John 6: Bread From Heaven

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Excerpt from my 2004 translation of John’s gospel, which begins at Start With John, along with a brief explanation of my interpretive approach.

My 2012 translation of John’s first epistle begins at John A.

My 2015 translation of John’s second epistle begins at John B.

My 2015 translation of John’s third epistle begins at John Γ.

My 2015 and 2017 translation of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians begins at To The Thessalonians A.

My 2015 translation of Paul’s letter to The Romans begins at To the Romans.

My 2004 translation of Paul’s first letter to the Korinthians begins at And Now For Something Completely Different….

My 2004 translation of Mark’s gospel begins at Mark 1.

6 1 After that Jesus went up across the Sea of Galilee to Tiberiados. 2 And a crowd of many followed because they saw the miracles which he performed upon those who were sick. 3 So Jesus went up onto a mountain and rested there with his disciples. 4 And it was near the Passover celebration of the Judeans. 5 So when Jesus raised his eyes and saw the crowd of many coming to him, he says to Philip, “Where will we buy bread to feed them all?” 6 He said this to test him; for he himself knew what he was about to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each one to receive some.” 8 One of the disciples, Andrew the brother of Simon Peter, says to him, 9 “There is a young man here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what is this among so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Get all the men to sit down.” Now there was a large open space where they could eat and when they sat down, the men numbered five thousand. 11 Jesus took the loaves and giving thanks, gave them out to the men sitting around each a portion, and of the fish, as much as they wished. 12 And when they were full, he says to his disciples, “Gather up the remaining fragments lest there be waste.” 13 And when they were all gathered, they had twelve baskets of fragments from the five barley loaves which were left over by the ones who had eaten. 14 The men then observed what a miracle he performed and said, “This is truly a prophet who comes from heaven into the world.” 15 Jesus then knowing that they were about to come and forcefully take and make him king, retreated [or ‘fled’] again onto the mountain alone.

16 And when evening came, his disciples went down to the seashore 17 and embarking in a boat they went across the sea to Kapharnaoum. It was already dark and Jesus had not come to them, 18 when a great wind rose up on the sea. 19 When they had gone about twenty-five or thirty stades [σταδιους, the race course at Olympia, as a measure, was one stade, about an eighth of a Roman mile] they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat; and they were afraid. 20 But Jesus said, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they went to receive him in the boat, and then [ευθυς] the boat came upon the land where they were going.

22 The next day the crowd was standing across the sea and they saw that the other boats were there except one, and that Jesus did not go with his disciples in the boat but his disciples went alone; 23 then boats came from Tiberiados near the place where they ate the bread for which the lord gave thanks. 24 When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they embarked in their boats and went to Kapharnaoum seeking Jesus. 21 And finding him across the sea, they said to him, “How (or ‘when’) did you get here?” 26 Jesus answered and said, “Listen carefully, you seek me not because you saw miracles but because you ate the bread and were filled. 27 Do not put all your energy into material sustenance which will eventually be entirely lost [i.e., ‘utterly destroyed,’ ‘demolished’] but [put all your energy] into sustenance which will remain [‘endure,’ ‘continue’] forever, [sustenance] which the son of man will give you; for god the father has approved this one [i.e., the son of man].

28 Then they said to him, “What should we do in order that we might do the great works [‘astounding miracles,’ apply the energy, εργα] of god?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the great miraculous work of god – that you believe in the one he sent.”

30 Then they said to him, “What evidence [‘sign,’ σημειον] will you do so that we might see it and believe in you? What [great miracle] are you going to do? [Dramatic irony – the literary audience knows the answer but the ‘actors’ or characters do not. John is using this device to amplify the meaning of this story – i.e., that it points to the crucifixion and subsequent, resulting resurrection as the ‘great miracle’ or ‘work’ of god that Jesus will do. Now the characters bring up the history of Israel, the great works of god through Moses:] 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the desert and so it is written:

Bread from heaven he gave them to eat.” [Ex 16:15]

32 Jesus said to them, “Listen carefully, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, rather, my father gives you the true bread from heaven; 33 for the ‘bread of god’ is that which descended from heaven and which gives eternal life to the universe.”

34 Then they said to him, “Master, give us all this bread.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of eternal life; the one who comes to me will not hunger and the one who believes in me will never thirst. 36 Now I told you that you have seen me but still you will not believe. [So now I will explain to you the way it is:]

37 Everything the father gives me will come to me, and I will not cast out [or ‘expel’] the one who comes to me 38 because I have not come down from heaven to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. 39 This is the will of the one who sent me, that everything he has given me should not be lost or taken away from him but [on the contrary] I will raise it [all] in the eschatological [‘last’] day. 40 For this is the will of my father, that everyone who meets the son [θεωρεω, ‘sees him’ with the implication of presence, like a governmental envoy or diplomatic meeting] and believes in him will have eternal life, and I will raise him up in the eschatological day.” [He is referring to apocalyptic themes in the prophets and the popular literature of the time – now known as apocryphal and pseudepigraphic – that he himself is this eschatological son of man seen in the visions of, say, Daniel, Isaiah, Zechariah, Ezekiel. This is very hard for them to believe, probably, as Jesus says, because they never really believed or understood it in the first place.]

