Did the disciples leave Jesus in John 6 because they were confused?
Some Evangelicals feel that many disciples stopped following Jesus in John 6:53 because they were confused by his words "you have to eat me." For lack of a better title, we will call this interpretation of this passage of Scripture the "Confusion Theory" (because it claims disciples were confused).
The theory acknowledges that Jesus said 5 times "you have to eat me" but suggests that Jesus clarified this in Jn 6:63 and said (paraphrased) "the bread is only a metaphor, what I mean is that you have to believe in me." The theory states that after this clarification the disciples were still confused and many of them left. The theory says that after Jesus died, those who left (in Jn 6), finally understood that Jesus was just talking metaphorically and they returned and learned all the teachings from the 12 disciples that they missed after they left him in Capernaum (Jn 6).
The theory explains that Jesus confused them by his teaching about the bread. There are only two explanations for why Jesus could have confused them.
- He intended to confuse them - or -
- He didn't intend to confuse them (made a mistake and did not teach well)
It appearsthat the confusion theory is saying he confused them intentionally. I'm glad the theory is not saying he was an unskilled speaker because that would discredit the theory before beginning an analysis. Jesus had the ability to know how his words would be taken and he was also a very gifted speaker.
Analysis: Let's look at the possibility that Jesus led them astray on purpose.
The "confusion theory" appears to be saying he led them astray on purpose even though Jesus says many times in Scripture that it is a sin to lead people astray. (i.e., Mat 24:4, 2 Peter 2:21). Evangelicals say that the disciples who left him in Jn 6 came back after he died. There are no documents in existence that give evidence about how disciples who left in Capernaum came back after the tent was torn in two (Mk 15:38). This would be an important event and that Scripture (or the early writings of the Church) would have made clear that these disciples who left at Capernaum later returned. On the other hand, Jesus prophesied that it will go worse for those in Capernaum than it will for Sodom and Gomorrah (Mat 10:15) It doesn't appear he expected them back.
The theory appears to suggest that Jesus' purpose in confusing them was that he thought that they would be better disciples if they heard his teachings 2nd hand from the original 12 disciples after his death than if they heard it first hand from him during his life. This does not make sense to me.
In Mat 18:12 Jesus tells us the parable of the sheep. If one sheep goes astray, the shepherd leaves the 99 to go in search of the one who went astray. At Capernaum the majority went astray. (Jn 6:66) Jesus said he was the Shepherd, so why did he not chase after them? The confusion theory says the reason for this is that he knew they would find their own way back after his death. That doesn't sound like the same kind of shepherd Jesus was talking about in Mat 18:12.
The "confusion" theory is less than 300 years old. All of the writings of early Christians that have been discovered to date make it clear that they believed Jesus was teaching his "real presence" in the bread here. These early disciples were closer to the events than we are and they were closer to the events than those who are advancing the "confusion" theory. The early Christians are better witnesses.