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Bread of Life

Note of the Day – May 27 (John 6:51; Luke 22:19f)

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John 6:51; Luke 22:19f

Today, on Memorial Day, I wish to return to the declaration by Jesus in John 6:51, part of the great Bread of Life discourse (cf. the previous note and the Saturday discussion), especially as it relates to the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist). Here is verse 51, with the main points for comparison given in italics:

“I am the Living Bread th(at) is stepping [i.e. coming] down out of heaven—if any one should eat out of this bread, he will live into the Age; and the bread which I will give is even my flesh, (given) over the life of the world.”

The form of the words of institution (in the Synoptic tradition), closest to the language here, is found in the Gospel of Luke:

“And taking bread (and) giving (thanks to God) for (his) favor, broke (it) and gave (it) to them, saying: ‘This is my body th(at is) being given over you—do this unto my remembrance’.” (Lk 22:19)

The last phrase is unique to the Lukan version, but Paul has similar wording in 1 Cor 11:23-25, except that the phrase “do this unto my remembrance” is applied to both the bread and the cup.

It is interesting to consider the differences in the object of the preposition (u(pe/r, “over”) between the Lukan and parallel Synoptic versions, as well as here in Jn 6:51:

  • “over you [pl.]” [u(pe\r u(mw=n] (Lk 22:19-20, applied to both bread and cup)
  • “over many” [u(pe\r pollw=n] (Mk 14:24, par Matt 26:28, applied only to the cup)
  • “over the life of the world” [u(pe\r th=$ tou= ko/smou zwh=$] (Jn 6:51, applied to bread)

The Lukan version is straightforward—Jesus is referring to his disciples (believers). The references in Mark/Matt and John 6:51 are more difficult. Who are the “many” in Mk 14:24 par? There is a similar expression in Mk 10:45 (par Matt 20:28), in which Jesus says:

“For the Son of Man also did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his soul [i.e. life] in exchange for (the) many [a)nti\ pollw=n], as a means of loosing (them from bondage).”

In both passages, Jesus is almost certainly alluding to Isaiah 53:11-12:

  • “by his knowledge my [righteous] Servant will cause righteousness (to be established) for the many [<yB!r^l*]” (v. 11)
  • “…and he carried/lifted the sin of (the) many [<yB!r^]” (v. 12b)

There is strong sacrificial language used in Isa 53:10-12, including the offering for sin/guilt (<v*a*, v. 10), which relates to the suffering and/or death of the Servant. This made the passage an obvious Scripture to apply to the sacrificial death of Jesus, an association which was recognized already by the earliest Christians (Acts 8:30-35, etc). However, there is some question whether “(the) many” should be understood in the generic sense (i.e. many people), or in a specific religious sense, as the assembly (of God’s people). While Christians typically read the passage in the former sense, an increasing number of commentators feel that it is really the latter which is in view. The same would apply to the use of <yB!r^(h*) in Daniel 11:33; 12:3.

The basis for this specific denotation of the word <yB!r^ is found in the texts associated with the Qumran Community, where the the word is used repeatedly as a title for the Community, especially in the Damascus Document (CD) 13-15 and the “Community Rule” (1QS) 6-8. The members of that Community viewed themselves as the Elect of Israel, the ones remaining faithful to the ancient covenant, who will see (and play a central role in) the coming Messianic Age. The Anointed One(s) will deliver and lead the Community. This involves a decidedly sectarian identity of the people of God—not the entire Israelite/Jewish population, but only a portion, the elect who, when assembled together in the Community, represent “the Many”. There is a clear application and development of the “remnant” image from the Prophets.

It is possible that a similar background of thought applies to the earliest Christians and Jesus’ own use of the expression “(the) many” in Mk 10:45; 14:24 par (cf. also Rom 5:15-19; Heb 9:28). In other words, he is not saying that he gives his body/life for people generally “many people”, but for “the Many” who are his followers. Certainly the fundamental idea of the covenant (diaqh/kh) God established with Israel is present in the Last Supper scene. While it is described as a new covenant (cf. Jer 31:31ff), the basic imagery is derived from the sacrificial ritual by which the covenant between God and Israel was established (Exod 24:4-8). There is thus a dual meaning to the preposition u(pe/r (“over”):

  • the concrete sense of blood being poured (or sprinkled) over the altar and on the people
  • the more abstract meaning “on behalf of”, “for (the sake of)”

If “the many” designates the disciples of Jesus as the new covenant Community within Israel, then it corresponds with the the plural pronoun (“you”) in the Lukan version (22:19-20):

“this is my body th(at is) being given over you
“this cup (is) the new covenant [diaqh/kh] in my blood being poured out over you

What of the expression in Jn 6:51, “over the life of the world”? We are accustomed to seeing this in the more general (universalist) sense—i.e., Jesus died on behalf of all people in the world. This would seem to be supported by 3:16-17 (cf. also 4:42; 12:47), in which the desire is expressed that the world (i.e. the people in it) should not be destroyed, but saved. Yet, elsewhere in the Gospel, there is a strong negative connotation (and denotation) to the word ko/smo$ (“world”), where it more literally signifies the world order—the current order and arrangement of things, dominated and governed by sin and darkness. The imagery is fundamentally dualistic—the “world” is opposed to God and his Spirit, to Jesus and his disciples (believers). The basic Johannine construct may be summarized as follows:

  • The “world” has rejected God’s Word and is dominated by sin and darkness
  • God sends Jesus (the Son and Living Word) into the world, to bring light, truth, etc, and salvation to it—that is, to believers—the elect who are in the world, but do not belong to it
  • Jesus (the Son) returns to God the Father and will bring believers with him—he has called them out of the world

The work of Jesus in the world is centered upon his self-sacrificial act—laying down his life, giving his (human) life for the sake of the world. Yet we must be careful to preserve his distinctive wording in 6:51 (and earlier in v. 33):

  • “for the Bread of Life is th(at which is) stepping [i.e. coming] down out of heaven and giving Life to the world” (v. 33)
  • “and the Bread which I will give is even my flesh (given) over the life of the world” (v. 51)

There is here a parallel to Creation, as expressed in the Prologue: Jesus (the Living Word) brings light and life to the world, but those who belong to the darkness do not receive the light—only those who belong to the light are able to receive it. Thus, we should probably not read the expression “life of the world”, as ‘for the sake of the world’, but, rather, in the more precise theological sense found in the Johannine discourses, etc—of Jesus as “the Life of the world”. This would be almost exactly parallel with the expression “Light of the world” in 8:12, which I will be discussing in an upcoming note. We also find the expression “Light of Life” in that same verse. This Light (and Life) is found in Jesus’ own person (in the world), and believers come to hold this Light/Life (in the world).

I would conclude this note with the one element which is unique to the Lukan (and Pauline) version of the words of institution of the Lord’s Supper. While it is stated that Jesus gives his body and blood “over you”—that is, over believers—who are also “the many” whom God has called out of the world, an additional directive is given to us (who are believers):

“do this [i.e. this same thing] unto my remembrance [ei)$ th\n e)mh\n a)na/mnhsin]”

We are thus called to repeat Jesus’ action as a memorial, in memory of what he has done. This should be understood on two levels. First, in terms of repeating the ritual/symbolic act—i.e. the consecrated “Lord’s Supper”. This is certainly how Paul understands it in 1 Cor 11. However, second, and even more important: we are to follow Jesus’ own example of self-sacrifice, on behalf of others (and esp. our fellow believers)—not as a mere repetition of ritual, but as a way of life and thought. This comes through abundantly clear in the foot-washing scene in the Gospel of John (Jn 13:4-17), which effectively takes the place of the Lord’s Supper institution in the narrative. As expressed by the love command (13:34-35), it also becomes the central theme of the great Last Discourse (chaps. 14-16, and the prayer-discourse of chap. 17).

“The fine (shep)herd sets (down) his soul over the sheep…and I set (down) my soul over the sheep”
(Jn 10:11, 14)

(Peter): “I will set (down) my soul over you”
(Jesus): “Will you (indeed) set (down) your soul over me?”
(Jn 13:37-38)

“No one holds greater love than this—that one should set (down) his soul over his dear (friend)s”
(Jn 15:13)

Saturday Series: John 6:51-58

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John 6:51-58

One controversial aspect of Biblical Criticism has to do with determining how the original text came to be in its current, or final, shape—that is to say, how the various historical traditions were pieced together, in the case of the Gospels, to form a continuous narrative from start to finish. This is sometimes referred to as composition criticism, or redaction criticism—analyzing the work of the author or editor (redactor) in composing the text. Even traditional-conservative commentators recognize that a considerable amount of editing of traditions, sayings, and narrative episodes has taken place in the composition of the Gospels. Critical scholars have pointed out many apparent seams in the text, where originally separate material has likely (or possibly) been joined together.

We have been exploring the Gospel of John in this series, and one particular portion of that Gospel has continued to challenge commentators—the great Bread of Life discourse in chapter 6. I have discussed this long and complex discourse in a number of earlier notes and articles, including the most recent daily note. There are many ways to analyze and outline the discourse. You will find one presented in the aforementioned note; I give a slightly different outline, covering the entire chapter, further below.

An especially difficult question of interpretation involves the relationship of verses 51-58 to the earlier portion of the discourse (vv. 22-50), and also to what follows in vv. 60-71. A major difficulty has to do with the apparent eucharistic language and imagery Jesus uses in vv. 51-58. In some ways, it seems out of place. Would his fellow Jews at the time have understood these motifs of “eating his flesh” and “drinking his blood” at all? Critical commentators have often questioned whether the eucharistic allusions genuinely come from Jesus, or if they are the product of early Christians relating the “Bread of Life” and Passover themes to the ritual of the Lord’s Supper.

