The Complete, Essential Guide to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist: Part Three - John 6, Bread of Life Discourse


Is there proof in the Bible that Jesus actually meant for us to eat His flesh? Absolutely and unequivocally.

I'm not just going to give you a few verses to support that statement. I'm going to cite an entire chapter. The 6th chapter of the Gospel of John to be exact.

I recently wrote about the recent survey that found only 26% of Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Here's why Jesus Himself expects us to believe in the Real Presence.



Hit play below if you would like to listen to the overview of Real Presence topics that we covered on the Catholic Nerds Podcast. Here's the Apple/iTunes link to the podcast, too ... and Podbean.


Here are all the topics that will be covered in this and upcoming articles:

So what exactly were Jesus' words about the Real Presence?

Jesus on the Real Presence - John 6

Let's take a look at the Bread of Life Discourse. This takes place in the Gospel of John, chapter 6.

I won't reproduce the entire chapter here, though here's a link to the text. It's basically one very long, undeniable, and obvious statement of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Let's begin with a little story ...

The Story of the Little Jehovah's Witness Girl

The multiplying of the loaves and fishes was miraculous. This is a very important point. Jesus is God. He can perform miracles, especially with bread.

I love it when the Jehovah's Witnesses come to my door. Why? Because I love talking about the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our existence, so it's pretty easy to turn every conversation back to the Eucharist.

There was a long series of weekends that the Jehovah's Witnesses kept coming back to my house. Each weekend, they would bring one more person. Eventually, it became sort of a party.

One weekend, they brought a little girl with them. She's was sharp!

We were talking about the Eucharist, obviously, and she asked a question. A really good question! It knocked me on my heels at first.


She asked, "if all the world is really supposed to be eating Jesus, aren't we going to run out of Jesus? I mean, Jesus' body is only so big, right?"

Good question, right?

At first, I didn't know how to answer such a ridiculous question. I wanted to just shrug it off, and say, "That's ridiculous, little girl."

I also felt a little surge of panic in my gut. I had done so well for so long, easily answering all the adults' questions. I was about to be outdone by a little girl!

I crossed my forehead discretely, and asked the Holy Spirit for help.

The Holy Spirit delivered the answer so quickly I was ashamed.

This is JESUS. Multiplying bread and wine is His thing! Jesus begins his Bread of Life Discourse by multiplying five loaves and two fish a thousand-fold. Not only that, if the Manna could feed the Israelites for forty years in the desert, Jesus could feed the Eucharist to the whole world as long as He wants.


Jesus Feeding the 5,000

How begins the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John? Jesus miraculously feeds 5,000 people with just a few loaves and fish:

There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many? (John 6:9)

A Miracle of Sharing? 

I have heard some people describe this miracle as a "miracle of sharing". I'm not going to name any names, like the Jesuits or this guy. I'm just not going to name any names. Pope Francis. No names.

Many of our 1960s-era priests will describe this as miracle by which Jesus encourage people to share their food. Jesus didn't actually multiply the five loaves and two fish. That's nuts and obviously not what's being described.

I can't imagine why Catholics might be confused about the miraculous nature of the Eucharist.

For one, there were twelve baskets left over:

Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten. (John 6:11-13)

Jesus also follows the Eucharistic formula. What's the word for "given thanks" in Greek? Eucharist.


They Want More Free Stuff - Sound Familiar?

Also, why do they continue to follow Jesus? Jesus answers this question Himself:

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 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.” (John 25-27)

The multitudes aren't following Jesus because they love Him or want to worship Him. They are certainly not following him because they want to share more. They want more free food. It is their bellies that are following Jesus.

The food that Jesus just gave them was completely miraculous, but it was nothing compared to the bread Jesus will give them. Therefore, the bread which Jesus will give, the Eucharist, will be a far greater miracle than feeding 5,000 people with a little boy's lunch. This bread will be far more than a symbol.


"They murmured against him" - The New Moses and the New Manna

What's all this murmuring about?

The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” (John 6:41)

Jesus answered them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. (John 6:43)

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? (John 6:60)

Jesus just performed a mind-blowing miracle. Jesus fed 5,000 people with basically crumbs. Why do they keep murmuring against Jesus?


"Murmuring" is a direct reference to the Israelites "murmuring" against Moses. Here are some examples of this:

And the whole congregation of the people of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Exodus 16:2-3) 
And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? (Exodus 15:24)

They "murmured" against Moses because they were hungry and thirsty. How did Moses respond?

What is the greatest miracle of Moses? Is it the crossing of the Red Sea? Is it turning the Nile to blood?

No.

Moses fed tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of Israelites in the desert AND for forty years. How? God fed them "Bread from Heaven" plus the flesh of quails:

So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your murmurings against the Lord. For what are we, that you murmur against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you in the evening flesh to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your murmurings which you murmur against him—what are we? Your murmurings are not against us but against the Lord.” (Exodus 16:6-8)

I don't know. Do you think God heard the Israelites' murmurings? Either God or Moses really didn't appreciate the murmurings, I think.


So the bread came down like the "dewfall". Does that sound familiar? Here's the full description of the Manna:

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning dew lay round about the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as hoarfrost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat. (Exodus 16:13-15)

Jesus confirms the connection between the Eucharist and the Manna, too:

So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” 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. (John 6:30-34)
What is the "sign" of Jesus? Like the Manna was the greatest miracle of Moses, what will be Jesus' greatest miracle? The Eucharist. Jesus isn't merely going to resurrect Himself from the dead; we are going to eat of His resurrection.

