The Gospel of Mark, on Drinking Blood

The Gospel of Mark, on Drinking Blood August 25, 2018

Editor’s Note: Knowing that the Bible can get very gory, I still don’t think this particular lesson would make the cut for traditional Vacation Bible School. It’s very educational, however, and should not be overlooked in this secular version of VBS.


By David Madison

Here’s an eye-opener Bible exercise. Read Mark’s gospel—all of it—straight through, carefully. This will require a couple of hours, maybe a little more, about the time it takes to watch a movie. Then relax a bit, have a glass of wine. Then read John’s gospel—all of it—carefully. You’ll see why I recommend the wine.

It’s hard to see how it can be the same Jesus; these two gospels are starkly different. Attentive readers cannot help but notice, for example, that there is no Last Supper in John. Well, there is a reference, in chapter 13, to Jesus and his disciples having a supper, during which Jesus washes their feet—and he passes a piece of bread to Judas. But there is no description of bread and wine, with the familiar words, “this is my body,” and “this is my blood” that we find in Mark 14:22-25. In other words, there is no Eucharist as such here, but elsewhere John does offer a horrifying rephrasing of it.

In John 6 we find the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes, and the next day he boasts,

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty….” (v.35)

Then he gets into an argument with “the Jews,” and makes this shocking claim (vv. 54-57):

 “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”

In the following verse he refers to this as ‘bread that came down from heaven,’ but John doesn’t present this in a context of a meal with the disciples, as in the case in Mark, i.e., the wine is his blood, the bread is his body.

In John, magical thinking overwhelms the story—and is overwhelmingly repellant:

“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life…whoever eats me will live because of me.”

It’s too bad there wasn’t somebody looking over John’s shoulder to offer a little advice:

“Don’t go there!” Among other things, as so many commentators have pointed out, a pious Jew—as we assume Jesus was—would never have recommended drinking blood. This is so out of character for a peasant preacher from Galilee. It is so out of character for decent theology.

But myopic theologians ran with John’s bad idea. I’m guessing that this text is behind the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation: since Jesus has gone away, we have to eat his real body and drink his real body somehow.

How many Christians are willing to tell it like it is?

“Oh, this is the story where Jesus tells us to drink his blood.”

Mark’s Eucharist is much easier to swallow.


David Madison, a Clergy Project member, was raised in a conservative Christian home in northern Indiana. He served as a pastor in the Methodist church during his work on two graduate degrees in theology. By the time he finished his PhD in Biblical Studies (Boston University) he had become an atheist, a story he shares in the Prologue of his book, published in 2016: 10 Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith.

>>>>>>Photo Credits:  By Leonardo da Vinci – High resolution scan by in collaboration with the Italian ministry of culture. Scan details, Public Domain, ; by Andrea Reese

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  • ephemerol

    Another one of those contradictions…

    Leviticus 17:10 ‘And whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people.
    11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’
    12 Therefore I said to the children of Israel, ‘No one among you shall eat blood, nor shall any stranger who dwells among you eat blood.’
    13 “Whatever man of the children of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who hunts and catches any animal or bird that may be eaten, he shall pour out its blood and cover it with dust;
    14 for it is the life of all flesh. Its blood sustains its life. Therefore I said to the children of Israel, ‘You shall not eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.’

  • carolyntclark

    For Catholics, transubstantiation is what it’s all about . That’s the reason for priests saying Mass. The host and wine become the actual real flesh
    and blood of Christ… not a symbol, not a metaphor, it’s the real deal. Rituals of Benediction, 40 hours devotion etc.are centered on worship of the Eucharist. The sanctuary candle is always lite messaging the Christ is right there in the tabernacle. When I believed, I accepted it as the truth. For the Catholic faithful that’s what sets their Church above the rest.
    I was shocked when I interviewed a Catholic priest for TCP and he said that in his priestly experience, by the time seminarians are ready for ordination, he doubts that ANY of them believe in transubstantiation. Faithful Catholics want and need the Eucharist. The Church created the dogma and the clergy oblige.

  • Jim Jones

    The gospels vary but in general show little knowledge of Jewish life and customs. They’re about as convincing as a comic book describing life on planet Krypton.

  • A few years back I met an Italian TV journalist who was pretty sure half the Catholic priests, cardinals, bishops don’t believe all the stuff that the gullible parishioners do. For the hierarchy, it’s a business….during church ceremonies, it’s show business. It’s a massive celebration of magical thinking.

  • mason

    explains why vampires have such long life and power 🙂

  • mason

    and still quite a popular show & business … questioning transubstantiation cost this guy his life

  • mason

    “It is so out of character for decent theology.” Decent theology? A clever oxymoron, or do I assume you mean the study of the nature of God and religious belief that arrives at atheism? 🙂

    It was the whole bloody mess of bloodshed for me as a child, who never asked for the blood shedding or magical drinking of blood from tiny glasses, that I initially found repulsive, … and a serious look at the barbaric blood atonement doctrine as an adult that propelled me out of the Christian cult. The whole thing is a bloody mess, as the English would say.

    I’m waiting for a Stephen King novel about the Jewish zombie resurrection, the others zombies that also came out of the ground and wandered around in Jerusalem, and whatever happened to them? Spear in the side, water & blood gush, thorns shoved into the head producing a blood covered face, bloody back from lashes, blood dripping from the nails in the hands and feet. And how much in taxes did this Jew fail to pay? Seems like Christianity is a favorable breeding ground for psychopaths. Might even attract pedophiles with it’s male to male sadomasochism self abuse theme.

  • alwayspuzzled

    Are the ancient Hebrew dietary laws and practices the same as the laws and practices of ritual sacrifice?

  • ephemerol

    You’ll find the sacrificial laws in Leviticus chapters 1-8, and the dietary laws in Leviticus chapter 11.

  • See Noevo

    “After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.”
    – John 6:66

  • Yes, driven away by the spooky words!

  • Otto

    “After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him said ‘ewww’…”

  • Otto

    When I was a parishioner I would have been shocked too, but looking back at how they behaved I shouldn’t be (and I am not even talking about the abuse). It is hard to imagine that someone who actually thinks they hold God in their hands on a daily basis could act like they often did.

  • Brian Davis

    whoever eats me will live because of me.

    I think we have the answer to the mystery of the empty tomb. Now the mystery is whether the disciples used barbecue sauce or a dry rub.

  • Jay Has

    Is there an archive of that interview anywhere?

  • The point of the gospels is that there are no omnipotent panacea gods that cater to man’s every wish in this universe.