December 1, 2020

Difficult Scriptures: John 6:52-69

The Jews began to quarrel with each other. They said, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Jesus told them, “I can guarantee this truth: If you don’t eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you don’t have the source of life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will bring them back to life on the last day. My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood live in me, and I live in them. The Father who has life sent me, and I live because of the Father. So those who feed on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came from heaven. It is not like the bread your ancestors ate. They eventually died. Those who eat this bread will live forever.”

Jesus said this while he was teaching in a synagogue in Capernaum. When many of Jesus’ disciples heard him, they said, “What he says is hard to accept. Who wants to listen to him anymore?”

Jesus was aware that his disciples were criticizing his message. So Jesus asked them, “Did what I say make you lose faith? What if you see the Son of Man go where he was before? Life is spiritual. Your physical existence doesn’t contribute to that life. The words that I have spoken to you are spiritual. They are life. But some of you don’t believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning those who wouldn’t believe and the one who would betray him. So he added, “That is why I told you that people cannot come to me unless the Father provides the way.”

Jesus’ speech made many of his disciples go back to the lives they had led before they followed Jesus. So Jesus asked the twelve apostles, “Do you want to leave me too?”

Simon Peter answered Jesus, “Lord, to what person could we go? Your words give eternal life. Besides, we believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:52-69, God’s Word Translation)

Difficult Scriptures is your turn to share your thoughts on a passage from the Bible. Today I am not looking for you to interpret these verses. Rather, I want to know what you would have done if you were standing in that crowd. Would Jesus’ words have turned you away? Would you have returned to your old way of life, or would you have continued to follow him? Tell us why you would do one or the other.

Following Jesus is very demanding. He will not settle with being part of our lives, even the biggest part. He wants all of us. And the more we walk with him, the narrower the path becomes. Is the command to eat his flesh and drink his blood a point where the road becomes too narrow? Why—or why not?

Ok, pick up your pencils and open your blue books. Your time begins … now.



  1. Those who still followed after He said those words are the real hardcores. Sometimes I shudder when I think of my possible response if I were in that same situation.

    • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says

      Me too. I’m glad that in God’s grace, he put me here and not there!

  2. Jesus uses the Greek word meaning ‘to grind with the teeth’ when He tells them a third time that they must eat His flesh. There was no ambiguity, that is why many disciples turned back. They thought he was advocating what was forbidden in the Torah, namely cannibalism

    I don’t even like to think about what I would have done had I been there. The flesh of Christ is a stumbling block even now to many, how much more so if you could actually see and hear Him?

    • Since the author of GJohn likes to use synonyms interchangeably with no apparent or demonstrable or significant change in meaning, one shouldn’t necessarily assume that there is an intended difference in meaning between εσθίω/έφαγον and τρώγω. If you read GJohn in the Greek you will see that when the author uses a word for “eat,” he uses εσθίω/έφαγον for non-present-tense instances and τρώγω for present-tense instances. I.e., for the verb εσθίω/έφαγον he never uses the present form of the verb (εσθίω) but only its aorist form (έφαγον). Thus, the switch to or use in John 6 of the present participle τρώγων (rather than using εσθίων) need not signify anything more than the author’s style or preferences coming into play.

      • flatrocker says

        Interesting how an author’s style dictates core theological doctrine – in both directions btw.

        However, it still doesn’t answer why the reaction was to walk away from this hard saying.
        And more intruguing, why Jesus didn’t call them back and explain his purported symbolism.
        He simply let them go.
        Or maybe John just missed that part.

        • flatrocker:

          Read what I wrote about this in my reply below to RyanEdward’s comment June 16, 2011 at 6:50 am.

          • flatrocker says

            Read it and agree (mostly).
            However, wouldn’t it be interesting to allow our thoughts to contemplate that maybe, just maybe, He meant both – a spiritual symbolism that is embodied in a real presence.

            Many see this as confusing (or maybe threatening) in some way. The early disciples certainly did. Why not allow the possibility of a broader fullness of this message? Could He be speaking symbolically and also speaking in real material terms?

            Is it not possible for Him to be both? John’s words do nothing to refute this possibility. Jesus’ words certainly allow for this. And if He is both, what does that mean?

            And more to the point of this Post by Chap Mike, what does this mean for us as disciples?

            Still, they walked and still He did not call them back? Why?
            If we walk from this hard saying, will He call us back?

  3. Tim Becker says

    Maybe those of us who reject the Catholic or Luthern version of communion are walking away today.

    • You’re kidding, right? How would the hearers of Jesus’ words think of communion? Where is it in the context?

      • I think when He held up the bread and said, :”This IS my body” and then held up the wine and said, “this IS my blood”…then the context of communion became apparent.

        • That would be reading in a later meaning to an earlier one, which is an exegetical fallacy (see Carson). In any case, John 6 needs to be read on it’s own, as a call to believe in Jesus as the one sent from heaven (compared and contrasted with the manna).

          • Hello Daniel,
            Even though we try to read this passage and interpret it as if we’re the people standing in the audience listening to Jesus say these words for the first time, I think it’s important to remember that the people who actually READ this gospel passage for the first time were those who already lived in a world in which the Eucharist was being practiced—practiced and challenged as being suspect (the whole “flesh-eating” thing). Other gospels already existed that talked about the detailed history of Jesus’s ministry and John seems to have deliberately tried to fill in deeper theology, looking back at teachings/events that now (to him and the church) in hindsight had much deeper meaning than they would have understood at the time those teachings/events actually took place (much the same as prophecies about the virgin birth or calling of a son out of Egypt).

