A Protestant Interpretation of John 6

I got into a ‘debate’ with a friend again, and she linked me an article. I’m getting better in the apologetics field, but this article kind of stumped me.

What Jesus Meant When He Said “You Must Eat My Flesh”

By Jon Bloom

The day before, Jesus had fed 5,000 people with a few loaves and fish. Then that night he walked miles across the Sea of Galilee before catching up with his disciples in their boat. The crowd had seen him send his disciples away in the only boat available. So the next day, when they found him in Capernaum, they knew he could have only got there miraculously. They wanted him to be their king.

Then he went and ruined everything. To his adoring fans Jesus said,

Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal (John 6:26-27).
Confused, they asked him how they could work to please God. He replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). (God isn’t looking for workers. He’s looking for believers.)

Jesus was a hero to the crowd because he had fed them. But Jesus discerned something very wrong about their enthusiasm. They wanted more “bread from heaven.”

But wanting the blessings Jesus provides is not the same thing as believing in him. Indeed, Jesus had come to give them bread from heaven. But not that kind of bread.

So to test them he began to make statements that sounded very strange. He told them that he was the true bread from heaven that gives life to the world and whoever eats this bread would live forever.

Then he said, “And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (v. 51). This sounded like cannibalism. His listeners balked. He pressed it even further:

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. Whoever feeds on 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 (John 6:53-55).

The “Jesus for King” campaign evaporated. The people walked away shaking their heads. The crazy man wants us to eat his flesh! They completely misunderstood what Jesus was saying.

So what did he mean? Here are the clues:

How do you labor for the food that endures to eternal life? Believe in me! (v. 27, 29)

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me [in faith] shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (v. 35)

“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (v. 40)

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.” (v. 47)

For Jesus eating is believing; drinking is believing. He promises eternal life to those who believe in him. Believe what?

Believe that his death—the breaking of his body and spilling of his blood—pays in full the penalty for our sin and that his perfect righteousness is freely given to us in exchange for our unrighteousness.

Believing this is how we “eat” Jesus’ flesh and “drink” his blood. This is why he instituted the Lord’s Supper: he did not want us to forget the very core of what we believe.

When the crowd took offense at his gruesome talk, Jesus exposed their unbelief: “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe” (vv. 63-64).

Let’s you and I be like Peter. He didn’t walk away, but instead said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God” (vv. 68-69).

Homework’s been stressing me out lately, and my mind’s not all there, so if I could get some other people’s thoughts on this I would be so thankful

Thank you all, pax Christi

A frequent line of argument in Protestant responses like this is that it’s either/or; it’s can never be both; if it’s one, it’s at the exclusion of the other; and so on.

Yes, believing in Christ, to receive the word, to hear the scriptures, is to eat his flesh and drink his blood. But believing is more than an intellectual activity. It’s giving yourself entirely in trust over to Christ, following him, doing the works of the Father, letting Christ live in you. To believe in Christ is a participation of one’s whole self in the life of Christ and letting Christ into your own life. The Eucharist isn’t something different than this theology, it’s the summation and capstone to it. It ties in together with it, it enlightens it, it completes it. Christ gives himself to us totally: body, blood, soul and divinity. He does this perpetually. He does this physically. He does this in a way that we can routinely participate. We cannot brush off Jesus’ explicit and repeated command to eat his body and drink his blood, which are “true food” and “true drink,” so easily, nor is your friend’s intellectual interpretation sufficient to fully account for what’s said throughout the chapter.

The Gospel of John was written between 90 to 110 AD, no? So, Christians had already been celebrating and worshiping on the Lord’s Day with the breaking of the bread for sixty to seventy years by the time John wrote it. There was already the established context and practice; the gospel wasn’t written in a vacuum. When John wrote John 6, he was not just recounting an event of Jesus’ life, he was also commenting on what Christians had been doing for at least sixty years. There is no way he could not have had this practice in mind or have missed the fact that people would be connecting Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse (made on a Passover) with the Lord’s Supper which was celebrated every Sunday, particularly when he full well knew that this gospel would be read during the Christian worship immediately before the the eucharistic liturgy in which the priest would be reciting Jesus’ words of institution: “This is my body… This is my blood…” Knowing this, what was John trying to communicate to the Christian congregations? What difficult and deeply theological truth was he trying to convey to the Christian community which many at the time may have had a difficult time perceiving even after over sixty years of practice? The truth about the Real Presence during the breaking of the bread. If John had written John 6 sixty years after the practice of the breaking of the bread had begun and had wanted to avoid confusion about what the breaking of the bread means with these very explicit words, there would have been far better ways to do this. The gospels are not only a recounting of history, but also a recounting and commentary of already existing and present Christian traditions, especially John, whose gospel has very theological bent to it.

The Real Presence is made known throughout the Early Church Fathers. The early and even primitive Christian community believed in it.

It’s a very nice dodge of an obvious point–that Jesus said what he said with no equivocations or explanations.

