This article is written in response to an article entitled Four Reasons Why the Bread of Life Discourse Cannot be a Metaphor, found at a Roman Catholic website. (google key words to find it). We are talking here about whether the Eucharist (communion) elements become the ACTUAL body and blood of Christ when blessed and taken.
I will respond to the 4 reasons found in the named article, and then present additional reasons why it does make sense to consider the words of Christ in John 6 as a metaphor.
REASON 1. The nature of the words used. So lets look at them...in context. The 5000 (plus women and children) had just been fed women and children) had just been fed the day before, and Jesus begins by telling his audience, Jews (vs. 41) that had just been fed that they are there because they got free food the day before. Then he says, "Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you". Further down (31) they make reference to the manna, and Jesus says He is the true bread from heaven. They ask for that bread, and He says to them, "I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst."
Note the requirements here: Come and believe. Note also that if we take this literally, no Christian should ever literally hunger or thirst. Now the requirements for eternal life are spelled out AGAIN in verse 40... "every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life..." And as if that isn't enough, verse 47 spells out the formula AGAIN..."Verily (truly), verily I say unto you, 'He that believeth on me hath (present tense) everlasting life." Roman Catholics would have us believe that it is the continual taking in of the Eucharist elements that maintains everlasting life...but that is not what Jesus said prior to the passage we are focusing on! To say I have it (now) and it is eternal means the issue is settled... He is not offering an installment payment plan, but a gift....as we read in Romans 6:23. Going on to verse 50, we find that those who eat the bread will not die. Just how literal is that? It is a literal SPIRITUAL truth...regarding SPIRITUAL life rather than physical life.
Now I will quote the main passage in question:
"Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso
eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh
my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. ... he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. ...he that
eateth of this bread shall live for ever.
The reaction was to be expected based on what the Jews knew... i.e. that Lev. 17:11 said they were not to drink (eat) blood! See also Acts 15:19-20 The sound of the statements reminds one of canni-balism. I don't blame them for their reaction. Then in verse 63 Jesus says that it is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak to you, they are spirit and they are life. Notice carefully: words = life. And also notice, that it was AFTER Jesus tried to clarify the spiritual nature of his metaphor that they rejected his explanation and left him. Why didn't Jesus sort of "chase them down"? Partly because He wasn't building a church at that time, but training a group of disciples who would LATER lead His church when he returned to heaven. Also...He had said at the beginning...you are here for the literal bread. He knew they were not "disciple" material all along. Then in 6:68 we find Peter saying, that Jesus had the WORDS of eternal life, not the flesh/blood to provide it.
If we look at Matt. 26:29 we find that after Christ referrred to the cup as blood He then referred to it as fruit of the vine. Which was it? When we go to I Cor. 10:17 and 11:26 it refers to the bread as bread. Another issue: I Cor. 11:26 refers to the cup as the new testament in his blood. Is the cup wine, blood, or the new covenant? The truth is the wine can symbolize both His blood and the new covenant.
Let's return to the question of why Jesus said his flesh was meat indeed and his blood drink indeed. We KNOW that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness to gain eternal life. So lets look back at the OT parallel or picture of redemption by the blood. Three types of offerings are described in Lev. 23. There were grain offerings (from which bread is made (Lev. 23:11, 17), there were "meat offerings" (Lev. 23:18) and there were "drink offerings made by fire" ( verse 13 - wine was used).
Fire, by the way, speaks of judgment. All of this was part of the sacrifice system. Many Jews had the 5 books of Moses memorized and would or should have been able to recall these kinds of sacrifice offerings. Verse 19 states the animals killed were a SIN offering. So Jesus is saying my flesh is indeed a meat...suitable for the ultimate sin offering...and my blood is indeed suitable for the ultimate drink offering. Yes, He said to eat and drink. And later said his flesh would profit nothing, but his WORDS would be life. So in context the metaphor is GIVEN and then EXPLAINED to people who should have been connecting the dots because both before and after the metaphor, He gave the literal requirement for eternal life... believing His words.
When we study the New Testament teachings as a whole, we realize that many metaphors are given.
1. I am the bread of life (John 6:35)
2. I am the light of the world (John 8:12)
3. I am the door (John 10:9)
4. I am the good shepherd (John 10:11)
5. I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25)
6. I am the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6)
7. I am the vine. (John 15:1)
We also see that the point-blank truth of being given eternal life when we believe (have faith, trust) in Christ's sacrifice for us is stated over 125 times in the New Testament. If the John 6 statements are taken literally, then EVERY ONE OF THOSE OTHER STATEMENTS IS INCOMPLETE AND THUS MISLEADING. Is that how God operates? Of course not. Careful Bible study takes all that is said and builds on clear and oft-repeated statements, rather than the lone question mark statement.
