Luke 22:19 (The Message)

Taking bread, he blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, given for you. Eat it in my memory.”

It has been argued that even the grammar must be taken into account. From the grammatical structure of the sentence is the meaning of transubstantiation derived. The verse in Luke has been used to defend the doctrine of transubstantiation, but what about the next verse of John? Apparently, Jesus really emphasizes the fact that he is a piece of food, waiting to be eaten. How can this not be seen as transubstantiation? Maybe it's metaphorical, but still, he describes himself in a similar way.

John 6:35-40 (New International Version)

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

Now, this part seems to get a bit eerie. As it is a piece of dialogue in literature, it illustrates Jesus' character and how he reacts to questions. When prompted by the "Jews", he appears to take the bread as body of Christ literally, which may support the doctrine of transubstantiation.

John 6:52-59 (New International Version)

Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Jesus said to them, “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.” He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

How do people who reject transubstantiation (but believe in sola scriptura) interpret these verses and still refute transubstantiation?

  • 6
    Jesus also said He is the door. He is also called the lamb of God. However, we don't believe Jesus actually a door or a sheep.
    – Narnian
    Jul 2, 2014 at 19:06
  • 2
    It is a mistake to think that the second two passages have anything to do with communion! I don't think they do. They're still metaphorical, but with different purposes. Communion is about being connected to Jesus in his sacrifice. Food is used to link it to the Levitical sacrifices. Those passages in John are about being nourished by God. If communion is about justification then John 6 is more about sanctification.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 2, 2014 at 22:03
  • There is a verse that says "Man shall not live by bread alone" if you take that verse and what Jesus said literally, wouldn't scripture be contradictory then? Jesus spoke in parables and riddles and metaphors to impart some teaching or knowledge. What is the bread of Life? It is the Word of God.
    – Zoe
    Jul 3, 2014 at 13:23
  • Furthermore, the John 6:35-40 passage never mentions "eating", but it does mention "believing".
    – Narnian
    Jan 29, 2015 at 12:53
  • @Mr.Bultitude That question is the subject of a different verse, so I don't think we can call it a duplicate.
    – user3961
    Feb 9, 2015 at 23:18

6 Answers 6


Side note: The issue isn't really about the doctrine of sola scriptura, but rather about literalism. "Sola scriptura" is a term used by Protestants to mean that we believe scripture is the only ultimate authority, as opposed to Catholic doctrines that the teachings of the Church fathers have equivalent or comparable authority to scripture. But nothing in your question is contrasting a Bible quote to a quote from a Church father. Rather you seem to be saying, "How can someone take the Bible literally and not believe in trans-substantiation?" But anyway, to the point ...

The easy answer is that people who do not believe in trans-substantiation believe that Jesus was not speaking literally, but symbolically or metaphorically.

When I say that I take the Bible literally, I do not mean that literally! Of course the Bible includes many statements that are poetic, symbolic, and so on. Like when I read Isaiah 55:12, "The mountains and the hills Shall break forth into singing before you, And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands", I don't suppose that he means that trees will literally sprout hands and applaud. This is poetic language to describe a joyous day. When people say that we take the Bible literally, we mean that we read the Bible the same way we read any other book: If a statement is presented as describing actual human beings doing things in the real world, then we accept that the writer is trying to say that these actual human beings did these actual things, even if those things are incredible, such as a miracle. We don't mean that we insist that anything that sounds like poetry or metaphor must be a literal physical description. (And yes, we concede the possibility that there may be cases where it is not obvious whether something is intended literally or figuratively. But we insist that's relatively rare. But that's another subject.)

So perhaps more relevantly, Matthew 16:6 "Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” The text goes on how the disciples wondered what he was talking about, Jesus explains, and it concludes, verse 12, "Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees."

So when Jesus talked about the "leaven of the Pharisees", he was speaking poetically. He was not talking about literal leaven, but using the word leaven as a symbol for their teaching.

Likewise, people who are literalists and who reject trans-substantiation say that when Jesus talked about eating his body and drinking his blood, that he was speaking metaphorically, not literally. Just like when he talked about the leaven of the Pharisees.

I think most literalists would say that it is clear that Jesus was speaking symbolically here because at the time he said, for example, "This is my body which is broken for you", it is clear that the bread was not literally his physical body, as he was sitting right there. When we celebrate the eucharist today, I don't think anyone would suppose that a chemical test of the bread and wine would show it to be literal meat and blood from a human being. So when a trans-substantiationist says that Jesus meant these words literally, he doesn't really mean literally either. He doesn't think that the bread and wine are literally meat hacked out of Jesus's dead body and blood drained from his veins. He means that it becomes the body and blood of Jesus in some mystical, spiritual sense. So, in my humble opinion, the two camps are really not that far apart. Not that this hasn't resulted in a lot of argument.

