The Eucharist

The Eucharist by sheflin_photo.

In two weeks I’m scheduled to deliver a presentation at Biola University in Los Angeles, hosted by their apologetics department, titled Confessions of a Former Catholic.  You can read about the event from the school’s website. A Catholic professor living in the area who read the advertisement wrote asking me to answer some questions in advance for his students. It then occurred to me that perhaps others might be interested. So, here is the first one, my view of the Eucharist from John 6:

“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” (v. 51).

“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.” (v. 53-54)

“For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (v. 55)

First, we must remember the context of John’s Gospel. Jesus has just fed the 5000, and despite their full stomachs, these folks are not satisfied. They want a sign to demonstrate that Jesus is in fact the Messiah of Israel. In response, Jesus explains his identity with the first so called “I am” statement, which appears in verse 35:

“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’” (v. 35)

Using the Old Testament metaphor of bread from heaven, as in the manna which God provided for Israel in the desert, Jesus presents himself as God’s provision for humanity, who, like righteousness itself, satisfies our deepest hunger and thirst (cf. vv. 49-51).

The Jews then argued among themselves asking, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat.” Because of their woodenly literal interpretation of Jesus’ words (‘this man is speaking of his real flesh’), the Jews completely missed the metaphorical meaning and thus the point of Jesus statement.

May I suggest, with the utmost respect and humility, that this is the flaw of the Catholic interpretation. It imposes a literal reading of vv. 51-58, when in fact the passage should be understood theologically. In other words, rather than feasting on his actual flesh, Jesus calls people to receive him as the source of eternal life, God’s appointed Savior who alone satisfies human appetites.

Okay Chris, if that’s the case, why does Jesus use such emphatic language in vv. 51-58? i.e., “My flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink.” I’m glad you asked.

This appears to be an example of what we see throughout the prophets, that when Israel’s heart is hardened and she refuses to receive God’s word, God’s messenger employs figurative language. In fact, I think the text bears this out precisely. Please notice what happens from the middle of the discourse moving toward its conclusion:

6:40-in plain language

everyone who
beholds the Son
believes in Him,
may have eternal life;
I myself will raise him up
on the last day

6:54-in figurative language

He who
eats My flesh
drinks my blood
has eternal life,
I will raise him up
on the last day


Finally, for those of you who are perhaps still skittish about the word “figurative,” let’s remember that this is the nature of Jesus’ “I am” statements. He is the light of the world (John 8:12), he is the door (John 10:7), and he is the vine (John 15:1), for example.   The Lord doesn’t swing on hinges or produce grape juice, but thankfully he is the real entranceway to the Father and, like a life-giving vine, the source of everlasting life. For this reason we receive him as we would bread and wine (or grape juice, if you prefer), with satiable hunger and true joy.

About the author

Chris Castaldo (PhD, London School of Theology) is the lead pastor at New Covenant Church in Naperville, Illinois. He is the author of Talking with Catholics about the Gospel and coauthor of The Unfinished Reformation.


  1. Chris,

    You are partly write. Jesus’ words here in are no doubt part figurative. But the Scriptures are to be interpreted through different senses. Catholics recognize that there is a figurative dimension to his words, but the heart of it is His literal dimension. This is proved through many things, the least of which includes typography (OT precedents for NT things, such as the unfulfilled Passover meal pointing towards the fulfilled Eucharistic meal of the NT) and the huge collection of writings from the Early Church that displayed a clear belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

    But perhaps most the most convincing revelation comes in the few verses after the above words you quoted. After Jesus said these things in John 6, “many left” for that teaching was too hard. Many people left because they took Jesus quite literally that they were to eat His real body and drink His real blood.

    And what did Jesus do? Did He say, “Wait! Wait! It was just a metaphor. Let me explain! It wasn’t meant to be taken literally, of course.” No. He lets them go, saddened, and asks His disciples if they want to leave to, if they too are unable to handle this difficult reality.

