Eating His Body And Drinking His Blood: Mistake, Command, Metaphor Or Reality?

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 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 Whoever feeds on 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 Whoever feeds on 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 whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. 60 Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”

juanes_avondmaalI must admit that for some time I have dreaded having to deal with this passage. The reason is not because this passage has been a subject of age long debates within Christian circles as to the meaning of eating the body and drinking the blood, but rather because I keep coming back to a sense of intense personal discomfort with the whole idea. Because of this, I’ll begin with the last verse of this section (John 6.60) where we read of a similar reaction from Jesus’ disciples: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”

Reading this in retrospect, actually from a distance of 2000 years, we can say the disciples were wrong about the second part of their statement – “who can listen to it?” The fact remains that in one form or another, all Christ-followers worldwide, have indeed participated in a ritual rooted in these very words. We now know that while their fears were understandable, they did not materialize. Quite the opposite is the case. No matter how the ritual is practiced, it remains if not central as in Catholic and Orthodox Christian traditions, it is at least very important (and in some cases also central) for most Protestant denominations worldwide.

The disciples were, however, right about one thing – this was indeed a hard saying! It may seem offensive to explain why this idea is hard “to stomach” (pan intended). Simply speaking, it sounds like cannibalism. Basically cannibalism is defined as eating human flesh or human internal organs. It comes from the Spanish Canibales and is thought to refer (at least allegedly) to the flesh eating practices of the Carib people. In fact when early Christ-followers were still a persecuted minority in the Roman Empire, along with other accusations of criminal behaviors, the Christ-followers were also accused by their Roman enemies of cannibalism. Only after time were the early Christ-followers cleared of this false charge.

So, yes, this was a hard saying. At least I continue to think so. Having said that, I think we can see the passage in several ways. I think there are four ways we can approach this issue. Each view has consequences for how God is viewed.

Neither the King, nor the Father: One view would be a secular way of dealing with the passage. We can see this statement as wrong or an unfortunate/unwise thing to say. It was a poor choice of words or a wrong metaphor. In this case it could be said that God is neither Father, nor is he King and our approach would reflect this belief.

The King, but not the Father: A religious way to deal with this same issue would be to say, that despite the intense discomfort, we should not question God. We must simply accept it “as is” without doubt and leave it without discussion. Who are we to doubt Jesus’ wisdom! In this case God is the King, but not the Father.

The Father, but not the King: A liberalized religious approach to this would be to say: while God did speak to us in his Son, we need to realize that mistakes were made, but the spirit of love and compassion should occupy our minds and not the hypercritical dissection of words and details. Who cares if it was flesh and blood, it might as well have been the heart of Jesus (instead of flesh and blood). It could have been any other metaphor he could have chosen at the time! In the end, it is all about being close to him. In other words, he is the Father, but not the King.

The Father and the King: I believe there is another way – the way of faith and trust, being honest and using your mind. Here’s how this approach works: While trusting God who loudly and clearly spoke in his son Jesus, we come to Him with our doubts, discomforts, and suspicions, not dismissing any of them. Like children who know the mercy, goodness, and patience of their father; we lay it all out before him, seeking to understand his thoughts and logic, based on one important premise – He is both good and right. In other words, he is both the King and the Father.

It should be obvious that my approach can be best described as guided by the very simple conviction that the God of Israel is both Father and King. In the words of the famous Jewish traditional prayer, I believe God should be approached as “Aveinu Malkeinu” – Our Father and our King.

So, did Jesus perform a mistake? Did he confuse the metaphors? Was it the lack of his Greek education in rhetoric that got him in trouble? You can probably guess my answer to this question is a clear “No.” I will continue with this passage in the next section of the commentary, hopefully in another week. What is your opinion? Is this a good approach? If yes, then why? If no, why not? Make your comment now!

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  1. Janet Henriksen

    The distinctions you have made seem curious. I am wary of the idea of ‘king’, as it emerged in a context
    And when ye saw that Nahash the king of the children of Ammon came against you, ye said unto me, Nay; but a king shall reign over us: when the LORD your God was your king.
    (1Samuel 12:12)
    ‘Father’ due to the creation of Adam, is more direct.

    Do you go further with a more direct view. The first view of God is God is Creator. Then there is: God as Covenant maker and God is truth (Num 23:19). Using Creator as a viewpoint, you might go to what was said of blood.”Only be sure that thou eat not the blood: for the blood is the life; and thou may not eat the life with the flesh.” (Deut 12:23) What did they know of blood and flesh via the law? There was only one way you could drink his blood was to drink his life. If God is creator then what does the life in the blood mean? If God is a creator what did eating clean flesh do? Why did the 70 elders eat and drink with Elohim after the sacrifice was made and the book of the covenant was read?

    Due to it’s context and audience I suspect it is a communication meant to make his audience think and designed to make those who didn’t believe his works turn away (then and now).

    Looking forward to your article…

  2. gustavo vargas angel

    I am fully ok with the idea about God Father and King, and about Jesus”s words,this has been misunderstood by many years, because in those days as today, nobody makes the role of cannibal, is was simply a metaphor, just alike many others on his teachings, and whoever thinking otherwise, must read the four gospels in whole context, one and once again, and again, until understand the real meaning. Best regards.

