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The Bread of Life 

John Chapter Six and The Roman Catholic Eucharist

"And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, "this cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood" (Luke 22:19-20).
Roman Catholicism cites the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John as foundational in framing the Vatican's defense for its teachings surrounding the sacrament called "The Eucharist." That is, the eating of the wafer (or communion bread) which Romanism claims actually turns into the physical body and blood of Jesus Christ; theologically called the doctrine of "transubstantiation." Their apologists rightly point out that this sacrament, actuated by the power and authority of its priests to perform the miraculous transition, is one of the grievances (they call "attacks") Evangelicals pose against the church of Rome (the Eastern Orthodox church also holds to this belief).

Basic to Rome's defense in justifying its belief in the doctrine of transubstantiation is its commitment to maintaining a wooden, literal interpretation of the words of Christ recorded in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, and for which they also chide Evangelicals for not doing the same. But based on the art and science of Biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) the context itself determines whether or not a text is to be taken literally. So the question posed is, based on the context of John chapter six, is a literal interpretation of Christ's words warranted?

A Roman Catholic apologist writes:

"What's more, the attacks also show that Fundamentalists are not always literalists. This is seen in their interpretation of the key biblical passage, chapter six of John's Gospel, in which Christ speaks about the sacrament that will be instituted at the Last Supper" ("The Eucharist," Catholic Answers web site).
As seen in the above quote, Rome teaches that there is a direct correlation between what Jesus spoke to the unbelieving multitude in John chapter six, in respect to the eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood (John 6:26-71), and what He instituted regarding the "Lord's Supper" with His disciples the night of His betrayal (Lk. 22:19-20). In fact, Rome's traditions surrounding the "Eucharist" and the "Mass" hinge entirely on whether or not the words spoken by Christ in John chapter six, and His words instituting the "Lord's Supper" in the upper room the night of His betrayal, are in any way directly related.

Putting It All In Context

In chapters five and six of John's Gospel account we see that the opposition of the Jewish leaders against Christ was increasing (see 5:18). In chapter five Jesus healed a man who had been ill for thirty-eight years. Not only did Jesus heal him but He even had the audacity to tell that man to pick up his pallet (considered "work" on the Sabbath) and walk, inciting the Jews. But Jesus answered them by saying, "My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working" (5:17). Here His challengers rightly understood that by uniquely calling God, "My Father," Jesus was making Himself to be equal with God (5:18). And in His words to follow He goes on to develop this truth by saying that the purpose of His coming was the same as His Father's, and that "as the Father has LIFE in Himself, even so He gave the Son also to have LIFE in Himself" (5:19-47, cf. vss. 21, 26). The word "life" being the underlying principle in both chapters five and six.

In chapter five Jesus discloses the truth that He Himself is the giver and the source of spiritual and eternal life to all who would believe in Him.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life" (Jn. 5:24).
And it is this fundamental truth that sets up the context for what He expresses figuratively and spiritually of Himself in chapter six, specifically in regards to eating His flesh and drinking His blood. As the underlying principle in chapters five and six is "LIFE," the operative word is "BELIEVE" (5:39-40,43,46; 6:29-30,35,36,40,47).

Chapter six records the remarkable miracle of the feeding of the five thousand with only five barley loaves and two fish. The crowd was so effected by this wonder that they intended to take Him by force and make Him king. But knowing their carnal motives and intentions Jesus withdrew from them, and after sending His disciples across the lake to Capernaum He went up into the mountain by Himself. Later that night He joined His storm distressed disciples in their boat by way of walking on the water.

The next day the crowd was waiting for Jesus to come down from the mountain, but realizing that He was not there they crossed over to Capernaum knowing that His disciples had gone there previously. There they astonishingly found Jesus and He again entered into a dialog with them exposing their true motive in following Him by saying, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled" (6:26). That is to say, they followed Him not because the "sign" (attesting miracle) of feeding the five thousand demonstrated who He was (the Word become flesh) and the true purpose of His coming (eternal life through faith in Him), but it satisfied their immediate, material sustenance. The very reason they wanted to make Him king. But Jesus rebuked their fleshly motive and said to them, "Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal" (6:27). Desiring this "food" they asked Him what they should do so that they may work the works of God. And Jesus replied, "This is the work of God, that you BELIEVE in Him whom He has sent" (vs. 29).

