Eat my flesh and drink my blood: A crucial Gospel passage, the Catholic Eucharist, and bad Protestant commentary

Fra Angelio, Institution of the Eucharist (1442)

Institution of the Eucharist (1442), by Fra Angelio. (WikiPaintings.org)

Often when it comes to the Scripture readings at Mass — especially in early morning Masses — I must confess, my eyes sometimes tend to glaze over a little and I don’t absorb them as well as I should. This is why it’s important for me to have read them beforehand, something I often don’t do in my hurry. But yesterday, in my recent commitment to greater spiritual study, I decided to take the time to thoroughly study today’s Mass readings, knowing that I wouldn’t have time in the morning. And it made an incredible difference. When it came to the Liturgy of the Word, the words of Scripture rang glowingly into my ear, like dear, familiar friends. Even in my undercaffeinated state, my mind grasped them and made connections, especially when Father Joe illuminated them in the homily.

The past few Sundays the Mass readings have focused on John Chapter 6, which culminates in Jesus’s proclamation, “I am the Bread of Life.” This is one of the most crucial passages in all the Gospels, not only for the good news of salvation, but even more particularly for the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist. “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” (John 6:54-55). Catholics read this, together with the narratives of the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:14-23), as an explicit statement of Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist, and of the Eucharist itself as the source and summit of our faith, the Sacrament through which we intimately encounter Christ and receive his graces.

Holy Communion

As a Protestant, of course, I didn’t read it that way. Much as I do at early morning Masses, my eyes glazed over and I saw only what I had always been taught. I could not see, despite Jesus’s best attempt to be frank and make Himself clear. Jesus saying that He is the Bread of Life is of course a metaphor. “Eating” and “drinking” Jesus just means, metaphorically, that we should consume and inbibe the Word of God. Of course He didn’t mean that we should really eat Him. The thought never even occurred to me; it would have startled me if it had — as it did the moment I first read it in the light of the Catholic explanation, at age thirty-something.

Once I saw that, there was no going back. I could never again read the passage and see anything but the obvious. I have a difficult time now even grasping at alternate, symbolic interpretations for the sake of argument. So I was taken aback to read the Protestant commentary on this passage in the study notes of my heretofore favorite Bible, the evangelical ESV Study Bible. This is by far the glibbest, most sectarian analysis I have yet found here. It exhibits either willful ignorance of the historical Christian (and Catholic) understanding, or wanton dishonesty.

Poussin, Institution of the Eucharist (1640)

Institution of the Eucharist (1640), by Nicolas Poussin. (WikiPaintings.org)

I am hesitant to name names, but this is a matter of some import — the very underpinning of historic Christianity and of the Catholic faith. I am thankful that my ESV Study Bible at least gives ample credit to the contributors of each book’s study notes. The notes to the Gospel of John are by Dr. Andreas J. Köstenberger [1, 2], Senior Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary — someone who should know better. I do not here aim to slam Dr. Köstenberger — I cannot fault the man, or the editors of the ESV Study Bible, or the executives at Crossway, for stating an evangelical interpretation in an evangelical publication for an evangelical audience. But I am here calling him out for some flagrantly bad commentary, that doesn’t even consider — even to reject it — a prominent theological view held not only by the majority of the world’s Christians, but by the entirety of the Christian Church until the Protestant Reformation (as we have seen). It seems rather to reflect a desire to sweep the historical view under the rug, to pretend it doesn’t exist, has not been historically significant, and is not widely held to this day. This is not an uncommon evangelical tactic, but I expected higher of the ESV Study Bible and of Dr. Köstenberger.

The Bread of Life

Alvazovsky, Jesus Walks on Water (1888)

Jesus Walks on Water (1888), by Ivan Alvazovsky. (WikiPaintings.org)

This is a lengthy passage of Scripture — encompassing in its full context John 6:22-71, some fifty verses and 1,000 words. I encourage you to read the whole thing. The ESV translation of the text itself is solid, as I have found it to be elsewhere almost without exception. For the sake of brevity, I will summarize and paraphrase a bit.

This speech takes place very soon after the miracle of the loaves and fishes, when Jesus fed the multitude (earlier in the chapter in John’s Gospel, John 6:1-15). The Apostles got in the boat to cross to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus walked on water to meet them (John 6:16-21). When the crowd — the Jesus groupies — realized where He’d gone, they flocked to Him and resumed asking Him questions (John 6:22-25). Jesus answered:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” (John 6:26-27)

Rembrandt, The Supper at Emmaus (1648)

The Supper at Emmaus (1648), by Rembrandt. (WikiPaintings.org)

The crowd still had food on the brain; their own stomachs, or what they could get out of Jesus materially or temporally: how Jesus could help them in their day-to-day lives and make them prosperous and healthy (not unlike many Christians today). Jesus urged them not to work for temporal, perishable food, but the food that He will give to them, the food of salvation. The crowd asked how they were supposed to work for this food (John 6:28). Jesus answered:

“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29)

The crowd expected Jesus to perform a sign for them, as a prophet would, that they might believe in Him. Moses made manna, bread from heaven, fall to feed our fathers in the wilderness (John 6:30-31). Jesus answered:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (John 6:32-33)

Okay, yes, Jesus is building a metaphor here — a beautifully rhetorical one. Manna came down from heaven from God, and it gave nourishment to the Israelites. The Son of Man came down from heaven, and will give life to the whole world. And…

I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)

Christ (1585), by El Greco. (WikiPaintings.org)

In reading this passage and other similar passages, one should understand that in Greek, the person (i.e. first person, second person, third person) is contained in the verb. Writing only εἰμι contains the full sense of “I am.” So when the personal pronoun is added in addition (ἐγώ εἰμι, or egō eimi), it makes a strong, emphatic declaration. “Just to be clear, y’all: This bread from heaven I’m talking about? It’s me. I am the bread of life. Come to me and believe in me, and you’ll never hunger or thirst again.”

