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.

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14 Responses

  1. I don’t have time to reply comprehensively, but here’s a quick reply to one point…

    Jonah said:
    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.

    As is implied by the context of the original comment, I am not asking these rhetorical questions with the intent of saying that there is necessarily a dichotomy between material miracles and spiritual miracles; rather my intent is to show that the physical aspect of a miracle is vastly inferior to the spiritual aspect.

    The question is intended to spark the imagination of readers, so that they envision for themselves the miracle first as a purely physical phenomenon, then as a purely spiritual one, and decide for themselves whether the essential meaning of such a miracle is likely to be spiritual or physical.

    For me, it becomes clear through this mental exercise that the material miracle sans spirit would be fairly quite unimportant, but that the spiritual miracle would be profound with or without the material component. Therefore, I say the spiritual aspect of the miracle is more important; it is the element without which the miracle would cease to be relevant, unlike the physical element which is at best complimentary. I apologize if I am repeating myself but it seems that what I am trying to say has yet to be understood, as far as I can tell.

    I would also like to point out that I have been very careful to say that the primacy of the spiritual aspect does NOT in and of itself preclude the possibility that the miracle was also material.

  2. I apologize if I am repeating myself but it seems that what I am trying to say has yet to be understood, as far as I can tell.

    I understand what you’re saying. I just don’t think it’s sound.

    The question is intended to spark the imagination of readers, so that they envision for themselves the miracle first as a purely physical phenomenon, then as a purely spiritual one, and decide for themselves whether the essential meaning of such a miracle is likely to be spiritual or physical.

    The problem with your thought experiment is that neither hypothetical relates to the phenomenon of miracles. A miracle is when God suspends the laws of physics in order to save someone. God is involved, so it isn’t merely a physical event, and the laws of physics are involved, so it isn’t merely a spiritual event.

    Therefore, I say the spiritual aspect of the miracle is more important; it is the element without which the miracle would cease to be relevant, unlike the physical element which is at best complimentary.

    The physical aspect of the miracle is relevant to the person who receives the miracle. Multiplying loaves matters to you if you’re hungry and you get to eat a loaf. Giving sight to the blind matters to you if you’re the one who was blind.

    but that the spiritual miracle would be profound with or without the material component.

    There’s no such thing as a “spiritual miracle” except in a metaphorical sense. If there’s no matter being acted upon, then by definition it isn’t a miracle.

    Yes, we speak of it as a miracle when a hardened sinner repents and returns to God. That’s because the possibility of a hardened sinner repenting seemed about as unlikely as a dead body coming back to life or a post-menopausal woman conceiving a child.

  3. Ok, I’ll get to the miracles topic next…but in the meantime, here is one place in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus refers to bread as teachings. I include it in response to Jonah’s comments above, specifically:

    “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.”

    Yeah, yeast and bread are not always necessarily used the same way in the Bible, but they definitely have a relationship and they definitely are both used to describe teachings.

    Anyway, here’s the quote from Jesus:

    The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
    But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
    (Matthew 4:3-4)

    What Jesus is quoting here is Deuteronomy 8:3, which reads as follows:

    He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

    Jonah said:
    “I am struck that Lukas assumed the words “bread” and “yeast” typically refer to teachings.”

    I dunno man, it really doesn’t seem that far fetched to me. OF COURSE I may be wrong in my understanding but still…

  4. Lucas,

    It isn’t far fetched at all. It is crystal clear. In the Bible, “bread” does not always means literal bread-

    Proverbs 4:17 For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence.

    Proverbs 20:17 Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel.

    Puc.

  5. >A miracle is when God suspends the laws of >physics in order to save someone. God is involved, >so it isn’t merely a physical event, and the laws of >physics are involved, so it isn’t merely a spiritual >event.

    Jonah,

    Please provide a definition from the Roman Catholic Church stating that the laws of physics must be involved in a miracle.

    Puc

  6. Miracles miracles miracles…so – a good place to start may be the story of the paralytic. I used Matthew from the King James Version:

    9:2 And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.

    [In this example it seems as though Jesus is first and foremost healing the man’s soul (“be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee” being the first thing He says). This is interesting, that Jesus chooses to forgive his sins when a sick man is brought to Him for healing. Might this not indicate that what is desirable and important in the sight of God is spiritual healing? Of course, I fully acknowledge the dynamic relationship between sin and sickness, and that the Jews of antiquity would have thought the sickness to be caused by sin.]

