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The instruction to drink the blood of the Son of Man is first given in John 6:53:

εἶπεν οὖν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς· ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐὰν μὴ φάγητε τὴν σάρκα τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου καὶ πίητε αὐτοῦ τὸ αἷμα, οὐκ ἔχετε ζωὴν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς [NA 28]

Most translations express the negative μὴ at the beginning of the verse ("not eat the flesh") in terms of a positive command. For example the ESV:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

Young's Literal Translation retains the negative language:

Jesus, therefore, said to them, `Verily, verily, I say to you, If ye may not eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and may not drink his blood, ye have no life in yourselves.

However, there is no second "not" before "drink his blood" and the literal translation is:

Jesus, therefore, said to them, `Verily, verily, I say to you, If ye may not eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and may drink his blood, ye have no life in yourselves.

This seems to describe a different condition, namely someone who has not eaten the flesh but has drunk the blood. The next verse makes it clear both eating and drinking are required, so the outcome, "have no life in you" is not changed because someone only drank.

The next verse appears to be restatement where the requirements are given in positive terms:

ὁ τρώγων μου τὴν σάρκα καὶ πίνων μου τὸ αἷμα ἔχει ζωὴν αἰώνιον, κἀγὼ ἀναστήσω αὐτὸν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ.

Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (6:54 ESV)

However, the word for eating in verse 54 is now τρώγων which means to crunch or gnaw and is different from the word in verse 53 φάγητε which means to eat.

What exactly is the difference between eating and drinking in the two statements?

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  • 1
    Both the KJV and the EGNT (Englishmans Greek New Testament Interlinear) express the negative as the introduction of the entire sentence. 'Except' (KJV) and 'unless' (EGNT) both express ἐὰν μὴ (if not) as a logical exception to the whole sentence that follows. It does not appear to me that the 'negative' attaches to the first of the two coupled statements. The 'negative' is attached to the conjunction 'if' and postulates the not eating and the not drinking. Which is perhaps why Young tries to attach the negative to both, despite it only appearing once.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 1, 2018 at 3:16
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    I think the question about word choice - τρώγων v φάγητε - is very interesting and doesn't get noticed. I am surprised that it doesn't seem to come up more frequently.
    – user33515
    May 5, 2023 at 15:01

2 Answers 2

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There can be no doubt about the intended meaning here. The negative is actually a phrase, ἐὰν μὴ (= unless), not just one negative word as the question implies. This combined with the cumulative coordinating conjunction, καὶ (= and) means that the "unless" applies equally to both eating flesh and drinking blood.

This is confirmed by the very next verse (see also the Pulpit Commentary) where the same idea is presented in only slightly different terms.

v54 "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood will have eternal life …"

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  • The negative is eat, φάγητε. The positive is eat, τρώγων. So it is not correct to say the following verse restates the negative in positive terms. Nov 7, 2018 at 6:28
  • Jesus actually repeats Himself: (a) if you do eat and drink you will not inherit eternal life (b) if you do eat and drink you will have eternal life. SAME THING.
    – user25930
    Nov 7, 2018 at 9:28
  • The same general idea is there. But IMO you are not addressing the actual text. Jesus used a different verb in a different tense in a different mood, one expressed in the second person plural and the other in the masculine singular. Nov 7, 2018 at 14:19
  • Quite true: "feed" vs "eat", but this does not change the central idea.
    – user25930
    Nov 8, 2018 at 4:12
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The verb in v.53 is ἐσθίω (φάγητε is the 2nd person aorist subjunctive). The verb in v.54 is τρώγω. As you point out, there is a difference.


Έσθίω (hesthiō) means eat in the sense of consume (some) food.1 A more emphatic form of the verb is κατεσθίω (katesthiō), which is often translated as devour, as in:

And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured [κατέφαγεν] them up (Matthew 13:4)


Tρώγω is a much less common word.2 It only appears 6 times in the New Testament and 5 of these 6 are in John (the other is in Matthew). The word doesn't appear in the Septuagint at all. So perhaps John was being very deliberate here.

One common meaning of the word was to feed, in the sense of animals feeding. It is used in this latter sense in ancient Greek. In The Odyssey, for example:

Now when they came to the beautiful streams of the river ... they loosed the mules from under the wagon and drove them along the eddying river to graze on the honey-sweet water-grass [τρώγειν ἄγρωστιν μελιηδέα] (6.85-90)


We might note that Christ Himself contrasted the two senses of eating in v.58:

This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat [ἔφαγον] manna, and are dead: he that eateth [τρώγων] of this bread shall live for ever.

We might also translate something like "Not like the manna that your fathers [merely] ate from and still died. This bread is something you shall feed on and live forever."


The fact that no Greek Church Father seems to have commented on the difference in word choice may imply that the implication was obvious to them. John Chrysostom in his Homily XLVII on John:

And continually He reminds them of the manna, showing the difference between it and His bread, and guiding them to the faith; for if He was able to support their life for forty years without harvest, or corn, or other things in course, much more now will He be able to do so, as having come for greater ends.


1. English words derived from ἐσθίω include esophogus, sarcophagus, osteophagy
2. I could not find any English words related to τρώγω, but it seems to be related to the Latin words tragere, meaning to swallow, and trogium, meaning pantry. It is probably the origin of the Spanish word tragar (which is a form of eating) and the modern Greek word for eat, τρώω.

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