Verses 36 through 40 — containing the statements that God the Father gives Christ those who will be saved, and it is God’s will that Christ should lose none of them, and that all who believe in Christ should be saved and have eternal life — have a lot of bearing on soteriology, especially in discussion of divine election. I don’t gloss over them here to avoid that discussion, but because it’s not my point at the moment.

The Jews grumbled among themselves. “Who does this guy think he is, saying he is the bread of life and that he came down from heaven? We know his parents; he came from right down the road” (John 6:41-42).

And we come to the point of contention:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Caravaggio, Supper at Emmaus (1602)

Supper at Emmaus (1602), by Caravaggio. (WikiPaintings.org)

And Jesus’s beautiful metaphor hit the floor with a sickening splat. What!? All this talk about being the bread of life; “believe in me and you shall never be hungry again” — and then He brought it back to the stomach, with a stomach-turning suggestion. He had so far been drawing the metaphor between the Israelites eating manna in the desert for their daily, temporary sustenance, and Himself being the true bread, with which they would never hunger or thirst again; that the work of receiving this bread is only to believe in Him. And then Jesus blew the metaphor away. “If you eat this bread, you will live forever. And oh, this bread is my flesh. That’s right. I want you to eat my flesh” (John 6:47-51). And the Jews understood His words exactly like that: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:52)

Here is where I will begin addressing Dr. Köstenberger's commentary. For the above verses, he writes:

living bread. The “bread” Jesus gives is his flesh (a reference to Jesus’ death on the cross). Jesus’ statement intermingles physical and spiritual truth. Jesus is not talking about literal “bread,” but he is the true “living bread” in the sense that those who believe in him have their spiritual hunger satisfied. He becomes this spiritually satisfying “bread” by sacrificing his own physical body in his death on the cross, and in that sense he can say that this spiritual bread is my flesh.

Now, that is actually helpful. I had not thought of His “flesh” here referring to the Crucifixion; to giving of His flesh for the whole world, by which we are able to consume it. It is an important and valid point. In this sense the metaphor continues. But Köstenberger’s note does not address the more immediate point: Jesus just disgusted His listeners with perhaps the most repugnant notion possible in the Jewish world, one so unthinkable that the Torah doesn’t even address it: cannibalism; the eating of human flesh. So, presuming Jesus was speaking metaphorically, He is now going to clarify the misunderstanding, right?

No; in fact, He just made it worse:

“Truly, truly, 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 feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” (John 6:53-55)

Tintoretto, The Last Supper (1594)

The Last Supper (1594), by Tintoretto. (WikiPaintings.org)

“Not only do I want you to eat my flesh, but I want you to drink my blood.” The Jews have one of the most hemophobic cultures on this planet; there is little that is more disgusting and offensive to a Jew than being expected to touch blood, let alone consume it. And Jesus did not use the standard Greek verb “to eat” here when he emphasized this eating and drinking: φᾰγεῖν (phagein) is the standard, classical Greek verb “to eat,” the way humans eat a meal. The verb here instead is τρώγειν (trōgein), used especially of animals eating or feeding, most literally translated as “to bite, chew, gnaw.” The ESV translates this word above and in the following verses as “whoever feeds on my flesh.” Jesus, in explaining his proposition, was possibly being vulgar. “You must feed (as a horse feeds) — you must munch — on my body.” At the very least, His use of this word removed any doubt that He was referring to a physical eating, not a spiritual or metaphorical one. If Jesus was aiming to turn off his followers, He was doing a fine job.

Now, this verse — verse 55 — actually conceals what appears to be a significant question in textual criticism. I haven’t studied it in depth; I have a feeling a lot has been written on it, which I’d be interested to read. But where Jesus said that His flesh is “true food” and His blood is “true drink,” there are variant readings for the word translated “true.” The variation is minor, only a single letter; but it significantly shapes how the verse is understood. Is the word here ἀληθς (alēthōs), an adverb, or ἀληθής (alēthēs), an adjective? The words are of course related; but the variation means the difference between “My flesh is true food” — as modern textual critics and translators have concluded — or “My flesh is truly food” — as the texts available to the King James translators (i.e. William Tyndale) read.

"aletho" in Codex Sinaiticus

The disputed word in Codex Sinaiticus. The original text reads ΑΛΗΘѠϹ (αληθως), but note the correction: an eta (Η) written in superscript over the omega (Ѡ) — and then erased.
(Source: CodexSinaiticus.com)

(N.B. You can skip this paragraph unless you want the fine, nerdy details of the textual variant. I for one love a textual mystery!) And the disagreement is meaty. While generally the oldest and most reliable manuscripts — Codex Vaticanus (4th century) and Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (5th century) being the best witnesses — give the adjectival reading, there is evidence of early confusion. Codex Sinaiticus (4th century) originally read with the adverb, but was corrected to the adjective — and then re-corrected back to the adverb. The only two papyri extant for the passage — Papyrus 66 (ca. A.D. 200, one of the oldest of all manuscripts) and Papyrus 75 (3rd century) — also show the disagreement. Papyrus 66 originally read with the adverb, but was corrected to agree with Papyrus 75, which contains the adjective. Among the oldest manuscripts, the adjectival reading appears to have won the debate. But in the longer term, the Majority (Byzantine) Text, which came to dominate and is represented by the majority of later extant manuscripts, and formed the so-called Textus Receptus used in the King James translation — received the adverbial reading. In sum: I tend to think, as an educated amateur, that the question is significant enough to at least warrant a footnote in modern translations of the alternate reading. I think there’s a possibility that the adverb — “truly” instead of “true” — was the original reading. But NA27, on which most recent Bible translations are based, selects the adjectival reading; and they know a lot more than I do.

Whether ἀληθής or ἀληθῶς — the adverb is derived from the adjective — the meaning is clear and explicit. Both the BDAG and the LSJ agree: the adjective means “true, real, genuine.” I personally think the adverb makes for a funner translation: “truly, really, actually, in reality” — because I would love to translate this word “for real.”

Jesus said, “My body is real food and my blood is real drink” — or “My body is really food and my blood is really drink.” In response to the Jews’ question, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus not only didn’t correct them, but restated his original statement even more explicitly. “If you want eternal life, you must actually eat my body and drink my blood.”

