“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Luke 22:19-20
This was the very first holy communion. We eat bread and drink red wine at church to remember the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross to pay the price for our sins. Jesus suffered under the wrath of God The Father so that we wouldn’t have to, and we partake in communion to celebrate and reflect on that. Both Roman Catholics and Protestants take communion in their churches, however, there is debate among Roman Catholics and Protestants about whether or not the bread and wine actually becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Protestants like myself would argue that the bread and wine in communion are only a symbol of the flesh and blood of Christ. The bread symbolizes Jesus’ body and the breaking of that bread symbolizes the torture Jesus endured from scourging to crucifixion. Likewise, the wine being poured into glasses represents Jesus’ blood which was poured out due to the severe wounds the Romans inflicted on Him. However, Roman Catholics disagree with this. They say that the bread and wine aren’t merely symbols of Jesus flesh and blood being broken and poured out, but that the bread literally becomes literal flesh, and the wine literally becomes literal blood! This view is known as “Transubstantiation”.
Which one is right? Catholics argue that Jesus’ words in Luke 22:19-20 (and the parallel passages) should be taken literally. Jesus said “This is my body…” and “This is my blood.” so that must mean it really is His body and blood. If Jesus intended this ritual to be symbolic, Catholics argue, he would have said “This bread is a symbol of my body.” and “This wine is a symbol of my blood.”
I think Transubstantiation is the most absurd doctrine the Catholic church teaches, and it is the point of this blog post to show why.
Reason No. 1: Jesus Frequently Used Metaphors
Jesus used metaphors quite often in His teachings. Seriously, they’re everywhere! For example, when Jesus says “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:7-9, ESV). However, no one thinks that Jesus meant he was literally a door. No one thinks that Jesus was a large wooden rectangle with a knob and hinges, and that sheep could open and close him so they could go in and out. This is clearly a metaphor. Jesus means here that just as you can’t legally enter a place without going through the door, so you cannot get into Heaven unless you go through Him (c.f John 14:6). Only by faith in Christ will we be able to enter Heaven, so Jesus is like a door in that sense.
Or again, in John 8:12, Jesus said “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” No one reads this passage and concludes that Jesus is a large collection of photons! Jesus isn’t a large collection of photons, but does that mean He isn’t “the light”? No! This is another metaphor.
So when Jesus picks up a piece of bread and says “this is my body”, does the fact that he explicitly uses the words “this is my body” mean that he literally meant that the bread he was holding was his flesh? I don’t think so. I think it’s obvious that this is just as much of a metaphor as when Jesus called himself “the door” and “light” in the above passages. “This is my body” does not need to be literal any more than “I am the door” needs to be literal.” “This is my blood” does not need to be literal any more than “I am the light…” needs to be literal.
Objection: The John 6 Argument, No. 1
When appealing to Jesus’ words in Luke 22 doesn’t work to convince the protestant, Catholics typically turn to John 6 to support their point:
“I am the bread of life. 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. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.’ 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.’ “ – John 6:48-56
The basic argument is this: If Jesus was not speaking literally when He said, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day,” why did they respond by saying: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (verse 60) If Christ was merely employing metaphorical language when he talked about chowing down on his body and blood, then it isn’t really a “hard saying,” it is merely a misunderstood saying. The Catholic argues that if Jesus Christ was talking metaphorically in this passage, Christ both could have and would have corrected them. He did not do that. Instead, he let them all walk away. So the Catholic, putting a heavy emphasis on this fact makes the point that this means the Transubstantiation view is correct.
Is this a good argument? I don’t think so.
Jesus Is Always Being Misunderstood. John Rarely Records Corrections.
The people talked about in John 6 were hoping that Jesus would provide for them in the same manner as Moses. As such, they had no interest in his talk about going nom nom on his flesh and blood. They thought his statements were literal. While it is indeed the case that Jesus Christ did not set the record straight, this shouldn’t surprise us as this is typical of Jesus. Peter shows us that it’s only those who stay who get the answers for eternal life (John 6:68). Christ would frequently speak in parables and not tell the true meaning to anyone except those who were truly His followers (Luke 8:10). The rest He let go in their ignorance since he knew all men and he was not committing himself to them. “But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” (John 2:24-25). Jesus did not entrust Himself to His listeners. Let’s take a look at some other examples where Jesus uses metaphorical language but doesn’t correct His hearer’s misunderstanding.
