John Chapter Six
(A Biblical Critique of Transubstantiation)
In the history of the Church, tradition has always tended to obscure biblical truth over
time.  This has definitely happened in the case of transubstantiation – the doctrine which
teaches the transformation of bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Christ
during the Mass – although retaining the appearance of bread and wine.  Our Roman
Catholic friends believe this doctrine is necessary because of their traditional
understanding of John chapter six in which Jesus states we must eat his flesh and drink
his blood in order to have eternal life.  If this were the only thing Jesus said in John
chapter six, and if this statement were the only teaching of Christ about eternal life in the
book of John, there would be no doubt as to its meaning.  We could only comprehend
that we must materially eat the flesh of Christ and drink his blood in order to receive
eternal life.  However, biblical interpretation does not hinge on one statement considered
outside of its context.  This paper will attempt to show that Jesus’ usual mode of teaching
incorporated figures of speech which others often misunderstood.  His purpose was to
convey spiritual truth, but his hearers often understood his teachings materially.  This is
precisely what has happened with the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. 
Church tradition has understood Jesus’ words materially/literally when in fact He was
speaking spiritually/figuratively.  This is evident as we look at Jesus’ mode of teaching in
the book of John.
As we review each instance, a clear pattern will emerge.  Jesus declared in John 2:19:
“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”  How did the Jews
understand his message?  They thought Jesus was speaking materially of the magnificent
Herodian Temple, but the context points out his teaching was figurative and spiritual.  He
was referring to his own crucifixion and resurrection, but the Jews were on a totally
different wavelength!  How did Nicodemus understand Jesus’ declaration: “I tell you the
truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”, John 3:3?  Obviously,
Nicodemos was greatly puzzled because he responded he could not imagine how he
could enter again into his mother’s womb and be born!  Again, Jesus was using a figure
of speech (birth) to describe how a believer is spiritually delivered into eternal life by
faith in him – as He later explains in chapter three.  Nicodemos understood in a material
way when Jesus all along was conveying a spiritual message.  The same thing happened
when Jesus was speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well: “If you knew the gift of
God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and He would
have given you living water.”, John 4:10.  She materially thought his never-ending
provision of water would be a great idea because she would no longer have to continually
draw water at Jacob’s well!  Jesus, of course, was figuratively/spiritually referring to
himself as the water of life who alone could completely satisfy her deepest needs.  Later
on his disciples return to find him at the well.  He speaks these words to them: “I have
food to eat that you know nothing of.”, John 4:34.  Immediately they begin to wonder
where He is obtaining food!  Jesus’ meaning, however, had to do with his obedience to
the Father’s will!  They understood the material; however, He was teaching about the
spiritual.  When Jesus declared to the crowd at the Feast of Tabernacles, “If anyone is
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thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.”, He was not referring to a literal drinking but a
spiritual believing in him.  As we can see, this was his usual pattern of teaching!  Other
good examples can be found in chapters ten, eleven, seventeen and eighteen in the Gospel
of John.
Actually, as John explains in John 10:6, (the context of Jesus as the Good Shepherd):
“Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what He was telling them.” 
His hearers could not grasp that Jesus was comparing himself to a shepherd – and his
hearers to sheep!  They could not pull themselves out of their material mindset!  Jesus
himself explains later on: “Though I have been speaking figuratively , a time is coming
when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my
Father.”,
John 16:25.
We now arrive at the portion of Scripture in question, John chapter six.  Knowing the
pattern of teaching Jesus customarily employed, we would not expect him to change.
Figures of speech are found abundantly such as eatingdrinking, coming and looking
etc.  For example, “I am the bread of life, he who comes to Me will never go hungry, and
he who believes in Me will never be thirsty.”, John 6:35 (italics mine).  Later on, Jesus
teaches:  “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him
shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up the last day.”, John 6:40.  How is it that we
will never be spiritually hungry or thirsty again?  How is it that we will have eternal life? 
Satisfying spiritual hunger and thirst is never a matter of material eating and drinking, but
it is always a matter of believing in Christ – the theme of the book of John.  Neither is
eternal life a matter of looking or coming in a material sense: it is a matter of  believing in
Jesus Christ!  All of the figures of speech in John chapter six focus on belief in Christ
which can never be reduced to anything material
With this in mind, let’s look at John 6:51-52: “I am the living bread that came down from
heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.  This bread is my flesh, which I
give for the life of the world.  Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves,
‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’”  All along in the book of John, Jesus’
hearers wanted to understand his words materially – just like the Jews in this passage;
however, it was never Jesus’ intention to reduce believing in him to anything physical.
His use of the material/physical was always a figure of speech to convey a deeper
spiritual/immaterial truth.  Jesus never intended to teach that he had to be literally eaten
in order for us to receive eternal life.  Whether it is the word  come, look, eat, feed or
drink – these are all figures of speech for believing! As Jesus explained it so plainly to
Nicodemos in John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten
Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  There is
no physical act that can be added to that.  Believing in Jesus Christ for eternal life is
always a matter of the heart and can never be reduced to some kind of physical
ceremony.
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Jesus’ disciples themselves had a hard time understanding Jesus when He told them they
needed to eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life – just like many have a
hard time with that teaching today.  “On hearing it, many of disciples said, ‘This is a hard
teaching.  Who can accept it?’  Aware of this, as his disciples were grumbling about this,
Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you?  What if you see the Son of Man ascend to
where He was before!  The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.  The words I
have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.’”, John 6:60-63.  What could be more
plain?  Jesus wants his disciples to be crystal clear about what He has just said.  Nothing
physical can give life – only the Spirit of God.  It’s the spiritual teaching of Jesus that
brings life.  If we believe that Jesus Christ gave himself on the Cross in our place for our
sins – we receive eternal life!
I often think of the believing thief on his cross.  Over the centuries various church groups
have sought to add something to simply believing and personally appropriating what
Jesus did on the Cross -- in order that we might have eternal life.  An example of this 
would be the eating of bread and drinking of wine believed to be transformed into the
body and blood of Christ – the Sacrament of the Mass -- which is thought to give eternal
life.  Traditions like this have a way of encrusting themselves to the Church over the
centuries.  The believing thief on his cross completely cuts through traditions which teach
that something can be added to simple faith in the substitutionary atonement of  Christ. 
He wasn’t baptized, and he never took Communion.  In fact, he never went to church or
attended any kind of service.  He never gave any money to the church or participated in
any church ceremonies.  But Jesus gave him this wonderful promise on the basis of his
confession of faith:  “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”, when He said,
“Today you will be with Me in paradise.”, Luke 23:42-43.  When it comes to the basis for
eternal salvation, absolutely nothing can be added to faith in Christ.
As Paul reminded Peter who tried to add something to Gospel truth:  “I do not set aside
the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for
nothing!”, Galatians 2:21.  Paul understood the damage that would be caused if Peter got
away with adding Jewish tradition to the Gospel of faith in Christ.  In fact, in order to nip
this in the bud, he publicly confronted his fellow apostle.  Paul knew that others in the
future would fall prey to this temptation – i.e. to add self-effort to the truth of faith in
Christ.  He was very much aware that conformity to laws, rituals and ceremonies could
never take away sin and provide righteousness because there would never be any
assurance that enough had been done.  “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile
sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus
Christ.  So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in
Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be
justified.”,            Galatians 2:15-16.

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