But of these verses, despite Jesus’s insistence and clarity, Dr. Köstenberger comments:

Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood cannot be intended literally, for no one ever did that.

Dürer, Last Supper (1510)

Last Supper (1510), by Albrecht Dürer. (WikiPaintings.org)

What? Really? No one ever did what? Of course no one ever fed on Jesus’s flesh while attached to His frame, literally gnawed it from His bone; but Christians have been literally eating Jesus’s flesh and drinking His blood for 2,000 years. Or does Köstenberger mean, “No one ever intended (that reading)”? In either case, this statement, quite ridiculously, skirts over the many centuries of history when all Christians — every great Church Father and theologian — in fact did interpret this statement literally. In disputed passages of other books of the ESV Study Bible, the commentators give their evangelical interpretation, and then politely explain why they believe the Roman Catholic understanding is false. To comment on such a passage as this, and not even note that the majority of Christians in the world, Catholic and Orthodox, have a very different understanding of it, is misleading and a disservice to even evangelical readers, who should be aware of such an important disagreement.

Köstenberger continues:

As Jesus has done frequently in this Gospel, he is speaking in terms of physical items in this world to teach about spiritual realities. Here, to “eat” Jesus’ flesh has the spiritual meaning of trusting or believing in him, especially in his death for the sins of mankind. (See also v. 35, where Jesus speaks of coming to him as satisfying “hunger” and believing in him as satisfying “thirst.”) Similarly, to “drink his blood” means to trust in his atoning death, which is represented by the shedding of his blood.

Yes, this is the way Jesus teaches. But in this speech, He made clear that the act of “eating” and “drinking” encompasses both physical and spiritual realities. To “eat” Jesus’s flesh and “drink” His blood does indeed have the spiritual meaning of trusting and believing in Him. But if the spiritual meaning were the only one Jesus intended, why His emphasis, to the point of revulsion, on physically “eating” and “drinking”?

Murillo, Baptism of Christ (c. 1665)

Baptism of Christ (c. 1665), by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. (WikiPaintings.org)

One of the keys to understanding Catholic theology — and one of the beauties, in its simplicity and complexity at the same time — is that just as this passage conveys both a physical and a spiritual sense, each of the Sacraments conveys both a physical and a spiritual effect. The Sacraments consist outwardly in simple, physical actions: washing with water, anointing with oil, the laying on of hands. And these actions not only symbolize a spiritual reality — the washing away of sins, the passing of authority and commissioning of duty — but they actually accomplish spiritually what they represent physically. It does what it says on the tin. Baptism not only symbolizes and outwardly represents the washing away of sins; but the physical washing with water, by the power of the Holy Spirit, actually accomplishes the spiritual washing away of sins. The consecration of Holy Orders by the laying on of hands not only symbolizes the passing of authority and binding to service; but it actually accomplishes the infusion of spiritual authority by apostolic succession.

And likewise the Eucharist, by the simple act of eating and drinking the consecrated Hosts, that have truly become the Body and Blood of Christ, not only symbolizes and represents Communion in Christ’s Body, but actually infuses us with His grace. We literally, physically, spiritually share in Christ’s Body and Blood, in His humanity and divinity, in His eternal life, as He here made plain in this Scripture.

Köstenberger again:

Although Jesus is not speaking specifically about the Lord’s Supper here, there is a parallel theme, because the receiving of eternal life through being united with “the Son of Man” is represented in the Lord’s Supper (where Jesus’ followers symbolically eat his flesh and drink his blood; cf. 1 Cor. 11:23–32). This is anticipated in OT feasts (see 1 Cor. 5:7) and consummated in the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9).

Giotto, The Last Supper

The Last Supper (1306), by Giotto. Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel, Padua. (WikiPaintings.org)

No way! You think? What an incredible coincidence, that Jesus would speak of eating his body and drinking his blood here, and then again at the Lord’s Supper! And both here and there, this eating and drinking is how one receives eternal life! Jesus said that one must eat his body and drink his blood to receive eternal life — and then at the Lord’s Supper, he offered the Bread as His body and the Cup as His Blood. Even when I was an evangelical, I understood the John 6 passage to be not only parallel to the Lord’s Supper, but an explicit reference, a foreshadowing.

After Jesus was done speaking, his disciples said to Him, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60) “Jesus, that’s disgusting. Who wants to hear about eating your body and drinking your blood?”

But Köstenberger takes just the opposite interpretation:

It was a hard saying because they wrongly interpreted Jesus’ statements literally.

Yes, that’s the way they interpreted it; but if they wrongly interpreted His statements literally, Jesus had yet another opportunity here to correct them, when they directly challenged what He said. But instead He answered:

“Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.”

The words are not just spirit, they are also life. This reads as a continuing insistence that what He said before is what He meant. “But some of you still don’t get it.”

“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66). Because they are disgusted and disillusioned by what Jesus had just said. And still Jesus made no attempt to correct them, if there were some misunderstanding.

But Köstenberger seems to suggest that this statement is not even connected to His prior speech:

Many of these early disciples were not genuine disciples of Christ, for they turned back. Their initial “faith” was not genuine and they were perhaps following Jesus only because of the physical benefits he gave, such as healing and multiplying food.

This just happens to be where John notes their departure. But emphasizing that these departures are in fact connected to his previous words:

So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69)

The context of this all is still Jesus’s “words of eternal life.”

Curiously, after all these explicit statements about eating Jesus’s body and drinking His blood, the Gospel of John contains no narrative of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. All three of the Synoptic Gospels have it; why doesn’t John?

Veronese, Christ Washing the Feet of the Disciples (1580s)

Christ Washing the Feet of the Disciples (1580s), by Paolo Veronese. (WikiPaintings.org)

I recently read a very compelling book review that deals with just this problem. In Eucharist and Covenant in John’s Last Supper Account, Msgr. Anthony La Femina proposes that Christ’s washing of the Apostles’ feet (John 13:1-20) — the central action of John’s narrative of the Last Supper, but something none of the Synoptics mention — is in fact an analogy for the institution of the Eucharist. According to La Femina, the footwashing narrative contains all of the elements of the institution of the Eucharist — the command to repeat the action, a foreshadowing of Jesus’s death, a reference to his betrayer Judas Iscariot, and covenantal language which La Femina says echoes the language of Near Eastern treaties. It seems a compelling thesis that I would like to read more about.

