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. Martin B McNamara

    Yeshua’s word is perfect. The Word is placed in a manger, a feeding trough for animals, within a ‘cave’ of animals, a darkened place. We are what we comsume. The Word of the Spirit is light & life everlasting. A way through, a release, into light and eternity from where one came from, a rebirth of the spirit. All things physical are but a shadow of the heavenly reality. Spirit gives birth to spirit. All things may now given life and made new through the word of the Spirit of God. Jesus Christ, the bread of life, the very substance of life everlasting.

  2. gustavo vargas angel

    I think that “king” related to God, is ok, because in those days, the king was the owner of life and goods of everybody, as you can see in Kings II and others; Father is who takes care about you, no so fine as God does, but father is not the owner of your life and goods as the king is(read Ezekiah”three days and you will die”).

  3. gustavo vargas angel

    I think, as Peita Shipstone think, that the “body and blood to eat and drink” are a semblance of holly ghost of God Himself, which in anymoment will come to us and will give us the necessary light to walk on the gospel path.

  4. gustavo vargas angel

    However, He realized the main and biggest sacrifice of all: He gave himself to get the forgiveness of sins of everybody, in this way, we all are saved from last destruction in doomsday(I mean believers, and anyway, followers), fullfilling the necessary sacrifice for redemption, stated in Torah many years before.

  5. Peita Shipstone

    Could the Body & the Blood be a metaphor for the Holy Spirit, but as the timing was wrong for that at that moment. So Jesus used another metaphor so to speak He used his perfect body to say what He wanted to say now. Peita.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Peita, I do not think so. I am preparing next section and it should be ready soon.

  6. Dr. Denis O'Callaghan

    Here is a wee bit of fodder to ruminate upon

    The Torah strictly forbade Jews from drinking blood (Lev. 17:10-12). The life that was “in the blood” was reserved for sacrificial atonement upon the altar of YHVH. Yeshua’s statement, then, is perhaps best understood as hyperbole meant to scandalize. Yeshua was trying to shake the disciples out of their preconceptions, similar to the way he dashed their hopes of a reformed Judaism when he predicted the destruction of the Holy Temple (Matt. 24:2). On the other hand, he was clearly associating his sacrifice on the Cross with the ritual of the Passover Seder….

    Yeshua used many metaphors in his teaching. For example, in John’s Gospel (from which the quotation about drinking blood comes), Yeshua called himself “the bread of life” (John 6:48), “the light of the world” (John 8:12), “the door” (John 10:9), “the true vine” (John 15:1), and referred to his body as the Temple (John 2:19). That doesn’t mean we should consider him a literal loaf of challah, a cosmic lightbulb, a door with hinges, a leafy plant, or that his physical body somehow resembled the Temple of Herod…

    When Yeshua taught at the synagogue in Capernaum, he referred to himself as the Living Bread (????? ???????) that came down from heaven.

    Just as the physical manna sustained the Jewish people in the desert, so the heavenly manna embodied in the life of Mashiach would sustain people forever. Yeshua identified this heavenly manna with the sacrifice of his flesh: “the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51). When his audience questioned this, Yeshua went on to say, “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” (6:52-53).

    Some of Yeshua’s disciples were mystified by his teaching and said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Yeshua then asked them: “Does this offend you?” He further asked what they would think were they to see the Son of Man ascend to where he came (referring to the idea of manna that came down from heaven). Notice his further explanation: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:60-64).

    Later, near the end of his earthly ministry, Yeshua celebrated his last Passover Seder with his disciples. It was there that he again spoke of “drinking” the “blood of the covenant which is “poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.” He went on to say, “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:26-30). Note the context here: A Passover Seder. The fruit of the vine is represented by the (third) Passover cup (the “Cup of Redemption”). The same can be said regarding the eating of the Afikomen (matzah), identifying it with the breaking of his body. Luke’s Gospel adds that this ritual act was to be done “in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Paul later confirms the association as a symbolic act of remembrance, similar to other Jewish Passover Seders (1 Cor. 11.23-26). The shock value of the hyperbole Yeshua used was intended to show that this Seder symbolizes the New (and greater) exodus, gained at the expense of his own shed blood and broken body. Moreover the Mishnah (Pesahim 10:6) interprets the Passover wine as a metaphor for blood that seals a covenant between God and his people. The life is in the blood. The cup symbolizes completely identifying with the life and mission of the Mashiach. It is not some crude ritual carried over from pagan mystery religions and later incorporated into the idea of the Catholic Mass, etc.

    1. RamonAntonio Sanchez

      Very interesting line of reasoning and overall concept. My only comment is that the overall understanding I can infer from reading this is that Yeshua was a Great Communicator, such as Americans have labeled Ronald Reagan, i.e., someone with an uncanny ability to find the right words and the right speech at the right moment. And I think He was absolutely more than that.

      As you correctly point out, the blood’s life …”was reserved for sacrificial atonement upon the altar of YHVH”… Understood as that, Yeshua, as God Incarnate Himself was simply reversing the custom, He was using the known concept of life of the blood offered to the God of Israel (HIMSELF) and offered it as life to the Father in atonement for the sins of many. Then, in order to humans be able to participate in that sacrifice thus entering the Presence of God the Father, they have to drink the blood which is akin to spreading iut over the new alter of the new temple which is the human heart in the human body. Altar and temple become heart and body.