All four Gospels record Jesus’ “Last Supper” with his disciples (Matthew 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-23ff; John 13:1-30), but with a well-known chronological difference: the Synoptics indicate that it was a Passover meal (Matthew 26:17; Mark 14:12; and especially Luke 22:7), the 14/15th of Nisan; while John records Jesus’ death during the preparation for Passover, 14th Nisan (John 19:14; also see 12:1). A number of solutions have been offered to explain or harmonize the difference between the accounts, none, I should say, being entirely satisfactory. Much more interesting, however, is the fact that John records no institution of the sacrament (Lord’s Supper), attention rather being given to a different kind of symbolic and ritual act—Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet (13:3-20). In fact, the only mention of the bread and cup would seem to be in the earlier “Bread of Life” discourse. This has prompted many scholars to ask if perhaps vv. 51-58 have been inserted by the author/redactor into the current location from a traditional Last Supper setting.

But this raises an even more significant question of interpretation: do verses 51-58, in fact, refer to the Eucharist—that is, to the material sacrament? As I will discuss below, I do not think the primary reference is to the sacrament. However, here are some arguments in favor of a sacramental reference:

  1. Suddenly, in place of Jesus himself (or his words) identified with the Bread from Heaven (“the Bread [which] came down from Heaven”, ho ek toú ouranoú katabás, see especially verse 51), we hear of “eating his flesh” (phág¢te t¢¡n sárka) and “drinking his “blood” (pí¢te auoú to haíma) (vv. 53-56)
  2. The verb (trœ¡gœ) used in verse 56, conveys a very concrete image of eating (literally “striking” or “crunching” away; in colloquial English it might be rendered “munching”). This would suggest a physical eating (of a material sacrament) and not simply a spiritual appropriation.
  3. It is most unlikely that the Gospel of John would not have some reference to the Eucharist, and this is the only passage which fits.
  4. The ’embedded’ reference to the Eucharist is parallel to a similar reference to the sacrament of Baptism in the Discourse with Nicodemus (see 3:5)
  5. The Bread of Life Discourse follows the Feeding of the Multitude, which, in all four Gospels, is described using Eucharistic language (see my earlier note on this), and presumably was understood in connection with the Eucharist from earliest times.
  6. One critical argument is that a redactor of the final version of the Gospel intentionally added in more specific sacramental details in order to modify or qualify an otherwise “spiritualist” teaching.

What about the idea that the author (or redactor) added Eucharistic teachings of Jesus to the discussion of vv. 25-50? One can certainly see how verse 51(b) could have been a connection point with the prior teachings on the “Bread from Heaven” (expounding the Passover theme of the Manna), as well as teaching on the Eucharist. The mention of “flesh” (ho ártos de hón egœ¡ dœ¡sœ h¢ sárx mou estin hyper t¢¡s toú kosmoú zœ¢¡s, “and the bread which I will give over [i.e. on behalf of] the life of the world is my flesh“) would lead naturally to discussion of the Eucharist.

The situation is complicated when one looks at what follows vv. 51-58—namely, verses 60-71, especially verse 63: to pneúma estin to zœopoioún, h¢ sárx ouk œpheleí ouden (“the Spirit is th[at which] makes live, the flesh benefits nothing”). The tone of this portion seems to be at odds with a reference to the material sacrament—that is, a ritual partaking of bread and wine—in vv. 51-58. A number of critical scholars have noted that reading 6:25-50 and 60-71 in sequence makes good sense, while including vv. 51-58 creates an interpretive difficulty. R. E. Brown, in his commentary (Anchor Bible 29 pp. 302-303), takes the precarious step of assuming both that vv. 51-58 were added by a redactor, and that we should read vv. 60-71 as relating to vv. 25-50 but not to vv. 51-58.

In my view, it is important to look at the Gospel as it has come down to us, whether or not sayings of Jesus from different contexts have been combined together to give it its current form. I would outline the chapter, as a whole, as follows:

  • 6:1-14: The Miraculous Feeding, which includes Eucharist language and imagery [vv. 11-13] + transitional verse 15
  • [6:16-21: The traditional episode of the Jesus’ Walking on the Water to meet his disciples]
  • [6:22-24: Transitional section which sets the scene]
  • 6:25-30: Discussion of the Miraculous Feeding, with a saying of Jesus on the “work of God” (toúto estin to érgon toú theoú, hína pisteú¢te eis hón apésteilen ekeínos, “this is the work of God: that you should trust in the [one] whom that one sent”, v. 29)
  • 6:31-59: The Bread of Life Discourse, which I break down into four parts:
    a) The Scripture reference (“Bread from Heaven”), and Jesus’ initial exposition: 6:31-33
    b) Crowd (“Lord, give us this bread always”) and Jesus’ Response: egœ¡ eimi ho ártos t¢¡s zœ¢¡s (“I Am the bread of life…”), 6:34-40
    c) ‘The Jews’ reaction to “I am the Bread”/”which came down out of Heaven” and Jesus’ Response, 6:41-51
    d) ‘The Jews’ reaction to “The Bread that I will give…is my flesh” and Jesus’ Response, 6:52-58 + concluding note v. 59
  • 6:60-71: Discussion of the Bread of Life Discourse (the Disciples’ Reaction), in two parts:
    a) The reaction “This is a rough account [i.e. word/saying], who is able to hear it?” and Jesus’ Response, 6:60-65
    b) The turning away of many disciples, with Peter’s response (“you have words of life [of the] Age [i.e. eternal life]”), 6:66-71

Here I view vv. 51-58 as integral to the Discourse as we have it. The “flesh and blood” of vv. 53-56 is an intensification and expansion of the imagery in verse 51: the “bread that he gives” is his “flesh [and blood]”—compare verses 51 and 54:

eán tis phág¢ ek toútou toú ártou
(“If someone should [actually] eat out of [i.e. from] this bread…”)
ho trœ¡gœn mou t¢¡n sárka kai pínœn mou to haíma
(“The [one] chewing [‘chopping at’] my flesh and drinking my blood…“)

z¢¡sei eis tón aiœ¡na (“…he shall live into the Age [i.e. have eternal life]”)
échei zœ¢¡n aiœ¡nion (“…has life [of the] Age [i.e. has eternal life]”)

Jesus returns to mention just the bread (again) in the concluding verse 58, which also reiterates the OT scriptural motif that began the Discourse: hoútos estin ho ártos ho ex ouranoú katabás, “this is the bread (which) came down out of heaven”.

Another way to read the core section of the discourse (6:35-58) is in parallel, as though verses 35-50 and 51-58 represented two aspects of the same message. Note the points of similarity:

  • Saying of Jesus: “I am the bread of life / living bread” which begins the section (v. 35a / 51a)
  • Teaching by Jesus expounding the “bread of life” in terms of “coming/believing” and “eating his flesh”, respectively (35b-40 / 51)
  • Question by “the Jews” (grumbling/disputing), reacting (with misunderstanding) to Jesus’ teaching (41-42 / 52)
  • Jesus’ Response: second exposition (43-47 / 53-57)
  • Concluding “Bread of Life” statement, comparing those who ate manna with those who eat the true bread from heaven (48-50 / 58)

Each of these sections follows the basic pattern of the discourses in the Gospel of John. It is interesting that in vv. 35-50, eating as such is not mentioned (until the conclusion, vv. 49-50). Rather, the emphasis is on “coming toward” Jesus and “believing in [lit. trusting into/unto]” him, which is part of the initial statement in verse 35:

“The (one) coming toward me, no he shall not hunger; and the (one) trusting into/unto me, no he will not thirst, never”

This is contrasted with vv. 51-58 where the theme is specifically “eating” (Grk phágœ):

“If (any) one should eat out of this bread he will live into the Age; and the bread which I will give is my flesh, over [i.e. on behalf of] the life of the world” (v. 51b)

“Bread” clearly represents both food and drink in v. 35. This is paralleled in vv. 51-58, where the bread (“flesh”) of v. 51 quickly expands to include “blood” in verse 53ff; it signifies both aspects of human sustenance as well as both primary aspects of the human (physical) constitution, in conventional terms.

How should we relate these two main points of emphasis: (1) “coming/believing” and (2) “eating/drinking”? Is one sapiental (response to Jesus’ words as teaching/wisdom) and the other sacramental (participation in the ritual symbol [eucharist])? Or do they reflect two sets of images corresponding to the single idea of spiritual life in union with Christ? I prefer to regard them as signifying two “levels” for the believer:

  1. The first, that of coming/believing (vv. 35-50), is well served by the use of the two prepositions (pros “toward”, and eis “unto/into”)—the believer approaches Christ through faith, coming, we could even say, “into” him.
  2. At the second level (vv. 51-58), believers commune and nourish themselves—now Christ comes “into” the believer, there is now life in us (see the powerful statement in verse 57).

But is this second level specifically the Eucharist, in a ritual sense?