In a defiant response they disregarded the sign of the feeding of the five thousand experienced just the day prior, and demanded that Jesus perform a sign worthy enough so that they would "see" and "believe" Him. After all, Moses fed their fathers for forty years in the wilderness with bread out of heaven (manna) - could he do that? But Jesus knew that seeing does not produce believing, and believing is never based on seeing. So from that point on He works to take their focus off the physical and onto the spiritual.

He flatly contradicts their basic assumption that it was Moses that gave them bread out of heaven, but it is His Father who gives them the TRUE bread out of heaven (6:32). Manna fed their physical need only temporarily, for many eventually died in the wilderness, and the manna itself ceased when they entered the land (6:49). In contrast, He revealed to them that the Bread of God which comes down out of heaven gives life to the world so that one may eat of it and not die (6:33,50). They asked to be given that bread and Jesus replied that He Himself is that bread of life. What He says next in the context of the sixth chapter is key to understanding the spiritual and figurative environment of all that He says regarding the eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood.

"I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me (by faith) will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst" (6:35, emphasis mine).

"For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son (with the eyes of faith) and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I will raise Him up on the last day" (6:40; cf vs. 50; emphasis mine).

Making a spiritual reference to His future crucifixion He said, "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh" (6:51).

But the people were not able to grasp the spiritual substance of what He was declaring and applied His words literally, deliberating among themselves as to how this man could possibly give them his flesh to eat (6:52). Their literal interpretation of His words exposed their state of unbelief, and as a result many of His disciples (not the twelve) withdrew and no longer walked with Him (6:59-66).

Taking Christ's words literally not only hindered those whom Jesus was speaking to from understanding the spiritual significance and eternal realities of what He was saying in regards to belief in Him, but it still remains the fundamental error of those today who teach a mystical, physical transformation of common bread into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ through the "sacrament" of the "Eucharist." Tragically, the people failed then, as they do now, to comprehend the spiritual import of what Jesus was teaching in presenting Himself as the true Bread of Life. That is, it is the spiritually hungry and thirsty soul that willfully turns from unbelief to belief in Him that is forever satisfied. And by that act of personal faith in Him, the spiritually hungry and thirsty soul receives "eternal life."

Merrill C. Tenny expresses eloquently the spiritual truth behind the metaphor Jesus applied to Himself in regards to the eating and drinking of His body and blood for eternal life:

"The metaphor of eating and drinking is the best possible figure that can be employed to express the assimilation of one body by another, the method whereby life is transferred from the eaten to the eater. The literal eating of Jesus' flesh and the drinking of His blood were not demanded" (John, The Gospel Of Belief).
Clearly it was not the literal eating and drinking of His flesh and blood that Jesus was requiring of the multitude at Capernaum. Essentially what He was communicating, metaphorically, is that just as the life of the bread which is eaten is transferred to the eater, so the life of the resurrected Christ (not the crucified Christ) is transferred to the believer. It's really that simple. In reference to eating His flesh and drinking His blood Jesus clarified, "it is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life" (6:63).

The motive of the multitude in seeking Jesus was a desire for more bread and fish, rather than what the bread and fish symbolized. They utterly failed to understand that the ultimate end of life must be spiritual, not material - the satisfying of the soul, not the belly. They didn't discern that the seal of God's approval was upon Jesus ("the Word become flesh"), and they could trust Him for the nourishment of their souls.

