Eating and Drinking in John 6

This quote from Peter Leithart is a good response to the arguments of James White.

Some commentators claim that John 6 cannot be talking about the Lord’s Supper because the verbs (in vv. 52-59) are aorist. This is very implausible to me. John recorded a discourse of Jesus in which he speaks of eating flesh, drinking blood – both resonant with Eucharistic associations, and he wrote this discourse to churches that commemorated Jesus with a meal of Jesus’ flesh and blood. And yet, we know that John didn’t intend to talk about the Eucharist because of the verb tense! If John didn’t intend his readers to think of the Eucharist, he’s chosen a singularly odd way to do his business. It almost seems like a trick: Everything in the chapter SOUNDS like Eucharist, but John leaves us the subtle clue of the verb tense to let us know it’s not. A wider point about grammatical-historical exegesis: This is an example of grammar trumping the text; the verb tense controls what the passage means, rather than the whole passage controlling what the passage means. This is not the way we normally use language; when we use rich and resonant imagery, we expect our readers to notice it, and not to focus on verb tenses and not to let the verb tenses control (or cancel out) the imagery. (This is not to say that the verb tenses of Scripture are irrelevant or unimportant. They are, as is every jot and tittle. But there is not reason to make the verb tenses controlling.)

I am increasingly persuaded that those who focus on reading the Bible solely through the lenses provided by grammatical-historical exegesis habitually miss the point of many biblical passages. Reading the Bible through the lenses provided by the worship and life of the Church (not to the exclusion of grammatical-historical exegesis) gives us a very different message. The evocative language of Scripture demands to be read with something other than the emaciated imagination of the scientific exegete. The consciousness that has been drenched in the rich symbolism of the liturgy will be attuned to such things; the consciousness that see symbols merely as secondary appendages to the clear literal message of the text will not. It will fail to appreciate the weight of allusions that constitute most of the text’s message.

The weave of most of the passages in Scripture is formed primarily of the threads furnished by the liturgically-trained memory. To the mind of the exegete that is not steeped in the narratives of Scripture and the worship of the Church the Scripture will always begin to take on a threadbare appearance. This is not the fault of the Scriptures. It is the fault of the unimaginative reader who has to have everything spelt out for him.

Leithart has argued that many Protestants can’t write because they don’t have a robust sacramental theology. One could equally argue that they can’t read for the same reason (as James Jordan points out in his article ‘Apologia on Reading the Bible’). The Scriptures and the sacramental life of the Church are mutually interpretative. Abandon one and you will gradually lose the other.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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24 Responses to Eating and Drinking in John 6

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  3. David says:


    Leithart is correct to doubt “commentators claim that John 6 cannot be talking about the Lord’s Supper because the verbs (in vv. 52-59) are aorist.”

    This is every bit as questionable from the standpoint of Koine Greek grammar as it is from the proper contextual reading. As Dan Wallace puts it: “Outside the indicative and participle, time is not a feature of the aorist (Biblical Greek Beyond the Basics, p. 555).” Of course,”trw,gwn”, which is used four times in verses 54-58 is a present active participle.

    I was surprised that James White would make such an elementary mistake; but when I read Peter Leithart’s blog I noticed that he didn’t specifically refer to James White and when I read the link you posted to James White – I couldn’t find him making this claim. Has James White made this claim somewhere else? I would like to contact him if he has.


  4. Al says:


    I’m sorry, I should have made my point in using Leithart clearer. White does not, to my knowledge, make the particular error that Leithart speaks of. White’s approach is, however, exactly the sort of thing that Leithart’s broader criticism applies to. That was the reason for the Leithart quote. I see James White’s treatment of John 6 as a good example of missing the clear references to the Eucharist within the text by procrusteanizing an unwilling text on the bed of grammatical historical exegesis.

  5. David says:


    No problem – and thanks.

    I’m reminded of a line from David Chilton, that seminary students need to box up their hermeneutics text books and to read “Sound and Sense” (an introduction to poetry).



