Thursday, August 28, 2008

John 6, Carl's Blogged Bible Study--TRANSUBSTANTIATION

I daresay there exists a universal maxim that renders humans nearly incapable of believing apart from their history; that is, for example, the child born and raised into a baptist believing family will most likely follow baptist doctrine the rest of their life. The child of staunch atheists will most likely end up following the atheist line of thought. The Muslim child will most likely worship Allah. It is my experience that in so many cases, the recipients of whatever tradition USUALLY accept their beliefs unconditionally and unquestioningly.

Ask the average Christian why they believe in the trinity and they will respond, "I just do," or, "it's just the truth," without providing any scriptural or historical evidence. As any Christian, regardless of denomination/tradition, what their rule of faith is and they will respond, "the Bible," ask them how the bible came into compilation and you will most likely get a deer in the headlights look. Most of us, myself included, often take our beliefs for granted. We assume them to be true without investigating another interpretation or model.

Which brings me to John chapter 6.

This post will be a little different from the rest. I hope not to talk about what inspiration this chapter afforded me; rather, bring to light a different viewpoint than most of my readers share, and hopefully spark some discussion. Keep in mind, as there are now over 30,000 different christian denominations in the US, there is a great deal of divergence over biblical interpretations.

In this chapter of John, Jesus is challenged by the Jewish leaders. They explain that there forefathers were miraculously provided manna as a sign, and ask Jesus what miracle he could perform to top it so that they might believe. In his most explicit confession of divinity, Jesus says that Moses did not provide the heavenly bread, the Father did, and in like manner His father has sent heavenly bread in their day...himself, Jesus of Nazareth.

They were already offended at this, and Jesus could have stopped there, but instead he said they must eat this bread...his body (51). They scoff and say, "how can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Jesus could have said, "I am talking figuratively you idiots." Instead he says they must drink his blood as well. Such ingestion, he says, leads to eternal life (54).

As there are a plethora of interpretations of this event, let us focus on the Catholic interpretation. The Catholic interpretation accepts Jesus' words as literal. Coupled with Matthew 26:26,28, John 6 is viewed as a foreshadowing of the last supper, and consequentially, the Eucharist and the explicit belief in Transubstantiation.

Like the Pharisees in the text, to most of us, this seems outlandish, cannibalistic, and a flagrant misinterpretation of the gospel. But ask the average protestant why transubstantiation ISN'T biblical truth and you won't get a least a well researched reply.

What did the early church think about John 6 and the idea of transubstantiation? Ignatius of Antioch, writing around 110ce to the Smyrnaeans said:

"those who do not hold heterodox opinions...they do abstain from the Eucharist and prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His goodness, raised up again."

Forty years later Justin Martyr wrote:
"We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to take of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and has been washed in the washing for remission of sins and for regeneration 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 which 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 nourished, is both the flesh and the blood of the incarnate Jesus Christ."

So, the earliest followers of Christ believed that in communion the bread and wine mystically/miraculously become the literal flesh and blood of Christ. I'm sure this flies in the face of our long held beliefs. It does mine.

I'm not saying I hold to this interpretation, but is it really that weird? After all, we believe that we can pray to an unseen God and he can mystically/miraculously alter the properties of a cancer into that of a healthy cell. We believe that Jesus altered the chemical composition of pots of water into wine. We believe many mystical thing...why not this one?

So I would love feedback. Why or why not do you believe in transubstantiation?


James said...

As you said in the beginning of your post, and I paraphrase, most of the things that we believe are a matter of the culture that we grew up in. That is what it all comes down to in the difference of most denominations: not so much theologically seperate, but culturally seperate.
I spent many of my early years under big tents in South Carolina listening to the passionate "hollerin" of a sweaty, overweight evangelist. My "comfort zone" still lies in those memories and theologies, but alot of that had to change over the years. The fact that I do not believe in transubstantiation has not changed.
Jesus was a master of metaphors, and I believe that this was such a metaphor. If you read all the gospels, they seem to unlock each other's metaphors. I believe the key here lies in Matthew 5:6, "blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled".
By telling them to eat His body and drink His blood, He was telling them that He is righteousness personified, and that we must hunger and thirst for Him. Not physically, spiritually. We must be so full of His spirit that we do not "hunger" or "thirst" for anything else, just like the woman at the well was done with her lifelong search for fulfullment as soon as she met Jesus. "Whoever drinks of the water that I give will never thirst again." John 4:14.
Nate, I love the challenge that you put out to know why you believe in what you believe. Keep it up.

nate said...

Nice response James! I agree...Jesus used metaphor all the time...even got frustrated when his disciples didn't get it (Matt. 13).

Nicodemus took him all to literally and thought he had be physically reborn.

Somehow I missed that you had been raised in the southern' tent meeting setting. I've never had that experience but it would probably weird me out a little (not that it's bad, just untypical for me).

Anonymous said...

Dang... James took my answer so to speak. I was going to talk about the metaphor and Jesus being the master of using the circumstances he was in at a given point to teach. If he was in a vineyard he used a parable about a vineyard. If he was in a temple he told a story about a woman with a single dinari(SP?), giving all she had.

In John 6 he was feeding people so he used the metaphor of bread and body to me his Word or Wisdom. That we must ingest of his teachings so that our hearts would be filled.

At the last super he gave us a literal way to remember his sacrifice drawing on the metaphor the Disciples had heard before.

FYI...I Grew up Catholic and never could get my head around Transubstantiation. And in my current studies I see nothing that really points to the literal transformation of the bread and wine to flesh and blood. I Have looked through most of Peter and Paul's writings and nothing leads me to believe that Jesus taught them of a physical transformation of the Bread and Wine.

