How to Understand Jesus' Explanation of His Words in John 6


John 6:63–

“The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

My friend uses these words as a reason to not believe Jesus was speaking literally about eating his flesh and blood.

Here’s what he said:

“[Jesus] said what he said on purpose to weed out those who didn’t believe. He said, ‘the words I have spoken to you are spirit and life’ (John 6:63). Previously he had said, ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.’ The eating of flesh and drinking of blood is a metaphor for ‘the words I have spoken to you are spirit and life’. Those who didn’t believe didn’t ‘get it’ - which is exactly what he intended.”

“Also, again, repeating something twelve times, and four times, does not make it literal. And actually, he did correct them. In response to many of his disciples saying, 'This is a hard saying. Who can listen to it? He explicitly said his words were spirit and life, the flesh avails nothing. THAT is what he’s talking about; ‘words’ not ‘flesh’ - but those who didn’t believe didn’t understand his explanation.”

"No, Jesus had not just commanded his disciples to eat his flesh; he had commanded them to accept his words. His command was couched in metaphor, so that those who didn’t believe would not understand, and stop following him around (John 6:66). Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Notice Peter’s answer, “You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”


This is a typical argument by those Protestants who do not believe in the Real Presence. They must see it metaphorically for the passage to fit in with their denial that Jesus was speaking literally–ironic considering these same folks declare quite adamantly that they believe the Bible literally.

Anyway, he has to do two things to make his theory work. First, he has ignore or argue away verse 55: “For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” Secondly, he has to make Jesus say that the whole time he was saying his flesh gives eternal life, he was speaking metaphorically. But verse 55 makes it clear he meant what he said.

Jesus merely meant that this hard teaching cannot be understood by “flesh”, IOW, by human reasoning alone. One must have faith to believe Jesus’ words.

All Christians held that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ from the Apostles down to the Reformation. Most of the reformers also believed in this, but some cast doubt on this teaching, thereby setting full denial into motion–the kind we see today.


Thanks Della, but are you saying that “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” is another way of saying that “this hard teaching cannot be understood by ‘flesh’”? I think that as long as those who don’t believe in the real presence have the verse “the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life,” they can interpret Jesus’ words metaphorically. I would like a Catholic explanation of that verse, not the part “The flesh profits nothing,” but the part “the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

I don’t think he’s ignoring verse 55, instead he’s saying that Jesus’ statement in verse 55 and elsewhere as metaphorical rather than literal. His reason for thinking this is that Jesus explains himself as follows: “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”


The phrase “the words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” means that what he has instructed us to believe is true and life giving. The word spirit does not mean metaphorical. The spirit is the life of the body, so he is simply saying that what he has said is true and life giving. If he had spoken metaphorically the many disciples who left him would have understood that–they certainly knew he was speaking metaphorically when he compared himself to a door. Rather, they took him literally and he didn’t dissuade them of that.


If the Eucharist was NOT His actual flesh and blood AND divinity, St. Paul would not need to admonish us to NOT partake of IT unworthily because we bring DAMNATION unto us.
If it is just bread and wine how can this be so?
He also states that some have died because of this :eek:

I’ll take St. Paul and all the other Apostles at their words along with ALL the Church Fathers.
NOT a single one you will find that asserts to the contrary. Jesus is indeed present Body, Soul and Divinity at the Eucharist.
To further stress this Jesus allowed many miracles of the Eucharist to become VISIBLE flesh and blood.
Yet there are still people who deny Him. :frowning:

Peace :thumbsup:


Thanks for your replies!

Della, your answer that “The phrase ‘the words I have spoken to you are spirit and life’ means that what he has instructed us to believe is true and life giving” seems to kick the can further down the road. My friend is saying that Jesus means that his “flesh and blood” is really another way of saying his “words.” So, it’s not Jesus’ literal flesh and blood that gives life, rather it is his words, his teachings etc. Jesus is not saying that the specific words flesh and blood really mean spirit and life, he’s saying that his words (what he meant by flesh and blood) are what give life.


Jerry and Della - Spot on!!!:thumbsup:

Something else to add to the mix is the fact that BOTH of the ancient Churches (RC/EO) hold firmly to the real presence…The NT speaks of the needing to properly discern the body and the blood and so do the ECFs.
To cite just one - and a contemporary of St John…
“They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.” Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to Smyrnaeans, 7,1 (c. A.D. 110).

So - from the beginning of the Church the Real presence has been taught…even after the East West Schism, the Real presence has been taught…
Even the earliest Reformation Churches - Lutheran and Anglican - hold with the Real presence…

So what can this person offer - outside of personal interpretation - to contend with the Scriptural, ECF and historical evidence???



Bravo! :thumbsup:


Hopefully this is Catholic enough an explanation for you:


If he were speaking in metaphors, don’t you think he would have said so when certain disciples walked away into apostasy, as God desires that all men should be saved? As Scripture says (paraphrasing) “This is a hard saying. Who can accept it?” If it was a metaphor it would not have been hard to accept.


He’s right, in part, but he’s limiting Jesus’ intention. Jesus, and his Church, mean both/and not either/or. Your friend is cutting off part of the meaning to deny what Jesus plainly stated in verse 55. He’s not accepting Jesus’ words that his flesh is real food and his blood is real drink, he’s explaining them away by “spiritualizing” them out of existence, you see.


Yes, they are. They tell us how to receive Jesus’ “spirit and life” within us, so we need to believe His words and do them.

