Sunday, August 16, 2009

Dialogue With Calvinist "Pilgrimsarbour" on the Nature and Purpose of Parables in Relation to John 6 and the Eucharist

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I put up the post, John 6 (Eucharist): the Plausibility of Literal Interpretation, Based on Extensive Analogical Cross-Referencing and Insufficient Counter-Arguments. My friend then responded on his site with More Discussion on the Hard Sayings of Jesus in John 6. I am now counter-replying to that. Pilgrimsarbour's words will be in blue:

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Dave's post deals specifically with John 6:44-66, but I will be bringing in other sections of the chapter for additional context and clarification.

In this section of John's gospel Jesus is preaching to the multitudes after having miraculously fed them. Earlier in the chapter beginning with verse 22, we see Jesus discoursing on His role as the "bread of life." Like the manna in the desert, the Father has given the people the true bread of life, Jesus Himself. At question here is what did the people understand about what Jesus was teaching them, and what didn't they understand. The Jews grumbled against Him for saying that He had come down from heaven, so they understood that He was speaking of Himself in a divine, pre-existent way as the bread that the Father gave to the world (vv. 41-42).

Catholics agree that this earlier portion of John 6 is a more general treatment of soteriology, and Jesus as Savior: no real disagreement on that. We believe, however, that the latter portion moves into directly eucharistic territory. Jesus' terminology becomes more and more graphic and specifically about eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood and how that ties into salvation; as opposed to talking about belief in Him apart from sacramental considerations.

They also got riled when He spoke of eating His flesh, thinking that He was advocating cannibalism (v. 52). But it was after He told them that no one could come to Him unless the Father had granted it to them to do so that "many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him" (v. 66). This "hard saying" was, shall we say, the last straw.

This is an interesting take, but I think it fails and reads too much into the saying of John 6:65 as the direct cause of the desertion, rather than what came before. I think that is rather easily demonstrated. The heart of the eucharistic message of John 6 occurs in 6:52-58. It was after this teaching, that we see recorded:

John 6:61a Many of his disciples when they heard it, said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?"
Verse 61 reveals to us that Jesus knew ("knowing in himself" - RSV) that these disciples were already murmuring, and He directly challenges them: "Do you take offense at this?" (6:61b). In verse 64 He notes, "But there are some of you that do not believe." Quite clearly, we are dealing with unbelief and rebellion here; not mere misunderstanding. Jesus knew that; the text informs us of it as well. To say, in light of all this, that the main reason they were mad is because Jesus highlighted election at the end of it, is to, I submit, miss the forest for the trees. When in verse 66 we read of the desertion, it is referring to the previous discourse, not just the immediately preceding statement. They were already disbelieving and hardhearted, and Jesus noted that before He made the latter statement that you seem to want to make the primary reason for their desertion. I think it is implausible exegesis.

Within the context of what the people could or could not understand about what Jesus was saying, Dave said...

Jesus certainly would have explained what He meant in order to clear up the misunderstanding (and the abandonment), rather than simply reiterate and emphasize the same point more and more strongly: as the passage records (emphasis mine).
But I think the Scriptures lead us to a different conclusion. Jesus spoke to the multitudes at all times in parables:
34 All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. 35 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: "I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world" (Matthew 13:34-35, emphasis mine).
Jesus explains to His disciples the reason why He teaches the crowds in parables in Matthew 13:10-13:
10 Then the disciples came and said to him, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" 11 And he answered them, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 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" (emphasis mine).
Luke puts it similarly but a bit more starkly when he says, "...To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that 'seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand" (Luke 8:10, emphasis mine).

Scripture indicates that when Jesus speaks to the crowds He uses parables, but when He speaks to His own He elaborates clearly the meaning of the parables. When He taught in the temple his plain speaking caused the Jewish leaders to conspire to harm Him (Luke 6:6-11; John 8:48-59). His discourse with Nicodemus, for example, is spiritual language to illustrate literal truths, but Jesus doesn't leave Nicodemus "hanging" like He does with many of those in the crowds. Instead He presses him to keep asking questions so that he might finally understand what Jesus is teaching him. The import of this scene is that Jesus clearly wants Nicodemus to understand Him.

Yes; so far I completely agree. This is all true.

