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Jesus Meant What He Said, and Said What He Meant

replying to the disinformation in Evangelical Outreach's "Information for Catholics"

Chapter 6 of Truth for Catholics

"It's beyond my imagination what attraction exists in non-Catholic Christianity for those who don't accept the fullness of Christ's teaching on the Holy Eucharist". (Russell L. Ford)

Evangelical Outreach (EO) goes out of its way on its Information [sic] for Catholics website to explain away the Lord's own words in its Roman Catholics and Holy Communion webpage.

Some quotations on the Holy Eucharist

Evangelical Outreach begins with a few quotations [brackets below added by me]: "The following quotes regarding the importance of Catholic [sic] communion are taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Libreria Editrice Vaticana — In the USA, Liguori Publications, 1994), Imprimi Potest Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Bold emphasis not in original."

"There is no surer pledge or clearer sign of this great hope in the new heavens and new earth 'in which righteousness dwells,' [2 Peter 3:13] than the Eucharist. Every time this mystery is celebrated, 'the work of our redemption is carried on' and we 'break the one bread that provides the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live for ever in Jesus Christ'" (p. 354). [CCC #1405]

"Taken literally (epi-ousios: 'super-essential'), it refers directly to the Bread of Life, the Body of Christ, the 'medicine of immortality,' without which we have no life within us" (p. 681). [CCC #2837]

"The Lord addresses an invitation to us, urging us to receive him in the sacrament of the Eucharist: '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' [John 6:53] " (p. 349). [CCC #1384]

"In addition to the Anointing of the Sick, the Church offers those who are about to leave this life the Eucharist as viaticum. Communion in the body and blood of Christ, received at this moment of 'passing over' to the Father, has a particular significance and importance. It is the seed of eternal life and the power of resurrection, according to the words of the Lord: 'He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day' [John 6:54] " (p. 381). [CCC #1524]

Evangelical Outreach correctly concludes that "The importance of communion for a Catholic is clearly shown from these quotes. In short, Catholicism equates Jn. 6:53, 'I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you' to communion, and thereby logically deduces that one must have it for spiritual life (or salvation)" (emphasis as in EO).

Evangelical Outreach's "analysis" of the biblical teaching

Evangelical Outreach "proves" that the "Catholic" interpretation of the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John must be mistaken by pointing to several other episodes in the Gospels. Instead of commenting on each separately, I will comment below on all of them.

Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10)

Evangelical Outreach cites the story of Zacchaeus of Jericho:

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today". So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, "he has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner'". But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount". Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost". (Luke 19:1-10, New International Version)

The sinful woman who anointed Jesus (Luke 7:36-50)

Evangelical Outreach also cites Luke 7:48-50 in passing:

Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.... "Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little". Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven". The other guests began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace". (Luke 7:36-50 NIV)

The repentant thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43)

Evangelical Outreach also appeals to the story of one of the thieves who was crucified with the Lord Jesus:

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God", he said, 'since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong". Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom". Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise". (Luke 23:39-43 NIV)

The conclusion of the Gospel of John

Evangelical Outreach also quotes from the Gospel of John:

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31 NIV)

About those verses, Evangelical Outreach has this to say:

The Apostle John clearly cites the purpose of his gospel in chapter 20:30,31.... In this two-verse synopsis of his entire gospel, the Apostle John writes on the subject of spiritual life as included within it, and with absolute clarity it is shown that there is no connection whatsoever with communion! This could hardly be the case if Jn. 6:53, also written about spiritual life and just 14 chapters earlier, referred to communion! Clearly then, John associated spiritual life with believing (trusting) on Jesus without any connection whatsoever with communion. [emphasis as in EO]

Another view of the passages cited

The conclusion of John's Gospel

Let's take the last point first. The only thing shown "with absolute clarity" here is that Evangelical Outreach begs the question by assuming that John 20:30-31 is a "two-verse synopsis of his entire gospel". If that were, indeed, a "synopsis" of the whole Gospel, then Evangelical Outreach would be right in explaining away the plain meaning of clear words in the sixth chapter.

But if that be the case—if those two verses are a "synopsis" of the whole of John's Gospel—then one must wonder why in the world John wrote the rest of his Gospel, especially since it is agreed by all biblical scholars that John's Gospel was written long after the other three canonical gospels: if the entire message of the Gospel of John is contained in the phrase "by believing you may have life in his name", then St. John wasted a lot of words—and so did the Lord Jesus before him.

