Apologetics for the Masses #414: I Had a Question for GotQuestions.org re: John 6:51

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The Protestant website - GotQuestions.org - and John 6:51

General Comments

Hey folks,

Two things:

1) Please pray for the repose of the soul of Patsy Miles, my wife's sister, who died yesterday after suffering years of bad health.  And pray for comfort and consolation for her family.

2) I will be speaking at the Catholic Professional and Business Club of Fresno (as in California) in April.  So, if you live out that way, keep April 8th open for breakfast.


     Ever heard of the Protestant website GotQuestions.org?  You just ask them a question and they send you an answer.  Apparently they are well past the 1,000,000 mark in terms of the number of questions asked and answered since whenever it was they got up and running.  I have had people tell me on a number of occasions that they were dealing with Protestants who were getting their information from GotQuestions.org.  They are apparently a fairly widely referenced source for Protestants.

     A few weeks ago, I had one of you guys send me the following: "I recently came across a website that once again used "the flesh is of no avail" [John 6:63] to try to disprove that the Eucharist is salvific: https://www.gotquestions.org/Holy-Eucharist.html. Unfortunately, they make very clear that they're happy to answer any questions a Catholic may have, but that they will not engage in any debates. You, of course, only ask questions, but I'm pretty sure they'll say you are trying to debate them! Truly, I'd like to know what you'd say to anyone who claims that "the flesh is of no avail" means that Christ's flesh is of no avail. I hope that you'll be able to cover this in one of your future newsletters."

     So, I went and clicked on the link and read what GotQuestions.org had to say about the Eucharist.  I might, at some point in the future, do a paragraph-by-paragraph analysis and rebuttal of all the things they got wrong, but what I want to do in this newsletter is focus on the essence of the point they're making regarding John 6 - that John 6:51-58 is speaking spiritually, or metaphorically, and not talking about eating the actual flesh and blood of Jesus.  If you, as a Catholic, can demonstrate that Jesus is not speaking metaphorically here, then you have, basically, destroyed their entire argument against the Eucharist.

     After reading what GotQuestions.org had to say about the Eucharist, I decided to ask them a question.  And, what I'm going to do here in this newsletter is use my question, and their answer, or rather answers (as you'll see in a moment), as not only a catechetical moment, but also as a homework assignment for you guys.  The person who emails me with the right answer to the homework questions I'm going to give you - which will be at the end of the "Challenge/Response/Strategy" section - will get a free copy of my book, "Blue Collar Apologetics," or both DVDs of my "Blue Collar Apologetics" series on EWTN - your choice.  (I know what you're thinking: "Wow!  A free copy of John's book!  What an absolutely amazing offer!  What a really generous guy!"  Right? [Insert smiley face here])


My Question to GotQuestions.org

      I have a question related to the question on the Catholic Holy Eucharist. In John 6:51, Jesus says that the bread He wants to give us to eat is His flesh which He will "give for the life of the world". When did Jesus give His flesh for the life of the world?

GotQuestions.org's Answer

     Hello, and thank you for your question. In John 6:53–57, Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Upon hearing these words, many of Jesus’ followers said, “This is a hard teaching” (verse 60), and many of them actually stopped following Him that day (verse 66).

     Jesus’ graphic imagery about eating His flesh and drinking His blood is indeed puzzling at first. Context will help us understand what He is saying. As we consider everything that Jesus said and did in John 6, the meaning of His words becomes clearer.
Earlier in the chapter, Jesus fed the 5,000 (John 6:1–13). The next day, the same multitudes continued to follow Him, seeking another meal. Jesus pointed out their short-sightedness: they were only seeking physical bread, but there was something more important: “Food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (verse 27). At this point, Jesus attempts to turn their perspective away from physical sustenance to their true need, which was spiritual.

     This contrast between physical food and spiritual food sets the stage for Jesus’ statement that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood. Jesus explains that it is not physical bread that the world needs, but spiritual bread. Jesus three times identifies Himself as that spiritual bread (John 6:35, 48, 51). And twice He emphasizes faith (a spiritual action) as the key to salvation: “My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life” (verse 40); and “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life” (verse 47).

     Jesus then compares and contrasts Himself to the manna that Israel had eaten in the time of Moses: “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die” (John 6:49–50). Like manna, Jesus came down from heaven; and, like manna, Jesus gives life. Unlike manna, the life Jesus gives lasts for eternity (verse 58). In this way, Jesus is greater than Moses (see Hebrews 3:3).

     Having established His metaphor (and the fact that He is speaking of faith in Him), Jesus presses the symbolism even further: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh. . . . I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life. . . . My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. . . . Anyone who feeds on me will live because of me” (John 6:51–56, NLT).