    9:3 And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth.
    [Mark adds “who can forgive sins but God only?”]
    9:4 And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? 9:5 For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk?

    [I wonder if we will differ as to our opinions on the purport of this verse (9:5) – it seems to me that it is harder to forgive someone’s sins, as God alone can do that, whereas healing the body can be achieved medically (albeit to an inferior degree), and also because Christ uses the physical healing as a sign or a proof of the spiritual healing – the sign being always less than that which it signifies. Additionally the phrasing of the following verse makes it seem to me that the importance of the spiritual side of things is what Christ intended.]

    9:6 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.

    All of this begs the following questions:
    How can we be sure that the story is not metaphorical/allegorical to begin with?

    If the paralytic had not been physically healed, would his sins have not been forgiven? Had this been the case, would it be fair to say that no miracle had occurred? Merely because no laws of physics as we currently (i.e. insufficiently) understand them had been broken in a way that we could perceive?

    According to my understanding of Jonah’s definition of miracles (which is widely held), it appears that if Jesus had not proceeded to heal the paralytic physically, but rather only forgiven his sins, no miracle would have occurred. To my mind, it seems that if only God can forgive sins, and Jesus forgives someone’s sins, that would be a miracle, an act of God intervening in the human realm with powers we neither possess nor comprehend.

    If the scribes had not doubted Jesus, would he have healed the man physically? He Himself states that His purpose in doing so was “that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins,” in other words to demonstrate to the faithless His validity. One way to look at it is that at the start of the story, when His interaction was limited to the faithful, those who already believed in Him without outward signs, He confined His attention to the well being of the man’s soul.

    If one is to assert that healing the man spiritually and healing him physically are one and the same thing (which may be the case insofar as spiritual healing often results in physical healing), and therefore the paralytic was healed physically as soon as Jesus said “thy sins be forgiven thee,” we still see that the source of health is spiritual. Likewise the enduring result of healing is in the spiritual realm (since physical health is necessarily temporary, invariably ending in death). This dynamic of grace being first and foremost a spiritual phenomenon which may secondarily affect the physical realm is demonstrated again in the following verses:

    6:31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 6:32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
    6:33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

    Which brings me to a point that seems to be coming up over and over – the relative value of the physical versus the spiritual. Here’s one final attempt to clarify my understanding.

    It boils down to this: our physical reality (body) is temporary; our spiritual reality (soul) is eternal. So while I deny that physical reality is worthless, nevertheless I assert that its value is limited and derives directly in proportion to its relationship to spiritual reality. Without this relationship, it would in fact be useless to humanity. Also, purely logically, what is the value of that which is limited compared to that which is infinite? Mathematically, any value divided by (which is to say in proportion to) infinity is zero.

    This is why I keep saying that what is important about the miracles of Christ is the spiritual component; not to deny the possibility of a material counterpart, which as a Baha’i I affirm as at least a possibility (and in certain cases a fact), but rather to avoid diverting our attention from that which has infinitely greater meaning and value. A nice bit of Gospel that demonstrates and explains this difference in value between that which is material and that which is spiritual is as follows:

    6:19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 6:20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal…(Matthew, KJV)

    Jonah has said he believes Baha’is often create a false dichotomy by imposing a mutually exclusive choice between miracles as physical or spiritual phenomena. I think this is clearly a misunderstanding of my own statements and views as well as some pretty clear authoritative Baha’i Writings. Here is but one example from Baha’u’llah showing that Baha’is certainly do not view spiritual and material phenomena as mutually exclusive:

    From all that We have stated it hath become clear and manifest that before the revelation of each of the Mirrors reflecting the divine Essence, the signs heralding their advent must needs be revealed in the visible heaven as well as in the invisible…
    (The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 65)

    Jonah said:
    The physical aspect of the miracle is relevant to the person who receives the miracle. Multiplying loaves matters to you if you’re hungry and you get to eat a loaf. Giving sight to the blind matters to you if you’re the one who was blind.

    Of course! I completely, unreservedly agree.

    Nevertheless, let’s weigh the benefits of having physical sight. It’s sure extremely helpful on this planet, for the duration of our physical lives, being the primary source of information about our environment. At the moment of death, however, it ceases. All of the people who Jesus gave physical sight to are now physically blind, their bodies being entirely decomposed. Therefore, the value of physical sight is limited.

