Was Jesus Unclear in John 6 (Eucharist)?

Was Jesus Unclear in John 6 (Eucharist)? November 16, 2021

Jason Engwer is a Protestant and anti-Catholic apologist, who runs the Tribalblogue site. I am responding to his article, If Jesus was teaching a physical presence in the eucharist, why didn’t he explain it better? (11-11-21). His words will be in blue.


John 6:47-66 (RSV) “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. [48] I am the bread of life. [49] Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. [50] This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. [51] I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” [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] he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. [55] For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. [56] He who eats 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 he who eats me will live because of me. [58] This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.” [59] This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Caper’na-um. [60] Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” [61] But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? [62] Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? [63] It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. [64] But there are some of you that do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. [65] And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”[66] After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.

Advocates of a physical presence of Christ in the eucharist often suggest that he couldn’t have made the concept much clearer than he did, that he should have made some other view of the eucharist clearer if he had some other view in mind, and so forth.

Yes we do, and for very good reason, as I shall show.

For example, we’ll be asked what could be clearer than what Jesus said in John 6. Or if Jesus wasn’t teaching a physical eucharistic presence there, then why didn’t he clarify that fact, especially after people expressed their opposition to such an interpretation of his comments (6:52, 6:60) and some abandoned him (6:66)? 

Good question! Why didn’t He? Certainly Jesus wouldn’t have let disciples wander off and stop following Him based on a mere misunderstanding. But the thing is He knew their hearts, and He knew it wasn’t misunderstanding. It was flat-out rebellion and rejection of His teaching. He also knew that wrangling with them further would accomplish exactly nothing.

Or what could be clearer than Jesus’ words at the Last Supper? And so on.

Indeed. Luther thought they were absolutely plain and clear and marveled at how Zwingli (the first modern “low church” Protestant) could try to rationalize and spiritualize them away.

It should be noted that the claim that Jesus didn’t clarify himself in John 6 needs to be argued, not just asserted.

I’ve done so many times:

Transubstantiation, John 6, Faith and Rebellion [National Catholic Register, 12-3-17]
I would reply to Jason that Protestants need to interact with the sorts of arguments that I provide above (and will again presently) and not pretend that they don’t exist or that they don’t pose a problem for their historically novel views.
Why think that comments like those in 6:35 . . . aren’t meant to clarify that he wasn’t referring to physically eating his body?

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.

Catholics and other believers in the Real Substantial Bodily Presence think that He was only making typical Hebrew analogy / prototype in the early part of John 6, drawing a parallel to the ancient Hebrews being sustained by manna. Knowing that His responders would bring up manna, He said:

Jesus 6:26-27 . . . “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. [27] Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal.”

Protestants like Jason will argue that the analogy is as follows:

1) Physical bread (and later reference to manna: 6:49-51) that sustains our physical bodies.

2) Spiritual food (belief in Jesus) sustaining and saving our souls and leading to eternal life.

So in this view it is a physical food with physical effect compared to (as opposites of a sort) to non-physical belief with a spiritual effect of eternal life. But the defender of substantial presence interprets it as follows:

1) Physical bread (and later reference to manna: 6:49-51) that sustains our physical bodies.

2) Spiritual (but also sacramentally physical) food (the body of Jesus) sustaining and saving our souls and leading to eternal life.

We deny that statements such as those by Jesus in 6:27 and 6:35 are merely symbolic. And why do we think that? Context is a key factor in determining the meaning, as always in Scripture. Jesus makes it abundantly clear what He means by “food” later on in His discourse:

John 6:55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.

He is equally clear that He is referring to eating, not merely believing in Him (which is also a necessity). First, He emphasizes belief and faith in Him, and “coming” to Him (6:29, 35-36, 40, 44-45, 47, and reiterated in 6:64-65). John 6:27, with its reference to “food” was a “preview”, so to speak, of what is to come. Then in John 6:50-58 He starts speaking specifically about eating His flesh and not just believing in Him, and mentions “eat[s]” seven times and “drink[s]” four times in eight verses where He is speaking, with 6:55 (above) also referring again to “food”: for a total of twelve references to eating and drinking in eight verses. This is why we believe it has a physical element as well as non-physical:

John 6:50-58 This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. [51] I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” [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] he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. [55] For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. [56] He who eats 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 he who eats me will live because of me. [58] This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”

Additionally, He refers (as the referent of what we are to eat and drink) to His “flesh” five times, His “blood” four times, “bread” (referring to Himself) six times, and “eats me” once (6:57). That’s sixteen more references to eating (Him) in these eight verses for a grand total of 28 references to eating and drinking His flesh and blood in eight verses (an average of 3.5 times per verse). To remove all doubt, He equates the “living bread” with His “flesh” in 6:51. What more does one need to be persuaded, pray tell? It couldn’t have been made any more clear than it is.

