Sunday, January 15, 2006

The eucharistic nature of John’s Bread of Life discourse: Jesus did not lie about eating his flesh and drinking his blood

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Introduction An initial reading of John 6:22-71 leaves the impression that through the living bread
discourse, Jesus taught his disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood in the Lord’s Supper.
This is not only the interpretation of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodoxi churches, but
also that of orthodox theologians immediately following the time of the apostles and by some
confessional Lutheran theologians today. (Except when explicitly indicating metaphorical,
non-physical eating and drinking, the words eat and drink will be used in the plain, oral sense,
as Jesus meant them when he said, “Take, eat” and “Take, drink.”) This view will be vindicated
by establishing these two teachings from the straightforward reading of the passage:1. John 6:51-58 speaks of the eating and drinking commanded in the words of the institutionii of
the Lord’s Supper, as opposed to merely metaphorical, non-physical eating and drinking.2. In this passage, the objects of eating and drinking, referred to as “true food” and “true
drink,” are the literal body and blood of Jesus, not merely the sacramental symbols or spiritual
benefits of his flesh and blood.If both of these premises are true, then it necessarily follows that communicants orally partake
of the literal flesh and blood of Jesus by eating and drinking the consecrated bread and wine.
As the first proposition remains controversial in traditional Protestant circles, it will
receive much more attention here. The second proposition will be treated in passing since few
would question it after close examination of the passage.
The “living bread” is the flesh given as a sacrificeThe living bread discourse This brief summary of the narrative that contains the living bread discourse brings out
the details most relevant to the thesis of this essay. The day after Jesus walked on the
wateriii to join the twelve apostles, the people searched for Jesus until they found him (John
6:15-25). Noting that they looked for him only because they wanted him to again give them bread
that perishes, Jesus told them to instead seek by faith in him the eternal food that he would
provide for them in the future (vv. 26-29).iv He said that his Father, unlike Moses, gave true
bread from heaven, and that Jesus himself was the bread given for the life of the world (vv.
30-35). He reproved their unbelief, and said that all who believe in him will be raised at the
last day (vv. 36-40). In response to the Jews’ questioning how one with known earthly parents
could be the bread from heaven, Jesus reaffirmed that those who believe in him have eternal life
and proclaimed that he is the living bread from heaven, promising that anyone who eats it will
live forever (vv. 41-51). He then added that the bread that he would give in the future for the
life of the world was his flesh (v. 51),cit_bf2, pp. 13-18cit_af ref_bf(Bischof, 1999 (, pp.
13-18) ref_num9)ref_af at which point the Jews angrily asked each other how he could give his
flesh to eat (v. 52). Jesus responded that they would have no life unless they ate his flesh
and drank his blood (v. 53). He went on to explain that whoever ate his flesh and drank his
blood had eternal life, would be raised at the last day, and remained in him (vv. 54, 56) since
his flesh was true food and his blood was true drink (v. 55). Just as Jesus lived by the living
Father, those who consumed Jesus would live by him (v. 57). After reiterating that he is the
bread from heaven that imparts eternal life to whoever eats it, many of his disciples complained
about how hard his teaching was (vv. 58-60). Jesus addressed their complaints by predicting his
ascension and by rebuking their materialism and unbelief (vv. 61-65). At that point, many of
his disciples left him, never to walk with him again, but the twelve apostles reaffirmed their
faith in his divinity, confessing that they had nowhere else to go for the words of eternal life
(vv. 66-69). The narrative ends with Jesus’ prediction of his betrayal by one of them (vv.