    You understand well the metaphorical and figurative senses of these words. But you are leaving at that. This is a sad fault, for Jesus unbelievably still offers us His real self today, the living Christ still among us. And many, like you, tell when Jesus told us this was going to happen, He didn’t really mean what He said.

    I strongly encourage you to read some of the ECF like Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna and some good Catholic commentary on these verses. Pope John Paul II also wrote brilliantly on the Eucharist many times. I hope you find the full, literal truth of these words, which most importantly leads to the full, literal Jesus!

    Your brother,

  2. Thanks Brandon. I appreciate your warmth and gentleness. You and I obviously have a very different exegetical method; nonetheless, I’m grateful for your sincerity. Chris

  3. If I may offer another angle, from a historical perspective. The Council of Ephesus was one of the most important Ecumenical Councils ever, probably second only to Nicaea. Ephesus dealt with Nestorianism, a heresy condemned by Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and most Protestants. In one of the key proofs in refuting Nestorius, the Council declared:

    QUOTE: “Proclaiming the death, according to the flesh, of the Only-begotten Son of God, that is Jesus Christ, confessing his resurrection from the dead, and his ascension into heaven, we offer the Unbloody Sacrifice in the churches, and so go on to the mystical thanksgivings, and are sanctified, having received his Holy Flesh and the Precious Blood of Christ the Saviour of us all. And not as common flesh do we receive it; God forbid: nor as of a man sanctified and associated with the Word according to the unity of worth, or as having a divine indwelling, but as truly the Life-giving and very flesh of the Word himself. For he is the Life according to his nature as God, and when he became united to his Flesh, he made it also to be Life-giving, as also he said to us: Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood.

    Look at what is affirmed here:
    1) The Mass is a (Unbloody) Sacrifice.
    2) Jesus is substantially present.
    3) John 6 was seen as the Eucharist.

    This is no small thing, this Council represented all of historical and orthodox Christianity. One must at least recognize this historical fact when speaking on the issue, else the audience will be unfortunately misled as to a big piece of this story.

  4. Chris, you told Brandon: “You and I obviously have a very different exegetical method” but didn’t elaborate. I with you would. Sorry if I’m wrong here, but it seems you’re not really addressing their points, but just dismissing them.

    With all due respect, how can you brush aside the view of John 6 taken by those who were at the Last Supper with Jesus and believed they were to “eat and drink” his flesh and blood in order to remember him? Don’t you think they would have known better than any of us what he meant having spent three years with him? We only have the words they recorded.

    That is exactly why the Catholic Church claims that God’s revelation comes to us through the magisterium of the Church (its Scripture and Tradition). How can a Christian ignore a teaching of the Apostles and claim to be Apostolic?

  5. Thanks Claude. Sorry Brandon. Didn’t mean to brush off your comment. An unexpected funeral service of a parishioner, which I did this evening, had me moving too fast for my own good. Here’s what I meant by a “different exegetical method.” If I may, I’ll first quote a portion of your comment:

    “But perhaps most the most convincing revelation comes in the few verses after the above words you quoted. After Jesus said these things in John 6, “many left” for that teaching was too hard. Many people left because they took Jesus quite literally that they were to eat His real body and drink His real blood.

    And what did Jesus do? Did He say, “Wait! Wait! It was just a metaphor. Let me explain! It wasn’t meant to be taken literally, of course.” No. He lets them go, saddened, and asks His disciples if they want to leave to, if they too are unable to handle this difficult reality.”

    We agree on the fact that the Jews understood Jesus’ comments literally. The questions is whether they should have or not. You argue, from a Catholic standpoint, that it should have been interpreted literally, otherwise, Jesus would have revealed his metaphorical mode of communication. I contend, with Protestantism, that Jesus purposefully withheld his figurative mode of communication because it was his purpose to harden the hearts of those who were following him simply for a free lunch and not according to genuine faith. Up to this point, we simply have a difference of interpretation (not method). We could argue about which interpretation is more tenable. I would point to the principle of Matt 13 where Jesus explains the heart-hardening purpose of figurative language…(v.13ff.) “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. 15 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’” This however is secondary to the method question.

