We have spoken before about why we should read John chapter 6 literally when Jesus says eat my flesh and drink my blood. Here are some objections that are brought up concerning this interpretation.
So what are some objections to the Catholic view of – eat my flesh and drink my blood as interpreted literally.
OBJECTION - Some objectors would say – if Jesus meant it literally that we should eat his flesh and drink his blood – that would be cannibalism.
This isn’t cannibalism because the flesh and blood that we are receiving are supernatural and not natural. When we receive Jesus in the Eucharist it is the whole Jesus - body, blood, soul, and divinity. And while it is that he is consumed he is not destroyed or hurt by our reception of Him.
OBJECTION - Another objection – The Jews were prohibited from drinking blood.
Leviticus 17:14 "For as for the life of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, 'You are not to eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.'
This continues into New Testament times:
Acts 15:29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood.
Therefore to take this literally would mean that both the OT and NT laws were being violated by Jesus.
The answer to this objection is in part in the Leviticus quote - Leviticus 17:14 'You are not to eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood.
Now why would the Israelites be told not to drink the blood of animals – is it tasty? No. Their pagan neighbors would drink the blood of an animal in the hope of becoming like that animal. Harnessing its power because its life is in the blood. It kind of makes sense, you drink the blood of a bull to get its strength. But bull blood doesn’t literally give you power, but on a religious level it lowers the man drinking the blood to an animal state. We are to have dominion over the animals not lower ourselves to their level.
But what about Jesus, what life is in his blood? Eternal life. Eternal life runs through the veins of Jesus. The life that his blood gives doesn’t lower us, but raises us up to supernatural life.
OBJECTION – Jesus spoke figuratively on other occasions like when he said:
I am the light of the world – John 8:12
I am the door – John 10:9
I am the true vine – John 15:1
They say – you don’t believe Jesus is literally a light, a door and a vine do you? When he was speaking here about eating his flesh and drinking his blood he was just speaking metaphorically.
The problem, which I brought up in the other tidbit is that the Jews already had a metaphorical interpretation to ‘eat the flesh and drink the blood’ – The metaphorical interpretation means to persecute someone.
Isaiah 9:19-20 By the fury of the LORD of hosts the land is burned up, And the people are like fuel for the fire; No man spares his brother. And they slice off what is on the right hand but still are hungry, And they eat what is on the left hand but they are not satisfied; Each of them eats the flesh of his own arm.
Psalm 27:2 When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh, My adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell.
By saying that it is a metaphor it has Jesus commanding us to persecute him to have eternal life. Jesus would never command us to harm him, that would be sinful.
OBJECTION – Four of the five senses tell us that the bread and wine to not become the body and blood of Jesus. If it smells like bread, tastes like bread, looks and feels like bread – it must be bread.
I heard the best answer to this from Steve Ray who gave a talk on the Eucharist. (this is in essence what he responded) He said that a Christian friend had challenged him on this very point. So Steve Ray answers back – what then do we has about Jesus, who looks, feels, smells, and sounds only like a man. Even if we cut him open we won’t find a divine liver or supernatural lungs. Our eyes tell us one thing, but the spirit tells us another. Which leads us to our last objection.
OBJECTION – Jesus says at the end of John 6 this - John 6:63 "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.
See the words ‘eat my flesh and drink my blood’ are spirit – they are symbolic, not literal.
I would respond with a few things – first, where anywhere else in scripture does the word ‘spirit’ ever mean ‘symbolic’? Are you saying that the Holy Symbolic fell on the apostles on the day of Pentecost? I don’t think so.
Secondly - When Jesus said that ‘the flesh profits nothing’ was he including the sacrifice of his flesh on the cross – does that profit nothing? Of course His flesh profits something or we wouldn’t be saved.
Thirdly - when he says ‘the flesh’ we see how Jesus uses this term later in John 8:15 where he says "You people judge according to the flesh”, meaning according to external, worldly appearances.
OBJECTION – This whole discourse has nothing to do with eating Jesus, but receiving him in faith. Jesus uses the word ‘faith’ 9 times in John 6.
Amen to that – Jesus does begin this discourse talking about faith - John 6:35 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. – I agree that this is an invitation to faith in Jesus - John 6:47 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.”
The problem (with the faith alone interpretation) is that Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood so many times with such literal words that you need faith to believe what he is saying. That is why we begins with a brief discourse on faith.