Within the overall context of the Discourse, the sacrament of the Eucharist may be implied (a preshadowing), but I do not think it is at all primary to Jesus’ teaching. It is rather the Person of Jesus himself and the Life which he conveys—by means of the Spirit—which is central to the message; and it is this “word” (lógos) which the disciples find “rough” or difficult to hear. Too much has been made of verse 63, in a sacramental setting (Eucharist), for in that context it simply gives priority to the Spirit—just as the Spirit takes priority in the context of Baptism (if such is alluded to in 3:5-8). In other words, Spirit first, then sacrament. Too often in Church history, Christians have made it the other way around, as though only through the tangible sacrament (as a “means of grace”), can one truly experience the Spirit. Consider the fierce fighting over the words of the institution (toúto estin to sœ¡ma mou, “this is my body”, Mark 14:22 par.)—all of the ink (and blood) spilled over the significance of “is” (estin)—when it would have been better to focus on the demonstrative pronoun (“this”, touto): that is, not the reality of the sacrament, but the reality of what it signifies.

How would you relate verses 51-58 to the Bread of Life discourse as a whole? If we regard these as authentic words of Jesus, what would they have meant to people at the time? to his disciples? Is there a foreshadowing of the Lord’s Supper as it would be understood by accepted by believers, or is the reference entirely spiritual (v. 63)? Consider these questions and study chapter 6 again in detail. Then go back and examine the parallels between the “Bread of Life” and “Living Water” in chapter 4 (vv. 10ff). Begin to think about what the author is trying to convey by combining these episodes and discourses together as he has done. Pay close attention to the various keywords, motifs and themes which run through the chapters. Then proceed to study the next discourse, beginning in chapter 7, and which most commentators regard as continuing on through the end of chap. 8 (excluding 7:53-8:11). Note any similarities you see, both in structure, and in theme or language, between chs. 7-8 and the previous discourses (especially the Bread of Life, ch. 6).

And I will see you next Saturday.

Note of the Day – May 24 (John 6:27ff)

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John 6:27-58

The motif of “life” (zwh=) is especially prominent in the great “Bread of Life” discourse in chapter 6. This discourse is similar to that of chapter 5 (cf. the previous daily notes), in being centered on a miracle story—in this case, the Miraculous Feeding episode, which is also found in the Synoptic Tradition (Mk 6:30-44 par, cf. also 8:1-10 par). I have discussed the Bread of Life discourse in a number of prior notes and articles, most recently as part of the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (cf. the relevant notes). The discourse, in the context of the chapter as a whole, is quite complex; I would outline it as follows:

  • Narrative Introduction—the Feeding Miracle Episode:
    • Narrative setting (vv. 1-4)
    • Tradition: The Feeding Miracle (vv. 5-14)
    • Transitional statement (v. 15)
    • Associated Tradition: The Walking on Water (vv. 16-21)
  • Introduction to the Discourse (vv. 22-24)
  • Part 1—The Bread from Heaven [Passover/Manna theme] (vv. 25-34)
    • Encounter scene—Question from the crowd (vv. 25-26)
    • Saying of Jesus (v. 27)
    • Initial reaction by the people (v. 28)
    • Exposition (second saying) by Jesus (v. 29)
    • Reaction by the people (vv. 30-31)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 32-33)
    • Concluding/transitional response by the people (v. 34)
  • Part 2—The Bread of Life [exposition of Bread from Heaven theme] (vv. 35-50)
    • Saying of Jesus (v. 35), with exposition (vv. 36-40)
    • Reaction by the people (vv. 41-42)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 43-50)
  • Part 3—The Living Bread [exposition of Bread of Life theme] (vv. 51-58)
    • Saying of Jesus (v. 51)
    • Reaction by the people (v. 52)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 53-58)
  • Narrative Conclusion (v. 59)

There are thus three separate divisions to the discourse proper (vv. 25-58), each of which follows the basic discourse format: saying (by Jesus)–reaction (by the people)–exposition (by Jesus). In each instance, the exposition builds upon the central saying (vv. 27, 35, 51), explaining the true meaning of Jesus’ words. The word zwh= (“life”), along with related verb za/w (“live”), occurs repeatedly throughout these verses; these references may be grouped as follows:

  • The expression “Bread of Life“, in two forms:
    bread of Lifeo( a&rto$ th=$ zwh=$ (vv. 35, 48)
    living breado( a&rto$ o( zwh=n (v. 51)
  • The expression “Life of the Age” (vv. 27, 40*, 47*, 53-54*, also v. 68*)
    the asterisk indicates that the expression involves the verb e&xw (“hold, have”)
    —i.e. “hold the Life of the Age”
  • The noun “Life” without modification:
    —giving Life to/for the world (v. 33)
    —over the life of the world (v. 51)
  • The verb “Live” (participle “Living“):
    —will live into the Age (v. 51, 58)
    —Living Father…I live…that one will live (v. 57)

All told, there are 13 occurrences over a span of 32 verses—quite a high number. The expression “Bread of Life” (once “Living Bread”) features in the second and third sayings of Jesus, both of which relate back to the first saying (in verse 27):

“Do not work for the food th(at is) going to ruin, but (for) food th(at is) remaining into (the) Life of the Age, which the Son of Man will give to you—for God the Father has set (his) seal (on) this (person).”

Jesus begins from the context of the feeding miracle—the eating of bread-loaves by the people—to establish a contrast between ordinary bread (which perishes) and the bread (or “food”, brw=si$) which the Son of Man (Jesus) gives. This is precisely parallel to the contrast between ordinary water and the “living water” which Jesus gives (4:7-15ff)—one involves eating, the other drinking. During this portion of the discourse, the motif shifts to another kind of “bread” provided miraculously to the people—the manna of ancient Israelite and Old Testament tradition (Exod 16:31ff; Num 11:6ff; Deut 8:3, etc). This manna is referred to as “bread from heaven” in Exod 16:4; Psalm 105:40; Neh 9:15—some combination of these may be intended by the general Scripture citation in v. 31 (“He gave them bread out of heaven to eat”). This reference, given by the people in their reaction to Jesus’ statement(s), almost certainly should be seen as relating to the Passover setting of the feeding miracle (v. 4). The people’s reaction should be understood according to the context of the following points in the saying/exposition by Jesus:

  • Jesus’ identification with the Son of Man who gives eternal food/bread
  • The divine/heavenly source of this—”God the Father set (his) seal”
  • Obtaining this food involves doing (working) the “work of God” (as in the gathering of the manna by the Israelites)
  • Jesus defines this “work” more precisely in v. 29b:
    “…that you would trust in th(e one) whom that (One) [i.e. God the Father] se(n)t forth”

The reaction by the people in vv. 30-31 is thus similar to the question by the Samaritan woman in 4:12. It also touches upon the contrast between Jesus and Moses (the Torah/Scriptures) in 5:39ff. The wording of verse 31 is significant:

“Our fathers ate manna in the desolate (land), even as it has been written…”

One can envision an implied question/challenge along the lines of 4:12—i.e., “you are not greater than Moses, through whom God gave us this food to eat, are you?” Jesus makes the contrast definite in v. 32:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, (it was) not Moshe (who) has given to you the ‘bread out of heaven’, but my Father gives you the true bread out of heaven.”

This bread coming down from heaven is said to “give Life to the world” (v. 33). Jesus has gone a step beyond the discourse with the Samaritan woman; now, rather than being simply one who gives Life, Jesus identifies himself (the “Son of Man”) with that very Life itself. This is clear enough from the saying which begins the second portion of the discourse:

“I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the Bread of Life; the one coming toward me should not (ever) hunger, and the one trusting in me will not (ever) thirst.”

The blending of hunger and thirst (eating and drinking) suggests that Jesus (and/or the Gospel writer) has the earlier “living water” discourse in mind, though the specific image of bread would seem to apply only to eating. The “I am” declaration is repeated in verse 48 (“I am the Bread of Life”), where it is connected back to the manna tradition (“Bread out of Heaven”). In the intervening exposition, Jesus makes absolutely clear that eating this “Bread of Life” means trusting in him:

  • “every one looking (closely) at the Son and trusting [pisteu/wn] in him holds (the) Life of the Age” (v. 40)
  • “the one trusting [pisteu/wn] in me holds (the) Life of the Age” (v. 47)

As in the earlier discourses, the expression “Life of the Age” (i.e. eternal life) is primarily eschatological, referring to the life which the righteous (believers) will come to possess in the end-time, following the resurrection (v. 40b, etc). Within the context of the Johannine discourses, however, this is blended with a “realized” eschatology for believers in Jesus—they experience in the present the very Life which the righteous are thought to inherit at the end-time. This is the main significance of the expression “holds the Life of the Age”—i.e. the believer already possesses it now.

The third portion of the discourse runs parallel to the second, and begins with a parallel saying by Jesus:

“I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the Living Bread th(at is) stepping down out of Heaven; and if any one should eat out of this Bread, he will live into the Age…” (v. 51)

If the second portion of the discourse expounds the theme of the first (“Bread from Heaven”), the third portion also expounds the theme of the second (“Bread of Life”). Now, it is designated as “living Bread” (similar to the “living water” of 4:10ff), and the spiritual significance of the exposition is deepened by the introduction of eucharistic language and motifs. I have discussed this controversial aspect of the discourse at length in prior notes, and will be addressing it again in this week’s Saturday series post. The eucharistic association is established already in the second half of the verse 51 saying:

“…and the Bread which I will give is my flesh, over [u(pe/r] the life of the world”

One need not look any further than words of institution (of the Lord’s Supper) in the Gospel tradition:

  • Mark 14:22-24:
    “this is my body…this is my blood…th(at is) being poured out over [u(pe/r] many”
  • Luke 22:19-20 [MT]:
    “this is my body given over [u(pe/r] you…”

If there were any doubt as to an apparent eucharistic allusion here, verses 53-54 make it all but certain:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, if you would not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not hold Life in yourself. (But) the one chomping my flesh and drinking my blood holds (the) Life of the Age, and I will stand him up in the last day.”