Why think that comments like those in . . . 6:63 aren’t meant to clarify that he wasn’t referring to physically eating his body?

John 6:63 It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

Jason wants to claim that Jesus’ contrast of “flesh” and “spirit” in 6:63 establishes the symbolic and metaphorical nature of the whole discourse. But when the words “flesh” and “spirit” are opposed to each other in the New Testament, it is always a figurative use, in the sense of sinful human nature (“flesh”) contrasted with humanity enriched by God’s grace (“spirit”):

Matthew 26:41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 

Romans 7:5-6, 25 While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. [6] But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit. . . . [25] Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. 

Romans 8:1-14 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. [2] For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. [3] For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, [4] in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. [5] For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. [6] To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. [7] For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot; [8] and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. [9] But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. [10] But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness. [11] If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you. [12] So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — [13] for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. [14] For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

1 Corinthians 5:5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Galatians 3:3 Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh
Galatians 4:29 But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now.
Galatians 5:13-26 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. [14] For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [15] But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another. [16] But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. [17] For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. [18] But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law. [19] Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, [20] idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, [21] envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. [22] But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, [23] gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. [24] And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. [25] If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. [26] Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.
1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit;
1 Peter 4:6 For this is why the gospel was preached even to the dead, that though judged in the flesh like men, they might live in the spirit like God.
In other words, Jesus is saying that His words can only be received by men endowed with supernatural grace. Those who interpret them in a wooden, carnal way — equating His teaching here with a sort of gross cannibalism — (or with a merely natural human understanding; see, e.g., Matthew 16:17 for a clear example of this meaning) are way off the mark. He wasn’t referring to the Eucharist, but rather to “the words that I have spoken”. “Spirit and life” refers back to His references to spiritual and eternal life as a result of partaking of the Eucharist (6:50-51, 53-54, 56-58).
If we’re told that coming to him and believing in him satisfy our hunger and thirst (6:35), then we have been given a clarification that something other than consuming the eucharistic elements is in view.
As I’ve just shown, it’s a scenario of “both/and” rather than the typically Protestant “either/or” and false dichotomies outlook. Jesus stressed belief and faith and first and then moved on to eucharistic realism, in ultra-graphic and unmistakable terms. Jason and those who think like him want to completely ignore and rationalize away this second aspect of the discourse. It won’t do, The biblical data is too strong.
Similarly, when Jesus says in verse 63 that the flesh profits nothing, which is reminiscent of his discouragement of seeking physical food earlier (verses 26-29), that’s more naturally taken as a clarification that he’s not referring to eating his flesh physically.
This doesn’t fly, either because the discourse moves along into different territory, which is why the latter parts cannot be explained solely by the earlier parts. “Flesh” in 6:63 has an entirely different meaning, as shown.
You could take “flesh” to be a reference to human fallenness or sinfulness, and thereby reconcile Jesus’ comments with a physical presence in the eucharist, but that’s a less natural way to take the phrase in its context. The nearby context is more focused on flesh in the sense of Jesus’ body, and it’s not as though Jesus’ critics were arguing that human fallenness or sinfulness is profitable. So, Jesus’ comment in 6:63 is more relevant, and therefore makes more sense, under my view.
I would argue precisely the opposite. Jesus makes it crystal clear again what He means in 6:63 by saying, “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail.” This is precisely the contrast between spirit and the carnal flesh that is seen in all the cross-references I provided. Then He says, “the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
