Down from heaven: living bread

Bread-of-Life-John-6Comes Down from Heaven. 32 So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.

At vv.12 and 27 (gathering the fragments after feeding the crowd and referencing perishable food), Jesus implicitly linked the feeding miracle with the manna story of Exodus 16. In v.32, he does so explicitly. For the second time in this chapter Jesus prefaces his remarks with the solemn, Amen, amen, I say to you. Jesus reworks four essential elements of v. 31:

  • the donor of the bread is God (“my Father”), not Moses;
  • the gift of bread occurs in the present (“gives”), not the past;
  • the bread of which Jesus speaks is the “true bread from heaven”; and
  • Jesus tells the crowd that they, not their ancestors, are the recipients of God’s gift of the true bread from heaven (“gives you”).

Jesus answers the crowd’s demand for a sign (v.30) by showing them that they have already received one. The contrasting gifts of v. 32, the exodus gift of manna and the present gift of the “true bread from heaven,” recall the contrasting gifts of John 1:17: “because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Jesus describes the “bread of God” with two predicates: “comes down from heaven” and “gives life to the world.” These two predicates repeat what has already been said about Jesus in the Fourth Gospel. In 3:13, for example, the language of descent from heaven describes the activity of the Son of Man (cf. 3:31). In 5:21, Jesus is spoken of as the one who gives life (cf. 5:25–26). The description of the bread of God thus enables the Gospel reader (but not the crowd) to recognize that Jesus is the real subject of the conversation, not the feeding miracle alone. The conversation of 6:25–34, like that with Nicodemus (John 3) and the Samaritan women at the well (John 4), operates on two levels of meaning simultaneously and contains two understandings of the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life.

The crowd’s request for bread in this verse reveals that they understand only one level of the conversation. The similarity between the crowd’s request for bread (Sir, give us this bread always) and the Samaritan woman’s request for water in 4:15 is unmistakable (The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water”). She wanted the water in order to be relieved of the task of drawing from the well. They had been fed from the loaves and they probably wanted some permanent gift of this kind.

Like the Samaritan woman, the crowd of John 6 has understood one part of Jesus’ words—that the bread of which he speaks is better than the bread given to their ancestors—but does not grasp why it is better. The bread of which Jesus speaks is not given “always,” but is given once and for all in the very person of Jesus. And in receiving the gift, the recipient will never again hunger or thirst.

Notes

6:32 true bread from heaven. The contrast between manna as physical nourishment and the power of God is not a new idea presented here. Moses (Dt 8:3) tells the people that even during the Exodus they did not really understand the meaning of manna. Yes it physically nourished them, but more than that it pointed to the Word of God as the true source of eternal life (cf. Wis 16:20, Neh 9:20)

6:33 For the bread of God is that (he) which comes down from heaven. The Greek ho katabainōn ek tou ouranou could mean “that which comes down from heaven” and refer to the Torah, or “he that comes down from heaven” and refer to Jesus. It is possible that the ambiguity is intended in that the people have to chose the good of Moses and the Law or the best of God which is Jesus.

6:34 always. The Greek pantote carries connotation of on-going, repetitive, and continual.

6:35 I am the bread of life. Another of the Johannine egō eimi expressions. This bread has been spoken of as coming down from heaven; thus when Jesus expresses the divine egō eimi , one hears an echo of Jn 3:13 wherein the Son of Man is the only one who has come down from the Father.

comes to me…believes in me. There is a parallelism her (and Jn 7:37-38) that echo Sirach 24:21, “He who eats of me [Wisdom] will hunger still; he who drinks of me will thirst for more.” Sirach means that people will never have too much Wisdom and will always desire more; Jesus’ words are such that people will never hunger or thirst for anything other than Jesus’ own revelation.

will not hunger…will never thrist. The use of the Greek pōpote is a subtle correction to the people’s response of always (pantote) having bread. This shifts the emphasis to the never-failing gift of Jesus as expressed in the double negative ōu me… pōpote,

Sources

  • K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007).
  • Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, vol. 29a in The Anchor Bible, eds. William Albright and David Freeman (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1966) 260-67
  • Neal M. Flanagan, John in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Dianne Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989). 990-91
  • Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003). 166-70
  • Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, vol. 4 in Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1998) 208-16
  • Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995). 317-24
  • John J. McPolin, John, vol. 6 of the New Testament Message, eds. Wilfred Harrington and Donald Senior (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1989)
  • Gail R. O’Day, John in the New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 9, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996) 598-600
  • Brian Stoffregen, CrossMarks Christian Resources, available at www.crossmarks.com/brian/

Dictionaries

  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
  • Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990) –
  • The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman, Gary A. Herion, David F. Graf, John David Pleins and Astrid B. Beck (New York: Doubleday, 1996).

Scripture – Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970 at http://www.usccb.org/bible/index.cfm

 

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