It is interesting to consider the three aspects of (eternal) Life present in this statement:

  • Life which the believer holds in him/herself—i.e. through the essential presence of Jesus (his “flesh” and “blood”)
  • The Life of the Age which the believer holds (now, in the present)—”realized” eschatology
  • The Life which the believer will possess at the end time, following the Resurrection—traditional (future) eschatology

While the last two aspects have been present in the prior discourses (in chaps. 3-5), the first aspect is new to the Gospel here, though it has been implied, to some extent, both in the prologue and, perhaps, in verses 5-8 of chapter 3. It refers to the essential unity between the believer and Jesus, and this is a theme which will be developed considerably as one proceeds through the Gospel.

Note of the Day – April 10 (John 6:51-58; chapter 13)

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John 6:51-58; 13:1-38

It now remains to examine how the “Last Supper” Passover scene is presented in the Gospel of John. Here, as is often the case, we are dealing with an entirely separate line of tradition, though one which shares certain elements and details with the Synoptic.

The first point to consider is the identification of the “Last Supper” as a Passover meal. This is all but certain in the Synoptic tradition (cf. the last three daily notes), but not so in the Gospel of John. Indeed, the Gospel of John has rather a different chronology for the Passion narrative, which will be discussed in more detail in a separate note. As we shall see, there are other prominent differences between the two (John and the Synoptics); and yet certain elements would seem to confirm that they are drawing upon a common historical tradition. The common features may be outlined as follows:

  • If not on the eve/day of Passover proper (Mk 14:1, 12ff par), clearly there is a general Passover setting for this meal (John 13:1, cf. also 11:55; 12:1; 18:28, 39; 19:14).
  • It is a meal shared between Jesus and his disciples (Mk 14:12ff par; Jn 13:1-2ff).
  • It is connected with a narrative introduction referencing the betrayal by Judas (Mk 14:10-11 par; Jn 13:2).
  • Jesus’ prediction of his betrayal, including the identification of the betrayer (Mk 14:18-21 par; Jn 13:18-30 [note the greatly expanded tradition in John]).
  • The prediction of Peter’s denial, following the scene of the meal (Mk 14:27-31 par; Jn 13:36-38).

The main differences in John’s account, compared with the Synoptic tradition, may be summarized:

  1. The meal does not occur on the evening which marks the start of Passover proper (Nisan 15), but some time before this (Jn 13:1).
  2. There is no account of the “Lord’s Supper” and its institution (cf. the previous note).
  3. In its place we find a different sort of symbolic, sacramental act—Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet (vv. 3-17).
  4. Judas features more prominently in the episode (vv. 2, 25-30; cf. also 12:4-6).
  5. In between the Last Supper meal and the Gethsemane/Garden scene (18:1-11) there is an extensive collection of teaching by Jesus—the “Last Discourse” (13:31-17:26).

Items #1 and 4 will be discussed in separate upcoming notes; today, and in the note following, we will examine #2, 3, and 5.

The Absence of the “Lord’s Supper” (cf. Jn 6:51-58)

As discussed in the prior note, the Lord’s Supper, with Jesus’ words of institution, features prominently in the Synoptic tradition (Mk 14:22-25; Matt 26:26-29; Luke 22:17-20). It is all but certain that the Gospel writers, in various ways, have shaped this portion of the narrative to reflect early Christian ritual and practice regarding the “Supper of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:20), which came to be known by the technical term of Eucharist (from the verb used by Jesus, eu)xariste/w, eucharistéœ). There is nothing of this at all in John’s version of the scene, a fact which has perplexed commentators throughout the years. However, as it turns out, there is a scene in the Fourth Gospel which seems to relate in some way to the Eucharist—in Jn 6:51-58, part of the great “Bread of Life” discourse (6:25-59). I have discussed these verses several other times on this site, most recently in the notes on the Feeding Miracle (6:1-15) in the current series (cf. the note on Jn 6:22-59). There is general similarity between verse 51 and Mk 14:22ff par (note the words in bold):

  • ”taking bread…and giving it to the disciples (he) said, ‘Take (it and) eatthis is my body‘” (Matt 26:26 [very close to Mk])
  • “taking bread…he gave (it) to them, saying, ‘This is my body th(at is be)ing given over you‘” (Lk 22:19 MT)
  • “if any one should eat this bread…the bread which I will give is my flesh (given) over the life of the world” (Jn 6:51)

Moreover, there are other instances of strong Eucharist language or allusions in the verses which follow (esp. vv. 52-56):

  • The people ask “how is this (man) able to give us [his] flesh to eat?” (v. 52)
    (the four statements by Jesus in response clearly have a parallel structure, set in tandem):
  • “If you would not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not hold life in your(selves)” (v. 53)
    • “The one chomping [i.e. eating] my flesh and drinking my blood holds (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]” (v. 54)
  • “For my flesh truly is food and my blood truly is drink” (v. 55)
    • “The one chomping [i.e. eating] my flesh and drinking my blood remains in me and I in him” (v. 56)

Commentators continue to debate how one should interpret these references in the context of the Bread of Life discourse. There are a number of possibilities:

  • Option 1: The statements are all part of an authentic discourse given by Jesus at the time indicated in the narrative, and that he is referring to the Lord’s Supper—i.e. the Christian Eucharist.
  • Option 2: The narrative setting is authentic, but Jesus is not primarily referring to the Eucharist, but to a symbolic/spiritual “eating” of his words (and the power/presence of his person), as indicated in vv. 35-50 and vv. 60-63ff. A Eucharistic interpretation is secondary, but applicable.
  • Option 3: Eucharistic words by Jesus, from an original Last Supper (Passion) setting, have been “relocated” and included within the earlier discourse by the Gospel writer (or the tradition he has inherited).
  • Option 4: Vv. 51-58 represent an early Christian interpretation (by the Gospel writer?) of Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse/teaching, so as to tie it in with the Eucharist.
  • Option 5: Vv. 51-58, along with much of the discourse as a whole, are essentially an early Christian production, derived (in some fashion) from Jesus’ actual words. As such, they definitely refer to the Eucharist.

In my view, only the middle three (2nd, 3rd and 4th) options have any real chance of being correct. Traditional-conservative commentators (especially Evangelical Protestants) would perhaps opt for the second; and, it must be said, the overall tone of the discourse (and Johannine thought) favors a spiritual/symbolic interpretation of vv. 51-58. Critical scholars would probably tend toward option 4—i.e., that vv. 51-58 represent a distinctly Christian ‘layer’ of interpretation that has been added to the discourse, which otherwise would have been a Passover exposition (given to Jews in the Synagogue, v. 59) on the “Bread of Life” motif from Exodus. However, there is much to be said for option #3—that the Gospel writer(?) has included Jesus’ Eucharistic words and teaching, originally given to his disciples in the context of the Last Supper and his impending Passion. Arguments in favor of this view are:

  • The lack of any reference to the Eucharist at the “Last Supper” (cf. above). The author certainly knew of this tradition, and it is hard to image that he would not have included it, or a reference to it, somewhere in the Gospel.
  • The general similarity here to the words (and essential thought) presented by Jesus at the Last Supper in the Synoptic tradition (Mk 14:22ff par, cf. above).
  • The fact that, in the chapter 6 setting, such references to eating/drinking Jesus’ flesh and blood would have been virtually incomprehensible to people at the time (including interested but uncommitted followers). They are more intelligible when spoken to Jesus’ close disciples at a time closer to his death.
  • The Passover setting in chapter 6 might have made it possible, in the mind of the author, to “transfer” the Eucharistic words from one Passover to another, so as to take advantage of the “Bread of Life” motif (which involves ‘eating’ Jesus).

A careful examination of the structure of vv. 51-58 may help us to interpret the passage more clearly. Consider:

  • V. 51a: I AM saying of Jesus (“I am the Living Bread stepping down out of Heaven”); this connects vv. 51-58 with the earlier portions of the discourse (vv. 26-34, 35-50).
  • Vv. 51b-52:
    Exposition by Jesus (v. 51b)—The need to eat this Bread, which is identified with Jesus’ flesh
    Reaction/Question by the people (v. 52)
  • Vv. 53-56:
    Exposition by Jesus (four statements)—Eating/drinking his flesh and blood
  • V. 57:
    Exposition by Jesus—Feeding on him (the Son)
  • V. 58: Concluding statement by Jesus (“This is the Bread stepping down out of Heaven”)

There is a definite chiasmus involved in this structure:

  • Bread coming down out of Heaven (v. 51a)
    —Eating this Bread, which is Jesus’ flesh (vv. 51b-52)
    ——Eating/drinking his flesh and blood [Eucharistic motif] (vv. 53-56)
    —Eating Jesus, the one (Son) sent from the Father (v. 57)
  • Bread coming down out of Heaven (v. 58)

It appears that the Eucharistic motif in vv. 53-56 has been carefully set or ‘inserted’ into the conceptual structure of the Bread of Life discourse—with the sudden (and rather unexpected) shift from bread/flesh to flesh and blood. Only in these verses is there any mention of drinking in the discourse, which otherwise naturally, and appropriately, refers only to eating. The critical question is whether the Gospel writer or Jesus himself is responsible for this development. If one decides that the latter is more likely, then it is harder to maintain a primary Eucharistic reference in vv. 51-58 (though a secondary application is still possible); if the former, then a direct allusion to the Eucharist is all but certain.