In other words, He is contrasting His spiritually discerned words to those that come from the flesh or the carnal mind. He’s not contrasting His words to His own flesh. That would be absurd, seeing that He said over and over (6:50-51, 53-54, 57-58) that eating His flesh and drinking His blood was the way to eternal life (that’s hardly the meaning of “carnal” flesh that He refers to in 6:63). Jason is out to sea, exegetically speaking. His view would lead to a ridiculous state of affairs whereby Jesus refers six times in eight verses to eating His flesh, which then gives eternal life; then He turns around in 6:63 and supposedly means that His flesh “is of no avail.” That’s ludicrous and absurd; literally nonsense and viciously self-contradictory.
If some people were inattentive to what he was saying or misrepresented it, that doesn’t change the fact that Jesus did provide clarification. 
Yes He did; and every bit of it favors the Real Substantial Presence position, not mere eucharistic symbolism.
And since verse 66 is often cited in this context, we need to keep in mind that those comments are made just after Jesus’ remarks in verses 61-65, which aren’t about a physical presence in the eucharist even if we assume that he’s referring to a physical presence earlier in the passage.
Verse 61 refers to what was just said, and the reaction to it. Jesus repeatedly referred to eating His flesh as the means of eternal life (6:50-58). We know how many hearers reacted: “The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ ” (6:52). Jesus rhetorically “digs in” and reiterates even more so. He doesn’t stop and say, “wait, guys, you didn’t get what I was just saying. Let me explain . . .” Then we have 6:60: “Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?'” Then He rebukes the ones who reject His teaching: “Do you take offense at this?” (6:61).
Then He said “there are some of you that do not believe” (6:64). They had rejected the Real Substantial Presence. Then follows one of the saddest verses in the Bible: “After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him” (6:66). Why didn’t Jesus tell them that they had misunderstood His meaning, if that were the case (and He knew all things so He would have known what they were thinking)? He certainly would have done so. The fact that He didn’t absolutely proves that they had understood His meaning and rejected it.
Verse 66 could be referring back to Jesus’ earlier comments, in part or in whole, but it need not be, and it’s more naturally taken as referring to the closer context of verses 61-65.
We know from 6:52 and 6:60 (and Jesus’ reaction in 6:61) exactly what was being objected to. And it did refer back to Jesus’ eucharistic teaching.
Aside from all of that, notice that if Jesus was teaching a physical presence in the eucharist, we’d expect more clarification. The eucharist not only wasn’t being practiced yet at that time, but also hadn’t even been explained in anticipation of a future practice. We don’t see somebody like Peter or John asking Jesus for clarification about the means by which they’d consume his body, which is a clarification we’d expect them to want if they took him the way advocates of a physical presence in the eucharist are suggesting. We don’t see them asking how his body could provide enough for every one of his followers to eat and drink, given the physical attributes of Jesus’ body and how many followers the Messiah was expected to have. We don’t see Jesus’ disciples trying to bite off portions of his body, only to have it explained to them that they should only eat his flesh and drink his blood in the context of the eucharist. Instead, the disciples seem to take his comments much as they took similarly strong, but nonliteral language elsewhere (e.g., tearing out your eye that leads to sin, cutting off your hand that leads to sin, taking up your cross to follow him). We don’t see the disciples asking how they can have spiritual life, as Jesus has told them they do (e.g., verse 70), when they haven’t physically eaten his flesh and drunk his blood yet. 
They simply had faith (“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed”: 6:68-69). That alone doesn’t tell us what it is that they believed. We only know for sure what the ones who disbelieved were rejecting. Christians often have faith in things that we don’t fully understand (and in many cases, can’t fully understand). Jesus often noted hardness of heart leading to unbelief (Mt 13:13, 19; Lk 5:21-22; Jn 8:27, 43-47; 12:37-40). If Jason wants to address the issue of when Jesus would explain and not explain, and why, I am happy to do that. Let’s delve into it! Here, as everywhere it only helps the Catholic case and devastates the “low church” Protestant anti-Real Presence position.
In many other places in Scripture, Jesus explains His meaning when someone merely is uncomprehending (as opposed to willfully disbelieving). A typical example of this occurs in John 3:1-15: the incident with Nicodemus regarding the meaning of “born again”. Nicodemus asks: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (3:4). Jesus explains His meaning (3:5-8). Nicodemus, still baffled, again asks: “How can this be?” (3:9). Jesus replied: “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this?” (3:10) and then proceeds to explain some more (3:11-15). He explained because He knew that Nicodemus was truly seeking.
When someone wasn’t seeking or open in their spirit, He usually (if not always) would not do so, as in John 6. Here are further examples:

Matthew 13:36, 51 And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” . . . [51] “Have you understood all this?” They said to him, “Yes.”