It is not Jesus' intention that everyone will understand what He is saying because it is not His intention to save every human being. Only those who were "appointed to eternal life" (Acts 13:48) would understand and believe Him. If anyone has a saving knowledge about the kindgom of heaven it's because it was given to him by the Spirit. And what he has will increase. But those to whom life is not granted, "even what he has will be taken away." This also ties in with what the Bible has to say about the Spirit hardening and softening hearts.

Moreover, it seems clear that the disciples that Jesus takes aside for the purpose of explaining the meaning of the parables are the chosen twelve, and perhaps some others that belonged to Him "...For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe..." (John 6:64). The other "disciples" mentioned are followers who gave up after awhile as they wrestled with the "hard sayings" of Jesus. Not only were the bread of life, and the eating of the flesh and drinking of the blood hard sayings, but the immediate context indicates that the people stopped following Him when they heard that in order to be saved they had to first be drawn to Jesus by the Father: [65] And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father" (John 6:65, emphasis mine).

I agree with some of this, but disagree with the Calvinist interpretation of limited atonement and God not desiring to save everyone; also, the hardening of hearts is not a unilateral action of God; it is primarily the free will actions of those who rebel against Him, coupled with providential and anthropopathic language. I've written about the "hardening" issue elsewhere, and in any event, this whole line of thought departs from the question at hand (the Eucharist and John 6). Jesus knows that some will believe and some will not. But this has no effect on His "policy" of explaining His parables and deeper teachings to His disciples, as opposed to the larger masses of folk. We agree on that (you have just demonstrated that this is the case, from Scripture). But as we shall soon see, this very observation creates a major difficulty in your position, not mine.

Finally, it's striking to note that of all four gospels, John is the only one that does not record for us the institution of the Lord's Supper. If chapter 6 is truly teaching about the Eucharist, how could John neglect to tell us about the institution of this important sacrament which would have taken place a year after the events recorded in chapter 6? It's an argument from silence, I admit, but it is nonetheless compelling.

I think it is unarguable that not every detail of our Lord's life and mission necessarily needs to appear in each Gospel. It is why we have four, after all: they all complement each other and provide their own unique features and details. So, far from being some difficulty, this is altogether to be expected. It's a non-issue.

That said; John does indirectly refer to the Last Supper (wherein the institution occurs), by referencing the Passover meal and Judas' betrayal (13:1-2).

Secondly, the motif of the greatest being the servant of all (13:12-16) is present in accounts in the Synoptics also.

Thirdly, the Johannine narrative takes up Judas' betrayal again, in a very clear parallel to the Synoptic Last Supper stories (13:21-30). John provides the detail of the morsel given to Judas, thus identifying the betrayer to Peter and John (13:23-26). We see a similar detail in, e.g., Matthew 26:20-23.

Fourth, the prediction of Peter's denials occurs in John and the synoptics (cf. e.g., Matt. 26:33-35 with John 14:37-38).

Fifth, Jesus refers to going away and returning to the disciples (cf. Matt. 26:31-32 with John 14:1-3,18-20).

Therefore, the same events are being referred to. John wasn't required to record the institution of the Eucharist because there was no need to (the Synoptics having provided that). John gives many details that the other three do not provide. This approach, then, offers no disproof of the Catholic eucharistic position at all. It's a rabbit trail that dead ends.

Returning to the central point; you have contended that Jesus tells His disciples what His parables mean, but not the larger crowds. This is explicitly stated in Matthew 13:10-11 and Luke 8:9-10: passages you yourself cited in whole or in part, above. And note that the "disciples" were not just the Twelve, but included also at least the "seventy" mentioned in Luke 10:1 ff.: sent out to preach the gospel and heal the sick (10:9) and to cast out demons (10:17), by the express power of Jesus (10:19-20). Jesus "rejoiced" upon their enthusiastic report and thanked His Father, "that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes . . ." (10:21): language quite similar to the parables being understood by disciples and not all the masses at large.

Fast forward, then, to John 6, and who is being referred to? "His disciples" (three times: 6:60-61, 66). We have already agreed and established that Jesus revealed the inner secrets and deeper teachings of the gospel of the kingdom to His disciples. That is who these people are.

Therefore, by all your reasoning and all indication of Holy Scripture, He would surely have revealed this teaching to these disciples who deserted Him (just as I stated, and the same thing you set out to dispute, above). But He did not. Therefore, plainly it wasn't a matter of His teaching not being understood or comprehended, but a matter of it being rejected (as the text expressly asserts in 6:61,64), because He always explained the deeper meanings to His disciples, and these were His disciples.