            The upshot is that although I agree those in the audience actually hearing Jesus would have had no clue about connecting these words to the Eucharist, I think that those reading this gospel account written when the Eucharist was now being practiced could hardly have read it WITHOUT connecting it with the Eucharist.

            I’ve always thought of the passage as meaning “belief” but those thoughts of mine above gave me pause about being too rigid in having it mean ONLY “belief.”


          • Jeff, fair enough

          • Jeff, two things may mitigate against your proposal that John was intentionally giving a theological interpretation of the Lords supper.

            First, if that was the case, we should not expect that John (alone among the gospel writers) does not even talk about the Lords supper. If it was important to his purposes, surely he would have included an account of it in the passion portions of his book.

            Second, if John was trying to give a theological interpretation of the Lords supper, it seems odd that he would use the word sarx (flesh) instead of the word soma (body), since “this is my soma” became the formula used of the lords table in the Synoptics and the early church.

            For this reason, while I appreciate your larger point, I am doubtful of it’s application in this case.

      • Luther himself saw well enough what this passage did or did not teach:

        On written a note on the margins of his own Bible on John 6: “this part does not speak of the sacrament, the bread and wine but of spiritual eating, which is believing, that Christ—God and man—has shed his blood for us.”

    • For what it’s worth, Calvin also does not view John 6 as eucharistic:”it would have been inept and unseasonable to preach about the Lord’s Supper before He had instituted it”. Indeed, to suggest that Jesus here speaks of the Supper, inverts the relationship, for ‘we might say that Christ intended the holy Supper to be a seal of this discourse”  John 6 does not speak of the Supper; the Supper signs and seals the promises of John 6.

      • The question is not what does Luther say, or what does Calvin say, or even what does the Bible say on its own (as what the Bible says can be interpreted in many ways to suit many different assumptions). The question is, what does the Church say, for the Bible itself points to the Church as the “pillar and ground of truth”, and “the fullness of Him who fills all and is in all”.

        • The question is not … even what does the Bible say on its own…. The question is, what does the Church say, for the Bible itself points to the Church as the “pillar and ground of truth”….

          Interestingly, Irenaeus writes in Against Heresies Book III Chapter I that the Scriptures (i.e., the Bible, or at least the Gospels), not the church, are “the ground and pillar of our faith”:

          Chapter I.—The Apostles Did Not Commence to Preach the Gospel, or to Place Anything on Record, Until They Were Endowed with the Gifts and Power of the Holy Spirit. They Preached One God Alone, Maker of Heaven and Earth.

          1. WE have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.2 For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed “perfect knowledge,” as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles. For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge: they departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things [sent] from God to us, and proclaiming the peace of heaven to men, who indeed do all equally and individually possess the Gospel of God. Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews3 in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.

          Also, in 1 Timothy 3:15, στῦλος and ἑδραίωμα are anarthrous and thus could be translated as “a pillar and mainstay” instead of as “the pillar and mainstay” of the truth.

          • First off, Irenaeus does not say in this quote that the Church is not the pillar and ground of truth as you seem to imply. Secondly, the Scriptures certainly do provide the foundation for the Christian faith, but not just any old interpretation of Scripture. The meaning of the Bible can only be perceived fully within the context in which it was written and received, namely, the Church.

          • Agreed, Irenaeus doesn’t say “not the church.”

            But he does not say “the church.”

            My point was that Irenaeus’ statement combined with the anarthrous nouns in 1 Tim 3:15 can weaken an argument that the church is THE pillar and mainstay of the truth.

          • EricW – Whether the pronoun is “the” or “a” doesn’t really make a difference. If the Church is in some way a mechanism for revealing or protecting the Truth, then that calls into question Sola Scriptura as understood in reformation terms. Also, if the Church is a source for individuals to know the Truth, the question of “which Church” becomes a very serious matter. Or so it seems to me.

          • I think the context here is that the Gospel preached by the Apostles is the pillar and mainstay of our faith, which is certainly true. The Scriptures, he seems to be saying, contain the pillar but are not themselves THE pillar. But I could be wrong, since Irenaeus didn’t write in English and I don’t know Greek.

          • @Ben Carmack:

            I wish I had the Church Fathers in Greek (I have the Apostolic Fathers, and Justin Martyr is on its way, but none of the other Fathers in the original), but I can’t see paying $400 for Migne in Logos pre-pub when I’d barely use it and in this instance it looks like Irenaeus’ Against Heresies is only in Latin (which I don’t know), with just a few Greek fragments:


            Plus, that’s for only 18 volumes of an eventual 161-volume set!


            I suspect it’s possible to find a Latin text online for that passage in Irenaeus. However, Latin lacks the article, as I understand it (so does Russian), so I’m not sure that would help know what he originally wrote here – “the pillar” or “a pillar.”

            But I can say with certainty that the articles are not present in the Greek of 1 Timothy 3:15 before “pillar” and “mainstay.”

