He’s (a) aware of that, and (b) he intends it for his own reasons. Now, it’s not explicitly obvious that he intends it, but he says he speaks in parables in order not to save certain people. He actually says that in other places in the Gospels. And I think the same thing is going on here.

Next, he says quite explicitly, but being intentionally cryptic, I think, “I am the bread of life.” And then a little later, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven” (John 6:48, 51). Then he draws a contrast, the contrast that I mentioned earlier. He reiterates that this bread, the bread that he is, gives everlasting life, while those who eat the worldly bread, such as the manna or the bread that he gave to the 5,000, will die. So the latter sort of bread doesn’t have the same effect.

Jesus then, as it were, turns up the weirdness a notch. I don’t think Christians of any denomination can deny that this is weird. It was intended to be weird, I think. He was trying to put them [the unbelieving Jews] off. “The bread that I give you is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51). Now, this is a point on which there is or can be controversy. Does he mean only that he will give his body as sacrifice on the cross? All Christians believe that much, everyone knows that, and anyone who thinks about it can see the connection. So, sure: he gives his flesh and he dies on the cross for the life of the world. But the question is: Does he also mean that his flesh is more or less literally consumed in the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist?

The Jews—”the Jews” again—balk at the idea that Jesus would give his flesh to the people to eat. I think they’re wondering, “Is this cannibalism?” We’re up to verse 52 here. They don’t say the word “cannibalism,” but obviously that’s what they’re wondering about. It’s essential that we grasp that their reaction is actually perfectly understandable. The law is given to Noah—it’s one of the first laws, stated in Genesis 9, or arguably among the first—before the Mosaic code reiterates this. This Noachian law forbade the drinking of blood. Then, in the Mosaic code, so much as touching a dead body would make a person unclean. Also, the drinking of blood was reiterated by the Jerusalem Council in Acts. I’ll quote that a little later. Consuming human flesh would have been most deeply sinful.

Against these unbelievers, Jesus unleashes his most extreme statement. “You must eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood.” He says this four times in a row—I’m not going to quote it all, you can read it yourself in verses 53 to 56—as it were to be very sure he had sufficiently offended “the Jews” who did not believe. You have to realize it was a serious sin to drink blood. He’s saying you have to drink my blood in order to live forever. He reiterates that those who do eat will live forever, and that those who have merely eaten miraculous manna, like the bread given to the 5,000, are all dead. Those people are all dead! So again, he is repudiating those who followed him, looking to fill their bellies with the bread he gave before, but not much more, beyond an earthly kingdom.

At this point, the Jews are no longer mentioned; so the discussion with them is over. They’re done, with the implication being that they have been driven away by Jesus’ hard sayings and, more specifically, by their unbelief.

IV. The responses to the disciples and the Twelve: verses 60 to end

We’re up to the responses to the disciples and the Twelve, basically from verse 60 until the end of chapter 6. Now, attention is focused on the disciples who say among themselves, “This is a hard saying, who can hear it?” In other words, who can accept it? At this point, Jesus is speaking not to the Jews, but to those who are more inclined to believe in him, and so his tone has changed. He says, essentially—he says basically this in verse 62—”Suppose you were to see the Son of Man”—and that is himself—”ascend up where he was before.” The implication is that they would see with their own eyes that he was indeed God incarnate who came down from heaven.

What follows is a very, very telling verse, perhaps the most important in the chapter because it places the whole question of this video into its proper context. “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing. The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63) Now, what does this mean in context? If you have been following, you should be able to answer.

I think Jesus intends to be saying something that answers those who are offended by his previous statements. In his previous statements, there were, in fact, two levels of offense: first, at the suggestion of cannibalism. Second, at the suggestion that he is divine, the Son of God, God incarnate. Against this, he says, in effect, “It is the spirit that quickeneth”, that is, that gives life, and “the flesh profiteth nothing”, that is, will not give eternal life. That’s supposed to be a response to the Jews, to help the disciples to understand.

So what should we conclude? This, I think: his flesh, which he says is meat indeed, gives life, but it is also the spirit that gives life; he says that too. Thus, the flesh that he means is spiritual. What else could he mean? Explain—in the comments if you can. Note, he does not say this to the Jews, who mocked the very idea that he was the Son of God. He spoke his hard words to harden them against him, and in this, I think he succeeded. They were certainly driven away. But to his disciples, he says, “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing.” What does it mean?

In the end, Jesus repudiates the idea of eating mere flesh and blood. Of course! What, did anyone, anywhere else, say that it was okay to, you know, engage in cannibalism? Was that OK? Did God show Peter a human being in the blanket among the other animals that came down from heaven? No! No, cannibalism was still wrong. It would be deeply, deeply wrong, according to the law that Jesus came to fulfill. He knew it would be cannibalism, everyone he was speaking to knew it would be considered cannibalism, but those who believed in him knew also that he wouldn’t simply leave it at that. I mean, that’s absurd. “You can’t have a cannibalistic ritual,” is what his Apostles would think, and yet that seemed to be what he was saying. So the Apostles waited around, while the Jews—the other ones anyway—left. That’s why, to his disciples and not the Jews, he says, “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing.” But even this was not enough to prevent some disciples from being offended and leaving, as stated in verse 66.

Interestingly, the Twelve, however, as represented by Peter, refused to leave, saying, “Thou hast the words of eternal life.” Peter doesn’t talk about the body and blood stuff; he just says, “Thou hast the words of eternal life.” This, we may infer, is close to the real meaning and intent of Jesus in his disputation with the Jews and the rebellious disciples. The Apostles knew that Jesus was the Son of God, the Word who came down from the Father, and they also knew that the thing that gave eternal life was believing in him and his words. It is the spirit that gives life, not mere flesh, which profiteth nothing. OK? It is the spirit that gives life, not mere flesh, which “profiteth nothing”!

