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John 6:60: When many of his disciples heard it, they said,"This is a hard saying: who can listen to it?" ESV

In John 6:48-58 Jesus has been talking about bread and in verse 60 comes this response.

Douay-Rheims Bible and Aramaic Bible in Plain English put "This saying is hard". Darby Bible Translation and Young's Literal Translation put "This word is hard".

Is the word "hard" a direct reference to the bread Jesus has been talking about, i.e. skleros can mean dry and dry bread is hard, or, is it just a reference to Jesus' teaching being difficult to understand or believe?

"who can listen to it?" No one listens to bread so maybe this "hard" is not a direct reference to bread.

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools puts: autou no doubt refers to logos, but it might mean "listen to him".

Going down this route we now have, "This bread is hard, who can listen to him?" On Bible Hub no version goes down this route. Is it a possibility? Why yes, or why no.

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  • This is too funny. – Glukrom Jul 10 '20 at 21:17
  • @Glukrom: I think I agree with you! Don – rhetorician Jul 11 '20 at 15:22
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One of the several themes and structures in the Gospel of John is his constant use of metaphors to represent Jesus' teaching. The other evangelists do this as well but John uses them far more. See the appendix below. In all these metaphors there is constant dispute between Jesus and the Jews who appear to insist on taking the metaphors literally while Jesus intends them as spiritual teaching tools.

In John 6 Jesus is teaching the crowds and using several closely related metaphors that include:

  • Manna/bread in the desert represented Jesus' body which, in turn, represented Jesus' teaching about eternal life
  • Eating (the flesh/bread) and drinking (Jesus blood) represents trust and believing that teaching about eternal life.

Jesus provides these metaphors about His flesh and blood to deliberately make Himself the center and substance of the plan of salvation. That is, we may believe what we like but if we do not have Jesus, we have nothing. Jesus provided a pithy summary of this withing this discourse by saying (John 6:47-51):

"Truly, truly, I tell you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that anyone may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And this bread, which I will give for the life of the world, is My flesh.”

In 1 John 5:11, 12, we have something very similar:

And this is that testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

This was the hard/difficult (Σκληρός) saying. The literalistic Jews had become highly legalistic (the two often go together) so they asked two significant questions that betrayed they incredulous mind-set:

  • John 6:28 - “What must we do to perform the works of God?” And ...
  • John 6:52 - “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”

It appears that they wanted to DO something to earn eternal life [rather than simply believe] and refused to understand Jesus metaphorical teaching. To make matters worse, Jesus was effectively claiming to be superior to Moses by saying He, Jesus, was the means of salvation and not Moses. That was why it was a "hard" saying.