But as for Jesus’s speech in John 6:22-71, there seems little question about what Jesus meant: If He did not intend for His words to suggest an actual eating and drinking of His body and blood, He would not have emphasized this statement more explicitly when questioned about it, and He would have made some effort to clarify the misunderstanding when His disciples protested, if it was in fact a misunderstanding. Dr. Köstenberger’s notes in the ESV Study Bible seem not only to present a sectarian interpretation — which is expected — but to consciously ignore and dismiss the historical understanding of the passage. At best, they present unhelpful commentary, missing and dismissing obvious connections and leading away from a thorough understanding of the text rather than toward it.

30 thoughts on “Eat my flesh and drink my blood: A crucial Gospel passage, the Catholic Eucharist, and bad Protestant commentary

  1. Thank you for this compelling analysis. I just don’t see how Köstenberger, who is usually very good, can write this way. He is simply ignoring the most obvious reading of the text – a sure sign of eisegesis.

    As for no one believing it, well, Catholics do, many Anglicans do, and the Orthodox do – yet again we witness the insularity of some American Evangelicals.

    • So you’ve read him before? He has written whole books on the Gospel of John. I think I will have to check him out to see if he’s more honest (or more astute?) in an academic setting. He certainly seems well qualified.

      • Yes, I have, and he’s usually OK – but I guess it is that Protestant thing when presented with clear proof of the Real Presence. He co-wrote a good book on ‘The heresy of Orthodoxy’ with Michael J. Kruger.

        • That looks like an interesting book. Is it worth reading? I have to ask how he could apparently have a familiarity with early Christianity and yet completely dismiss out of hand doctrines such as the Real Presence! I used to do the same thing, of course. I admired the Church Fathers and the medieval saints and heroes of the faith for years, yet never realized how casually I dismissed most of the things they believed as “superstitions” that we Christians today were somehow “above.”

  2. This is actually one of the themes that started me moving away from a brand of evangelicalism. We professed to believe the Bible literally, and yet when I read some Catholic interpretations of various passages I began to see that what we actually accepted was an interpretation of “literal until it contradicts something we already believe, then it’s spiritual.” Interesting how many denominations seem to have an aversion to the physical “stuff” of the sacraments.
    Maybe someone should inform modern evangelicals that Martin Luther accepted the real presence of Jesus in the elements (although in a slightly different way) and I think John Calvin did as well. Certainly all the early Church Fathers did. So it really makes me wonder if some Reformation-inspired churches really have any connection to either their founding figures or the early Church.
    Anyway, great post and great evaluation of your sources.

    • Yes; I don’t quite understand it. It reflects a willful decision, at least on someone’s part — I can’t blame all the unfortunates who just follow what they are taught, as I once was — to reject the plain teaching of Scripture when it’s convenient. Baptism, for most evangelicals, is just a symbol, a public profession of faith, but for all that, Baptists especially are pretty insistent on it. The church I came from all but neglected to perform baptisms for I don’t know how long, until recently, last Easter in fact, when I entered the Church, they had a mass baptismal service that resembled an assembly line. Still, apparently, just a symbol. We only took Communion there once a month, if even that often. I don’t understand how the apple of evangelicalism could fall so far from the tree of historical Christianity, from basic, fundamental, historical Christian understanding, and roll itself still further away.

      • As I mentioned in one of my early posts, I think there’s just a tendency that once someone begins to throw out doctrines and practices, then it just becomes a process where eventually more and more gets thrown out until religion itself gets thrown out altogether. At least, that’s my suspicion without some kind of authoritative structure to help us continually sift the traditions handed down to us. It’s one of the major things that is drawing me away from Protestantism more and more.

    • I am beginning my catchup, since the last few weeks starting classes have been murder!

      Whenever I talk about Protestantism, I make a distinction between the traditions that descend from the original Reformers and those who simply got upset with their church and went to found their own somewhere. Those who descended from Roman Catholicism have a much greater sense of the tradition they came from and are more closely related to it. As a Lutheran, I am always consciously aware of the Roman Catholicism I inherited–after all, Lutherans teach the Real Presence, just without the ancient Greek metaphysical explanation.

      But also as Lutheran, I can read Köstenberger’s notes and see a hint of something there in the text. I don’t think Jesus is talking -just- about the Lord’s Supper in this speech, for Jesus offered so much more than just that one sacrament. His true body and true blood are more than bread and wine–they are his presence, his teaching, his spirituality, his love, his healing, his anger, his sorrow. But that doesn’t mean that the reference to the Eucharist isn’t there as well.

  3. First let me say that i am not protestant, unless you want to call me that, thats fine. Im not catholic. I know Jesus and follow the Lamb. I leave religions to the unsaved. But catholics like to belittle protestants…..For what reason? Because they dont have holymen who dress in babylonian robes and fish hats? This post says that protetants are wrong because they dont believe in the real presence. You ninny, god is everywhere. Oh, come look, the catholic priest made god climb into this little golden cage.Hes in there looking out. The catholic church down the road….Oh, god is here in our golden cage.
    If someones says….Lo, god is here or low, god is there, believe it not.
    Communion. Thats not really biblical. Jesus said …do this in rememberance of me. Eating his flesh and drinking his blood is simply believeing on him. His words are the bread of life.
    Well, protestants are wrong because they dont use graven images, like we catholics love to bow to. They wont kiss the man in the babylonian fish hats feet. They places of worhip arent filled with graven images like our places are. They are not in gods will.
    Do i really have to spell this out to you? Since when does god require graven images to be bowed to? You should take a lesson from those stupid proddies and stop bowing to catholic babylonian idols. Oh, and, hi Jessica Hof, how you doin?

    • Bozo, I really don’t like the tone of your comment. If you’re trying to be cute, it’s not working. You disagree with me. That’s fine. But let’s present our arguments civilly and rationally and not resort to mockery and name-calling.

