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Catholics teach that they literally eat the body of Jesus during communion, a belief called Transubstantiation. Protestant churches mostly do not share this belief and there is no obligation to partake in the Holy Communion every Sunday.

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. (John 6:53, NKJV)

What common interpretations do protestants have of this verse?


Here is how I understand this verse.

  1. Given

    1. Jesus Christ = The Word of God (John 1:14)
    2. The Word of God = Bible (2 Timothy 3:16)
    3. Jesus Christ = Bread of Heaven (John 6:51)
  2. Assuming read=intake=eat, we have

    1. Reading Bible = Reading the Word of God
    2. Reading the Word of God = Eating Bread of Heaven
    3. Eating Bread of Heaven = Eating Jesus Christ
  3. Therefore

    1. Reading Bible = Eating Jesus Christ

But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4, NKJV)

This verse may imply that we need the Word of God every day. Therefore,

Reading Bible every day = Eating Jesus Christ every day

Is this a common understanding of "eating Jesus" by Protestant Christians?

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I think you're right to think that John 6:53 isn't actually about communion at all, but rather than being about reading the Bible I think it is about joining and partaking in his sacrifice - essentially accepting the gospel. –  curiousdannii Dec 1 at 3:06

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

It depends on the Protestant tradition you follow.

Generally speaking, if you don't believe in consubstantiation, and believe in something similar to real-presence, than we don't necessarily consume the body/blood of Jesus in a physical way, but feed on Jesus in a real spiritual way. And, we are again nourished from the presence of God by daily bible reading.

However, how is this necessarily different than transubstantiation? I have no idea. Even at the words of institution where the Holy Spirit is invoked, only the substance (spiritual) of the bread and wine changes to body and blood. The accidents (physical) remain the same. So, in a sense they (real-presence, con/transubstantiation) are very similar things. And, if you study reformation history, none of the reformers knew what to do with communion, but many were so consumed with removing any semblance of Catholicism, they changed some words around creating consubstantiation and real-presence. And, even during the articulation of the Eucharist, the Catholics didn't necessarily know how to articulate this rite other than to use Aristotelian logic to prove that communion is special/meaningful. Because, it is obvious that when the bread and wine are consecrated, they still physically remain bread and wine. But if you separate spiritual/physical, it is easy to extrapolate a literal feeding of the body and blood.

But with semantics aside, for Protestants there is not necessarily a eating of physical flesh or blood because as John 6:63 points out, it is the Spirit that gives life, and the flesh profits nothing. Something Zwingli is right about since, as a reformer, he was simply a remembrance kind of guy, who argued from 1 Cor 11. So he would argue that eating flesh and drinking blood was a metaphor and points to the benefits of faith during communion.

Hopefully, this is helpful.

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I am aware of one protestant view that has not been brought up, so here it is for your consideration:

To interpret John 6:53 we examine the context, close to the beginning of the conversation, at John 6:35.

"He that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." In this verse Jesus sets up the interpretation for the "eating" and "drinking" analogy.

We "eat" to satisfy our "hunger"; we "drink" to satisfy our thirst. We partake of the benefit of His flesh and blood by "coming to Him" and "believing on Him".

By this interpretation, John 6:53 is not talking at all about communion. Communion reminds us of the sacrifice of Christ which is the price paid for our salvation (in remembrance of me, Luke 22:19). We partake of His sacrifice ("eat His flesh" and "drink His blood"), not by communion, but by coming to Him and believing on Him (John 6:35).

I have encountered this interpretation in every protestant church I attended for any length of time including congregational, Baptist, Foursquare, and Assembly of God.

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Good points. +1 –  Mawia Jul 27 '13 at 16:21
    
Reading a passage in its own context? Astounding! Thanks for this great answer. –  curiousdannii May 29 at 8:12

There were differing streams of Protestantism which occurred during the 15th and 16th centuries (The Reformation in Europe). The two major ones were Lutheranism and Calvinism. Lutheranism (Germany) rejected transubstantiation and went with consubstantiation as mentioned already.

Calvinism rejected the viewpoints of both the Roman Catholic church and the Lutheran church on this point. Many Calvinists went to the stake because they would not agree that the Roman Catholic Mass was what the Bible taught about the body and blood of Jesus. They argued that Jesus Christ died once for the sins of His people and that to offer Him up as a fresh sacrifice each mass was against what the Bible taught. Rather they saw that the words of Jesus at the Last Supper indicate clearly that the eating of the bread and drinking the wine were instituted by Jesus so that believers would have a simple way to remember the sacrifice of their Lord. This was the way the inspired Apostle Paul said it: "and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” I Corinthians 11:24

Today, most protestants, (like Presbyterians, Baptists and Dutch Reformed), would follow the latter view above. They take the bread and wine as a remembrance of the death of Jesus.

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How do protestants understand Jesus' statement that unless we eat the flesh of the Son of Man we will have no life?

John 6:51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

John 6:67-68 Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?
Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.

It seems that Peter also had trouble with this concept.

In John chapter six (the bread chapter) we get a better picture of how bread is used illustratively.

First Jesus criticizes people for only being interested in getting real bread after his feeding of the multitude.

John 6:26 Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.

In their desire to get free bread, the people used Moses as an example. Jesus switches the topic back to the more valuable "bread".

John 6:31-33 Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.
For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.

The people were not happy with the reference to heaven as the origin of Jesus.

John 6:41 The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven.

Jesus then tells them that it should not be surprising that they do not understand as only those the Father draws can come to him.

John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

Jesus clearly distinguishes himself from physical bread.

John 6:47-50 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.

Jesus also identifies himself as the means of sustaining eternal life.

We see the listeners almost acting like Nicodemus because the strain at the literal words instead of understanding the metaphor.

John 6:52-54 The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.

Some of the listeners may have completely rejected Jesus when he added the subject of his "blood" to the illustration. If they couldn't understand Jesus as the bread of life, they would surely not understand that his blood was to cover our sins.

At the last supper when Jesus revealed that the new covenant was being offered to Israel, he used the illustration of bread and blood again. It is at the heart of Christianity that our new life is in Jesus.

Luke 22:19-20 And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.

The early church observed a practice of having a meal where the death of Jesus is remembered. This has come down to us a various rituals of having wine or grape juice and a wafer or cracker.

Protestants generally see the "bread" in the way Jesus describes it in John chapter six, as symbolic of himself who is the true bread and the life sustaining power of the new life we have in him.

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