-by Karlo Broussard
“Every Catholic has heard the challenge:
“How can you believe that? Don’t you know the Bible says…”
It’s a challenge we have to meet. If we can’t reconcile apparent contradictions between Scripture and Catholic teaching, how can our own faith survive? And if we can’t help our Protestant brothers and sisters overcome their preconceptions about “unbiblical” Catholic doctrines and practices, how will they ever come to embrace the fullness of the Faith?
In this excerpt from Meeting the Protestant Challenge, Karlo Broussard gives an example of how to counteract the Protestant claims that Catholics are misunderstanding the Bible’s teaching on the Eucharist.
“God Will Cut Off the Person Who Eats Blood”
Leviticus 17:10 and the Real Presence of Jesus’ Blood
THE PROTESTANT CHALLENGE: How can the Catholic Church teach that we actually eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus when Scripture forbids partaking of blood?
The Catholic Church teaches that when we partake of the Eucharist in Holy Communion we are literally consuming the blood of Jesus Christ. Paragraph 1244 of the Catechism says that we “receive the food of the new life, the body and blood of Christ” (emphasis added). In 1275, it states that the Eucharist nourishes us with “Christ’s body and blood” in order for us to be transformed in Christ. According to paragraph 1335, the faithful “drink the new wine that has become the blood of Christ” (emphasis added).
For some Protestants, this idea of drinking Christ’s blood violates the Bible’s prohibition of drinking blood:
If any man of the house of Israel or of the strangers that sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people (Lev. 17:10).
In light of this prohibition, in John 6 and at the Last Supper Jesus couldn’t have possibly meant for us to really drink his blood, meaning that Catholic teaching on the Eucharist is unbiblical.
MEETING THE CHALLENGE:
1. The dietary laws of the old law, to which the prohibition of drinking blood belonged, passed away with the advent of Christ.
The prohibition of consuming blood was not a precept rooted in the natural law, which is forever binding (Rom. 2:14-15). Rather, it was one of many dietary regulations that involved the ritual purity of Jews—disciplinary in nature, not moral, and thus subject to change.
That it did change is proven by the New Testament’s affirmation that the dietary laws of the old law are no longer binding for Christians. Consider, for example, what Jesus says in Mark 7:15: “[T]here is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him.” Mark tells us that by saying this Jesus “declared all foods clean” (v.19).
This is made even clearer in God’s revelation to Peter in Acts 10:9-16. We’re told that Peter “fell into a trance,” and saw a “great sheet” in which were “all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air.” Peter heard a voice command him to “kill and eat.” But Peter refused, saying, “No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” The voice responded, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.” Luke tells us that this happened three times.
We find this new revelation in Paul’s writings as well. For example, he instructs the Colossians,
Having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this [Jesus] set aside, nailing it to the cross…Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath. These are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ (Col. 2:16-17).
Similarly, Paul writes to the Corinthians: “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do” (1 Cor. 8:8).
If the dietary laws of the Old law are no longer binding for Christians, and the prohibition of consuming blood was a part of those dietary laws, it follows that the prohibition of consuming blood is no longer binding for Christians. This challenge from Leviticus 17:10, therefore, doesn’t undermine the Catholic belief that we literally partake of Jesus’ blood in the Eucharist.
2. Jesus gives a positive command to drink his blood, which by nature supersedes the Old Testament precept.
Jesus says, “He who drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:54). At the Last Supper he instructs the apostles, “Drink it,” in reference to the cup that he says contained his blood. Such a positive command tells us that the Old Testament’s prohibition of partaking of blood was disciplinary in nature, for Christ could never command us to violate a precept of the natural law. And when Christ gives us a new command, it supersedes the old.
3. Given the Jewish understanding that blood contains the life of the animal, it makes sense why Jesus would command us to drink his blood in order to have his eternal life.
The reason for the ritual prohibition of drinking blood was that the life of the animal was believed to be in the blood:
For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life (Lev. 17:11).
If Jews believed that the life of an animal is in its blood, it makes sense for Jesus would say, “He who drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:54). Because Jesus is God, his blood contains the divine life. As Paul writes, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9).
Christ wants his disciples to have his eternal life. And since his divine life dwells within his blood, he commands his disciples to drink his blood. Bible scholar Brant Pitre puts it nicely: “The very reason God forbids drinking blood in the Old Covenant is the same reason Jesus commands his disciples to drink his blood.” Therefore, if we want Christ’s life to dwell within us, we need to drink his blood in the Holy Eucharist.
COUNTER-CHALLENGE: Why should we abide by this Old Testament precept when Jesus clearly gives us a command that supersedes it? If Jesus commands us to do something new, shouldn’t we follow it?
AFTERTHOUGHT: Even if the Old Testament precept were still binding on Christians, the Catholic teaching on drinking Christ’s blood would not run contrary to it. The Old Testament prohibition forbade normal consumption of blood, where blood is digested as food. But the Eucharist does not involve the digestion of blood, since the substantial reality of Christ’s blood is consumed under the species of wine. Therefore, the consumption of the Eucharist doesn’t violate Leviticus 17:10, even if it were still binding for God’s people in the New Testament.”
Love & truth,