REASON 2 From the biblical usage of the figure "to eat one’s flesh" This to me is a non-argument. If it is a metaphor, then other places in the Bible where it talks about eating flesh (literally) do not have a bearing on it.
REASON 3 From the reactions of the listeners The article I am quoting says Jesus does not correct his listeners... read it again. Yes, he did. Verses 64- 64 correct them. He said the flesh would profit nothing, and that His words were spirit and life, and it was after that that they turned away (66).
REASON 4 From the interpretation of the Fathers and the Magisterium. Names of some church fathers are given, and a reference to the Council of Trent upholding the literal interpretation of John 6. Well, I have never based my belief on the (fallible) church fathers, but on the word of God being the BEST and most reliable interpreter of itself. It is allowing traditions and pronouncements of men to take first place over the word of God that has gotten the Roman Catholic church so far from the Bible on many issues.
HOWEVER...The truth is that even though I do not follow the early church fathers as authoritative, I looked up and found that the following early church fathers (before and around 200AD) opposed the idea of transubstantiation of the elements: Tertullian, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Cyprian, and Hippolytus. It was centuries later that the doctrine was developed by Popes. They were accused of cannibalism by a man named Celsus and another man in the so-called gospel of Judas, so to counter that, they had to speak out against the idea.
Here are some additional reasons why John 6 is a metaphor, and the elements are symbolic.
(5) We are told to do this in remembrance of Christ (I Cor. 11), not to maintain eternal life...which would become temporary life if we failed to do what is asked.
(6) The fact that a time frame for taking the elements is not given is significant. It says to do it as often as we choose to. If it is tied to eternal life, I would think there would be a statement of how OFTEN it needs to be done so we don't lose out.
(7) The cannibalistic image gets even worse if you picture a part of Christ's body moving through our digestive tracts and on out into a toilet. Sorry, but literal = literal. And if I take that bite and wonder if it is arm flesh or thigh flesh or....? This is really pretty sick, isn't it? ADD to this the FACT that Jews were forbidden to eat/drink any blood! Lev. 17:12 Why would Jesus ask them to do what was forbidden?
(8) Catechism paragraphs 1394 and 1395 suggest we get more love and are less likely to sin by taking the communion elements. This is confusion. I Peter 2:2, says we are to "desire the sincere milk of the WORD (remember Jesus said his words = life) so that we may grow thereby." Psalm 119:11 says, "Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee."
(9) Another part of the confusion is seen when Jesus says at the last supper that the cup he held was his blood... He didn't say part of his blood... he said, "my blood"...same is true of the bread...he said, "this is my body," not part of my body. Was Jesus lacking blood or body parts when He said these words, or were they symbolic? Did Jesus eat and drink his own blood and body? Look at Matthew 26:29. Jesus said he would not drink of this fruit of the vine until the future kingdom came. Jesus had blessed the cup...He HIMSELF has told us what was in that cup! Another way of looking at this: Was Jesus omnipresent? Could he in His human body in order to be in TWO PLACES at once?
(10) There are many other elements of Eucharist-worship that are contrary to the word of God. In the Catechism book (para 1382) it says that to take communion is to receive Christ himself. Really? I thought Christ (by his Spirit) entered my life when I believed? This is confusion. Paragraph 1393 says communion separates us from sin. Really? I thought Christ's original sacrifice was the thing that cleansed me. I thought it was once for all time. I thought the forgiveness became mine when I believed.
(11) Let's be pragmatic. If the Eucharist is just to REMEMBER what Christ did as it says in I Corinthians 11 then our dependence on mass and priests would be less, and our attendance at mass would be voluntary rather than a fear-requirement. I see these deceptive imbellishments of the communion cup and bread as ways to TIE people to the church. It is a tie that blinds people to the concept of grace and the fact that eternal life is a gift that is.... in fact, eternal.
(12) Finally, since the Bible makes it clear that it is the shedding of BLOOD that brings forgiveness....why is it that the Church in many countries no longer gives the cup to its people. They give the wafer (bread), but not the cup. ( If we are going to be literal, Jesus said the flesh profiteth othing, but He did not say the blood had no profit in it, right?) Look: Jesus SAID to eat his flesh A N D drink His blood to have eternal life (John 6:54). If this is a literal truth...isn't the Catholic Church denying people eternal life by denying people the cup? You can't have it both ways, you know. If the Roman Catholic Church ITSELF does not take seriously the passage they affirm is literal... why should we?