John 6: Spirit and Life

This may be the most important blog post I ever write. If you are a Christian, I wrote it for you. And it’s my sincere hope that my Evangelical friends and family might understand that my spiritual journey has been one of careful biblical study. My purpose here is to efficiently refute a common argument, thereby helping lead people toward a better understanding of John 6 and ultimately a more biblically-accurate Christian faith.

Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, is an important part of Christian beliefs. It is based on the Last Supper that Jesus shared with His disciples before His crucifixion. The average Christian is probably familiar with this verse:

“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” -Luke 22:19

As followers of Christ, the command to “do this” is sufficient to convince us that it must be done, and so Christians everywhere agree that Communion in some form or another is important. But what is the reason why Jesus gave such a clear command?

Is there some deeper essential significance to this that we may not see?

This is where John chapter 6 comes in, where Jesus delivers His Bread of Life Discourse:

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” -John 6:51

“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; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.’” –John 6:53,54

“‘For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.’” –John 6:55

“After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer walked with him. Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Will you also go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…’” –John 6:66-68a

As Christians, what do we do with those verses? Well, for Christians who have a more liturgical approach to worship, and believe that bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ during Communion, these verses can easily be taken literally.

However, there are many Christians today who prefer a sort of symbolic Communion. They are content with eating crackers and drinking grape juice simply “in remembrance”. They do not believe that they must eat Christ’s flesh and drink His blood, regardless of His words. When asked about John 6:53-55 (“he who eats my flesh… has eternal life…for my flesh is food indeed”), these self-labeled “Bible-believers” often just say “well, I don’t believe He meant that.”

Those who have studied the chapter inevitably base a defense of symbolic Communion on verse 63, where Jesus said,

“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.” –John 6:63

Basically, they say “See? You have to read the whole chapter in context! In verse 63 Jesus clears it up by explaining how His earlier words were symbolic, or figurative, like a sort of parable. His main purpose is to speak spiritually of Himself as the source of salvation, but not that He literally wants us to eat His flesh. To make it extra clear He even says that ‘the flesh is of no avail.’”

Here are six reasons why that common argument doesn’t actually work. Take your time.

  • In the Bible do we ever see a parable begin with “truly truly” (or “amen amen” or “verily verily” depending on your translation)? Jesus says those words when He wants to be extremely clear. Verses 53-55 are obviously intended to cut through any attempt to dodge His literal meaning.
  • When John wrote his Gospel, he had an opportunity to say “Jesus was speaking symbolically” here, but he did not say that.
  • Note that in verse 66, which follows the “clarification” in verse 63, people still leave Jesus over this, and He makes no attempt to stop them to clear up a misunderstanding.
  • Are we as Christians supposed to understand everything spiritual in a figurative way? Is the word “Spirit” in Scripture to be taken as “symbolic”? I hope not.
  • Note the obvious difference between “my flesh” (v. 55) and “the flesh” (v. 63). “The flesh” can be seen as carnal thinking or sinful nature in the following verses:
    Mark 14:38
    Romans 8:3-8
  • Would Jesus declare His own flesh to be “of no avail”? No way! Not if His death on the cross was going to be a sufficient sacrifice.

So, “the flesh” in verse 63 is not the same as Jesus’ flesh, which he says is indeed the food that gives us life. So what is the meaning behind verse 63? Well, it makes sense that the people listening would not understand without the Spirit opening their eyes to the life-giving truth. Peter admitted that he didn’t understand yet… but Peter and those who trusted Jesus stayed anyway. Many others chose not to believe, and went their own way.

Since verse 63 does not offer a symbolic escape hatch, we must take verses 53-55 literally.

“…he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…”

The significance of this is monumental for anyone who wants to be part of a church that has sound doctrine. If your church has a merely symbolic Communion, do not let this subject rest on excuses or popular preference. Ensure that you are a part of the truly biblical, authentic Christian faith.

“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” -1 Cor. 10:16,17

-Ben 5/15/15

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26 Comments on “John 6: Spirit and Life”

  1. violetwisp says:

    Just so I’m clear, you think you are drinking the blood of a man God who roamed the earth 2000 years ago when you get a tiny cup of wine in your local religious establishment? And eating the actual flesh of this ancient man god when you nibble on a piece of bread? Sounds odd.

    • Ben says:

      Hi Violet,

      Thanks for stopping by. I’m interested in having conversations with atheists, but as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I wrote this one particularly for my fellow Christians. As you can tell by what I wrote, it’s a subject that is difficult to understand and not easily accepted even by many believers these days. I can also draw from tradition and historical writings to better explain where I’m coming from, but with this post I’m trying to stick to arguments from Scripture alone for the sake of people who only accept arguments from Scripture alone. If you are an atheist (which I understand you to be), you probably do not accept any supernatural explanations whatsoever, which would cause me to need to back all the way up to the subject of philosophy to discuss the very existence of God. I’m willing to do that sometime with you, but I’d rather not go off on a huge tangent away from this particular and more focused subject at hand.

      Without wading into theological clarifications of your questions, my answer is basically that miracles are involved.

      Have a nice day!