    The difference of method comes in the remainder of what Brandon writes, which again, so appreciate the heart, but disagree with the hermeneutic, and for that matter it is essentially the same argument of Nick with which I take issue. Consider Nick’s reference to the Council of Ephesus. That was in the year 431 AD—a long way off from the ministry of Jesus. Am I saying that we should disregard the council’s because they come centuries later. Indeed no. However, we must first do serious business with the biblical text in its first century and Old Testament context before looking to the conclusions of Christian history. My disagreement with Catholic exegetes is that so often he uses Catholic dogma as the context in which to interpret the sacred text. Such an approach really begs the question and predestines the answer.

  6. So, you’re essentially saying that you’re interpreting a passage correctly (along with other modern Protestants), while inferring that every single person misinterpreted Jesus’ words for the first 700 years after Christ’s death, including the apostles who actually walked with Jesus and their immediate followers.

    It’s an extremely bold claim to say that early Christians for the first 700 years “missed” altogether what Jesus was saying about this monumental doctrine.

  7. First of all, thank you, Chris, for even having this discussion, and doing it with such honesty and openness. I am impressed. I honesylt thought that I wouldn’t even get a response, let alone your putting the time into a blog post. Wow!

    Second, in regard to your “disagreement with Catholic exegetes is that so often he uses Catholic dogma as the context in which to interpret the sacred text. Such an approach really begs the question and predestines the answer.” I am reminded of part of Francis Beckwith’s closing comments in the discussion you recently moderated. He said (something to the effect of) that since the canon of the New Testament was developed while the liturgical practices of Christianty were being shaped he couldn’t ignore one and embrace the other. In other words, while the books of the New Testament were being written, the Twelve, Paul, Mary. and all the other disciples, believed that the eucharist was the real presence of Christ and were receiving it.

    Sorry, but I don’t see this as using “Catholic dogma as the context in which to interpret the sacred text.” Rather it is the very belief and practice of the early Christians themselves, open to the Spirit, that shaped Catholic dogma and the sacred text.

    By the way, back to my original question, of which I am still anxiously awating an answer: Can you say, beyond any doubt, that the Eucharist is not the body and blood of Christ, and why or why not?

    As I see it, if the Eucharist is not Jesus’ real presence I am not doing any harm, but if it is, I am disobeying Christ’s instructions in John 6.

  8. Thanks Brandon. There is of course debate among scholars as to whether John 6 refers to the Eucharist since John uses the word “flesh” and not “body” as in the case of the last supper texts in Mark 14:22 par. Putting that aside, your question is a great one because it hits the heart of our difference. My case may sound like hubris. Granted. I certainly don’t want to denigrate the value of the Church Fathers. But, it seems to me that we must eventually make a fundamental hermeneutical decision about which source is the priority, that is, when Church teaching differs from that of the Bible, either the text of Scripture is inspired or the Church is, on this point we must eventually fish or cut bait. I believe (with Protestantism) that the sacred text, God’s inspired word, is supreme over human interpretations, even those of the Early Church.

    Your statement about how the Protestant reading of John 6 disagrees with the Apostles and Early Church is, in my humble opinion, simply not true. The Lord’s Supper of the early period was connected with an ordinary meal, not sacrifice (i.e., Didache 9-10; Ignatius, To the Philadelphianns 4; Justin Martyr, First Apology 66). In the practice of the New Testament Church “sacrifice” pertained to the body (Rom 12:1), prayer (Heb 13:15), and good deeds (Phil 4:18), never to the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long at all for error to develop. So for instance, when Clement (80-140) compared the episcopi and diaconi to the priests and Levites of the Old Testament, he described their activity as “bringing forward the gifts of the episcopus” (1 Clement 40-44). Within this framework it is not difficult to see how the idea of liturgical sacrifice eventually developed.