No. Since the Lord Jesus must have had some purpose when he said everything else He said, and since St. John the Evangelist must have had some purpose when he recorded everything else the Lord had said, we can safely conclude that Evangelical Outreach has it backwards: we are not supposed to interpret the rest of John's Gospel in the light of a mere two verses; we are, rather, to interpret those two verses in the light of the rest of John's Gospel.

Believing (trusting) on Jesus: that means we must believe what He said. If "believing (trusting) on Jesus" does not mean, at the least, believing what He said, then it doesn't mean anything at all. And that means we must believe the Lord when He told us that we must eat His Flesh and drink His Blood to have life in us.

The other passages cited

Evangelical Outreach is "Protestantizing" the meaning of Lord's words when He spoke of salvation to Zacchaeus and to the sinful woman who anointed Him. In each case, the Lord was demonstrating to the Jews—and especially to the Pharisees—that He had come to bring salvation even to those whom the Jews—especially the Pharisees—despised as sinners. That the Lord did not mean what Evangelical Outreach means by "personal salvation" is indicated clearly by His words, "salvation has come to this house"—not to this man. Even if the Lord did mean by "salvation" in this context just what Evangelical Outreach means by "salvation", these are merely exceptional situations that occurred before there was any possibility of fulfilling the requirement, established in and for the future, of eating the Lord's Body and drinking His Blood.

The repentant thief, crucified with the Lord, obviously had no opportunity to receive Holy Communion, though the requirement and the means to fulfill it had already been established by the Lord. As I explained at length in Four Hundred Million "Infallible" Protestant Popes, however, whatever requirements the Lord established for salvation—faith in Him, baptism in water, eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood, good works—it must be assumed that it is possible for the person to fulfill the requirements. That is, those are the ordinary means of salvation—each of them and all of them. If it is simply not possible for a particular individual to fulfill these requirements, then extraordinary means may suffice. So, Catholic teaching accounts completely for the situation of the repentant thief.

What transubstantiation is, and what it isn't

In the following passage, Evangelical Outreach displays its utter ignorance of Catholic doctrine:
Also, if Jn. 6:53 is to be literally understood, as in Catholicism, then one is actually eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus during a Catholic mass. This is their doctrine of transubstantiation. If this has truly occurred, as claimed, then the communion elements should taste like human flesh and human blood. In contrast to this teaching and what a Catholic really tastes during communion, we have an actual God-given transubstantiation (change in substance) in Jn. 2:7-11 to learn from. (This is where Jesus changed the water into wine.) After that real transubstantiation occurred, the water no longer tasted like water! Instead, it now tasted like the thing it was changed into (the wine)! If the Catholic church had a true transubstantiation, then their product would, likewise, taste like the finished product, but it does not! (This is an irreconcilable problem for a literal interpretation of Jn. 6:53.) [emphasis as in EO]

What Evangelical Outreach refers to as a "real", a "God-given", transubstantiation, is not a transubstantiation at all. Simply put, a correct understanding of transubstantiation requires one to see that what a thing looks like is not what the thing is. The "breadness" of bread, for example, is not in its color, or shape, or texture. That is, the "accidental" properties of something's appearance (no matter in what way, nor how closely, examined) is not what identifies the "substantial" properties of the thing's reality.

So, the transformation of water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee was not transubstantiation, since both the accidental properties of appearance and the substantial properties of reality were changed.

Now, one does not have to agree with this distinction between "substance" and "accident" to realize that Evangelical Outreach simply does not understand the doctrine of transubstantiation. If one has a correct understanding of the doctrine, one cannot point to the Lord's miracle at Cana (his first miracle, and done at His mother's behest, by the way) as an example of transubstantiation.

Evangelical Outreach finds it oh so easy to discover "irreconcilable problems" in Catholic—that is, fully Christian—doctrine. Taking the time to understand what you're talking about is just too hard, I guess.

(For a fuller treatment of this topic, see Dave Armstrong's Eucharist and Science, or his Eucharist: This is My Body, the first part of which is a discussion of transubstantiation. Or see Fr. Paul Duffner's Transubstantiation.)

Figurative or literal?

But, one might object, surely Jesus did mean what He said—He just meant it figuratively, not literally. That is, in fact, what Evangelical Outreach claims:

As other times when the Lord spoke referring to Himself as "the true vine" (Jn. 15:1) and "the gate" (Jn. 10:9), we must not take these descriptions or Jn. 6:53 in any way but in a figurative sense!