      -Ben

      • violetwisp says:

        Thanks Ben. I just wanted to check I’d understood correctly. It’s been a hot Christian topic for centuries but you don’t often hear people arguing for it in this day and age. Would you be happy to take part in some kind of scientific research to verify the transformation?

        • Ben says:

          Hi Violet,

          The transformation is not something that can be verified scientifically any more than Jesus’ divinity could be studied scientifically. Catholics understand the “accidents” of bread and wine to be what the senses perceive, even after the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. These accidents would be what a scientific study would perceive.

          However, having said that, you may find this article interesting:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle_of_Lanciano

          Note: “The elements can still be seen today.”

          -Ben

  2. ellen says:

    Well done. Amen!

  3. Ben,

    The Reformed view of John 6 is quite simple. John 6 is not about the Eucharist. The Eucharist is about John 6.

    How does one eat and drink Christ? Through faith. By believing in him– Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

    We believe with Augustine:

    “The Principle is neither the flesh nor the human soul in Christ but the Word by which all things were made. The flesh, therefore, does not by its own virtue purify, but by virtue of the Word by which it was assumed, when “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” For speaking mystically of eating His flesh, when those who did not understand Him were offended and went away, saying, “This is an hard saying, who can hear it?” He answered to the rest who remained, “It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing.” The Principle, therefore, having assumed a human soul and flesh, cleanses the soul and flesh of believers.” (City of God 10.24)

    Indeed. A deeper look at Augustine’s exegesis is worth the effort: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1701026.htm

    A few quick quotes:

    “12. This is the bread which comes down from heaven. Manna signified this bread; God’s altar signified this bread. Those were sacraments. In the signs they were diverse; in the thing which was signified they were alike.”

    – Both manna and the Eucharist are symbols of the same thing–the life giving Christ.

    “And how did they drink? The rock was smitten twice with a rod; the double smiting signified the two wooden beams of the cross. This, then, is the bread that comes down from heaven, that if any man eat thereof, he shall not die. But this is what belongs to the virtue of the sacrament, not to the visible sacrament; he that eats within, not without; who eats in his heart, not who presses with his teeth.”

    – The real eating and drinking occurs in the heart. That is how the real thing is apprehended.

    ” And thus He would have this meat and drink to be understood as meaning the fellowship of His own body and members, which is the holy Church in his predestinated, and called, and justified, and glorified saints and believers. Of these, the first is already effected, namely, predestination; the second and third, that is, the vocation and justification, have taken place, are taking place, and will take place; but the fourth, namely, the glorifying, is at present in hope; but a thing future in realization. The sacrament of this thing, namely, of the unity of the body and blood of Christ, is prepared on the Lord’s table in some places daily, in some places at certain intervals of days, and from the Lord’s table it is taken, by some to life, by some to destruction: but the thing itself, of which it is the sacrament, is for every man to life, for no man to destruction, whosoever shall have been a partaker thereof.”

    – What does it mean to eat or drink Christ? To be in fellowship with Him. Augustine also makes a distinction between the sign and the thing signified.

    “18. In a word, He now explains how that which He speaks of comes to pass, and what it is to eat His body and to drink His blood. He that eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, dwells in me, and I in him. This it is, therefore, for a man to eat that meat and to drink that drink, to dwell inChrist, and to have Christ dwelling in him. Consequently, he that dwells not in Christ, and in whom Christ dwells not, doubtless neither eats His flesh [spiritually] nor drinks His blood [although he may press the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ carnally and visibly with his teeth], but rather does he eat and drink the sacrament of so great a thing to his own judgment, because he, being unclean, has presumed to come to the sacraments of Christ, which no man takes worthily except he that is pure: of such it is said, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Matthew 5:8.”

    – The same point is repeated. The eating is spiritual.

    John 6, then, is not prefiguring the Eucharist– it is prefiguring the Crucifixion for the life of the World. The Crucifixion is the real thing. The Eucharist is a symbol of the Crucifixion, but it is not merely a symbol. It is a rite that brings is into communion with the glorified and resurrected Christ.

    Pax

    J

    • Ben says:

      Jonathan,

      You and I have had discussions before, so I’ll dive right in…

      I went ahead and read St. Augustine’s Tractate 26 as you suggested, so that I could see the context of his words. I see no conflict between what he said and what I’m saying in my post.

      Please do not assume that when I emphasize the literal I wish to deny the spiritual. There is no conflict! In order to understand the need to eat, we must believe, and in believing we can receive the spiritual blessing that comes through this physical contact with Christ. To reduce the Sacrament to a mere symbol does not enhance the spiritual aspect but rather lessens it. St. Augustine’s overall emphasis seems to be that WHEN you eat Christ’s flesh and drink His blood, you must have the proper spiritual approach if you wish to receive the spiritual result. This seems to be right in line with what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:27-31:

      “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged.”

      Should we take Jesus’ words in John 6:53-55 literally? I (still) argue yes. Should we also understand them spiritually while being mindful of the cross? Yes, of course. Should we approach the altar in the right spiritual condition and put our belief and trust in Christ as we receive Him physically for our spiritual betterment? Absolutely.

      This is not a place to hash out the proper interpretation of St. Augustine’s writings. The interpretation of John 6 is the primary focus here. You’ve told me before that you’re an Anglican. My assumption was that Anglicans would agree with my post.

