Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Case Against Transubstantiation

The Catholic teaching of transubstantiation is based chiefly on the words of Jesus to his disciples, when He instituted the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper:

Matthew 26:

26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.

27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;

28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

Mark 14:

22 And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body.

23 And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it.

24 And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many.

But these are extremely weak and flimsy arguments. In these verses Jesus is not saying that the bread and wine are literally his flesh and blood. He is using hyperbole (a form of rhetorical exaggeration) which is extremely common in Semitic cultures and languages. Even today if you talk to an Arab in his native language, you will find that he makes much use of hyperbole in his everyday speech. The Bible too is full of this kind of rhetorical device. Here are some examples:

Matthew 5:29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee…

This does not mean to literally pluck out your own eye; it means to be ruthless at suppressing and eliminating the cause of temptation.

Matthew 6:3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.

This does not mean that one should literally not let his left hand know what his other hand is doing. It means to give alms discreetly, so that you will not be doing it for a show or pretence, to boast or flout your “charitableness”.

Matthew 11:23 And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven shalt be brought down to hell …

This does not mean that Capernaum was literally “exalted to heaven”. It means that it (or rather its inhabitants) had become very proud.

Matthew 23:24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

This does not mean that they were literally “swallowing a camel”. It means paying too much attention to unimportant detail, while ignoring the more important considerations.

Luke 14:26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

This does not mean that one should literally hate one’s father and mother, and brothers and sisters, and wife and kids in order to become a disciple of Jesus. It means that one should be willing to put God above all other considerations.

John 12:19 The Pharisees therefore said among themselves … behold, the world is gone after him.

This did not mean that literally the whole world had gone after Jesus; but it means that a large number of Israelites had done so, enough to have the Pharisees worried.

John 17:11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee.

This did not mean that Jesus was literally “no more in the world;” but that He was anticipating His death, which was shortly to take place.

A false reading of these passages can have serious consequences sometimes. The great third century theologian Origen is known to have emasculated himself in his youth out of a literal reading of Matthew 19:12; a costly mistake which he is said to have regretted later in his life.

In the verses quoted earlier, they do not mean that the bread and wine were literally His flesh and blood; or that one should literally eat His flesh and blood in order to be saved. The bread and wine are emblems of His flesh and blood. They are a memorial of His sufferings, to be taken in remembrance of his sacrifice. Nothing more or less is to be understood by them. See scriptures cited in my previous post: Do Catholics Sacrifice Jesus Christ At Mass?

Interestingly, in the following verses Jesus Himself actually explains the meaning of His own hyperbole, so that no one need have any excuse for misunderstanding them:

John 6:

53 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.

54 Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.

55 For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.

56 He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.

57 As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.

* * *

60 Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?

61 When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?

* * *

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.

In other words, those words were not meant to be taken literally, but spiritually and metaphorically, for it is the words that he speaks that are “spirit and life,” not the literal eating of His flesh and blood. He couldn’t have made it clearer than that.


Tiriel said...

Verse 63 is not saying that his words are meant to be taken metaphorically. Christ is using the sense of the words "spirit" and "flesh" in the way Paul uses them in his Epistles. He is warning His disciples not to think carnally, but rather to have a more supernatural understanding of His words. They must not think as men do, but as GOD does.

Dorothy said...

In Verse 63 Jesus clarifies what He meant when He said my words are spirit. He said the flesh profits for nothing. Also in Deuteronomy God forbids the jews to drink blood as it is an abomination to the Lord. Now as Jesus is God in the flesh, He is not going to contradict what He said in the Old Testament. So if you know the God of the Old Testament you will know Jesus. As they are one.

Anonymous said...

What you are blogging here comes down to interpretation. A Catholic will disagree with your interpretation. You must also concede that many things Jesus said were indeed meant to be taken literally, just like some were meant to be metaphorical. One of the good ways we can tell which it is is by finding out how the early Christians practiced this teaching.

Ignatius said, "They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again."

Justin said, "but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus"

Anonymous said...

Dorothy posted: "In Verse 63 Jesus clarifies what He meant when He said my words are spirit."

Since when did 'spirit' mean 'not real' or 'symbol'? Could we call the Holy Spirit the Holy Symbol?

"He said the flesh profits for nothing."

Funny thing for Jesus to say considering the sacrifice Jesus made for us was his flesh. So his sacrifice on the cross profited nothing? The Eucharist is a remembrance of his sacrifice. Not a symbol.

"Also in Deuteronomy God forbids the jews to drink blood as it is an abomination to the Lord."

That rule is because human blood is a symbol of our life and since we are unclean it is therefore a symbol of our uncleanliness, and to drink it would make us unclean. Jesus' blood is not unclean, it is the perfect sacrifice. Not to mention if God commands us to drink his blood who are we to say no? Is drinking a symbol of blood any better than actually drinking it?

"Now as Jesus is God in the flesh, He is not going to contradict what He said in the Old Testament. So if you know the God of the Old Testament you will know Jesus. As they are one."

See my above response.

These arguments are faulty.

Anonymous said...

Early Christians had to defend themselves against charges of cannibalism! Sounds like it got out that they believed they were drinking blood.

Chris said...

Each example you cited from the Jesus' words of metaphor or hyperbole were singular instances.

The eating of his body and drinking of his blood was said over and over by Jesus and also by Paul. You can cite each of those quotations and explain them away with hyperbole but that does not make these instances an equal to the singular appearances of 'plucking out your eye' or 'hate your father'.

This 'hyperbole' if you call it that appears over and over. Sounds like a pretty extensive hyperbole. Christ lost disciples over saying to eat his body and drink his blood.

If you feel you are doing yourself and others justice by explaining it away as the same as plucking out your eye then so be it, but I don't agree, and I think you'll find neither do the early Christians.

Steffi said...

1Co 11:27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.

Consider this verse which suggests the Real Presence of the Lord is there. How else can the association made make sense?

The Grey Pilgrim said...

John 6:[27] Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal."

John 6:55 "For my Flesh is true food, and my Blood is true drink."

John 6:[54] "he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."

[56] He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.

What does Jesus mean when He says to "LABOR" for the food that leads to eternal life which He will give us?

What does Jesus mean when He says that His FLESH is true food and that whoever eats this food-eats His FLESH-will have eternal life?

Where in John 6 does the Lord say that he means to "spiritually eat His flesh"?

And where in John 6 does it say that His flesh-Jesus' flesh- is of no avail?

1 Cor 10:[16] The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

What does Paul mean when he says that the bread and the wine are a participation IN the Body and Blood of Christ?

1 Cor 11:[27] Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.

& [29] For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.

If it just a matter of bread and wine then why does Paul write here that those who receive them in an unworthy manner are guilty of blasphemy?

Anonymous said...


I am Catholic, and I have always thought that the Holy Eucharist was
bread that was spiritually occupied by Jesus, and I pray to Him. I just discovered that I'm
a heretic! But the doctrine of transubstantiation is absurd! Only
cannibals, the lowliest of the human species who live in places like New Guinea commit cannabilism. Jesus words were
obviously figurative, not literal!
Why would Jesus be so unreasonable
as to expect us to actually eat His
flesh and drink HiS blood! Cannabilism is prohibited in the Old Testament. John Wycliffe's doctrine of Impanation makes sense.
For the Catholic Church to expect us to accept Transubstantiation is
crazy! I have always accepted the
Incarnation, The Immaculate Conception, and other Church teachings, but this is nuts!

baby bunnykinns said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
baby bunnykinns said...

Actually the answer is so simply it should bowl you over, so to speak. The Holy Bible: John 6:66 Hmmm... Intrigued? Here's more ( copy/paste this ):