70-71).Symbolism in the living bread discourse Without controversy, Jesus painted an image of living bread as a symbol of his body. It
has been argued that since the living bread is a symbol, the passage cannot promote the oral
eating of his flesh. The symbolism of the passage will be examined in more detail to make it
clear that the text lends no support to that conclusion. On the meaning behind the symbol of eating living bread, the two explanations given by
conservative commentators may be conveniently labeled as the eucharistic interpretation and the
non-eucharistic interpretation. The former holds that eating living bread means either
believing inv or appropriating the benefits ofvi the flesh of Jesus given as a sacrifice on the
cross, whereas the latter holds that eating living bread means orally eating the flesh of Jesus
not only given as a sacrifice on the cross, but also mysteriously given as food in the Lord’s
Supper. As the following tables clarify, both interpretations agree that the living bread
symbolizes the flesh of Jesus to be given, but they disagree on the meaning of the symbolic
NON-EUCHARISTIC INTERPRETATIONActionObjectSymbolEatBreadMeaningBelieve inAppropriate the benefits ofHis flesh (to be given)EUCHARISTIC INTERPRETATIONActionObjectS
ymbolEatBreadMeaningEatHis flesh (to be given) Some Lutheran scholars hold that John
intended both interpretations, and this paper argues in favor of the eucharistic interpretation
without taking a position on whether or not it is compatible in some sense with the
non-eucharistic interpretation.vii Those exclusively maintaining the non-eucharistic
interpretation see no reference to the Lord’s Supper in the living bread discourse since they
hold that eating in the passage means nothing more than believing in or appropriating the
benefits of the sacrificed flesh of Jesus. The next two sections attempt to demonstrate that
the discourse does refer to the Lord’s Supper, regardless of whether eating in the discourse
includes the meaning of believing or appropriating in addition to actual eating. Comparisons with other symbols in the gospel account do not lend decisive support to
either interpretation. For example, the image of living water (John 4; 7:37) seems to support
the non-eucharistic interpretation, whereas the image of the sacrificial lamb (John 1:29) seems
to support the eucharistic interpretation. A non-eucharistic interpreter could argue that since
the Spirit, unlike the symbolic water, is not drunk, Jesus’ flesh, unlike the symbolic bread, is
not eaten. It could be countered that Jesus, like the symbolic lamb, was sacrificed. In the
case of the former, but not in the case of the latter, the action changes when going from the
symbol to its meaning:
Living waterLamb of GodLiving breadSymbolWater to be drunkLamb to be sacrificedBread to
be eatenMeaning with unchanged actionN/AJesus to be sacrificedFlesh to be eatenMeaning with
changed actionSpirit to be receivedN/AFlesh to be believed The eucharistic interpretation
might gain some support from the observation that Jesus spoke not only of eating symbolic bread,
but also of eating his flesh. The non-eucharistic interpreter has as a counterexample the way
Paul spoke of symbolically drinking the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13).Rationale for the eucharistic interpretation Each of two main considerations lends much more compelling support to the eucharistic
interpretation:1. The wording in a key sentence of the living bread discourse so closely corresponds to the
words of institution that the discourse must refer in some way to the Lord’s Supper.2. Jesus reinforced the interpretation of his words as teaching an oral consumption of his body
and blood, and he later clarified that this consumption takes place in the Lord’s Supper.A subsection is devoted to elaborating each consideration.1. “This living bread is my body, given for the world” (paraphrased) Jesus’ command to eat his flesh and drink his blood immediately brings the Holy Supper
to mind, not only for ancient orthodox believers and for Roman Catholics, but even for those
Protestants who must remind themselves that the passage refers only to what the sacrament
represents rather than to the sacrament itself. “The instructed Christian reader cannot miss the
reference to the sacrament of the Eucharist.” cit_bf6, p. 338cit_af ref_bf(Dodd, 1963 (, p. 338)
ref_num5)ref_af As Voelz explains, ...this discourse is worded in such a way that its words cause Christian hearers to think about
the oral eating of the Sacrament of the Altar,[an] eating which occurs in the case of all
communicants, while at the same time they point beyond the oral eating to the spiritual eating,
an eating which occurs only in the case of believers when one believes the proclaimed Gospel or
receives by faith the blessings of Holy Baptism or of the Holy Supper.cit_bf5, emphasis
originalcit_af ref_bf(J.W. Voelz 1989 (, emphasis original) ref_num4)ref_af
This initial impression that the passage refers to the Lord’s Supper is confirmed by any study
thorough enough to include a careful comparison with the words by which Jesus instituted the
Lord’s Supper:The fact that in John 6.51c-58 traditional eucharistic material has been used is confirmed by an
observation made by J. H. Bernard in 1928. He recognized that we have in John 6.51c an
independent version of Jesus’ word of interpretation over the bread. One needs only to set John
6.51c and 1 Cor. 11.24b side by side to be convinced of the correctness of this insight: John 6.51c 1 Cor. 11.24b the bread which I give this is my flesh is my body for the life of the world which is for youIt can be seen that the structure and content of the sentence is the same in both cases.cit_bf7,
pp. 107-108cit_af ref_bf(Jeremias, 1966 (, pp. 107-108) ref_num8)ref_af(That John’s word flesh appears instead of Paul’s word body in no way detracts from this
observation.viii) John’s original audience, like second-century believers, would have noticed
this eucharistic reference in John 6:51c since weekly celebration of the sacrament would have
familiarized them with its words of institution.cit_bf9, p. 182cit_af ref_bf(Scaer, 2000 (, p.