  4. RyanEdward says

    On the road to Catholicism, I dealt with and worked through the teachings concerning the Eucharist. At one point I found myself mentally saying, ‘This is a hard saying’. It was then that I was reminded of the disciples who turned away from Jesus saying the same thing. I turned to John ch. 6 only to have my doubting thought reinforced. I could not deny the conviction. The portion of scripture that was once difficult for me and merely brushed over as spiritually symbolic now makes sense to me.

    • Wow, Ryan, thanks for sharing that. It really brings this passage home, doesn’t it?

    • Note, though, that in Jesus’ reply to them in 6:61-62 He doesn’t further drive home the idea of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Rather, He challenges them again with the first thing that caused them to grumble at His teaching, His claim to have come down from heaven, sent directly by God Himself to do His will and work. And then, depending on how you understand what He means by “flesh” in 6:63 (i.e., is it touching on what He had just said about eating His flesh?), He says that He is presenting spiritual truths to them, not things to be (mistakenly?) taken or understood literally. After all, in 6:35 He had already explained that coming to Him and believing in Him was what satisfies one’s spiritual hunger and thirst. Believing in Jesus is doing God’s work, and Jesus says in John 4:34 that for Him, too, doing God’s will and work is His food. Calling people to come to Jesus and believe in Him so as to have Life is the beginning, middle and end of John’s Gospel. In this light, the idea that Jesus is talking in this passage about literally eating as His flesh and blood transubstantiated bread and wine seems to be an example of missing the point.

      • Exactly, Eric

      • But why bring in the manna, then? Nobody interprets manna as being merely spiritual, or a symbol of God’s favour: we’re told that the people lived on it as food.

        Do you think this passage ties in with the living water saying – ordinary water leaves you to thirst again, but drink of Me and you will never thirst?

        • Jesus compares himself (and contrasts himself) with manna to emphasize that he is heaven-sent and life-giving. This is especially clear if you read the whole chapter. Jesus is concerned to get his hearers to believe in him, not believe in a particular view of a institution or sacrament he has not even instituted yet.

        • @Martha:

          God gave the people manna so they would learn that man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that comes out of the mouth of God (Deut 8:3). Jesus used that very passage to refute the devil in the wilderness when the devil was tempting Him with literal bread. In the LXX the translation of Deut 8:3 uses ῥήμα (usually translated “word,” but it can also mean “thing”). Jesus speaks many times in the Gospel of John about His words (ῥήμα), including in this very passage in John 6:63 where He says that His words are spirit and life. He says that He’s given His disciples the words that God gave Him, so that by receiving them they might know that He came from God and that God sent Him. And by believing in the One whom God has sent, people can have Life. He tells His followers to keep His words. He says that those who keep His word will not see death. [Note: At times John seems to use λόγος and ῥήμα to refer to the same or closely-related things, so when Jesus speaks about His “word” using λόγος, it’s probably not a different matter than when He refers to His “words” (ῥήμα).]

          Jesus’ words are the manna. God sent a λόγος to give ῥήματα of eternal life, so that those who hear and believe and keep them, and come to Jesus and believe in Him, may do the work and will of God and have Life in His name.

      • RyanEdward says

        Oh EricW, I expected your response. Still can’t stay away from Catholicism. I would also say that – and I mean this – I do enjoy your replies though I’m familiar with its reasoning and apologetics. Keep studying!

        • Wow, your comment struck me as smug and patronizing, especially since you did not answer Eric’s arguments

        • @RyanEdward:

          As many here at iMonk know (ad nauseam, in fact, as some have expressed about my posts!), being at one time convinced of the teaching held by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches related to the Eucharist, I actually joined the Orthodox Church, and became a fully-baptized-and-chrismated partaker of the Eucharist every Sunday and every other time it was offered. I truly believed that during the epiklêsis part of the Liturgy the wine and bread became His body and blood, and that in the Eucharist I partook of the divine, holy, pure, immortal, heavenly, life-giving, and awesome Mysteries of Christ for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

          And then one day I didn’t believe it. That was a dark day – a dark time, a long dark time – for me.

          But the more I studied (including Catholic and Orthodox teachings, histories of the liturgy, etc.), the more I became convinced from the Scriptures that neither the Scriptures nor Jesus nor the Apostles taught the change in the bread and the wine. Believe me, I’ve pored over John 6 and 1 Corinthians 10 & 11 a lot, first in my efforts to restore my faith in the Real Body And Blood, but then to see what those Scriptures were in fact teaching. I did not come to, nor do I state, my conclusions/beliefs lightly or flippantly. Because if I am wrong, I am leading many astray. Lord, have mercy and open the eyes and hearts and minds of all of us!

          And I still continue to study. 🙂

          God bless!

          • RyanEdward says

            @Chris – I meant what I said…I DO in fact enjoy his comments and find EricW’s responses challenging though familiar. Furthermore, I neither feel compelled to answer his ‘arguments’ because 1) the issues that are raised by his replies are ones already settled for me and 2) reading this website is enjoyable, yet, not my ministry. I find no fruit in debating with a man I would more likely never have the opportunity to meet. And lastly, Jeff Dunn also posted “…Difficult Scriptures is your turn to share your thoughts on a passage from the Bible. Today I am not looking for you to interpret these verses. Rather, I want to know what you would have done if you were standing in that crowd. Would Jesus’ words have turned you away? Would you have returned to your old way of life, or would you have continued to follow him? Tell us why you would do one or the other.”

