The Eucharist and Transubstantiation
The Eucharist is so often a point of contention with respect to the Roman Catholic Church and is a clear point of division between Catholic and non-Catholic and therefore it is important to find out what the truth regarding the Eucharist and more specifically, the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. Typically when this topic is raised, Catholics will relate the Eucharist to the non-Catholic celebration of communion, in that both are said to be pointing to and in remembrance of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins. Both point to the last supper that Jesus had with His disciples as the origin of both Communion and the Eucharist.
The key difference comes down to the meaning of the celebration. To a Catholic, the Eucharist and the Mass is the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. They hold to a belief that despite the fact that this sacrifice is re-created many thousands of times each day around the world, that the sacrifice is the same sacrifice that took place on the cross. They also claim, and this is the key point, that the wine and the wafer are actually physically turned into the physical blood and flesh and Jesus respectively without changing in physical appearance. This of course has never been verified using scientific means though today such a test would be very easy to perform. Thus proving that the wine and bread are actually turned into blood and flesh would be very easy and yet for some reason has not been done.
Now the other test regarding the truth of this doctrine and in fact the best test is to go to God's word and see what it says regarding this topic. The passage most often used to justify this doctrine is John 6:53-56
53 Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.
However, from my experience, rarely will Catholic documents quote the passage in context or the remaining of John 6 where Jesus then explains the passage quite explicitly. Letís have a look at this passage in context. We will start at verse 26 and work our way through the remainder of the chapter.
26 Jesus answered them and said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him."
This builds on from when Jesus blessed the food and a miracle occurred where so many people were fed by such little food. Jesus is starting the sermon based upon that incident and speaking about the food that they eat being the food that perishes. He then tells us that He will give food that does not perish. This brings up the first problem, because as we know, not only did the manna (bread) in the desert perish when the Israelites tried to store it for too long, but we also know that human blood and human flesh will indeed perish and will indeed go bad if it it left for too long. Therefore to interpret this as referring to human flesh and blood, we have our first problem. Keep this in mind as we get closer to the end and find out what Jesus says that He is speaking about and we will find out why the bread that He speaks of will never perish.
27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him." 28 Then they said to Him, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?"
Following from that, the question put to Jesus is: "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?"
29 Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent."
Jesus then goes on to clarify the theme/context.
30 Therefore they said to Him, "What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.' " 32 Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
The bread from heaven which he is speaking about is compared to the manna which came down in the desert in Exodus chapter 16. The bread of haven however, Jesus says in verse 35 of John 6 is He.
33 For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." 34 Then they said to Him, "Lord, give us this bread always." 35 And Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.
They ask for the bread of life, and Jesus explains that they have seen him and yet do not believe. Thus again this appears to confirm that He is the bread that they seek.
36 But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. 40 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day." 41 The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, "I am the bread which came down from heaven." 42 And they said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, 'I have come down from heaven'?"
He said in different ways that he is the bread that came from heaven but they did not appear to understand or believe.
43 Jesus therefore answered and said to them, "Do not murmur among yourselves. 44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father.
Note that Jesus says that He is the bread of life and that whosoever eats that bread shall live and not die. Further, we are told that those who ate the flesh in the wilderness died. The bread in the desert, the manna, was simply symbolic of Jesus, with Jesus being the true bread of life.
47 Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. 50 This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world." 52 The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?" 53 Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.
Jesus says that we need to eat his flesh and drink his blood, and if we do, we receive eternal life. Letís continue in John 6, for now we are at the verses which are used to justify the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. Roman Catholicism holds firmly to the view that we need to actually eat the flesh of Jesus and to drink His actual blood. Sound exegetical analysis of scripture requires that we use the literal meaning unless the context clearly indicates otherwise. In this case, we need to read the full context and not just stop here if we need to find if indeed this is referring to actual human flesh and blood.
55 For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven--not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever." 59 These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. 60 Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, "This is a hard saying; who can understand it?"
Eating the flesh that Jesus speaks of and eating the blood means that we abide in Jesus and will live forever. Note: Taken literally, up to this point, this appears to provide a second means of salvation Ė if we were to eat His flesh and drink His blood, we gain eternal life. Is that what is meant? If we were to stop here, it would appear that the Catholics are right. But to stop without reading the full context would not be using sound Biblical exegesis, so lets continue on.
61 When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, "Does this offend you? 62 What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.
Now Jesus now says that the flesh profits nothing. This appears contrary to verses 53-4 that state that we need to eat his flesh and drink his blood, and if we do, we receive eternal life, but then Jesus clarifies by stating that Jesus says that the words are the spirit and the life. This is why it is important to continue on and read the full context because Jesus has just struck to the very heart of the doctrine of transubstantiation by saying that the flesh does not profit us at all. Rather He says, that the life comes from the spirit, not the flesh and it is the words that bring the spirit.
Words = spirit = life, Flesh does not profit anything.
This is in harmony with what Jesus said in Matthew chapter 4:
3 And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. 4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
It is God's word that brings life and the spirit, not eating the flesh. Therefore, even if the bread were changed to flesh, there would be no benefit from eating it. Now, remember earlier in this document, it was noted that human flesh and blood do perish and yet the bread that Jesus offered did not perish? Here is the explanation. Jesus was not speaking of bread, or of blood or of flesh but was speaking of the words of God which bring life. God word and the life which comes from God's word (the Gospel) are eternal. Bread, flesh and blood are perishable, but God's word and salvation which comes from receiving the gospel are eternal.
64a But there are some of you who do not believe.
Some do not believe that the flesh profits nothing rather and thus do not believe that it is His words that give the spirit and life. If they do not believe that the flesh profits nothing, then they must believe that it is the flesh rather than His words that He is speaking about.
64b For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him.
And some as a result, they will betray him.
63 And He said, "Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father." 64 But there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. 65 And He said, "Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father." 66 From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. 67 Then Jesus said to the twelve, "Do you also want to go away?"
68 But Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
The Apostles remain true and believe that the flesh profits nothing but rather believe in His words for the spirit and life. What could be the words that Jesus speaks which bring life? It is the words of truth, the truth of who He is, the truth or why He came to earth in the flesh and the words that give us the truth of the gospel, the only words which can bring us eternal life. Thos who believed that He was speaking about the actual eating of flesh and drinking of blood missed the point of the gospel and were not saved. Those who stayed understood that without a sacrifice and without the shedding of blood, their was no remission of sins, and that Jesus was the lamb of God, sent to be the ultimate sacrifice, the only sacrifice which could actually take away sins and restore us to a right relationship with God.
There are numerous problems with interpreting this passage as supporting transubstantiation. Some of these problems are:
1) Jesus clear and specific words that explain this as not having anything to do with the actual flesh.
2) Jesus is using this to exhort those who profess to follow Him to digest His words, not His flesh.
3) Those who believed that He was teaching cannibalism (eating the flesh and drinking the blood) were the ones who turned away from Jesus. Those who understood that this had nothing to do with consuming human flesh and blood stayed with Jesus.
Ironically, by promoting this passage as promoting the eating of flesh and drinking of blood, Catholicism, actually turns against the actual teaching of Christ, which was to digest His words because they are the source of life and instead they turn away from His clear teaching sin John 6 and insist that it is necessary to eat His flesh. Instead of looking towards that bread which never perishes and brings eternal life, the word of God, the gospel, the doctrine of transubstantiation looks for eternal life in that which is perishable, bread, wine, flesh and blood.
January 14, 2006
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by Permission. All rights reserved.
Scriptural Analysis of Roman Catholic Church Teachings