    It seems to me that there is a reason why in the second century Tertullian was forced to ask “What does Jerusalem have to do with Athens?” or why Jerome was impressed to repent of his devotion to Cicero—it is because we humans naturally imbibe our surrounding thought world. We’re all guilty. There’s no such thing as a view from nowhere. It was true for the early Church as it is for Protestants today. This is precisely why it is necessary to let the Bible speak within its canonical context, yes, with commentary from church history, but ultimately on the basis of its authorial intent, because we are apt to make it say what we think it should, instead of what it actually does, which brings me to my final point. With regard to the interpretation of John 6, it says in John 16:29, at the conclusion of Jesus’ “I am” statements, the disciples say, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech!”

    Thanks again Brandon!

  9. Thanks Claude. It is a privilege to learn from you guys; that is exactly what happens for me in these interchanges. Perhaps Catholic “dogma” is too strong a word. In terms of what I recently wrote to Brandon, there are certain philosophical, theological, and liturgical assumptions of the Catholic tradition (i.e. sacramentalism, the Aristotilian emphasis of Aquinas) that constitute a lens for reading passages like John 6. Of course, we Protestants have our own sets of lenses. Together, in each of our traditions, we have the challenge and opportunity of spiraling from our assumptions to the text so that the latter properly critiques and chastens the former.

    As for your original question, sorry, I lost sight of it. I wouldn’t say very much at all “beyond any doubt,” frankly, as a function of my critical realist epistomology, which is to say, I think we should always maintain a measure of humility which recognizes the possibility that we could be wrong. God’s revelation is absolute, but that shouldn’t be confused with my particular interpretation of it. Herein lies a tension. I don’t want to slide into a form of post-modern relativism, but, on the other hand, I don’t want to assign inspiration to myself. In the case of John 6, I actually think that the Catholic interpretation is possible; it just seems to me that it is improbable in biblical and theological context.

    As for your last point (about doing harm versus obedience) perhaps it depends on why you’re doing it. If you’re worshiping the consecrated host, say on the feast of Corpus Christi, that might very well be harmful in the light Scripture’s admonition to avoid worshiping elements of creation (if indeed the host is actually not Christ). On the other hand, if you approach the Lord’s table with a desire to celebrate and worship Jesus, that is something else entirely.

    Sometimes congregants ask me, particularly those from a Catholic background, if it’s okay for them to participate in a Mass, because, as they contend, “I have nothing to lose, and, furthermore, it will help me to cover all the litirugical bases.” I usually respond by asking, “When the priest elevates the host before you and says ‘the Body of Christ,’ can you in all honesty before God say ‘Amen.’” I have never had someone say “yes” to that question. The imporatnt principle this illustrates, I think, is that all of us must maintain a clear conscience before God, even as it says in 1 Tim 1:5 “the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”

    Thanks Claude.

  10. Thanks Chris. I really admire this blog!

    On the question of authority I have to take the Catholic Church over the Bible because we always eventually have to interpret the Bible; even a translation is an interpretation. (And who really gets to decide if it’s 66 or 73 books?) I don’t see how something that needs interpreting can be authoritative. The real question we have to ask, I think, is if there can be only one authortative interpreter guided by the Holy Spirit (as I believe Christ promised his Church), or if individual interpetation is authoritative. If the latter is, then why are there so many interptations and splits in Protestanism? Surely this is not the One Church Christ envisions.

    CHrist, I am really looking forward seeing you at Biola! I have been looking for this kind of dialogue between Catholics and Evangelicals for many years!

  11. Oops, I didn’t mean to use our Lord’s name in the last paragraph above…I meant to say “Chris.”

  12. Thanks Claude. It just seems to beg the question to assume Catholic tradition as the grounds for accepting the Catholic position. Since the Bible is a common standard for both groups, Catholics should have no problem with the biblical arguments. Even though the ones I’ve presented support Protesant ideas, you are nevertheless free (if not responsible) to refute them from the Bible.

    Let me ask you this question, if I may, on what grounds do you chose the Catholic interpretation over the Eastern Orthodox? Both appeal to Apostolic tradition and claim to trace a continuous line of ecclesial authority from the beginning. In other words, how do you give an answer for the magisterial hope within you?

    Thanks for your kind interchange and words of encouragement. It’s nice to know I’ll have at least one friend to meet personally in LA. I’m sincerely looking forward to it.