He didn't have to explain in this instance because it was a matter of not accepting what was understood, rather than not understanding what needed to be accepted. After all, being betrayed or abandoned even by the twelve didn't stop Jesus from explaining all things to them. Peter was the leader of the disciples all along, and Jesus knew he would deny Him, but that didn't prevent Him from sharing more deeply with Peter than any other disciple. Jesus refers to the abandonment of the twelve (well, eleven), even in the midst of His detailed teaching in John 13-17:

John 16:32 The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, every man to his home, and will leave me alone; yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.
So knowing that someone would betray or reject or temporarily abandon Him did not stop Jesus from teaching His own disciples. Even Judas received many firsthand teachings from Jesus.

Therefore, He would have gone on to explain things properly and in more detail (until they "got" it) to the disciples of John 6 who deserted Him because they couldn't accept the Real Presence and eucharistic realism. He didn't, precisely because they understood and were hardhearted. When Jesus knows that (speaking generally now), He explains no further, but challenges (e.g., Matthew 23 and the hypocrisy of the Pharisees), or falls silent (as in most of His trial). And that is what happened in this instance. The "argument from parables against the Catholic interpretation of John 6" thus falls flat; it collapses in a heap.

Moving on now to portions of the follow-up post: The Purpose of Parables:

Mark 4:10-12 10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”
This further confirms my argument, because note that the secrets are told not just to the Twelve but also to "those around him with the twelve."

This could mean that Jesus uses parables to increase the crowd's understanding. However, then I would have to believe that when Jesus does speak plainly to the crowds, they don't understand him. Really? The examples of the crowds and the Jewish leaders taking up stones to kill him in other parts of the Scriptures should remove all doubt as to whether they understood Him or not. No, it's the parables that the crowds don't understand, not the plain teaching. If Jesus wanted to be understood by everyone, then why didn't He just stick to plain teaching? And the text is clear about the reason why:"...but to them it has not been given." Even in this very passage, John 6:41 ff., the Jews understood exactly what Jesus meant--that He was pre-existent with the Father and came down from heaven.

That's right. He explains to His disciples, and that is who the listeners in John 6 were. But He didn't explain further there when they started grumbling and murmuring. Therefore, this shows (via plausibility by extensive direct analogy of similar scenarios) that they disbelieved His teaching (which is the Real, Substantial Presence in the Holy Eucharist). They refused to give the assent of faith, even with an incomplete understanding, and so left.

And Luke, as I said, puts it more starkly:
"...To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that 'seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand' (Luke 8:10, emphasis mine).

Why does He say this? Well, because Jesus is quoting from Isaiah 6 (as He clearly states in Matthew 13:13-15) in which Isaiah has a vision of the Lord, at which time the Lord gives him instructions:


8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me." 9 And he said, "Go, and say to this people: 'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.' 10 Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed."

Yep. I think you have argued yourself into a corner, by noting correctly that Jesus reveals secrets to His disciples. That clinches the very argument I was trying to make in my original post. You did much of my work for me. Thanks! Much obliged! :-)

The fact that Jesus always does this proves that it was not a matter of mere misunderstanding (thinking the Eucharist was cannibalism and suchlike). They refused to (willed not to) believe and exercise faith (as Abraham did, when he didn't understand God's purposes). They were like Doubting Thomases. And what they rejected was eucharistic realism: precisely as Protestants today do. It requires more faith than symbolism or mystical, spiritual presence (whatever that is, beyond the omnipresence that is always occurring). They didn't yet have it, and they decided not to try to stick around in order to get it.

Often, belief in the Real, Substantial Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist or transubstantiation, is the first thing a Catholic ditches, on the way out of the Catholic faith. Many, sadly, have the skeptical outlook of the former disciples of John 6. This flies against the Bible itself and the overwhelming consensus of the greatest teachers in the early Church. And that ought to give anyone significant pause.

9 comments:

Adomnan said...

Pilgrimsarbour: Finally, it's striking to note that of all four gospels, John is the only one that does not record for us the institution of the Lord's Supper. If chapter 6 is truly teaching about the Eucharist, how could John neglect to tell us about the institution of this important sacrament which would have taken place a year after the events recorded in chapter 6? It's an argument from silence, I admit, but it is nonetheless compelling.