  6. Wayne says:

    Hi Alastair,

    While I find myself in sympathy with your larger point, one could make the case that Leithart trumps his opponants by way of G-H exegesis. The historical claim that John is writing to existing churches to properly situate the text and the grammatical claim that verb tense ought not trump other (and more prominant) controlling features sounds like a pretty sober handling of the text. 🙂

  7. Al says:


    You are quite the devil’s advocate! 🙂

    I guess the crucial realization that grammatical historical exegetes can make is that the original readers of the gospel were not reading the text as modern scientific exegetes, but would ‘situate’ the text in ways that grammatical historical exegesis of itself cannot (using typological and liturgical exegesis).

  8. Lee says:

    While I disagree with the aorist reasoning, it is hardly the only reason to assume John 6 is about something other than the Eucharist. Could it not be argued that Jesus is speaking about believing from the narrative itself? Compare v.40 and 58 where believing and eating the flesh both give life eternal. Or Jesus’ own answer in v.63 that flesh profits nothing, but His words are life. Or Peter’s answer in v.68-69 where Peter stays because Jesus has the words of eternal life. It seems to me that this section is more about believing Jesus and His words than a not yet instituted Eucharist. Is there not some danger in this Liturgical exegesis of reading something back into the text, like the Eucharist, where it does not belong?

  9. Al says:


    I don’t think that anything unwarranted is being read into the text. The whole chapter is full of allusions. John 6 makes clear allusions to the tree of life (eating and living forever), manna and OT sacrifices (the ‘bread of God’), all of these are sacramental foods and are elsewhere associated with the Eucharist. There is the mention of eating bread after giving thanks (v.11, 23). This would also be regarded as a Eucharistic action. The separation of the flesh from the blood also enhances the sacramental allusions, as does the strong eating language (gnawing, munching). The language of eating flesh and drinking blood is powerfully loaded and would not be seen as merely a metaphor for a bare act of believing. Why would Jesus choose the language of cannibalism (used with little qualification) to describe the bare act of believing?

    Besides these there is the strong parallel between Jesus’ teaching here and the language of Matthew 26:26-28. This is the main point. One would have to be pretty deaf to Jesus’ words to miss this. The first readers of John, who celebrated the Eucharist far more frequently than we generally do would certainly not have missed it.

    There is no need to choose between eating and believing. The passage speaks about both. The OT believer would know the strong relationship between eating food and faith. Both belong together. Verses 35-50 and 51-58 have significant parallel sections. They are two aspects of the same truth. Eating is an act of the believer.

    Verses 60-71 do not, I believe, refer back to the immediately preceding verses, but to 35-50. The trouble that the disciples have with the teaching seems to be with vv.41-43, not with the teaching about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. This explains the relevance of the argument of v.62.

    The parallels with chapter 3 of John are powerful here. As in chapter 3, the flesh/Spirit contrast is between Adamic flesh and the New Covenant life of the Spirit that is breaking in through the ministry of Christ. It is not a contrast between the physical body of Christ and something non-physical.

    Non-sacramental Protestants tend to set John 6 at odds with itself, silencing some parts to elevate others. I am arguing that we need not do this. We can take the Eucharistic allusions with all seriousness, without denying the importance that the passage places on the act of believing. It seems to me that verses like 63 tend to be used to evacuate large portions of the passage of their proper meaning.

  10. David says:

    In response to Lee, appreciation of redaction criticism–how the Johannine community shaped the message of the gospel–could be useful here, perhaps. Although in the narrative of John 6 the eucharist wasn’t yet established, in the community the eucharistic was doubtlessly live and well! In such a context, what would John 6 have been “heard” as saying?

  11. joel hunter says:

    I think David’s comment (#10?) is on target.

    That detailed and extensive arguments could be made that John 6 is about something other than the Eucharist only highlights one of the costs of the Reformation: we lost our grip on the centrality of the Eucharist for the church’s worship. Now in our various confessional identities, we “observe” the Lord’s Supper (at least once in a while) because of what it means, rather than for the simple reason that Jesus said to.