            I feel I did exactly what he requested. I did not try to interpret but merely express a conviction that reminded me of the exiting disciples. If my comment incited an exegetic response, the burden of proof does not rest in my lap but theirs.

            @EricW – Yes! I certainly appreciate your openness with sharing your personal experiences with the orthodox church. In reading your responses that is the area of background that I picked up on but was not quite sure. I most definitely agree with you “… Lord, have mercy and open the eyes and hearts and minds of all of us!” I am always an advocate for further study and strive to uphold myself to a standard worthy of giving an account for what I believe though I’m sure I miss the mark on many occasions. It is obvious by your replies that you are a very studious individual. It would be my hope that one day you return to the Orthodox Church because, if we can agree on one thing that is certain, we will in fact, one day, give account for what we taught here on earth before an All Might God.

          • EricW – Scripture nor Jesus nor the apostles taught the doctrines of the Trinity and the divine-human natures of Christ as fully as came to be believed and articulated later on. How do you decide which doctrines that aren’t spelled out clearly in Scripture, but developed over time within the Church, to believe in? Have you considered that you may be looking in the wrong places for your answers? Honest questions.

  5. This is one of the things that gives me pause. What would I have done? There are numerous points in Scripture when God wanted his people to defy not only religious and political authority, but conventional wisdom, and just plain old sensibility. We can say that we would have followed Jesus–but then, we already know the story, and which characters we’re supposed to root for. Really, what would it look like if someone today upset the apple cart (the entire established order!) as much as He did? What would “Eat my flesh,” sound like to someone with no concept of Communion? When His followers started treating the letters of His Apostles as on the same level as the ancient Scripture that we now call the Old Testament, would that have only confirmed for me what a goofy bunch of blasphemers those Christians were?

    The only thing I can say is that I’m glad I was born to Christian parents in an era where Christianity is widespread.

  6. this is is breathtakingly beautiful to read. Because to some, they would say that Jesus is merely being metaphorical in saying “eat only my flesh”, just as we know He is actually being metaphorical when He says of those who “walk away” from Him.
    whereas, i’m trying to be as least bias as i possibly can and if i wasn’t the way i was, i would STILL find something strange, moving, something almost entirely too critical and obvious to miss from reading this passage.
    it seems as though the main point of this is to directly obey Jesus, don’t be like those who’ve lost their way for Jesus will surely lead you, but i feel like though that is one of the points, it’s kind of like a decoy. a distracter. there’s more to this passage and that is the first and each emphasis that talks about communion, but obviously not just any form of communion, He seems SO staunch when He is speaking over the matter.
    the last thing i’m being is fundamentalist to think like many, that at the last supper when Jesus straight up said, “This is my body, take and eat, do this in rememberance of me”, that this clearly means the Eucharist, when we can see here how adamant he is about it! it’s almost too obviously stated that people just overlook the simplicity of his words!
    in a way i feel like Jesus is just like, okay, enough with the riddles, i’m just going to be blunt. This IS my body. Take and EAT. do this i rememberance of ME.
    and yet, some just can’t accept God’s words without flinching.

    and we’re the fundamentalists.

  7. Context! Context! Context!

    Clearly Communion is not in view here, since it won’t be invented for another ~15 chapters. The key is just a few verses earlier (v 27-29):
    “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On Him God the Father has placed His seal of approval.
    Then they asked Him, What must we do to do the works God requires?
    Jesus answered, The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.” (emphasis added)

  8. Yes, it’s about Holy Communion.

    Jesus commanded that we do it. he said that it was (“is”) is body and blood.

    The Lord NEVER commanded us to do anything where that He would not be present in it…for us.

    The Lord, I am quite sure, is NOT into EMPTY religious ritual.

    That’s the Lutheran party line…and I believe it.

  9. Oh. I thought the point here was to talk about what we would have done if we were in the crowd. But apparently we’re shouting at each other about Communion. That’s cool.

    • I’m always up to defend the promises of Christ in the Supper to those who disparage it, whether it’s cool…or not.

      • It’s not a question of cool. I mean, I’m Catholic, I think that chapter is one of the strongest arguments for an understanding of Communion being Christ’s actual body and blood. But I think we’re missing the point of the conversation Jeff was hoping to stimulate.

        • Yes–people are missing the point. Michael has it. What would YOU do if you were in the crowd the day Jesus spoke these words? Would you have continued to follow him, or would you have turned away?

    • Michael, I see your point. But don’t we have to determine why the crowd turned away before we understand the challenge to us?

  10. Scott Miller says

    One of the things that I learned in Communications 101, requirement for undergrad, was just how different East and West are in communication. The West is very literal, strongly sticks to time, etc. The East is more figurative.
    Without getting into Communion and transubstantiation, I would hope that the people there knew that he was mostly speaking figuratively. It appears that either way, they knew the ramifications of this level of belief.
    If I was there I would like to think that I would be not turned off. But that brings and interesting thought experiment. If I was there would I be a casual observer or a follower? If Jesus was here now, in this day and age, I would probably see him at the stadium or even church, and it would be more of a consumer experience (sort of, unfortunately, like church is now). So how far would I go before I said, “this is too much and I’m bailing”?
    Another interesting note: I found the translation used above to somewhat offend me with the translation of “Life is spiritual. Your physical existence doesn’t contribute to that life.” The other translations (NIV, ESV) sayd “the flesh counts for nothing”. Although that means the same thing, I was surprised to have such a visceral reaction to it.