*In John 2:18-21, we read “The Jews then responded to him, ‘What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’ They replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body.” In this passage, Jesus metaphorically referred to His resurrection, but the Jews thought that He was threatening to destroy the temple. Jesus never responded to this accusation. However, the author (John) clarifies it for us in verse 21). However, although John the apostle alerts his readers what Jesus meant (in verse 21), Jesus Himself doesn’t tell those around Him in the recorded incident.
*In John 3:3-4, we read “Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’ ‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!'” Jesus didn’t correct Nicodemus’ misunderstanding. Instead, in verses 5 and onward, He merely carries on with his teaching as if Nicodemus hadn’t said anything.
*In John 4:13-18, we read “Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.’ He told her, ‘Go, call your husband and come back.’ ‘I have no husband,’ she replied. Jesus said to her, ‘You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.'”
The Samaritan Woman thought that Jesus was talking about literal water. That’s why she said to give it to her so that she wouldn’t have to keep coming to the well to get more. As I read this passage, I don’t see any point in which Jesus corrects her misunderstanding and tells her that He is “the living water” and that coming into a personal relationship with Him is what it means to drink it. However, that is what He meant.
In all 3 of the above examples, Jesus spoke metaphorically, was misunderstood, yet did not correct the misunderstanding of His hearer(s). According to the Catholic’s logic, we should, therefore, conclude that He was speaking literally in these 3 examples, which is absurd. If we shouldn’t think that Jesus’ lack of correction in John 2:18-21 means that Jesus was talking about literally bringing down the temple the Jews worshipped in, if we shouldn’t think that Jesus’ lack of correction in John 3:3-4 means we must literally crawl back into our mothers wombs and come back out again, if we shouldn’t think that Jesus’ lack of correction in John 4:13-18 means that Jesus was offering the Samaritan woman literal H2O, then why think that Jesus’ lack of correction in John 6 means that He literally meant we should eat His flesh and drink His blood?
Objection: The John 6 Argument No. 2 — Real Food! Real Drink!
Some will emphasize the part of the John 6 passage where Jesus says “For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink” . It’s like Jesus is saying “I’m not speaking metaphorically here guys. You literally need to eat my flesh and drink my blood.” So, Jesus’ “real food, real drink” language should lead us to conclude that communion is the literal consumption of Jesus’ literal flesh and literal blood.
A literal interpretation of this verse does not entail transubstantiation, but only would, at most, entail some sort of real presence. Transubstantiation is a particular subset of real presence doctrines. The “mysterious presence” view accepted by Lutherans and Methodists, among other Protestants, is perfectly compatible with that interpretation of John 6.
Of course, I would object that a literal interpretation of this sentence is correct. Richard Deem of GodAndScience.org wrote “…if one were to interpret the entire discourse in terms of the Eucharist, Jesus would have been talking utter nonsense to the Jews. Why would Jesus be telling the unsaved Jews about the Eucharist, which was to be given to the church, but had not even been instituted yet (not until the Passover on the eve before Jesus was crucified)? He wasn’t! Jesus was trying to make them understand that belief in Him (the bread from heaven) was the only way gain eternal (spiritual) life.” One of the big issues with taking John 6 to be talking about the eucharist at all is that it entails works based salvation; that we need to take communion in order to get saved. After all, Jesus does say we need to eat His flesh and drink his blood to gain eternal life in the John 6 passage. But Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 4 make it clear that we are not saved by any good works, only by grace through faith in Christ. As Richard Deem put it in the same article that I just quoted: “Over and over again in this chapter, Jesus made it clear that eternal life came from believing in Him. We ‘eat’ Jesus only in a spiritual sense. Eating is not a spiritual act – only believing. The thief on the cross did not eat Jesus’ body or drink His blood, so Jesus lied when He told him that He would be with Him in heaven that very day. Of course, Jesus did not lie! The man believed in Jesus and was given eternal life without eating His body and drinking His blood.” (Q)
Firestone Sterling Diamante concurs with Richard Deem. He writes: “Technically, the English word ‘real” in John 6:55 is incorrect because the actual Greek adjective is aléthés, which actually means true (ie, authentic, genuine), but not necessarily literally ‘real’ (i.e, corporeally real). If Jesus had actually wanted to say ‘real’, as in literal corporeal physical flesh and blood, He would have instead used the Greek adjective ontós, which actually means real (ie, ontologically real), but would have also therefore been advocating and/or necessitating cannibalism (cf. John 6:53-58). Furthermore, after repeatedly emphasizing that He HIMSELF is The Living Bread of Life (John 6:33-58), He concludes His Living Bread of Life discourse by specifically stating that the Flesh Benefits Nothing, and that the Words which He spoke to them are Spirit and are Life (John 6:63). Ultimately, to ‘eat His flesh’ is to Come to Him, and to ‘drink His blood’ is to Believe in Him (John 6:35-40).”