[So, of course, they are offended…] 41 Then the Judeans were grumbling about him because he said, “I am the bread which descended from heaven,” 42 and they said, “Is this Jesus not the son of Joseph; don’t we know his father and mother? How is it that he now says, “from heaven I have descended?” 43 Jesus answered back and said to them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one is able to come to me but the one whom the father who sent me draws to me; and then I will raise him up in the eschatological day. 45 It is written in the prophets, “And all will be taught by God.” Everyone who heard [the teachings] of the father and learned comes to me. 46 No one has seen the father [i.e., face to face] except the one who was with God [i.e., from the beginning] – this one has seen the father. [He is referring to Moses, who saw God, but not his face.]

47 Listen carefully, the one who believes [what I’m saying] has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of eternal life. 49 Now, our fathers ate the manna in the desert and they died; 50 but the bread I’m talking about descended from heaven so that anyone who eats it should not die. 51 I am the bread of life which descended from heaven; if anyone should eat this bread he will live forever; now the bread which I will give is my body in behalf of the life of the world.”

52 Then the Judeans were quarreling among themselves saying, “How can this one give us his body to eat?”

53 Jesus said to them, “Listen carefully, unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you will not have eternal life in yourselves. 54 The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the judgement. 55 For my flesh truly is sustenance and my blood truly is the [marriage] sacrament of wine [ποσις means both ‘husband’ or ‘mate’ and ‘drink.’ This is a play on words to suggest the Israelite ceremony which included the notion of Israel as bride and God as groom, a recurring theme in John]. 56 The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood dwells in me and I in him. 57 And just as the eternal life of the father raises me up and I will live eternally because of the father, so also will the one who eats me live because of me. 58 This is the bread which descended from heaven – not what the forefathers ate and died – rather, the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Kapharnaoum.

60 Then many of his disciples, hearing [him] said, “This word [this guy’s teaching] is harsh [‘tough’ as in ‘sclera’ (σκλνρος) of the eye, which is cartilaginous and gristly – the teaching is ‘hard’]; who is able to listen to it?” 61 And Jesus, knowing within himself [ειδος ‘knowing‘…εν εαυτω ‘in himself‘] that his disciples were grumbling concerning these things says to them, “Does this offend you? Why do you wonder [θεωρεω, can also mean, ‘contemplation,’ ‘reflection’] that the son of man will be lifted up to where he was before? 63 The spirit is the one who gives eternal life, the body is of absolutely no benefit; rather, these little words which I have spoken to you are spirit and are eternal life.

64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning that some would not believe and that some one would betray him. 65 So he said, “This is why I told you that no one is able to come to me unless it has been gifted to him from the father.” 66 Then many of his disciples went elsewhere and no longer went about with him. 67 Jesus then said to the twelve [who were left, presumably], “Don’t you wish to leave?”

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Master, where will we go? You have (little) words of eternal life; 69 we have believed and we know that you are the holy one of god.”

70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose the twelve of you? And yet, one of you is ‘diabolos,’ a false accuser.” 71 He was speaking about Judas Simon Iscariot; for this guy was about to betray him, [even though] he was one of the twelve.

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This translation was taken from The Greek New Testament, Kurt Aland, et. al. eds., Third Edition (corrected), United Bible Societies, (in cooperation with the Institute for New Testament Textual Research, Münster/Westphalia, Printed in West Germany by Biblia-Druck GmbH Stuttgart),1983.

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2 thoughts on “John 6: Bread From Heaven

    • Good question! It seems evident that there was an expectation that Moses (and Elijah) would return to Israel in a Messianic capacity both before and during the time of oral transmission of the gospels, as evidenced, for example, in the question to John the Baptist in Jn 1:21, “Are you Elijah?…Are you the prophet?” The Prophet, in Israel is Moses. Moses saw God when he passed by him on Mt. Sinai, but not his face. This was a big deal to the Israelites.

      It seems there was some comparison between Jesus and Moses/Elijah, the greatest prophets in Israelite history, and John seems to be emphasizing this point in his gospel, esp. In his use of the ancient hymn of Jn 1, which emphasizes that Jesus was “face-to God.” Likely there was some dispute about Jesus being a prophet like Moses vs. being the Messiah. So, I make the interpretation here along those lines.

      Further, the preceding discussion about the bread of heaven directly refers to Moses, so it is likely that John is referencing Moses here as well.

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