  • Beautifully answered!
    – One Face
    Jan 29, 2015 at 12:53
  • 1
    Afterthought a year later: As you quote above, Jesus said, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." So do people who believe that Jesus was speaking literally about his body and blood therefore believe that once you participate in the Eucharist, you will literally never be hungry again, and thus will never need to eat ever again? I don't know of anyone who takes that part literally. He MUST mean "will never hunger for spiritual fulfillment", not literal food.
    – Jay
    Jan 29, 2015 at 14:17

Most adherents of sola scriptura are memorialist in their understanding of the Eucharist. This means they believe Jesus was using a metaphor (albeit one God had intentionally set up beforehand). In the same way that the Scapegoat prefigured Christ*, or the Rock that Moses beat instead of struck prefigured Christ, so too the bread in the Passover prefigured Christ.

Transubstantiation, in the view of many Reformers, is the error of assuming Jesus was laying down dogma when he was merely using symbol. It is a common error even today.

To be painfully precise, the scapegoat ceremony consists of two goats. One, "the Lord's goat" took on the sins of the community and was sacrificed for it and prefigured Christ. His companion, who was loosed into the wilderness was technically the "scapegoat" and represents Satan. But nobody uses the expression "the Lord's goat," so I was going for the whole ceremony rather than the particular here. Kudos to @CRags for the keen eye.

  • I get that, but the last passage that Anonymous cites (in his question) seems to show that even the disciples who were there with him 'misinterpreted' what he was saying as being literal. I'm not sure that his answer made things any clearer...
    – Benjol
    Mar 6, 2014 at 13:34
  • @Affable Greek, I strongly disagree that the scapegoat prefigured Christ - Christ was prefigured by the Lord's goat which was sacrificed. The scape goat prefigures Satan, who is to be bound to the earth a 1000 years like the scape goat which was to be left in the wilderness.
    – One Face
    Jan 29, 2015 at 12:55
  • The answer to the question is good though!
    – One Face
    Jan 29, 2015 at 12:56
  • 1
    Good catch, and clarified! @CRags Jan 29, 2015 at 13:56

We interpret them figuratively, not literally.

It's the same reason we don't believe God is literally a rock, a tower, or a shield, even though scripture describes Him in all those ways. Same reason we don't believe Jesus is literally a lamb, a lion, a hen, a piece of bread, a stone, a gate or door, or a vine. Same reason we don't believe that the new covenant is literally a cup, or that Peter is literally a rock or that Sarah and Hagar are literally two covenants.

These are all illustrations used to convey a point. Jesus did this all time when speaking in parables.

Matthew 13:34-35 ESV All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”

  • Depends which sola-scriptura Christians you ask. Lutherans believe it is literal. All sola-scriptura means is "by scripture alone".
    – Aibrean
    Jul 4, 2014 at 11:51
  • @Aibrean Your profile says you are a LCMS Lutheran. Therefore, you should clarify what type of Lutheran position that agrees with sola scriptura being literal.
    – Double U
    Jan 29, 2015 at 3:56
  • @DoubleU Well as far as I know, all confessional Lutherans at the very least. The ELCA supports the Book of Concord, but congregationally they may differ.
    – Aibrean
    Jan 29, 2015 at 14:40

If a person is to understand the Word of God as He intends, he or she must read what the authors wrote as they intended it. If a passage was written as literal history, we should take it as literal history. If it's personal opinion, it's personal opinion. If it's allegorical, metaphorical, or poetic, we should take it as allegory, metaphor, or poetry.

So, what does the Word of God say about the Lord's Supper?

Transubstantiation refers to the changing of the elements of Communion (bread and wine) into the Body and Blood of Christ. That is not supported by Scripture.

The Word of God does state that Christ took the bread and wine and declared, "This is My Body; this is My Blood."

So, if a Christian is to take the Son of God at His word -- without adding to or deleting from it, sins against which Scripture warns vigorously -- then all he can say is that in the Lord's Supper, a Christian receives the Body and Blood of Christ (along with the bread and wine).

A changing of the elements into Christ's Body and Blood at a certain point (when the priest consecrates the elements, for example) or the bread and wine merely symbolizing Christ's Body and Blood contradict Scripture.