Yet in spite of this illumination by Christ Himself, Romanism continues to teach that the words Jesus spoke in John chapter six are to be understood literally and were anticipatory of His words spoken at the Last Supper; thereby constituting the mysticism that encompasses Rome's sacrament of the "Eucharist." Contrary to sound exegesis, they assert that the words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper were the blueprint of how His disciples, and the Church to follow, would fulfill literally the eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood:

The Roman Catholic Catechism:

"1336 The first announcement of the Eucharist divided the disciples, just as the announcement of the Passion scandalized them: "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?"[158] The Eucharist and the Cross are stumbling blocks. It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division. "Will you also go away?":[159] the Lord's question echoes through the ages, as a loving invitation to discover that only he has "the words of eternal life"[160] and that to receive in faith the gift of his Eucharist is to receive the Lord himself"

"1338 The three synoptic Gospels and St. Paul have handed on to us the account of the institution of the Eucharist; St. John, for his part, reports the words of Jesus in the synagogue of Capernaum that prepare for the institution of the Eucharist: Christ calls himself the bread of life, come down from heaven.[163]"

"1339 Jesus chose the time of Passover to fulfill what he had announced at Capernaum: giving his disciples his Body and his Blood..."

However, contrary to Rome's teaching above, an objective examination of the Biblical text concludes without a doubt that the words Jesus spoke to the unbelieving multitude at Capernaum could not and cannot be directly related to the words He spoke to His believing disciples in the upper room the night of His betrayal:

1. John makes no indication anywhere in his Gospel account that the words Jesus spoke at Capernaum, in chapter six, were in anticipation of what He would institute at the Last Supper. Nor does Jesus indicate in any way that the institution of the "Lord's Supper" is the fulfillment of what He spoke at Capernaum.

2. Significantly, the words Jesus spoke in the upper room instituting the "Lord's Supper" are recorded in each of the Gospel accounts except John's. The Apostle John omits Christ's words completely! Significantly, as well, neither Matthew, Mark or Luke include in their Gospel accounts the Capernaum incident John records in his sixth chapter. A clear indication that neither the Apostle John nor the other Gospel writers directly associated Christ's words spoken to the multitude at Capernaum with those spoken to His disciples when instituting the Lord's Supper in the upper room.

3. The words Jesus spoke in John chapter six were spoken to unbelievers, not believers. "Eat My flesh" and "drink My blood," in context, was analogous to an unbeliever coming to Him by faith to satisfy spiritual hunger and believing in Him to quench spiritual thirst - resulting in receiving "eternal life" (Jn. 6:35-36; 52-58). However, in direct contrast, eating the bread and drinking of the cup at the Last Supper was a ritual instituted by the Lord for those who had already believed and were already His. The Apostle Paul taught that the purpose of partaking in the "Lord's Supper" was for believers to proclaim His sacrificial death until He comes; not for the purpose of obtaining the eternal life which was already theirs through faith in Christ (compare Jn. 6:58 with 1 Cor. 11:26).

4. The bread and cup at the Last Supper anticipated the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross, the forgiveness of sins and the inauguration of the New Covenant in His blood (Matt. 26:28). In contrast, John chapter six makes no mention of the New Covenant or the forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of Himself, but emphasizes coming to Him and believing unto eternal life.

5. Jesus does not reiterate the words, "eat My flesh and drink My blood" when speaking to His disciples in the upper room. But rather He told them that the bread represented His body which was to be given for them (the crucifixion), and the cup represented the new covenant to be inaugurated at the cross by the shedding of His blood (Lk. 22:19-20). Contrary to Rome's teaching in its catechism above (# 1336), Christ did not say in the upper room, "eat this and drink this that you may receive Me," but "do this in remembrance of Me." Both John chapter six and the upper room discourse are void of the notion that Jesus is received through physically eating and drinking Him. A bizarre concept that defies even simple logic and common sense. Jesus Himself asks the obvious:

"Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated?" (Matt. 15:17).
In his first Epistle to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul conveyed to them the reason Christ instituted the "Lord's Supper":

"For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me." In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes."" (1 Cor. 11:23-26)
Paul's first letter to the Corinthian church was written about 55 A.D., some 20 years after Jesus instituted the "Lord's Supper." Notice in the above quote that Paul retains the physical elements of both the bread and the cup. And the symbolic ritual, he explains, is not done for the sake of obtaining eternal life, as Jesus taught in John chapter six (6:54, a teaching that would even exceed Roman Catholic doctrine), but it is to be done "in remembrance" of Him and the proclamation of His death (in respect to the New Covenant) until He comes.