182) ref_num18)ref_af Why John referred to the Lord’s Supper only crypticallyix cannot be known
with certainty, and has little or no bearing on the meaning of the discourse on the living
bread. Assuming the historical accuracy of John’s account of the gospel, Jesus’ reference to
the Lord’s Supper must have been a prediction not fully understood before the sacrament had been
instituted. Likewise, the disciples did not understand Jesus’ early prediction of his
resurrection until after the event (John 2:19-22).cit_bf5; cit_af ref_bf(J.W. Voelz (; ) 1989
ref_num4)ref_af x Since Jesus predicted the Eucharist by the words, “the bread [of the Supper]
that I will give... is my flesh... whoever feeds [in the Supper] on my flesh...,” since John did
not use the words flesh and blood in a spiritualized sense,xi and since the offer “Take, eat”
refers to orally eating the predicted bread, it necessarily follows that Jesus invites the oral
reception of his flesh and blood. It will be seen that the verses following John 6:51c lead to the same conclusion.2. Did Jesus confirm a misunderstanding of his words? The Jews were not offended at Jesus’ saying that he would give himself up in death, but
at his saying that his flesh is the living bread he had said they must eat. Thus, they did not
understand him to teach that his giving them living bread was merely giving his life as a
sacrifice. In fact, the interpretation that the bread symbolizes the sacrificial Victim without
reference to his resurrectionxii is untenable since the eternally living bread (flesh) is
portrayed as conveying its own life, just as the living Father conveys his own life to the Son,
and as the living Son conveys his own life to those who believe, culminating in their
resurrection through his resurrection (6:27, 51c, 57; 5:25-26; 14:19).xiii When the Jews expressed shock that Jesus would tell them to eat his flesh, Jesus
endorsed their interpretation (John 6:51-53). If his audience incorrectly thought he was
talking about orally eating his flesh, as commentators agree,xiv would not Jesus have been
deceitful to confirm their opinion? In a similar conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus, far from
confirming the misunderstanding expressed, corrected it by explaining what he had said (John
3:4-8). If, in response to the Jews’ indication that they understood Jesus in a literal sense,
he knowingly spoke words to them that confirmed their mistaken opinion in their minds, while in
his own mind attaching a meaning to those words not discernible to them, he would have thereby
intentionally deceived them, eventually leading to their eternal destruction. That particular
kind of dishonesty is known in ethics by the term equivocation, as when a witness testifying
under oath, in order to mislead the court, attaches a different meaning to his words than is
understood by those hearing; this is perjury even though the words are true in a hidden sense:Equivocation: the use of words or expressions with a double meaning different for the speaker
than for the hearer. E.g. “I never received your letter”, taking letter in the sense of a large
metal letter.cit_bf13cit_af ref_bf(Michael John Gorman and Persi Diaconis ref_num6)ref_af
[emphasis modified]
The Westminster Larger Catechism rightly condemns equivocation as an instance of deliberate
falsehood (Q. 145):Intentionally to use expressions that can be understood in two different ways, in order to
deceive some other person, is just as wicked as telling an outright lie. For example, the
minister who is reported to have said, “I believe in the divinity of Christ,” and then later
explained to someone else that he believed in the divinity of Christ because he believed in the
divinity of all human beings, was guilty of the sin of breaking the ninth
commandment.cit_bf14cit_af ref_bf(Johannes G. Vos 2002 ref_num7)ref_afIn fact, traditional casuistry notwithstanding,xv there is no moral difference between
equivocation and “outright” lying: any lie can be reinterpreted in the liar’s head to make it a
true statement in some way unknown to those lied to. Although Jesus often used double meanings,
whenever he did so, both meanings were true. He never spoke deceitfully, but rather he
meticulously avoided all dishonesty, as seen particularly in the case of his trial before
Pilate.cit_bf6cit_af ref_bf(C.H. Dodd 1963 ref_num5)ref_af When questioned as to whether he was
a king, Jesus was careful not to merely respond affirmatively since he knew Pilate would have
understood such a response as a claim to a political, earthly throne. Although the words “I am
a King” could have been true without clarification in an equivocal sense, they would have
