Friday, April 01, 2005

The Bread of Life

Here's one of those labels/contentions that people have that should really just be put to rest because it isn't helpful: "I take the Bible LITERALLY!"

No, you don't. And yes, you do. That goes for every believer within the pale of orthodoxy.

All of us understand the Bible literally--"adhering to fact or to the ordinary construction or primary meaning of a term or expression"--where we believe we are meant to do so. None of us take it literally where it would render the text absurd (I am about to give some examples below).

Now, are there areas of disagreement regarding whether certain passages are to be taken literally? Of course. But I have seen whole arguments between someone who insists that THEY take the Bible literally and trashes their "opponent" who "doesn't take it literally." The two conversers would be better served actually getting to the disputed Scriptures at hand rather than getting involved in an absurd argument.

(Please note that I am talking about people who are both Christians and believe that the Bible is God's infallible, reliable Word and our source of Truth--in this post I am not referring to people who dispute the basic claims of Scripture.)

Last night at church my pastor was speaking on the fallacy of the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, "the [supposedly] miraculous change by which according to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox dogma the eucharistic elements at their consecration become the body and blood of Christ while keeping only the appearances of bread and wine." One of the primary scriptures Catholic apologists use to support this notion is John 6:53-57:

So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.

My purpose in this post is not to exhaustively disprove transubstantiation, but to make a point about taking Scripture literally where it is not meant to be so. But I will say this: Jesus did not mean to say that when you receive the bread and the cup, it literally turns into flesh and blood. That would have meant that on Passover, the night Jesus was betrayed, he gave his actual body and blood to the disciples BEFORE going to the cross as a sacrifice:

Matt 26:26-29
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."

Notice something else? Jesus says He will not drink again of...blood? No, of the fruit of the vine until He drinks it in the Kingdom. (Jews AND Gentiles, by the way, have always--OT and NT--been forbidden to drink blood.) The communion wine or grape juice is a SYMBOL of the body and blood of Jesus, which He commanded us to do in remembrance of Him until He comes.

If you think about many things Jesus said, not even counting the parables, you'll see he used symbolic language quite a bit. Most of the time the Jewish leaders, the crowds and His own disciples didn't understand! Check out the Scriptures below and notice what Jesus meant. Is it literal, or figurative?

John 3:3-5
Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."

John 4:10-15
Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." The woman said to him, "Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock." Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water."

And back to John 6. Jesus had just fed five thousand men with a few fish and loaves. They wanted more--more LITERAL bread.

John 6:30-38, 48-51
So they said to him, "Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" Jesus then said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always."

Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me....I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

Jesus said HE is the bread who came down from heaven. Did He take on the form of bread dropping out of the sky? No--but He is our life and sustenance. Because of His sacrifice, because of the shedding of His blood, we have Life.

Jesus' sacrifice was once for all. Transubstantiation, supposedly taking place during Mass, renders the sacrifice over and over. We can know from Scripture that Jesus does NOT have to be sacrificed over and over again--He paid once for all the sins of man and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He is not being sacrificed continually. Please read these scriptures and see how powerful the sacrifice of Jesus was!

Heb 7:26-28
For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

Heb 9:11-12, 24-27
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption

For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

Heb 10:11-14
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

There are more, but the point is made.

Let us take Jesus literally where He means us to, and understand His symbols where He gives us beautiful pictures of Himself and of our great salvation.

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