      Peace to you as well.

      -Ben

      • Ben,

        Thanks for your reply. I do not assume that you neglect the spiritual and I do not believe that you neglect the spiritual.

        We disagree on John 6 and I don’t expect to be able to convince you, that’s why I brought Augustine into the room. Your exegesis and Augustine’s are very different. He says that eating and drinking Christ is accomplished by Christ’s indwelling in the heart through faith. You are saying that it happens my a carnal mastication of Christ.

        You are additionally saying that these two go together. That view is yours and it does not seem to be Augustine’s.

        Furthermore, and we’ve covered this ground before, but I am still unclear as to what your position is on the matter (mea culpa!), do you believe that your teeth touch Jesus and that Jesus goes through your digestive system?

        If you do, I’m not sure your understanding is compatible with the teaching of your church:

        “Is there any real difference between Jesus in heaven and Jesus in the Eucharist? No, it is the same Jesus. The only difference is in us. We now on earth cannot see or touch him with our senses. But that is not a limitation in him; it is a limitation in us.”

        https://www.ewtn.com/faith/teachings/eucha5.htm

        Finally– you can get the basic sketch of the Anglican view in the 39 Articles of Religion, and a fuller view in Daniel Waterland’s “A Review of the Eucharist.”

        I do thank you for your patience with me.

        Pax,

        J

        • Ben says:

          Jonathan,

          We disagree on how to understand the writings of St. Augustine. Let’s stop discussing him now.

          As far as Catholic beliefs regarding the Eucharist are concerned, I went out of my way to not specifically advocate Catholicism in my post even though I’m Catholic. I’m not going to get into a lengthy debate with you over the teachings of the Catholic Church (it would be a repeat performance as we both know). My purpose here is to ensure that all Christians are interpreting John 6 properly. This is in an effort to at least reduce the number of church denominations from tens-of-thousands down to a handful of older contestants. I think I can make my point through Scripture alone, so I’d like to stay within the text as I went out of my way to accommodate the “Sola Scriptura” crowd on the subject of Communion.

          So, as to what I’m saying… I’m saying what I’m saying in my post.

          If there is anything demonstrably false in my post, I’m interested in knowing exactly how I’m wrong, otherwise feel free to hit the “like” button if you want.

          -Ben

  4. Ben,

    I see. I now have a clearer idea of what you are up to.

    First let me respond to your objections to a figural reading of John 6:

    “In the Bible do we ever see a parable begin with “truly truly” (or “amen amen” or “verily verily” depending on your translation)? Jesus says those words when He wants to be extremely clear. Verses 53-55 are obviously intended to cut through any attempt to dodge His literal meaning.”

    – No one is saying that John 6 is a parable. We do say that it is figurative or metaphorical. Do we ever see, in the Bible, metaphorical or figurative messages introduced by “verily, verily…”? Yes we do see this in the Bible. In fact, we see this in John 3, when Christ speaks to Nicodemus. Jesus is using the language of new birth in order to describe the reality of the renewal of man through the power of Christ.

    “When John wrote his Gospel, he had an opportunity to say “Jesus was speaking symbolically” here, but he did not say that.”

    – But isn’t this the way that people read the passage you already quoted?

    “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.” –John 6:63

    Christ’s words have a spiritual meaning. The flesh is to no avail.

    “Note that in verse 66, which follows the “clarification” in verse 63, people still leave Jesus over this, and He makes no attempt to stop them to clear up a misunderstanding.”

    – And this supports transubstantiation how? Many reject Christ and Christianity because we believe that we are ONLY saved through the Cross. We can be saved without taking part in the Eucharist, but we cannot be saved without the Cross. This is a scandalous claim for many.

    “Are we as Christians supposed to understand everything spiritual in a figurative way? Is the word “Spirit” in Scripture to be taken as “symbolic”? I hope not.”

    – Obviously not everything is symbolic. Some of us still believe that even Genesis is describing real historical events. At any rate, I don’t think that this consideration harms a figurative reading of John 6.

    “Note the obvious difference between “my flesh” (v. 55) and “the flesh” (v. 63). “The flesh” can be seen as carnal thinking or sinful nature in the following verses.”

    – What flesh has Jesus been discussing in this chapter? What makes sense in this context?

    “Would Jesus declare His own flesh to be “of no avail”? No way! Not if His death on the cross was going to be a sufficient sacrifice.”

    – Can the flesh of a man save you? Can a human body save you? If a human body can save us, then why did Christ die? His body was not different than ours is now. We are saved because this was the death of the LOGOS, the Son of God, very God of very God.

    As Augustine said:

    “The Principle is neither the flesh nor the human soul in Christ but the Word by which all things were made. The flesh, therefore, does not by its own virtue purify, but by virtue of the Word by which it was assumed, when “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” For speaking mystically of eating His flesh, when those who did not understand Him were offended and went away, saying, “This is an hard saying, who can hear it?” He answered to the rest who remained, “It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing.” The Principle, therefore, having assumed a human soul and flesh, cleanses the soul and flesh of believers.” (City of God 10.24)

    Since you are interested in cutting down denominational options, I have to say that, honestly, the only Church that reads John 6 in a truly literal way, is the Church that teaches that its members crush the body of Christ with their teeth. And that Church, as far as I know, doesn’t exist.