      First of all, I don’t “belittle” Protestants; I disagree with them and debate with them. I was a Protestant for some thirty years of my life, and most of my friends and family members are Protestants. You claim not to be a Protestant, yet you’re taking offense at Catholics belittling them, and otherwise lumping yourself into that category. Since you’re not Catholic, but apparently evangelical, your faith tradition descends from the Protestant churches that split from Rome during the Reformation. So if you have a beef with Rome, you ought to wear that label proudly.

      Again, as I just commented to you at JessicaHof’s, you seem awfully quick to label other Christians as “unsaved.” What makes you “saved” and these other people “unsaved”? Apparently you are also saying Catholics are “unsaved”? I hate to tell you this, but your faith is a “religion” just as much as mine is. Likewise, my “religion” is a “relationship” just as much as yours is.

      Now, if you’d like to discuss Catholic or Protestant doctrine, I’m glad to do that. But I’m not going to engage your arguments if you’re going to mock me.

  4. Pingback: Whatever Happened to the Eucharist? Why Don’t Evangelical Protestants Celebrate It? « The Lonely Pilgrim

  5. Joseph, my thoughts on this may be a bit disjointed since I’m working on the fly after giving the text a cursory reading.

    First, I think the adjectival reading (ἀληθής) is likely original, given its manuscript support. I have bigger questions, however, about the exegetical significance of ἀληθής––especially given its eschatological overtones in the Johannine corpus.

    I wish I could dig deeper into it, but a surface level explanation would be that I suspect that the eschatological import of the term is getting lost in the English translations.

      • I’m hopeful that I’m going to be able to block out some time this week (perhaps on Thursday) and sit down with my Nestle-Aland and dig at the passage a bit. If I can, then maybe I can get something cross-posted over at Southern Reformation within a week or so.

        God willing, of course.

  6. You should know by now that fundamental evangelicals are the only ones who know how to interpret Scripture, and they are the only ones who are correct in everything they believe. Everyone else is wrong, even other evangelicals who disagree on occasion.
    And for the record, evangelicals as a whole, attack other religions more than anyone else.
    To say Catholics attack Protestants all the time is incorrect. I am not Catholic. I call it like I see it. I hate hypocrites and I hate people attacking other religions.

  7. Our Lord literally changed water in to wine. The guests saw, smelled and tasted wine not water. The bread and wine are not literally changed in to the flesh and blood of Our Lord. Therefore, He had to be speaking symbolically.

    • The bread and wine are not literally changed in to the flesh and blood of Our Lord. Therefore, He had to be speaking symbolically.

      As fine an example of begging the question as I’ve ever seen. 😀 You realize that you assume from the start that “The bread and wine are not literally into the flesh and blood of Our Lord.” How can you assume the very thing you’re trying to refute? No, one partaking of the Eucharist does not see, smell, or taste human flesh or blood. But as Christians, of course, we accept many things we do not see, smell, or taste as true, because our Lord taught them as true. There is more to reality than what our senses can perceive.

      • Joseph,

        Thank you for your response.

        Because of your past, I thought you may have had similar questions about this topic so I figured better to talk to you than a born and raised Catholic.

        As always I’ve read your article and response. If I seem to be repeating myself or ignoring something you wrote I’m not trying to be disrespectful, it usually means I disagree or have a different interpretation of the proof/statement provided. Or else I’m trying to get insight on what you thought before and why you changed your position.

        Doesn’t the Church teach the reality of the bread and wine is changed but the outward appearance remains the same? So we are to take the verse literally, but the appearance of the bread and wine remain the same outwardly? This type of physical miracle makes no sense to me.

        In the first century wasn’t Holy Communion similar to the Lord’s Supper? Is there any writings talking about taking care to not drop any concentrated bread or wine at that time? Or did this happen much later?

        In your article what is the “Catholic explanation” you refer to?

        Did you realize the Catholic Church was The Church before or after your revelation about transubstantiation?

        As a Protestant did you think Holy Communion at your Church was just a memorial? Spiritually the body and blood of Our Lord?

        • Hello again, Paul.

          As always I’ve read your article and response. If I seem to be repeating myself or ignoring something you wrote I’m not trying to be disrespectful, it usually means I disagree or have a different interpretation of the proof/statement provided. Or else I’m trying to get insight on what you thought before and why you changed your position.

          Thanks; I do appreciate your questions and your openness. 

          Doesn’t the Church teach the reality of the bread and wine is changed but the outward appearance remains the same? So we are to take the verse literally, but the appearance of the bread and wine remain the same outwardly?

          Jesus says, literally, that “the bread from heaven … is my flesh” and “unless you eat [My] flesh and drink [My] blood you have no life in you.” And He repeats Himself several times, in increasingly explicit language, lest there be any confusion as to His meaning. He also says, at the Last Supper, holding up the bread and the wine, that “This is my Body, given for you” and “This is my Blood, poured out for you.” The connection here was not lost on the disciples or on the Evangelists; in fact, the whole of the Gospels seems to be centered around it. So Jesus’s Flesh and Blood are equated, through the words of the Lord Himself, with the Bread and Wine of the Lord’s Supper. And the Early Church, for the earliest written records (including Scripture itself, cf. 1 Corinthians 11:27, 10:16–17, etc.) attests that the celebration of the Lord’s Supper was something much more than a symbol, but the partaking of the Body and Blood of the Lord.

          So to answer your question: Yes, that has been the teaching since the earliest times. If the Lord says this is My Body and Blood, and you must eat and drink of These to receive My life, then the Church will and did understand Him at His literal meaning — even if the Elements do not look or taste like human flesh and blood.

          This type of physical miracle makes no sense to me.

          That is why it’s called a “mystery.”

          In the first century wasn’t Holy Communion similar to the Lord’s Supper? Is there any writings talking about taking care to not drop any concentrated bread or wine at that time? Or did this happen much later?

