Sunday Morning Greek Blog

June 6, 2011

“I Am the Bread of Life” (John 6:35)

As I was reflecting on the seven “I am” statements today on a round trip to Lincoln, Nebraska, to have lunch with my family, I recalled something from very early in my seminary days about another set of “sevens” in John. I was contemplating how I would put each of the “I am” statements in their respective contexts when I remembered that John also records seven specific miracles of Jesus throughout his Gospel. These are the things that make me go “Hmm,” and when something makes me say that, you can bet I will not sit still long hmming about it. Could all seven “I am” statements be tied to the seven signs? One cannot doubt, for example, that Jesus’ statement “I am the resurrection and the life” in John 11:25 ties in directly with Jesus’ last and greatest sign, raising Lazarus from the dead. However, not all of them fit in that nicely.

I did discern a distinct connection between the first sign (2:1–11, turning water into wine) and the final “I am” statement (15:1, “I am the true vine”). In biblical studies, when an idea, phrase, or word is found at the beginning and end of a section of Scripture (regardless of the length of the section), such a feature is called an inclusio. Inclusios usually reveal something important about the theme of a section or book and should not be ignored. I had really hoped to find a chiastic pattern (ABC… C′B′A′) of statements and signs, but it was not to be. However, I can safely say that John does seem to have some sort of scheme in mind, but I may not discern it fully until after I’ve done some leg work on these blog posts. (The connection between John 4:43–54 and John 14:6 may be simply that it is “an inclusio within an inclusio.”

With that in mind, I put together a short table of how I think the “I am” statements tie in with the signs. I find obvious connections with five pairs, but two of the connections are admittedly tentative, and I indicate as such with an asterisk (*) in front of the respective verses. I will use Table 1 as a starting point for placing the “I am” statements in their historical, cultural, and literary contexts. (2/13/2012: You can click the “I Am” statement to open the blog post on that statement.)

Table 1: Linking the “I Am” Statements with Jesus’ Miracles

“I Am” Statement

Sign/Miracle

John 6:35: I Am the Bread of Life John 6:1–15: Jesus Feeds the 5000+
John 8:12: I Am the Light of the World John 9:1–12: Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind
John 10:7: I Am the Door of the Sheep John 5:1–15: Healing of the Invalid at Bethesda [Sheep Gate]
*John 10:11: I Am the Good Shepherd John 6:16–24: Jesus Walks on Water
John 11:25: I Am the Resurrection and the Life John 11:38–44: Jesus Raises Lazarus from the Dead
*John 14:6: I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life John 4:43–54: Healing of the Official’s Son
John 15:1: I Am the True Vine John 2:1–11: Water into Wine

Jesus’ first “I am” statement comes in the midst of his teaching that he himself is the bread of life (John 6:22–59). This comes at the end of the same chapter in which he has fed a crowd of 5000 men plus the women and children with five loaves of bread and two fish, and his teaching forms an inclusio with this fourth sign around Jesus’ fifth sign, walking on water.

I have written elsewhere on the feeding of the 5000, so I won’t go into all that again, except to say that John introduces the event (6:2) by saying the people had seen him do “signs” (σημεῖον sēmeion /say MAY on/ ‘miracle’, ‘sign’), most recently the healing of the man at the Sheep Gate (Bethesda/Bethzatha/Bethsaida) pool. At the end of the event (6:14), John calls the feeding of the 5000 a “sign” as well. None of the other Gospel authors call the miraculous feeding events “signs” in their accounts. However, after the accounts of the feeding of the 4000 (Matthew 15:32–39; Mark 8:1–10), the Gospel authors have the story of the Pharisees demanding a sign from Jesus. You have got to love those Pharisees; twice Jesus feeds some 20,000 people with a few loaves of bread and some fish, and they still want a sign!

Now let us fast-forward to 6:22–59, where we find the “I am” statements. Twice in that pericope, John uses the word σημεῖον (vv. 26, 30, so four times total in chapter 6). In v. 26, Jesus tells his followers that they’re not hanging around because he is a miracle worker, but because he met their physical needs. In v. 30, the crowd becomes the Pharisees of the Matthew and Mark accounts after the feeding of the 4000: they ask for another sign. Never mind that Jesus has already done five signs at this point: walking on water and turning water into wine just isn’t enough for them. Could it be that the crowd is saying (see v. 31): “Big deal. Moses and the Israelites ate manna every day. What’s feeding 5000 people once compared to that?” Jesus sets them straight, though, telling them that God was the one who provided the manna, and God will give the true bread from heaven.

Before I get to the first version of the “I am” statement, I must point out the parallels between chapters 4 and 6. Even though in chapter 4 Jesus never does a miraculous “sign,” save for his word of knowledge about the woman’s marital status and never says “I am the living water,” the stories have some uncanny similarities (see Table 2 below). I could spend two or three blog posts just talking about these comparisons, but in some respects they speak for themselves. Besides, I want to get to the heart of the matter.