Note of the Day – March 18 (John 6:22-59)

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John 6:22-59

Today’s note will look at the relationship between the Feeding Miracle tradition (6:1-15) and the Bread of Life discourse (6:22-59) in the Gospel of John. There are three motifs from the Miracle tradition which are developed in the following discourse:

  1. The Passover setting—which is unique to John’s account, though Mk 6:39 could also indicate springtime.
  2. The eating of Bread, and
  3. The Eucharist (on these allusions, cf. the previous note)

These three themes run through the discourse, but it may be said that each dominates one of the three main sections. Verses 22-24 serve as the narrative introduction to the discourse, and are transitional, joining the discourse with the Feeding Miracle, etc, in vv. 1-21. Each of the three main sections builds on the dialogue/discourse format used in the Gospel—

  • Saying of Jesus
  • Reaction/question by the people, indicating some level of misunderstanding
  • Explanation/Exposition by Jesus

In addition, the three sections are joined together, forming a larger discourse, by way of a step-parallel thematic technique:

  • Miracle of the bread-loaves —>
    • Passover: manna / bread from heaven —>
      • Eating bread: Jesus the “bread from heaven”, Bread of Life —>
        • Jesus the Living Bread —>
          • Eucharist: eating his flesh/blood leads to (eternal) Life

Section 1 (vv. 25-34)

  • Principal saying by Jesus—verse 27:
    “Do not work (for) the food th(at is) perishing, but (for) the food remaining into (the) life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life]…”
  • [Explanation by Jesus]—v. 29
  • Reaction/question by the people—vv. 28-31
  • Explanation by Jesus—vv. 32-33
  • Theme: transition from the Feeding Miracle (v. 26) to the Passover motif (i.e. the manna, “bread from heaven”, vv. 31-33)

Section 2 (vv. 35-50)

  • Saying by Jesus—verse 35:
    “I am [e)gw\ ei)mi] the Bread of Life—the one coming toward me (no) he will not (ever) hunger, and the one trusting into me (no) he will not ever thirst. …”
  • [Explanation by Jesus]—vv. 36-40
  • Reaction/question by the people—vv. 41-42
  • Explanation by Jesus—vv. 44-50
  • Theme: Eating Bread—Jesus as the “Bread of Life”, the Bread come down from Heaven

Section 3 (vv. 51-58)

  • Saying by Jesus—verse 51a (parallel to v. 35):
    “I am [e)gw\ ei)mi] the Living Bread stepping down [i.e. coming down] out of Heaven—if any one should eat out of this bread he will live into the Age (to Come)…”
  • [Explanation by Jesus]—v. 51b
  • Reaction/question by the people—v. 52
  • Explanation by Jesus—vv. 53-58
  • Theme: transition from Bread (of Life) to the Eucharist motifs (vv. 53-56ff)

I will not here discuss the rich texture and theology of the discourse; this has been done in some detail in an earlier note. The outline above is meant to demonstrate how the Gospel writer has developed the Feeding Miracle tradition, by making it part of the larger Bread of Life discourse, much as he did with healing miracle (and Sabbath controversy) episode in chapter 5. The Discourses of Jesus in John are complex and difficult to analyze, due to the sophisticated way that authentic historical traditions have been adapted and interpreted within the Johannine literary style/format (i.e. of the Discourses). This compositional style can be seen at many different points in the Gospel. Compare, for example, the close similarity of structure, language and ideas, between Jesus’ exchange with the Samaritan woman (4:9-15) and that of 6:25-34 (above, cf. also Brown, p. 267). The parallel between Jesus as the living water (ch. 4) and the living bread (ch. 6) is unmistakable, and is clearly intentional within the context of the Gospel.

Also most difficult is the relation between the Bread of Life and Eucharist symbolism in second and third sections (vv. 35-58) of the discourse. As challenging as these passages have been for Christians throughout the ages, Jesus’ words must have been completely baffling to the first hearers, if we accept the essential historicity of the discourse (v. 59). Indeed, this is a prominent theme of the Discourses in John—the misunderstanding of his words by the people who hear him. The explanation by Jesus, within in the discourse format, expounds the true (and deeper) meaning of his words, much as we see him, on occasion in the Synoptics, explaining his sayings and parables to the disciples in private (Mk 4:10-20 par, etc).

John 6:60-65ff

As it happens, John records a similar sort of “private” explanation by Jesus to the disciples in vv. 60-65. This comes in addition to the exposition(s) within the discourse proper; as such, vv. 60ff functions as an epilogue or appendix to the discourse. There is a loose parallel, perhaps, to this in 4:31-38. Verses 60-65 have greatly complicated interpretation of the discourse (particularly the eucharistic motifs in vv. 51-58), since they contain a distinctly spiritual explanation of Jesus’ words. This section may be outlined as follows:

  • Reaction by the disciples (i.e. to the discourse)—v. 60
    “This account [i.e. word/discourse] is hard/harsh; who is able to hear it?”
  • Explanation by Jesus—vv. 61-65, which is framed by a question and a statement directed toward his disciples:
    “Does this trip you (up)?” (v. 61b)
    “But there are some of you that do not trust (in me)” (v. 64a)

The explanation in vv. 62-63 is comprised of three sayings, which must be taken together:

“Then if you should look upon the Son of Man stepping up to where he was at (the) first(, how will you react)?” (v. 62)
“The Spirit is th(at which) makes (one a)live; the flesh does not help (in) anything” (v. 63a)
“The utterances [i.e. words] which I have spoken to you (they) are Spirit and Life” (v. 63b)

The first saying (a rhetorical question) emphasizes the divine origin of the “Son of Man” (Jesus), and foreshadows his departure back to the Father. It is at the time of his departure that the Spirit will come to the disciples (14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26; 16:13-15; 20:22-23; cf. also 8:39). The second saying clearly states that the Spirit (of God, and Christ) is that which gives life; the flesh plays no role, or is of no use in this. In the third saying, Jesus identifies his words with the Spirit and with the life the Spirit gives. The disciples, at this point in the narrative, could not possibly understand the significance of these things, since they foreshadowed events which had not taken place. They simply had to trust Jesus. This is the emphasis of verses 64-65, and in the tradition which follows (vv. 66-71). Not all of Jesus’ disciples truly trust in him, but only those chosen and given to Jesus by the Father (i.e. the Elect believers). Here the author seems to have joined to the discourse a separate tradition, with similarities to several found in the Synoptics—i.e., the calling of the Twelve (cf. Mk 3:13-19 par) and the confession by Peter (vv. 68-69; cp. Mk 8:29 par). On the latter point, compare Peter’s words in Mk 8:29/Lk 9:20 and Jn 6:69 respectively:

“You are the Anointed One [xristo$] of God”
“You are the Holy One [a%gio$] of God”

It is another example (among many) of how the Synoptic and Johannine traditions are so very similar, and yet, at the same time, so very different.

References marked “Brown” above are to R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 29 (1966).

Note of the Day – April 13

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(This is an expanded version of a note posted during Holy Week last year)

All four Gospels record Jesus’ “Last Supper” with his disciples (Matthew 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-23ff; John 13:1-30), but with a well-known chronological difference: the Synoptics indicate that it was a Passover meal (Matthew 15:7; Mark 14:12; and esp. Luke 22:7), the 14/15th of Nisan; while John records Jesus’ death during the preparation for Passover, 14th Nisan (John 19:14; also cf. 12:1). A number of solutions have been offered to explain or harmonize the difference between the accounts, none, I should say, entirely satisfactory. Much more interesting, however, is the fact that John records no institution of the sacrament (Lord’s Supper), attention rather being given to Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet (13:3-20). In fact, the only mention of the bread and cup would seem to be in the “Bread of Life” discourse in chapter 6 (vv. 53-57); this has prompted many scholars to ask if perhaps vv. 51-58 have been inserted by the author/redactor into the current location from a traditional Last Supper setting. But this raises an even more significant question: do verses 51-58 in fact refer to the Eucharist (that is, to the material sacrament)? As I will discuss below, I do not think the primary reference is to the sacrament. However, here are some arguments in favor of a sacramental reference:

  1. Suddenly, in place of Jesus himself (or his words) identified with the Bread from Heaven (“the Bread [which] came down from Heaven”, o( e)k tou= ou)ranou= kataba/$, cf. esp. v. 51), we hear of “eating his flesh” (fa/ghte th\n sa/rka) and  “drinking his “blood” (pi/hte au)tou= to\ ai!ma) (vv. 53-56)
  2. The verb (trw/gw) used in verse 56, conveys a very concrete image of eating (literally “striking” or “crunching” away; in colloquial English it might be rendered “munching”). This would suggest a physical eating (of a material sacrament) and not simply a spiritual appropriation.
  3. It is most unlikely that the Gospel of John would not have some reference to the Eucharist, and this is the only passage which fits.
  4. The “embedded” reference to the Eucharist is parallel to a similar reference to the sacrament of Baptism in the Discourse with Nicodemus (see 3:5)
  5. The Bread of Life Discourse follows the Feeding of the Multitude, which, in all four Gospels, is described using Eucharistic language, and presumably was understood in connection with the Eucharist from earliest times.
  6. One critical argument is that a redactor of the final version of the Gospel intentionally added in more specific sacramental details in order to modify or qualify an otherwise “spiritualist” teaching.