  11. Steve Newell says

    There is the crowd and the core that surrounded Christ. The Crowd where following the Theology of Glory and with the Core was following the Theology of the Cross. The Crowd was looking for Jesus to fixed their problems, give them their best life now. The Core were looking to Jesus as their savior. The Crowd wanted their daily bread but where not interested in spiritual bread.

    In the Gospel according to John, this was the last major time that a crowd followed Jesus. After this point, Jesus’ words become more pointed and the opposition grows stronger.

  12. I recently listened to a wonderful lecture from D. A. Carson on this topic. Carson, imo, is probably the most insightful scholar on John’s gospel (at least among English speakers). Anyway, the lecture was nuanced and balanced, though a bit heavy. If you are really interested in the meaning of John 6, this lecture is indispensable.

    • In rebuttal, I suggest listening to (or reading this excerpt) of Scott Hahn’s talks on John 6, and how they directly connect to the Passover and the Eucharist:

      • Hahn is a catholic apologist and writes at a popular level. Carson is a New Testament scholar, and has published scholarly work on Johns gospel, including a top rate commentary.

        • Dr. Scott Hahn is a Scripture scholar, professor, and former Protestant pastor:

          “Scott received his Bachelor of Arts degree with a triple-major in Theology, Philosophy and Economics from Grove City College, Pennsylvania, in 1979, his Masters of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 1982, and his Ph.D. in Biblical Theology from Marquette University in 1995. Scott has ten years of youth and pastoral ministry experience in Protestant congregations (in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, Kansas and Virginia) and is a former Professor of Theology at Chesapeake Theological Seminary. He was ordained in 1982 at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, Virginia.”

          Hahn has also produced “top rate” commentary on John’s gospel, as well as many scholarly works. But what does comparing the pedigree of our respective scholars prove about the correct interpretation of this passage? Nothing. Here we have two scholars who disagree.

          Under Protestantism, all you can do is look at the opinions of different scholars (aka the Academy) and choose which ones seems best to you. Its an Academic Magisterium, and one person’s opinion on how to interpret the Scriptures has as much authority as the next one’s.

          Jesus said many things that were not understood by His Apostles until long afterward, things that had future events in mind.

          • Devin,

            My point was in rebuttal to your listing Hahn as a competing authority. I’m not sure they are at the same level.

            I understood his phd to be in systematic theology, and the only list of his publications I saw listed only popular titles. I haven’t heard of his commentary on John. Sorry if I got this wrong.

          • That’s cool. And my point is, should the person with the most degrees or deep-sounding publications be looked to as an authority?

            Take N.T. Wright, the “one-man magisterium,” who has qualifications a mile long, yet who has come to a different interpretation on the doctrine of justification than Luther, Calvin, Protestantism, and Catholicism/Orthodoxy. Under Protestantism, how do we know what teaching is right on justification (just as an example), when one of the greatest minds in the past century–Wright–concludes that everyone has been getting it wrong for the past 2,000 years? That’s where I’m going with it, but I don’t want to steer this thread off-topic, so if you want to respond, that’s cool, and I will give you the last word.

          • Dana Ames says


            I’ve read most of Wright’s work. He is the human person most responsible for me becoming Orthodox; If I had to give it a number, I’d say his thoughts in total are about 85% congruent with Orthodoxy. He doesn’t claim that “everyone has been getting it wrong for the past 2000 years”. He does say that in the West we have proceeded down the garden path with a very minimal understanding of Jesus and St Paul as Jews, and with a less than complete understanding of Jewish history and mindset (not least because people couldn’t reference all the texts that have been discovered in the last century or so). And Wright believes that the primary, though not the only, meaning of this passage is Eucharistic – not only hearkening back to the Exodus, but also hearkening forward to the day when God’s life will fill the whole material world as God meant it to in the beginning.


          • Hi Dana,

            Wright has also unintentionally led many into the Catholic Church. He doesn’t understand why, and he doesn’t like the fact. Probably would feel the same about Orthodoxy.

            He may not explicitly claim that everyone has gotten it “wrong” for 2,000 years, but his version of the new perspective on Paul, striking somewhere between Catholicism/Orthodoxy and Protestantism, is evidence that no one until him has gotten justification quite right. That’s why he’s spilled hundreds of thousands of words trying to explain his new doctrine.

            God bless,

  13. If I place myself back there, in my mind, knowing I am a Gentile, a heathen, a pagan through and through and for some reason was in the crowd, due to peer pressure or sickness needing healed, having had no religious teachings or Old Testament Scriptures to forsee this coming Messiah, I would have said, just like I still do some days, “You want me to WHAT?” And walked away. And, of course, He would have let me. Just like happened all those centuries later in my real, actual life.

    But, the redemption, the forgiveness, the offer of eternal life still stands to those who come back with their tail between their legs saying, “Yes Jesus, whatever You ask of me, I will do. It is, after all, not my life but Yours.”

    And that’s the honest truth.

