The “spiritual” meaning of bread

The thread under Resurrection Pie has gone into a tangent interpreting a passage from Matthew, chapter 16. I’ve decided to create a new post dedicated to the topic.

Here is the passage in question:

In coming to the other side of the sea, the disciples had forgotten to bring bread. Jesus said to them, “Look out, and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” They concluded among themselves, saying, “It is because we have brought no bread.” When Jesus became aware of this he said, “You of little faith, why do you conclude among yourselves that it is because you have no bread? Do you not yet understand, and do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many wicker baskets you took up? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you took up? How do you not comprehend that I was not speaking to you about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16:5-12)

Lukas used this passage as a way of justifying the Baha’i hermeneutic. A hermeneutic is a systematic method of interpreting scripture. The Baha’i hermeneutic is to downplay literalism and to read metaphorical and allegorical interpretations into the Bible as much as possible. (Baha’is call this the “spiritual” meaning.) Lukas’s take on the above Bible passage is an example of this approach:

I’m trying to show that the feeding of the crowds was at least primarily, if not exclusively, a spiritual phenomenon (as opposed to a material one). To me personally, it clearly demonstrates that a miracle that seemed completely material at first reading was in fact understood by the apostles and Jesus to be primarily spiritual in nature

I disagree with Lukas. He’s reading into the passage something that isn’t there. As I said in the Resurrection Pie thread, when Jesus reminds his disciples about the feeding of the multitudes, what he’s saying is, “Why would I care if you brought bread? I’m talking about something else.” To this Lukas replied:

I think your interpretation of the above quote from Matthew is plausible; however it still seems very clear to me that a vital part of that whole exchange is the connection that Jesus and the Apostles repeatedly make between bread/yeast and teachings. It is because Jesus reminds them of His bread that they understand that “yeast” of the pharisees means their teachings; how would this understanding have been arrived at if Jesus’ bread had not in fact been understood, by Jesus and the Apostles, as His Teachings?

Who says the Apostles repeatedly make a connection between bread and teachings? I’m not aware of any examples. In this case yeast refers to the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees, but yeast is not the same as bread. It’s a mistake to equate yeast and bread when reading the Bible. Yeast is used as a symbol in its own right because of what yeast does. You put a little bit in, and it transforms a large batch of dough. Because of this, yeast is used to symbolize two things: the corruption of sin and the kingdom of heaven.

For example, here is one of Jesus’ parables:

He spoke to them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” (Matthew 13:33)

And Paul told the Christians in Corinth:

Your boasting is not appropriate. Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough? Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough, inasmuch as you are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)

I am struck that Lukas assumed the words “bread” and “yeast” typically refer to teachings. I’ve written about this before (Shoghi Effendi and Christian authority and Further evidence that the Baha’i Faith is text-centered). Baha’is treat teachings (and the writings that contain them) as the point of a religion, and this colors how they make sense of the Bible and Christianity. In Catholicism, the sacraments are more central than the teachings (though strictly speaking you can’t have one without the other).

In that thread under Resurrection Pie, Lukas went on to say,

Part of the reason I personally favor this interpretation is that spiritual miracles are more important that physical ones. Would you rather have spiritual life, or physical life?

Why do you keep using the word OR? Why this OR that? Why not both? As a Christian, I don’t have to choose between spiritual life OR physical life. I get both.

A loaf of bread, or spiritual teachings that quicken you to life in the sight of God?

In Catholicism, God quickens us to life in God by means of bread, in the Eucharist. God does not just use ideas and words to save us. He also uses physical things. He uses both.