    Now compare this to spiritual sight: can a soul to whom the Lord Christ has given sight ever become blind? No, they gained a capacity that is eternal and not subject to decomposition, and they are blessed individuals, pure of heart, who will everlastingly gaze upon the beauty of God. Those spiritually raised to life by the Christ shall never die; those spiritually cured of their illnesses through His grace shall never suffer infirmity.

    Additionally, those raised and quickened to spiritual life by Jesus are our spiritual ancestors; they received His grace, and in turn spread it to others, in a mystical process that continues to this day. While their bodies are dead and gone, they are living in the Kingdom of God, and the vivifying spirit they helped impart to the world of humanity continues.

    Jonah has said that as a Christian, he isn’t forced to choose between the physical and spiritual, he gets to have both. This is true for Baha’is as well. We choose to emphasize the spiritual aspect of Jesus’ ministry, life, teachings and miracles because we believe it is more important, but this does not mean we generally have an either/or understanding of miracles. Personally, I believe that focusing on the material component of the life and works of the Christ effectively demeans and belittles His true power, beauty and glory by attracting our attention to the realm of limitations and away from His eternal, imperishable, spiritual Kingdom.

    Peace!

  7. For some additional insight into the meaning of bread in the Gospels, let’s compare all of these statements by Jesus (my summary statements are numbered to match the verses below):

    1. …what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? 19:17 And he said…if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
    (Matthew)

    2. 14:23 Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.
    14:24 He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings…
    (John)

    3. 15:10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.
    (John)

    4. 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
    (Matthew)

    5. 6:47 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. (John)

    6. 6:50 This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.
    (John)

    7-9. 6:51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
    (John)

    10. 6:54 Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life…
    (John)

    11. 12:50 And I know that his [God’s] commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.
    (John)

    In summarized form, then:
    1. To have eternal life, we must keep the commandments.
    2. For God to love, come unto and abide in us, we must keep His words.
    3. To abide in His love, we must keep His commandments.
    4. To enter the kingdom of heaven, we must do the will of the Father in heaven.
    5. To have everlasting life, we must believe in Him (Christ).
    6. To not die, we must eat of the bread which cometh down from heaven.
    7. To live forever, we must eat of the bread which came down from heaven.
    8. Christ is the bread which came down from heaven.
    9. The bread which came down from heaven is His flesh.
    10. To have eternal life, we must eat His flesh.
    11. His (God’s) commandment is life everlasting.

    How is it possible to reconcile and understand all of these statements of Jesus, if we adhere to literal material interpretation and deny their spiritual significance? Rather, by striving to synthesize all of these statements, we realize that there is a deep connection and fundamental oneness between the meaning of each of the terms – in a very real way, to enter the kingdom of heaven IS to have everlasting life, to abide in the love of Christ IS to live forever, to keep His word IS to love Him, to obey the commandments IS to eat the bread, the kingdom of heaven IS abiding in His love. Bread IS His word (or commandments and teachings), which IS His body, which IS His deeds, which ARE His very being, for He is the Word made flesh; He is the essence, embodiment and source of His own teachings.

    Personally I believe that this understanding of the Bible is far more consistent, logical and profound according to reason and the Bible itself, independent of any Baha’i theology or hermeneutic.

    Nevertheless, this is also exactly in agreement with Baha’u’llah when He calls Himself the “Living Book,” states that “the Book of God hath been sent down in the form of this Youth” and asserts that the Christ “can adduce no greater proof of the truth of His Mission than the proof of His own Person.” This is precisely what Abdu’l-Baha is describing when He says: “This is the difference between philosophers who are Spiritual Teachers, and those who are mere philosophers: the Spiritual Teacher is the first to follow His own teaching; He brings down into the world of action His spiritual conceptions and ideals. His Divine thoughts are made manifest to the world. His thought is Himself, from which He is inseparable.”

    Jonah said:
    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.

    We certainly do treat Teachings reverentially; in light of all of the above, doesn’t that make a lot of sense?

    All the best –
    Lukas

  8. (XL-ex-bahai here)

    I’m not catholic, and was never a christian before becoming bahai 30+ years ago, so I won’t comment on the theology.

    What you have here is a failure to understand that a premodern paradigm (“traditional” christian perspective) and a modernist/postmodernist paradigm (bahai, as spun by the people stating bahai belief in this thread) are in conflict.