deceived the one hearing them. For that reason, Jesus went on to say that his kingdom is not of
this world, but that he came to bear witness to the truth (John 18:33-38). If there was no
deceit in Nathanael, a true Israelite (John 1:47), how much less in the Way, the Truth, and the
Life? Although Jesus sometimes spoke obscurely in order to hide the truth, as when he spoke in
parables (Matthew 13:10-15; cf. 11:25-27), he never spoke with intent to deceive. It may be
objected that God, knowing that his word will be misinterpreted, does not change his word, but
continues to speak it, even to the destruction of many hearers. That observation, however, does
not pertain to the case of the living bread discourse: Jesus specifically addressed the
grumbling of his audience, not only letting their words stand, but also taking them to an even
more shocking level (John 6:43, 52-53). Further, God is not a deceiver: he never speaks in
order to mislead, but the Father of Lies, the Author of Confusion, is the one who snatches the
clear word of the kingdom from the hearts of those who do not understand it (Matthew 13:19).
God will never deceive those who rely on his words, as Luther emphasized over and over; every
article of the orthodox Christian faith depends on the absolute reliability of those words. So far was Jesus from deceiving his hearers that he added the clarification that he was
not speaking on a merely earthly level, the level on which they were thinking in their desire
for earthly bread (John 6:26-27, 63). Nonetheless, when Jesus corrected their materialistic
conception of his words, he did not withdraw them or back down from their straightforward
meaning. The statement “the flesh is of no avail” refers not to the action of eating, but to the
flesh considered as natural humanity, as man apart from the Spirit (1:12-13). The flesh to be
eaten does not profit merely because it is flesh, but because, as the flesh of the living Son of
God (1:14), it conveys eternal life through the Spirit. Since, according to both the
non-eucharistic interpretation and the eucharistic interpretation, the meaning of “bread” is the
literal flesh of the Son of God that saves only through the Spirit, both agree that the phrase
“the flesh is of no avail” cannot possibly mean Jesus’ flesh is of no avail;xvi rather, he said
the flesh is of no avail in the sense of flesh as flesh, flesh as opposed to Spirit, as in John
3:6. The disagreement between the two interpretations is not about what is eaten, but about
whether the eating mentioned is only metaphorical, or whether it is also in some way literal.
In other words, the question may be phrased this way: Is eating the living bread merely a
metaphor of putting trust in the flesh of Jesus, or is it also a metaphor of orally eating that
flesh in some mysterious way made possible only by the supernatural work of the Spirit? Jesus’
reinforcement of the latter interpretation may be relied on with the full confidence that he
does not deceive. How Jesus wanted his disciples to consume him only became clear with the words of
institution, in which Jesus conveyed, “this is how you eat my flesh: eat this bread; this is how
you drink my blood: drink this wine.” Attempting to interpret the living bread discourse
without considering the Lord’s Supper would have occurred neither to the disciples after its
institution, nor to the Christian community of the first century.xvii cit_bf5cit_af ref_bf(J.W.
Voelz 1989 ref_num4)ref_af
DiscussionObjections against the eucharistic interpretation of the discourse The strongest Protestant objection against the eucharistic reference of the living bread
discourse is that partaking of Jesus’ flesh and blood are said to be necessary (John 6:53) and
sufficient (vv. 51, 54, 56-57) for eternal life. These statements are taken in an absolute
sense, almost as if the Bible were a complex, modern legal document with a need to explicitly
specify every condition and close every potential loophole. Those holding to the clarity of
Scripture do not apply such wooden literalism to most other New Testament passages, but rather
read them as ordinary language. Regarding necessity, Jesus did not make participation in the
Lord’s Supper absolutely necessary for eternal life for all people, but he did warn his
disciples that their turning away from him on account of his hard teaching demonstrated their
lack of saving faith.cit_bf2, pp. 43-45cit_af ref_bf(Bischof, 1999 (, pp. 43-45) ref_num9)ref_af
Further, the living bread discourse is more concerned about abiding or remaining in Jesus than
about the initial reception of eternal life (John 6:56).cit_bf2, pp. 45-46cit_af ref_bf(Bischof,
1999 (, pp. 45-46) ref_num9)ref_af As to sufficiency, many Protestants maintain that since vv.
