Gospel of John #37 : Text of passage (6:60-71) is reproduced below
After Jesus claims in John 6 that his own body (flesh) and his blood must be ingested, in order for people to gain eternal life, many are aghast at this claim. John’s Gospel likely reflects the charges, against early Christians, of human sacrifice, combined with cannibalism.
(Reproduced below is an excerpt from an article about this stereotyped accusation, which was directed against Christians in the early period. The counter-accusation, in turn, alleged the same vulgarity of pagans in their religious rituals. You will find, too, a link to the entire article by J. Rives, a Roman historian. See also the link to a contemporary article about religious rituals and cannibalism).
The Gospel counters this charge by the suggestion that the life of God is Spirit not flesh (v.63). Thus, cannibalism does not pertain to God. Because Jesus embodies God, he will not die but instead ascend (v. 62). Furthermore, those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, based on his works (e.g. miracles) and teachings, will ascertain the truth of his words, which are filled with spirit and life (v.63).
Only a few can understand this strange claim about Jesus’s stature and mission, which (to outsiders) entails cannibalism. Those who do understand that Jesus’s life is divine, and his mission bestowed directly by God, continue to follow him. For, as Peter recognizes, “You have the words of eternal life” (v.68b).
The idea that a man’s own body must be eaten — as flesh and blood — does sound bizarre and repulsive. It is only if we accept the theological claim of the Gospel of John that the idea may become palatable. For by “eating” the bread of heaven, and drinking the blood of God, we do not eat human flesh like cannibals. Instead, we partake directly in God’s Spirit, which offers freedom, eternal life, and Love.
Question: If you were among the original audience for this speech, what would your reaction have been?
Early Christians accused of human sacrifice and cannibalism
HUMAN SACRIFICE AMONG PAGANS AND CHRISTIANS By J. RIVES
(excerpt, introduction for complete article see: Human Sacrifice Pagans and Early Christians through JSTOR — copy may be downloaded for free through public library databases)
In Minucius Felix’ dialogue on the value of Christianity, written in the late second or early third century C.E.,1 the character Caecilius, who presents the anti-Christian arguments, recounts a story about their initiations, ‘a story as loathsome as it is well known’: after the initiate has struck a baby concealed under a covering of flour, those present drink the blood from its wounds and so seal their union (Oct. 9.5). Later in the dialogue, Octavius, the defender of Christianity, refutes this slander. The alleged crime, he argues, is so terrible that ‘no one could believe it except the sort of person who would attempt it’. He goes on to point out that pagans, not Christians, are the ones who practise actual human sacrifice. He supports his claim by citing specific examples: the Africans who used to sacrifice their children to Saturn, the Taurians and the Egyptian Busiris who sacrificed foreigners, the Gauls, and lastly the Romans themselves, who in the past would bury alive two Greeks and two Gauls and who in his own day sacrifice men to Jupiter Latiaris (Oct. 30. I) .
Although Caecilius describes the story he tells about the Christians as a notafabula, it is somewhat difficult to determine exactly how widely known it was. Virtually every Christian apologist between i so and 200 C.E. refers to the charge, but the evidence from the pagan side is much less extensive.2 After investigating the activities of Christians in Bithynia, the younger Pliny notes in his report to Trajan that they gather together ‘to take food, food that is ordinary enough and harmless’ (Ep. X.96.7). The appended qualification suggests that in the i iOS Pliny had already heard some version of these stories, and took them seriously enough to make inquiries.3 Some years later, Fronto had heard enough about the charges to elaborate on them in a speech.4 Later still, the citizens of Lugdunum who instituted a persecution of local Christians in I77 C.E. were apparently convinced of their truth, since they tried thro torture to make one woman confess to such deeds (Eus., HE v. I.26). although the evidence is scanty, there is enough to suggest that at least some pagans both knew and believed these stories.
See Link: Cargo Cults Accused of Cannibalism
John 6: 60- 71
60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.