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Refuting Jason Engwer’s “Real Absence” Argument

Refuting Jason Engwer’s “Real Absence” Argument November 18, 2021

Including Biblical Evidence of Analogous Miracles of a Supernatural Change of a Substance Minus Outward Physical Evidence 

Jason Engwer is a Protestant and anti-Catholic apologist, who runs the Tribalblogue site. I am responding to his article, You Ought To Believe In A Real Absence (7-29-19). His words will be in blue.

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Roman Catholics (and others) often criticize those who don’t believe in a physical presence of Christ in the eucharist by referring to that view as “the real absence”, in contrast to the real presence. They often act as though the phrase “real absence” does so much heavy lifting that they don’t need to do much beyond applying that label to their opponents’ view. But there’s nothing wrong with absence in this context, and it actually makes a lot more sense than the alternative.

For one thing, the original backdrop to the eucharist involved the absence of a physical presence in the Passover elements:

That the bread ‘is’ his body means that it ‘represents’ it; we should interpret his words here no more literally than the disciples would have taken the normal words of the Passover liturgy, related to Deuteronomy 16:3 (cf. Stauffer 1960:117): ‘This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate when they came from the land of Egypt.’ (By no stretch of the imagination did anyone suppose that they were re-eating the very bread the Israelites had eaten in the wilderness.) Those who ate of this bread participated by commemoration in Jesus’ affliction in the same manner that those who ate the Passover commemorated in the deliverance of their ancestors….M. Pesah. 10:6 uses the Passover wine as a metaphor for the blood of the covenant in Ex. 24:8″. (Craig Keener, A Commentary On The Gospel Of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1999], 631, n. 27 on 631)

The problem with this commentary is what I pointed out in my previous reply to Jason, which was devoted to the great eucharistic discourse: John 6. Was Jesus teaching only that “bread of life” was simply metaphor for belief in Him and that there is no physical and sacramental substantial bodily presence in the Eucharist?

No; as I demonstrated in that article, both things are true: He used a metaphor for belief and faith in Him (“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, RSV), but also made it clear that He was talking about His literal Body and Blood (in a supernatural sacramental sense; not the “cannibalistic” sense):

John 6:51 . . . the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.

John 6:54 . . . he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, . . .

John 6:56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.

Secondly, Biblical precedent gives us reason to conclude that no physical transformation has occurred if there’s an absence of physical evidence of such a transformation. For example, in John 2, Jesus didn’t change the water into wine under the appearance of remaining water. He didn’t heal lepers and blind men under the appearance of their remaining leprous and blind. Physical miracles produced the sort of corresponding physical evidence you’d expect. The absence of such evidence in the context of the eucharist is most reasonably taken as implying the absence of such a physical transformation.

This is untrue as well. Jesus had a body after His resurrection (and He encouraged His disciples to touch Him, including His wounds, to establish this fact), but it was a glorified body. He could, for example, pass through walls in a way that we normally deem to be physically impossible (yet which modern quantum physics actually claims is entirely possible). See John 20:19 . . .

Now, one could say that the “physical evidence” (I suppose) was His passing through the wall of the house, but how is that “physical” in an empirical sense? As far as the disciples were concerned, Jesus still had a normal physical body. He even ate with them. For that matter, how would someone “physically” prove that Jesus was God, even before He was resurrected? By looking at His cells in a microscope? There was no way to do that. The incarnation has to be received with faith as a supernatural miracle. So why does Jason demand so much more of the Eucharist?

Therefore, “Biblical precedent” indeed “gives us reason to conclude” that a “physical transformation has occurred” in the “absence of physical evidence of such a transformation.” The truth is the opposite of what Jason claims. And it is an analogy to transubstantiation. Moreover, this is not the only biblical example:

Exodus 13:21 And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night; (cf. 14:24; Num 14:14; Neh 9:12, 19)

Note what is happening here. We’re talking about actual clouds (a form of water) and fire, which “consist[s] primarily of carbon dioxide, water vapor, oxygen and nitrogen” (Wikipedia, “Fire”). Yet God is somehow “in” both of them (so much so that the ancient Hebrews would worship God facing this cloud: Ex 33:10). How? How could one tell the difference between a regular old cloud or a fire and the ones that God was “in”?

They couldn’t. And no one could today, either, if God did that again. The only difference is that God said He was in both, in particular circumstances when both formed a “pillar.” But that’s not physical proof. It’s revelation. And it is exactly the same, analogously, as what we have in the Eucharist (substance changing without the accidents or appearances changing).

With regard to fire with God specially “in” it, we also have the burning bush (Ex 3:2-6), which is not only fire, but also called an “angel of the Lord” (Ex 3:2), yet also “God” (3:4, 6, 11, 13-16, 18; 4:5, 7-8) and “the LORD” (3:7, 16, 18; 4:2, 4-6, 10-11, 14) interchangeably. Also, the Bible states: “Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire” (Ex 19:18).

Next question? Jason and Protestants generally want to “argue Bible”? As usual, I’m running circles around him giving relevant Bible passages, whereas he mostly sits there and cynically speculates out of his own head about all kinds of things. He doesn’t ground his arguments in the Bible as I do. He claims he is doing so but doesn’t demonstrate it. He talks about supposed lack of “biblical precedent” while I prove that precedent exists that demolishes his contentions (mere traditions of men).

Lastly, scripture teaches us that Jesus is to be absent for a while (Matthew 24:23-27, Mark 14:7, John 14:2-3, 14:28, Acts 1:11, 3:21). He’s still spiritually present, and you have to allow for exceptions to the generalities in the passages I just cited (e.g., Jesus’ appearance to Paul on the road to Damascus, which seems to have been a physical appearance, like the other resurrection appearances). But a belief in Jesus’ physical presence in the eucharist would have him physically present frequently, if not all of the time or the large majority of the time.