EO goes on to explain (brackets and emphasis as in original):

What then is the actual meaning of Jn. 6:53-56? According to Scripture, when that passage in question was first given, just a few verses prior to it, in verse 47, Jesus taught "I tell you the truth, he who believes [continuous tense] has everlasting life." Therefore, from the immediate context and all other data related to one receiving salvation contained in the entire New Testament, the only possible consistent meaning of Jn. 6:53 is a continuous eating and drinking of the Lord's body and blood in a figurative sense by continuously believing on Him, that is, trusting Him to the point of submitting to Him.

How strange: Evangelical Outreach would have us think that the Lord explained (in verse 47) what He said before He said it (in verses 53-56). Surely, that would have been the only time in all of history when someone explained what he meant before he said what he said!

On the face of it, then, EO's explanation is implausible at best. I mean, think about it: what better way to confuse your listeners than to explain what you say before you say it? Would the Lord Jesus have been—well... would He have been so stupid as to have done that?

Is it not more reasonable to think, rather, that the later verses are an explanation of—an expansion upon—the earlier verses? Is that not how we would read any passage in any writing—absent the purpose (conscious or otherwise) to explain away that which is not to our liking? Is it not more reasonable to think that the later verses are, in fact, an invitation to deeper, fuller faith? A challenge, in a sense, to believe specifically in something that you must accept, if you accept it at all, on faith alone.

That, indeed, is exactly what they must have thought who heard the Lord speak these very words. He left them no other choice: to their understanding, eating a man's flesh would have meant, not that they could be somehow nourished thereby, but that he would be destroyed: see Psalm 27:2; Isaiah 9:18-20, and Micah 3:3. What's worse—the consumption of blood was a defilement: see Leviticus 7:26-27. If the Lord was speaking figuratively, He was saying to His hearers, "You must destroy me and become defiled or you will have no life in you".

Of course, it does seem that such an interpretation fits in with EO's belief that the Lord had explained what He said before He said it: had Jesus really been stupid enough to do that, He would have also been stupid enough to tell His hearers that they must destroy Him and defile themselves.

Enough of that nonsense. But consider something else: the Lord's teaching about His Body and Blood followed upon the Jews' request,

What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: "He gave them bread from heaven to eat". (John 6:30-31 NIV)

If the Lord meant "believe in me" when He said that we must eat His Flesh and drink His Blood, then He just flat out didn't answer the Jews' question. I mean, what kind of miraculous sign was that? Did He really do that? Did He really just refuse to answer their question? Or worse, did He admit that He had no miraculous sign to give?

Didn't He, rather, give an answer that some people—some Protestants—can't believe today, just as the disciples who left the Lord then couldn't believe (John 6:66)? An answer that requires faith alone to believe it.

(For more information on the sixth chapter of John, see John 6, the Eucharist, and Protestant Objections, or Tim Staples' "My Flesh is Real Food", or David Palm's Real Presence. Mr. Palm is a Catholic who used to be a Protestant.)

What ancient Christians believed about Holy Communion

What did the first Christians believe about the Holy Eucharist? Did they explain away the Lord's words, and believe that He is not received in the Holy Communion? Or did they take Him at His word, and believe that He is truly received in the sacrament?

The following quotations are from William A. Jurgens' Faith of the Early Fathers (FEF), Volume 1; Evangelical Outreach thinks well enough of Jurgens to quote from Volume 3 in its Mary's Virginity webpage.

St. Ignatius of Antioch (circa AD 110)

St. Ignatius was a successor to St. Peter the Apostle as bishop of Antioch.

Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. For love they have no care, nor for the widow, nor for the orphan, nor for the distressed, nor for those in prison or freed from prison, nor for the hungry and thirsty. 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 the Father, in His goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes. It would be better for them to have love, so that they might rise again. It is right to shun such men, and not even to speak about them,—neither in public nor in private. (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, FEF page 25)

St. Justin the Martyr (circa AD 150)

St. Justin was born into paganism in the early years of the second century, and was beheaded for his faith in Christ circa AD 165.

We call this food Eucharist; and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration, and is thereby living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; 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 nourished, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus. (First Apology, FEF page 55)

St. Irenaeus of Lyons (circa AD 190)

St. Irenaeus was bishop of Lyons, in what is now France.

For thanksgiving is consistent with our opinion; and the Eucharist confirms our opinion. For we offer to Him those things which are His, declaring in a fit manner the gift and the acceptance of flesh and spirit. For as the bread from the earth, receiving the invocation of God, is no longer common bread but the Eucharist, consisting of two elements, earthly and heavenly, so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible but have the hope of resurrection into eternity. (Against Heresies, FEF page 95)

St. Clement of Alexandria (circa AD 202)

St. Clement was born into paganism circa AD 150, and travelled widely to learn from Christian teachers.

