What Happened When I Critically Read John 6?

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From a young age, I always saw the world through a scientific lens. I needed to understand how the world works and I am when I got to college I took that way of thinking and applied to research papers and making sure I had logical and concise arguments to articulate my interpretation of a particular historical event.

When I read the Gospel of John, I think he may have had a similar mindset as myself. His entire gospel is masterfully written and laden with tons of symbolism. I came across John 6 [Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse] and after years of analyzing this chapter and critically viewing it was various vantage points I have finally come to a conclusion– John truly believes that Jesus said is was the literal bread of life to give humans eternal life! I give three strong pieces of evidence for this case:

1. Jesus as a Good Teacher: I think most people would agree with me that Jesus’ followers considered him a good teacher. Jesus could relate to an array of people: rich, poor, fisherman, tax collectors, sinners, strangers. Secondly, Jesus taught using a plethora of means including sermons, parables, and miracles to name a few ways. A quality in any good teacher is consistency in content and the ability to clarify their subject content should disputes arise. In the bread of life discourse in John 6, Jesus presents both consistency and clarity in his teaching. Within a span of 24 verses [John 6:35-59] Jesus mentions point blank at least 6 times he is the bread of life. In verse 35, Jesus states, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” Verses 38, 48, 53-58  also support the Nazarene’s bold claim. Jesus is clear about his message and he does not clarify his teaching enough when it is met with murmurings [see point 3].

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2. It’s all Greek to Me:  There are a variety of Greek words for the English verb “to eat”. Jesus says in John 6:54, “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day.” The Greek word that the Evangelist uses in this verse is trōgō which translates as “chew” or “gnaw”. Why would John use such a fleshy and literal word for eat in this context? It only makes sense if we accept that Jesus is literally intending to mean he is the bread of life that gives eternal life. John even goes on to use trōgō in verses 56, 57, and 58– a grand total of four times!

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3. Loss of Followers: The evangelist writes in John 6:66 that many people who followed Jesus from the start of his ministry left him never to return. They were scandalized by the teaching of Jesus as the bread of life. I thought long and hard on this point. Why would many of Jesus’ followers leave him if he only spoke symbolically that he was the bread of life? Well, if Jesus truly did intend for his proclaim that he is the “bread of life” to be interpreted figuratively I doubt many followers would have left him that day. I mean think about it, people tend to become disenchanted with a leader when his or her message becomes too scandalous to bear. I doubt a man speaking figuratively and poetically would gather such scandal compared to a man who repeatedly claimed “I am the bread of life” and NEVER qualified that assertion.

Through my Catholic faith I accept Jesus’ claim that he is the bread of life regardless of what my intellectual reading of John 6 concludes.  I ponder this question of Jesus frequently: Will you also go away? I ultimately hope that my answer is consistently as Peters says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:67-69).

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