Reason No. 2: The Bread And Wine Retain All Of The Properties Of Bread and Wine
An easy way to test who is correct in this debate is to perform a scientific test. Yes, you heard me. A scientific test. If the communion bread and wine literally became literal flesh and literal blood, then we would expect them to have the physical properties that literal flesh and literal blood has. Given the view that the bread and wine become literal flesh and blood, then they should have the same physical properties that literal flesh and literal blood has, such as blood cells (for the wine), skin cells (for the bread), and human DNA for both. After all, my literal flesh and blood have these properties. Your literal flesh and blood have these properties. The literal flesh and blood of every human on the planet have these properties. So if the bread and wine become literal flesh and literal blood, if a scientist were to put these under his microscope, we would expect him to find these things. If he instead finds all of the properties of bread and wine, and none of the properties of flesh and blood, the most rational conclusion would be that the protestant view is right and the Catholic view is wrong.
This test would not apply to other Real Presence views, such as the view the reformers took (i.e that Christ’s spiritual presence dwells in the bread and wine), but it would apply to Transubstantiation, which asserts that the bread and wine become actual, literal flesh and blood.
Science studies the natural, physical world. As such, physical objects are subject to science. If the physical bread becomes literal physical flesh, then the physical properties of human flesh and blood should be detectable.
Reason No. 3: Jesus Only Has A Limited Amount Of Flesh and Blood
People have been taking communion for the past 2,000 years, and all over the world too. But if this is so, then Jesus would have run out of skin and blood by now. When the Christian goes nom nom on the communion bread and wine if this is Jesus’ actual flesh and actual blood, why doesn’t the body and blood of Christ run out after awhile? Remember, this is Jesus’ human nature we’re talking about, not His divine nature. In His divine nature, the second person of the Trinity is immaterial. He doesn’t have a body. But the human nature of Christ is material. So, one has to ask “Why isn’t it all consumed? Why isn’t he eaten up?”
Reason No. 4: It Makes God A Deceiver
There’s a parallel here between the Young Earth Creationists’ “Appearance Of Age” argument and the Catholic’s “Appearance Of Food” argument. Whenever it is asked why, if the bread and wine are literal flesh and blood, does it still look and taste like bread and wine, the Catholic will usually respond that it’s just an illusion of the senses. It really is actual flesh and blood, it’s just that it doesn’t look or taste like it. This is similar to the argument YECs give against the evidence that the universe is 14 billion years old. It only looks like it’s billions of years old because God created it to look old.
The problem is the same in both cases: it makes God out to be a deceiver. The bread and wine have become the literal flesh and blood of Christ, but for some reason, The Lord kept us from perceiving it as such. For some strange reason, He caused our physical senses to lie to us.
These are the reasons I do not believe that the Transubstantiation view of Holy Communion is true. I am not opposed to saying that Christ is present in the communion in some sense or other, that is to say, I’m not wholly opposed to Real Presence. For example, it could be, as the reformers suggested, that Jesus’ spiritual presence is in the eucharist. However, I do not and cannot bring myself to believe that the bread and wine literally become Jesus’ flesh and blood. I find that idea extremely unreasonable.