Like many people, including myself at one time, I sense that many people have a tremendous burden regarding Jesus’s words in 6:53-54, 56 stating “He who drinks My blood … has eternal life…” Is there an apparent contradiction between Jesus’s teaching and the instruction found in the Mosaic Law?

Jesus is encouraging His followers to drink blood, an act utterly abhorrent to devout Jews who had read before that drinking blood is forbidden (Lev. 3:17; Lev. 17:10-14). Jesus’s hearers must have been puzzled or shocked by these words.

Jesus is using an audacious idiomatic expression. He is speaking in metaphorical terms.  There are many instances where Jesus uses figures of speech. In this instance ordinary terms are transferred from the objects they usually define to themes designated only by comparisons. 

Sometimes the Lord is so over the top in use of symbolisms, hyperboles, metaphors, figures of speech that to the average American living in 21st century America, His words seem quite harsh or puzzling. Yet we do the same thing in our daily lives all the time. When we meet someone who is untidy or eats too much, we call them “pigs.” Cultures other than our own (even nearby México) would not consider using this type of comparison. Outside the US of A people may be shocked at our severe and inflammatory language.  Yet, Americans shrug and laugh, wondering why those outside their immediate circle are bothered by the remark.

Hence, John 6:53-54 is best understood knowing that Jesus Christ is using a bold figure of speech. Jesus knew his hearers would have understood the Levitical language regarding blood sacrifice. The Jews knew the command “You must not eat any blood” (Lev. 3:17; Lev. 17:10-14), and yet blood was the means of atonement.  It is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life (Lev. 17:11).

The puzzle is unlocked by understanding that Jesus was speaking of His making atonement by His own death and giving life to those who believe in Him as the sacrifice for their own sins (v. 63).  Faith in Christ’s death and resurrection brings eternal life (vv. 40, 47, 50-51 & vv. 39-40, 44).

Fear not when you encounter figures of speech and other symbolic language in future study of the Holy Scripture. Such language can be found throughout the Bible, especially in poetic literature. I suggest that you find a good Bible dictionary to help you. 

Although the Bible’s main message is remarkably clear, sometimes certain passages are difficult to understand if you cannot read Hebrew and Greek, or have not had the time to investigate Middle Eastern customs.

If you use the Bible study resources that are abundantly available to us, you will enjoy and benefit from the rich insights of highly qualified scholars who have studied the Bible’s original languages and cultures of the day.

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  1. S.V.Ramanan August 10, 2009 at 9:03 AM #

    True.Great teachers tend to resort to hyperbole and allegories.One must remember that the Bible was compiled nearly 200 years after his departure. Possible, some points were distorted.
    When we say soul is thirsty, it indicates the thirst for Self Realization. Refer Sermon on the Mount.’The Kingdom of God is within you’.The same has been expressed in the Vedas(appr. 5000 yrs old) -‘ I am That’,That Thou art,’He is That’


  2. Peter August 10, 2009 at 4:50 PM #

    Jesus’ “drink My blood/eat My flesh” metaphor is what finally drove the John 6 majority away. This majority had been following Jesus because they hoped for another “free lunch” … having completely missed the metaphorical significance of the first “lunch” (Jesus = manna sent from heaven).

    There is no doubt that “drink My blood/eat My flesh” is metaphorical. But metaphorical of what? Granting an offensive meaning on the surface, what was it that got the majority’s goat? Did they fail to see the language as metaphorical, or were they suspicious of that to which the metaphor pointed?

    If they failed to understand the figurative application of the multiplied loaves and fishes, I suspect they took “drink My blood/eat My flesh” in an unthinkingly literal fashion. Even if they suspected metaphorical overtones, the literal meaning may have colored those darkly.

    Jesus’ twelve disciples at the time were not much better (Mark 6:52, 8:14-21). Given that metaphorical language was common enough in Scriptures, such dullness of understanding is disturbing … because too close for comfort … although we on the other side of the death and resurrection of Jesus have advantages the people in John 6 did not.

    P.S. If the New Testament canon was officially compiled some centuries after Jesus walked the earth, manuscript evidence predates that, as did the oral tradition about Jesus.

    And in the Gospel of John, the Old Testament tradition was much more ready to hand and trusted in a Jewish Holy Land context for antecedent concepts (manna, thirst, etc.) than, say, Hindu Vedas.

    The seminal question then is still, “Who is Jesus?”


  3. Stewart Black August 11, 2009 at 4:16 PM #

    Intriguing post, Nick!

    Before I go on to my own comments regarding this, please allow me a moment to respond to those of S.V.Ramanan above. It is a critical mistake to suppose that the finalization of the canon of Scripture — with respect to its RECOGNITION by the church — is the same as the recording of the events it covers. We have abundant manuscript evidence to place the authorship of the Gospels, for instance, well within the First Century. The circulation of, copying of, and dissemination of these and other New Testament books took many years mostly because of difficulties in reproduction and hardships of travel. And the final piece — the recognition of the completed canon by the church — took even longer, as some books were not as quickly or well circulated as others. I would encourage you to check out the resources at The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (http://www.csntm.org/).

    Now, with respect to the heart of the post itself, I believe that it is important to remember that in the Leviticus 17 passage (as, indeed, in the very earliest such prohibition in the Noahic Covenant – cf. Genesis 9:4), the primary reason given for not drinking blood was “the life of the flesh is in the blood, and [Yahweh says] I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.”

    Jesus’ words are not merely metaphorical. They are an echo of the underlying thought of the prohibition against drinking blood, namely, that blood represents the actual life of the flesh. In offering His disciples His own blood — and flesh — He is clearly placing Himself as the sacrifice for their very souls. He is inviting them to partake of His life — an invitation that eventuates in our sharing His very life in that we have Him inside us (see Galatians 2:20; 1 John 5:11-12; etc.). The point is that when we partake of His body and blood in Communion, we are symbolically documenting our taking of His life into us — life that is, itself, Life Eternal.


  4. Peter August 12, 2009 at 10:13 PM #

    I agree with Stewart Black’s comments regarding the allusion (at least) in Jesus’ “drink My blood/eat My flesh” language to His then-forthcoming atoning sacrifice, but I am not sure I understand what he means by “not merely metaphorical.”

    Metaphor involves a comparison, “This is like that.” Drinking Jesus’ blood here is like a deep-rooted belief in the bloody sacrifice of Jesus (or of His death which brought life).

    One might add, for example, that as food sustains the body, so one’s belief system sustains the soul.

    Here it is the metaphorical significance which carries the weight (not cannibalism, of which some early Christians were wrongly accused). The figurative is no less real than the literal. If anything, it is more so.

    In my view, only if metaphor is regarded as art detached from meaning (perhaps like alliteration?) is Jesus’ “drink My blood” language “not merely metaphorical” … unless I have missed something.

    Lastly, readers this side of the cross can hardly miss John 6 parallels to the Lord’s Supper and Christian communion. However, both “drink My blood” in John 6 and communion point to the cross and what it effected. It is less likely that “drink My blood” symbolism/metaphor points to the symbolism/metaphor of communion.


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