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Is Transubstantiation Biblical?

Updated: Mar 31, 2023

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

--- 1st Corinthians 11:26 ---


The Roman Catholic Church defines Transubstantiation as follows:

The complete change of the substance of bread and wine into the substance of Christ's body and blood by a validly ordained priest during the consecration at Mass, so that only the accidents of bread and wine remain [1].


The Roman Catholic Church teaches that,

in the Eucharistic offering, bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ. The affirmation of this doctrine was expressed, using the word "transubstantiate", by the Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215. It was later challenged by various 14th-century reformers, John Wycliffe in particular [2].


The Holy Eucharist is one of the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church. It is defined as

the living presence of Christ in the world, instituted as the sign of the New Covenant at the Last Supper and consummated on Calvary. The Eucharist is Christ, the sacrificial victim, at Mass who invites us to unite our hearts and worries in our time to the living heart of God on the cross. With each Eucharist, we increase our union to Christ in love, we receive forgiveness of venial sins, we are preserved from mortal sins, and we are strengthened in our union to the Church [3].


Catholics have a language of mystery that involves signs and symbols. For Catholics, the seven sacraments are the key signs and symbols through which we encounter Jesus Christ. Jesus touches our lives through the sacraments. Our celebrations of the sacraments are signs of Jesus’ presence in our lives and a means for receiving his grace [4].


Summarizing the above - one encounters Jesus Christ by literally eating His flesh and drinking His blood, which is present in the Eucharist, during the Mass. This sacrament is one of the means for receiving His grace. Is any of this taught in the scriptures?


This dogma comes from the following scriptures:


John 6:53-56 - So Jesus said to them, “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 yourselves. He who eats 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. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.


Matthew 26:26-28 - While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.

Two questions that must be asked and answered: 1. Did Jesus actually command us to literally eat His flesh and literally drink His blood? 2. If the answer to the first question is no, then what did Jesus mean when He said eat His flesh and drink His blood?


Many Walked Away

Roman Catholics cite John 6:66 - As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore - to show that those who walked away could not accept what Jesus stated in John 6:53-56. However John 6:59-65 refutes this interpretation.


John 6:59–65

59 These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.

60 Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?”

61 But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble?

62 “What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?

63 “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.

64 “But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.

65 And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”


Many of the early disciples were not true followers of Christ. Jesus knew who did not believe and who would betray Him. They witnessed Him perform several miracles including the healing of a nobleman's son (John 4:46-54), the healing of a sick man at a pool in Bethesda (John 5:1-17), and feeding the five thousand from five barley loafs and two fish (John 6:1-14). Jesus told a royal official "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe" (John 4:48).


All so-called followers of Jesus are not true disciples. Many who are called “disciples” cannot tolerate what they consider to be the teaching of cannibalism. Jesus tried to help them understand that a wooden, literal interpretation of his words about flesh and blood would not lead them to the truth. It is the Holy Spirit who explains the spiritual meaning of his words... Some of these disciples did not believe, and Jesus knew their hearts. This may be a specific reference to Judas’s betrayal. Serious hard teaching about the cross and substitutionary atonement is no more palatable to the modern mind than it was to the first-century mind. Personal commitment comes through spiritual truth and heavenly enabling [5].


While many turned away from Jesus because of their unbelief. His true disciples, those that believed in Him, remained. When Jesus asked the twelve if they wanted to go away also, Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. “We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God" (John 6:68-69). Unlike those disciples that did not believe and left, Peter understood the exclusivity of Jesus' claim to be the sole source of eternal life. By his confession, Peter knew that Jesus is the promised Messiah, God incarnate! Many in the ruling religious class - the Pharisees and Scribes - completely rejected this.


Do We Literally Eat His Flesh and Drink His Blood When Partaking the Lords Supper?

I contend that Jesus did not command us to literally eat His flesh and literally drink His blood. Jesus, who is God, gave this commandment in the Law that He passed down to Moses (Exodus 24:12):


Leviticus 17:10,14 - ‘And any man from the house of Israel, or from the aliens who sojourn among them, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people... For as for the life of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘You are not to eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off'.


Why would Jesus, who did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17), ask His followers to literally eat the blood of His flesh, thus breaking the Law which He gave to Moses?


The apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthian church around A.D. 56, wrote the following:


1 Corinthians 11:23-26 - For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.


You will notice that Paul never blessed the bread so that it transforms into actual flesh and he never blessed the cup so that it’s contents (wine) transforms into the blood of Christ as practiced during a Roman Catholic Mass. If the Roman Catholic Mass was practiced in the first century church, Paul - the apostle to the Gentiles - would have recited the Mass since this is the only passage after the gospel accounts (Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:17-20) where we see specific instructions on participating in the Lords Supper.


The two elements remain unchanged - “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup…” Paul did not say “For as often as you eat His flesh and drink His blood…”


The broken bread symbolizes His body that was broken during His crucifixion. The new covenant that Jesus instituted at the last supper was prophesied several hundred years earlier by the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah.


Jeremiah 31:31-33 - “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people."