    Again, I do appreciate your patience with me. I understand that the Eucharist is a very important issue. Just as I don’t take offense with how you’ve described people like me as “Bible believers” using quotation marks, I expect that I’ve given rise to now offense to you by speaking my convictions.

    J

    • Ben says:

      Jonathan,

      I may be coming across as irritated, so I should probably explain myself. I’ve been carefully studying Catholicism for quite awhile, with the motivation to understand and share my faith accurately. I’m extremely careful to explain the teachings of the Church with care, and I’m willing to accept correction, but your understanding of Catholic teaching seems rather unique or at least debatable… and I’ve seen from the comments at Mustfollow’s blog that debating with you over Catholic doctrine is simply not productive. I’m not an expert on St. Augustine, but I know three things… 1: He’s a SAINT of the Catholic Church, and therefore he’s basically Catholic. 2: He’s quoted throughout the Catechism of the Catholic Church, so his teachings are basically Catholic. 3: I read the Tractate 26 on John 6 that you provided, and I didn’t see anything that disagreed with my post, affirming my suspicion that your use of sources is based on a debatable interpretation of them. The more you try to convince me that my beliefs disagree with the Church, or that St. Augustine disagrees with what I’m saying or what the Catholic Church teaches, the more difficult it is to have conversations with you. I do appreciate your politeness, however.

      Catholics clearly believe that Jesus’ flesh is “food indeed” and His blood is “drink indeed”. During Communion, we eat His flesh and drink His blood. When we take the host, the priest says “The Body of Christ” and we say “Amen”. When he offers the cup, he says “The blood of Christ” and we say “Amen.” We as Catholics consume Christ… body, blood, soul and divinity, in the Eucharist. It’s a wonderful miraculous sacramental blessing that Christ Himself instituted for our benefit. You should look into the miracle of Lanciano, by the way. As I said, I don’t want to get into a debate over Catholic teachings. I’d rather focus on the overall interpretation of John 6, but admittedly I do get frustrated when you as a Protestant imply that I don’t understand Catholic teachings as well as you do. If you were a Catholic we could get into a productive discussion about the proper understanding of Church teachings, but you’re a Protestant with a motive to disprove Catholicism.

      Okay, now to John 6, and your points…

      You said “no one is saying John 6 is a parable”. I had a fundamentalist tell me “The words in 53 and 54 are a form of parable, telling them they must be born again” in a blog discussion, so I was going off of that.

      As for John 3, I see what you’re saying, as Jesus uses “truly truly” in a way that appears symbolic at least to some extent. However, what we see here is a great example of a spiritual necessity that is accomplished by a physical means and one that clearly goes beyond the symbolic or figurative. Much like “eat my flesh” ties in directly with Communion, “born of water and the Spirit” (v. 5) ties in directly with baptism, and it’s easy to see because after this conversation Jesus goes and baptizes people (v. 22). Plus, we see throughout the New Testament the importance of baptism (a quite literal rebirth in a spiritual way accomplished through a physical or sacramental process). In 1 Peter 3:21 we see “baptism… now saves you”. Titus 3:5 says “he saved us… by the washing of regeneration”. Mark 16:16 says “He who believes and is baptized will be saved…” Gal. 3:27 says “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Those are some examples that “truly truly” we must be born again through baptism. Symbolism and/or figurative language only go so far, the physical necessity and the spiritual benefit are quite literal. But I suppose that if you don’t believe in sacraments then you must figure out a way to make John 3 and John 6 translate figuratively.

      You said “But isn’t this the way that people read the passage you already quoted?” (referring to John 6:63). You were responding to my point that John had an opportunity to say that Jesus was speaking symbolically but he didn’t say that. Well, first of all my point still stands that John did not say that Jesus was speaking symbolically. But the question of how we read John 6:63 is the very thing being discussed and the whole point of my reasons is to demonstrate that it could not be an attempt by John to say Jesus’ words were symbolic. In fact, I would argue that as an attempt, it would have to be viewed as a dismal failure considering 2,000 years-worth of Christians apparently didn’t get his hint.

      Ignatius of Antioch in chapter 7 of his epistle to the Smyrneans (around 107 A.D.) talked about avoiding heretics because “They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ…” (that’s from the shorter version of his epistle). So Ignatius seemed to understand Jesus’ words in a literal way as applied to Communion. Also, in “History of the Catholic Church” by James Hitchcock (in a section about the Protestant Reformation on page 265), I came across this interesting paragraph: “When Luther and Zwingli finally met, they agreed on most things but not on the meaning of Christ’s words ‘This is My body’, with Zwingli insisting that He must have been speaking metaphorically and Luther insisting on the literal meaning, each claiming that the other misunderstood Christ’s words. Luther held that, while bread and wine remained, they also became the actual Body and Blood of Christ, a doctrine later called ‘consubstantiation’ (‘substances together’), while Zwingli saw the bread and wine as mere symbols of Christ’s Body and Blood.” So you can see why I might assume that people who agree with Luther should still agree with my post because a “literal” (note the word in the description of Luther’s beliefs) interpretation of Jesus’ words “this is my body” can apparently include consubstantiation.