What about the idea that the author (or redactor) added Eucharistic teachings of Jesus to the discussion of vv. 25-50? One can certainly see how verse 51(b) could have been a connection point with the prior teachings on the “Bread from Heaven” (expounding the Passover theme of the Manna), as well as teaching on the Eucharist. The mention of “flesh” (o( a&rto$ de\ o^n e)gw\ dw/sw h( sa/rc mou/ e)stin u(pe\r th=$ tou= kosmou/ zwh=$, “and the bread which I will give over [i.e. on behalf of] the life of the world is my flesh“) would lead naturally to discussion of the Eucharist. The real problem, however, is not so much vv. 51-58, but rather what follows: vv. 60-71, especially verse 63: to\ pneu=ma/ e)stin to\ zw|opoiou=n, h( sa\rc ou)k w)felei= ou)den (“the spirit is th[at which] makes live, the flesh profits nothing”). The tone of this portion seems to be at odds with a reference to the material sacrament in vv. 51-58. A number of critical scholars have noted that reading 6:25-50 and 60-71 in sequence makes good sense, while including vv. 51-58 creates an interpretive difficulty. R. E. Brown, in his commentary (Anchor Bible 29 pp. 302-303), takes the precarious step of assuming both that vv. 51-58 were added by a redactor, and that we should read vv. 60-71 as relating to vv. 25-50 but not to vv. 51-58.

In my view, it is important to look at the Gospel as it has come down to us, whether or not sayings of Jesus from different contexts have been combined together to give it its current form. I would outline the chapter as follows:

  • 6:1-14: The Miraculous Feeding, which includes Eucharist language and imagery [v. 11-13] + transitional verse 15
  • [6:16-21: The traditional episode of the Jesus’ Walking on the Water to meet his disciples]
  • [6:22-24: Transitional section which sets the scene]
  • 6:25-30: Discussion of the Miraculous Feeding, with a saying of Jesus on the “work of God” (tou=to/ e)stin to\ e&rgon tou= qeou=, i%na pisteu/hte ei)$ o^n a)pe/steilen e)kei=no$, “this is the work of God: that you should trust in the [one] whom that one sent”, v. 29)
  • 6:31-59: The Bread of Life Discourse, which I break down into four parts:
    a) The Scripture reference (“Bread from Heaven”), and Jesus’ initial exposition: 6:31-33
    b) Crowd (“Lord, give us this bread always”) and Jesus’ Response: e)gw/ ei)mi o( a&rto$ th=$ zwh=$ (“I Am the bread of life…”), 6:34-40
    c) ‘The Jews’ reaction to “I am the Bread”/”which came down out of Heaven” and Jesus’ Response, 6:41-51
    d) ‘The Jews’ reaction to “The Bread that I will give…is my flesh” and Jesus’ Response, 6:52-58 + concluding note v. 59
  • 6:60-71: Discussion of the Bread of Life Discourse (the Disciples’ Reaction), in two parts:
    a) The reaction “This is a rough account [i.e. word/saying], who is able to hear it?” and Jesus’ Response, 6:60-65
    b) The turning away of many disciples, with Peter’s response (“you have words of life [of the] Age [i.e. eternal life]”), 6:66-71

Here I view vv. 51-58 as integral to the Discourse as we have it. The “flesh and blood” of vv. 53-56 is an intensification and expansion of the imagery in verse 51: the “bread that he gives” is his “flesh [and blood]”—compare verses 51 and 54:

e)a\n ti$ fa/gh| e)k tou/tou tou= a&rtou
(“If someone should [actually] eat out of [i.e. from] this bread…”)
o( trw/gwn mou th\n sa/rka kai\ pi/nwn mou to\ ai!ma
(“The [one] chewing [‘chopping at’] my flesh and drinking my blood…“)

zhsei ei)$ to\n ai)w=na (“…he shall live into the Age [i.e. have eternal life]”)
e&xei zwh\n ai)w/nion (“…has life [of the] Age [i.e. has eternal life]”)

Jesus’ returns to mention just the bread again in the concluding verse 58, which also reiterates the OT scripture (and motif) that began the Discourse: ou!to/$ e)stin o( a&rto$ o( e)c ou)ranou= kataba/$, “this is the bread (which) came down out of heaven”.

Another way to read the core section of the discourse (6:35-58) is in parallel, as though verses 35-50 and 51-58 represented two aspects of the same message. Note the points of similarity:

  • Saying of Jesus: “I am the bread of life / living bread” which begins the section (v. 35a / 51a)
  • Teaching by Jesus expounding the “bread of life” in terms of “coming/believing” and “eating his flesh”, respectively (35b-40 / 51)
  • Question by “the Jews” (grumbling/disputing), reacting (with misunderstanding) to Jesus’ teaching (41-42 / 52)
  • Jesus’ Response: second exposition (43-47 / 53-57)
  • Concluding “Bread of Life” statement, comparing those who ate manna with those who eat the true bread from heaven (48-50 / 58)

Each of these sections follows the basic pattern of the discourses in the Gospel of John (see the previous day’s note). It is interesting that in vv. 35-50, eating as such is not mentioned (until the conclusion, vv. 49-50); rather the emphasis is on “coming toward” Jesus and “believing in [lit. trusting into/unto]” him, which is part of the initial statement in verse 35:

“The (one) coming toward me, no he shall not hunger; and the (one) trusting into/unto me, no he will not thirst, never”

This is contrasted with vv. 51-58 where the theme is specifically “eating” (Grk fa/gw):

“If (any) one should eat out of this bread he will live into the Age; and the bread which I will give is my flesh, over [i.e. on behalf of] the life of the world” (v. 51b)

It is also interesting the way that “bread” clearly represents both food and drink in v. 35. This is paralleled in vv. 51-58, where the bread (“flesh”) of v. 51 quickly expands to include “blood” in verse 53ff; it signifies both aspects of human sustenance as well as both primary aspects of the human (physical) constitution, in conventional terms.

How should we relate these two main points of emphasis: “coming/believing” and “eating/drinking”? Is one sapiental (response to Jesus’ words as teaching/wisdom) and the other sacramental (participation in the ritual symbol [eucharist])? Or do they reflect two sets of images corresponding to the single idea of spiritual life in union with Christ? I prefer to regard them as signifying two “levels” for the believer. The first, that of coming/believing (vv. 35-50), is well served by the use of the two prepositions (pro$ “toward”, and ei)$ “unto/into”)—the believer approaches Christ through faith, coming, we could even say, “into” him. At the second level (vv. 51-58), believers commune and nourish themselves—now Christ comes “into” the believer, there is now life in us (cf. the powerful statement in verse 57). But is this second level specifically the Eucharist, in a ritual sense?

In the context of the Discourse, the sacrament of the Eucharist may be implied (a preshadowing), but I do not think it is at all primary to Jesus’ teaching. It is rather the Person of Jesus himself and the Life which he conveys—by means of the Spirit—which is central to the message; and it is this “word” (lo/go$) which the disciples find “rough” or difficult to hear. Too much has been made of verse 63, for it simply gives priority to the Spirit—especially in a sacramental context (Eucharist)—just as the Spirit takes priority in the context of Baptism (3:5-8). In other words, Spirit first, then sacrament; too often in Church history, Christians have made it the other way around, as though only through the tangible sacrament (as a “means of grace”), can one truly experience the Spirit. Consider the fierce fighting over the words of the institution (tou=to/ e)stin to\ sw=ma/ mou, “this is my body”, Mark 14:22 par.)—all of the ink (and blood) spilled over the significance of “is” (e)stin)—when it would have been better, I think, to focus on the demonstrative pronoun (“this”, tou=to): that is, not the reality of the sacrament, but the reality of what it signifies. In this regard, it is absolutely necessary to study and meditate carefully on the Bread of Life discourse in John.

(For further notes on the Passion Narratives and the Lord’s Supper, see the first half of an article posted last Easter season.)

The doctrine of the Lord’s Supper was perhaps the most contentious issue dividing early Protestants. At the Marburg Conference, Luther refused to shake Zwingli’s hand and stated famously ihr habt einen andern geist denn wir (“you have a different spirit than we [do]”). If a corporal “real presence” remained a ‘line in the sand’ for Lutherans, Bucer of Strassburg and Calvin each sought mediating positions—Calvin spearheaded an agreement with Bullinger and the Swiss Reformed (the Zurich Consensus of 1549), which marks perhaps his finest moment. Calvin’s view of the Eucharist was that Christ is truly present—but only by the Spirit, in a spiritual manner—as believers together partake of the elements. Other Spiritualist Reformers, such as Caspar Schwenckfeld, disgusted by the infighting and the “carnal” view of the sacraments held by mainstream Protestants, advocated a Stillstand, a moratorium on administering the sacrament, along with a clear message: believers partake of the presence of Christ entirely by the Spirit—the material elements, while perhaps useful, ultimately are not necessary.