He gives us His body and blood to eat because His Spirit and His Life will be united to them again after the resurrection. We are to eat His flesh and blood in the manner He will later explain to receive His spirit and life in us. He is not giving it to us in a cannibalistic manner (rather in a sacramental manner) and He is giving it to us to “feed” our spiritual souls, not to feed our physical body. A well fed body has no benefit in attaining the eternal life He continually speaks about in this chapter.


Tell him to stop trying to pull this out of the context of the New Testament.

See The Eucharist IS Scriptural


To understand the passage, you have to understand the basic dichotomy presented:

Moses= Manna, food for blood = death
Jesus= Living Flesh and Blood, food for the spirit = life

Understanding this, of course Jesus is going to say “the words I spoke to you are spirit and life.” This is to contrast with body and death, or the results of eating the bread of Moses.

But really, here is best way to defeat this argument: JESUS DOESN’T SIN. For Jesus to insist on a literal interpretation of his words, if his intended meaning was symbolic, to the point of pushing existing disciples away would be a sin. Jesus would be using dishonest words and nefarious tactics that lead to the damnation of those that not only otherwise believed, but asked their Lord several times for clarification because they didn’t understand.

Jesus can’t put his believers to the foolish test using word games that drive them away and into damnation and still be the sinless Son of God. Your friend is wrong, unless he believes Jesus to be a sinner.



Moses= Manna, food for blood = death

should read

Moses= Manna, food for body = death


An important point that one of the apoligists here at CAF has brought up with regards to this passage is this.

Whenever Jesus spoke to the multitudes in parables, after He was alone with His Apostles (the 12) He would explain the parable to them.

We see this again and again throughout the NT.

NOT with this passage. NOPE He asks them after the multitude has left “WHAT? aren’t you going to leave also?”

Peter answers “Where are we to go?”

AND Jesus LEFT it at that.

Not a word to explain this “hard teaching”.

So 2 possibilities. 1 the Apostles lied. 2 That is what Jesus meant.

For 2000 years #2 has been the position of the Catholic Church (Apostles, Church Fathers, Magisterium)

Peace :thumbsup:


When Jesus spoke to the Jews about the manna of the OT they knew exactly what He was saying for they heard and read this story countless times. They knew and understood that the manna was real material food for the body. They therefore understood the story to be literal. When Jesus then switches to the New Manna they are still thinking literally about a material food. That is why they are so aghast at what Jesus is saying. But Jesus is not speaking literally about a material food. He is speaking literally about a spiritual food, the Eucharist. That is why He says that His words are spirit and life. People who ate the OT manna still experienced material death but those who partake of the NT Manna will not see spiritual death. Notice Jesus does not summon the crowd back. He has already corrected their thinking about a material food but they don’t see it. He does not need to correct their understanding of taking what He says literally. I don’t think the Apostles understood it then either because of what Peter says. But they stick with Jesus- all except Judas.


This is the most compelling argument against Protestants, bar-none. There’s really no two ways about it, and this is the only reason that my life is about to change.

I won’t say how… :wink:


D-R Bible, Haydock Commentary:

John 6:64

Ver. 64. The flesh profiteth nothing. Dead flesh, separated from the spirit, in the gross manner they supposed they were to eat his flesh, would profit nothing. Neither doth man’s flesh, that is to say, man’s natural and carnal apprehension, (which refuses to be subject to the spirit, and words of Christ) profit any thing. But it would be the height of blasphemy, to say the living flesh of Christ (which we receive in the blessed sacrament, with his spirit, that is, with his soul and divinity) profiteth nothing. For if Christ’s flesh had profited us nothing, he would never have taken flesh for us, nor died in the flesh for us. — Are spirit and life. By proposing to you a heavenly sacrament, in which you shall receive, in a wonderful manner, spirit, grace and life. These words sufficiently correct the gross and carnal imagination of these Capharnaites, that he meant to give them his body and blood to eat in a visible and bloody manner, as flesh, says St. Augustine, is sold in the market, and in the shambles;[3] but they do not imply a figurative or metaphorical presence only. The manner of Christ’s presence is spiritual and under the outward appearances of bread and wine; but yet he is there truly and really present, by a change of the substance of bread and wine into the substance of his body and blood, which truly and really become our spiritual food, and are truly and really received in the holy sacrament. — The flesh[4] of itself profiteth nothing, not even the flesh of our Saviour Christ, were it not united to the divine person of Christ. But we must take care how we understand these words spoken by our Saviour: for it is certain, says St. Augustine, that the word made flesh, is the cause of all our happiness. (Witham) — When I promise you life if you eat my flesh, I do not wish you to understand this of that gross and carnal manner, of cutting my members in pieces: such ideas are far from my mind: the flesh profiteth nothing. In the Scriptures, the word flesh is often put for the carnal manner of understanding any thing. If you wish to enter into the spirit of my words, raise your hearts to a more elevated and spiritual way of understanding them. (Calmet) — The reader may consult Des Mahis, p. 165, a convert from Protestantism, and who has proved the Catholic doctrine on the Eucharist in the most satisfactory manner, from the written word. Where he shows that Jesus Christ, speaking of his own body, never says the flesh, but my flesh: the former mode of expression is used to signify, as we have observed above, a carnal manner of understanding any thing.


Your friend is essentially saying that the word “spirit” means “symbolic”. Where else in the bible does the word spirit ever mean symbolic? :eek: I always find this most confusing anyone could twist the meaning of the word spirit to mean symbolic.

I highly recommend that you watch the following video by Brant Pitre on Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist. It’s an hour long but wonderful and it outlines a book that he wrote on the same subject. I’ve read it and highly recommend it for Catholics and catholics alike. :thumbsup:

Brand Pitre video link here

I believe also that this is the outline he is referring to…you may want to print this out as well.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit