What Catholics Believe about John 6

For millions of non-Catholic Christians, Jesus was using pure symbolism in John 6:53 when he declared to his followers, “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.” The reasons non-Catholics give can usually be boiled down to these: First, a literal interpretation would make Christians into cannibals. Second, Jesus claims to be a “door” in John 10:9 and a “vine” in John 15:5. Do Catholics believe they must pluck a leaf from Jesus the vine or oil the hinges on Jesus the door to get into heaven? So the non-Catholic claims Jesus is using metaphor in John 6, just as he does elsewhere in the Gospels.

Catholic Cannibals?

The charge of cannibalism does not hold water for at least three reasons. First, Catholics do not receive our Lord in a cannibalistic form. Catholics receive him in the form of bread and wine. The cannibal kills his victim; Jesus does not die when he is consumed in Communion. Indeed, he is not changed in the slightest; the communicant is the only person who is changed. The cannibal eats part of his victim, whereas in Communion the entire Christ is consumed—body, blood, soul, and divinity. The cannibal sheds the blood of his victim; in Communion our Lord gives himself to us in a non-bloody way. Second, if it were truly immoral in any sense for Christ to give us his flesh and blood to eat, it would be contrary to his holiness to command anyone to eat his body and blood—even symbolically. Symbolically performing an immoral act would be of its natureimmoral. Moreover, the expressions to eat flesh and to drink blood already carried symbolic meaning both in the Hebrew Old Testament and in the Greek New Testament, which was heavily influenced by Hebrew. In Psalm 27:1-2, Isaiah 9:18-20, Isaiah 49:26, Micah 3:3, and Revelation 17:6-16, we find these words (eating flesh and drinking blood) understood as symbolic for persecuting or assaulting someone. Jesus’ Jewish audience would never have thought he was saying, “Unless you persecute and assault me, you shall not have life in you.” Jesus never encouraged sin. This may well be another reason why the Jews took Christ at his word.

Not Metaphorically Speaking

If Jesus was speaking in purely symbolic terms, his competence as a teacher would have to be called into question. No one listening to him understood him to be speaking metaphorically. Contrast his listeners’ reaction when Jesus said he was a “door” or a “vine.” Nowhere do we find anyone asking, “How can this man be a door made out of wood?” Or, “How can this man claim to be a plant?” When Jesus spoke in metaphor, his audience seems to have been fully aware of it. When we examine the surrounding context of John 6:53, Jesus’ words could hardly have been clearer. In verse 51, he plainly claims to be “the living bread” that his followers must eat. And he says in no uncertain terms that “the bread which I shall give . . . is my flesh.” Then, when the Jews were found “disput[ing] among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” in verse 52, he reiterates even more emphatically, “Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Compare this with other examples in Scripture when followers of the Lord are confused about his teaching. In John 4:32, Jesus says: “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” The disciples thought Jesus was speaking about physical food. Our Lord quickly clears up the point using concise, unmistakable language in verse 34: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work” (see also Matthew 16:5-12). Moreover, when we consider the language used by John, a literal interpretation—however disturbing—becomes even more obvious. In John 6:50-53 we encounter various forms of the Greek verb phago,“eating.” However, after the Jews begin to express incredulity at the idea of eating Christ’s flesh, the language begins to intensify. In verse 54, John begins to use trogo instead of phago. Trogo is a decidedly more graphic term, meaning “to chew on” or to “gnaw on”—as when an animal is ripping apart its prey. Then, in verse 61, it is no longer the Jewish multitudes, but the disciples themselves who are having difficulty with these radical statements of our Lord. Surely, if he were speaking symbolically, he would clear up the difficulty now among his disciples. Instead, what does Jesus do? He reiterates the fact that he meant just what he said: “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before?” (61-62). Would anyone think him to have meant, “What if you were to see me symbolicallyascend?” Hardly! The apostles, in fact, did see Jesus literally ascend to where he was before (see Acts 1:9-10). Finally, our Lord turns to the twelve. What he does not say to them is perhaps more important than what he does say. He doesn’t say, “Hey guys, I was misleading the Jewish multitudes, the disciples, and everyone else, but now I am going to tell you alone the simple truth: I was speaking symbolically.” Rather, he says to them, “Will you also go away?” (v. 67). This most profound question from our Lord echoes down through the centuries, calling all followers of Christ in a similar fashion. With St. Peter, those who hear the voice of the Shepherd respond: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (v. 68).

