The Eucharist, as it is understood in the Catholic Church, is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. This has been instituted in the Last Supper. Why does the Catholic Church take the Bread of Life discourse literally in John chapter 6? Why do many non-Catholic Christians often interpret it as symbolic? How could Jesus give us His body to eat or consume? How did the Jews of His day understand Him? There will be some things I will present, which you may want to consider. In the first of two articles, I will show that the Catholic position is neither cannibalism nor worshipping a wafer. Let’s begin with the Bread of Life discourse. We will go through John 6:35-58 and I will break it up, so that you can understand why Jesus is proclaiming to be the Bread of Life.

John 6:35-40

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. 36 But I told you that although you have seen [me], you do not believe. 37 Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me, 38 because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. 39 And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it [on] the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day.”


Jesus is preparing to go in to the Bread of Life discourse and is teaching His audience to believe in Him. This is where most Protestants get their interpretation of the text as a metaphor. At the beginning, Jesus is using terms such as, “never hunger” or “never thirst”, to explain that coming to Him by faith is all you need, since He will not reject anyone that comes to Him. On verse 40, the text is read into as to simply believe in Jesus will have eternal life. The context will explain through the next verses, that what you need to do to have eternal life.

John 6:41-51

41 The Jews murmured about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” 42 and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets:

‘They shall all be taught by God.’

Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; 50 this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. 51 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.”

You can argue that Jesus is saying to have faith is equal to eating His flesh and drinking His blood; however, if these terms are equal, then our faith would have to be a symbol and not a realization. Please consider this. The beginning of John 6 is set around the time of the Feast of the Passover when Jesus preached the Bread of Life discourse. If you are familiar with the Feast of the Passover, the Jews were to sacrifice an unblemished lamb. You also have to eat it Exodus 12:8. Consider 1 Corinthians 5:7-8: For our paschal Lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast. We know Jesus is the Lamb of God (John 1:38). Consider the Greek exegetical on how the language changes. Consider this example in John 6:50, “This bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. In this verse the original Greek verb for eat is phagè [φἁγ]. It may also mean to dine. At this moment Jesus could have explained He was speaking symbolically when He said to eat and drink, but He didn’t. There is an occasion in Matthew 16:5-12, when Jesus warned the disciples about leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They thought He was talking about not having enough bread. He calls them out on their faith and recalls the feeding of the five thousands (Matthew 14:13-21) and of the four thousands (Matthew 15:32-39). He again repeats Himself, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” Then the disciples understood what He meant, which is to be aware their teachings. This was a moment where He could have explained what He meant, but He didn’t do that during the Bread of Life discourse. When you get to verse 54, notice how the intensity of the language has changed, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. Again, let’s take the Greek words used here for “eat,” which is trogon [τρώγών], an active verb that means to chew, gnaw, or to munch with sounds. Jesus is serious about eating His flesh, sarka [σἁρκα] in Greek. We know this because His disciples argued over how He could give His flesh to eat. If you believe Jesus is speaking symbolically, then how can you reconcile His words in verse 55, which say, “For My flesh is true food and My blood is true drink.”  In this verse, the word “true”, was originally written in Greek using the word  alethese [ἁληθητς] pronounced as al-lay-thace. The translated meaning of alethese is “true” or “truthful”. Catholics believe that in order to have eternal life, we must eat His flesh and drink His blood.  Lets look at the rest of the discourse.


As a Jew, Jesus references the priestly instruction of the ancient Levitical Law in Leviticus 17:11, “For the life of the flesh is blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for is blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.” He is not breaking the Levitical Law because in verse 10, God says He will set His face against the person who eats the blood. Jesus is saying His blood gives life (in Greek zoe [ζωη] ), since it is in His blood that atonement is provided for our souls.

John 6:59-65

                        59 These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. 60 Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” 61 Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? 62 What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”

The Jews in Jesus’ day could not bear to hear what He was saying. You have to remember these were His disciples. Jesus knew their thoughts and asked them the question that is still being asked today, “Does this cause you to stumble?” I wonder  how much easier it is to believe that Jesus ascended into  heaven and is seated at the right hand of His father than it is to eat His flesh?  Using verse 63, a common argument is that the spirit is what’s  import and that the flesh profits nothing. Some non-Catholic Christians may believe that some scripture verses refer to the spirit and that such verses are symbolic and not to real things. Consider this: If this was spiritual and therefore symbolic, then you have to assert the idea that God is also a symbol because John 4:24 says, “God is Spirit.” God is real. Nowhere in the Bible is it written that the term symbol is equal to the term spiritual. Also consider this: If Jesus meant the flesh profits nothing, then you have to assert the idea that His flesh on the cross profits nothing, as He is the Word made flesh (John 1:14). Here, it could be inferred that Christianity as a whole is a big hoax. Also, He never said His own flesh profits nothing or has no avail. In 1 Corinthians 2:14, “But a natural man does not accept the things of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” The disciples of Jesus could not accept His teachings because they did not have the spirit of God in them to understand them. They were thinking by the flesh and were carnal minded, which separated them from the revelation of God. When it was the twelve that remained, Jesus asked if they were going to leave as well.

John 6:66-69

66 As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. 67 Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

This is the first time anyone left Jesus for doctrinal reasons. Simon Peter, the spokesman for the disciples, recognized that what Jesus spoke were the words of eternal life. It takes faith to believe in His words and His teachings about the Eucharistic discourse.

The Early Christians believed that Jesus is present in the Eucharist. Many Church Fathers have written about the Eucharist, which is the flesh of Jesus. Unbelievers can’t partake in communion, because those who don’t accept the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation of the true present of Jesus in the Eucharist cannot partake in it. He gave Himself up for us to eat to have eternal life. Consider the writings of the Early Church Fathers:


ST. IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH:  “I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible” [Letter to the Romans 7 (c. A.D. 110)].

“Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ, which have come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh that suffered for our sins and that the Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes” [Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6–7 (c. A.D. 110)].

ST. JUSTIN MARTYR: “We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing that is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [i.e., has received baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food that has been made into the Eucharist by the eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus” [First Apology 66 (c. A.D. 151)]

ST. IRENAEUS OF LYONS:  “If the Lord were from other than the Father, how could he rightly take bread, which is of the same creation as our own, and confess it to be his body and affirm that the mixture in the cup is his blood?” [Against Heresies 4:33:2 (c. A.D. 189)].


In my next article, Reconsider the Eucharist - Part 2, I will further defend the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Body of Christ.