Based on the obvious metaphorical intent, along with the textural differences and inconsistencies found in the words of Christ at the two separate events, it would be fallacious indeed to conclude that His words in the sixth chapter of John anticipated their "literal" fulfillment by His disciples (and the Church to follow) at the Last Supper. The alchemical mysticism which frames Rome's doctrine of the "Eucharist" is Biblically unfounded, and lends itself to confounding the propositional truth that men must turn from their unbelief and exercise personal belief in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, the "Last Adam," for the sake of inheriting eternal LIFE.

The Continuity of John's Gospel - The 2nd Man - The Last Adam

Christ as the Bread of life that came down out of heaven does not find its significance, nor its fulfillment, in looking forward to the institution of the Lord's Supper (as stated above, John does not record the words of Christ instituting this "sacrament"), but in looking backward to the first chapter of John's Gospel account where it is written, "and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."

This was another way of saying that when Christ came into the world God created a whole new humanity, grafted on to the old by a miraculous conception through the virgin birth. The Apostle Paul sheds more light on this truth in his teaching that through the miracle of the incarnation God the Son became a new "Federal Head," the "second Man" (1 Cor. 15:47), the "Last Adam" (1 Cor. 15:45; cf Rom. 5:12-21), for the divine purpose that all men born spiritually dead in Adam may through faith in the "Last Adam, Jesus Christ, be "born again" and His resurrected life (not crucified body) be transferred to them at the time of personal belief (Jn. 3:3:3;16-18;34-36; 5:21,24,26,40; 6:29,35,40,47,51,63).

"So also it is written, "the first man, Adam, became a living soul." The last Adam became a life-giving spirit" (1 Cor. 15:45)

"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me" (Gal. 2:20).


Rome rejects the soteriological significance of faith, that is, faith being the vehicle by which one is immediately saved and enters into a justified relationship with God through personal faith in the person and work (the cross) of the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1-2). Rome's interpretation of faith is submission to all its "orthodoxy;" a passport to baptism followed by a life of probation under the sovereign authority and dictates of its priesthood and teaching authority (Magisterium). Hence it is no wonder that Romanism glosses over the correlation Jesus formulates between faith and life in both chapters five and six of John's Gospel. Rome's doctrines regarding the sacrament of the "Eucharist" serve its meritorious, religious system, and are consistent with its works-based, not faith-based message of salvation.

It is important to point out the fact that in John chapter six the disciples who decided to no longer walk with Jesus departed from Him because they took His words literally (6:60,66). A literal interpretation of Christ's words actually impedes one from understanding, with great joy, what Jesus figuratively illustrates concerning Himself as the "bread of life, the source of eternal life. Thereby obscuring the simple truth that when any man comes to Him by faith, he partakes of Him and receives His resurrected life - life eternal. It is in this metaphorical sense and context that Jesus presents Himself as the bread of life that comes down out of heaven. The divine source of life eternal through faith in Him.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life" (Jo. 5:24).

"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"" (Jn. 6:35).

"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life (6:47-48).

Apostolic Silence

It must also be pointed out that neither Peter nor John, who were present when Jesus spoke His words, went on to teach the doctrine of "transubstantiation" in any of their Epistles. Nor did the Apostle Paul who claimed to have gotten his gospel directly from the risen Lord Himself.

When the words of Jesus are not filtered through the teachings of Rome, it becomes quite evident that John chapter six is not at all about common bread being miraculously transformed into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ through the power of priestcraft, but that the resurrected life of Christ, the "Last Adam," might through faith be miraculously transferred to all men, dead in Adam, who personally trust in Him - to the glory of God.

Jesus plainly pointed out that those who physically ate the "manna" in the wilderness eventually died in the wilderness (6:49). But those of Adam's race who by faith receive Him, the true source of life, will live forever:

"For this is the will of My Father, that every one who beholds the Son, and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise Him up on the last day" (Jn. 6:40).

"For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave the Son also to have life in Himself" (Jn. 5:26).

Have you by faith come to the true Bread of Life that His life might be transferred to you and live forever?

Written by: Gary Nystrom

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