    The two paradigms are so vastly different in how they “construct meaning” that they are seemingly impossible to reconcile.

    As an Integralist, I wonder how such starkly contrasting paradigms can even coexist in human consciousness, but they obviously do.

    Also as an Integralist, I see strengths and weakness in each paradigm. Traditionalists are more directly tapped into the source of transcendence, via their “physical” rituals. The problem of course with traditionalism is that is is static and has a very hard time acceptnig the validity of other perspectives, cultures, etc. It is conformist/ethnocentric. It tends toward superstition and “magic” instead of rational, scientific inquiry.

    The modernist/postmodernist weaknesses are that, in the case of modernists, they do not even accept the validity of the traditional “spirituality/myth” structure. The universalism that modernism offers, while advancing science and rationalism, and freeing people from superstition/myth, is also static.
    In the case of the postmodernists, they attempt to “deconstruct” the “oppresive” aspects of premodern and modernist static structures, but in the process, they tend to end up plunging into an abyss of self-absorbsion and meaningless (Ken Wilber’s “Tag team from hell – nihilism and narcissism”)

    The problems with bahai is that it tries to have it all, but loses coherence in the process. It uses premodern spiritual (really sufi) metaphysics to attract those seeking transcendence. It uses modernist concepts of rationalism to appeal to the people that seek refuge from superstition and ethnocentrism, and to propose a (IMO frightening) global “world peace” bureaucracy. Is uses postmodernism, shakily, to try to resolve the conflict between rationalism and attempt to grasp at meaning in the wake of the “flatland” of culture (Habermas “lifeworld”) made arid by the dominance of science, systems and technobureacracy.

    Without Integralism, none of the above paradigms can hope to ever peacefully coexist, and the “fragmented” parts of human consciousness become “harmonious”.

    bahai of course attempts to be integral in a limited manner. the problem is that it lacks a scientifically based developmental model. It badly flubs evolution. As this therad shows, it is very “hostile” to physical rituals as a pathway to transcendence. It tends to substitute deadened bureaucracy for the sense of “lifeworld” that natural human community springs from.

    both christianity and islam/bahai suffer, from a budhist perspective, from being “middle man” religions. when the “only” path to transcedence is through a “prophet”, then all sorts of positive and negative things happen to society. religion becomes an instrument for advancing a universal conception of the human soul that is conformist, monolithic and static (great for building a military/political empire), and resistant to rational inquiry or other “spiritual” belief systems.

    Integralism liberates people from all the problems of the “less evolved” paradigms by not insisting that “only one way” is correct. It avoids the absolutisms of previous paradigms.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clare_W._Graves

    http://www.clarewgraves.com/theory_content/quotes.html

    Levels of Existence, Forms of Being

    “I am not saying in this conception of adult behavior that one style of being, one form of human existence is inevitably and in all circumstances superior to or better than another form of human existence, another style
    of being. What I am saying is that when one form of being is more congruent with the realities of existence, then it is the better form of living for those realities. And what I am saying is that when one form of existence ceases to be functional for the realities of existence then some other form, either higher or lower in the hierarchy, is the better form of living. I do suggest, however, and this I deeply believe is so, that for
    the overall welfare of total man’s existence in this world, over the long run of time, higher levels are better than lower levels and that the prime good of any society’s governing figures should be to promote human movement up the levels of human existence.”

    — Dr. Clare W. Graves

    —end excerpt—

    regards,
    ep
    (ex-bahai 30+ years, sacramento, ca)

  9. Um, I definitely don’t think that I’ve failed to perceive that our paradigms are “in conflict.” I think the entire point of my posts, and perhaps a fundamental purpose of this blog as a whole, is the exploration of those very differences.

    What I AM trying to share here is that I believe that a Baha’i approach to understanding the Bible has two things going for it:

    The first is that it makes rational sense, and squares with our (or at least my) experience of reality; the second is that it is, as far as I can see, the only method of understanding the Bible that is consistent with the letter and spirit of the Bible itself.

    If this has some relationship to any of the multitudinous “isms” in the world of academic thought, ok. However it seems like a mistake to use such labels definitively, since they are not wholly accurate. As such, they constitute an oversimplification of the various ways of perceiving or understanding that exist, and in any conversation of real depth, such as the ones that Jonah initiates here, it seems that they ultimately detract from accurately understand each other.

