Barry Newman's Blog

October 14, 2012

The Sacraments (part VI)

Filed under: The Sacraments — barrynewman @ 10:44 pm

The Last Passover Meal

Matthew 26: 26-28, Mark 14: 22-25, Luke 22: 17-20 and 1 Corinthians 11: 23-25 taken together, along with what we understand to be the general pattern of Passover meals in the time of Jesus, indicate that the Last Passover meal was probably something like the following: at the beginning a blessing was given, a cup of wine taken and a preliminary dish served; then there was a formal meditation on the Passover, the drinking from a second cup and the singing of the first part of a traditional hymn; this was followed by the main course – the Passover lamb, introduced with thanks being given over unleavened bread and concluding with thanks being given over a third cup; finally the whole meal was concluding with the singing of the second part of the hymn and drinking from a fourth cup.

Of the three Gospels, only Luke refers to what was probably the first or second cup (20: 17, 18) and only Luke refers to “Do this in remembrance of me” and then only with respect to the bread.  It should be noted that whether or not there should be a reference to “Do this in remembrance of me” and even further words in Luke 22: 19b and 20, is in dispute. The Nestle-Aland edition of the Greek New Testament, under the English text, notes “Other ancient authorities omit, in whole or in part, verses 19b-20 (which is given … in my blood)” with details being given under the Greek text.[1] Even the Good News Bible draws attention to this fact.[2]  It is not being suggested here that Jesus did not utter these words – the text of 1 Corinthians 11: 24 where it is reported that Jesus made such a statement is not in dispute.  However consider how remarkable it would be if none of the Gospels reported these words – that is, that none of them considered it important enough to do so, given their intended purposes in writing!  One could be excused for being suspicious about why the phrase “Do this in remembrance of me” does appear in most of our translations of Luke’s Gospel and even then, in most cases, without comment. Could it be that the translators would feel the weight of the significance of the phrase not appearing in any of the Gospels? Might that not suggest that whatever one makes of the 1 Corinthian text, the idea that there was some important command being given by Jesus regarding this occasion and perhaps future occasions, loses some cogency? Certainly without the statement, subtitles, such as,” The Institution of the Lord’s Supper” appearing just before 22: 14, would make no sense and could not be introduced!

All three gospels however, refer to “This is my body”. If we accept Luke’s longer reading, all three report Jesus relating the wine of the cup, (probably the third cup) to “my blood of the covenant” (Luke adds “new”) with a statement that his blood was poured out for many (Matthew adds “for the forgiveness of sins” and Luke has “for you” rather than “for many”).  Paul indicates that “Do this in remembrance of me.” was said by Jesus both with respect to the bread and the cup and concerning the latter that the remembrance was to be “whenever you drink it.”  It may well be that Jesus referred to “whenever” with respect to the bread as well.  Luke mentions that Jesus said that his body was “given for you” with Paul stating that Jesus said it was “for you”.

Given that this was a Passover meal and that one of the very significant aspects of every Passover meal was the main meal consisting mainly of the sacrificed Passover lamb, and given the comments he made about his body and blood, it is clear that Jesus was referring to his own death.  That he made the comment about his body at the beginning of the main course and the comment about his blood at the end of that course was probably meant to be an indication that taken together, they referred, as one, to the sacrificed Passover Lamb, he now being that Lamb. At the same time, it is exceedingly difficult to believe that the disciples were ever meant to see the words of Jesus as indicating that the bread was his body or that wine was his blood.  The eating of human flesh or any flesh with the blood was anathema for any Jew.  Besides, Jesus was well known for using highly descriptive language to point to exceedingly significant realities.


[1] Nestle-Aland, Greek – English New Testament, Deutsche Bibelgellschaft, Stuttgart, ninth revised edition, 2001, p. 233

[2] Good News Bible, Australian Edition, Bible Society, Canberra, p. 1162.

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