"Eat My Flesh", He says, "and drink My Blood". The Lord supplies us with these intimate nutriments. He delivers over His Flesh, and pours out His Blood; and nothing is lacking for the growth of His children. O incredible mystery! (Instructor of Children, FEF page 178)

St. Cyprian of Carthage (circa AD 252)

St. Cyprian was born into paganism in the early years of the third century, and was beheaded for his faith in Christ on September 14, AD 258.

As the prayer continues, we ask and say, "Give us this day our daily bread".... And we ask that this bread be given us daily, so that we who are in Christ and daily receive the Eucharist as the food of salvation, may not, by falling into some more grievous sin and then in abstaining from communicating, be withheld from the heavenly Bread, and be separated from Christ's Body.... He Himself warns us saying, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you". Therefore do we ask that our Bread, which is Christ, be given to us daily, so that we who abide and live in Christ may not withdraw from His sanctification and from His Body. (The Lord's Prayer, FEF page 223)

Aphraates the Persian Sage (circa AD 340)

Little is known of Aphraates, who was born circa AD 280.

After having spoken thus, the Lord rose up from the place where He had made the Passover and had given His Body as food and His Blood as drink, and He went with His disciples to the place where He was to be arrested. But He ate of His own Body and drank of His own Blood, while He was pondering on the dead. With His own hand the Lord presented His own Body to be eaten, and before He was crucified He gave His blood as drink.... (Treatises, FEF page 304)

And on and on and on....

I could go on and on, quoting from ancient Christians who professed that the Lord's Body and Blood are really present in Holy Communion, but I have stopped here. Why did I stop with Aphraates? Because the Persian Sage wrote his treatise near to the middle of the third century—that is, before anybody listed the books of the New Testament exactly as we list them now, in AD 367. (See my Second Maccabees and the Rest of the Holy Bible for a discussion of this important historical event.)

See? All the quotations above, which show that the earliest Christians believed about the Real Presence as Catholics do now—all of them came from Christians who lived before the canon of the Bible was decided upon. In other words, the very Christians who judged what books belonged in the Bible and what books don't—and who judged that the Gospel of John belongs in the Bible—believed that Christ is actually received in the Holy Communion.

See something else? Evangelical Outreach repeatedly refers to "Catholic" communion, and the "Catholic" interpretation of John 6: "Catholicism", EO says, "equates Jn. 6:53, 'I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you' to communion". According to Evangelical Outreach, then, the early Christians were Catholics.

(For more on ancient Christians' belief in the Real Presence of the Lord Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, see Catholic Answers' Real Presence or Corunum's Real Presence, or Dave Armstrong's Eucharist: This is My Body, the second part of which is an analysis of John 6. For a brief exposition of the continuity of this belief throughout Christian history, see my Words on the Holy Eucharist. The Catholic Encyclopedia has articles on St. Ignatius, St. Justin, St. Irenaeus, St. Clement, St. Cyprian, and Aphraates.)

Whom do you believe?

Those of us who live in the twentieth century were not in the Upper Room when Jesus and his apostles ate the Passover meal, which was transformed into the Lord's Supper by the Lamb of God himself.... How did the apostles and their disciples who were eventually appointed bishops and deacons perceive the event; how were they trained to carry out this command? Why did the first generation always refer to the table as an 'altar'? In fact, the Scriptures give us very little information. The rightness of the sacrament and the celebration details were carried on in the tradition of the Church. The early Church, without the New Testament, learned to celebrate the Eucharist from the apostles and the Fathers themselves. It is incumbent upon us to listen to them today.

Stephen K. Ray
Crossing the Tiber:
Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historic Church
page 274

Whom do you believe? That is the question.

Do you believe the Lord Jesus, who surely must have known what He was saying and how His hearers would have taken His meaning? Do you believe the earliest Christians, who learned the faith from the Apostles themselves or from those who had learned it themselves from the Apostles?

Or do you believe Evangelical Outreach, which explains away the Lord's own words in ways that no Christians attempted before the sixteenth century?

As for me, I believe the Lord. And I stand thus with those who were persecuted, tortured, and martyred in the second and third centuries for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Whom do you believe?

St. Ignatius of Antioch
(circa AD 110)

... the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ,
Flesh which suffered for our sins
and which the Father, in His goodness, raised up again.

Letter to the Smyrnaeans
quoted in W. A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. 1
(Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1970), page 24

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