Why do we take Jesus' words literally in the Eucharist and not elsewhere?

As I was trying to prepare a defense about the Real Presence to a Protestant, I came across a stumbling block. Of course Catholics say that the real “proof” of the Real Presence is in John 6:32-71, I was troubled by a protestant who said that Jesus did not literally mean by the phrase,

“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. 54 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. 58 This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.”

that the Communion Host would become Jesus, Himself, but rather it merely symbolizes Him. It seems the real hang up about the Eucharist is not so much that we have this communion service, but that we as Catholics are idol worshiping because Jesus did not intend for us to think that the host was literally change into Jesus.

The protestant argument is made more solid because Jesus often called himself many things, eg. “I am the vine, you are the branches.”

So how is it that we as Catholics can be so certain that in the case of the Eucharist, he did actually mean for us to take him literally and in other situations we know he only meant the statement symbolically?

If we took John 6 alone, yes, the argument can be made that “I am the bread” is metaphorical as “I am the vine.”

But we don’t forget the Institution Narratives too. “He took bread…and said 'Take and eat; this is my body…This is the cup of my blood.” And back that up with St. Paul’s passage that sacrilege against the bread and cup is sacrilege against the body and blood of the Lord.

There is no other example in the Gospel where Jesus consecrates vines and doors. We only (and rightly) take his words in John 6 as literal, because of what he did at the Last Supper.

And besides, there is sufficient internal evidence in John 6 alone that supports a literal interpretation. Not the least of which is that people were so disgusted that they walked away, and Jesus did not call them back.

I think that is key right there! Why would the people have left if it was a metaphor? Or why didn’t Jesus call them back. Obviously He was being literal right there. and serious.

Wow, idol worshipping the Eucharist, that’s a new one and very sad.

Jesus instituted this sacrament in order to be with us in a very real way until the end of our days. It’s part of how we, as Catholics, encounter Jesus every time we receive Him, when all he/she does is read about Him.

You can tell your friend he/she idol worships a book…

Speaking as a Protestant considering conversion, the Eucharist was and still is one of the most convincing arguments that is drawing me to Catholicism. What stands out to me is that in other symbolic passages, Jesus tends to extrapolate his meaning pretty clearly. For example:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

So we know he isn’t literally the vine and we the branches, but he’s using it to say that apart from him we are useless.


Then Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Here he specifies that the “light” that he gives us is life (eternal life). So he is explaining that he isn’t a literal light.


In the John 10 passage on Jesus being the gate and the shepherd, the Bible actually says it was a figure of speech (John 10:6).

If you look at the John 6 passage, when Jesus declared that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood, people struggled with his words. And many left him. He could’ve easily said, “hey, don’t go. I’m speaking metaphorically here”. But he didn’t. Instead he kept repeating himself, using stronger and more vivid language. Combine that with, when at the Last Supper he said, “Take and eat. This is my body” with no further extrapolation, and I think you have good reason to believe he was being literal.

I have always found this to the most convincing scriptural proof. The whole “this is hard teaching” bit doesn’t make any sense if it’s a metaphor.

The other very strong piece of evidence is the historical understanding. It seems that the Christian belief in the Real Presence goes all the way back to the beginning. That’s how the Church Fathers understood it. The particulars of transubstantiation show up a thousand years later, but the Real Presence goes all the way back.

I heard a great answer yesterday from a fellow on Catholic Answers Live, and I will try to explain it to the best of my ability.

Since Jesus was celebrating the Passover with his apostles, they obviously needed a lamb. Everyone who was going to celebrate the Passover needed a clean and nearly perfect lamb. They also needed it to be checked out by a priest, to make sure that it was nearly perfect. Lambs at the Passover were usually shared with around 10 people, and since Jerusalem has swelled to about 2 million people for the celebration, this means that thousands of lambs were being checked.

So why didn’t Jesus get a lamb to be checked by the priest? Well he did! Jesus is the Lamb of God, and he is perfect. So he is a perfect lamb. He is also God, so this gives him to check. So Jesus actually made himself the perfect sacrifice.

Wow, idol worshipping the Eucharist, that’s a new one and very sad.

Sad, yeah, but in no way new.


This is the tradition of the church.

We know that God uses the magisterium of the church, and not scripture alone, to hand on his teachings to us.

If we remove tradition, and interpret the bible for ourselves, we could easily be fooled into thinking that it could have been a metaphor.

But we know better :slight_smile: because we had great teachers before us.

