In John 6:52-58, it features Jesus telling the Jews about the need to consume His Body and Blood in order that we may have life in us. It can be understood that the Jews took Him literally as they questioned ‘‘how can this man give us His flesh to eat?’’ (John 6:52) but instead Jesus pressed His message further in John 6:53 by saying ‘‘Truly truly, I tell you’’ which was somewhat similar to declaring it confidently.
While we Catholics argue that Jesus did not tell the Jews ‘‘it was only a symbol!’’ since He actually meant it literally, Protestants argue that Jesus did not correct them because throughout the Book of John, Jesus does not correct the Jews, such as in John Chapter 2 where Jesus says ‘‘destroy this temple, and I will raise it again after three days’’ the Jews took Him literally but Jesus did not correct them and say ‘‘no wait, the temple I was referring to is me’’ and the Protestants also reasoned that this was because ‘‘he did not entrust Himself to them’’ (John 2:24-25)
How do we Catholics respond to this argument?
It is phrased literally, and a symbolic meaning would not appear to be “a hard teaching” to be accepted.
John 6:57, 60-66
57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.
60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
Jesus did not correct you say. Consider Saint John Climacus, who was known to never contradict or never dispute with anyone. “So perfect was his submission, that he seemed to have no self-will.”(Fr. Alban Butler) This is a worthy catholic character trait.
“throughout the Book of John, Jesus does not correct the Jews” ???
John 8:33 “They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are indeed doing what your father does.” They said to him, “We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
Since it has always been the belief of the Church from its most ancient days, even predating the writing of the Gospels, until the 16 th century when some thought they knew better than others, there is no need to seek clarification. The fact that some denomination refuses to accept a dogma because they don’t want to stand on the same side of the street as the Catholics is hardly in any need of refutation. No one is ever going to change their mind.
And with all due respect, if the Gospels were simply a book that one takes from a book shelf, then perhaps your personal opinion of a “symbolic gesture” would be valid but the Gospels exist as concrete testimony to what the early Church believed and passed on through Tradition. Your 21st century modern atheistic view does not mean one iota compared to what was taught and passed on by the faithful through the centuries.
This argument is self-defeating. When Jesus said destroy the temple, they took him literally (per this argument). Ergo, it only stands to reason that they would also take him literally when he tells them to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Why would the Jews flip-flop between “he’s being literal” and “he’s just using metaphors” when they were looking for ways to catch him in blasphemous speech?? I don’t think they would be giving him the benefit of the doubt.
To echo Tim_D, since all of this is simply conjecture/personal opinion if going by the bible alone, and since even some Protestant churches believe in the RP in some form or another, the best way to resolve it is to look at the beliefs and practices of the ancient churches. In both the east and west, since the time of Christ, it has been held by those Churches that He is really present in the Eucharist. We are really to partake of Christ; He is meant to* really* indwell and nourish us.
Why would this practice by taught and accepted for 16 centuries if it were false until the reformation? I would believe God would have the Holy Spirit correct the church right away and not cause a false doctrine to be taught for many centuries. If this were corrected within the first 2 centuries I would accept the Protestant views, but the tradition is what it is. No sign or miracle has been given to a Protestant to disprove this. It is only their own interpretation. It is written God is not the author of confusion. There was none for 16 centuries in the Church.
John’s gospel does not present an alternative to the literal meaning of Jesus’ words that one must eat his flesh and drink his blood. Although it may be true that Jesus did not always correct the crowds, when his disciples took his words too literally Jesus usually corrected his disciples, as when, referring to the man’s death, Jesus said, “Lazarus has fallen asleep” and Jesus’ disciples took him too literally and thought he meant natural sleep and Jesus corrected their misunderstanding, saying that he meant, “Lazarus is dead,” or, when Jesus said to Nicodemus that one must be" born again" and Nicodemus took Jesus too literally and thought he meant that one must re-enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time and Jesus corrected Nicodemus’ misunderstanding, saying that he meant one must be born of water and the Spirit, i.e., born again in the sacrament of Baptism. Here, in John 6, Jesus did not correct his disciples who obviously took his words literally since many of his disciples found his words so distasteful (pun not really intended) that they “drew back and no longer went with him.” (v. 66)
One actually needs to read the accounts of the Last Supper in the other gospels and Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians to understand that here in John 6 Jesus was not speaking quite as literally as the Jews and his disciples supposed nor was he speaking symbolically as some Protestants suppose but was rather speaking of eating and drinking his glorified and impassible flesh and blood under the appearances of bread and wine in sacrament of the Eucharist. (Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 10:16;11:23-30)
John 6:52-58New International Version (NIV) - for quickness’ sake online:
*'52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57’*
My first point is to underline the need for actually quoting a passage in full when requiring a response to it rather than abbreviating because otherwise the following question won’t have the fullness of measure for people to weigh up an appropriate answer.
When seen in full, there is no mere symbology. Read the part in bold, above.
Jesus could not have been talking about the present because He was not at that time giving His flesh to eat and His blood to drink.