Note of the Day – January 18

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The miracle at Cana is traditionally commemorated around Epiphany (esp. the second Sunday after Epiphany, now several days past). I will be discussing this today as the first of two notes on the two episodes in the second chapter of John—the miracle at Cana (John 2:1-11) and the “cleansing” of the Temple (John 2:13-23). That these are roughly parallel episodes, reflecting “signs” done by Jesus, can be seen by comparing the general structure:

  • Introduction to the narrative—a festal setting (Wedding/Passover)—one in Galilee, the other in Judea (Jerusalem), which Jesus attends (v. 1-2, 13)
  • The “Sign”—miracle of changing water to wine (vv. 3-10), and the “cleansing” of the Temple; the latter is two-fold: Temple action (vv. 14-17) and Temple saying (vv. 18-22)
  • Belief/trust in Jesus—his disciples, because of the sign (v. 11); and many in Jerusalem, because of the signs (v. 23)
  • Narrative summary—Jesus resides with this relatives and disciples in Capernaum for “not many” days (v. 12); notice that Jesus did not entrust himself to the people in Jerusalem (vv. 24-25)

It is possible that these two episodes are also meant to reflect the very beginning, and the end, of Jesus’ ministry, i.e. encapsulating the narratives and discourses in chapters 3-12 (“Book of Signs”). Indeed, critical scholars have variously proposed that one or both of these episodes is “misplaced” chronologically—i.e., would have occurred at the historical level at a different point than indicated in the Gospel structure. This question is more obvious with regard to the Temple episode (discussed in the next note), but some commentators have suggested that the miracle at Cana better fits a setting during Jesus’ youth, the main reasons being:

  1. The setting in Galilee, where Jesus is with his mother and relatives; this would have been more likely to take place prior to the beginning of his adult ministry.
  2. The exchange between Jesus and his mother, with his rebuke of Mary’s question, has a vague similarity to that narrated in Luke 2:41-51.
  3. The character and setting of the miracle itself is generally similar to several of the miracles narrated in extra-canonical works such as the (Infancy) Gospel of Thomas.

Each of these points can be debated, but have to be admitted as technically possible—a tradition from Jesus’ childhood could have been adapted for the context here simply by adding “with his disciples” (in v. 2) and including the notice in verse 11. However, I find the theory rather speculative; in any event, we must deal with the narrative as it has come down to us. In many ways, it is a curious episode, and one might question why it was included at all. Apart from its place as Jesus’ first significant miracle (taking the notice in v. 11 at face value), what other meaning does it contain? I would suggest three possible areas for interpretation:

1. Foreshadowing of future events. One might point out here several details:

  • “On the third day” (th=| h(me/ra| th=| tri/th|), v. 1. There is always a danger of rushing to read the death and resurrection of Jesus into such references, since “three days” is a common narrative device which could occur in any number of contexts. However, the specific wording “(on) the third day” does appear frequently in relation to Jesus’ resurrection (Matt 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Luke 9:22; 18:33; 24:7, 46; Acts 10:40; 1 Cor 15:4; cf. also Matt 27:64; Lk 13:32; 24:21), though not in John. The only other use of the phrase occurs in Acts 27:19. In nearly all of these references the wording is th=| tri/th| h(me/ra|, but in Lk 18:33 and 1 Cor 15:4 it is th=| h(me/ra| th=| tri/th| as in Jn 2:1. On the surface, the expression here is a simple narrative device, which may tie back to the episodes narrated in chapter 1 (commentators have various theories on just how). In the previous note, I discussed the “three days” of Jn 1:29-50—there are three sections, dealing with the witness of John the Baptist and the disciples to the person of Jesus, each of which begins with the phrase th=| e)pau/rion (“upon the morrow [i.e. the next day]”).
  • The presence of Mary, Jesus’ mother (v. 1ff). The only other time Mary appears in the Fourth Gospel is when Jesus is on the cross (Jn 19:25-27). On both occasions, Jesus addresses her as “Woman” (gu/nai). This sounds rather harsh in English, but it is the way Jesus addresses all women in the Gospel of John (see Jn 4:21; 8:10; 20:15). However, here (and in Jn 19:26), it probably does indicate a subordination of family ties to Jesus’ own (higher) mission and identity. If this episode actually stems from Jesus’ youth (see above), then there may be a parallel with Luke 2:48-50.
  • “My hour has not yet come” (v. 4). There are two expressions Jesus uses in the Gospel of John: (1) “(the) hour is coming” [e&rxetai w%ra], an eschatological phrase, with both a present future aspect, tied to the person and work of Christ (Jn 4:21, 23; 5:25, 28; 16:2, 25, 32; cf. also 16:4, 21); and (2) “(my) hour has come” [e)lh/luqen h( w%ra], a reference to the time for Jesus’ death/departure (see, with related forms, Jn 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 16:21, 32; 17:1). Every other use of “(my) hour has (not) come” in John refers to Jesus’ death (and subsequent exaltation); for a similar sense of “hour” in the Synoptics, cf. Mark 14:35, 41 par; Luke 22:53. The immediate context in Jn 2:1-11 would suggest that Jesus’ saying relates to the time for him to begin his public ministry (by working miracles), or simply that the time/situation was not right for him to intervene. The verb used here is h%kw, which is generally synonymous with e&rxomai, but carries the sense of arriving, or reaching a point (in time); that the verbs are interchangeable, cf. notably Jn 6:37; 8:42.

2. Elements of the miracle itself. Here too there are several key details to examine:

  • The Wedding feast (v. 1ff). The “signs” and discourses of Jesus in Jn 2-12 typically take place in the context of a Jewish feast or holy day (Sabbath, Passover, Sukkoth, Dedication). Here it is a wedding, which is a unique setting in that, as a celebration, it would have both a “religious” and “secular” aspect. That is an ordinary wedding feast is clearly indicated throughout the passage. However, wedding/marriage imagery (emphasizing the bride/bridegroom) is widely used as religious or spiritual symbolism—of many Old Testament examples, see Psalm 19:5; 45; Isa 61:10; 62:5; Hos 1-2; Joel 2:16, and the Song of Songs. Weddings occur in Jesus’ parables and sayings (Mark 2:19ff par; Matt 22:2ff; 25:1-13; Luke 12:36; 14:8). Believers as the Bride of Christ (the Bridegroom) would become a popular early Christian motif (Jn 3:29; 2 Cor 11:2; Rev 18:23; 21:2, 9; 22:17). The Wedding feast itself was a significant image (Song 3:11, etc; Psalm 45; 78:63; Jer 7:34; 33:10-11; Matt 25:10), which could merge together with the idea of an eschatological feast (for the righteous, Rev 19:6-9, cf. Isa 25:6, etc).
  • The Wine (v. 3ff). Wine is a widespread poetic and religious symbol; numerous references can be found in the Old Testament (Gen 27:28; Song 1:1-2; Isa 25:6; 65:8; Hos 2:21-22; Amos 9:13; Joel 3:18, etc), the New Testament (Mark 2:22 par; Acts 2:[13]; Rev 14:8, 10, etc), and throughout the Ancient Near East and Greco-Roman world. For its association with the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist), see below.
  • The Jars of Water (v. 6). Here we have the general motif of water/cleansing, with the specific religious image of ritual purification (kaqarismo/$).
  • The Filling (v. 7ff). Jesus tells them “Fill [gemi/sate] the water-jars with water” and “they filled [e)ge/misan] them until over (the top)”. The verb gemi/zw, rarely used in the New Testament, refers to filling up something completely—usually an empty space is implied (of a house, boat, jar, sponge, etc). They are filled with water, otherwise to be used for ritual purification, and miraculously changed to wine. Here is an image of the substance of a religious object (and symbol) being transformed (one is reminded of Jesus’ saying in Mark 2:22 par). This theme will carry on throughout the subsequent miracles and discourses, with their festal settings—Jesus’ presence symbolically fills and transforms the holy days, and fulfills various details related to the religious background of Israel (he is the true bread, water, light, shepherd, et al.).

3. Eucharistic theme. It would be reading far too much into John 2:1-11 itself to find any substantial eucharistic symbolism here. However, there are several interesting parallels elsewhere in the Gospel which are worth considering:

  • Water and Blood come out from Jesus’ side upon his death (Jn 19:34)
  • There eucharistic symbolism (at some level) related to the drinking of Jesus Blood (= Wine of the Cup) in Jn 6:53-56.
  • Jesus connects new birth (“birth from above”) with being born out of Water and the Spirit (Jn 3:5)
  • That these three—Water, Blood (=Wine?), Spirit—are closely connected can be seen in 1 Jn 5:6-8.

Perhaps a stronger eucharistic connection can be established in the way the Miracles of John 2-12 are inter-related:

There are six major miracles narrated in the so-called “Book of Signs” (chs. 2-12), three in chapters 2-5 and three in chapters 6-11. They can be grouped two ways—First:

  • Two introductory miracles, which are narrated with little comment or explanation by Jesus:
    • The miracle at Cana (water into wine), 2:1-11—”This (was the) beginning [i.e. first] of the signs Jesus did…”
    • The healing of an official’s son (near Cana), 4:46-54—”This…(was the) second sign Jesus did…”
  • Four miracles, each of which lead into a discourse, or incorporate an extended dialogue, with a central “I Am” saying:
    • The healing of the invalid at Bethesda, 5:1-17 (Sabbath setting)
      Discourse: 5:19-47 (no “I am” statement, but note the frequent use of e)gw/ [“I”] in connection with the Father)
    • The miraculous feeding of the multitude, 6:1-15 (Passover setting?)
      Discourse: 6:22-71 (“I am the Bread of Life” v. 35, 41, 48, 51)
    • The healing of a blind man, 9:1-41 (Dedication setting? cf. 10:22)
      Dialogue (“I am the Light of the world” v. 5)
    • The raising of Lazarus from the dead, 11:1-44 (Passover setting? cf. 12:1)
      Dialogue (“I am the Resurrection [and the Life]” v. 25)

Another way to group the miracles is in three pairs, the second of which has a dialogue setting and central “I am” statement (along with a statement to the wider meaning/purpose of the miracle):

  • First pair—miracle involving transformation of food to provide for a large gathering:
    • The miracle at Cana, 2:1-11 (water/wine, for drinking)
    • The miraculous feeding, 6:1-15 (bread, for eating)
      “I am the Bread of Life” v. 35, 41, 48, 51
      “Whoever eats my flesh [bread] and drinks my blood [wine]…” v. 53ff
  • Second pair—healing of a man disabled for many years:
    • The healing of the invalid at Bethesda, 5:1-17
    • The healing of the blind man, 9:1-41
      “I am the Light of the world” v. 5
      “For judgment I came… the ones not seeing would see, and the ones seeing would become blind” v. 39
  • Third pair—miracle involving a young man near death:
    • The healing of an official’s son, 4:46-54
    • The raising of Lazarus from the dead, 11:1-44
      “I am the Resurrection [and the Life]” v. 25
      “The one believing in me, even if he were to die, he will live…” v. 25-26

Once the miracle of Cana is paired with the miraculous feeding and discourse of chapter 6, a eucharistic association (at the spiritual level at least), comes more clearly into view (cf. 6:53-58, 63).