I want to say one more thing on the interpretation of this chapter. It is that the resistance of the Jews and some of his disciples to the idea that we should eat his body and drink his blood is a symbol of their unwillingness to consider him the Son of God. In other words, they were not merely or even mainly balking at the idea of divine cannibalism; rather, they refused to believe that this man really was the Son of God, which is really the underlying issue of who could grant eternal life. This is exemplified by the refusal to eat of the bread of life. So there are layers of symbolism here; that cannot be denied.

The implication for the interpretation of the Eucharist

Regarding what is called the Eucharist, or Communion or the Lord’s Supper, there are many theories about what’s going on. I’m not going to propose a comprehensive theory; that is not my purpose here. I only want to address the question: What does John 6 have to say on the question of whether we are eating the real body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist? What I would say is that Jesus said, “To have eternal life, one must eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood.” That is what he said. But he also said—something important!—”It is the spirit that quickeneth, and the flesh profiteth nothing.” He said that; we can’t deny it. What follows? It follows that the flesh and blood we are to consume is spiritual. Now, what that means—that’s another question. I’m not going to discuss what it means because that would involve giving a theory of the Eucharist. I’m just saying this is a constraint on the theory.

Now, this does not mean that we only need to believe. He left explicit instructions in the three synoptic gospels as well as 1 Corinthians that we are to take the Eucharist. Paul puts it this way:

And when he had given thanks, he brake it [the bread], and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. (1 Corinthians 11:24-25)

Now, I’m not going to get much into the arguments on both sides about the question in general. What I want to say is that John 6 says, “You must eat his flesh and drink his blood,” in response to the Jews who refused to say he was the Son of God. That’s the context. And to encourage the disciples, he adds, “It is the spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing. The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.” It seems to me that if Orthodox believers, Catholics, and Lutherans want to insist that this is the real body and blood of Christ, that’s fine, and I can agree with them entirely as long as they mean what Jesus meant, in the sense in which he meant it. They must also acknowledge, as I expect they do, that the flesh profiteth nothing and that it is the spirit that quickeneth!

I want to conclude by reminding you of a few things. You remember there was a dispute among the Jews and the Judaizers and the Gentiles among the followers of Jesus, which was decided by the Jerusalem Council. So, when they decided what doctrines of the Jews must be respected even by Gentile converts to the way of Jesus, the Jerusalem Council decided, “Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.” (Acts 15:19-20) The same is repeated a few verses later. The point here is that you should not go around thinking that it’s actually somehow OK to drink blood. It’s not. That ought to be a serious constraint on your theories of what “the real body and blood of Christ” means. If he is fully human, then his blood is fully human blood, isn’t it? We’re not to consume that, according to the Jerusalem Council. And Jesus’ said that which saves is spirit, and he said that in the context in which he said that his flesh is flesh indeed, his blood is blood indeed, and it saves. So, draw your own conclusion. The point here is that you should not go around thinking it’s actually OK to drink blood. At least we can say that.

The other thing I want to remind you about are some other places in the Gospel of John where he discusses himself as the source of living water. To the Samaritan woman he says, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” And then he explains, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again,” referring to the water from the well, “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:13-14)

Later in the same chapter, he tells the returning apostles, “I have meat that you know not of,” explaining, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:32, 34)

Here’s one last passage that I want to read from the Gospel of John:

In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.) (John 7:37-39)

When he speaks of rivers of living water that flow out of our bellies, he means the Spirit. And remember what he said was also Spirit. I leave you to reflect about these passages, which, it’s safe to say, are certainly symbolic: this living water that he speaks of and the meat that he has to eat [are symbolic]. “It is the spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing.”

And I’m going to leave you with that.

  1. BEGIN PROMPT: I’m going to give you pieces of a YouTube video transcript. I want you to make a light copyedit, as follows:
    Add paragraph breaks.
    Also, (1) Add punctuation where you think it belongs.
    (2) Remove “um”s.
    (3) Remove oral filler words such as “So” and “And” at the beginnings of sentences (or in other words, those words which would not be written down, but which might be used in colloquial spoken English).
    (4) Occasionally, a sentence is missing little words in order to make a grammatically correct sentence such as “and” and “then.” Supply these only as necessary.
    (5) Do not delete whole sentences or clauses. That sort of editing is more than I’m asking.
    All further editing I will do myself.
    Replicate this prompt at the end of your work. I will be dropping you chunks of text (only), expecting you to remember and follow this precise prompt with respect to that text. END PROMPT[]





Please do dive in (politely). I want your reactions!

4 responses to “Is John 6 proof of the real body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist?”

  1. Rolf Lampa

    A fantastic exposition of the passages mentioned.

    Hopefully this will still some weariness in souls troubled by this passage (or, its more “flexible” interpretations).

  2. Edward Rogers

    Hi Larry,
    This reminds me of how I always felt like one of the most beautiful hymns was “I am the Bread of Life” by Sister Suzanne Toolan. When set to music, Jesus’ words in John 6 certainly sound like they are speaking more of sustenance for the spirit rather than the body.
    It’s also symbolic (or maybe directly relevant) that we call food/bread “sustenance,” that which sustains us. Thanks for your posts on your thoughts while reading the bible—they make me want to join a Bible study and hear more of what people have to say.

    1. Yes, it is clear to me that the bread Jesus is speaking of is indeed spiritual bread. Thanks! I have a Bible study here (on Telegram). We are halfway through a two-year program, halfway through the OT and just (three days ago) restarted the NT.

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