He says His flesh is real food, and blood, real drink. There is no uncertainty here as to what real means. To argue about what the word ‘real’ means, we’d have to rewrite the dictionary in order for words to mean other than what they do.
He also states this is an ongoing practice to participate in, because He says: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood (future-present) remains in me - the word “remains” denotes an active relationship - an ongoing dynamic.
So we have presented to us a future-present ongoing active participatory event that requires people who wish to gain eternal life to feast upon the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
Any arguments exist because of a lack of consistency in the thinking of individuals. And too, one cannot view the Bible accurately through a lens at solitary passages, whilst disregarding all other areas of Scripture.
In terms of the following attempt to argue against the case for literal interpretation, who says that Jesus didn’t literally destroy the Temple, as well as spiritually. Not just symbolically. And then He was raised to life. Literally. No arguments there, either. In fact, the argument in itself, is self-defeating and makes little sense.
Jesus didn’t merely refrain from correcting a misapprehension. He actually reinforced the interpretation His listener’s had.
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”[d] 53 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; 54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him
So the questioners wonder how Jesus can give His flesh to eat. Jesus doesn’t tell them how, He merely repeats that that is precisely what He does, and that His listeners must eat it. Verse 55 is particularly striking. Frankly, to say that Jesus is speaking metaphorically here using such strong language is practically to claim that Jesus is here manipulating His audience with something closely resembling a lie.
In John 2, Jesus doesn’t say,
Truly, truly I say to you, I will indeed rebuild the Temple, the very Temple which, as you say, has taken 46 years to be built. And truly, truly, I will rebuild this Temple in only three days.
… but that is the sort of language that would be required in order for this comparison to be relevant.
Rather, we don’t have a record of what Jesus said in response, but merely an outright affirmation that He was speaking symbolically. In fact, Christ isn’t even speaking symbolically: He’s simply referring to His body as a temple, and His audience thought He was speaking of THE Temple.
So turn the argument on its head.
Jesus doesn’t correct misapprehensions in John 2? Ah! But John the Evangelist was very clear in telling the reader that, in this instance, Jesus was speaking of a different Temple from the one His listeners had in mind. Why didn’t John do something similar in chapter 6? Why doesn’t he inform his reader that the act of “eating flesh” that Jesus referred to was not something to be taken literally, especially since he is recording Jesus seemingly reaffirming a literal interpretation? That’s mighty odd.
I would also challenge them for more references.
Please provide me, from John’s Gospel, instances where
(1) Jesus is manifestly speaking in a metaphorical manner;
(2) His audience mistakenly take Him literally;
(3) He does not correct them, but allows them to hold to a literal interpretation;
(4) We know that He is speaking metaphorically, but yet John does not tell us this in a tangential note.
Nicodemus CLEARLY took being born again literally. He described it as a person “entering a second time into his mother’s womb.”
Jesus did not correct him?
5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.[c] 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’[d] 8 The wind[e] blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.”
So we must either conclude that Jesus really doesn’t correct Nicodemus, but only that He appears to; or else we must conclude that Nicodemus, for some odd reason, doesn’t count as a Jew. Maybe one had to be a Jew and have various other qualities or traits before Jesus would refuse to correct misapprehensions.
Frankly, adding such nuances and conditions seems to be derived, not from the text, but from a desire to escape the Catholic interpretation of John 6.
I’m not sure what the best response is, but I’ve found a very logical one was presented by Peter Burnett, former Governor and Supreme Court Justice of California in the 1800’s. He presented it in his book, “The Path Which Led a Protestant Lawyer to the Catholic Church”. Basically, he asserts and defends the premise that if Jesus gave a command necessary to be followed for one’s salvation, He never hesitated to explain it if the hearers did not understand what He meant. Obviously then, if His hearers in John 6 understood Him to mean eat His real flesh, then that understanding was a correct one.
There is also the idea that Jesus is a prophet. And a prophet says things that will happen, that no one understands until sometime after the event occurs. At the moment it is revealed, it is a mystery, and it’s truth is known after other events shed light on it.
And as I recall, he did tell them one other time that he was another Jonah, that after three days in the belly of the earth he would come back as Jonah came back alive from the whale after three days. It doesn’t seem they understood this at the time Jesus said it. But then looking back after his death, then they would understand that what he referred to was his three days in the tomb and resurrection.
The prophet Isiah’s writtings regarding the man of sorrows, his garments, and so on. These had meaning after the crucifixion of Jesus.
I would seem to me that the destruction of the temple would fall into this category… his body being a temple of God. And after the resurrection it is rebuilt. At the time of this revelation it was not understood, but looking back it becomes clear he was referring to his own body as a temple and the resurrection the rebuilding of it.
When Jesus, after his resurrection, met the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, he joined them and it says that he explained to them about the scriptures. These prophesies may have been among the things that Jesus took up with them at the time.
Yes, it does. Read the argument again. They are saying that Jesus understood that the Jews were believing His exact words and were rejecting them on that basis. They could not accept His exact words. They were taking Him literally and He did not correct them because He meant them literally.