          I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying. The Lord’s Supper is Holy Communion, and always has been understood as such (see 1 Corinthians 10:16–17, in which “participation” in most modern translations is actually the Greek κοινωνία [koinōnia], literally communion). St. Justin Martyr, who in his First Apology gives the earliest full description (mid–second century) of Christian liturgy and worship (see §§ 65, 66, and 67) describes a rite that resembles in every way the Christian liturgy of the Eucharist that has continued to be celebrated in both the East and West, i.e. the Divine Liturgy or the Mass. St. Ignatius of Antioch argues in his epistles (c. A.D. 107) against heretics “opposed to the will of God” because they “confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh (σάρξ) of our Saviour Jesus Christ.” The earliest reference I can find to care being taken lest a particle of the consecrated Bread or Wine drop is Tertullian (c. A.D. 155–255); in fact, you quoted him almost verbatim: “We take anxious care lest something of our Cup or Bread should fall upon the ground” (The Crown 3:3–4). I found that from a hasty and cursory Google search, in this collection of quotes, so there may be more and earlier ones.

          In your article what is the “Catholic explanation” you refer to?

          The Catholic explanation of Jesus’s Bread of Life discourse in John 6 and of Institution Narratives of the Eucharist, i.e. that He was speaking literally of His Body and Blood being eaten.

          Did you realize the Catholic Church was The Church before or after your revelation about transubstantiation?

          First of all, I want to make a distinction between the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and “transubstantiation.” “Transubstantiation” is St. Thomas Aquinas’s thirteenth-century explanation, based on Aristotelean metaphysics, of the Real Presence, how the substance of the Bread and Wine are changed but not their species (appearances). But the Real Presence is what the Church has always believed, since the Apostles themselves, that the Bread and Wine are really the Body and Blood of the Lord. The belief in the Real Presence does not stand or fall by transubstantiation. That’s the best explanation anybody has come up with that captures all the nuances of what we believe about the Real Presence, but it is an explanation, not the belief itself.

          But no, I was coming to realizations about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist for a long time before I even considered the Catholic Church or becoming Catholic. 

          As a Protestant did you think Holy Communion at your Church was just a memorial? Spiritually the body and blood of Our Lord?

          In my upbringing, it was just a memorial and a symbol, nothing more, and it was largely neglected, being celebrated first every month and then less and less frequently. I realized a long time before I discovered the Catholic Church that this was neither the biblical teaching about the Lord’s Supper nor the place of Communion in the New Testament Church. What about in your understanding today and your upbringing?

          God bless you and the peace of the Lord be with you!

          • Joseph,

            Thank you for your response and may the peace of the Lord be with you also.

            I’ll put Tertullian (new to me) and the difference between transubstantiation v. the Real Presence on my research pile.

            What I meant by same as the Lord’s Supper is the bread and wine were blessed at probably the supper table in a home setting and distributed. Obviously there weren’t any Churches at that time and this wasn’t a Mass as we know today. This is why I thought something would be written in Acts or one of the other books after the Ascension about handling the consecrated bread and wine.

            IMO this doctrine is an improper mixing of the natural and supernatural and makes no sense to me. That is why I believe Holy Communion to be symbolically the body and blood of Our Lord, similar to what most Protestants teach.

            I revisited this topic after some research (just personal) I’ve been doing on problems within the Catholic Church (ie. Real Presence, reception practices, communion for divorced and remarried with out an annulment, pro-abortion politicians/providers, those practicing artificial birth control, etc… ) and found your site.

            I was born and raised Catholic but am not in communion with the Catholic Church (Latin Rite). No horror story, just disagree on numerous official doctrines and found out that this is not allowed. I now just refer to myself as Christian and have fellowship with a few Evangelical Christian organizations. I take each doctrine individually and reject or accept it after researching it. I agree with the Catholic Church on many things and disagree with Protestant Churches on many things, the reverse also applies.

          • Thanks again, Paul.

            IMO this doctrine is an improper mixing of the natural and supernatural and makes no sense to me.

            Don’t you think that the very idea of God Himself taking on human flesh and walking, living, and dying among us is, to our rational minds, just a little bit, “an improper mixing of the natural and supernatural”? 😀 Does the Incarnation really make any more “sense” to you than He giving us that flesh to eat?

            That is why I believe Holy Communion to be symbolically the body and blood of Our Lord, similar to what most Protestants teach.

            Doesn’t it bother you that no one at all, not even the Protestants, shared that opinion (that the Lord’s Supper was a mere symbol) until Huldrych Zwingli came along? Scripture simply doesn’t support such a reading, and history leaves no doubt: Christians believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist from the very beginning.

            What I meant by same as the Lord’s Supper is the bread and wine were blessed at probably the supper table in a home setting and distributed. Obviously there weren’t any Churches at that time and this wasn’t a Mass as we know today.

            Why would you say that there were “obviously no churches at this time”? The Church is first the Body of Christ, the community and the communion, and only second the building in which worship is celebrated. Scripture teaches (cf. Acts 2:46) and archaeology confirms that the first “churches” met in people’s homes (see the house church at Dura-Europos) — and they were indeed “churches” in every sense, having altars and baptisteries and other liturgical furniture.

            As for your opinion about the Lord’s Supper being blessed and distributed at a community meal: Most scholars that I have read make a distinction between the community meal, the agape feast mentioned in Scripture (cf. Jude 12), and the memorial of the Lord’s Supper, what became known as the Eucharist by the end of the first century. See, for a fine, fair, and free example, Adrian Fortescue on the history of the Mass, especially his first chapter. It’s very clear, certainly and distinctly by the end of the first century, that the agape was something separate from the Eucharist, even if, it’s possible, they were celebrated at the same occasions (see again Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, especially § 8, and also the Dicache § 9, believed to be dateable to as early as A.D. 70). 

            This is why I thought something would be written in Acts or one of the other books after the Ascension about handling the consecrated bread and wine.

            What — there’s not? What do you make, then, of 1 Corinthians 11:27–32, if not a warning against the improper handling and partaking of the Eucharist, with potentially deadly comsequences?

            I’d be more interested in what you’re researching. Certainly some of these things are problems, but, as I’m sure you’re aware, there are a lot of Catholics researching them too, searching for godly and loving solutions to sometimes difficult pastoral problems.

