One of the arguments raised against the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is that it violates Genesis 9:4, which forbids eating anything with the blood still in it. So, for example, Roger Oakland makes the argument this way, in trying to explain away Christ’s Eucharistic discourse from John 6:
Master of Sigena,
Jesus Amongst the Doctors of the Law (1519)
Jesus is not the perishable manna that their descendants ate in the wilderness—He is the eternal bread of life that lives forever. Only by partaking in His everlasting life can we hope to live with Him forever. This contrast strengthens His main message, where Jesus says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life” (vs. 47). Notice, Jesus said that as soon as we believe in Him we have—present tense—eternal life. It is not something we aim at or hope we might attain in the future, but rather, something we receive immediately upon accepting Him by faith.
When Jesus said these words, He was in the synagogue in Capernaum, and He had neither bread nor wine. Therefore Jesus was either commanding cannibalism, or He was speaking figuratively. If He was speaking literally, then He would be directly contradicting God the Father: “But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat” (Genesis 9:4). Therefore, because Jesus Himself said, “[T]he scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35), He must be speaking metaphorically.
In other words, taking Christ’s words literally here would apparently violate the letter of the Law. Does this prove that Christ was speaking metaphorically, as Oakland suggests? Not remotely.
Christ comes to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17), but He doesn’t do this by following it in a legalistic manner. That’s because that’s not how the Law was meant to be followed. This is the central heresy of the Pharisees: they obsess over the letter of the Law so much that they miss the spirit of the Law. St. Paul shows, in Romans 2:29, that the Jewish Law is fulfilled in the heart, by obeying the spirit of the Law, rather than in Pharisaic legalism. This is exactly what we see Christ doing: fulfilling the Law by obeying (and revealing) the spirit of the Law, the purpose for why the Law exists. Three examples will illustrate how this is so.
This is made explicit in Mark 2:23-28:
One sabbath he [Jesus] was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of man is lord even of the sabbath.”
Note: although Christ is declaring Himself Lord of the Sabbath, He’s still not violating the Law (or else, He failed His mission, as described in Matthew 5:17). Rather, He goes against the letter of the Law, in order to fulfill the spirit of the Law. The spirit of the Law was a call to rest, and in idly plucking heads of grains, the Apostles are doing a better job of resting on the Sabbath than the Pharisees. The Pharisees become so concerned about accidental violations of the Sabbath Law that they are unable to actually rest: ironically, resulting in them violating the spirit of the very Sabbath that they were trying to protect. So to fulfill the Law, Christ violates the letter of the Law.
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?”
Jesus has a two-part answer: He first shows that the Pharisees violate both the letter and spirit of the Law (Mt. 15:3-9). But then, in v. 10-11, Jesus gathers the crowd to explain what this was all for:
And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”
In other words, the ritual washing laws existed for a particular reason: to remind the people of the need to be spiritually clean. But it is the Pharisees, and not the Disciples, who have missed this. While fulfilling the letter of the Law, the Pharisees have emptied it of any meaning. By transgressing the letter of the Law, Jesus and His Disciples are shocking the people into understanding why the Law existed to begin with.
|Pascal Adolphe Dagnan-Bouveret, The Last Supper (1896)|
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning; of every beast I will require it and of man; of every man’s brother I will require the life of man.
Christ Preaching at Capernaum (1879)
“For I lift up my hand to heaven, and swear, As I live for ever, if I whet my glittering sword, and my hand takes hold on judgment, I will take vengeance on my adversaries, and will requite those who hate me. I will make my arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh–with the blood of the slain and the captives, from the long-haired heads of the enemy.’” (Deut. 32:40-42)
William Blake, Whore of Babylon (1809)
“God brings them out of Egypt; they have as it were the horns of the wild ox. For there is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel; now it shall be said of Jacob and Israel, ‘What has God wrought!’ Behold, a people! As a lioness it rises up and as a lion it lifts itself; it does not lie down till it devours the prey, and drinks the blood of the slain.” (Num. 23:22-24)
“That day is the day of the Lord GOD of hosts, a day of vengeance, to avenge himself on his foes. The sword shall devour and be sated, and drink its fill of their blood. For the Lord GOD of hosts holds a sacrifice in the north country by the river Euphrates.” (Jer. 46:10)
“As for you, son of man, thus says the Lord GOD: Speak to the birds of every sort and to all beasts of the field, ‘Assemble and come, gather from all sides to the sacrificial feast which I am preparing for you, a great sacrificial feast upon the mountains of Israel, and you shall eat flesh and drink blood. You shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth–of rams, of lambs, and of goats, of bulls, all of them fatlings of Bashan. And you shall eat fat till you are filled, and drink blood till you are drunk, at the sacrificial feast which I am preparing for you.” (Ezekiel 39:17-19)
- “And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and bedecked with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication; and on her forehead was written a name of mystery: ‘Babylon the great, mother of harlots and of earth’s abominations.’ And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her I marveled greatly.” (Revelation 17:3-6).