Indeed, he didn’t even explain himself to his disciples, although he had many times before when they didn’t understand his words.

Rather, he left the question hanging in the air–leaving it up to them to decide if they truly believed in him or not.

So, this whole back explanation doesn’t really fit the scenario in the text.

Along with this, the Church doesn’t base her teachings about the Eucharist on this passage, or any other passage of Scripture, for that matter. Our Protestant brethren are the ones who use the Bible as a proof-text for their beliefs, not the Church.

The Bible is a product of the Church and the whole of Sacred Tradition, beginning with Adam and ending in the revelation of Christ, the Word of God. We believe what we believe because it is what Christ handed on to his Apostles and which has been passed down to us in written form and oral teaching through the Church Christ himself founded.

So, don’t be bothered by anyone’s attempts to sidestep Sacred Tradition in order to negate Church teachings. It’s an old ploy that only those who believe in Sola Scriptura give any credence.

Anything that begins with “What Jesus meant…” is clearly nothing more than one man’s opinion. And, not a good opinion, as it is taken out of context, and twisted to fit an agenda. Rather than listening to the successors of the Apostles (Luke 10:16), post-reformation Christians argue incessantly over the meaning of printed words on a page.

  1. Where did Christ teach that method of handing the faith on?

  2. Who made this person or congregation the sacred guardians of the faith?

If Jesus never went on ahead and instituted the Lord’s Supper with the words, “Take and eat, this is my Body…” Then maybe they would have a point.

As it stands, either Jesus was a complete moron, or He intended these words to point towards the Eucharist.

“I am the bread of life…” John 6: 35.

From here we go to John 3: 16.
"For God so loved the world that He gave* His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life."

Most Christians accept John 3: 16 as a true statement that Jesus is true God. Therefore, a Divine Being, in John, chapter 6, has the Divine power of giving Himself to us in the Bread of Life.

John 14: 18
"I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you."

If they were wrong, then why did Jesus keep saying “I’m the bread from heaven!”…?

I mean, if He wanted them to have a different take, wouldn’t He have said, “no… don’t look for bread from heaven, look for XYZ instead”? But no… the living bread from heaven was precisely what He offered, and the crowd recognized that this is what He was telling them!

So to test them he began to make statements that sounded very strange. He told them that he was the true bread from heaven that gives life to the world and whoever eats this bread would live forever.

If it were a test, then would He have let them go? Or, wouldn’t He have said, “wait… you misunderstood me!”…?

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me [in faith] shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (v. 35)

And… here’s the final clue you need to tell you that they’re making this up wholecloth. Whenever someone changes the words of Scripture to fit their interpretation, you know that they’re just making it up. Verse 35 says:

ὁ ἐρχόμενος πρὸς ἐμὲ οὐ μὴ πεινάσῃ

The literal translation is:

ὁ (“the one”)
ἐρχόμενος (“who is coming”)
πρὸς ἐμὲ (“to me”)
οὐ (“never”)
μὴ πεινάσῃ (“shall not hunger”).

No “in faith”. In fact, the word “faith” doesn’t appear in this verse anywhere. In other words… they’re making it up, and trying to make it seem like the Bible is saying something that it is not saying. :sad_yes:

For Jesus eating is believing; drinking is believing.

Wow. Now there’s a stretch! I guess that, if you don’t want to take Him literally, then just about any figurative interpretation will do! :frowning:

Believing this is how we “eat” Jesus’ flesh and “drink” his blood. This is why he instituted the Lord’s Supper: he did not want us to forget the very core of what we believe.

And, if that were the case, then wouldn’t He have said, “believe this in memory of me” instead of “do this in memory of me”?

Jesus gives them the rest of the story John 6:46-60] But their problem was, they didn’t believe John 6:61-65] resulting in, THEY left Him, as did Protestants also during their revolt. John 6:67-70]

If it was symbolism here, they wouldn’t have left. Jesus would have made it clear that it was a symbol. But He didn’t, and besides, He knew in advance they didn’t believe. But He gave them a chance anyway, so no one can say Jesus never gave them a chance just because they didn’t believe.

“believe” is not just some statement of recognition. It is obedience to everything Jesus taught and expected from us. Otherwise He is NOT Lord, to THEM who won’t obey Him


That’s exactly the point. John 6 has a different meaning without the Institution of the Sacrament by Christ. If we want to defend the doctrine of the real presence, point first to the Institution.

There’s a sort of sad irony at play here, in which the scene described in John 6 echoes throughout history.

Jesus tells them He’s the Bread of Life come down from Heaven. He does so in conjuction with two things here. First, the tie in to the Passover, wherein the chosen people must eat the flesh of the Lamb. Second, the mana from heaven, which God gave to people to consume to prevent them from dying (as they were starving at this time).

The people desperately want to believe that He is not speaking literally, that this is some spiritual statement about faith and belief. They question Jesus and He repeatedly tells them that HE is the bread from heaven who must be consumed in order to prevent them from dying (more particularly, from spiritual death since the world is starving).