            God bless you and His peace be with you.

  8. Joseph,

    Thanks for your response and proper clarifications of some statements I made. I didn’t realize they had some homes set up as you mentioned until later. I did realize there was a distinction between eating a meal and Holy Communion though, but good you clarified considering other statements I made to be sure we’re talking apples and apples.

    The Incarnation is different than transubstantiation in my mind. You’re not saying the consecrated bread is spiritually the flesh of Our Lord, you’re saying the consecrated bread is actually the flesh of Our Lord but it is physically indistinguishable from the unconsecrated bread. That probably doesn’t make sense to you though?

    There are several things I believe that nobody else does, that doesn’t bother me at all.
    This may be another misunderstanding though, possibly I’ve used an incorrect term (ie. symbolic).

    1 Cor 11: 27-32 is different than what I was talking about although I understand your point. Tertullian is exactly what I’m talking about and I’ll do more research. Thank you for that lead, not sure why I didn’t see it before on one of my searches. I’m back to the New Testament tomorrow and will keep an eye out for Holy Communion verses.

    The research I’m doing is about what I call the “false ecumenical movement”. I’ve watched several Protestant Churches being taken over by what I call the “I’m okay/you’re okay crowd”. The Catholic Church is under attack from the same group it appears to me. It appears the only real difference left between Holy Mother Church and some of her Daughters is the Real Presence which appears to be also under attack from the “I’m okay/you’re okay” crowd inside the Catholic Church. Hopefully I’ve used the terms Holy Mother Church and Daughters correctly.

    God Bless

    • The Incarnation is different than transubstantiation in my mind. You’re not saying the consecrated bread is spiritually the flesh of Our Lord, you’re saying the consecrated bread is actually the flesh of Our Lord but it is physically indistinguishable from the unconsecrated bread. That probably doesn’t make sense to you though?

      So, the human, mortal flesh of our Lord can actually also be Divine, something entirely transcendent and other than human flesh, and yet be physically indistinguishable from any other human flesh? God Himself can take on human flesh, and you still think Him somehow limited to purely natural means?

      There are several things I believe that nobody else does, that doesn’t bother me at all.

      The troubling part should be that no one had ever believed it before. How can something be the truth of God in Christ if the Apostles didn’t hold it, their disciples didn’t hold it, no one at all held it until the sixteenth century? How can a novel doctrine, pulled out of a hat at such a late date, be the truth if, regardless of how much sense you think it makes, it contradicts everything that anyone before had ever believed or taught?

      The research I’m doing is about what I call the “false ecumenical movement”. I’ve watched several Protestant Churches being taken over by what I call the “I’m okay/you’re okay crowd”. The Catholic Church is under attack from the same group it appears to me. It appears the only real difference left between Holy Mother Church and some of her Daughters is the Real Presence which appears to be also under attack from the “I’m okay/you’re okay” crowd inside the Catholic Church. Hopefully I’ve used the terms Holy Mother Church and Daughters correctly.

      Do not confuse Holy Mother Church with the actions or sentiments of dissidents acting outside her mainstream. There are liberals in the Catholic Church same as there are in the rest of the world; but the teaching of the Catholic Church, coming from the Magisterium, is unchanged and unchanging. The Catholic Church is not a mere organization of people that can fall under liberal dominance: It is an institution of God, guided and protected by the Holy Spirit, led by divinely consecrated men with a charism to teach the truth.

      There are plenty of meaningful differences that remain between the Catholic Church and Protestant churches — unless you mean to complain against Protestants who would abandon their mistaken beliefs and adopt the traditional and catholic ones. In which case I would call that true ecumenism, not false. 😉

      I am amused that you would use the analogy of the “Mother Church” and “Daughters.” No self-respecting Protestant I have ever met would admit that his church was a “child” or subordinate to the Catholic Church. I think it’s quite apt, though. 😉 So if the Catholic Church is your “Mother,” why would you not listen to her truth? For what it’s worth, Catholics most often speak of Protestants (and Orthodox too) as being “separated brethren.”

      Peace.

  9. Joseph,

    Thanks for your response. Obviously my poor communication skills and strange ideas are causing confusion.

    My point about the Incarnation v. transubstantiation is: Our Lord proved His supernatural nature by His actions. His body could be perceived by our senses. Is this possible with transubstantiation?

    I’ve got one more: Resurrection story + empty tomb = proper mixture of the natural and supernatural. Resurrection story + corpse in tomb = improper mixture of the natural and supernatural.

    I do not believe in transubstantiation because it is an improper mixture of the natural and supernatural. Therefore, I do not believe the consecrated bread to literally be the flesh of Our Lord. So why Holy Communion? At first animal sacrifice pointed towards His death on the cross. Holy Communion is a reminder of His death on the cross. Was symbolic the correct word to use?

    Daughters refers to those Churches you call “separated brethren” not those hostile to the Catholic Church. I realize the Magisterium is unchanged and unchanging. The members of Protestant Churches (friendly to Catholics) had to change their rules, the members of the Catholic Church just have to ignore them. My observations indicate Catholics are becoming more like Protestants (friendly to Catholics) every day. I’ve heard only a small percentage of Catholics are faithful to all Church teaching and quite a few of the faithful are elderly. My observations indicate Protestants (friendly to Catholics) have softened towards the Catholic Church. So I’m saying I see signs of these Churches getting closer maybe even unifying within this generation or the next. and yes this unified Church will not be faithful to the Magisterium. That is why I used the term “false ecumenical movement”. I became aware of this awhile ago from one of the Catholic sources I monitor (RCTV/CMTV).

    I fellowship with some Evangelical Christian Churches but am not an official member. Some kind of Reformed Christian denominations. They do not consider the Catholic Church their “Mother” but are not hostile towards it. My past association with the Catholic Church is an accident of birth, we agree on some things and disagree on others. What the Catholic Church teaches about transubstantiation makes no sense to me, if it made sense I would believe it, even though it is a Catholic doctrine.

    • Obviously my poor communication skills and strange ideas are causing confusion.