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  14. Lee says:


    I am not sure that there is a strong parallel between Matthew 26:26-28. I think that is the point in debate. Jesus here does not even use the same words. In John he speaks of ‘flesh and blood’ while in Matthew it is ‘body and blood’. I would argue that the ‘flesh and blood’ language harkens back to the OT sacrificial system (along with the bread as you have pointed out), but not necessarily forward to the Lord’s Supper. Thus, I think the ‘language of cannibalism’ is used here because Jesus is telling them that he is the same as the sacrifices in the temple. The eating was part of the sacrifice and was a sign of belief. Jesus is simply using that imagery to call for them to believe on him. We agree there is no real need to separate eating and believing, but I do not think the eating is intended to be used for the Eucharist rather it is for the sacrificial system in the temple. I understand your argument that John’s audience would have understood the reference to the Eucharist, but what does that mean for Jesus’ audience. Should we not assume that John is simply telling us what Jesus said to his audience, and that Jesus’ meaning is John’s meaning too? That audience had never heard of the Eucharist at all, and would therefore had no basis to understand it.

    I suppose we disagree about verses 60-71. I believe it is referring to the entire dialogue. The Bread of Life idea is found in every section, and it is all part of the same teaching. You link v.62 to v.41-43 where the crowd puzzles over the ‘bread that came down from heaven’, but that very phrase complained of in v.41 is used again in v.58, which is attached to the eating the flesh and blood section.

    It could be that I put too much emphasis on v.63, but I believe it is a theme of John’s gospel. The people miss the spiritual significance of the signs, not only that Jesus performs, but also that they had already been given. I think sacramental Protestants tend to take any reference to blood and make it about the Lord’s Supper, such as John 6. I do not believe it to be a necessary consequence of reading that passage. It is much more probable that he is referring back to the temple sacrifices rather than forward to the Lord’s Supper that would have had no meaning to Jesus’ audience.

  15. Al says:


    First, I think that it is important to recognize that the parallel between Matthew 26:26-28 and John 6 is certainly not the only argument for a reference to the Eucharist in John 6. That said, I don’t think that the differences in language between John and Matthew really support your case. It seems to me to be a case of clutching at straws. Whilst I will willingly admit that the different language in the two books is in all likelihood intended to have slightly differing resonances, the differences in question are relatively minor. The images are remarkably similar.

    When we take into account the fact that John is probably writing for a readership that is probably acquainted with at least one of the other gospels (see Richard Bauckham’s ‘John for Readers of Mark’ in The Gospels for All Christians: Rethinking the Gospel Audiences) and an audience that regularly celebrated the Eucharist, the argument that John’s readership would not have heard Eucharistic allusions and a parallel with the Matthean words of institution becomes quite unlikely. The fact that John’s ‘flesh’ and Matthew’s ‘body’ are both connected to the same thing — bread — would be very odd if they were referring to different things.

    The language of ‘body and blood’ is also understood against the background of the OT sacrificial system by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10. Besides, it is not as if Matthew’s account doesn’t also allude to the OT sacrificial system. The very connection between bread and body is one created by the OT sacrificial system. The very action harks back to OT sacrificial actions and takes place within the context of a ritual meal. The sacrificial meals of the temple and elsewhere are related to the Eucharist (as is the manna), not to the bare act of believing. It would be exceedingly strange if John is merely thinking of the bare act of believing here.

    The other problem with your argument is that you seem to ignore the strong Eucharistic references that have already appeared in John 6, before the bread of life discourse even starts. Verse 23 is very important here. Notice a few things: 1) the use of ‘bread’ rather than ‘loaves’; 2) the use of the title ‘Lord’ where one would expect ‘Jesus’; 3) most importantly, the focus on the ‘Eucharistic’ act — ‘after the Lord had given thanks’. It is hard to deny the presence of some sort of Eucharistic allusion here.

    What then about Jesus’ audience? Well, first of all we have to recognize that the audience did not in fact understand what Jesus was saying. Even His own disciples had problems. Secondly, we should recognize that the Johannine Jesus habitually speaks of things that His original hearers will not understand. Much of what Jesus said would only come to be understood after the crucifixion, resurrection and Pentecost. A few representative references — 2:19-22; 3:10-16; 4:10ff. (the living water in question is presumably the Spirit, which has yet to be given); 7:32-36; 7:37-39; etc., etc. The Jesus portrayed by John is a Jesus who can only be understood in the light of future events. He is continually speaking about things that cannot be understood by His original audiences. Consequently, I don’t believe that your argument has much weight at this point.