      You said “Christ’s words have a spiritual meaning. The flesh is to no avail.” I totally agree with your statement, but I think our understanding of “spiritual” might be different. I see spiritual as not equating to symbolic. “Spiritual” and “literal” are not mutually exclusive. Also I’m not sure if you understand what I’m saying about the difference between Jesus referring to “my flesh” as opposed to people understanding Him according to “the flesh” (or carnal thinking apart from the Spirit).

      You said that we are saved “ONLY” by the cross. I agree with you in the sense that we are saved by grace alone. Are you trying to say that Christians have no obligations whatsoever?

      I point out how Jesus’ flesh could NOT be of “no avail”, and you said “Can the flesh of a man save you? Can a human body save you? If a human body can save us, then why did Christ die? His body was not different than ours is now. We are saved because this was the death of the LOGOS, the Son of God, very God of very God.” But we cannot miss John’s emphasis at the beginning of his Gospel (1:14): “And the Word became flesh…” One of the things that made me start backing away from Protestantism was when I began to see similarities between it and Gnosticism. Gnosticism focuses entirely on the spiritual, and refuses to recognize the importance of the incarnation. Jesus died, yes… but is the involvement of His flesh in that death inconsequential to you?

      I refer to the term “Bible believers” as used by fundamentalists to describe themselves. In their minds the 6 days of Creation must have been literal 24 hour days because “the Bible says it, I believe it! A day is a day!” It’s apparently a rather simple formula of biblical interpretation. But these same folks can come up with complicated reasons why Jesus’ words in John 6 must have just been symbolic. I just find that a bit ironic, that’s all.

      I know I’ve said a lot in this comment, so feel free to pick and choose what you want to reply to. Ultimately I’m not saying anything here that Jesus Himself is not saying. His flesh is food indeed, and His blood is drink indeed.

      -Ben

  5. bgpery says:

    I’m hesitant to interject as I feel like I’m interrupting the exchange between you two but-
    Jonathan- are you saying that a literal interpretation would mean we need to eat flesh and drink blood in it’s natural bloody form? What means literal? Our Lord says his flesh and blood are real food. Ben (and I as well) would say, believing he means it, is interpreting the passage literally. Even if that flesh and blood is received in an unbloody manner hidden under the sacramental signs.

    As to St. Augustine I think you’re reading some of your biases into what he’s saying. Lets lay aside the details on what he says on John 6 for a moment as I suspect it could easily become an unending debate about what “eats” means in that passage. You seem to be saying based on that commentary that Augustine denies the real presence in the sacrament. Well let’s look elsewhere at what he says on the sacrament to see if that’s true.
    “That Bread which 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)
    “How this should be understood literally of David, we cannot discover; but we can discover how it is meant of Christ. For Christ was carried in his own hands, when referring to his own body, he said ‘this is my body.’ For he carried that body in his hands.” (Commentary on Psalms 33:1:10)
    There are other references as well but those 2 should be sufficient.

    • Bg,

      No need to apologize. This is in some ways a continuation of an ongoing conversation. But you can be brought up to speed 🙂

      What I am saying is that a literal chewing of a literal body would mean that your literal teeth crush the literal flesh of Christ. Teeth are white and can touch things. Flesh is soft and can be torn apart. The reality is that according to RCC dogma, you do not touch the flesh of Christ with your teeth and thus, what Rome teaches cannot be considered a strictly literal interpretation of John 6.

      Obviously I could say the same thing to you and merely assert that Rome cherry-picks quotations from the Church Fathers and ignores the rest. But that wouldn’t be productive at all.

      I think I can reconcile the quotes you’ve presented with the quotes I have presented.

      – “12. This is the bread which comes down from heaven. Manna signified this bread; God’s altar signified this bread. Those were sacraments. In the signs they were diverse; in the thing which was signified they were alike. Hear the apostle: For I would not that you should be ignorant, brethren, says he, that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat. Of course, the same spiritual meat; for corporally it was another: since they ate manna, we eat another thing; but the spiritual was the same as that which we eat.”

      According to Augustine we have one sacrament with two different manifestations: we have the Manna and we have the Eucharist. They both signify the same thing. In both cases something is eaten corporally and something else is eaten *spiritually.* What is eaten corporally? The manna and the elements. What is eaten spiritually? Christ.

      – “But our fathers, not the fathers of those Jews; those to whom we are like, not those to whom they were like. Moreover he adds: And did all drink the same spiritual drink. They one kind of drink, we another, but only in the visible form, which, however, signified the same thing in its spiritual virtue. For how was it that they drank the same drink? They drank, says he of the spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.1 Corinthians 10:1-4 Thence the bread, thence the drink. The rock was Christ in sign; the real Christ is in the Word and in flesh. And how did they drink? The rock was smitten twice with a rod; the double smiting signified the two wooden beams of the cross. This, then, is the bread that comes down from heaven, that if any man eat thereof, he shall not die. But this is what belongs to the virtue of the sacrament, not to the visible sacrament; he that eats within, not without; who eats in his heart, not who presses with his teeth.”

