In our first article in our series, we saw that there are some questions regarding the story of the Eucharist as it has come down to us. We have seen that most probably the original meal that Jesus carried out in the Last Supper was a kiddush, a ceremonial meal that Jesus would have interpreted as being the last one before the definitive establishment of the Kingdom of Yahweh on Earth.
We have seen that Acts of the Apostles and the Didaché talk about this ceremony, where the wine is presented first, and without any reference to an atoning sacrifice or a vicarian death of Jesus. Yet, in this section, I will argue that the author of the Gospel of Luke holds the very same tradition of the kiddush, not the Pauline one. This might seem a bit strange, given that Luke seems to be a fan of Paul. Yet, as I will argue (some time in my life), Luke agrees less with the historical Paul than with his reconstructed version of the eminent Apostle. Yet, note that it makes perfect sense when the celebration of a kiddush by the first Christians and their activities in the Temple agree with Acts‘ version of events. There, we don’t see any vicarian vision of the Eucharist, but only of a ceremony. Both books were written by the same author (we’ll call him “Luke”, although it is most probably not his name).
For such a purpose, I will set aside Antonio Piñero’s analysis for the moment, and embrace the analysis of the Last Supper in Luke made by Bart D. Ehrman in his famous book The Orthodox Corruption of Christianity.
Luke’s Passage and Signs of Interpolation
One of the passages explored by Ehrman in his book is the one on the Last Supper in Luke, where there are elements which he considers have been added by later Christian scribes in order to harmonize the passage with the other versions of the Gospels (Mark’s and Matthew’s). He also thinks that the scribe were holding “anti-Docetic” views, but I will not discuss that conviction in this blog post.
Here is the passage as it has come down to us in our versions of the Gospel of Luke:
When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took the loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body [which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.] But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined but woe to the one by whom he is betrayed!” (Luke 22:14-23).
As we pointed out, it seems as if Jesus presented the cup of wine twice. The passage in brackets and bold is the one under our scrutiny.
Contrary to practically all of the ancient manuscripts that we have, only very few of them appear with the shorter text, i.e. the text without the bracketed section (D a d ff2 i l syh). Ehrman points out that there are some of its aspects that are not Lukan in character: for instance saying “for you”, “remembrance”, or “new covenant”, three terms that only appear here and never elsewhere in Luke or Acts. The reason should be obvious for anyone who is acquainted with both books, and that is that their author does not portray Jesus’ death as an atonement for sins. In fact, he changes Mark’s texts where this theology appears. For Luke, Jesus’ death was a miscarriage of justice, and the death of an innocent who was vindicated at the moment of the resurrection (Acts 2:22-36; 3:12-16; 14:8-12; 7:51-56; 13:26-41). For example, when Jesus dies on the cross, this happens:
Now when a centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Mark 15:39).
Luke’s Gospel says:
When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly, this man was innocent” (Luke 23:47).
Another example: In Mark, we find the following passage:
You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45).
In Luke we find the following:
The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one serves… (Luke 22:24-27).
Where is the reference to “giving his life as a ransom”? It is totally absent! Luke omitted the last part of the Markan passage.
In Acts, Luke quotes the Isaiah prophecy of the Suffering Servant, yet he is careful to choose which passages he quotes. For example, in Acts 8, an eunuch is trying to find the meaning of this passage of the Suffering Servant:
Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth (Is. 53:7-8a; Acts. 8:32-33).
Philip explains that it refers to Jesus. Yet, the author of Acts uses this passage to insist on the fact that Jesus is an innocent victim, and omits any reference to the Suffering Servant as atoning for sins (Is. 53:5,8b,10).
What does all of this mean? That, for all practical purposes Luke refuses to subscribe to the idea of Jesus either an atoning of sins or offering his life for others.
Given this scenario, what is more likely: that he changed all of the passages where Mark alludes to an atoning death of Jesus except this fragment of the text of the Last Supper, or that he also corrected Mark’s version and omitted the presentation of the wine as a new Covenant of Jesus’ blood, and that some other scribe added to the main text? I think that the latter option seems to be most probable.
I think that the case presented by Ehrman is very strong.
Not only that, but I want to argue that Luke (whoever he was) chose to “correct” the Markan text in a very specific way: by making it fit the ceremonial form of the kiddush. He did this by making Jesus bless the wine first and the bread later. As a result, here we have Luke‘s original text:
When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took the loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body; but see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined but woe to the one by whom he is betrayed!”
And this is perfectly consistent with what we find in Acts 2:43-47, where Christians were celebrating a Eucharist that omitted all reference to an atoning or vicarian view.
Why did he adopt the kiddush variant of the Last Supper? My hypothesis: It is most probably because Luke’s church belonged to a tradition that practiced it, much like in the case of the churches that produced the Didaché. This tradition met its dead end when the process of institutionalization ended up adopting Paul’s, Mark‘s and Matthew‘s versions of the Last Supper.
Again, this reinforces the conviction that most probably the original story of the Last Supper was most probably a story of a farewell kiddush ceremony, and that the Gospel writers Mark and Matthew were most probably directly or indirectly influenced by Paul’s version of that event.
Ehrman, Bart D. The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.