    I believe that, had Jesus’ audience did have a basis to understand what He was saying in the OT Scriptures. Jesus did not leave them without a clue. He gave them hints, but did not give them the final answer. The point of much of Jesus’ teaching in John’s gospel is to raise questions that will only be answered later on when people witness the resurrected Christ. Making sure that they understood what He was saying at that moment in time did not really concern Jesus, or else He would have gone to more effort to use clearer language and to clear up the many cases of confusion that you see among His audiences in the gospel. Jesus just doesn’t seem to be overly concerned with ensuring that His original audience understands what He means in John’s gospel. If He had been He would not be referring to His body as ‘this temple’ and things like that.

    In addition to this point, we must recognize that John is writing for Christians who are well aware of the subsequent events. The Jesus John presents is intended to be understood in that light. When John’s Jesus makes statements that appear to have Eucharistic allusions we must take them seriously and ask ourselves what the readers of the gospel would have heard. Besides, it seems to me that first century Christians were nowhere near as fussed as we are about distinguishing between what the words ‘meant at the time’ and what they ‘mean for us’. The early Christians believed that the OT was written for them (cf. Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11) and were quite happy to read the OT text in the light of Baptism and the Eucharist (as we see in 1 Corinthians 10, for example). How much more the NT text?

    Our problem is that we have adopted the rationalistic hermeneutics of interpretative minimalism, where the early Church used interpretative maximalism, reading the Scriptures typologically and liturgically. The model of hermeneutics employed in places like 1 Corinthians 10:1-11 is utterly alien to the model of hermeneutics that most moderns are accustomed to. Peter Enns has some helpful thoughts on the subject here.

    As regards 60-71, I believe that it is largely indifferent what part of the passage they refer to. I would be prepared to grant your point about a reference to verse 58 in verse 62, but I tend towards the position that verses 51-58 should be read, as it were, in parentheses relative to 35-50. I am not opposed in principle to the idea that verse 63 is dealing with the issue of eating Christ’s flesh and drinking His blood, but I am not entirely persuaded. Whatever Jesus is saying, He is clarifying what He has already said; He is not emptying His previous statements of meaning.

    The issue being addressed in 60-71 is the disciples’ willingness to hear Jesus’ teaching, not some refusal to eat His body and drink His blood. Hence the focus on Jesus’ words being the source of life. Verses 62-63 do not teach that Jesus’ flesh profits nothing. Rather, they teach something similar to John 3:5-8. The ‘flesh’ in question is Adamic flesh. Jesus is the Man of the Spirit, who gives the Spirit. Physicality is not the issue here. The life of the Spirit is imparted through the physical Jesus.

    The difference is between ‘life from above’ and ‘life from below’. Jesus comes down from above, bearing the life of the Spirit, so that we might be ‘born from above’. By participating in Christ, through belief in His Word, being baptized into His body and partaking of His body and blood in the Eucharist we partake in the life of the Spirit. Jesus is the bearer of the life from above. Verse 63 could perhaps with a measure of justification be read to imply that there is nothing magical or intrinsically remarkable about the human flesh of Christ, as if His DNA were somehow totally different from our own (a form of monophysitism). However, it cannot be read to imply the sort of Nestorianism that can be found in some Reformed circles. Christ’s flesh gives life, but the life that it gives is not something that it possesses because it is flesh; rather it gives life because it is Christ’s flesh.

    I agree that missing the spiritual significance of Jesus’ signs is a recurring theme in John’s Gospel. However, I do not believe that ‘spiritual’ (or, more properly, ‘Spiritual’) is generally meant to mean ‘non-physical’ by John. I believe that the Eucharist is the Spiritual meaning to be seen in John 6. Drinking Spiritual drink and eating Spiritual food is not the same thing as eating and drinking something that is immaterial (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:3-4). Physically eating the Eucharist is a participation in Spiritual food — food given by the Spirit in order to give us life.

    I don’t believe that sacramental Protestants are over-reading the text. If they are, they stand in good company. Christians have been seeing the Eucharist throughout the Scriptures from the earliest ages of the Church. It is only with the advent of more rationalistic hermeneutics that such ways of approaching Scripture have become less common. It seems to me that reading the Scriptures looking too much for ‘necessary consequences’ is an approach that is doomed to misread them from the outset. The Scriptures are poetic and use poetic language. Poetic language seldom ‘necessarily’ means anything. The language of Scripture is often multivalent and intentionally ambiguous. Imagination will get us a lot further in understanding it than logic ever will.

