Eating Flesh and Drinking Blood

Have you ever been approached, either in person or through email, by a friendly person claiming to be a Roman Catholic with a question? If you haven't, you surely one day shall be. This is a fairly common “approach” technique for Catholic apologists and proselyters. The approach usually goes something like this:

I have a question concerning a passage in the Bible. As a former Catholic, I imagine you know the Scriptures pretty well.

That is hardly threatening, so you continue to give attention to his petition. This is when he nails you with a challenge to disprove one of the core verses misused to justify some of the foundational doctrines of the RCC.

In John 6:54, Jesus says, 'eat my flesh' and 'drink my blood.' This seems clear enough to me, yet non-Catholics say that the reference to eating flesh and drinking blood is a figure of speech that should be understood as accepting and believing. Why is that?

The correct response, of course, should be; “Because that is the meaning of the passage.”

At this point, it would be wise to turn the question around and ask some questions concerning Catholicism's literal interpretation of the passage. The first question I would ask would have to do with another verse in the same chapter. Since Catholics consider it necessary to interpret John 6:54 literally, then why don't they also interpret 6:58 the same way?

This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. -- John 6:58

Notice that this verse says that the body and blood mentioned in the immediately preceding verses is bread. I have yet to have a Catholic explain why this verse is not also to be taken literally.

Then, there's this passage:

48 I am that bread of life.
49 Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead.
50 This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.
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.
-- John 6:48-51

Why don't they interpret this passage literally? Again, Jesus says He is the Bread of Life. Then He says that the bread He will give is His flesh. Can He be bread? Can bread be flesh? The Catholics who so love verse 54 are quick to ignore other verses in the same area.

Then, there's this verse:

And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. -- John 6:35

Have you ever had a Catholic explain to you how Jesus of Nazareth could have been a loaf of walking and talking bread?

The Catholic then brings up the fact, as proof that verse 54 is to be taken literally, that His listeners were troubled by His words and left.

Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? == John 6:60

Indeed, they did leave. And, when Jesus saw that His followers also were having trouble with the concept of eating His flesh and blood, He explained the meaning of His words in the very next series of verses -- which Catholic apologists seem never to notice:

61 When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?
62 What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?
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.
64 But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him.
65 And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.
66 From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
67 Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?
68 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
69 And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.
--John 6:61-69

And this is the clue to help understand why so many Catholics are unable to comprehend the true meaning of John 6:54. Verse 65 is the key. We know from elsewhere in the Scriptures that the Scriptures are foolishness to those who are not saved.

9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.
12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.
16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
-- 1 Corinthians 2:9-16

Let's return to the passage 6:53-58: Jesus' point was an analogy that has spiritual, rather than literal, significance; just as eating and drinking are necessary for physical life, so also is belief in His sacrificial death on the cross necessary for eternal life. The eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood metaphorically symbolize the need for accepting Jesus' work on the cross. For the Jews, however, a crucified Messiah was unthinkable (cf. Acts 17:1-3). Once again, the Jews, in their willful and judicial blindness, could not see the real spiritual significance and truth behind Jesus' statements. Moreover, Jesus' reference here to eating and drinking was not referring to the sacrament of the Eucharist for two significant reasons: 1) communion had not been instituted yet [The Last Supper was still in the future], and 2) if Jesus was referring to communion, or the Eucharist, then this passage would teach that anyone partaking of communion (Eucharist) would receive eternal life.

Could it be that Catholic interpretations of Scripture that support two of their dogmas are in conflict?

If John 6:54 indeed is to be interpreted as Catholics understand the verse, then anyone who receives communion is GUARANTEED to have eternal life, whether a member of the Catholic Church or not -- whether a believer or not; whether he dies in a state of grace or not.

On the other hand, The Council of Trent formally defined John 3:5 in this way:

According to the words of Jesus in John 3:5, Baptism in water (Baptisimes fluminus) is necessary, since the establishment of the New Covenant, for the salvation of all men without exception...
-Florence, [Decree for the Arminians], Denz. 696 [1314]
-Trent, Decree on Justification, Ch. 4: Denz. 796 [1524]; Canons on Baptism, 2, 5: Denz. 858, 86 [1615, 1618]. (LG:14)"
--Adam S. Miller, The Final Word: A Collection of over 100 Dogmatic Pronouncements of the Catholic Church, Tower of David Publications: Gaithersburg (1997), p.21

It is by (valid) Baptism in water by which men are made members of Christ's Body, the Church.
-Jn. 3:5; 1 Cor. 12:12-13, 27;
-Florence, Ibid., Denz. 696 [1314];
-Trent, On the Sacrament of Penance, 2: Denz. 895 [1671]"
-- Ibid.