  10. I’m way behind in this thread and I can’t get to everyone’s comments for lack of time.

    Lukas gave this verse as an example of bread in the Bible standing for teachings: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” This verse is not using bread as a metaphor for teachings. On the contrary, this verse is contrasting bread you eat with the word you hear; they are explicitly different, and bread here simply means bread.

    Lukas then gave the example of Matthew 9:2-6, but he is mixing his argument. Which of the following questions are you asking:

    1) Is it better to be healed of a physical ailment or to have your sins forgiven?

    2) Is the physical or spiritual aspect of a miracle more important?

    My answer to #1 is that having your sins forgiven is the most important thing. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, it is better to go to heaven maimed than to go to hell whole. My answer to #2 is the same as I’ve been repeating throughout this thread: you cannot separate the physical and the spiritual in a miracle.

    In Matthew 9, Jesus is doing two separate things: (A) he forgives the man’s sins, and (B) he heals him of his paralysis. (B) is not the outward expression of (A). (A) is not a miracle. (B) is a miracle. It’s not a miracle that Jesus can forgive someone’s sins, because sins are not physical. Healing a paralytic is a miracle because Jesus had to tweak the man’s biology in a supernatural way in order to pull it off.

    Lukas then raised a series of questions about this passage:

    How can we be sure that the story is not metaphorical/allegorical to begin with?

    You might as well ask this about the whole Bible, so I’m not sure what you’re getting at.

    If the paralytic had not been physically healed, would his sins have not been forgiven?

    Neither act is dependent upon the other. He would have been forgiven whether he was healed or not.

    Had this been the case, would it be fair to say that no miracle had occurred? Merely because no laws of physics as we currently (i.e. insufficiently) understand them had been broken in a way that we could perceive?

    If Jesus had forgiven his sins but had not cured him of paralysis, then no miracle would have occurred.

    Lukas then said:
    To my mind, it seems that if only God can forgive sins, and Jesus forgives someone’s sins, that would be a miracle, an act of God intervening in the human realm with powers we neither possess nor comprehend.

    So you disagree with my definition of miracle and offer a different one. Maybe we should specify what we’re talking about. Are we talking about God suspending the laws of physics or are you talking about God intervening in the world? I’m happy to talk about either, as long as we stay on the same page.

  11. Thanks for getting back to this thread Jonah! I know there has been a lot going on here lately. I’ll try to reply when I get a chance, it seems like we may be getting somewhere. And thank you – I have been really impressed, by and large, with how patient you are with some of the less than cordial posts here. I definitely don’t agree with everything but that is not too important. What is significant, and what I care about, is seeing someone make a genuine effort (in sometimes adverse conditions) to have an authentic discussion with others. Again, thank you.

  12. Jonah said:
    So you disagree with my definition of miracle and offer a different one. Maybe we should specify what we’re talking about. Are we talking about God suspending the laws of physics or are you talking about God intervening in the world? I’m happy to talk about either, as long as we stay on the same page.

    Yes! Thank you! I think that your explanation has helped me figure out what’s going on here. The term I SHOULD have been using, rather than “miracles” is “works,” since I believe that Jesus’ works are (primarily) spiritual in nature and may or may not have been “miracles.” That is, they may or may not have had a physical component necessary to qualify as miracles (i.e. God suspending the laws of physics). I will use “works” in the future.

    About the Deuteronomy verse:
    “He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”

    I don’t see this the same way – how exactly is this verse NOT comparing bread to the words of God? I mean, how would letting people hunger, then feeding them manna, be an effective way of teaching them that they live not just by bread but by the words of God UNLESS manna and the words of God are (at least on one level) the same thing? That connection between manna and God’s words is the critical connection to make here.

    This symbolism should come especially easily when we recall that Jesus is both “The Word” and the “bread which came down from heaven.” Looking at those 11 quotes from Christ….I just don’t see how I could get around making the connection between the words of God and bread. How could Jesus have laid it out any more clearly? To repeat myself :

    “…in a very real way, to enter the kingdom of heaven IS to have everlasting life, to abide in the love of Christ IS to live forever, to keep His word IS to love Him, to obey the commandments IS to eat the bread, the kingdom of heaven IS abiding in His love. Bread IS His word (or commandments and teachings), which IS His body, which IS His deeds, which ARE His very being, for He is the Word made flesh; He is the essence, embodiment and source of His own teachings.”

    Do you not agree?