Of.. To put my post together for tomorrow.

James said...

"Many of my early years" may have been a bit misleading. We were in South Carolina until I was 7 years old, then to Ohio for a year, then to Haiti for five years, then back to good ol' Northwest Ohio. Although it has been a few years, I can still smell the stale smell of tent canvas on a hot summer South Carolina night every once in a while.

cpk3, I like your phraseology "we must ingest of His teaching so that our hearts would be filled."

annie said...

Hey there Nate -

Challenging thoughts indeed. I like that you point out that some arenas of complete transformation we most definitely do agree on ... why not this one too?

I don't believe in transubstantiation ... because I don't think that's what happens. I believe my taste buds work, and I'm not tasting human flesh and blood.

Also I think that the argument of transubstantiation is entirely missing the point. When you look throughout the Scriptures, you find that the point all along was the spirit. "The things which are seen are temporal, while the things which are not seen are eternal." The Word is all about describing to us the things which are not seen, and instructing us, leading us, guiding us in these things so that we can walk accurately in a land in which we essentially have no sight - the things which are not seen. Specifically, is there even one event in Scripture that was talking about something not spiritual? Every story, every prophecy, every teaching, every truth always points us to the unseen. It is no different with the topic of Jesus' body and blood. Even our own flesh and blood is a picture of the spiritual - our body is intended to mirror the functioning of the Body of Christ. For instance, if you look at the human body ... where does the strength come from? Firstly, it comes from life. If you are dead, you have no strength. Then, this life is sustained by what? Most importantly, by the breath in our lungs and the blood in our veins. Drain our body of blood, and we are weakened, and that to the point of death. No blood - death. Cut off our air supply, again, we are dead. Very quickly. Pursue this still further, and if we do not drink enough water and nourish ourselves with food, we also loose strength and will eventually die if we don't turn these things around. Are these things just happenstance? No, according to the Scriptures, this is teaching us about how we function in Christ. The life we have is given to us - breathed into us like the first Adam. When we receive His gift of eternal life, this spiritual life is breathed again into our spirit man, bringing it to life. The breath we breathe every moment should remind us that without Him we are nothing. In Hebrew, 'spirit' and 'breath' are the same word. Thus, to God they are synonymous. Our breath is the Spirit, giving us the life that we live. The blood in our veins is also indicating this life. The Bible says that the life of every creature is in the blood. The life of God is in His blood as well. His life was given for ours. Our blood tells us that we are only alive because of His life coursing through our veins. Water and food? Jesus said that He gives living water, and that He Himself is our food. Therefore the fact that we need water and food to have any strength at all is showing us that we literally can do nothing on our own. On our own we are a dead pile of flesh. Breath, blood, water, and food - the main essentials we need to survive - all are entirely Him - we can claim nothing.

All this to say that one has to read Jesus' words understanding that all of Scripture is designed to teach us about what we don't see. When Jesus said these words, "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" He wasn't making a doctrinal statement about communion. As a matter of fact, communion itself wasn't a doctrinal statement. Everything was showing us this truth: we need His life or we have NO chance for life ourselves.

Thanks for the thought-provoking thought! (Is that redundant?) Great discussion, Nate!

Ric Booth said...

I guess not being raised anything would best describe my background. I did go to a Presbyterian church from 5 through 10 but I think that was mainly felt board Noah and Jesus. So I had never heard of Transubstantiation ... Thanks for the lesson and the link. I just assumed that Jesus was being metaphorical. It never occurred to me that some (Roman Catholics) would interpret this text literally. Interesting.

Michelle said...

Hey, Nate. I read this earlier in the week...was even late then...went away to track down some things I had heard before about "transubstantiation"...never got back.


I did find some things to show the idea of eating flesh and drinking blood being in the mystery religions ancient rituals -- in India and throughout the Roman empire.

But when Jesus spoke it was in reference to "cutting cov't" with God the Father. He speaks from an Old Testament understanding of the Passover ritual and making covenants as a solemn, binding agreement in the ancient world.

I found Clay Trumball's book, The Blood Covenant, very helpful in understanding what we have never experienced in our modern world.

nate said...

Thanks for all the guys all bring up interesting points.

I am familiar with almost every argument against transubstantiation, and they are all what I have always believed, and mostly still do.

But every argument, has been composed 1500 years into Christianity...that's what gets me.

I have to ask, why did the earliest believers, those who actually walked and talked with the apostles, interpret every other word of Jesus figuratively, except these words in John and those in Matthew and Corinthians.

Paradoxes are interesting...

Anonymous said...

Annie said,

"I don't believe in transubstantiation ... because I don't think that's what happens. I believe my taste buds work, and I'm not tasting human flesh and blood."

This is not an argument but a assertion. You're saying that you don't this is true because you just don't think this is true.

Your comments show that you don't understand the meaning of transubstantiation else you would not be referring to your taste buds as the tool to be used. Read Aristotle on the difference between substance and accidents. This is where the term transubstantiation comes from. The accidents are those characteristics that we experience with our senses (i.e. taste, color, feel, etc.). Nate makes some very good points that one should take seriously and think about what is said in John 6. I'll respond again later with more time.

nate said...

Thanks for stopping by anonymous, please come back with more thoughts!

I believe you were alluding to the common protestant misunderstanding of the concept of transubstantiation, that the bread and the wine chemically transform into real flesh and blood. Catholic doctrine states that the bread and wine retain the characteristics of bread and wine (taste, texture, smell, appearance) even after ingested, but they are infused with Christ's presence, often referred to as "the real presence." Maybe I am wrong here though.