Friday, April 28, 2006

Eating & drinking

I see that a discussion, apparently prompted by a post of mine:,

continues apace over at:

I’ll respond to a few comments:

One disputant says:

“I agree that [Jn 6) forshadows the cross. However, to the Catholic (and anyone who believes in the Real Presence really) the Crucifixion and the Eucharist are intimately tied together.”

But even if we agree with the intimate connection between the Crucifixion and the Eucharist, that does not amount to an exegetical argument for the sacramental reading of Jn 6.

Another disputant says:

“The real fact remains that historically, the interpretation I posted was held for centuries right from the Apostles (1 Corinthians 10:16).”

Several problems with this appeal.

i) It assumes the Catholic interpretation of 1 Cor 10:16, which begs the question.

ii) By using 1 Cor 10:16 to interpret Jn 6, this appeal takes for granted the sacramental reading of Jn 6, which also begs the question.

That 1 Cor 10:16 is talking about communion is explicit. Whether Jn 6 is talking about communion is the very point at issue.

iii) It is also dubious to use one writer to interpret another writer. Paul is not commenting on John. Indeed, it’s unlikely that Paul ever read the Fourth Gospel.

So why assume that Paul and John are talking about the same thing?

This is another example of a how a Catholic begins with his dogmas, and then casts about for some Scriptural prooftext.

The same disputant argues for a sacramental reading of Jn 6 because the verb “to eat” means “to eat,” and he quotes a number of Johannine passages in which it denotes literal consumption.

But this appeal commits the classic semantic error of failing to distinguish between sense and reference.

Yes, “to eat” means “to eat.” That’s a tautology. No one denies that.

From this is doesn’t follow that “to eat” means to literally eat.

That confuses the general meaning of a word with what it refers to.

But the particular referent isn’t supplied by the bare meaning of the word.

That’s why we can use the same word is a multitude of different settings.

Whether the verb has reference to literal or figurative consumption is context-dependent. The context supplies the concrete referent.

Once again, if the disputant spent a little time with a concordance he would quickly see that words and images of eating and drinking are often deployed as spiritual metaphors (cf. Ps 42:1; Prov 15:14; Jer 3:15; Amos 8:11; Jn 4:9-14; 7:37-39; 18:11; 1 Cor 3:1-2; Heb 5:11-14; 1 Pet 2:2; Rev 14:8-10; 16:6; 21:6).

I don’t cite this usage to interpret Jn 6, but merely to establish the possibility of this construction, and illustrate a semantic fallacy.


  1. I appreciate you following through on this topic, Steve. I posted the link to your thread on CARM because I couldn't really see a way to improve upon what you had said.

    One other observation; it's always interesting to note that when debating with Catholics, an appeal to bare authority or authority via history (i.e. continuous belief) is never far off.

    Thanks again for your excellent work in this regard.

  2. Steve quoted somebody commenting on historical views of the eucharist. For those who don't know much about the history of eucharistic doctrine, I want to point out that people held a variety of views of the eucharist in the early centuries of church history. Roman Catholics often assume transubstantiation or something similar to it whenever they see an opportunity to read such a concept into a text. I would suggest that people closely examine Catholic claims on this subject, because a lot of what's commonly asserted is incorrect. A "real presence" isn't equivalent to transubstantiation. A person can believe in some type of eucharistic presence without believing in the Roman Catholic view of the eucharist. Many church fathers held a view of the eucharist that contradicts the Roman Catholic view or could plausibly be interpreted in more than one way, not just in a Roman Catholic sense.

    A good online source anybody could consult on this subject is Philip Schaff's church history. See section 69 at:

    And section 95 at:

    I also recommend consulting Schaff's notes, since the notes cite additional passages from the fathers and cite other scholars confirming Schaff's conclusions. I don't agree with Schaff on every issue, and he doesn't include some arguments I would include, but his church history is good for a general introduction to the subject.

    Contrast what Schaff and other scholars have documented with claims like these made by the Council of Trent:

    "our Redeemer instituted this so admirable a sacrament at the last supper, when, after the blessing of the bread and wine, He testified, in express and clear words, that He gave them His own very Body, and His own Blood; words which, - recorded by the holy Evangelists, and afterwards repeated by Saint Paul, whereas they carry with them that proper and most manifest meaning in which they were understood by the Fathers, - it is indeed a crime the most unworthy that they should be wrested, by certain contentions and wicked men, to fictitious and imaginary tropes, whereby the verity of the flesh and blood of Christ is denied, contrary to the universal sense of the Church, which, as the pillar and ground of truth, has detested, as satanical, these inventions devised by impious men" (session 13, chapter 1, "On the real presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist.")