Table 2: Comparison of John 4 and 6

John 4: Woman at the Well; “Living Water”

John 6: Feeding 5000+; “I Am the Bread of Life”

“Will you give me a drink?” v. 7 “Where will we buy bread?” v. 5
“You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep.” v. 11 “It would take almost a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite.” v. 7
“Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well?” v. 12 “Our ancestors at the manna in the wilderness…. ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” v. 30
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. Those who drink the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” v. 14 “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” v. 27
“It is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” vv. 32b–33
“Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” v. 15 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” v. 34
“Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” v. 36
“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” v. 34 “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” vv. 28–29

In John 6:35, we have the first of four “I am the bread” statements: “I am the bread of life” (Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ἄρτος τῆς ζωῆς egō eimi ho artos tēs zōēs). Jesus ties this in with both chapter 4 and 6 with his follow-up statement about never being hungry or thirsty again. He also picks up on the statement of the crowd and the quotes from Exodus 16:4 and Psalm 78:24–25 and speaks of himself as the one who has come down from heaven. (This may also inform the translation of John 3:3; Jesus is not saying “born again,” but “born from above.”) Verse 41 is interesting, because John seems to put words in Jesus’ mouth, but that is not the case. John is just letting us in on how the crowd interpreted Jesus’ first “I am” saying: “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ἄρτος ὁ καταβὰς ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ egō eimi ho artos ho katabas ek tou ouranou). Jesus is the true manna from heaven, only this manna has a real name (the Hebrew word for manna is made up of an interrogative prefix and a suffix that together mean “What is it?” so it doesn’t even have a real word base).

Jesus repeats his initial “I am” statement in v. 48 and again ties it in with discussion about the manna. In v. 51, however, his final statement is slightly different, but different enough that it eliminates any doubt about a connection to chapter 4. “I am the living bread” (ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ἄρτος ὁ ζῶν ὁ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καταβάς egō eimi ho artos ho zōn ho ek tou ouranou katabas) brings together his first two statements, but instead of using the genitive phrase “of life” (τῆς ζωῆς), he uses the participle (ὁ ζῶν), which puts emphasis on the fact that he is living now and will be living when he “raises them up in the last day” (vv. 39, 40, 44).

As if all this information isn’t enough to blow you away (I feel like I’m writing a term paper here, and I’ve still got six more statements to go!), Jesus takes the whole metaphor a step further and starts equating his flesh with the bread! Jesus here prophesies that he will give his flesh for the life of the world, and anyone who eats his flesh “will live forever” (6:51, 58; ζήσει εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα zēsei eis ton aiōna). Although this is presumably where the Catholics get the major theological underpinnings for transubstantiation, keep in mind that when Jesus breaks the bread at the last supper, he is specifically referring to the unleavened Passover bread and what that represented: deliverance from the enemies of God and his people. When Jesus says, “This is my body,” he is really saying, “This is how I’m going to deliver you.” When he says “This cup is the new covenant in my blood,” he is saying “And this is how I am going to pay for that deliverance.”

Now I don’t want to brush off transubstantiation too quickly. I believe there is a power in immersion (baptism) that is greater than the water in the baptistery. In the same way, I think there is more power in the little piece of bread and small cup of juice that we pass each week that surpasses the flour and grapes used to make those elements. In immersion, we come into contact with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. In communion, or the Lord’s Table, we come into contact with the living bread, who was sacrificed on a cross for our sins. I truly believe that communion brings us into the very presence of Christ, because he is the one who invites us to the table, and he is there in person waiting for us to come. Maybe that makes me a consubstantiationist!

At this point I might usually say “finally,” because I’m getting ready to wrap this up, but I don’t feel like I’ve even scratched the surface in some respects, so there’s no “finally” about it. Twelve times (there’s that number twelve again!) in chapters 4 through 6, we find the phrase “eternal life” or “into eternity.” We have eternal life, and it begins the moment we believe! Just as drinking the living water of chapter 4 will cause us never to thirst again, so will partaking of the living bread of chapter 6 cause us never to go hungry again. John 6:39 reveals the comfort in all of this: “And this is the will of him who went me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.” We could walk away of our own accord (Jesus doesn’t “lose” us if we decide to lose ourselves), but why would we want to? “To whom can we go, Lord? You have the words of life!”

A big helping of peace to all of you! Go and feast on the Word of God!

Scott Stocking

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8 Comments »

  1. […] am” statement in John 14:6), and the geographical location doesn’t matter. In the Bread of Life post, I made the connection between John 4 and 6, so we have the beginning of some insight into […]

    Pingback by “I Am the Light of the World” (John 8:12) « Sunday Morning Greek Blog — June 11, 2011 @ 1:16 pm | Reply

  2. […] and words of Jesus should have prepared the disciples to understand this claim. In my chart in the Bread of Life post, I made a tentative connection between this “I am” statement and the healing of the […]

    Pingback by “I Am the Way and the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6) « Sunday Morning Greek Blog — June 12, 2011 @ 8:17 am | Reply

  3. […] John 6:35 […]

    Pingback by The “I Am” Statements of Jesus « Sunday Morning Greek Blog — November 8, 2011 @ 8:45 pm | Reply

  4. Alright, I am just going to subscribe to your blog, as a former Catholic, I really appreciated the verses on John 6 and your breakdown and explanation of transubstantiation. Super helpful.

    Comment by Steven Doroff — January 3, 2012 @ 9:09 pm | Reply

    • Thank you for subscribing. If I can answer any questions, fire away. If you have any suggestions for topics, I’m open to those as well.

      Comment by Scott Stocking — January 3, 2012 @ 11:33 pm | Reply

  5. […] John 6:35: I Am the Bread of Life […]

    Pingback by “I Am the True Vine” (John 15:1) « Sunday Morning Greek Blog — February 13, 2012 @ 7:03 pm | Reply

  6. […] John 6:35: I Am the Bread of Life […]

    Pingback by “I Am the Door of the Sheep”; “I Am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:7, 11) « Sunday Morning Greek Blog — February 13, 2012 @ 7:12 pm | Reply

  7. […] Jesus’s “I am” statements in the Gospel of John. Three of them are relevant here: “I am the Bread of Life,” “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” and “I am the Way, the Truth, and the […]

    Pingback by Scandalous Living « Sunday Morning Greek Blog — June 24, 2012 @ 6:04 pm | Reply


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