    Over and out……

    • Radagast says

      If I wasn’t one of the 12 I probably would have walked away, especially if I was versed in the Torah. I would have thought he was extreme. If I was an apostle I would have been saying to Peter “I told you to keep him away from that weed”… Seriously though if I was one of the 12 I would have probably had a lot of internal struggle.

      As for Communion not being invented for another 15 chapters in John (earlier comment from someone else Rebekah) – John was not interested in historical accuracy or correct chronology of events, it was written more as a series of acts… lots going on in John’s community over the time the Gospel was written and its contents can also be seen as a reflection of that.

      • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says

        I do really like Peter’s response when Jesus asked if they were going to leave, too. He says: “Where are we going to go? You have the words of eternal life.” That is, it’s not that they were so much stronger or had more faith than the crowd that left, but that after knowing Jesus, they had no where else to go. Sometimes, I think that “Where are we going to go?” is what keeps me going, too.

        • I do really like Peter’s response when Jesus asked if they were going to leave, too. He says: “Where are we going to go? You have the words of eternal life.”


          Peter did not say, “You have the flesh & blood of eternal life…”

          • Margaret Catherine says

            Peter didn’t understand any better than the crowds did – but he knew there was something there that he didn’t understand.

        • Isaac, the thought behind that one passage has kept me in the faith, in my times of deepest doubts. I read a lot of philosophy in grad school, and a good deal of comparative religion later. Every time I doubt Christianity (it is kinda crazy, ya know) I remember that every other world view I have seen has at least as many intellectual problems as Christianity. And none of them have the incredible person and words of Jesus.

          Sometimes that is all I have had to hold onto.

    • John Morgan says

      I think you answer the question asked, Rebekah, and I rather imagine that is what I would have done the same. As I often walk away, thankfully to be given the opportunity to let my “no” be my “yes” later.

  14. Tim Stevens says

    During a lengthy fast over 4 years ago, this passage of Scripture jumped off the pages at me. I was actually sitting in the first Catholic service that I had ever attended, December 2006. The children had a part in the service holding a banner with Peter’s words as they were sung, “Lord, You have the words of everlasting life”. It was beautiful. I couldn’t tell what God was saying, I just sensed that these words were significant. Over the next several days, I dug into John 6. I have read and heard much interpretation of this passage as it may relate to the Lord’s Supper.

    In my opinion, the evangelical doctrine short-changes the Lord’s Supper spinning it as a symbolic ceremony, while (my limited understanding of) Catholic doctrine places unwarranted emphasis on the supernatural conversion of bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood. However, I do not claim to know which doctrine is more…better.

    I don’t know how I would have responded to Jesus’ words. Indeed, John 6 are very difficult words – they are not simple; only the arrogant would disagree with that. I still wonder about the most accurate position regarding the Lord’s Supper. But my life has been lastingly impacted by what I feel is at the heart of John 6, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life”. John 6 is about Who Jesus Is. The implication of the truth in Peter’s statement is deep beyond measure. Christ’s words are spritual and alive, He is the author of Life – IT WAS HIS IDEA! Knowledge of this has given me the courage to believe God through some pretty weighty matters in my life. Being able to pray with confidence, “Lord, all You have to do say it. But not my will, Your will be done”.

    I would like to believe that I would have followed Jesus, if I had been standing there that day, only because His words opened my eyes to Who He Is.

    • Steve Newell says

      In many of the historic liturgies, the congregation will sing the words of Peter prior to the reading of the Gospel appointed for that day.

  15. I think we miss the point of this exercise. We should let the scripture work on us in the mystery it presents. Rather than trot out our Luther, Calvin and Hahn we should let the words work on us rather than trying to be right or wrong or either or.We seem so uncomfortable with allowing a pasage to go by without trying to define it in our theology.There are many things that I will never know this side of heaven but I know that my Lord will always give me what I need for today.

    • Yes, David, but Jesus directly says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day. My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.”

      It seems critical to know what it means to eat his flesh and drink his blood, and to know what his flesh and blood is.

      I also marvel at Peter’s faith, as if he’s thinking, “I have NO idea what’s going on here, but if Jesus says it, I have to trust him and believe.”

      I always have the image of Jesus at the Last Supper saying, “THIS is my body, THIS is my blood,” and the disciples heaving a great sigh of relief and thinking, “Now I get it!” Jesus performs a sweet miracle at every Eucharist so that we can take him into ourselves under the appearance of elements that are familiar and comforting to us.

      • David C. says

        Jesus also says to pluck out your eye and cut off your hand very directly. Some things are meant to be understood in the spiritual relm and some directly. But all are not direct and all are not just spiritual.

        • But how do you decide which sayings you interpret as hyperbole and which you interpret literally?

          Any reading of the early (and not-so-early) Church fathers clearly shows that the Church understood Jesus to be speaking literally about the Eucharist being his body and blood. It seems obvious that the apostles and disciples taught that Jesus was truly present in the Eucharist and that this teaching was carried on to this day, at least within the Catholic Church.

          • David C. says

            As my first post said ‘ I can live with the mystery”. It does not have to be an either or. Are you frustrated that I will not come over to your side of the issue ? I am not on any side except letting the Lord speak to my heart in things I do not fully comprehend. I am seeing through the glass dimly but I can live with that.