  13. As far as refuting arguments from the Bible, I agree and disagree. Let me explain.

    I was taught that the authority of the Bible flows from the authority of the Apostles which was given them directly by Christ, and it was their perogative to share this authority as they saw fit (especially as they were being martyred). Christ did not give us the Bible directly, but indireclty through the leadership of the Apostles.

    Therefore it’s their interpretation of the Bible, and their ordained successors, and not just the words of the Bible itself that is our guide. Even if were to give chapter and verse to refute an argument, without referring to the context in which it was written, I would be erring by imposing my interpration on the text. First, by assuming I was able to fully understand the words themselves, and second, by deciding whether or not the words are meant to be take literally or figuratively. Who am I to disregard the guidance offered by those who knew Christ? Or those who know those who knew Christ?

    I believe the Bishop of Rome has a primacy of place within the heirarchy of the Church that the Eastern Patriarchs do not. It is a primacy of place for the purpose of uniting the Church.

    If I must cite a passage to refute the position of personal interpretation it would be Acts 9:30-31 where the deacon Philip asks the Ethiopian who was reading Isaiah “Do you understand what you are reading? (and) He replied: “How can I unless someone instructs me?”

    Why was Philip authorized to do this? Because of his ordanation by the Apostles.

  14. Thanks Claude. Well said, and I appreciate your reference to Philip and the Ethiopian. A text that you may want to consider along with Philip’s ministry in Acts 8 is Acts 17:11 where it says, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

    Once again, I look forward to meeting you personally brother. Please be sure to introduce yourself. Richest blessings to you and yours!

  15. Chris, I don’t think that a Catholic should have a problem with Acts 17:11. I was taught that in everything the Church teaches, the Scriptures are primary and Tradition must be measured against it. We may disagre on whether or not they do, as is the case with the Eucharist, but they definitely should.

    I envision a Catholic Church that actively encourages its members to read and study and live the scriptures much more than it now does. After all, it was St. Jerome who said “ignorance of the scriptures, is ignorance of Christ.” I would love it if our priests asked us to bring our Bibles to Mass, and we actively integrated it into our worship, rather than just using missalettes. I wish parishes offered Bible studies right after Mass for adults, youth, and children. I want the Church to emphasize the real presence of Christ in the Word as much as it does in the Eucharist.

    I believe that the Church’s theology is adequately based on Scripture, but the average Catholic in the pew doesn’t know this. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#132) says that “the study of the sacred page should be the very soul of sacred theology” and that “the ministry of the Word should hold pride of place.”

    Personally, I would much rather spend 15 minutes with the Word than reciting prayers, or saying the rosary, or doing other devotions like the Stations of the Cross. I know this may upset many Catholics, but many of these were more important in the past, when literacy was rare and the Bible was not available or affordable. Today we can read, and have Bibles, and not be “ignorant of Christ.”

    The reason I am attracted to Evangelicals is precisely because the Bible holds “pride of place” for them and I can learn much from their love and knowledge of it. This exchange has been very valuable for me. Thank you very much. God willing, I will introduce myself to you on Friday.

  16. Thanks Claude. But isn’t it on Tuesday that I’m at Biola? I have so many meetings during my two week visit, I’m beginning to get cross-eyed. Your mention of Friday has me nervous 🙂 Chris

  17. Speaking of Papal Primacy, the Council of Ephesus also taught the following:

    QUOTE: “Philip the presbyter and legate of the Apostolic See said: There is no doubt, and in fact it has been known in all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the Apostles, pillar of the faith, and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of the human race, and that to him was given the power of loosing and binding sins: who down even to to-day and forever both lives and judges in his successors. The holy and most blessed pope Cœlestine, according to due order, is his successor and holds his place, and us he sent to supply his place in this holy synod, which the most humane and Christian Emperors have commanded to assemble, bearing in mind and continually watching over the Catholic faith. For they both have kept and are now keeping intact the apostolic doctrine handed down to them from their most pious and humane grandfathers and fathers of holy memory down to the present time”

    Papal Primacy, starting with Peter, through a succession, is clearly affirmed.

