Munching on Jesus in John 6

Reading a student’s paper on the Gospel of John has prompted a string of thoughts that, similar to another student’s remarks on Anselm, stems primarily from a slight shift in emphasis. The string of thought is this: perhaps in the infamous passage on eating Christ’s flesh and drinking his blood, we need to emphasize the metaphor of eating. What do we do when we eat something? In a certain way, don’t we destroy it in order to get at what’s important to us, i.e., the nutrition it contains? And don’t we then excrete the useless leftovers?

Christ may be asking us in John 6 to digest his flesh — to use it as a path toward the “eternal” nutrition it provides, and then cast it aside. In this sense, the Eucharistic reading of the passage, particularly in its Roman Catholic variant, would be exactly wrong. Indeed, it might explain why the evangelist doesn’t include a “normal” Last Supper passage: chapter 6 isn’t his “idiosyncratic version” of such a passage, but rather a rejection of the sacramental order that grew out of the other Last Supper accounts.

τὰ φαῦλα

One thing that my advisor really emphasized to me was that I needed to learn classical Greek and use classical Greek lexicons when reading the New Testament, because often the NT-only material can be misleading. At the same time, obviously language evolves over time, so I can never be sure whether I’m picking up on something real. Case in point: the use of “τὰ φαῦλα” in John. It’s translated as something like “evil” most times I’ve seen it so far, yet the classical lexicon indicates that it means something like “trivial.” As an example, take John 3:20:

πᾶς γὰρ ὁ φαῦλα πράσσων μισεῖ τὸ φῶς καὶ οὐκ ἔρχεται πρὸς τὸ φῶς, ἵνα μὴ ἐλεγχθῇ τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ·

For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. (NRSV)

The next verse contrasts doing φαῦλα with doing τὴν ἀλήθειαν (the truth), and it seems at least interesting to think of a contrast “true/trivial” vs. “true/evil” — then the doers of triviality wouldn’t be hiding their deeds out of some motiveless malignancy or even a fear of God’s punishment, but because they’re embarrassed that they’ve essentially wasted their lives on things that don’t matter.

And yet I could be entirely making this up.