51, 54, 56-57 specify no condition for eternal life other than eating and drinking, nothing else
is necessary, a conclusion that would allegedly contradict 3:16-18 unless eating and drinking
only symbolize believing. The same logic would argue that since John 20:31 makes no reference to
the crucifixion or resurrection, faith in those events is not needed for eternal life, a
conclusion that would contradict the good news proclaimed by Paul (Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians
15:1-4). The discourse is quite clear that eating and drinking the flesh and blood of Jesus
would not bring eternal life apart from faith (vv. 35-36, 40, 47), late Roman Catholic
sacramentology notwithstanding. The Johannine gospel record answers the objection that at the Last Supper the disciples
could not yet have consumed the body and blood, as it had not yet been “given” for them.xviii
For on the same night, Jesus spoke as if his death and resurrection had already occurred (John
13:3, 31; 16:33; 17:2, 4, 13).xix Likewise, in telling his disciples to eat the body given for
them and to drink the blood shed for them, he told them to eat the body to be given for them and
to drink the blood to be shed for them with words suited for repeated reception of the sacrament
after his death and resurrection. It might be objected that since the first congregations had access to the words of
institution, but not to John’s gospel account, the correct interpretation of the former should
not require the latter. Indeed, the passages containing the words of institution certainly teach
the oral reception of Christ’s body and blood in the sacrament,cit_bf16cit_af ref_bf(Bickel,
2005 ref_num45)ref_af unless perhaps those words must be clarified by some other passage on the
Supper, but the only viable candidate for such a role would be the passage of the living bread
discourse. It has been suggested that, in addition to the words of institution as we have them,
Jesus might have given the apostles additional explanations,cit_bf7cit_af ref_bf(Jeremias, 1966
ref_num8)ref_af which they in turn would have taught their congregations. We, however, not
having any such explanations, must rely either on the words of institution as clear in
themselves, or on the gospel according to John as the clarification needed. Similarly, without
the typological explanations of the New Testament, the deeper significance of many Old Testament
passages would be as lost to us as they were to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:30-35). If there
are no clear Scriptures that provide the needed teaching on the Lord’s Supper as well as on the
other articles of the Christian faith, then Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy rightly call
for infallible human interpreters. On the other hand, if the words of institution are so clear
that they require no explanation,cit_bf16cit_af ref_bf(Bickel, 2005 ref_num45)ref_af then the
living bread discourse reinforces rather than clarifies those words.
Conclusion and application To summarize the findings of this study, Jesus in effect said, in the context of
Passover, “I will give you my sacrificed and living body to eat and my blood to drink,” soon
clarifying his meaning at another Passover as he handed the communicants bread and wine: “Here
are my body and blood: eat and drink.” The inescapable conclusion is that communicants eat not
only bread and wine, but also the sacrificed and resurrected flesh and blood of their Savior. Does the living bread discourse indicate why Jesus gives his flesh and blood as food and
drink?xx Those who believe the sacrament’s promise of eternal life (John 6:51, 54) therein have
their assurance of salvation strengthened, as when they believe the promises offered in the
proclaimed gospel and in baptism.cit_bf17cit_af ref_bf(Bickel, 2005 ref_num42)ref_af True
nourishment is found in union with the whole Christ, just as he found nourishment in doing the
will of his Father (John 4:31-34; 6:38, 56-57).xxi Jesus not only gives living bread, but he is