      Here we have the essentially the same structure and substance. We do have some things that, pardon the pun, flesh things out. How do these sacraments work? There is a sign and a thing signified. Through consuming Christ *in sign* we don’t consume Christ literally. Again:

      ***This, then, is the bread that comes down from heaven, that if any man eat thereof, he shall not die. But this is what belongs to the virtue of the sacrament, not to the visible sacrament; he that eats within, not without; who eats in his heart, not who presses with his teeth.”***

      -We are vivified *NOT* by consuming the sacrament with out teeth, but by consuming Christ with out hearts. Augustine explicitly says that the “bread that comes down from heaven, that if any man eat thereof, he shall not die” is not talking about the sacrament. In other words, the statement that our friend Ben is using to talk about the Eucharist, Augustine is saying–this is not about the Eucharist–the sign–but about the thing signified, Christ Himself.

      We now see Augustine continue this working with this distinction:

      “And thus He would have this meat and drink to be understood as meaning the fellowship of His own body and members, which is the holy Church in his predestinated, and called, and justified, and glorifiedsaints and believers. Of these, the first is already effected, namely, predestination; the second and third, that is, the vocation and justification, have taken place, are taking place, and will take place; but the fourth, namely, the glorifying, is at present in hope; but a thing future in realization. The sacrament of this thing, namely, of the unity of the body and blood of Christ, is prepared on the Lord’s table in some places daily, in some places at certain intervals of days, and from the Lord’s table it is taken, by some to life, by some to destruction: but the thing itself, of which it is the sacrament, is for every man to life, for no man to destruction, whosoever shall have been a partaker thereof.”

      How can we eat of the Lord’s flesh is a question answered in the above paragraph. But it is answered more clearly in the following:

      “In a word, He now explains how that which He speaks of comes to pass, and what it is to eat His body and to drink His blood. He that eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, dwells in me, and I in him. This it is, therefore, for a man to eat that meat and to drink that drink, to dwell in Christ, and to have Christ dwelling in him.”

      Let us remember that Augustine already said that the vivifying consumption that John is talking about is not the consumption of the Eucharist. That being said, Augustine here says that we consume of Christ by dwelling in Him and Christ dwelling in us. No talk about corporal mastication of Christ.

      “We live then by Him, by eating Him; that is, by receiving Himself as the eternal life, which we did not have from ourselves. Himself, however, lives by the Father, being sent by Him,”

      – We consume Christ by receiving Him as the Son of God who was sent of the Father to redeem mankind.

      If you don’t buy my analysis here, then you can point out textual things in this Tractate that should shift my interpretation. That being said, I think I am being careful with the distinctions Augustine makes and not just quoting out of context.

      As per the quotes you brought to our consideration:

      – Sermon 227 quotes John 6. And if I am right about how Augustine interprets John 6, then Augustine does not contradict himself but is speaking either of the sacrament or the thing signified without conflating the two. This would of course mean that Augustine is using the same language of John 6 with the same meaning and distinctions in mind here.

      I couldn’t find the full source for the second quote and I need to run.

      Best,

      J

      • Ben says:

        Jonathan,

        I went ahead and approved your comment, as I don’t like to censor comments on my blog, but please understand that this is not the place for you to explain to people what you think I’m saying, what you think the Catholic Church teaches, what you think St. Augustine teaches, or your perspective of our previous conversations regarding the Eucharist. If bgpery wishes to reply to you, that’s fine, but I don’t want this to turn into a long series of attempted explanations from a Reformed perspective. You’ve had plenty of space here to freely and carefully disagree with my post, and offer alternative explanations of John 6. I respectfully request that you consider your comments on this post to be concluded, although you are welcome to visit my blog again and comment on other posts.

        I appreciate bgpery’s insights very much, and I appreciate the interesting conversation we’ve had here Jonathan, but I think at this point we can leave it to the readers to decide if the points I made in my post still stand.

        God bless.

        -Ben

        • bgpery says:

          Jonathan- There are so many balls in the air at this point I’m not sure where to start. While an in-depth ongoing discussion of St. Augustine, the Eucharist, sacraments and such would be interesting I don’t have time for it. I also don’t think we will convince each other. That being said I will respond, but try to keep it brief and succinct as possible.

          You are correct that the RCC does not teach that we crush the flesh of Christ with our teeth. What she does teach is that we consume the living Christ in his entirety, including the material part of him his flesh and blood. Christ is not mangled or crushed if we bite the host, but the whole Jesus including his flesh and blood is received in the mouth and does enter into the belly (in an unbloody manner under the external form of the elements).
          The spiritual interpretation of John 6 is also true, we consume Jesus spiritually through faith but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more going on or available. The passage takes a turn when he says “this bread is my flesh” and again “my flesh is true food”. There is a clear emphasizing going on here. He really seems to be saying that in some way it is necessary to eat him, not just receive him spiritually.