    In many respects, trying to argue for Eucharistic references in John 6 is similar to trying to explain a joke to someone who hasn’t gotten it. To get a joke you generally need to have a significant body of outside knowledge. The meaning of the joke can seldom be deduced from the wording of the joke itself. Those who have been trained to think typologically and liturgically will ‘get’ John 6. It does not surprise me that non-sacramental Protestants don’t get it. However, I am aware that trying to persuade them from the text itself is in all likelihood an approach doomed to failure; ‘getting’ the text it only possible to those who bring certain knowledge of their own to the text.

    I am not saying this to dismiss your arguments, but to point out the type of issue that I think this is. Analysis of John 6 cannot solve the issue, in my opinion. You do not get jokes by analysis — an explained joke swiftly loses its humour; similarly, analyzing John 6 is not the way that one will begin to comprehend the character of the Eucharist references. To ‘get’ John 6 you need something that non-sacramental Protestants lack, a character and imagination formed by the liturgy and typological reading of Scripture. Analysis by itself can never compensate for this lack.

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  17. pduggie says:

    Why would the fact that jesus hearers wouldn’t have understood a reference to the eucharist matter a whit?

    They didn’t understand the incarnation, and he was coy about asserting it. (If God calls those to whom the word came ‘gods’ why are you bent out of shape about me calling myself god: not exactly straightforward)

    They didn’t understand the death of the messiah, and Jesus couched it in cryptic language (“destroy this temple”)

    He spoke of the coming Spirit, but nobody knew what that meant either.

    Maybe the main import is “trust an incarnate God to save you”. Nobody would understand that, but its something they needed to hear

  18. Well.

    I guess I’m coming to this one late, so my apologies for that. Let me say that, on the one hand, I think that there are other factors in John’s Gospel that tell us something is up with John 6 — like the particular absence of the “hoc est corpus” in the final Passover. It’s a little jarring for the apostle whom Jesus loved to somehow forget that Jesus did something in that final meal which we now do over and over again in remembrance of Him.

    But even if that means that the flesh and blood talk in John 6 is pointed at the Eucharist, the fact that John has disjoined it from the actual Last Supper also has to tell us something about what’s going on there.

    It seems to me that the sequence of events from John 6:1 to John 6:40 is that Jesus gives them a supper, then Jesus takes himself away from them, then Jesus talks about salvation and in that context talks about His person work or character as spiritual food. The narrative points not to the meal but to the Christ. If we can imagine for one second that God authored history as well as the Bible, the events here mirror the spiritual facts of the work of Christ relative to the Eucharist well. But to what end?

    In that, I don’t think they can throw me out of the baptist church if I say that John 6 is about soteriology as it is demonstrated in the Eucharist. That is, if you are in Chirts as the Father has put you there, you will do the things which those in Christ do — like take this meal which is not instituted yet historically when Jesus says these words.

    Your salvation is not at stake if you do not eat the meal, but your salvation is on display if you do. The Father teaches you the spiritual truths, and you can show what you know — you can do this in rememberance of me.

    I think it’s a fine point that sometimes the Historical-grammatical method gets us too caught up in the nuts and bolts of the texts and forgets that what we have here is a constructed whole — but we can’t simply jump off the H/G bandwagon when we think we have taken the mechanics as far as they can go. They are foundational to the larger task of getting from the text what is in the text.

  19. I’m also a little hurt that TeamPyro is not on your blogroll, but we can’t be everywhere, Can we?


  20. Al says:

    Thanks for your comments, Centuri0n. I think that you right to observe that the context in which John treats these things in his gospel is significant. It seems to me that John was written largely for people who would already have been acquainted with one of the other gospel narratives and, even if they hadn’t been, would have known Christ’s words of institution and the context in which they were spoken.

    I am not sure, however, that I would draw quite the same conclusions from the passage as you would. I don’t think that the passage draws our attention away from the meal. The passage teaches us that the food that Christ gives is spiritual food, but I do not think that this constitutes a movement away from physical food. We often tend to focus on the question of what it means to eat Christ’s flesh and drink His blood when we read John 6. However, I think that the focus of Christ’s teaching is probably more on the source of the food, rather than on what it means to eat it.