After arguing with Him that surely He must mean what he’s saying for something else, they give up, abandon Jesus in His ministry, and that’s that.

So the irony is that this argument does the same thing. The author argues that surely Jesus meant something else… if only we could figure out how He DIDN’T mean something so very catholic. So the author joins the long line of protestants and deniers going all the way back to abandon Christ on that day recounted in John 6. In so doing, the author does the same thing that the people in John 6 did: he gives up, turns away, and abandons Jesus in His Church by denying the Eucharist.

I think the key to understanding whether or not Jesus was speaking literally, metaphorically or speaking some other way when he spoke of eating his flesh and drinking his blood is to understand what he meant in John 6:63, when he 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.

The contrast here that Jesus makes between the spirit and the flesh reminds me of what St Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:14:
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 light of what St Paul says, I would propose that in John 6:63 Jesus spoke of eating his flesh and drinking his blood neither literally nor metaphorically but rather spoke of eating his flesh and drinking his blood in a manner that can only be discerned spiritually, i.e., only discerned by faith, namely, in a sacramental way, in the Eucharist under the appearance of bread and wine.

To the unspiritual man, the man without faith who only sees with the eyes of the flesh, the sacrament of baptism is simply a brief dunking in water or pouring of water on the head. However, to the spiritual man, the man with faith, the sacrament of baptism is a washing away of all past sins, a rebirth that leads to eternal life. Similarly, to the unspiritual man, the sacrament of the Eucharist is simply a small meal of bread and wine. However, to the spiritual man the sacrament of the Eucharist is a real and substantial participation in or communion with the body and blood of Christ that leads to eternal life. (See 1 Corinthians 10:16; 11:27-29)

Excellent point.

And we have to remember that to these ancients, they made a distinction between eating flesh vs eating the part of a creature that contained the spirit and life-blood, that is to say, eating what was still alive! They were forbidden to eat the life-blood because they did not want to get the spirit and life of the animal they wanted to eat just to get the food - not the life part. So actually when Jesus tells them here in John 6 to eat him in order to get his life blood, his spirit and life (the flesh is not important since it has no life in it) he is shocking them not just because of the cannibalism thing but also because they were ordered by God (Genesis) never to eat any meat with life still in it.

“Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.”

So what is shocking here to them is Jesus telling them to break one of their laws too.

So the alternate interpretation given by the OP’s friend is even more absurd given this. Nobody would have been shocked by Jesus telling them ‘to believe in him’. And Jesus ends up telling them that a lot of their old laws are no longer in force. That was the real scandalous part.

I have never understood why even at this point people still insist on not allowing themselves to see the meaning of this passage in terms of the Eucharist and how Jesus is saying that he wants to give us his spirit and life, and here is how to do it…

Let’s not forget also that when Jesus returned from the dead and whenever he met someone the first thing he did was break bread with them and instructed them to do the same in order to propagate his spirit. Oh yeah, and that this is how the ancients all interpreted these things in their own writings and actions too.


look at the diverse interpretations Protestants come up with in the last 500 years on Jn 6…

Even with both the bread of life discourse and the institution of the sacrament clearly stated in scripture, and the sacred Tradition for 2000 years…

Jesus knew this would happen. There is no surprise here for HIM

Jesus knowing everything in advance,

*]He Knew in advance which of His disciples would leave Him, because He knew they didn’t have faith before He even gave them the bread of life discourse. Just like He knew in advance which one of His disciples would betray Him [Jn 6:64]
*]Just like HE knows EVERYONE in the future down to the last person born, who would be with Him, and who would leave Him in the Eucharist, and wouldn’t come back.

I haven’t read all the replies, so someone might have posted this already…

In 1 Corinthians 11 we read:

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.” (NAB)

This not only brings up receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord more than once, but that we will answer for them if we receive them unworthily. Combined with what our Lord did at the Last Supper, and the command He gave to His Church that we read about at the end of Matthew 28, His words and their meaning as given to and taught by His Church are clear.

I can’t argue your point, but John 6 can easily be described as figurative language without the Institution of the Sacrament by Christ Himself. Is is is, and the true meaning of John 6 is found in that truth.

The problem comes with negating the Eucharistic meaning of John 6, not so much in a figurative interpretation, knowing that the figurative interpretation can be useful for devotional application. The Scriptures can be interpreted in 4 major ways including literal and figurative. Both can apply to the same passage according to how it helps one spiritually, without having to deny proper doctrinal interpretation.

Again, I’m not arguing that point. My point is one has to first negate Christ’s own words (this is my body) if you present His institution of the Eucharist first.

I know you aren’t arguing that point. :slight_smile: I just wanted to say that it doesn’t have to be an either/or interpretation if one accepts that Jesus meant it to point to the institution of the Eucharist. It’s about connections to him, but ones more substantial (no pun intended) than the merely figurative.

I agree

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