 

March 24 — The Last Supper

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All four Gospels record Jesus’ “Last Supper” with his disciples (Matthew 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-23ff; John 13:1-30), but with a well-known chronological difference: the Synoptics indicate that it was a Passover meal (Matthew 15:7; Mark 14:12; and esp. Luke 22:7), the 14/15th of Nisan; while John records Jesus’ death during the preparation for Passover, 14th Nisan (John 19:14; also cf. 12:1). A number of solutions have been offered to explain or harmonize the difference between the accounts, none, I should say, entirely satisfactory. Much more interesting, however, is the fact that John records no institution of the sacrament (Lord’s Supper), attention rather being given to Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet (13:3-20). In fact, the only mention of the bread and cup would seem to be in the “Bread of Life” discourse in chapter 6 (vv. 53-57); this has prompted many scholars to ask if perhaps vv. 51-58 have been inserted by the author/redactor into the current location from a traditional Last Supper setting. But this raises an even more significant question: do verses 51-58 in fact refer to the Eucharist (that is, to the material sacrament)? As I will discuss below, I do not think the primary reference is to the sacrament. However, here are some arguments in favor of a sacramental reference:

  1. Suddenly, in place of Jesus himself (or his words) identified with the Bread from Heaven (“the Bread [which] came down from Heaven”, o( e)k tou= ou)ranou= kataba/$, cf. esp. v. 51), we hear of “eating his flesh” (fa/ghte th\n sa/rka) and  “drinking his “blood” (pi/hte au)tou= to\ ai!ma) (vv. 53-56)
  2. The verb (trw/gw) used in verse 56, conveys a very concrete image of eating (literally “striking” or “crunching” away; in colloquial English it might be rendered “munching”). This would suggest a physical eating (of a material sacrament) and not simply a spiritual appropriation.
  3. It is most unlikely that the Gospel of John would not have some reference to the Eucharist, and this is the only passage which fits.
  4. The “embedded” reference to the Eucharist is parallel to a similar reference to the sacrament of Baptism in the Discourse with Nicodemus (see 3:5)
  5. The Bread of Life Discourse follows the Feeding of the Multitude, which, in all four Gospels, is described using Eucharistic language, and presumably was understood in connection with the Eucharist from earliest times.
  6. One critical argument is that a redactor of the final version of the Gospel intentionally added in more specific sacramental details in order to modify or qualify an otherwise “spiritualist” teaching.

What about the idea that the author (or redactor) added Eucharistic teachings of Jesus to the discussion of vv. 25-50? One can certainly see how verse 51(b) could have been a connection point with the prior teachings on the “Bread from Heaven” (expounding the Passover theme of the Manna), as well as teaching on the Eucharist. The mention of “flesh” (o( a&rto$ de\ o^n e)gw\ dw/sw h( sa/rc mou/ e)stin u(pe\r th=$ tou= kosmou/ zwh=$, “and the bread which I will give over [i.e. on behalf of] the life of the world is my flesh“) would lead naturally to discussion of the Eucharist. The real problem, however, is not so much vv. 51-58, but rather what follows: vv. 60-71, especially verse 63: to\ pneu=ma/ e)stin to\ zw|opoiou=n, h( sa\rc ou)k w)felei= ou)den (“the spirit is th[at which] makes live, the flesh profits nothing”). The tone of this portion seems to be at odds with a reference to the material sacrament in vv. 51-58. A number of critical scholars have noted that reading 6:25-50 and 60-71 in sequence makes good sense, while including vv. 51-58 creates an interpretive difficulty. R. E. Brown, in his commentary (Anchor Bible 29 pp. 302-303), takes the precarious step of assuming both that vv. 51-58 were added by a redactor, and that we should read vv. 60-71 as relating to vv. 25-50 but not to vv. 51-58.

In my view, it is important to look at the Gospel as it has come down to us, whether or not sayings of Jesus from different contexts have been combined together to give it its current form. I would outline the chapter as follows:

  • 6:1-14: The Miraculous Feeding, which includes Eucharist language and imagery [v. 11-13] + transitional verse 15
  • [6:16-21: The traditional episode of the Jesus’ Walking on the Water to meet his disciples]
  • [6:22-24: Transitional section which sets the scene]
  • 6:25-30: Discussion of the Miraculous Feeding, with a saying of Jesus on the “work of God” (tou=to/ e)stin to\ e&rgon tou= qeou=, i%na pisteu/hte ei)$ o^n a)pe/steilen e)kei=no$, “this is the work of God: that you should trust in the [one] whom that one sent”, v. 29)
  • 6:31-59: The Bread of Life Discourse, which I break down into four parts:
    a) The Scripture reference (“Bread from Heaven”), and Jesus’ initial exposition: 6:31-33
    b) Crowd (“Lord, give us this bread always”) and Jesus’ Response: e)gw/ ei)mi o( a&rto$ th=$ zwh=$ (“I Am the bread of life…”), 6:34-40
    c) ‘The Jews’ reaction to “I am the Bread”/”which came down out of Heaven” and Jesus’ Response, 6:41-51
    d) ‘The Jews’ reaction to “The Bread that I will give…is my flesh” and Jesus’ Response, 6:52-58 + concluding note v. 59
  • 6:60-71: Discussion of the Bread of Life Discourse (the Disciples’ Reaction), in two parts:
    a) The reaction “This is a rough account [i.e. word/saying], who is able to hear it?” and Jesus’ Response, 6:60-65
    b) The turning away of many disciples, with Peter’s response (“you have words of life [of the] Age [i.e. eternal life]”), 6:66-71

Here I view vv. 51-58 as integral to the Discourse as we have it. The “flesh and blood” of vv. 53-56 is an intensification and expansion of the imagery in verse 51: the “bread that he gives” is his “flesh [and blood]”—compare verses 51 and 54:

e)a\n ti$ fa/gh| e)k tou/tou tou= a&rtou
(“If someone should [actually] eat out of [i.e. from] this bread…”)
o( trw/gwn mou th\n sa/rka kai\ pi/nwn mou to\ ai!ma
(“The [one] chewing [‘chopping at’] my flesh and drinking my blood…“)

zhsei ei)$ to\n ai)w=na (“…he shall live into the Age [i.e. have eternal life]”)
e&xei zwh\n ai)w/nion (“…has life [of the] Age [i.e. has eternal life]”)

Jesus’ returns to mention just the bread again in the concluding verse 58, which also reiterates the OT scripture (and motif) that began the Discourse: ou!to/$ e)stin o( a&rto$ o( e)c ou)ranou= kataba/$, “this is the bread (which) came down out of heaven”. In the context of the Discourse, the sacrament of the Eucharist may be implied (a preshadowing), but I do not think it is at all primary to Jesus’ teaching. It is rather the Person of Jesus himself and the Life which he conveys—by means of the Spirit—which is central to the message; and it is this “word” (lo/go$) which the disciples find “rough” or difficult to hear. Too much has been made of verse 63, for it simply gives priority to the Spirit—especially in a sacramental context (Eucharist)—just as the Spirit takes priority in the context of Baptism (3:5-8). In other words, Spirit first, then sacrament; too often in Church history, Christians have made it the other way around, as though only through the tangible sacrament (as a “means of grace”), can one truly experience the Spirit. Consider the fierce fighting over the words of the institution (tou=to/ e)stin to\ sw=ma/ mou, “this is my body”, Mark 14:22 par.)—all of the ink (and blood) spilled over the significance of “is” (e)stin)—when it would have been better, I think, to focus on the demonstrative pronoun (“this”, tou=to): that is, not the reality of the sacrament, but the reality of what it signifies. In this regard, it is absolutely necessary to study and meditate carefully on the Bread of Life discourse in John.

(For further notes on the Passion Narratives and the Lord’s Supper, see the first half of an article posted last Easter season.)

The doctrine of the Lord’s Supper was perhaps the most contentious issue dividing early Protestants. At the Marburg Conference, Luther refused to shake Zwingli’s hand and stated famously ihr habt einen andern geist denn wir (“you have a different spirit than we [do]”). If a corporal “real presence” remained a ‘line in the sand’ for Lutherans, Bucer of Strassburg and Calvin each sought mediating positions—Calvin spearheaded an agreement with Bullinger and the Swiss Reformed (the Zurich Consensus of 1549), which marks perhaps his finest moment. Calvin’s view of the Eucharist was that Christ is truly present—but only by the Spirit, in a spiritual manner—as believers together partake of the elements. Other Spiritualist Reformers, such as Caspar Schwenckfeld, disgusted by the infighting and the “carnal” view of the sacraments held by mainstream Protestants, advocated a Stillstand, a moratorium on administering the sacrament, along with a clear message: believers partake of the presence of Christ entirely by the Spirit—the material elements, while perhaps useful, ultimately are not necessary.