      Only this sacrifice was capable of restoring the balance of the original Creation where the fruit of the Tree of Life was taken by humans against the will of God. A life eternal taken from God by humanity for a life eternal given by God Himself on their behalf.
      I really don’t see a metaphor in this but an absolute and objective reality. The problem is that we humans still refuse to believe in the trascendent meaning of things which is what Paul said somewhere… “pros ten ephytimian ton hyperkeymemnon”… which roughly menas …”yearning for the trascendent realities…”

    2. Fred Aguelo

      Well said, Dr. Callaghan. I totally agree with you.


    3. David W.

      Well said Dennis. Of course, the whole Passover points to Jesus – the delivery from slavery to the evil ruler, baptism in the Red Sea, a new covenant, provision of bread in the desert, and entry into the Promised (heavenly) land. Jesus said, “Do this [perhaps He meant the whole Passover] in remembrance of me.” They grumbled against Moses, Exodus 16, just as they grumbled against Jesus. But all these things, including much of Moses’s whole life, only point to the much greater, real fulfillment in Jesus. John 6:49-50, [Our] “forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.” That’s why Jesus tried to shock us to attention onto the only issue that really counts – Who is this man!?

  7. gustavo vargas angel

    In the times of Jesus,as nowaday, He was against some kind of priests, as surely He would be today, and very possibly, He would have token the bullwhip with nine tails to take off the temple( or church)the traders of faith or abusers or molesters, because according the Word of the Lord, “My house shall be named House of Praying and light to Nations, but you have made it a cave of thieves”. Respectfully, the catholic priest is not the representative of Jesus and nor of God, because their facts.

    1. RamonAntonio

      No problem with your comment. I’m also no direct fan of priests just by being priests. In fact I combat the Catholic notion that priest should be protected and pardoned if wrong and let continue abusing children or whatever at hand. I have publicly stated that Jesus said clearly and not figuratively, that those who scandal children should be tied to a mill stone and launched to the sea. He couldn’t be clearer than that.

      But Catholic priest are priest who believe in Jesus by definition. Some may be bad but a vast majority are not. They are not priests smilar to the ones you mention who refused to believe in Him. And that’s a significant difference.

      For a Catholic, in corpore Christi, means that an ordained priest, when consecrating the bread and wine is Jesus Himself doing it following the direct meaning of his words when he said ” do this in memorial (not in memory) of Me”.

      But please, this is only an explanation of the issue. It is not my ntention to Evangelize or proselitize. If someone felt that, my excuses. Tis forum should continue an exchange of ideas and an oportunity to learn from both directions. This wa we enrich ourselves as up to today.

      Thanks for your comment.

  8. Dr. Denis O'Callaghan

    My Friend,
    You have started our brothers and sisters thinking once again!“It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.” Keep it up!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you, Denis! Eli

  9. RamonAntonio

    As a planner by training, I’m accustomed to assume other people’s position in order to translate their positions into plans. So I think I may have a sensible understanding of the excruciating pain a Jewish has to try to understand this verses which, on their face, are obviously catastrophic in your religious sensibility. On the contrary, Catholics, having been ingrained with Catholic understanding of these words since birth, do not have the same, lets say discomfort, in them. Which is not to say that everyone of us understands the same or feels all the way comfortable. So I express my admiration of the plain fact that all of you are engaged in this discussion because of the daring leap of entering to walk over this really deep waters by Dr. Eli.

    I think, plain and simple, that Jesus said what He said, meant exactly what He meant and expect everyone to understand exactly what the words say. That is, that the bread is His Body and the wine is His Blood. But why?

    Flesh and blood is a known Jewish reference to the whole body along the Bible for generations. So the meaning of flesh and blood is a clear depiction of a whole person. In this case, Jesus uses the term for Himself IN THE CONTEXT OF THE SON OF MAN WHO HAS COME FROM HEAVEN. So Jesus is saying that His whole Person is One with the Father who sent Him to the people. And He is also saying that in order for the people to return to the Father we have to go through Him and become Him in a similar way as we will see Him shortly ascending to the Father. And then, in order to become Him we need to commune with His whole person, that is, actually become Him in our body by actually eating, digesting and turning the sign He left of His whole person into ourselves, into our body. So we are not eating flesh and drinking blood but being in communion with His whole person by eating the sign, the Holy Eucharist that later the Church established as a sacrament.

    That is why Jesus established a Church, to make possible the perpetual existence of this sign of his presence and communion with every single person to the last one. That His Church became what it is now is a matter of debate, evolution, involution and devolution. But that is for another text.

    Suffice to say, neither a Jewish nor an orthodox Catholic are cannibals when we eat the Holy Eucharist. When we do that we are eating the same sign of bread that came from heaven that He Himself instituted in the Last Supper. Its not a recreation, nor a reenactment. Its the same bread because the priest, “in corpore Christi” is Jesus doing the same, again and forever.

  10. Fiona Johnson

    I suppose we should not get too carried away with the verbs that too easily characterise our modern idioms and instead get carried away with our union with Yeshua our living Lord and daily bread and be consumed with the Holy Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh),our guide in all things and our living water and sustainance….focus on Him and the meaning and intent of His Words take root..