The Lords Supper is a memorial to the death of Christ until He returns - “do this in remembrance of Me.”


Christ Sacrificed Himself For Sins Once For All

In Roman Catholicism, the Mass is equivalent to The Lord’s Supper, the communion offering. The word “mass” is derived from the Latin missa. The mass is a series of rituals centered around the communion supper. It is also called the Eucharistic Supper. According to the New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism, vol 2, question 357, “The mass is the sacrifice of the new law in which Christ, through the Ministry of the priest, offers himself to God in an unbloody manner under the appearances of bread and wine. The mass is the sacrifice of Christ offered in a sacramental manner . . . the reality is the same, but the appearances differ.” Question 358 asks, “What is a sacrifice?” The answer given is, “A sacrifice is the offering of a victim by a priest to God alone, and the destruction of it in some way to knowledge that he is the creator of all things.” From the Baltimore Catechism, we can conclude that the mass is the offering of Christ by a priest [6].


The Mass is the unbloody sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ. This Sacrifice is called the "Mass" very probably from the words "Ite Missa est," used by the priest as he tells the people to depart when the Holy Sacrifice is ended. A sacrifice is the offering of an object by a priest to God alone, and the consuming of it to acknowledge that He is the Creator and Lord of all things. The Mass is the same sacrifice as that of the Cross because the offering and the priest are the same -- Christ our Blessed Lord; and the ends for which the sacrifice of the Mass is offered are the same as those of the sacrifice of the Cross [7].


The most serious reason transubstantiation should be rejected is that the Mass is viewed by the Roman Catholic Church as the unbloody sacrifice of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. He is offered as a sacrifice for our sins whenever a Mass is conducted. This is in direct contradiction to what the scriptures clearly teach - that Jesus Christ offered Himself "once for all."


Hebrews 7:26-27 - For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.


Hebrews 10:10 - By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.


1st Peter 3:18 - For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.


When Christ instituted the new covenant, the old covenant became obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). The old covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly tabernacle (Hebrews 9:1). The priests of the old covenant continually entered the outer tabernacle to perform divine worship (Hebrews 9:6).


Hebrews 9:11-12 - But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.


Hebrews 9:24-26 - For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.


Christ has no need to offer Himself again as a sacrifice for sins! He obtained our eternal redemption. There is no need to do this over and over again. When Jesus said "It is finished" just before He bowed His head and died (John 19:30), the work of our redemption was completed. No more sacrifices needed to be offered as atonement for our sins.


Hebrews 9:28 - so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.


What Did Jesus Mean When He Said You Must Eat His Flesh and Drink His Blood?

John 6:63 - It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.


Jesus specifically stated that His words are “spirit" and "life." Jesus used physical concepts to teach spiritual truth. For instance He said "I am the bread that came down out of heaven" (John 6:41). Is Jesus saying that He is literally bread? If so, wouldn't this contradict John 1:14 - "And the word became flesh..." He used this expression because the Jews, who were grumbling about Him (John 6:40), should understand the correlation between the bread (Jesus) that came out of heaven (John 6:32-33) and the manna their fathers ate in the wilderness (John 6:31;46) for forty years (Exodus 16:1-36). Just as the manna sustained the life's of the Israelites in the wilderness, Jesus, the bread of life, gives life to the world (John 6:33).


Consuming physical food and drink sustains our physical bodies. Our spiritual lives are changed forever by spiritually receiving Him. Eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking His blood are symbols of fully and completely receiving Him into our lives by believing that God came in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ (1st John 4:2). He was crucified, died for our sins, and rose from the dead on the third day (1st Corinthians 15:1-4).


John 13:20 - “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.”


John 14:20-23 - In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?” Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.


Eucharistic Miracles

Eucharistic miracles have occurred throughout the history of Catholicism. A Eucharistic miracle involves the body and blood of the Eucharist taking on biological qualities of Christ’s blood, flesh, or both. These extraordinary events have helped people see the spiritual reality of God’s hand behind the physical world, reminding Catholics even today that there is more to our existence than we can understand with our five senses alone [8].


In general, reported Eucharistic miracles usually consist of unexplainable phenomena such as consecrated Hosts visibly transforming into myocardium tissue, being preserved for extremely long stretches of time, surviving being thrown into fire, bleeding, or even sustaining people for decades. Verification of Eucharistic miracles often depends on the religious branch reporting the supposed miracle, but in the case of the Catholic Church, a special task-force or commission investigates supposed Eucharistic miracles before deciding whether they are "worthy of belief." As with other private revelations, such as Marian apparitions, belief in approved miracles is not mandated by the Catholic Church, but often serves to reassure believers of God's presence or as the means to "send a message" to the population at large. Anglican Churches have also reported extraordinary Eucharistic miracles [9].


References [8] and [9] provide several documented eucharistic miracles. Here are a few:

  • Teresa Neumann, the famed Catholic Stigmatic from Bavaria subsisted on no solid food but the Holy Eucharist from 1926 until her death in 1962 some 36 years later. In a biography written about her she stated that numerous times she attempted to eat other things only to have them regurgitate immediately upon attempting to swallow them.