  13. In the seventh comment in this thread (unfortunately comments aren’t numbered, so you’ll have to count), Lukas gave a list of 11 verses from the Gospels of Matthew and John to show that Jesus used the idea of bread to represent his teachings. But the list doesn’t actually do that. Lukas, you’re going to have to be more clear about how these verses demonstrate your point.

    The three verses in the list that mention bread come from John 6. Bear in mind that for Catholics, John 6 is one of the clearest passages in the Bible on the Eucharist – i.e. the meal that we eat at Mass.

    In the last comment, Lukas wrote:
    I don’t see this the same way – how exactly is this verse NOT comparing bread to the words of God? I mean, how would letting people hunger, then feeding them manna, be an effective way of teaching them that they live not just by bread but by the words of God UNLESS manna and the words of God are (at least on one level) the same thing? That connection between manna and God’s words is the critical connection to make here.

    Due to the length and complexity of this thread, I think I’ll spin this off onto it own thread: The “spiritual” meaning of bread, part 2.

  14. So, let me try to lay all of this out clearly. Here again are the statements of Christ, which I re-summarized to try to make the connections between them more obvious:

    To enter into eternal life, keep the commandments.

    To abide with God (eternal life), keep Jesus’ words.

    To abide in Jesus’ love (eternal life), keep His commandments.

    To enter the kingdom of heaven (eternal life), do the will of the Father.

    To have everlasting (eternal) life, believe in Christ.

    In order not to die (have eternal life), eat the bread that comes down from heaven.

    To live forever (have eternal life), eat the bread that comes down from heaven.

    To have eternal life, eat His flesh (i.e. the bread that comes down from heaven) and drink His Blood.

    Everlasting (eternal) life is God’s commandments.

    To see how these statement of Christ form a nexus of meaning, consider that Jesus tells us, “He that believeth on me hath everlasting life” in one place, and in another states, “to enter into eternal life, keep the commandments.”

    Therefore I say that on at least one figurative level of meaning, it is necessary to understand that belief in Christ is the same thing as keeping God’s commandments. As Christ Himself states, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” So using this verse as a guide, we can see that either Christ is contradicting Himself when He says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life,” or we realize that by His own standards, belief and obedience are inextricably bound to each other; that is to say, they are in a sense the same thing, two sides of the same coin. Those who CLAIM to believe (those who merely SAY unto Him “Lord, Lord”) and those who TRULY believe in Him are distinguished by whether they keep His words; therefore belief, in a very real way, can be said to equal obedience.

    This same deep interweaving of symbols also occurs between life and bread, and therefore, logically, and I believe rather obviously, between teachings (or commandments and words) and bread. Just to be thorough, here would be a very superficial explanation:

    Jesus says, “This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.” He also says, “if thou wilt enter into [eternal] life, keep the commandments.” Again, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever,” and “his [God’s] commandment is life everlasting.” So it appears to me that eating the bread is profoundly related to keeping the commandments, inasmuch as both are given as the clearest possible instruction on how to gain eternal life.

    Additionally, these words create a powerful connection between His own Being and the commandments of God; His flesh is the bread of life, and God’s commandment (word) is life, and He is the “Word made flesh.” This is worth contemplating, I believe.

    It is interesting to note that Jesus did not say, “In order to gain eternal life, you must eat the bread that comes down from heaven AND eat My flesh AND keep the commandments AND keep My words AND do the will of the Father in heaven AND believe in Me.” One possible, and I would posit probable, significance behind this observation is, again, that Jesus is using different terms, symbols, allegories, similes and metaphors to describe one reality – the reality of salvation. So I say that while each of these terms/symbols has its own distinctive meaning on one level, and that we can see that each of them describes a unique facet of salvation, a different aspect of the spiritual path, on another level they are all profoundly unified, “waves of one ocean” if you will.

    So one of the many possible lessons to learn from all of this is that, on one figurative level of meaning, eating the bread IS keeping the commandments IS keeping His words IS eating His flesh IS doing the will of the Father in heaven IS believing in Christ.

    One point that I would like to make is that I do not believe that these interpretations are exclusive, or true in an absolute fundamentalist sense. They are not the only valid or plausible or meaningful way of understanding these concepts. I nevertheless believe that this interpretation is true, and that this meaning of the Gospels is important and intentional, but that does not mean it is true in every sense and in every possible application of the verses and terms.

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