          • @Daniel – I’m not frustrated with you at all. 🙂

            In your first post you said, “we should let the words work on us rather than trying to be right or wrong or either/or.”

            The point I was trying to make – however imperfectly – is that Jesus tell us that the act of consuming him determines whether one has eternal life. It seems to me that this is something we need to make sure we get right.

            I’m glad you can live with mystery. It shows you have a humble heart that knows God is far beyond any limitations we may want to put on him.


          • David C. says

            pl May the peace and love of Christ always shine brightly on you and fill you with his spirit to overflowing !!!!

        • I remember at a Crusade event for guys they talked about a person who cut out their eye literally becuase he had ifficulty with porn. I think it was more of an attempt to scare people but if you are seriosuly planning to cut, pull out your eye, etc.. then you need some serious psychological counseling!!

  16. Cutting covenant was a familiar part of OT Scriptures. In it an agreement was made between two parties, Sometimes an animal was killed with the understanding that what was done to the animal be done to either party if they broke the covenant. The animal was then eaten in a covenant meal between the two parties. Jesus was the lamb sacrificed in the new covenant and the covenant meal we celebrate now. Would the people hearing his words understand it in this context?

  17. To be honest, I would have probably walked away. There are times honestly where the thought of walking away today seems quite appealing. I can only pray as many have prayed for centuries:
    Lord, I believe; do Thou help my unbelief!

    • It is appealing. You know how refreshing it is to be outside the church and think “I’m not assiciated with the likes of Robertson/Falwell/Dobson.” I’m not a part of that dog and pony show. It’s refreshing. Plus I feel like I can show more love and grace than when I was within. When I was a Christian I felt like I had to pound someone for mistakes made. Today as someone unsure of what he believes one thing I do know is that I can show more love. You’re gay? It doesn’t bother me. Had an abortion? We’ve all made mistakes and I don’t think less of you. Slept with your girlfriend? No one is perfect, who am I to condemn? You were drunk last night? Hey I’ve had times where I drank one beer too many. When I was a Christian I felt so miserable becuase of the culture I was in. BTW…I’m not baiting you or giving you a bad time, just offering another perspective.

      • Radagast says

        What makes me different from the average pagan… I sin the same, I fall down, I regress. What makes me different in my view is that I keep dusting myself off and trying to grow and work on overcoming my short comings. In a nutshell I am willing to look at myself and improve. And I also look at others and try to treat them the way I would want to be treated – to treat others with love (not just other christians of like mind). One of my favorite people out there is a pagan – and in some ways more spiritual than most.

        Eagle – the Christianity you experienced is alien to me, too much pressure to perform, conform and be part of the borg. I hope you never go back to that form of christianity – it’s not all like that. But neither would I want to fall into complete relativism – that wishy-washy look at life is a terrible environment to raise children in (example – raising your kid by hiding his/her gender from the world).

  18. Context is important. Key to the context is the Israelites being fed manna in the wilderness. The Israelites grumbled against God for giving the manna. The crowd in the gospel passage are grumbling equally with God for being given the Son of Man. It wouldn’t be difficult to make this passage become eucharistic, but that misses the point. It’s like the gymnastics used to make Genesis support YEC: it can be done, but at what violence against the text?

    • Inductive study methods have come under a lot of criticism lately, but it is still a good discipline. Yes, inference and allegory are useful in studying scripture and understanding historical interpretations, but in my opinion context comes first.

  19. It frightens me to think about if I would have been one of those that left. I fear that I probably would have walked away which terrifies me only until I am reminded that Jesus died for me and my doubts/unbelief. After reading those difficult passages and placing myself in that crowd all I can really say is “Lord Have Mercy.”

  20. I can confidently say that I know I would have walked away if today was pre-January 2010. I probably wouldn’t have admitted it then, but I know it now. I would have retreated to my resourceful independence, my family and some friends. I had it all figured out I just didn’t admit I didn’t want Jesus as Lord. I lived a very good-looking Christian life.
    I suffered a deeply personal trial last year, a brokenness at the hands of a loved one, that had me begging for God to let me hear his knock at my door. My clawing for truth and the authentic Jesus of the bible, not the one of my making who failed me, led me to rescue. I now see how my brokenness was not all at the hands of my loved one. I was terribly broken by a religion and not a truly real relationship with God through Jesus. I was every bit as unworthy, and my loved one was every bit as forgiven and loved. Sinners saved by grace.

    So today, I also don’t doubt I would stay with Jesus. The life is not worth living without Him. To who else can I run? Nobody, no one can compare. And I truly believe anything can come (I don’t want hardship and death), but I do mean that you can kill me and I’d still have Christ. Scripture is not so difficult anymore. Only in that becoming less while asking God to become more can be a painful process.

  21. Personally, I lean much more toward a Catholic/Lutheran understanding of the Eucharist.

    However, I think that denying communion to a fellow Christian because they differ with me on a (really minor) theological issue is borderline heresy and, worse, silly. The apostles warned against such divisive doctrines on several occasions, up to and including kicking people out of the church who insisted it was their way or the highway.

    At the end of the day, a doctrinal issue is a doctrinal issue. An interpretation is an interpretation. The important thing is: would you have stayed or would you have walked away?