In the Sacrament of Baptism the soul is truly cleansed from all sin (original and actual) and is truly justified and regenerated unto new life by the infusion of sanctifying grace.
-Ac. 2:38; 8:36; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-6; Ti. 3:5; Heb. 10:22;
-Florence, Ibid., Denz. 696 [1314];
-Trent, On Justification, ch. 4, 7: Denz. 796, 799 [1524, 1529]; On Penance, 2: Denz. 895 [1671]."
Ibid.

So, herein lies the difficulty: If everyone who partakes of communion is guaranteed eternal life, then why is baptism a requirement for salvation in the Catholic Church?

There's another little problem with RCC dogma and the literal interpretation of John 6:54. If one indeed understands 6:54 literally, then anyone who takes communion receives eternal life.

Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. -- John 6:54

There can be no equivocation here; Jesus' words are quite specific and, if taken literally, eating His actual flesh and drinking His actual blood result in assured eternal life. Yet, if this is so, how can the RCC explain the following dogma?

"No one can know with absolute certainty, without a special revelation from God, that he is in a state of grace or will persevere until the end and be saved...
-1 Cor. 10:12; Phil. 2:12;
-Trent, [Canons and Decrees on Justification], chs. 9, 12, Canons 15-16: Denz. 802, 805, 825-26 [1533-34, 1540, 1565-66].
--Adam S. Miller, Op. cit., p. 19

I have encountered a few Catholic apologists who argued that the references to the salvific value of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ, are to be understood as having to do with receiving Communion worthily. That is not what the dogmatic statements cited above either say or suggest. As I read them, I am informed that anyone who eats a consecrated eucharistic wafer or takes a sip of consecrated wine is "will persevere until the end and be saved," without regard to his state of grace or standing in the Catholi Church.

At this point, despite the fact that you have used both the Scriptures and Roman Catholic dogmas to make your case, the Catholic apologist may seek to change to direction of the discussion by throwing out another challenge:

There are plenty of verses of Scripture in which eating flesh and drinking blood have quite the opposite meaning that what you claim it means. Over and over again, the Bible makes it clear that these acts are figurative of assault and persecution – not acceptance or belief. Can you prove that your position is supported by Scripture? Can you point to a single verse in which eating flesh and drinking blood is a figure for acceptance?”

I would not trouble myself to search for such a verse. This challenge is meaningless, for we are examining John 6:54, not some other verse. The above are sufficient arguments as to why 6:54 cannot be taken literally.

The frustrated Catholic may toss out another attempt to alter the focus of the discussion.

Don't you believe in Sola Scriptura? Don't you believe that the Bible is final authority? If you believe that, then how can you change the meaning of a figure of speech from assault to acceptance? That is a major conflict. That is assigning an unbiblical meaning to a figure of speech? Eating flesh and drinking blood are not used as figures for anything positive. Quite the opposite, in fact, those figures always mean assault or persecution.”

At last, we get to the heart of this Catholic's mission, which is to discredit the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. As is almost always the case when Catholics go after this Christian doctrine, they show their complete lack of understanding as to what the doctrine is. Borrowing from chapter 5 of James R. White's book, The Roman Catholic Controversy, (Bethany House, (1996), I shall summarize what Sola Scriptura is not:

-First and foremost, Sola Scriptura is not a claim that the Bible contains all knowledge.
-Sola Scriptura is not a claim that the Bible is an exhaustive catalog of all religious knowledge.
- Sola Scriptura is not a denial of the authority of the Church to teach God's truth.
-Sola Scriptura is not a denial that the Word of God has, at times, been spoken.
-Sola Scriptura does not entail the rejection of every kind or form of "tradition."
-Sola Scriptura is not a denial of the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding and enlightening the Church.

Using the same source, I shall now summarize what Sola Scriptura is :

-The doctrine of Sola Scriptura, simply stated, is that the Scriptures alone are sufficient to function as the regula fide, the infallible rule of faith for the Church.
-All that one must believe to be a Christian is found in Scripture, and in no other source.
-That which is not found in Scripture--either directly or by necessary implication--is not binding upon the Christian.
-Scripture reveals those things necessary for salvation.
-All traditions are subject to the higher authority of Scripture.