     To prevent being misconstrued, Jesus specifies that He has been speaking metaphorically: “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life” (John 6:63). Those who misunderstood Jesus and were offended by His talk about eating His flesh and drinking His blood were stuck in a physical mindset, ignoring the things of the Spirit. They were concerned with getting another physical meal, so Jesus uses the realm of the physical to teach a vital spiritual truth. Those who couldn’t make the jump from the physical to the spiritual turned their backs on Jesus and walked away (verse 66).

     At the Last Supper, Jesus gives a similar message and one that complements His words in John 6—when the disciples gather to break bread and drink the cup, they “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). In fact, Jesus said that the bread broken at the table is His body, and the cup they drink is the new covenant in His blood, shed for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:26–28). Their act of eating and drinking was to be a symbol of their faith in Christ. Just as physical food gives earthly life, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross gives heavenly life.

     Some people believe that the bread and wine of communion are somehow transformed into Jesus’ actual flesh and blood, or that Jesus somehow imbues these substances with His real presence. These ideas, called transubstantiation (professed by the Catholic and Orthodox churches) and consubstantiation (held by Lutherans), ignore Jesus’ statement that “the flesh counts for nothing” (John 6:63). The majority of Protestants understand that Jesus was speaking metaphorically about His flesh and blood and hold that the bread and wine are symbolic of the spiritual bond created with Christ through faith.

     In the wilderness testing, the devil tempts Jesus with bread, and Jesus answers, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3). The implication is that the bread is God’s Word and that is what sustains us. Jesus is called the Word of God who came to earth and was made flesh (John 1:14). The Word of God is also the Bread of Life (John 6:48).

     The book of Hebrews references the way that God uses the physical things of this earth as a way to help us understand and apply spiritual truth. Hebrews 8:5 says that some tangible things are “a copy and shadow of what is in heaven,” and that chapter explains how the Old Covenant, so concerned with physical rites and ceremonies, was replaced by the New Covenant in which God’s laws are written on our hearts (verse 10; cf. Jeremiah 31:33).

     Hebrews 9:1–2 says, “The first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place.” According to Hebrews 8:5, the consecrated bread, or the “bread of the Presence,” was a physical representation of a spiritual concept, namely, the actual presence of God being continually with us today. The physical tent of meeting has been replaced by a spiritual temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16), and the physical bread of the Presence has become the spiritual bread that abides within us through the Holy Spirit.

     When Jesus said we must “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood” (John 6:53), He spoke, as He often did, in parabolic terms. We must receive Him by faith (John 1:12). “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6). We understand that we need physical food and drink; Jesus wants us to understand that we also need spiritual food and drink—and that is what His sacrifice provides.


     First thing you should notice, is that GotQuestions didn't actually answer my question!  The person answering the question saw the word "Eucharist" and proceeded to read something into the question that was not there.  They just took off after the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist and didn't actually answer the specific question I asked about John 6:51.  They essentially used a lot of the same material as they have at that link on the Holy Eucharist.  But, it turns out, that them giving me this answer was actually a blessing.  

     So, after not getting the answer to the question I had actually asked, I decided to ask it again...

My Question to GotQuestions.org

     I previously submitted this question: "In John 6:51, Jesus says that the bread He wants to give us to eat is His flesh which He will 'give for the life of the world'. When did Jesus give His flesh for the life of the world?" The answer I received was rather involved, and obviously had a lot of thought put into it - which I appreciate - but seemed to be answering a question about the Catholic Eucharist that I did not ask. I simply would like to know, given what Jesus says in regards to giving His flesh for the life of the world, when did He give His flesh for the life of the world? Is this verse referring to Him giving His flesh on the cross for the life of the world? Yes or no? Thanks!

GotQuestions.org's Answer

     Hello again! Your question did ask about the Eucharist, but my apologies if that is not what you meant! Here is what I had received:

"I have a question related to the question on the Catholic Holy Eucharist. In John 6:51, Jesus says that the bread He wants to give us to eat is His flesh which He will "give for the life of the world". When did Jesus give His flesh for the life of the world?"

Yes, the passage is referring to Jesus dying on the cross and giving His body as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Jesus refers to the real role of the Messiah: to suffer and die for the people. The offering which will grant eternal life to those who believe is Jesus' body: His flesh.

Homework Assignment

     Do you see why I said getting his first answer turned out to be a blessing?  Okay, here is the homework assignment:

1) What is the problem with his 2nd answer (by the way, it was the same person answering both times) vis-a-vis his 1st answer?

2) Given these two answers, how would you word your next question to GotQuestions.org?  Oh, and one of the rules of GotQuestions.org is that they will not engage in debate, they exist only to answer questions.  So, you have to ask questions and ask them in such a way that you can't be accused of "debating". 

     I will give you until noon on Wednesday to submit answers to the questions in order to qualify for the book or the DVDs.  I'll go with what I consider the best answers.  If more than one person submits good answers, then I'll put names in a hat and randomly select a winner.  And, it is possible, that we could have a different winner for each question.  Good hunting...

Closing Comments

I hope you and yours have a great week!


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Apologetics for the Masses