Matthew 15:10-20 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: [11] not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” [12] Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” [13] He answered, “Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. [14] Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” [15] But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” [16] And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? [17] Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and so passes on? [18] But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. [19] For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. [20] These are what defile a man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” (cf. Mk 7:17-18)

Matthew 16:5-12 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. [6] Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sad’ducees.” [7] And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” [8] But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? [9] Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? [10] Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? [11] How is it that you fail to perceive that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sad’ducees.” [12] Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sad’ducees.

Matthew 17:9-13 And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of man is raised from the dead.” [10] And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Eli’jah must come?” [11] He replied, “Eli’jah does come, and he is to restore all things; [12] but I tell you that Eli’jah has already come, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of man will suffer at their hands.” [13] Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.

Matthew 19:24-26 “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” [25] When the disciples heard this they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” [26] But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Mark 4:33-34 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; [34] he did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.

Therefore, He would have in John 6 if a misunderstanding were involved, rather than a hardhearted disbelief, brought on by the influence of Satan.

Luke 8:9-11 And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, [10] he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand. [11] Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.”

Jesus continued explaining in 8:12-15.

Luke 9:46-48 And an argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. [47] But when Jesus perceived the thought of their hearts, he took a child and put him by his side, [48] and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me; for he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”

Luke 24:13-27 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emma’us, about seven miles from Jerusalem, [14] and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. [15] While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. [16] But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. [17] And he said to them, “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. [18] Then one of them, named Cle’opas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” [19] And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, [20] and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. [21] But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. [22] Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning [23] and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. [24] Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.” [25] And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! [26] Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” [27] And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

John 4:31-34 Meanwhile the disciples besought him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” [32] But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” [33] So the disciples said to one another, “Has any one brought him food?” [34] Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.”

John 8:21-32 Again he said to them, “I go away, and you will seek me and die in your sin; where I am going, you cannot come.” [22] Then said the Jews, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” [23] He said to them, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. [24] I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he.” [25] They said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Even what I have told you from the beginning. [26] I have much to say about you and much to judge; but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” [27] They did not understand that he spoke to them of the Father. [28] So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me. [29] And he who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.” [30] As he spoke thus, many believed in him. [31] Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, [32] and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

In this instance, Jesus explained because He knew (in His omniscience) that some of the hearers would believe in Him, while others would not.

If verse 53 meant that you had to have eaten Jesus’ flesh and drunk his blood physically in order to have spiritual life, then where’s the request for clarification from his disciples, and where did Jesus clarify that people could have spiritual life prior to the institution of the eucharist and that people could have spiritual life afterward without consuming a eucharistic physical presence (e.g., Protestants)? If coming to Jesus and believing in him is enough to satisfy your hunger and thirst (verse 35), then how can you not have spiritual life until you physically consume Jesus’ body in the eucharist (verse 53)? A metaphorical reading of John 6 makes more sense of the text and context and involves less of a need for clarification than the alternative.
As explained, Jesus developed His teaching in the course of His words recorded in John 6. He started with more familiar Jewish terms of expression and then went on to the “new and unusual” eucharistic teachings, which certainly would have been hard to grasp by all the hearers at the time. Their choice was (as always) to have faith in Jesus and believe in Him, no matter how difficult and inexplicable His teachings were.
If Jesus’ body was physically present in multiple locations simultaneously, sort of like the reports of bilocation we read about in the paranormal literature, that sort of scenario would require more clarification than a nonliteral interpretation of Jesus’ words would.
Not necessarily. After all, He went through walls after He had risen, and He didn’t take the time to explain that:
John 20:19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them . . .
He simply didn’t explain His miracles. He never explained how He could walk on water or still the winds or be transfigured or know people’s private thoughts, or raise people from the dead (He merely said that His disciples would be able to do the same). So why should He explain all the ins and outs of the Eucharist? This may have been the first time He addressed the topic at all.
We also don’t know if there were possibly numerous instances of His explaining it that are not recorded in Scripture. Mark 4:34 states: “privately to his own disciples he explained everything.” Imagine all the nights He spent talking to the disciples! The volume of those words would be hundreds of times longer than the content of the New Testament (which could be read in one or two nights).
Since Jesus was physically beside his disciples, handling the eucharistic elements, how could those eucharistic elements be his body?
In miraculous phenomena, all sorts of things are possible, by the very definition of “miracle” or “supernatural.” No problem! If we want deep mysteries, all kinds are believed by all Christians together. How could God never have a beginning? How can He be everywhere and know everything? How can He be outside of time? Why should the Eucharist be different?
And what about the fact that the communion elements still look, feel, smell, and taste like bread and wine, not flesh and blood? Wouldn’t that need clarification from Jesus and his earliest followers writing in the New Testament? And what precedent do we have for an alleged miracle like transubstantiation? When Jesus did something like change the water into wine at the wedding in Cana in John 2 (which isn’t far from John 6), did the material in the pots still look, feel, smell, and taste like water? Did he change water into wine under the appearance of its remaining water? I’m not aware of any precedent for performing a miracle that’s supposed to involve a physical transformation, yet doesn’t involve any physical evidence of such a transformation.
It may not be exactly analogous (though who says it must be?), but there are many odd and weird and unpredictable manifestations of God throughout the Bible. How about the pillars of cloud and fire?:

Exodus 33:8-10 Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose up, and every man stood at his tent door, and looked after Moses, until he had gone into the tent. [9] When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the door of the tent, and the LORD would speak with Moses. [10] And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the door of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, every man at his tent door.

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 that the pillars of cloud and fire were:

1) creations (water, if a literal cloud, and fire);

2) visual, hence an image;


3) thought to directly represent God Himself.

It’s also a supernatural manifestation. Moreover, we 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. An angel is a creation (as is fire and cloud); yet God chose to use a created being and inanimate objects to visibly represent Him. Several similar instances occur in the Old Testament. Moreover, the Jews “worshiped” fire as representative of God in the following passage, and God is otherwise spoken as being “in” fire:

2 Chronicles 7:1-4 When Solomon had ended his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. [2] And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’s house. [3] When all the children of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the LORD upon the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the earth on the pavement, and worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures for ever.” [4] Then the king and all the people offered sacrifice before the LORD.

Exodus 19:18 And Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire; . . .

Does Jason want more “weird” and inexplicable stuff? It continues in the New Testament. How can we be the Body of Christ (Rom 7:4; 1 Cor 12:27; Eph 1:22-23; 4:12; 5:30; Col 1:24)? When St. Paul was converted to Christ, Jesus said to him, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). This couldn’t literally refer to Jesus the Divine Person since He had already ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9-11). Rather, Jesus meant that Christ’s Church really was His Body, whom Paul (Saul) was persecuting (Acts 8:1, 3, 9:1-2).

What does Paul mean by “carrying in the body the death of Jesus” (2 Cor 4:10),  or “in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col 1:24)? There is plenty of mystery to go around, and it is usually not clarified or explained at length. Yet Jason demands that the Eucharist has to be a unique case, with the supposed necessity extensive explanations given at every turn. This is unreasonable and unbiblical.


Practical Matters: if any of my 3,850+ free online articles and 50 books have helped you (by God’s grace) to decide to become Catholic or to return to the Church, or better understand some doctrines and why we believe them, and/or if you believe my work is worthy to support for the purpose of apologetics and evangelism in general, please seriously consider a much-needed financial contribution. 1 December 2021 will be my 20th anniversary as a full-time Catholic apologist, and February 2022, the 25th anniversary of my blog.
PayPal donations are the easiest: just send to my email address: “Catholic Used Book Service” (which might be mentioned in conjunction with my address on PayPal) is my old side-business. To learn about the different methods of contributing, including 100% tax deduction, etc., see my page: About Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong / Donation InformationThanks a million from the bottom of my heart!

Photo credit: Jesus Teaches the People by the Sea, by James Tissot (1836-1902)[public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


Summary: I critically and systematically examine various skeptical / “exegetical” arguments made by anti-Catholic polemicist Jason Engwer, regarding John 6 (Eucharist).

"That's pretty particular and unique musical preference! Totally different from me: I'm basically German Romantic ..."

Mozart’s Musical Genius & His Catholicism
"Good article Dave. The argument from beauty is, I admit, the one argument for God ..."

Mozart’s Musical Genius & His Catholicism
"The latter, far as I can tell from his current post. Good question! I brought ..."

Seidensticker Folly #77: Free Will & ..."
"I can post, and massively did today. And the insulters are showing up (I "mute" ..."

Seidensticker Folly #77: Free Will & ..."

Browse Our Archives