  3. Greg Tenni

    As Michelle points out above, there is a real link between this passage and the Passover. In fact, most commentators believe that this is John’s version of the Last Supper, which was of a course, the Passover meal. It would make perfect sense then, just as everyone in the household was required to eat of the sacrificed Passover lamb, in the same way everyone who was trusting in the true Passover lamb would have to eat of it as well.
    Admittedly, the “drink my blood” doesn’t sit well in Torah tradition, but it may well be that this is now going beyond Torah in that this is different blood. Originally the blood of the sacrifice was reserved for God, since the life of an animal was in the blood. But now, having accepted the perfect sacrifice, God is in effect giving that life back to His people, who need the real life. This blood is different from the blood of bulls and goats, because it has fully satisfied God’s requirements and the overflow of it gives life to His people.
    It may be a long bow to draw, but I think it has some merit.

  4. Bill Martinez

    Hi Dr. Eli:

    Eating his flesh and drinking his blood is a metaphor for the Word of God that was spoken to humanity through him. It is what was done in the flesh body that matters, and so, he was not speaking of literally eating his flesh and blood, and he explains to the disciples by the following scripture:

    Jhn 6:63 It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, [they] are spirit, and [they] are life.

    And prior to this statement:

    Jhn 6:51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

    Love in Christ,
    Marty

    1. Seann McGovern

      But notice, verse 59. “These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
      The Words of Eternal Life.*
      60
      Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

      It would seem that vs 60 or so would be a separate conversation. That would seem to indicate that it is a separate conversation. The tradition meaning is that the Eucharist is literal: Jesus *IS* the Bread and Wine. IE The bread and wine becomes the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, the Lord.

  5. Dolores Luthi

    I was horrified when I first heard christians could be considered cannabalistic. That does not appeal to me at all. I cannot find the article dealing with that that Dr. Eli said he has on John. Which article deals with that? I wonder if the Quakers did away with baptism and communion over the feeling that cannabalism could be seen as a carry over from Christ’s saying we would participate in his blood and bread the way it is reported that he said we could have not part of him unless we did participate in the Passover in that sense?

    1. Seann McGovern

      Sadly this was one of the accusations that have historical significance. The early church (c. 200 AD / CE) has faced since the Roman Empire. CF http://www.academia.edu/787977/Eating_People_Accusations_of_Cannibalism_Against_Christians_in_the_Second_Century

  6. Michael Strauss

    Matthew’s account in Chapter 26 of the last supper (NIV) might help clarify this issue, as John was also present. Jesus explains the blood and the flesh as symbolic:

    “26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
    27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

  7. Michelle

    Dr. Eli,

    From participating in this study with you, I have learned to “read the setting” and look for clues, such as what’s just happened, where Jesus has just traveled from, what cultural aspects are present, etc.

    The first part of Chapter 6 records the Feast of the Passover as having just happened. My thought is that Jesus used the symbols of eating and drinking because He knew the Jews had just celebrated a feast that included a highly symbolic meal (eating and drinking). But, I know the word “drink” can also be used figuratively (Matt. 20:22). So I don’t know exactly which way Jesus was using the idea of “drink.”

    Like you, trusting God as both Father and King, I don’t think Jesus made any mistakes here in how He used the concepts of eating and drinking. But I agree with the Jews in the passage: this is a hard saying to comprehend.

    Yet… I suddenly have the feeling that there’s an underlying message that we’re not hearing since we’re not first century Jews, yet those people COULD hear. However, I also note that the Jews listening to Jesus were having a hard time comprehending Him coming down from Heaven (John 6:42), so it would make sense that they would also have a hard time understanding what He meant by eating His flesh and drinking His blood.

    So at this point, I give up! 🙂 There’s a way to interpret this passage that I’m just not seeing. Not yet, at least. So I eagerly await to see what you will show us next! 🙂

  8. Kat Hobaugh

    I like the premise that He is both good and right. This helps me let go of the potential unsound doctrine without letting go of God. John 6:63 says The Spirit gives life. I am lead to believe that “Our Father and our King” must allude to the trinity?

  9. Fred Aguelo

    YESHUA is GOD incarnate. He already said He is the bread that came down from the Father in heaven given so that men may have life. He is also the Word of GOD became flesh; so that anyone who eats of His flesh and drinks His blood (life is in the blood)truly believes in Him and will have life. Believers have to internalize YESHUA in all aspects of His being, then they can say “in Him we move and exist and have our being.” YESHUA is the image of the invisible GOD and we are made in His image (tselem – shadow). A shadow does not have its own personality. It doesn’t have a face but only a form. Whatever the original being (in this case, YESHUA)does, the shadow does. As believers are being transformed into the image of YESHUA from one stage of glory to a higher stage, we see more of YESHUA in them. The catalyst for transformation is the Word(Truth) and the life of His blood by the power of the Holy Spirit (resurrection power). This is true communion as we partake of the life of YESHUA in us. That’s why Shaul said the only hope of glory is YESHUA in us! Shalom!

    Fred

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thanks, Fred. Dr. Eli

    2. Eric Rodríguez

      BS”D

      I’m not agree with you. Yehoshúa’ is not an “incarnation” of God, but his body, his visible image.

      1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

        People argued about this and spilled blood :-), I doubt there is much reason for it. If we can agree that the eternal logos of God became flesh (as John puts it) I am fine with that.

  10. DaveMathews

    Jesus is King and God and since by faith we believe it impossible for God to be in error, we must also believe that Jesus,though human at the time he says this, his thoughts, his words are governed, controlled by God.

    Furthermore we must understand that Jesus often spoke in parables to teach, symbolizm was an intricate part of his ways of teachings.

    Our human eyes see a wafer and a glass of wine, but spiritually, with our spirit eyes we see the body and blood of Jesus.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you, Dave and welcome to our study group! Dr. Eli