  18. Thanks Nick. If you start down that road, you need to go the entire way–full blown Catholicism with purgatory, immaculate conception, Mary’s assumption…. Then you’re left with the problem of having contradictions between church tradition and the teaching of Scripture on those points. If the history of Israel is indeed our example (1 Cor 10), then the sacred text must remain at the center and human traditions must always remain secondary and subservient. By the way, if Peter was indeed primary with a succession following from him, why does he not mention anything about it in his two letters?

  19. Chris, I would argue that the history of Israel shows us that it was their lack of faithfulness to the Covenant that was their constant downfall, rather than that their sacred text was not at the center of their lives. Many scholars believe that the Torah wasn’t even completed until after the Exile, so, how would they know what was expected of them in pre-Torah times if it wasn’t through their traditions and anointed leaders?

    I don’t understand how you can dismiss St. Peter’s role just becasue he doesn’t mention it in this letters. It could just as easily have been a) understood and not necessary, or b)not-relevant to the purpose of the letters. There are plenty of other sources for this information. Why does everything have to be in the Bible?

    In my Catholic mind, the Protestant view places the cart before the horse, and is why we keep going around in circles on these issues. Why does a belief such as the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist have to defended solely from bibilical texts when the Church was practicing and preaching this belief even prior to the New Testament being completed?

    Since the Scriptures are neither the direct words of God sent down from heaven, nor the dictated words of the Holy Spirit to entranced humans, the human authors are essential to the writing of the Scriptures. In the case of the New Testament all the books were completed before the death of the last Apostle, John to give them authenticity. These same Apostles claimed to have the Authority to preach in the name of Christ and appoint successors to continue to do so after they died. Why would they do this if the Bible was all we needed?

    See you next Tuesday. I may be a bit late because my golf team has a match in Burbank that afternoon.

  20. Thanks Claude. I’m jealous. With snow on the ground for the last four months, I haven’t as much as heard the word “golf.”

    The cart and the horse metaphor effectively summarizes our difference. Many of the texts incorporated in Scripture were viewed as authoritative, i.e., canonical, from the very beginning. Moses is very clear about the canonical status of his speeches in Deuteronomy; he writes them down and places them beside the ark and tells the Levites to read them at the Festival of Booths (31:9-11) In fact, in 4:2 he pronounces a virtual curse on any who add to or delete from what he is saying in his addresses here. All of this happens long before the speeches were combined to produce the present book of Deuteronomy, let along the whole Pentateuch. The same is true of other prophetic texts (Moses is the first and greatest prophet). So I would trace the process to the original inspiration, oral proclamation, and transcription of individual speeches/documents. You are right, no council was need to determine their authoritative status.

    Beyond this, we cannot really reconstruct the process. The issue is especially murky for books that are not obviously inspired (i.e., they do not say, “Thus says Yahweh.” This would include the historiographic books (though the Jewish tradition is certainly correct in counting Joshua-Kings among the prophets–this is prophetic historiography), the Psalms (which are responses to God, rather than oracles from God), the wisdom literature. At this point I think we can simply appeal to the Holy Spirit who inspired original oral proclamations, also inspired those who put the oral proclamations together being the same Holy Spirit who inspired historians to write their accounts from the divine perspective, who inspired the psalmists and the sages. And this same Holy Spirit guided the formation of the biblical books (their canonical shape–B. S. Childs), and he also guided the community of faith to recognize which documents were of lasting and universal canonical authority. Whether this extended to the present ordering of the books within the canon is debated, since there are at least five different arrangements (e.g., for the location of Ruth).