Should one do as the Catholic suggests, and look in the Scriptures for references to eating flesh and drinking blood, will he discover that the RCC's understanding, as expressed by the apologist, is accurate? One of the earliest references to eating flesh and blood (of animals, not Christ) is this one:

But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. -- Genesis 9:4

In this verse, is God not clearly prohibiting the eating of flesh with blood in it? And, according to RCC doctrine, does not the consecrated host include the real and substantial body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ? Is God a liar? Does what the Catholic Church claims Christ teaches in John 6:54 conflict with what God says in Genesis 9:4? Is God the Author of confusion?

Is the above verse an isolated occurrence? A slip of God's inspiration to Moses? Read what follows:

12 Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood.
13 And whatsoever man there be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, which hunteth and catcheth any beast or fowl that may be eaten; he shall even pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust.
14 For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off.
-- (Leviticus 17:12-14

In verse 14, God clearly states that anyone who eats blood shall be cut off (killed). Can God be so clearly against the eating of blood here and later require it for salvation? I think not.

There's more, and it would be good to bear in mind that these passages are taken from Torah, the Books of the Law:

23 Only be sure that thou eat not the blood: for the blood is the life; and thou mayest not eat the life with the flesh.
24 Thou shalt not eat it; thou shalt pour it upon the earth as water.
25 Thou shalt not eat it; that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, when thou shalt do that which is right in the sight of the LORD.
-- Deuteronomy 12:23-25

Most likely, the defender of the Catholic faith will not be swayed by the above, and will continue doggedly to maintain that Jesus could not have used eating and drinking figuratively in John 6:54:

God Himself, speaking through the Bible, tells us again and again that it is impossible for Jesus to have used 'eat my flesh' and 'drink my blood' figuratively in John 6:54. To understand it that way is to change the meaning of the passage and to add to Scripture.

This is answered by showing that God has clearly prohibited the eating of blood, which is in direct conflict with the RCC interpretation of John 6:54. It would appear that it is Rome that has added to the Scriptures, not Christianity. The apologist, of course, will disagree and press his case:

There is no choice but to understand the words of John 6:54 literally. Remember, the unbelieving crowd in John 6 understood Jesus literally. They took Him literally, but did they accept it or reject His words? They rejected them and were wrong. Do you also reject literal speech here? Do you also understand Jesus to have been preaching cannibalism, as they did?

Of course, he already knows that non-Catholics do not for a moment imagine that Jesus was advocating cannibalism. This is just an attempt to throw you off-balance, perhaps to confuse you. He may re-open something that was addressed earlier. Anything to break your train of thought.

There are answers to the charges that eating human flesh and drinking blood violates Levitical law and there are answers to verses 63 and 64. But don't you think we should first address the changing of and adding to the Scriptures in order that we might then properly interpret the rest of the discourse correctly? The only way your understanding of verses 63 and 64 can be correct is if scripture is changed and added to in order that it might be claimed that Jesus was speaking figuratively of acceptance and belief. It all hinges on whether or not Jesus spoke 'eat my flesh' and 'drink my blood' literally or figuratively. The Bible proves that it cannot be figurative speech of any kind.

He mentions "answers" to Levitical Law, but he does not provide them, for to do so would require additional special interpretation. This is just a smoke screen.

Here is a final thought for you. If eating Christ's flesh and drinking Christ's blood were necessary to salvation, then no one could have been saved until Christ died. How, then, are Catholics able to explain Chapter 11 of Hebrews? How do they explain the "great cloud of witnesses" in Hebrews chapter 12?

We know that Enoch and Elijah were taken up to Heaven while still alive, yet they could not have eaten Christ's flesh nor drunk His blood. And was not Moses saved? And Abel? Did David dine on the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus? Or were all these saved by faith?

Think on this, please.

Catholic apologists often are arrogant and aggressive, apparently believing they can overpower their opposition by force of will. Don't let them intimidate you. They will frequently toss out red herrings, attempt to lead you down rabbit trails that serve only to confuse you and weaken your own resolve. Remember. You do not have to respond to every single thing they write or say. You are not in bondage to them. It is your right and your privilege to respond to what you wish or, should you desire, to ignore everything they demand of you

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