      No, you are getting your ideas across just fine, and they are not “strange” to me: They are ideas that many Protestants share. But they are not logically consistent. If they sound “confusing” being repeated back to you, then perhaps it’s because they are.

      My point about the Incarnation v. transubstantiation is: Our Lord proved His supernatural nature by His actions. His body could be perceived by our senses. Is this possible with transubstantiation?

      Was his Divinity perceptible by our senses? No, He proved that by His actions and we accepted it on faith. Why, then, would you refuse to accept His greatest miracle, as the earliest Christians did?

      I’ve got one more: Resurrection story + empty tomb = proper mixture of the natural and supernatural. Resurrection story + corpse in tomb = improper mixture of the natural and supernatural.

      No, instead we have (a) a risen Lord that no one can recognize physically until He reveals Himself to them (Luke 23:13–29), (b) until He revealed Himself in the breaking of the bread (Luke 23:30–35). The road to Emmaus passage makes no sense apart from an illustration of the Eucharistic miracle: They did not recognize His resurrected Body until they recognized it in the breaking of the bread.

      I do not believe in transubstantiation because it is an improper mixture of the natural and supernatural. Therefore, I do not believe the consecrated bread to literally be the flesh of Our Lord.

      You do not believe because it makes no sense to you rationally and defies your preconceived ideas. But does the Lord, in Who He is and everything He does, not defy our preconceived ideas? If the truth of His Divinity was imperceptible in His Humanity during His earthly life; if He made the truth of His identify and His Resurrection imperceptible to us on the road to Emmaus (Luke 23:16), to Mary Magdalene outside the tomb (John 20:14), to the Apostles on the seashore of Galilee (John 21:4) — why does your mind reel at the idea that appearance might not be the only truth? Do you really think our human senses have the power to perceive God, apart from His revelation to us? And yet He reveals Himself every day to Christians in the Eucharist, just as he did at Emmaus.

      Your opinion about it being an “improper mixture” is not one that any of those who knew the Lord in the flesh shared, nor did anyone even conceive of until the seventeenth century. Again, does this not bother you?

      So why Holy Communion? At first animal sacrifice pointed towards His death on the cross. Holy Communion is a reminder of His death on the cross. Was symbolic the correct word to use?

      It was through the Crucifixion that He gave His flesh for the world: so yes, the Eucharist is a perpetual memorial and a re-presentation of His sacrifice for us on Calvary. But it being a “memorial” does not limit this this to a mere, flat “symbol” with no deeper meaning.

      Daughters refers to those Churches you call “separated brethren” not those hostile to the Catholic Church.

      Even those hostile to the Catholic Church are “separated brethren”. 😀

      So I’m saying I see signs of these Churches getting closer maybe even unifying within this generation or the next. and yes this unified Church will not be faithful to the Magisterium. That is why I used the term “false ecumenical movement”.

      You said it yourself: any such “false” unification would not be faithful to the Magisterium. The idea that that “the Church is only the people” is a very Protestant idea: Even if 99% of Catholics left the Church to abandon true doctrine and join with the unfaithful, they would be leaving the Church, and the true Church would remain. The Church is the Body of Christ, and the bishops of the Magisterium are His appointed teachers. So long as “the gates of hades do not prevail against the Church” (and He promised they would not), there will be a faithful remnant.

      What the Catholic Church teaches about transubstantiation makes no sense to me …

      And there you have it. You are, by your own admission, relying on your own sense as a guide to whether the teachings of the Lord are true, when the question you should really be asking is, “Is this really the doctrine that the Lord taught?” (cf. Proverbs 3:5–6). If this is what His Apostles believed, and their disciples believed, then is it not likely that, no matter how little “sense it makes” to you, they, having been taught by the Lord Himself, had knowledge of the truth?

      Peace.

  10. Joseph,

    Thank you for your reply and a final few comments.

    It seems to me my use of some terms are confusing you for sure. I do not have any animosity towards the Catholic Church (Latin Rite) faithful to the Magisterium. I disagree (in what I believe is in good faith) on this and other topics with them though. I’ve been researching these differences for decades and will continue to do so until the day I die God willing. When I want to learn about the Catholic Church I seek out those sources faithful to the Magisterium (ie. Church Militant TV aka Real Catholic TV, The Catholic Thing, any of the various Catholic resources they are linked with, your site, Church fathers writings/quotes, etc…). Ironically, today’s article in The Catholic Thing was Time for a Lutheran Ordinariate. From these sources I form my opinions about the problems they talk about.

    Unless I have a similar revelation as did you I can’t accept transubstantiation as a true doctrine. If I accepted this doctrine on the word of the Catholic Church alone with out believing it, I wouldn’t be able to be in full communion in good conscience any way. Therefore, I don’t want to waste any more of your time especially since you think I’m an anti-Catholic bigot.

    God Bless,

    Paul

    • Paul,

      I apologize that I implied you were an anti-Catholic bigot. You have been very fair and moderate and that was uncalled for. But I do get frustrated when I go to such a great deal of effort to give what I believe to be solid evidence and sound arguments, only to see them, apparently, summarily ignored. You never once engaged my arguments or my evidence concerning Augustine and the Ten Commandments in the other thread, only insisted from the beginning to the end that the only evidence you saw (which you never did show or explain) supported your contention that the Catholic Church deceptively and manipulatively “changed the Ten Commandments.” I am still waiting to hear your support for such a contention.

      In this thread, I have never once suggested that you should believe in the Real Presence (not the same thing as “transubstantiation”) on the testimony of the Catholic Church alone — or that you should believe anything else on such grounds either. I have focused at every step on supporting my arguments with evidence, not such mere, bald assertions. The evidence is more than strong enough: it was the evidence that convinced me of the truth, not any private revelation and certainly not blind faith in the Church. Yet likewise you give every indication that you didn’t even read what I wrote. If you disagree with anything I have written, then please disagree! This is how healthy and productive dialogue is had. But pretending I didn’t write it really does make me feel I am wasting my time.

      God bless you. Please feel free to reply if you have anything to say in response. You are always welcome here.

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