What About Transubstantiation?

Copyright © 2000, by David A. Duncan

Definition: Transubstantiate 2. Theology. To change the substance of (the Eucharistic bread and wine) into the body and blood of Jesus.[1]

Primary Argument

The primary text used for the argument of the doctrine of transubstantiation is John 6. Beginning in vs. 50 Jesus says,

John 6:50I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.

When the Jews quarreled among themselves about how this could be, Jesus said:

John 6:53-55Most assuredly, 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 eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.

It is argued that the Jews took this statement literally, since they quarreled among themselves saying, “How can this Man give us his flesh to eat?”  It was after this question that Jesus replied with the strong statement of vs. 53.  The disciples then murmured, and Jesus asked, “Does this offend you?”  It is argued by Catholics that since Jesus did not correct them in their literal understanding, that there was no misunderstanding.  “If it had all been a misunderstanding, if they erred in taking a metaphor in a literal sense, why didn’t he call them back and straighten things out?”[2] Argument is also made, “But he did not correct these protesters”[3]


To say that Jesus did not correct them, is to ignore the statements that Jesus made following their complaint that it was a hard saying and “… who can understand it?”  This very statement “who can understand it?” is an admission by those present that they did not understand it.  It was not a misunderstanding that Jesus had to correct, but rather an explanation of a “hard saying” was called for since they plainly did not understand it.  Jesus challenges them that if that hard saying offended them, “What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?  Now for someone who was struggling because he had taken the previous statements literally and expected then that only through literally eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking his blood could eternal life be given, his ascension (i.e. the taking away of the body and blood) would be taking away all hope.  To answer this misunderstanding, Jesus answered

John 6:63It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.  The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.

The contrast is obvious between the things of this world (i.e. flesh) and the things of God (spirit), but the important parallel here is between “the words … they are life” and the earlier statement “whoever eats my flesh … has eternal life”.  The meaning put forth then here by Jesus is that to believe and obey the words of Jesus are the same as to eat his flesh, and therefore the meaning was not to be taken literally, but figuratively, just as the food that Jesus partook of (John 4:34) was to “do the will of Him who sent Me…

The Context

First it should be noticed that in the context of John 6, the sacrament is not under consideration or referred to in any way.  What is being emphasized is obedience to God.

Living Bread

In the context of John, the “living bread” is similar in concept to the “living water” Jesus referred to in John 4 when Jesus spoke to the woman at the well and said that he could provide “living water” such that “… whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.”  The “life” that Jesus promised his followers was “eternal life” (John 3:16), and the “living water” is explained in John 7:37-38 when Jesus himself said:

John 7:37-38If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water

Since it is physically impossible for waters to flow from the inside of a man and yet his body still function normally, it is impossible to take this passage literally, and it is explained in verse 39, “But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive…”


Already introduced into the context, is the concept of “food” that was not to be taken literally.  In John 4, Jesus said, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.”  When the disciples questioned Jesus he responded, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me …  In this same context, the “living bread” when “eaten” is to do the will of Jesus.  This is the explanation given in John 6 when Jesus urged them, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you …”  The Jews were obviously interested and asked in response, “What shall we do … ?” to which Jesus responded “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.  Jesus further clarified that the will of God included belief in the Son, and the result –  “everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life…”  The teaching then is:

            Food (i.e. bread of life) = do the will of God = believe in Jesus

Some Objections

The doctrine that the bread and fruit of the vine becomes the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ during the Lord’s Supper observance has major difficulties including:

  1. The Apostles confirmed the doctrine prohibiting the consuming of blood in Acts 15:20 – and this was after the institution of the Lord’s Supper.
  2. When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, he performed the sacrament as an example, for he said “… do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19).  Since we are commanded to do what he did, if the sacrament was not literally his blood and body at the institution, then it is not literally now either.  It is obvious that when Jesus said, “This is My body,” that since he was standing before them in the flesh, that the bread was not literally his body.  The means for telling whether something said is figurative, is that either it is explained as figurative, or it involves an impossibility, such that it can only be understood figuratively. Since Jesus was among the disciples in the flesh, the statement “This is my body”, then must be understood to be figurative since it involved a physical impossibility.   
    The figurative nature of this statement fits the ideas expressed throughout John when Jesus is referred to as “the door” (John 10:7), “the good shepherd” (John 10:11), “I am the true vine”, etc. – and the entire context of John 4-7 as shown above.


The doctrine of transubstantiation is a doctrine of men, not of God, and the Bible itself stands in opposition to it.

[1] Microsoft Encarta Dictionary, 1999

[2] http://www.catholic.com/library/Christ_in_the_Eucharist.asp

[3] Ibid