    Jesus’ flesh and blood is spiritual food. Spiritual food is food that comes from heaven as opposed to ‘fleshly’ food, which comes from the earth. Jesus contrasts Himself to the manna. He is the true bread from heaven. Consequently feeding on Him can give eternal life in a way that feeding on the manna could not. The fact that He will return to heaven will be proof that this is where He comes from.

    ‘Spiritual’ food is not necessarily lacking in physicality (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:2-3). John 6 guards against two extremes in this issue. On the one hand it uses very physical terms — terms of chewing and gnawing — to describe our reception of the flesh and blood. On the other hand it makes clear that Christ’s flesh and blood are not magical, but must be received by faith. Salvation is found in a believing reception of the food of Christ’s flesh and blood.

    I believe that John 6 can shed a lot of light upon our Eucharistic questions. Any doctrine of the Eucharist must take the ascension seriously and recognize that the body of Christ is separated from us both physically and temporally. I believe that in the Eucharist we truly feed on Christ’s body as it is made present through the work of the Holy Spirit. There is not merely an ‘occasional’ connection between our eating of the bread and our drinking of the wine and our reception of Christ’s flesh and blood. It is not merely the Spirit, or the benefits of the work of Christ that we receive in the Eucharist, but Christ Himself.

    I believe that our concept of what it means to receive Christ in the Supper needs to be considerably broadened. The Church receives Christ in the Supper, but this reception is far more than the reception of the elements. The celebration of the Eucharist is an event that forms new relationships between man and man and man and the world. The celebration of the Eucharist is at the heart of the Church’s existence as the body of Christ. In receiving the elements we receive Christ and we receive each other. We are one bread and one body, because we all share in the one bread. Receiving Christ in the celebration of the Eucharist is not just receving Jesus considered as an individual, but receiving the Totus Christus. Whilst I think that Christ is genuinely present in the elements, I believe that our understanding of our reception of Christ might benefit from focusing less on the question of Christ’s presence relative to the bread and wine and more upon the way in which the Church is formed and reformed through the proper celebration of the Eucharistic rite (a movement from a zoom lens to a wide angle lens, to use Peter Leithart’s illustration).

    I believe that John 6 does teach that reception of the Eucharist is ordinarily necessary for salvation. The Eucharist is the place in which we primarily receive Christ (and in John 6, as in a number of places in John’s gospel, I see no reason why we should not think in terms of incorporative Christology in certain places).

    Christ is the bread of God (‘bread of God’ is sacrificial language — e.g. Leviticus 21:6) and reception of Christ must be understood within the context provided by sacrifice. There are a number of stages to sacrifice — trespass offering, purification offering, ascension offering, tribute offering and peace offering. Christ is our trespass offering and purification offering. As the bread of God He ascends into God’s presence and God is well pleased with Him. The Eucharist is the memorial offering and peace offering, in which we enjoy renewed fellowship with God on the basis of Christ’s completed sacrifice. The ascension of Christ’s flesh into heaven is thus a necessary precondition for our eating of His flesh in communion with God and each other in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the completion of the sacrificial movement. In the Eucharist we offer ourselves to God in Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice and enjoy the restored communion that results from Christ’s perfect sacrifice. This is the essence salvation. Not to participate in the Eucharist is to fall short of this.

    I believe that there is no reason whatsoever to say that someone who has not participated in the Eucharist is necessarily condemned. All of the OT saints died without participating in the Eucharist, but they are now made participants in the body and blood of Christ just as much as we are. I believe that much can be gained from understanding salvation in a more eschatological framework. OT saints did not have eternal life as we do, nor were they saved as we are. This does not mean that they were doomed to eternal destruction, just that their salvation had not yet come. In Christ salvation and eternal life are present realities. We participate in these realities to the extent that we participate in Christ. The fact that some believers die before entering into full participation in these realities does not mean that their salvation is at stake. Rather, it means that they never properly knew salvation during their lives, but merely anticipated it. Having died they will enjoy life with Christ in heaven, prior to the general resurrection, and will participate in a greater message in the salvation that they awaited during their lifetimes.