          Now with St. Augustine I was perhaps unclear. There are 2 questions. The first, does he see the Eucharist in John 6? The second, did he believe in the real presence in the sacrament or that it was a symbol only?
          As far as the first he gives a spiritual interpretation of John 6… and what he says is true. Whether or not he sees the Eucharist in Jn 6 is uncertain, it is I suppose possible he does not. However one can give a spiritual interpretation of a passage of scripture without denying another more literal one. For example the born again passage in John can be legitimately seen in a spiritual way as referring to conversion and repentance and a life changed without denying (as American Evangelicals do) the idea that on a different plane it refers to baptism. In fact in that same Tractate (26:1) St Augustine says by believing we eat and in that way are born again. “For to believe in Him, is to eat the living bread. He that believes eats; he is sated invisibly, because invisibly is he born again. A babe within, a new man within”. I would imagine there are those who would use this to deny baptismal regeneration.
          As to the second question, based on other things he wrote it would very hard to convince me he didn’t believe in the real presence (or baptismal regeneration).
          There’s a lot more that could be said but I’ll leave it here. God bless.

          • Ben says:

            Thanks bgpery. The subject can get really deep and I think you’ve given some necessary clarification considering the depth reached with the St. Augustine quotes, etc.

            My background was very much within the “evangelical” approach of merely symbolic Communion, so it’s revolutionary to me that even though John 6 may not point undeniably to the Catholic Church, a proper reading of the chapter at least leaves many thousands of denominations (or non-denominations) facing a significant dilemma scripturally-speaking. History and tradition make this even clearer, but I find it fascinating that an argument can be made from Scripture alone that Jesus did not intend for Communion to be merely symbolic. My post was carefully written to demonstrate this fact. I’m confident in my conclusions, but I’ve also been glad to see that my post seems to have passed its tests, including your approval, which I appreciate very much. If there are ways I can fine tune my statements at all you can always feel free to offer corrections.

            God bless you my friend.

            -Ben

            • bgpery says:

              You did just fine. It is important in discussing this subject to be very careful and precise. We believe Christ is present, body and blood soul and divinity, whole and entire the living Christ in both of the elements, in each fragment of bread and drop of wine, and remains so as long as the forms of bread and wine are present. It is also important to remember this is mystery and cannot be fully grasped. I see no problems with what you wrote.

              I come from a similar background, I grew up in the Assemblies of God. John 6 was really the driving force in my own entrance into the Church. (It will be 15 years this July! hard to believe it’s been that long)

              I wish a Lutheran would have commented on this…since that didn’t happen I think you will find this video from Lutheran Pastor Jonathan Fisk interesting https://youtu.be/uBgsJ73aYlw?t=55s

          • Ben, I don’t have anything to add to the John 6 discussion specifically (though I have a thought brewing that I may comment sometime) but I would like to ask bgpery some clarifying questions.

            bgpery – As a potential convert into Catholicism, I really appreciate your explanation of the Eucharist. It fits what I’ve learned from Catholics. However, you made one statement I would like clarification on.

            You said

            “You are correct that the RCC does not teach that we crush the flesh of Christ with our teeth.”

            Does this statement mean that (1) the RCC simply does not have an official teaching on the specifics of “chewing” and “crushing”? Or (2) does it mean there is an official Magisterial teaching explicitly stating we do not crush the flesh of Jesus with our teeth?

            From what I can tell, the RCC does not have an official teaching dogmatically defining the metaphysical dynamics of “chewing” or “crushing the flesh of Jesus with our teeth.” (For example, see this link to Catholic Answers.) When expounding the Eucharist, Trent and the CCC both point to John 6, which is exactly where Jesus says we must “chew” His flesh.

            So that was my question on what you intended with that sentence: Does the Magisterium have an official teaching explicitly stating that we do not “crush the flesh of Jesus with our teeth”? If so, can you point me to an official source? Or, is the Magisterial teaching discreet on the metaphysical specifics of this particular issue?

            Thank you for your time and clarification. God bless.

            • bgpery says:

              Mustfollow- Good question, I was speaking off the top of my head so I don’t really have a reference.
              Mr. Roberts seems to be saying that we aren’t taking John 6 literally unless we are either eating flesh and drinking blood in a physical bloody way (to put it crudely, lopping off Jesus arm and chewing off flesh) or that under the sacramental veils essentially the same thing is happening.

              It would be incorrect to think our eating of Christ damages him or causes him any harm by crushing him. No, the metaphysical details are fairly undefined; but we do have official teaching on what happens when the host is broken CCC 1377 that Christ is not broken in two. He is present in his entirety in each fragment; this mystery is quite beyond us. At a certain point you must simply have faith that what is there is Jesus accepting that you can’t understand the mechanics which are beyond us.

              Ok, is not grinding the flesh of Christ at odds with the verb for eating in John 6? (My understanding is that the verb for eating in that passage changes from the usual ‘to eat’ to a more visceral ‘devours, gnaws’ usually used in reference to animals.) I would say this verb is being used to emphasize and make clear that the eating is real not figurative.