  • Some saints reportedly received Holy Communion from angels. One example is the visionaries of Our Lady of Fatima receiving the Eucharist from an angel. The angel, "whiter than snow,... quite transparent, and as brilliant as crystal in the rays of the sun," proffered the Eucharist host and chalice to the Holy Trinity in reparation for the sins committed against Jesus Christ, then administered the Eucharist to the visionaries and instructed them to make acts of reparation.

  • The Miracle of Lanciano (A.D. 750) involved a priest who experienced doubts concerning Jesus’ actual presence in the Eucharist. As he was leading Mass, he began to recite the words of consecration found in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25. As he said, “This is my body” and “This is my blood,” he witnessed the wine and bread turn into real human blood and flesh. The blood then coagulated into five globules, which represented the five wounds of Christ.

  • The Miracle of Bolsena-Orvieto (A.D. 1236) appeared to a priest who doubted the doctrine of transubstantiation — that the bread and wine turn into the literal body and blood of Christ during Communion. After he had consecrated the Eucharist, the host began bleeding onto the altar’s liturgical cloth. At that exact moment, the priest ran and confessed his sin of doubt to the pope who was visiting the town at the time.

  • During a retreat Mass at the Parish of St. Martin of Tours (2006 - Tixtla, Mexico), a consecrated host began secreting a red substance. The diocese immediately contracted a study to determine its origin and cause. Microscopic analysis shows that the reddish liquid was secreting from within the host. After testing the liquid, it was determined to be blood of the AB group. As late as 2010, analyses showed that fresh blood continued to secrete from within the host long after the initial observation.


I'm not going to deny that eucharistic miracles took place. I wasn't there to witness them. However, I am allowed to shine the light of scripture on these miracles to find out if they are real miracles from God or false miracles from Satan. Here are a few irrefutable facts from the scriptures:

  • There is no evidence from 1st Corinthians 11:23-26 that the bread literally turned into flesh and the contents of the cup literally turned into blood. Such a miracle would have been recorded by Paul since other miracles performed by the apostles are well documented (Acts 2:22; Acts 2:43; Acts 4:30; Acts 5:12; Acts 6:8; Acts 7:36; Acts 14:3; Acts 15:12).

  • 2nd Corinthians 12:12 - The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.

  • The signs, wonders, and miracles performed by the apostles served one purpose: to confirm the message of God's great salvation (the gospel) first spoken through the Lord and then by His apostles (Hebrews 2:1-4).

  • The scriptures warn us about false signs and wonders. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness (2nd Thessalonians 2:8-12).


Granted, 2nd Thessalonians 2:8-12 is specific to when the lawless one (the Antichrist) is revealed. But that does not mean false signs, wonders, and miracles do not occur today. 1st John 4:1 tells us to not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. We learn from 2nd Corinthians 11:14 that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. What may seem to be a miracle from God is more than likely a false and deceptive miracle from Satan.


2nd Corinthians 4:3-5 - And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world (Satan) has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.


One way Satan blinds the minds of the unbelieving from not seeing the light of the gospel is to put their focus on miracles. Jesus said it best: An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign (Matthew 16:4).


Just as signs, wonders, and miracles confirmed the gospel message presented by true apostles in the first century, eucharistic miracles are used to confirm the false doctrine of transubstantiation.


Sacred Tradition

Sacred Tradition refers to important beliefs and practices that have been handed on through the centuries from one generation to the next... Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, which is committed to the Church." So we see that we need both Scripture and Sacred Tradition to understand God's life among us properly.

Most of the beliefs and practices found in Sacred Tradition have their basis in Scripture, but some do not. Catholics' belief that Mary was assumed into heaven is an example of a Sacred Tradition that has no reference in Scripture. The Assumption of Mary was nonetheless an important belief in the early Church and that is why it has been passed on through the generations as part of Sacred Tradition [10].


Sacred tradition is a theological term used in Christian theology. According to the theology of the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Assyrian churches, sacred tradition is the foundation of the doctrinal and spiritual authority of Christianity and of the Bible. Thus, the Bible must be interpreted within the context of sacred tradition and within the community of the denomination [11].


Herein lies the crux of the matter: the Bible must be interpreted within the context of sacred tradition and within the community of the denomination.


If there is a contradiction between sacred tradition and the Bible, sacred tradition wins out. Some of these traditions include "The Immaculate Conception" - Mary was born without the taint of original sin, "The Perpetual Virginity of Mary" - Mary remained a virgin the rest of her life after the birth of Jesus Christ, and as mentioned above "The Assumption of Mary" - Mary was resurrected, glorified, and taken bodily into heaven after she died.


Since the doctrine of transubstantiation is not taught in the Bible, passages, such as those mentioned earlier, are used (often taken out of context) and reinterpreted in order to fit them within the context of sacred tradition and within the community of the Roman Catholic Church.


References

[5] Kenneth O. Gangel, John, vol. 4, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 130-131.


Unless otherwise noted, all scripture cited in this post is taken from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update.

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