I was thinking this very thing when I went to sleep last night and shortly after waking this morning. Interesting how it was posed in a thread. Thank you for the thread and the answers I’ve been reading. I’ve read them before of course here on caf but this time I seem to be drinking them in and reflecting on them a bit more than I usually do. Thank you-Blessings to you and yours.

After Jesus said This is my body… This is my blood. Some went away and no longer followed him. He didn’t run after them to further explain it, so that they would not leave. He repeated the words.

One more argument I didn’t see anyone make on this thread but is a common and powerful one. In the original greek, the verb used in trogo, which Catholic translators sometimes stress has an english connotation closer to gnawing or chewing that eating.

I found a post with gives both arguments for and against this interpretation of the verb choice. I think it’s a useful tool to have when arguing about this point.

There is a very important verse in John 6 that many people overlook:

52 If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is my flesh, for the life of the world.

In the same sentence, Jesus says that the bread that he will give to them to eat is his flesh which he will give for the life of the world. If the bread to eat is symbolic, than his death on the cross was merely symbolic as well because they are both the same flesh.

No Christian will say that Jesus was speaking figuratively about giving his flesh on the cross for the life of the world, therefor there is no reason to believe that he was speaking figuratively about his flesh being bread to eat.

It is either all figurative or it is all literal, it can’t be both in the same sentence.

But if we’re wrong, they would be correct. We would be worshipping a piece of bread as God Almighty, a textbook example of idolatry in its classic sense. They, on the other hand, do not claim to worship the Bible as God, so on that point, they’re in the clear.

So really, the ones with most at stake is us; we are either in the presence of God in the most intimate sense, or we are committing idolatry of the most diabolical kind. There is no middle ground.

I, for one, will take Jesus at his own word.

He did hear them grumbling and then he did say it is the spirit that gives life. And they still left. If only for the sake of arguing the other POV which I have heard from some Protestants, if they still left after that because they were still thinking he was speaking literally, how many times would you have wanted him to try calling them back?

Unless the Christian believes the bread to eat (iow fervently believe) is to believe in what Jesus did for us on the cross.

But I’ve known Protestants to say Jesus hadn’t died yet to be able to offer his actual flesh and blood at the Last Supper. And they include his words, “Do this in remembrance of me”, So they conclude it as a memorial today or at best a real presence in spirit but not a physical presence today. I’m not saying I agree. I’m just saying there are different beliefs of faiths.

Indeed as that is the Catholic faith.

As a recent convert from Protestantism, I can say that this is exactly what I believed. I thought Jesus was just making metaphor and that it was all symbolic. Some things that helped me realize the Real Presence is true are:

  1. The reasons listed on this thread regarding Jesus’ lack of correction or elaboration to the crowd when they became upset and left.

  2. The overwhelming majority of writings from the Church Fathers and other early Christians attesting to their belief in the Real Presence. As a Protestant, I admitted that I could just say that they were mistaken in their beliefs, but then I was left with the fact that all the earliest Christians held to this belief. I found it hard to believe that God let His people go astray for 1,500 years; and - these same people, who were potentially committing idolatry, were the same people that put together the bible that I held so dear. No Protestant wants to admit that a group of idolaters and pagans compiled, canonized, and defended against heresy, the Holy Book they hold so dear. It forced me to think about the fact that maybe they were correct and I was in fact mistaken (this worked for many other beliefs besides the Real Presence…hence I am no longer Protestant :slight_smile: )

  3. This is an interesting one that I haven’t heard any other convert mention, though I’d love to hear from anyone else who saw this: As a Protestant, even though I felt that Catholics were wrong about many things, I did believe that they had the power to perform exorcisms. When I started reading about how a Catholic exorcism is performed, as well as accounts written by exorcists, I noticed that the possessed person would react quite violently to a consecrated host. They could also do things like differentiate between a consecrated and unconsecrated host. If the Real Presence were not true, it wouldn’t cause a reaction like this from a demon. It’s the same reason that throwing regular tap water on them doesn’t cause a reaction like throwing holy water on them. To me, it lent credence to the Catholic case that the consecrated host is, in fact, the body of Christ. (I realize this last point may not be a great one to use in an apologetic way to Protestants, but I just thought I’d share it since it helped me).

Also - Robert Sungenis’ book “Not By Bread Alone” is a great defense of the Eucharist, IMO.

“Do this in remembrance of me” does not deny the Real Presence; it reinforces it.

A word study on “anamnesis” would be helpful.

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