the “true bread” that he gives (v. 32): he generously gives communicants all of himself, not
just his disembodied soul or divine nature (v. 55). Likewise, Jesus not only gives eternal
life, but he is the very Life that he gives: eternal life is knowing him and knowing his Father
through him (John 1:14, 18; 17:3). By believing the promise of “the forgiveness of sins” made
in the words of institution, communicants know the crucified and risen Son of Man through the
Lord’s Supper even before they join him in their resurrected bodies (John 5:25-29).xxii

(1) Sasse, H.; This is my Body: Luther's Contention for the Real Presence in the Sacrament of
the Altar; Openbook Publishers: Adelaide, South Australia, 1977(2) Bischof, J.C.; John 6 and the Lord's Supper; Department of Systematic Theology; Concordia
Seminary: St. Louis, 1999; available from Blomberg, C.L.; Jesus and the Gospels; Broadman & Holman Publishers: Nashville, Tennessee,
1997(4) R. C. Sproul, ed.; New Geneva Study Bible (replaced by Spirit of the Reformation Study
Bible); Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville, Tennessee, 1995(5) Voelz, J.; “The discourse on the Bread of Life in John 6: Is it Eucharistic?” Concordia
Journal 1989, 29-37.(6) Dodd, C.; The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel; Cambridge University Press: Cambridge,
1963(7) Jeremias, J.; The Eucharistic Words of Jesus; SCM Press: London, 1966(8) W. A. Jurgens, trans.; The Faith of the Early Fathers; Vol. 1; The Order of St. Benedict,
Inc.: Collegeville, Minnesota, 1970(9) Scaer, D.P.; The Sermon on the Mount: The Church's First Statement of the Gospel; Concordia
Publishing House: St. Louis, Missouri, 2000(10) Turretin, F.; G. M. Giger, trans.; Institutes of Elenctic Theology; P & R Publishing:
Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 1997(11) Nevin, J.W.; The Mystical Presence: A Vindication of the Reformed or Calvinistic Doctrine
of the Holy Eucharist; J. B. Lippincott & Co.: Philadelphia, 1846(12) Mathison, K.A.; Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin's Doctrine of the Lord's Supper; P&R
Publishing: Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 2002(13) Gorman, M.J.; Diaconis, P.; “Deception: Perspectives from Science, Technology and Art,”
accessed July 27, 2005; available from Vos, J.G.; G. I. Williamson, ed.; The Westminster Larger Catechism; P&R Publishing: New
Jersey, 2002(15) Somerville, J.; “The 'new art of lying': equivocation, mental reservation, and casuistry”
In Conscience and Casuistry in Early Modern Europe; Leites, E., Ed.; Cambridge University
Press: Cambridge, 1988; pp 159-184.(16) Bickel, D.R.; “The Lord's Supper and the perspicuity of Scripture: If the Bible is
perfectly clear, why do Protestants still disagree?” 2005, available from Bickel, D.R.; “Ways the Son of Man calls forth life: Seeking the kingdom of God in word
and sacrament” 2005, available from Chemnitz, M.; J. A. O. Preus, trans.; The Two Natures in Christ; Concordia Publishing
House: St. Louis, Missouri, 1971ref_endi “In contradistinction to the neo-Platonic spiritualism of Origin and Augustine, the Eastern
church has retained the realism of Ignatius and the Orthodox Fathers.” cit_bf1, p. 144cit_af
ref_bf(Sasse, 1977 (, p. 144) ref_num27)ref_afii Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:24-25.iii “Even the walking on the sea has been understood [by the Ancient Church] as pointing to the
divine-human mystery of the body of Jesus.” cit_bf1, p. 144cit_af ref_bf(Sasse, 1977 (, p. 144)
ref_num27)ref_afiv This is the Johannine equivalent of the exhortation to seek the kingdom rather than the
things of this age (Matthew 6:33; Luke 12:31).v As, e.g., per Martin Luther and Charles As, e.g., per John Calvin.vii If John 6:35 gives the non-eucharistic meaning to the symbol of eating, then the additional
eucharistic meaning, that of orally eating his flesh, would exhibit double entendre, a literary
device commonly used in John (e.g., 11:48-52; 12:32-33; 18:8-9; 19:15; Blombergcit_bf3, p.
102cit_af ref_bf(Blomberg, 1997 (, p. 102) ref_num20)ref_af cites 2:4; 7:6; 12:23; a Calvinistic
study Biblecit_bf4, p. 1657cit_af ref_bf( 1995 (, p. 1657) ref_num21)ref_af cites 3:14; 6:62;
Voelzcit_bf5cit_af ref_bf(Voelz, 1989 ref_num4)ref_af cites 1:5). (A double entendre, or double
meaning, tends to be less language-dependent than a pun, the use of a similarity in words’
sounds for humor.) Bischof argued that Johannine usage supports attaching different meanings to
6:35 and 6:51.cit_bf2cit_af ref_bf(Bischof, 1999 ref_num9)ref_af However, a harmonization
between the eucharistic and non-eucharistic meanings may be somewhat artificial: “If in the
first part of the discourse Jesus calls himself the bread of life, while in verse 51b he speaks
of his flesh and blood, it is neither necessary nor possible to harmonize this... The discourses
of Jesus, as John has transmitted them to us, are not logically-constructed speeches, like those
of Cicero.” cit_bf1, p. 144cit_af ref_bf(Sasse, 1977 (, p. 144) ref_num27)ref_afviii There are two plausible explanations for John’s use of flesh in place of body, as occurs in
the words of institution:1. Docetists had already been using the word body in a spiritualized sense, so that in combating
their heresy, John, and Ignatius after him, substituted the word flesh for the sake of
clarity.cit_bf1, p. 292;cit_af ref_bf(Sasse, 1977 (, p. 292;) ref_num27)ref_af cit_bf2, pp.
57-67cit_af ref_bf(Bischof, 1999 (, pp. 57-67) ref_num9)ref_af 2. The word flesh in John’s tradition of the words of institution, shared by Ignatius and Justin
Martyr, is a literal translation of the original Hebrew or Aramaic spoken by Jesus, whereas the
word body in the Pauline/Synoptic tradition is “the idiomatic Greek translation,” according to
Jeremias.cit_bf7, p. 199cit_af ref_bf(Jeremias, 1966 (, p. 199) ref_num8)ref_af In his own
exposition of the words institution (pp. 218-237), he did not make use of John 6:53-58, even
though he did regard that passage as a genuine Johannine exposition of those words (pp.
107-108).Each explanation relies in part on the statement of Ignatius (c. 110 A.D.) that the early
docetists “abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the
Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, Flesh which suffered for our sins and which
the Father, in His goodness, raised up again” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 7:1).cit_bf8, p.
25cit_af ref_bf( 1970 (, p. 25) ref_num12)ref_afix Apparently, John wanted to teach the Christian community about the Lord’s Supper without the
awareness of those outside the community. Some suggested reasons for John’s wanting to hide
eucharistic references from unbelievers one into include the following:1. John wrote primarily for a non-Christian audience that would have been confused by explicit
references to a ceremony practiced only by those initiated into the Christian community.cit_bf6,
pp. 338-339cit_af ref_bf(Dodd, 1963 (, pp. 338-339) ref_num5)ref_af2. It has also been suggested that John believed that to tell unbelievers about the most
intimate aspect of Christian worship would be to defile the sacred. 3. John wrote in such a way as to avoid persecution.[Sasse, 1977 (, p. 144) #27]It is likewise believed that the phrase “water and the Spirit” (John 3:5) cryptically refers to
baptism.cit_bf1, p. 144cit_af ref_bf(Sasse, 1977 (, p. 144) ref_num27)ref_afx As the disciples did not even comprehend Jesus’ clear predictions of his death and
resurrection before Passion Week, they could not have understood the prediction of giving bread
in connection with his sacrificial death (John 6:27, 51, 60; cf. 2:19-22). Thus, they did not
grasp the meaning of that prediction until they heard the words of institution.xi Had the apostle thought that only spiritual flesh and spiritual blood were sacrificed for the
world, his doctrine would resemble the very docetic position he condemned. Again, there is no
disagreement on the meaning of flesh and blood between influential representatives of the
eucharistic and non-eucharistic interpretations.xii Influenced by Francis Turretin,cit_bf10, p. 513cit_af ref_bf(Turretin, 1997 (, p. 513)
ref_num41)ref_af many confessional Presbyterians take this position.xiii This observation does not in itself prove the eucharistic interpretation: the more mystical
Calvinists believe that the text teaches a real communion with the resurrected body and blood of
Jesus, and that the text sheds light on the Lord’s Supper without referring to it.cit_bf11;
cit_af ref_bf(Nevin, 1846 (; ) ref_num46)ref_afcit_bf12cit_af ref_bf(Mathison, 2002
ref_num25)ref_afxiv For example, while taking the exclusively non-eucharistic interpretation, the web site of
the Orthodox Presbyterian Church says, “When his hearers continue to be offended, our Lord
aggravates the offense - as He so often did - by speaking in terms that are more starkly
offensive to them. ‘I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this
bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is
My flesh.’ (v. 51) They take him literally and argue, offended, over what He could mean. And so
He restates it even more baldly: ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His
blood, you have no life in yourselves. ... My flesh is true food, and My blood is true
drink....’ (vv.53-55)” ( For complex historical reasons, many sixteenth- and seventeenth-century theologians held that
in some circumstances equivocation and mental reservation, but not lying, were permissible, with
the implication that whether or not one should deceive in a given emergency depends in part on
his or her cleverness.cit_bf15cit_af ref_bf(Somerville, 1988 ref_num22)ref_afxvi Not even Turretin denies that Jesus' flesh has power to save “by the merit of his
sacrifice.” Rather, he seems to follow Zwingli in denying that that Spirit really uses means of
grace to impart life: “...his flesh orally received conduces not to salvation, since it belongs
to the Spirit alone to vivify us.” cit_bf10, p. 513cit_af ref_bf(Turretin, 1997 (, p. 513)
ref_num41)ref_afxvii “The gospels were written for liturgical use, as they were to be read at the weekly
Eucharist. This is even more obvious in John’s community than it was in Matthew’s. The Fourth
Gospel must in some sense presuppose information about Jesus which only Matthew and Mark
preserve, as John does not have birth narratives and the institution of Baptism and the Lord’s
Supper. He does, however, provide theological commentary on events known to us only through the
Synoptics, so John 6 serves as a theological commentary on the Lord’s Supper, as John 3 with the
Nicodemus account serves as one on Baptism.” cit_bf9, pp. 179-180cit_af ref_bf(Scaer, 2000 (,
pp. 179-180) ref_num18)ref_af The first-century worship service was incomplete without the
Supper (Acts 2:42-46; 20:7-11).cit_bf7, pp. 118-121cit_af ref_bf(Jeremias, 1966 (, pp. 118-121)
ref_num8)ref_afxviii The objection that the words of institution have to be metaphorical because they refer to
Christ’s body as given (past tense)cit_bf10, p. 482 has as much force against metaphorical
interpretations of the words of institution as it has against more literal interpretations:
there is a sense in which the bread and wine could not have symbolized the body and blood given
in death before the event, when it would have been more precise to say that they symbolize the
body and blood that will be given in death.xix In John’s account of the gospel, during the night on which the Lord was betrayed, he often
spoke from a post-resurrection standpoint.cit_bf6, pp. 393, 397-398cit_af ref_bf(Dodd, 1963 (,
pp. 393, 397-398) ref_num5)ref_af He spoke proleptically even before that night, as in the
discourse on the living water (John 4:23), so 6:35 need not be interpreted to mean that Jesus
gave himself as food long before giving his life for the world, which would seem contrary to
6:33 (but see the above note on the double entendre). Just as drinking the living water was not
possible until the Holy Spirit was given (John 4:13-14; 7:37-39), there is no indication that
eating the body and drinking the blood of Jesus were possible before the Last Supper.xx Turretin reasoned that since oral consumption of Christ is neither absolutely necessary nor
sufficient for salvation, it must be useless.cit_bf10, p. 514cit_af ref_bf(Turretin, 1997 (, p.
514) ref_num41)ref_af Consistency would lead to the deduction that any administration of the
sacrament is useless unless it is either absolutely necessary or sufficient for salvation.xxi Dodd’s discussion is helpful here.cit_bf6, p. 387cit_af ref_bf(Dodd, 1963 (, p. 387)
ref_num5)ref_afxxii The promise that Christ, in his human nature, is present in the bread and wine also
reinforces other promises of his presence as man, e.g., Matthew 18:20; 28:20.cit_bf18cit_af
ref_bf(Chemnitz, 1971 ref_num28)ref_af
Copyright © 2006 David R. Bickel. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard
Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by
permission. All rights reserved.