Saturday, October 15, 2005

Transubstantiation: Eating & Drinking

Continued from last post...

Most Catholic apologeticists contending that Christ's physical body and blood is materially manifest in the Lord’s Supper traditionally base this assertion on John 6:48-59. In this section of Scripture, Jesus foreshadows the meaning of the Lord's Supper and says publicly in the synagogue "I am the bread of life" (v. 48). He then talks about eating this bread; in v. 51, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." Clearly, this was a shocking statement given the response of those around Him. They took Him literally – the Jews began questioning how Jesus might give them His flesh to eat (v. 52), and Jesus responds (v. 53), "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…"

The Baltimore Catechism uses parts of John 6 to defend the Catholic position of the Eucharist, specifically citing John 6:48-59 (Catechism 344). Unfortunately, this section of the Catechism stops short in explaining the context of Jesus' statements, for He does indeed explain to His disciples the meaning of what He was saying. The verses following John 6:59 (where the Catechism stops short in its citation) do indeed show that Jesus was not speaking literally. Jesus realized His disciples were confused about what He was telling them. Verse 60 points out "When many of his disciples heard it, they said, 'This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?'" So Jesus in v. 63 gives them the key to interpreting what He said, so His disciples would avoid the very mistake that the Jews in the synagogue were making in presuming He meant literally eating his physical flesh and blood: "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." With this statement, Jesus points out that He is specifically referring to a spiritual action, not a physical one.

He alludes to this very point earlier in this same chapter. In John 6:35, He says, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst." So, He will satisfy hunger and thirst. If He is speaking literally, then we can conlude that Christ is a complete and utter failure. Firstly – if we are to be consistent in our exegesis from that standpoint – we would have to literally (bodily) come to Him - but how can we do so if He is not here, but seated at the right hand of God in heavenly realms as Ephesians 1:20, Colossians 3:1, and Luke 22:69 tell us? Secondly, those who simply believe in Him would find physical nourishment - another clear failure if this was His intent, for even today (much less in all of A.D. history) true believers die of hunger, thirst, malnutrition.

But if He is not speaking literally, what then is the eating and drinking He refers to? It is coming to Christ and believing in Him. “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” The eating and drinking refer to spiritual acts; desiring Him, accepting Him, trusting Him. He is speaking of the hunger and thirst of our souls being satisfied in Him – not our stomachs.

As with continual sacrifice, in this way too there is no need for physical, literal transubstantiation.

Continued next post...

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