Spirit vs. Flesh

John 6:63 is the one verse singled out by Protestant apologists to counter much of what we have asserted thus far. After seeing the Jews and the disciples struggling with the radical nature of his words, our Lord says to the disciples and to us all: “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.” Protestants claim Jesus here lets us know he was speaking symbolically or “spiritually” when he said “the spirit gives life, the flesh is of no avail.” See? He is not giving us his flesh to eat because he says “the flesh is of no avail.” How do we respond? We can in several ways. 1) If Jesus was clearing up the point, he would have to be considered a poor teacher: Many of the disciples left him immediately thereafter because they still believed the words of our Lord to mean what they said. 2) Most importantly, Jesus did not say, “My flesh is of no avail.” He said, “The flesh is of no avail.” There is a rather large difference between the two. No one, it is safe to say, would have believed he meant my flesh avails nothing because he just spent a good portion of this same discourse telling us that his flesh would be “given for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51, cf. 50-58). So to what was he referring?The flesh is a New Testament term often used to describe human nature apart from God’s grace. For example, Christ said to the apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mk 14:38). According to Paul, if we are in “the flesh,” we are “hostile to God” and “cannot please God” (cf. Rom 8:1-14). In First Corinthians 2:14, he tells us, “The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” In First Corinthians 3:1, Paul goes on, “But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ.” It requires supernatural grace in the life of the believer to believe the radical declaration of Christ concerning the Eucharist. As Jesus himself said both before and after this “hard saying”: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (Jn 6:44, cf. 6:65). Belief in the Eucharist is a gift of grace. The natural mind—or the one who is in “the flesh”—will never be able to understand this great Christian truth. 3) On another level very closely related to our last point, Christ said, “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail,” because he wills to eliminate any possibility of a sort of crass literalism that would reduce his words to a cannibalistic understanding. It is the Holy Spirit that will accomplish the miracle of Christ being able to ascend into heaven bodily while being able simultaneously to distribute his body and blood in the Eucharist for the life of the world. A human body, even a perfect one, apart from the power of the Spirit could not accomplish this. 4) That which is spiritual does not necessarily equate to that which has no material substance. It often means that which is dominated or controlled by the Spirit. One thing we do not want to do as Christians is to fall into the trap of believing that because Christ says his words are “spirit and life,” or “spiritual,” they cannot involve the material. When speaking of the resurrection of the body, Paul wrote: “It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44). Does this mean we will not have a physical body in the resurrection? Of course not. In Luke 24:39, Jesus made that clear after his own Resurrection: “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” The resurrected body is spiritual, and indeed we can be called spiritualas Christians inasmuch as we are controlled by the Spirit of God. Spiritual in no way means void of the material. That interpretation is more gnostic than Christian. The confusion here is most often based upon confusion between spirit—a noun—and the adjective spiritual. When spirit is used, e.g., “God is spirit” in John 4:24, it is then referring to that which is not material. However, the adjective spiritualis not necessarily referring to the absence of the material; rather, it is referring to the material controlled by the Spirit. Thus, we could conclude that Jesus’ words, “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail” have essentially a twofold meaning. Only the Spirit can accomplish the miracle of the Eucharist, and only the Spirit can empower us to believe the miracle.   Written By Tim Staples