APPENDIX: List of Metaphors in the Gospel of John

  • 1:1-14 – Jesus is the “Word” (Greek: “logos” means idea or principle)
  • 1:29 – Jesus is the Lamb of God
  • 1:51 – Jesus is the ladder between earth and heaven (Gen 28:12)
  • 2:19-21 – Jesus’ body is the temple that was to be destroyed and raised in 3 days
  • 3:3-12 – Jesus’ disciples must be born from above
  • 3:13, 14 – Jesus is the bronze serpent in the wilderness (also 8:27, 12:34 & Num 21:9)
  • 4:13, 14 – Jesus’ message becomes a fountain/river of living water flowing out of His disciples (see also 7:38)
  • 4:32 – Jesus’ food was not of this world (ie, conversions to discipleship)
  • 4:35-38 – Jesus’ disciples must reap the “harvest” of the Gospel
  • 5:13, 14 – Our work is to labour for “manna” or “food” that endures (also, 6:27)
  • 5:35 – John the Baptist was a lamp preparing for the greater light
  • 6:35, 41, 48, 50, 51 – Jesus said, “I am the bread of life”
  • 6:53-58 – we must eat Jesus’ flesh and drink His blood
  • 8:12 – Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (see also 1:4, 9, 12:46)
  • 8:38-47 – Jesus’ disciples are Abraham’s children and children of God, whereas, His enemies are children of the devil.
  • 9:39-41 – converted disciples are not blind but those who will not see are blind
  • 10:1-18 – Jesus said, “I am the good Shepherd” (v11, 14) and the disciples are sheep
  • 10:8 – Jesus said, “I am the gate/door to the sheep”
  • 11:25 – Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and life”
  • 12:24 – Jesus compares his life to a seed that must die to produce more life
  • 14:6 – Jesus said, “I am the way the truth and the life”
  • 14:26 – Holy Spirit is called and advocate (Greek: “parakletos”) (see also 15:26ff)
  • 15:1-5 – Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches”
  • 16:21, 22 – troubles of this life compared to child birth
  • 18:11 – Jesus’ trials likened to a “cup”
  • 21:15-17 – Jesus’ followers likened to lambs and sheep (see also 10:1-18)
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  • Very nice answer. Don – rhetorician Jul 11 '20 at 15:26
  • @Dottard If the disciples do not lack understanding but belief then they perhaps are able to turn the metaphor back on Jesus. Thus the teaching would become not merely hard to accept but itself [like] dried bread. To call Jesus' teaching dried bread would be impolite, but, Who can listen to Him is also impolite. – C. Stroud Jul 23 '20 at 11:33
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John 6:60 (From the NIV Bible): “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

It appears to me that the “teaching” is being referred to here, not the “bread”. The “bread” is symbolic of Jesus’s teaching. Subsequent verses talk about many disciples deserting Jesus because of this (hard) “teaching”.

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Jesus said " blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled "most read this in a casual manner, sin dulls the spiritual senses and they have no true idea the intensity of the spiritual hunger and thirst of which Jesus speaks....however when you connect that statement with the statement "...except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood you have no life in you."...the symbolism being used is of a person wandering in a dessert for days with no food or water, and knowing he is going to die....he sees a man walking along and realizes except he kills this man and eats his flesh and drinks his blood , there is no hope of ever living again..... extreme hunger and thirst , so great the only option is to resort to cannibalism the symbolism is very graphic...when Jesus said..." the flesh profits you nothing " it's obvious the Apostles did not understand the spiritual lesson nor it's terrible intense meaning, they thought he was speaking literally....no one ever ate any part of Jesus body or drank any of his blood to stay alive...."..the words I speak unto you , they are spirit and they are life..."....most of the people to whom Jesus spoke , that wrote the words He gave them to write , what now composes the Bible , were murdered, and most likely knew that to write such words would eventually cost them their lives , but out of love for Jesus they did it anyway, all of the terrible persecution and hatred they endured was but an small illustration of what it cost Jesus to save the human race...Jesus is offering his life willingly to anyone that can truly see how horrible sin really, the man dying of extreme hunger and thirst is a graphic illustration of the enormity of sin , very few people truly know this ...to them sin is fun....the answer to the entire question is found in love .... people's love for each other can be so intense they would suffer anything imaginable, even death rather than to ever be parted...Romeo and Juliet is a good example of this .... Jesus's blood was illustrated in those two children , in stark contrast to the madness of their two respective families....they did not commit suicide, it was the murderous hatred of the families that led to the death of those two kids.....this is the intensity of love Jesus is talking about.."..for love is strong as death jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire , which hath a most vehement flame . Many waters cannot quench love neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love it would be utterly condemned..." Song of Solomon 8: 6,7

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    Whoa! Can you please edit this to add paragraph breaks? – curiousdannii Jul 11 '20 at 5:17
  • Welcome to BH. Please see the Tour and the Help (both below, bottom left) as to the purpose and the functioning of the site. Very few people will even attempt to read your answer as it presents a 'wall of text' which is difficult to assimilate. Please edit and present one point of discussion per short paragraph. – Nigel J Jul 13 '20 at 5:20

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