Saturday, February 16, 2008

I am the bread of life

At John 6:48 – 57, the Bible details a controversial issue introduced by Yeshua:

[Yeshua said] “I am that bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, so that a man may eat of it, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.“ The Jews therefore wrangled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Then Yeshua said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, “Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, always has life; and I will lift him up in the final day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, persists with me, and I with him. As the living Father has sent me, and I live by means of the Father: so he that eats me, even he shall live by means of me.”

Albert Barnes has written, “to such absurdities are men driven when they depart from the simple meaning of the Scriptures and from common sense.” How right he was, but unfortunately, his commentary did not go far enough. Though he clearly dispels the notion that Yeshua was speaking literally, he did little to clarify the intended meaning of this passage.

Catholic apologists have (somewhat) rightly pointed out that the term “eat my flesh” was a Hebraic idiom which meant “to slander,” and that it is absurd to think that Yeshua meant his followers to understand that in order to have infinite life, they must slander him. However, rather than not going far enough, as in the case of Barnes, these apologists go too far, implying that since Yeshua couldn’t have meant "slander me," he must have meant the words literally. This is absurd. One only need to look to other uses of the idiom to understand the words.

In fact, the concept of eating or drinking is used idiomatically to mean “consume” or “to possess for oneself, what belongs to another." This can have a negative connotation, or a positive one. Such is the meaning in Jeremiah 15:16:

Your words were found, and I ate them; and your words were to me a joy and the rejoicing of my heart: for I am called by your name, O Yahweh, God of hosts.

Also, the prophet Ezekiel (Eze 2:8 – 19 and 3:1 - 3) wrote:

But you, Son of Man, hear what I say to you; don't be rebellious like that rebellious house: open your mouth, and eat that which I give you. And I looked and saw that a hand was put forth to me; and saw that a roll of a book was in it; And he spread it before me: and it was written inside and outside; and there were written in it lamentations, and mourning, and woe.

And he said to me, Son of Man, eat that which you find; eat this roll, and go, speak to the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and he caused me to eat the roll. And he said to me, Son of Man, cause your belly to eat, and fill your insides with this roll that I give you. Then I ate it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.

Also, Ezekiel importantly uses an extraordinarily similar phrase at 39:17-18:

"And you, son of man," says the Yahweh God, "speak to every feathered fowl, and to every beast of the field, assemble yourselves, and come; gather yourselves on every side to my sacrifice that I do sacrifice for you, even a great sacrifice upon the mountains of Israel, that you may eat flesh, and drink blood. You shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth, of rams, of lambs, and of goats, of bullocks, all of them fatlings of Bashan. And you shall eat fat till you are full, and drink blood till you are satiated, of my sacrifice which I have sacrificed for you."
In this passage, "flesh" and "blood" refer to riches and possessions of any sort. "To eat the flesh of kings, captains," is to consume their wealth. In other words, to "eat the flesh" and "drink the blood" of someone is to "possess their possessions." It is in this way that it also came to mean "to slander" (In other words, "to slander" is "to own someone's reputation".).

These passages in Jeremiah and Ezekiel clearly establish the use of the concept of eating, or devouring to mean, idiomatically, “to take to oneself something that belongs to another.” It was in this context that Yeshua used the words as well. He was, after all, a teacher and guide. At John 6:63, Yeshua is quoted as saying:

“It is the spirit that gives life….the words that I speak to you, they are spirit and they are life.”

Proverbs 9:5-6 says:

Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled. Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding.

Yeshua wanted his disciples to devour his words (his wealth) and possess them as their own in order to "forsake the foolish" and obtain the shalom of infinite life.

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