John 6:51-59

[New to our exegesis of John’s Gospel? Try starting at The Beginning John 1:1-2].

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day, 55 for my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which the ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 He said these things while he was teaching in a synagogue at Capernaum.

51 ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ἄρτος ὁ ζῶν ὁ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καταβάς· ἐάν τις φάγῃ ἐκ τούτου τοῦ ἄρτου ζήσει εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, καὶ ὁ ἄρτος δὲ ὃν ἐγὼ δώσω ἡ σάρξ μού ἐστιν ὑπὲρ τῆς τοῦ κόσμου ζωῆς.

52 Ἐμάχοντο οὖν πρὸς ἀλλήλους οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι λέγοντες· Πῶς δύναται οὗτος ἡμῖν δοῦναι τὴν σάρκα αὐτοῦ φαγεῖν; 53 εἶπεν οὖν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς· Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐὰν μὴ φάγητε τὴν σάρκα τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου καὶ πίητε αὐτοῦ τὸ αἷμα, οὐκ ἔχετε ζωὴν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς. 54 ὁ τρώγων μου τὴν σάρκα καὶ πίνων μου τὸ αἷμα ἔχει ζωὴν αἰώνιον, κἀγὼ ἀναστήσω αὐτὸν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ. 55 ἡ γὰρ σάρξ μου ἀληθής ἐστι βρῶσις, καὶ τὸ αἷμά μου ἀληθής ἐστι πόσις. 56 ὁ τρώγων μου τὴν σάρκα καὶ πίνων μου τὸ αἷμα ἐν ἐμοὶ μένει κἀγὼ ἐν αὐτῷ. 57 καθὼς ἀπέστειλέν με ὁ ζῶν πατὴρ κἀγὼ ζῶ διὰ τὸν πατέρα, καὶ ὁ τρώγων με κἀκεῖνος ζήσει δι’ ἐμέ. 58 οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ ἄρτος ὁ ἐξ οὐρανοῦ καταβάς, οὐ καθὼς ἔφαγον οἱ πατέρες καὶ ἀπέθανον· ὁ τρώγων τοῦτον τὸν ἄρτον ζήσει εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα. 59 ταῦτα εἶπεν ἐν συναγωγῇ διδάσκων ἐν Καφαρναούμ.

I Have to Drink…WHAT?

Our passage for today highlights the way New Testament exegesis sheds light on the development of the Scriptures. It also gives the bare outline of the beginnings of Christian worship.

Verses 51-59 are clearly “Johannine” or written by John and/or his followers. The syntax, grammar, and word usage such as “Truly, truly,” “eternal life,” “to feed,” and “to remain” match John’s composition. So, you could say there is literary evidence that this section is authentic and part of the Gospel.

But what about historical evidence? There is a break between what comes before — John 6:41-50 — and this section, vv. 51-59. Where before it can be argued that Jesus’ comments made sense against an Old Testament background, and he is trying to lead his biblically astute listeners to see how their tradition lends itself to the “coming down” of the “Son of Man,” in this section we find concepts that would not at all make sense to his listeners.

I once thought Jesus was simply saying things here that made no sense but would one day make sense and, when remembered, would produce an “Ohhhhhh, so that’s what he meant!!” In addition, this was an example of a hard teaching of Jesus that sent people away confused, and sometimes the hard teachings of Jesus also anger us and leave us distraught. And maybe that’s the right way to view these verses.

Another way is to consider the possibility that these verses for today were actually part of the Last Supper narrative in the Gospel of John which is surprisingly missing. The other Gospels have a Last Supper narrative, and there are hints and clues to it throughout John, but nowhere is it more clear than right here.

Soooo, some argue that the Johannine Last Supper narrative was moved here to interpret the section that came before it. There is no antecedent in the Old Testament to eating flesh and drinking blood except in derogatory ways. It would be like talking about FaceBook and Twitter in 1995 — it just wouldn’t make sense.

Why then would someone move a Last Supper narrative here? Because it is a way to further interpret Jesus’ comments in vv. 41-50 and give them more depth against the backdrop of the eucharist which Christians were practicing at the time John was written.

In vv. 51-59, it is not enough to believe in Jesus: we must also eat his flesh and drink his blood. In Aramaic, there is no word for “body” other than “flesh” but in Greek, “body” and “flesh” are two different words. The Synoptics understood Jesus (speaking Aramaic) to mean, “This is my body given for you,” but John translated the Aramaic to Greek as, “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

So, either the religious leaders were thoroughly confounded by Jesus’ strange words of eating his flesh and drinking his blood and later understood what he meant; or, this section was moved here to give clarification to Jesus’ discourse on Bread of Life.

In any event, he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to us saying, “This is my body (flesh) given for you”; and he took the cup, blessed it, and said, “This is the blood of the New Covenant shed for the forgiveness of sins” — and as we eat this bread, and drink this cup, WE become Body of Christ, taken, blessed, and given to the world as God’s redemptive community.

Thanks be to God!