    Being like most church folk, I am a conservative, quiet and complacent soul. I probably would have balked and walked away; I can about gurantee it. And that bugs me, but I know myself.

    The Eucharist, for the early Church (the Didache suggest this strongly), was connected not just to the Real Presence of Christ but also to self examination. Christians were to examine themselves, lest they take it in vain. They were to confess sins before receiving Jesus.

    Well, I confess that I would have lost faith in our Lord when He gave His hard saying. Because I am conservative and scrupulous and pious like good church people are told to be, but I lack the daring and adventurous spirit that Jesus demands from his followers. Which is OK. I think He forgives me anyway.

    I think it ought to make church people wonder about what kind of behavior and what kind of persons we produce and encourage. Like Michael Spencer said, “Mere Churchianity.”

  22. I run away from His hard sayings all the time.

    But He keeps taking me back.

  23. It’s good to see parts of the Bible like this discussed. I grew weary of the lockdown on absolute certainity. It’s a breath of fresh air to realize that Christians can have differing viewpoints.

  24. Knowing myself, and a bit of human nature, and what the Bible tells us about humans and human nature…I think if we steer more away from us, and more towards God and what He does, then we are probably a lot closer to being correct in our theology.

  25. cermak_rd says

    I would have walked away. What he asked and who he claimed to be would have been stumbling blocks.

    Of course, I did walk away in the here and now. Because much of it is still a stumbling block, and frankly more so than when I left.

  26. My faith journey has resulted in this understanding of communion: since every Christian faith expression must accept by faith the unchanged physical elements of bread+wine, I believe it is because of the faith of the recipient the bread+wine becomes the Real Presence upon consumption. Only that which is truly consumed is the Real Presence. No crumbs or drops that remain or fall to the ground have any special substance other than their simple bread+wine components…

    No priestly class necessary to speak over or transform the elements. No such power of transformation resident in any person other than the one consuming the elements is how I understand the mystery. Since no other person can believe for you or take your place in accountability before our Lord, no outside person can dictate or command or declare bread+wine the Real Presence until it is actually consumed by the believer…
    It is the faith of the recipient that is the dynamic at work in communion. And the simple ceremony of the Lord’s Supper intended to be both a corporate identification as well as an individual identification with the ‘common union’ to their Lord as well as each other. First comes faith, then sober self-examination as Paul instructs. We are to partake in a worthy manner, which means we should square things with both God & man before eating/drinking which was literally done around the table they had gathered…

    I do not think the simplicity of the manner which communion is offered to a congregation intended to be bogged down by doctrinal special requirements. I believe in open communion (inclusive) more than exclusive. I believe it to be a true sacrament where grace is received thru participation. Just as the bread+wine/juice literally becomes part of my physical body, so the mystical union of Lord+Church is the True Reality. Anything else is over-done theologically & it loses its simple meaning in the process…

    • however, if i were standing in that crowd & heard these words in person, i would have been rightly perplexed…

      i would have not been part of the original 12. i would have been a fringe observer. and these words would have caused me serious consideration…

      but like the Parable of the 2 Sons (Matt 21:28-32), even though i said i would no longer follow from that time on, i would have pursued the Apostles later to ask of them what Jesus truly meant by such a statement…

      this is how i identify myself on this faith journey; by the first son principle… 😉

  27. I recently heard a pastor preach on the woman at the well. He said that the detail concerning her leaving her water jar and returning to the village to tell them about Jesus was important, because at that moment, it was no longer about water for her. In contrast, In this story it never stops being about bread in the minds of the crowd.

  28. Pragmatism begins talking about Jesus and ends up talking about bread.

  29. Margaret Catherine says

    If the command is narrow – so too is the chain that keeps a ship anchored. For myself, I would have stayed – perhaps neither understanding, nor wanting to remain, but I would have. At a point in my life when I had a very sharp, very immediate “choose this day whom you will serve” moment – to remain part of a Church whose members absolutely disgusted me, or to give in to that disgust and walk away – Peter’s answer was the only one I could muster. And that by way of getting up and going to daily Mass, taking refuge in Christ in the Eucharist: the one thing left, the one thing I could not walk away from.

  30. Imagine seeing a quote of John 6 as a quote in a newspaper or as a sound bite on a Fox Radio talk show: “Carpenter says we ‘must eat his flesh’ to obtain afterlife!” Imagine the shrill voices of cynicism and the calls from irate America quoting authority after authority…

    I agree with several comments above that the only way to understand this gospel passage is to read it in light of the practices of the time it was written and with full knowledge of the previous synoptics. John’s Gospel is so different, that it seems unlikely to me that if read in Jerusalem by Peter after Pentecost it would have been accepted by even the Church.

    Some ideas took awhile to develop and be accepted. Jesus did not ” tell all just “like it is” during his life or before Pentecost — “some settling occurs” Like circumcision, like diet restrictions being lifted, Sabbath no longer the same, and the big change – the Trinity. If in John 6 Jesus said: “There is no need to circumcise, keep Sabbath. Eat anything you want – it is all different now. Oh, and by the way, I am one of Three Persons in One God” – how would that fly at the time and culture?

    Jesus did speak some difficult ideas. Was it meant to be understood and accepted there and then – I doubt it.
    Did they sound exactly the same way as we read them? Of course not- we are reading the words, not hearing them and that 2000 years later.