Adomnan: I draw precisely the opposite conclusion from John's relative silence about the institution of the eucharist at the Last Supper. As I see it, John didn't include a narrative of the institution precisely because he had already treated the subject of the eucharist adequately in chapter 6.

I also agree with Dave that John, while alluding to the institution, felt it was unnecessary to reiterate what was already contained in the Synoptics. He chose instead to enlarge on the subject through Jesus's earlier eucharistic discourse.

So, if anything, John's omission of a Last Supper institution narrative underscores the eucharistic meaning of John 6.

Same facts, opposite conclusions.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

As I see it, John didn't include a narrative of the institution precisely because he had already treated the subject of the eucharist adequately in chapter 6.

I don't think it's a good argument, however, to say that John didn't feel it necessary to report in as much detail as possible the events of the Last Supper. How do we know what John knew about what was in the synoptics? And why would he "opt out" of reporting on it? It seems uncharacteristically arbitrary of him, given the opportunity he had to drive his point further home.

You're right--different conclusions.

Dave Armstrong said...

Guthrie, in his NT Introduction (p. 283), states that "the majority of scholars are inclined to accept a date somewhere between AD 90 and 110" for the Book of John.

He is less sure about Luke but mentions various arguments placing it somewhere between 75 and 100 AD.

He says that "the majority of scholars" date Mark from AD 65-70 (p. 74) and that "the probable date of Matthew is AD 80-100." (pp. 45-46).

It looks quite probable, then, that John was the last Gospel written. That's how John would know about the other ones, in addition to the tradition of early apostolic Christianity already being quite prevalent, and reflected in Paul's epistles, where he already mentions the institution (1 Cor 11:23-29; the tradition of same mentioned in 11:23).

Guthrie tells us that the "most widely held dating of the first Epistle [to the Corinthians] is in the spring of AD 57, although some have proposed an earlier dating." (p. 441).

All this, and yet you think it is weird that John didn't include a narrative that was already included in biblical books no less than four times?

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Yes. It's odd that John would talk about the Passover, the upper room, the betrayal by Judas, etc., but not speak of the institution of the Supper. It's odd. I didn't say it's conclusive.

I need a lot more consistent proof from the Scriptures before I can bind my conscience to a church and a doctrine that says that if I don't believe in it, I cannot possibly be saved.

The "missing sacrament" problem in John is just one more thing on a very long list of issues that causes me to hesitate and question the RCC position on the nature and meaning of the sacrament.

Of course, I suspect you would say that if I would just submit myself to the authority of Rome, I wouldn't have to struggle with all these doctrinal issues.

Dave Armstrong said...

I think I have given lots of biblical support, if I do say so, not just in this paper, but many of them. We can only deal with Protestant objections one by one. I think the cumulative effect is compelling. I am constantly blessed and amazed, as an apologist, at how well the Catholic case stands up every time it is scrutinized. The present case is no exception.

I don't advise anyone to "submit and shut up." My thing is to show that the Catholic Church is eminently more biblical; that it truly takes all of Scripture into account, not just carefully selected and "pre-filtered" portions.

I urge people to make a comparison and use their heads (and spirits) to determine whether the Catholic Church is THE Church established by Christ. It's not mind vs. submission; it is mind + faith + (if so led) submission to God-ordained authority.

Adomnan said...

Pilgrimsarbour: And why would (John) "opt out" of reporting on (events of the Last Supper)? It seems uncharacteristically arbitrary of him, given the opportunity he had to drive his point further home.

Adomnan: Your position, it seems to me, is decidedly less tenable than ours. You point out that John does not provide a eucharistic narrative at the Last Supper, which is true. You also assert that John 6 is not about the eucharist. Thus, you have John failing to deal with the eucharist at all, at least explicitly. Yet "this important sacrament," as you acknowledge it to be, is dealt with by the other Gospel writers and by Paul. Certainly, that is odd.

However, we don't have your problem, because we find John's treatment of the eucharist, a thorough and explicit treatment at that, in chapter 6 of his Gospel.

Which position is more likely: that John essentially ignored the eucharist (your position) or that he dealt with it (ours), even if not where one might expect him to?

Pilgrimsarbour: The "missing sacrament" problem in John is just one more thing on a very long list of issues that causes me to hesitate and question the RCC position on the nature and meaning of the sacrament.

Adomnan: But we don't see the sacrament as missing from John. You do. So, for us, there's no basis for your hesitation, other than your failure -- from our perspective -- to see what's there.

