Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

188. A Problem concerning the Breaking of Bread

In the four-fold account of the Last Supper, the unique mention of two cups (Lk.22 :17,20) has created a problem of no ordinary magnitude for students. The usual approach is to talk in vague terms about the four cups of the Passover celebration, and to assume that these were two of the four (but which two seems to be largely a matter of guesswork).

In this study it will be suggested:

  1. that this link-up with Passover cups is quite unfounded;
  2. that the two cups are really a double mention of the same cup;
  3. that Luke's record actually gives the institution of the Breaking of Bread twice.
Consideration is invited of the following layout of the records given by Matthew, Luke and Paul:

Matthew 26
Luke 22
Luke 22
1 Corinthians 11
26. As they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.
15. And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer:
16. For I say unto you, / will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God
19. And he took bread and gave thanks, and brake it and gave unto them, saying, This is my body, which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.
23, The Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me,
27. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, Drink ye all of it;
17. And he took the cup, and gave thanks and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves:
20. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.
25. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it in remembrance of me.
28. For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

29. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.
18. For I say unto you. / will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come.

First, then, it is very evident that Luke 22 :19,20 describes the memorial Bread and Wine. The words of Jesus in this Lucan record are almost identical with those in Paul's account of the Breaking of Bread in 1 Corinthians 11 :23,25.

Next, Luke 22 :17,18 which appears to relate to another cup, has the words, "For I say unto you, I will not drink (RV: from henceforth) of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God shall come." But these are precisely the words which Matthew 26 :29 and Mark 14 :25 associated with the memorial cup. Therefore Luke 22 :17 is about the memorial cup. Therefore the two cups in Luke are really one and the same.

But if Luke mentions the Cup twice, does he also make double mention of the Bread? It would seem very probable that he does. Luke 22 :15,16 has this: "With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: for I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God." The closing words here are an exact parallel to those associated with the cup: "I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom" (Mt.26 :29). It would be strange indeed if Jesus said one thing about the blessed memorial of his sacrifice and exactly the same thing about a comparatively unimportant item in the Jewish passover meal (and one, be it noted, which was a rabbinic incrustation not required by Exodus or Deuteronomy). The equivalence of these two passages—Luke 22 :16 and Matthew 26 :29-is so evident and satisfying, so obviously right and fitting, that any alternative explanation appears paltry by comparison.

It would seem to follow, then, that "with desire I have desired to eat this passover" (Lk.22 :15) was spoken with reference to the memorial Bread. The words need to be read with an emphasis on the word "this", to point a contrast between the new Passover which the Lord was now instituting ("Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us"; 1 Cor.5 :7), and the Jewish Passover celebrating deliverance from Egypt.

Three observations confirm this conclusion:

  1. "With desire I have desired . . ." Nowhere else is such vehement longing attributed to Jesus. Can any reason be assigned for an eagerness to celebrate the Jewish passover with his disciples? On the other hand, when this saying is referred to the new Passover, the words call for no explanation at all.
  2. "I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God." When Jesus comes again will he celebrate the Jewish Passover every year? Or will he break Bread and drink Wine with his redeemed in thankful celebration of how that redemption was accomplished?
  3. And is it the Jewish Passover or is it his own new Passover which will be fulfilled in the kingdom of God?
One problem still remains: Why should Luke give his record such a shape? It could be that in ch.22 Luke was content (under God) to compile what information he was able to assemble (Lk.1 :2) concerning the Upper Room, without making any attempt to put it into strict chronological order. (There are not a few other instances in Luke of chronological dislocation: 1 :66b,80; 3 :19,20; 4 :16ff; 13 :34; 11 :24-32 (cf.Mt.); 11 :14ff (cf. Mk.j; 11 :13,14(?); 19 :41,37; 21 :37,38). Or perhaps he had reasons of his own (which have not come to light as yet) for disturbing the order of this section of his narrative—as Matthew and Mark have certainly done at Matthew 26:6 and Mark 14:3 (for a fairly obvious reason; see Studies 155, 180). Perhaps Luke's method here has been to put first what he deemed to be undoubtedly the most important section—the Breaking of Bread—and then to add the rest of the details concerning the Upper Room in a series of disconnected paragraphs without special regard to the order in which the different events took place. This is suggested by the following features:

  1. Luke appears to mention the priority contention amongst the twelve as taking place after the Bread and Wine. But John 13 puts the washing of the disciples' feet (which was clearly designed as a rebuke of their altercation) at the beginning of the proceedings. (John 13 :2 should read: "And supper being ready." And note that Luke 22 :27cimpliesJohn 13 :4,5). In any case it is impossible to believe that immediately after the solemn institutional words of Jesus the twelve fell to quarrelling.
  2. Luke 22 :21 represents Jesus as saying after the institution of the Bread and Wine: "Behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table." This would seem to imply that Judas actually shared both the Bread and the Wine. Yet, according to John 13 :26,30, Judas was given the sop whilst the meal was in progress, and he then went out immediately. But it was "after supper" that Jesus "took the cup." So the order in Luke here can hardly be right.
  3. Luke 22 :31-34 puts the warning of Peter about the impending denial before the departure for Gethsemane, which is described in verse 39. But Matthew and Mark both have it after Jesus left the Upper Room. The introductory phrase of Luke 22 :31: "And the Lord said" (which RV quite unwarrantably omits) suggests the beginning of an independant section of the narrative,
  4. In the same Luke 22 :35-38 (the discussion about swords and about Jesus reckoned with transgressors) appears to be spoken in the Upper Room (note v.39). Yet is it likely that at the table the disciples would be wearing swords and could say: "Lord, behold, here are two swords"? The words surely belong to Gethsemane or to their journey thither.
With four other examples of what the modernist would call "dislocation", but for which "compilation" is probably a better word, it seems not unlikely that this phenomenon is adequate to account for Luke's double mention of the Bread and Wine.

The most important result of this study, is, then, that Luke 22 should be read as giving two successive records of the eucharistic words of Jesus:

The Bread
The Bread

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