Monday, July 27, 2009

Is John 6 about the Lord's Supper?

Since many Lutheran parishes will be reading through John 6 for the next few Sunday's I found the following which might help in preperation for Sunday's sermon.

Is John 6 about the Lord’s Supper and therefore a proper place to turn when establishing our teaching on the Lord’s Supper? Or does John 6 speak of something else, making it something less than a wise place to turn when establishing this important doctrine.

Why is it so important to point out that John 6 doesn’t refer to the Lord’s Supper? – It is primarily a matter of biblical interpretation. The important Reformation principle of sola scriptura [the Scriptures alone interprets the Scriptures] demands that every doctrine of the church be drawn only from passages that speak of that doctrine. To draw a doctrine from passages of Scripture which speak of a different subject would mean reading theology into Scripture instead of drawing theology from the Scripture.

There are several things in the discourse itself that show that Jesus does not seem to be speaking of the Lord’s Supper in John 6. First of all, consider the context. [A text without a context becomes a pretext for something else!] Jesus has just fed the five thousand (John 6:1-15) who have now followed him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, hoping that Jesus will feed them miraculously again. But Jesus turns their minds from earthly food to the more important matter of having a right relationship with God (cf. John 6:27-29; note how the people’s response to Jesus’ words shows their understanding of his figurative language).

The principle of sola scriptura urges us to draw doctrine from Scripture passages that clearly speak of that doctrine. Since John 6 is about the necessity of believing in Jesus as the Savior, it does not appear wise to turn there to establish the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Instead, we draw our doctrine of the Supper from the words of institution recorded in the Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and to Paul’s words concerning the Supper in 1Corinthians. By following this important principle of biblical interpretation, we protect ourselves from saying less and from saying more than Scripture.

Notice also the care with which Jesus chooses his terms in this discussion. Throughout the chapter, Jesus always refers to his “flesh” (Greek: sarx) rather than his “body” (Greek: soma). It would seem strange – if Jesus wants us to understand the eating and drinking here to refer to the Lord’s Supper – that he would use a different word than the one he used in the upper room and with Paul.

Many who insist that John 6 is speaking of the Lord’s Supper deny the real presence. They insist Jesus’ figurative words must refer to the Lord’s Supper and, therefore, his body and blood are only figuratively or spiritually present in the Lord’s Supper.

It is difficult if not impossible for any New Testament Christian to read John 6 without thinking of the Lord’s Supper. In addition to the oral reception of Christ's true body and blood in the Supper, we also know that there is a spiritual eating in the Supper which is identical with the spiritual eating of John 6. However, to insist that John 6 is about the Lord’s Supper (and therefore to seek to draw doctrinal truths about the Lord's Supper from John 6) seems not to deal fully with the context of the chapter.



Roxann said...

Interesting. When I read that passage, I always immediately think of the Lord's Supper. It makes me curious- what kind of erroneous doctrinal "truths" do people draw from this passage by trying to read too much into it?

Pastor D said...

There is a spiritual eating in the Supper which is identical with the spiritual eating mentioned in John 6. But the main thing the Savior is getting at is to trust in Him. Allow the text to say what it will. This is one of those "points of doctrine" that we Lutherans spend our time discussing.