Leave a Reply
  1. Yes I did take the sacrament believing that I was receiving Christ, and because of my faith in that sacrament, the Lord showed me a more exact way to receive Him.
    We celebrate the Lord’s Supper to remember that the Lord died for our sins, making the partaking of the elements “the bread and the wine” very special for all Christians. But we should also celebrate the Supper as the introduction of the new covenant. For we read in Luke 22:19-20: “And when He had taken some bread and 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.’ And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.”’
    What does this new covenant in His blood mean?
    This new covenant was foretold through the prophet Jeremiah. However, we will read it from Hebrews 8:7-13: “For if the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. For finding fault with them He says, behold, days are coming, says the Lord, when I will effect a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in My covenant, and I did not care for them, says the Lord.”
    ‘For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel. After those days, says the Lord; I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them upon their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, and everyone his brother, saying, know the Lord, for all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.’ When He said, a new covenant, He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.”
    The main feature of this new covenant described by the above scripture is that it will be internalised, in other words it will be made part of our character. What we need to know is the mechanism through which the law, or character of God, will be internalised in our heart. We will find the answer in the following scriptures; for in John 6:53-64 we read: “Jesus therefore 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 yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father is in Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me in him. This is the bread, which came down out of heaven; not as the father ate, and died, he who eats this bread shall live forever.’ These things He said in the synagogue, as He taught in Capernaum.”
    “Therefore, many of his disciples, when they heard this said, ‘This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, ‘Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you should behold the Son of Man ascending where He was before? It is the spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not understand.’”
    “For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not understand, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, ‘For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him to understand from the Father.”’
    Those who truly heard what He said, understood and believed that unpalatable statement, for we read in John 8:31-36: “Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you abide in My words, then you are truly disciples of mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ They answered Him, ‘We are Abraham’s offspring, and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how it is that You say, you shall become free?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. And the slave does not remain in the house forever, the son does remain forever. If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.”’
    The Apostle Paul, using plain language, explains to us the sins that we should be free from, for we read in 1Corinthians 6:9-11: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.”
    If you are still struggling to understand the intended meaning of the Lord’s Supper, the following explanation should clear all misunderstandings. We all know that the food that we eat goes in the stomach and is digested to provide nourishment, strength and life to our physical body. Even so, the word of God that we eat, swallow, or believe becomes nourishment in shaping our character, having become part of the life of our conscience; consequently we live our life according to the words that our soul has eaten, swallowed, or believed. Even in our every day life when we hear a far-fetched story we use the expression that says, “Do you expect me to swallow that?” So “eat, swallow and believe,” are all saying the same thing.
    Let us remember that we should eat, swallow, or believe the Word of God to gain its wisdom, without neglecting to live the life that that Word suggests, that is to say, repent; for if we have all the mental wisdom of the word but do not repent, that wisdom has become useless. We read in James 1:22-24: “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer; he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.” In other words, he returns to live through his natural fleshly self, at best deluding himself in the ambiguity of religion.
    We should also be aware, that the new covenant contains serious ramifications for those who have been enlightened, for we read in Hebrews 10:26-29: “For if we go on sinning wilfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversary. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the life of the covenant by which he was sanctified, thus he has insulted the Spirit of grace?”
    Hence, after eating the Word of the Lord to gain its wisdom, we must also drink the Blood of the Lord. Because drinking from the cup of the Lord means to live the life of the Lord. Jesus was also made to drink from a cup, for we read in Luke 22:42: “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Thine be done.”
    It is obvious that to fully understand the parables one must dig beyond the face value of the message because if we have the light of Godliness, the Spirit will give us understanding while we meditate on the word that has been written, as the following scripture will clearly demonstrate as we read in 1 Corinthians 10:14-17: “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say. Is not the cup of blessing, which we partake a sharing in the Life of Christ? Is not the bread, which we break a sharing in the Word of Christ? Since there is one Word we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one Word”.
    The inserted Italic words in the above scriptures makes its rendering easier to understand, because, as you can see, the scripture is only describing normal human behaviour when people partake of the same things. In other words, those who share the same beliefs are naturally drawn together to form a body of people with one common purpose in mind. Like a political party that has a written constitution highlighting the common goals and aspirations of that party, the Jews have the Old Testament; the Muslims have the Koran that holds them together; the Buddhists have some other book, and so on and so forth. But Christians who are growing and are living Christ’s life are a beacon of light for all, because we have the bread of life, the Word of God.
    Therefore we should feast on the bread of God by constant meditation to facilitate the digestion process and at the same time share the revelations of the Word with our brothers to extract all wisdom that it contains; but most of all we should drink the life, which the Word teaches: hence behaving in a godly fashion and doing good works, through which, at the appointed time God will reveal His Son in us.
    And with that heavenly hope in mind, let us assemble to eat and drink together the symbols of the “body” Word and the “blood” Life of our God.
    Glory to God

Leave a Reply Brethren !





Written by Raphael Benedict

How Do We Explain the Passover "Discrepancy"?

Do I tithe 10 percent of my gross income or 10 percent of my net income?