Those who want to spiritualize away Christ's words should note that He said plainly, "This is ...," while referencing the physical elements. Similarly, St. Paul notes that those who receive the Lord's Supper in an unworthy manner are guilty of sinning against ... not the bread and wine, but against the Body and Blood of Christ.

As for John 6? Christ is speaking metaphorically, which makes sense in that context. Jesus is showing Himself to Israel as the fulfillment of God's salvation: Ancient Israel ate manna which, even though a miraculous gift of God, did not save anyone from sin, death, or the devil. Now, in their presence, was the true Manna, the true Bread from Heaven, Christ, Who would give Himself for the life of the world.

(By the way, actual "Sola Scriptura" people -- Lutherans -- refer to the Body and Blood of Christ actually being present in Communion as "Real Presence": In Communion, the Body and Blood of Christ are actually, physically present in, with, and under the bread and wine.)

  • Why is the idea that Jesus was speaking metaphorically when he said it was his body contradictory to scripture? Jesus spoke metaphorically all the time! He called his disciples lambs, he called his death a baptism, and in John he calls himself bread, light, a door, a shepherd, resurrection and life, the way, and a vine. I know lots of Christians believe he wasn't speaking purely symbolically, but you haven't explain why.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 2, 2014 at 22:00
  • 2
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  • Welcome to the site. We are glad you decided to participate. Parroting what David Stratton said, please also see: Guidelines for writing effective answers and What is a well-sourced, dispassionate answer?
    – user3961
    Jul 3, 2014 at 19:11

Lutherans believe in Sola Scriptura, but they also believe in Real Presence (not transubstantiation). The big difference is between that and transubstantiation, there is no changing of the elements to the point that they also cease to be bread/wine. The Lutheran position is the elements become the true blood and body of Christ (both physically and spiritually known as "in, with, and under"), but they are also wine and bread. The reason behind this is the interpretation of scripture. There is nothing that explains how the wine and bread become the body and blood, nor is there mention of those elements ceasing to be elements. It's a divine mystery, yet the position is to take Christ at his word when he says it IS his body and IS his blood.

If they were just mere elements, then why is there such a warning of eating in an unworthy manner than can subject you to judgment?

  • Warnings can be severe if the symbolism is very important. The OT sacrificial system was pretty much all symbolic, pointing to Jesus, but it was still very serious, as Aaron's sons discovered.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 3, 2014 at 21:52
  • Except the difference here is non-literal translators say it's a metaphor which is very different from symbolism :)
    – Aibrean
    Jul 4, 2014 at 11:50

How do people who reject transubstantiation (but believe in sola scriptura) interpret these verses and still refute transubstantiation?

The John chapter six verses are difficult and many abandoned Jesus when they heard them. Even when Jesus asked the disciples if they would leave also, Peter responded;

John 6:68 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.

In context chapter six starts with Jesus feeding the multitude. This was so well received that there was every danger of the crowd making Jesus into a king. The next day some of the crowd catches up with Jesus and he tells them;

John 6:27 Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.

This begins a long discussion where people do not understand his metaphor.

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 key to the metaphor is the similarity of the physical life sustaining property of bread compared to the eternal life sustaining effect of faith in Jesus. There is also an implied metaphor in that bread is taken in by eating and that in a similar way the words of Jesus should be taken with just as much faith and enthusiasm.

Jesus clarifies by specifically declaring that the "life" obtained is through faith and not digestion.

John 6:40 And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.

Jesus even goes on to explain that only those who have been "drawn" are going to understand.

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 placed a strong emphasis on the metaphor but still ties it to abiding (dwelleth) in Christ and he in us;

John 6:54-56 Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.

Jesus is almost dismissive of the physical bread and the life is sustains;

John 6:63 It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.

This brings to mind another "bread" analogy;

Luke 4:4 And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.

The whole of the sixth chapter of John is a contrast of physical bread and physical life with heavenly "bread" and eternal life.

As regards the last supper, the "bread" metaphor is used again this time to both illustrate that he is about to be "broken" himself and establish a memorial practice.

Luke 22:19 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.

The wine is illustrative of blood. The disciples were familiar with the many references in the Old Testament of life being in the blood. Also that the first covenant (testament) with Israel was established with the shedding of blood.

Exodus 24:8 And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you concerning all these words.

Jesus was announcing that the cup was representing his blood which was about to be shed as the establishment of the new covenant that Israel had been promised.

Jeremiah 31:31-32 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD:

Luke 22:20 Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.

To consider transubstantiation I think is to limit the context and implication of both John chapter six and the events of the last supper.

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