Do you think John was downplaying or deliberately ignoring the eucharist for some reason? If so, why?

Adomnan said...

On John's familiarity with the Synoptic Gospels, Catholic Biblical scholar Raymond Brown has the following to say:

"Was the author of John familiar with the Synoptic accounts:

a) with Mark? Here we must give an affirmative answer, for we have sequences of material in John which follow Mark's order (see John 6), as well as similarity in minute detail. Only John and Mark have the strange expression "genuine nard of great value(?)" (Jn 12:3); the 300 denarii (12:5); the 200 denarii (6:7). These examples imply not only familiarity with Mark's tradition, but, especially in the case of the nard, with the Greek idiom of Mark.

b) with Matthew? Here verbal similarities are not so clear. The best examples are in parts of Jn 15 and in Jn 13 (with Mt 10:24). Remembering that Greek Matthew probably draws from an earlier Aramaic Matthew, we hesitate to say whether the author of John knew Greek Matthew. From the other point of view, there is the 'Johannine passage' in Mt 11:25-30.

c) with Luke? There are definite parallels between Luke and John, e.g., the lack of a night trial before Caiphas (Jn 18); the three 'not quilty' statements in the Pilate trial (Jn 18 and 19); the miraculous draught of fishes (Jn 21); and the Lucan quality of the Greek in the adulteress story of 7:59 and in c. 21. Some scholars hold that Luke borrowed from Johannine tradition (before the written John), and indeed hint that Luke could have been responsible for the preservation of the adulteress story (which appears in Luke in some manuscripts)."

So, given the parallels, it is certain that John knew Mark, probable that he knew Luke, and quite possible (albeit less evident) that he was familiar with Matthew in some form. This acquaintance with the Synoptics makes it more likely that John might omit as superfluous a fourth description of the institution of the eucharist at the Last Supper. And there was Paul's description in I Cor, too.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

I really do think that we suffer from semantic and definitional issues. When you say "Eucharist," you have a very specific bodily presence in mind. When I say eucharist, I too have something specific in mind, though different to you.

This is the last sentence on an original post I wrote a couple of years ago on this subject in John 6, and which I reproduced on a recent post:

Verse 33 sets the tone for how we are to understand what Jesus is teaching regarding the bread of life. For these reasons, I am compelled to conclude that John Chapter 6 is not teaching the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.

My argument has always been about the nature of the eucharist and the Lord's Supper, that is, against the doctrine of transubstantiation. I spoke at some length regarding the ubiquitous corporeality doctrine. But the discussion seems to have morphed into (in the view of my Catholic friends) an apparent denial on my part that John 6 bears any relation to the Supper at all. If Jesus is not speaking directly of the Supper, He at least is speaking of those spiritual realities to which the Supper also signifies. I do maintain, however, that the most offensive thing the people heard was Jesus' references to His having come down from heaven, that is, His pre-existence and deity. This is consistent with John's ongoing effort throughout his gospel to demonstrate and prove the deity of Christ.

So I must continue, by conscience, to disavow the bodily presence of Christ in the bread. I just do not think He was teaching that, either here or at the Supper's institution as revealed in the synoptics. And perhaps I'm going against the majority report in the Christian world. I don't know. Although I would never ignore it altogether, the majority report (if it is that ) is the least compelling of final arguments for me in matters of doctrine:

I am Reformed (Calvinist) = minority report, though it wasn't always that way in the Protestant world.

I believe in infant baptism (covenantal) = minority report in the Protestant world.

I am reticent to think of the Supper as a memorial only = minority report amongst Reformed.

I lean toward a partial preterist view of eschatology = minority report, even amongst Reformed.

So in my history, the majority report is not necessarily the final arbiter of what I believe. I don't fancy myself an Athanasius, so don't even go there (as if you would)! :-)

Adomnan said...

Pilgrimsarbour: Although I would never ignore it altogether, the majority report (if it is that ) is the least compelling of final arguments for me in matters of doctrine.

Adomnan: For us Catholics, it's not a question of what the majority believed, but of what the saints, martyrs and doctors of the Church believed (and the popes, of course!).

However, we do think that it is providential that a majority, by far, of Christians are in fact Catholics and have been throughout history and that the next largest group is and has been the Orthodox, who have the same sacraments that we have.

It seems to us that the true church must be universal (in time, as well as space) -- and quite visible.