    The fact that someone has genuine faith does not mean that they enjoy salvation, although all with genuine faith will one day enjoy complete salvation. The present form that salvation takes is the Church. The Church is where Christ is to be found. The Church does not ‘dispense’ salvation, but is rather the place where the restored fellowship and relationships between God and man, man and man, God and the creation and man and the creation that are characteristic of salvation are to be found and enjoyed. As His temple, the Church is the place of God’s special presence. We are taken into the body of Christ as we feed on the body of Christ. The eternal life that Christ gives is the life of fellowship that is only truly known within the body of Christ, a life that is stronger than death. Once all of this has been appreciated there is no reason to believe that a person who dies before receiving the Eucharist is condemned, without needing to downplay the significance of the Eucharist itself.

    I believe that the Eucharist is more than just putting our salvation on display or demonstrating some salvation that exists apart from the celebration of the Eucharist. It seems to me that the big question that your comment raises is that of what ‘salvation’ actually is. It seems to me that the following quotes put the issue very well:

    Biblically, however, salvation is not a stuff that one can get, whether through the Church, or throughsome other means. It is not an ether floating in the air, nor a “thing,” nor some kind of “substance.” “Salvation” describes fallen creation reconciled to God, restored to its created purpose, and set on a trajectory leading to its eschatological fulfillment. Ultimately, “salvation” will describe the creation as a whole, once it is restored to God and glorified (Rom. 8:18-25). Grammatically, “salvation” is a noun; theologically, it is always adjectival.

    Nor is salvation adjectival merely of individuals. If salvation is the re-creation of man through Christ and the Spirit (which it is), then salvation must be restored relationships and communities as much as individuals. If Christ has not restored human community, if society is not “saved” as much as the individual, then Christ has not restored man as he really is. Salvation must take a social form, and the Church is that social form of salvation, the community that already (though imperfectly) has become the human race as God created it to be, the human race that is becoming what God intends it to be.

    The Church is neither a reservoir of grace nor an external support for the Christian life. The Church is salvation.

    That is from the first chapter of Peter Leithart’s book, Against Christianity. The quote comes from a sermon preached by Tim Gallant:

    Salvation and the church belong together.

    We need to have our sloppy thinking challenged and reordered. When man fell, the result was the loss of humanity. Man was alienated from God and from other men. Salvation is not a private forgiveness that has no impact on whether you are part of a community. In Christ, God is building a new humanity to be His temple. That is what salvation is all about.

    And that is why it is the wrong question to ask whether “the Church saves.” That’s kind of like asking whether having lots of money brings wealth. No, the Church does not save. Jesus saves. And His salvation comes in the shape of the Church. Being the dwelling-place of God — that is salvation. Being built together as a community of love — that is salvation. Being a member of the Body of Christ — that is salvation.

    The Church does not save. The Church is salvation, because the Church is God’s goal in Jesus Christ.

    If Tim and Peter are correct, the Eucharist should be an essential part of our understanding of salvation. The Eucharist, as a number of theologians have observed, is the ritual in which the Church is continually formed and reformed as the body of Christ. If Tim and Peter are correct in their understanding of the meaning of salvation (and I am convinced that they are), salvation can never be abstracted from the celebration of the Eucharist.

    In other news, I have added Pyromaniacs to my blogroll.

  21. We could chat about the Eucharist all day, for days on end. I’m far more satisfied with the TeamPyro link. 🙂

    I take everything you say here as reasonable and useful. I think there is a larger story in John 6 than the doctrine of election, even though I think John 6 nails the argument of election shut to makes its larger point.

    Thanks for your time on this. I’m going to think about it some more and come back with questions, if you don’t mind …

  22. Al says:


    Thanks for the comment. Respond if and when it is convenient for you, I really don’t mind. I have a lot on in the next few days myself.

    Just one comment on the issue of election. I believe that John 6 does clearly and explicitly articulate a doctrine of election. However, I do not believe that the doctrine of election that it articulates is necessarily the same as that which most Calvinists think in terms of. I do not believe that John 6 necessarily contradicts the Reformed doctrine of election. However, it seems to me that Reformed claims for the doctrine of election go further than John does in John 6 and in his gospel as a whole. John can only take us so far.

  23. Pingback: alastair.adversaria » Eating and Drinking in John 6 Redux

  24. Pingback: The Boar’s Head Tavern »

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