              I would like to point you to the sequence for the feast of Corpus Christe (which is this Thursday) it was written by St. Thomas Aquinas and this excerpt sums up the Catholic position (you can read the rest of it here if you like https://asolitarybird.wordpress.com/2009/06/13/sion-lift-thy-voice-and-sing/ his other hymns may be instructive for you as well)

              Hear what holy Church maintaineth,
              That the bread its substance changeth
              Into Flesh, the wine to Blood.
              Doth it pass thy comprehending?
              Faith, the law of sight transcending,
              Leaps to things not understood.
              Here in outward signs are hidden
              Priceless things, to sense forbidden;
              Signs, not things, are all we see:-
              Flesh from bread, and Blood from wine;
              Yet is Christ, in either sign,
              All entire confessed to be.
              They too who of Him partake
              Sever not, nor rend, nor break,
              But entire their Lord receive.
              Whether one or thousands eat,
              All receive the selfsame meat,
              Nor the less for others leave.
              Both the wicked and the good
              Eat of this celestial Food;
              But with ends how opposite!
              Here ’tis life; and there ’tis death;
              The same, yet issuing to each
              In a difference infinite.
              Nor a single doubt retain,
              When they break the Host in twain,
              But that in each part remains
              What was in the whole before;
              Since the simple sign alone
              Suffers change in state or form,
              The Signified remaining One
              And the Same forevermore

              • Thank you for that clarification. It makes a lot of sense. I had forgotten about the belief that Christ is present it His entirety in each fragment. My question was very specific (almost hair-splitting) but I did go around in circles with someone over this distinction so it was nice to get some clarification from a real Catholic.

                Thanks again and God bless!

  6. Ben–

    I understand your frustration. On the other hand, I fill that I am adequately representing official Roman Dogma and that I have pointed you and I MustFollow to documents that bear out my articulation. In addition to this, I’ve explained how some of the quotes you’ve provided actually support what I am saying (for instance, your quotation from Catholicism for Dummies).

    So, while I’m not frustrated, I’m perplexed that you find my basic articulation to be so unusual. As you know, I almost went over to Rome, and I have many friends who actually did. Whenever we discuss these matters, the basic gist that I am providing has not been a matter of controversy.

    I’m going to drop the question of Augustine primarily because they are more fundamental issues at stake and I’ve already provided you with certain quotes that you would need to harmonize with your understanding of him.

    A few quick responses:

    – It seems like your blogger friend was being a little imprecise with his language. Yes, we do see the language there as metaphorical or figurative.

    – In John three the primary image is that of being born again. That is the metaphorical image that Christ uses to illustrate a spiritual reality–the regeneration of man through the power of the Holy Spirit purchased by the blood of Christ. So yes, we do see that Christ is using metaphorical language. I do believe that Christ instituted the sacraments of the Eucharist and Baptism. Just because this is the case, it doesn’t mean that Christ doesn’t use images to help us understand the spiritual realities–He constantly does as much.

    – The Ignatius passage is obviously controversial for a variety of reasons. It is unclear which of these is the authentic version, the long or the short one. The longer account doesn’t have the passage you cited at all. And there are different ways of interpreting that. Furthermore, even the short passage from Ignatius is unclear due to the fact that Ignatius is primarily worries about the Gnostics who reject that Christ had an actual body and thus to them a Sacrament that asserted the incarnation of Christ was superfluous. That being said, the Gnostics would be all about an invisible body devoid of accidents and sensorial qualities–which is the body Roman Catholics believe is presented at the Eucharist.

    – There are three views that are common amongst Reformed Catholics: the Lutheran view (consubstantiation), Zwinglian view (mere memorialism; though there is plenty of scholarship that would argue that Zwingli actually wasn’t a mere memorialist), and the Reformed view (union with the risen Lord through the power of the Holy Spirit). This third one does not involve a metaphysical change in the elements.

    – Christians obviously have obligations.

    – I think you are assuming way too much about the interpretation of John 6 over the last 2,000 years. Your forget that the Alexandrians were notorious for allegorizing everything and that it took a while before John 6 was even quoted in the context of the Eucharist.

    – We Protestants do not have a low view of creation. We actually have higher view of creation than the Roman Catholics and we believe that the Romans are the ones that have gnostic tendencies. For an introduction to this debate and key definitions, please see the articles linked here by Peter Escalante and Peter Edmund: https://amfortress.wordpress.com/tag/donum-concreatum/

    To say that we don’t acknowledge the importance of the incarnation is simply false. The involvement of His flesh and blood is vital. It is only by becoming flesh that the person of Christ could experience death and shed blood. That doesn’t mean that Christ’s flesh was in anyway different from our flesh. The second that you say His flesh was different and His human nature was different, you’ve abandoned Chalcedonian Christology.

  7. […] Today is the feast of Corpus Christi. Yes it is celebrated this coming Sunday in many places, but the actual feast is today. I was caused to think on this mystery recently by a post at Frontier Ruminations https://frontierruminations.wordpress.com/2015/05/15/john-6-spirit-and-life/ […]

  8. Agellius says:

    Sorry if this has already been said; I have not read all the comments.

    In Jn. 6:63 Jesus says, “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.”

    Note that Jesus says the WORDS he has spoken are spirit and life. The next question is, what words is he referring to? The words he has just been saying are:

    “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. 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.” Jn. 6:57-58.

    THOSE VERY WORDS are spirit and life. The words “He who eats me will live because of me” are spirit and life. “This is the bread which came down from heaven” are spirit and life. Therefore it’s absurd to argue that verse 63 negates everything he had been saying previously, or makes it merely symbolic. If anything he is reinforcing what he has been saying.