When discussing the eucharist, Paul refers to how it proclaims Jesus’ death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26). That sort of language makes more sense if Jesus is physically absent, but will return physically in the future. It makes less sense if he’s continually physically present, but will also come physically in some other sense in the future. Much the same can be said about Paul’s comments on being “absent from the Lord” in 2 Corinthians 5:6 (see, also, Philippians 1:23, 1 Thessalonians 4:17).

This is category confusion on Jason’s part. There are five senses in which we can refer to Jesus being “present” with us on earth:

1) His time spent on earth as a physical man, for about 33 years, from His birth to His crucifixion, resurrection, post-resurrection appearances, and ascension. [physical]

2) The indwelling: an attribute He shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit. In the same Last Supper Discourse (John 14-17) Jesus referred to He Himself (and God the Father) being “in” us [non-material / as a spirit]:

John 14:18 . . . I will come to you. (cf.  14:16-17)
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John 14:20 . . . I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
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John 14:23 . . . my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
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John 15:5 . . . He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit . . .
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John 17:23 I in them, and thou in me, . . .
3) In the sense that He is (as God) omnipresent [non-material / as a spirit]:
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Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
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Matthew 28:20 . . .  I am with you always, to the close of the age.
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Ephesians 1:22-23 …the church, [23] which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all.
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Colossians 3:11 …Christ is all, and in all.
4) Supernatural eucharistic presence: Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity [spiritual and sacramentally / miraculously physical and substantial]
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5) After His return to earth as a physical man[-God] with a glorified body at the Second Coming [physical].
Now let’s look at Jason’s specific argument:
1 Corinthians 11:26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
This is clearly referring to the Second Coming, or #5 above. So we can speak in terms of that being in the future, and His time living and teaching on the earth being in the past, while the senses of presence #2-4 are ongoing in the interim period. No contradiction! It’s just Jason’s characteristic lack of making crucial distinctions.
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Paul’s being “absent from the Lord” or “away from the Lord” (2 Cor 5:6, RSV) is a sixth kind of presence of Jesus: not on earth but in heaven. It’s clearly what Paul is referring to here and in 5:8: “away from the body and at home with the Lord.” We also know this from context. 5:10 refers to appearing before “the judgment seat of Christ.” This simply has nothing to do with eucharistic presence at all. It’s a non sequitur.
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Philippians 1:23 is in the same sense: “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” He’s talking about being in heaven with God, like he did in 1 Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” 1 Thessalonians refers to the time of the Second Coming and being with Jesus thereafter. It’s all irrelevant to the matter of eucharistic presence.
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An especially significant passage in this context is Mark 14:7. The surrounding context involves the Passover and the Last Supper. Jesus is anointed by a woman and makes the comment in verse 7 about how they won’t always have him around to do good to him as that woman did, whereas they’ll always have the poor around to do good to them. The passage refers to how the woman has anointed his body, and he refers to how she’s prepared him for burial. The focus is on the physical, especially Jesus’ body. What comes between Mark 14:7 and the burial? The events commemorated in communion. So, those events are included in how the woman has done good to Jesus. In fact, as I’ve documented elsewhere, Jesus’ burial was a prominent theme in early Christianity, often referred to in gospel summaries, baptism, etc. The implication of Jesus’ comment in Mark 14:7 is that doing good to him bodily in that context isn’t something they’ll always be able to do. Yet, that’s what Catholics claim to do frequently in communion. They honor Jesus’ body in communion in various ways, with altars, monstrances, church services, etc., worship him in that context, and so on.
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This is a silly, frivolous argument. Jesus is here obviously referring to His presence in the sense of #1 above. Jason is foolishly mixing up categories.
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If the physical presence of Christ in the eucharist is as significant as Catholics make it out to be, and they experience it as often as they claim to, then it’s harder to make sense of these New Testament references to the absence of Jesus.
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Not in the slightest. One simply has to be aware of the different kinds of presence involved. Jason isn’t, and so he is out to sea, and makes  irrelevant, desperate arguments as a result.
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And keep in mind that the issue isn’t whether it’s possible to reconcile these passages with the Catholic view. Rather, the issue is which view makes the most sense of the evidence.
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Exactly! The Catholic view does, and the low church Protestant view does not, as repeatedly shown.
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There’s no shame in believing in a real absence.
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There’s a ton of shame, because it’s blasphemous (rejecting Jesus’ teaching) and an adoption of what the heretical sects throughout history have believed, rather than the unbroken history of what the apostles, early Church, Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and high church Protestantism (Anglicans, Lutherans — starting with Martin Luther himself –, some Methodists and others) have believed. Falsehood comes from the devil, and it prevents Christian believers from receiving all the grace and blessing that God has for them.
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In fact, that view is more consistent with the original context of the eucharist, the physical evidence we have pertaining to the eucharist and how that evidence relates to the history of Biblical miracles, and the Biblical affirmation of the absence of Jesus.
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Not at all, as shown. Jason, in all likelihood (judging from longstanding history) will not respond to any of this, and I say that he cannot sensibly do so even if he were willing to. Any other Protestant is welcome to take a shot at it. Be my guest!

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Photo credit: The Incredulity of Thomas (1622), by Hendrick ter Brugghen (1588-1629) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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Summary: Anti-Catholic Jason Engwer takes one of his groundless potshots against Catholicism: this time against transubstantiation, with a “real absence” argument.

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