    I have a feeling the same applies to much of the NT. Perceiving himself to be a second Moses, Paul (who identifies himself as an apostle –sent one, and an ‘ebed YHWH (servant of Christ–which does not in my view mean primarily bond slave but is an honorific title like “servant of the king” for a member of the heavenly court) certainly views his letters as authoritative if not canonical from the beginning). Whether or not the Gospel writers self-consciously wrote their books knowing they were writing Scripture I don’t think can be answered definitively, but it did not take the believers long to recognize these as canonical treasures (contra the Gospel of Thomas, etc.) Coming from members of the inner circle, it is understandable why the epistles of Peter and John and James would have been quickly recognized. I doubt whether any of them were discussed and adjudicated by councils (like the Council of Jerusalem). The church is by definition a theocracy, not a democracy. What is Scripture and what is not is a divine decision. That decision he has revealed to his church.

    I hope to have a Q&A on Tuesday. I’m glad there will be smart people in the room asking good questions. Thanks Claude!

  21. Chris, we seem to keep peeling off more layers of questions…but I’d like to get the the most essential ones. I see some assumptions in your answers as I assume you see them in mine.

    When I was in Israel a few years ago, our Jewish tour gide pointed out the remains of the “Good Samiritan Inn” on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. I gave him a funny look and told him that just because Jesus told a story that didn’t mean the details of the story had to be factual.

    Likewise, you seem to accept Deut. 31:9-11 at face value. Because it says Moses wrote his speeches down and placed them beside the ark and told the Levites to read them at the Festival of Booths you believe that is what literally happened. I accept that it might have, but that doesn’t convince me that it did. I am persuaded by arguments that the Torah comes from a later date as well.

    I don’t see how we can argue from a text that there are (I think) legitimate questions about without considering these questions. Regarding this passage, in the (Catholic) Collegeville Bible Commentary it states “More important than the ritual itself is the expression of Deuteronomy’s view that the Mosaic office is carried on in part by the elders, who handed down and administered the observance of ancient Israel’s legal traditions.”

    I know that I am approaching this from a Catholic bias, but I think you are approaching this from a Protestant one. I think the essential question here is “who has the AUTHORITY to interpret these passages?” Did God intend for each person or groups of persons to have to figure the scriptures out for themselves, or would God have given us a sure way to know what they meant? If it could be argued that just by reading the Bible we can know God’s intent, then why are there so many Protestant interpreations?

    These are philosohical and logical arguments that lay both outside of the Bible and Church, but I think are helpful. I’m not saying that everything the Church has taught is Scriptural either, just that it’t teachings don’t necessarily have to be explicitly stated to be Biblical, or, in the case of Deut. 31:9-11, that it’s factual because it is explicitly stated.

  22. Thanks Claude, sorry for brevity of this, on the run. Yes, I think we’re getting closer to the crux of the issue (no pun intended). I would say that the Bible has absolutely no revealed interest in the question of “who has authority to interpret” the sacred text. God reveals his word to humanity and invites us to encounter him. Yes, there are certain individuals who are gifted as teachers and preachers (Eph 4), but the idea that only some have “authority” to accurately interpret flies in the face of biblical revelation. This was the mistake of Israel at Sinai when God called the nation to assemble around the Mountain to hear his word and instead of doing so, they asked Moses to be their mediator (Exodus 20). This was not God’s desire. In that context (19:6) the nation is referred to as a kingdom of priests a holy nation, the same language that is used in 1 Peter 2:9 of the Church, we (all) are a chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, a people for God’s own possession… (not just the clergy or magisterium). In theological language, we (in the Protestant tradition) say that Scipture is perspicuous–not in all of its detail, but in the central message of the gospel–the death, resurrection and new creation of Jesus. We will differ on many things, but we agree on that message, and on that basis we share a common faith. Thus, this is the apostolic deposit (again, from a Prot point of view) not the office (with all due respect) but the message. This message of redemption is the common theme of Scripture and it is the common bond of the Church. Until Jesus returns we will continue to “see through a dark glass,” that is, our understanding of divine truth will always be limited and we will therefore disagree on some (secondary) issues, even among like-minded Christians, but that shouldn’t stop us from standing firm upon those realities that we do see clearly, of which there is a great deal.

  23. Chris, I admire your love of scripture. I for one wish I had a fraction of your knowledge. I’ll see you on Tuesday. Have a safe trip brother.

Comments are closed.