Institution of the “Lord’s Supper” (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20)

Submitted by admin on Tue, 2008-10-28 12:20.

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While the Passover meal was in progress, Jesus took a cup of wine, gave thanks, and then said to the apostles, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, From now on I will not drink from the produce of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Based on the events (narrated in the biblical accounts) that intervened between the beginning of the Passover meal and the reference to the cup, this particular cup of wine may have been the third one used during the course of the meal. (Luke 22:17, 18; see, however, the Notes section for additional comments.)

According to the Mishnah, a blessing was said for the food after the third cup of wine. This would appear to fit what Jesus did after the apostles passed the cup of wine among themselves. He took bread from the table, pronounced a blessing or gave thanks, broke the bread, and handed it out, saying, “Take, eat; this is my body.” (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; see the Notes section regarding Luke 22:19.)

Next Jesus took the cup (probably the fourth cup of wine), said a blessing, and told his disciples, “Drink from it, all [of you]; for this is my blood of the covenant poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:27, 28; Mark 14:23, 24; Luke 22:20)

Many have taken the “is” in the Greek text to mean that the bread is to be identified with the actual body of Christ and the wine with his actual blood. In ancient Hebrew and Aramaic versions of these words, however, no “is” appears in the text. In keeping with the idiom of the language in which Jesus would have addressed the apostles, he would not have used any form of a “to be” verb. With Jesus personally being present, the apostles could not have imagined that he was literally identifying the bread with his actual fleshly body and the wine with his actual blood. Moreover, the manner in which he expressed himself in their native tongue would not have suggested such identity.

Even with the “is” included in the Greek text, identity is not inherent in the language. In the expression “this is my body,” all of the accounts are in agreement in using the word “this” (toutó). Although the Greek term for bread or loaf (ártos) is masculine, toutó is neuter, raising a question about whether the “bread” or “loaf” is being identified with Christ’s body of flesh. One explanation for the neuter is that “this” reflects the neuter gender of the word for “body” (somá). From a strict grammatical standpoint, however, the Greek word for “this” should be masculine to establish the kind of relationship of the bread to the fleshly body of God’s Son that many believe it to have.

The Greek word for “cup” (potérion) is neuter and so there is grammatical agreement with the word for “this” (toutó). It should be noted, though, that the direct reference is to the cup and not to the wine. Clearly, the cup itself cannot be understood as being identified with the blood of Christ. The link to the blood can only be made with the wine inside the cup.

In connection with the loaf, the neuter “this” (toutó) could refer to everything Jesus did as it related to his body. This would include his body consisting of all believers. Regarding the cup of wine, the “this” (toutó) could apply to everything Jesus did with the cup and could refer to what his shed blood would effect—forgiveness of sins and the validation of a new covenant.

While the accounts in Matthew and Mark and numerous manuscripts of Luke (22:19) do not include the words “given for you” after “my body,” the oldest extant manuscript (P75 from the late second century or early third century) and many other manuscripts of Luke include them, and 1 Corinthians 11:24 contains the shorter phrase, “for you.” Jesus surrendered his own body and thereby made it possible for a body of believers to come into existence and to be united to him. Individually, all believers benefit from what Jesus did in delivering up his body for them and also for making it possible for them to become part of the body of which he is the head. Thus, both from the standpoint of his own body and that of the composite body of believers, Jesus could be spoken of as having given his body for the individual believers. The resulting fellowship with Jesus and the community of believers that constitutes his body promotes the spiritual growth and the strengthening of the individual members in faith and love. (Compare Ephesians 4:11-16.)

The apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians indicates how believers in the first century regarded partaking of the bread and the wine. They did so in remembrance of Christ, focusing on what he did by sacrificing his body and pouring out his blood. Whenever they ate of the loaf and drank from the cup, they proclaimed the death of the Lord until he would return in glory, which would result in their being united with him. In the presence of all partakers, they thus tangibly announced their faith in what Jesus’ death had done for them. (1 Corinthians 11:25, 26)

Believers also recognized that, through Christ’s sacrificial death, they had become members of his body. Their partaking of the one loaf proved to be concrete evidence of this reality. The apostle Paul wrote, “Because one loaf [there is], we, the many, one body are, for all [of us] partake from the one loaf.” (1 Corinthians 10:17) When partaking of the wine, they were sharers in the “blood of the Christ,” which indicates that they were beneficiaries of the new covenant that had been put into effect through Christ’s blood and which made forgiveness of sins possible. (1 Corinthians 10:15)

The linkage to the corporate body of the community of believers is also reflected in the prayer contained in the Didache (thought to date from the late first or early second century), “We thank you, our Father, for the life and knowledge which you have made known to us through Jesus your servant. To you [be] the glory for eternity. As this broken bread was dispersed on the mountains and gathered to become one, thus may your congregation be gathered from the ends of the earth into your kingdom.” (9:3, 4) The scattering or dispersing “on the mountains” appears to refer to the sowing of seed in hilly or mountainous regions, with the harvested grain from many ears being ground into flour and coming to be just one loaf of bread.

According to Matthew 26:29 and Mark 14:25, Jesus, after passing the cup to the apostles, told them that he would not again drink of the fruit of the vine with them until his doing so in his Father’s kingdom. He thereby indicated that the intimacy they then enjoyed would not occur again until his return in glory as the king of the kingdom of God. That event would be the beginning of a time when he as king by his Father’s appointment would exercise full authority without the existence of any competing sovereignties. The apostles would then be united with him, sharing in the kind of honor associated with eating and drinking at the royal table. (Regarding Luke 22:18, see the Notes section.)


The possibility that Luke 22:17 refers to the third cup would not agree with manuscripts that omit the words of verse 20 (with its reference to the cup linked to the new covenant). In the case of texts that do not include verse 20, the cup mentioned in Luke 22:17 could be understood to designate the one used for the institution of the “Lord’s Supper.” This would mean that, in Luke’s account, the narration follows a reverse order (cup of wine and then bread, not bread and then cup).

One reason for favoring the abbreviated text of Luke is that, after Jesus had referred to “my blood of the covenant,” Matthew 26:29 and Mark 14:25 set forth his words about not drinking of the produce of the vine. The expanded text of Luke (found in most extant Greek manuscripts), on the other hand, introduces these words before mentioning the cup used at the institution of the “Lord’s Supper.” (Luke 22:18)

In Luke 22:19, many manuscripts read, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” There are manuscripts, however, that do not contain this expanded text but end with “my body” (as do Matthew 26:26 and Mark 14:22). In the Westcott and Hort Greek text, words after “my body” and all of verse 20 are printed within double brackets, indicating that B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort doubted that the words were included in the original.

The longer text in the most ancient extant Greek manuscripts, however, requires that they be retained in modern translations, especially since they can be regarded as complementing the other accounts. According to Luke 22:20, Jesus introduced the cup after the meal and linked its contents with the “new covenant in [his] blood,” which would be poured out for the disciples. In connection with the new covenant, the words “in my blood” (based on other biblical passages) indicate that the new covenant would be put into effect by means of Jesus’ shed blood. (Hebrews 10:29; 13:12, 21, 22)