Here's the problem. If the Eucharist is just a symbol, the Eucharist is much, much less than the miraculous Manna. If Jesus' Manna is inferior to Moses' Manna, Jesus must be inferior to Moses, as well. That's a big problem!


The bread which Jesus is going to give, the "bread of life", isn't going to be merely natural bread. The "bread of life" will be supernatural. More than even that, the "living bread" will be Jesus' own flesh.

Does Jesus mean that literally? YES. Jesus makes this clear again and again. Just look at Jesus' words below:

Two Greek words for "Flesh": Soma & Sarx

Is the "bread of life" really Jesus' own flesh or just a symbol? What does Jesus' say?

"I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." (John 6:51)

That seems pretty clear, right? Of course, but what is Jesus saying in the original Greek?

This is the first time Jesus mentions His "flesh: in the Bread of Life discourse. The word Jesus uses for "flesh" is sarx (σάρξ). The word sarx denotes real, physical flesh. Strong's Concordance, which is a Protestant book, defines sarx as, "flesh (the soft substance of the living body, which covers the bones and is permeated with blood) of both man and beasts."

So, is sarx a literal or symbolic understanding "flesh"? Literal, without question.

There is another Greek word for "body" that is far less literal: soma. If Jesus wanted to convey a symbolic meaning, He could have used soma. The word soma is used for body in the Synoptic Gospels at the Last Supper, as well as in 1 Corinthians 10.

Yet here, when the Jews are pressing Jesus to clarify His meaning, Jesus chooses the word sarx, an unambiguous term for physical, literal flesh.

The Jews are practically begging Jesus to say "it's just a parable". Some of Jesus' disciples are actually about to leave Him because of Jesus' insistence on a literal meaning of His words. That will be at John 6:66. Don't think the number of that verse is just a coincidence.

Instead of leaving room for a symbolic interpretation, Jesus doubles down. And triples down.


Jesus: Eat the Flesh of the Son of Man, or No Life Within You

Jesus gets even more literal. Seeing that the Jews still seem to be misunderstanding Him, our Lord insistently declares:

Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed." (John 6:53-55)

If Jesus meant this to be symbolic, He has an odd way of showing it. If someone mistakes your words for literal when you mean them to be symbolic, would you rephrase yourself in a more stringently literal fashion? No. But this is what Jesus does.


Lazarus is Dead

Was there ever a time when the disciples took Jesus too literally? Yes, at John 11:13-14:

"Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. Then therefore Jesus said to them plainly: "Lazarus is dead."

How does Jesus respond? Jesus basically says, "Look, friends, I was just speaking symbolically."

This is not what happens when Jesus tells His disciples to eat His flesh. Gulp.


Jesus behaves very differently in John 6. The people are scandalized by what appears to be a very shocking statement of literal truth. Far from dissuade them from this opinion, Jesus goes out of His way to state the truth even more literally.

Jesus doubles down. Besides sarx and soma, Jesus uses another Greek word to insist on His literal meaning of eating His flesh.

Two Greek words for "Flesh": Phago & Trogon

Jesus again insists on a literal meaning of "eating His flesh" when he switches the Greek word for eat. Jesus begins the Bread of Life Discourse using the Greek word phago (φάγω) for eat, but switches to trogon (τρώγω)

Initially, the verb is phago (φάγω). Jesus uses phago in John 6:48-53. Phago simply means "to eat". Much like the English word, phago can have a variety of meanings. I can eat something literally. There are also plenty of figurative meanings, as well: I can "eat something up" or "eat a horse"; you can "eat your heart out" or  "eat my dust" or, like Bart Simpson, "eat my shorts".

At John 6:54, Jesus suddenly switches verbs. Instead of the broad, often figurative term phago, Jesus changes to the very pointed term trogon.

Trogon (τρώγω) has one very specific and literal meaning: to gnaw, crunch or chew. When Jesus starts using trogon instead of phago at John 6:54, He is removing all doubt from his listeners as to His meaning.


The proper English equivalent of trogon would be "masticate". Masticate is the scientific term for the act of chewing. It is precise and unambiguous. Jesus uses trogon exclusively from John 6:54 forward to describe the eating of Jesus' flesh.

John 6:58 is a particularly interesting verse, because Jesus makes a distinction. Jesus uses both phago and trogon together in verse 58:

"This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate [phago] and died; he who eats [trogon] this bread will live for ever."

Jesus uses phago when referring to the Israelites eating the manna, but uses trogon when referring to His flesh. The Eucharistic meaning is plain. Jesus wants us to understand that we will "eat" His Body in the most literal, direct sense of the word.

Conclusion

Jesus uses sarx for flesh and trogon for eat to eradicate any symbolic interpretation of eating His flesh.

If Jesus intended His teaching of the Eucharist to be symbolic, why did He do the following?

  • Choose specific and unequivocal terms when more general terms were available, terms He had  used on previous occasions.
  • Stress the literal interpretation of His statements even as it scandalized and finally scared off His disciples.
  • Decline to say it was just a parable. 
  • Refuse to clarify that His words were not meant to be taken literally, as He had done on other occasions.

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