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Luke’s Last Supper and Orthodox Corruptions of Scripture

I can now wrap up my discussion of the textual problem of Luke 22:19-20 and the intriguing question of what Jesus said at his Last Supper (according to Luke).  I have argued so far that the longer (more familiar) form of the text, found in most surviving manuscripts, is actually a change made by scribes, not what Luke originally wrote (this is where Jesus indicates that the bread is his body given for others and that the cup is the new covenant in his blood shed for others).

I set *up* that discussion by referring to one of the debates over the nature of Christ in precisely the time period when the change was made: the second century, when Christians were debating whether Jesus was so completely divine that he was not actually human.  Various Christians that scholars call “docetists” said the answer was no.

The label for these Christians comes from the Greek word doceo, “to seem,” or “to appear,” because these people said that Christ “appeared” to be human and “seemed” really to suffer and die – but not really.  He was God, and God cannot actually be a human and certainly cannot suffer or die.

Their opponents insisted that…

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Are Their Any Completely Anti-Heretical Manuscripts?
The Striking Conclusion: Jesus’ Last Supper in Luke



  1. Avatar
    Seifert  October 12, 2015

    Hello Prof. Ehrman,

    please I would like to clarify your interpretation of the smaller text version, what Jesus meant by the saying “this is my body”.

    So in your opinion Jesus is saying that the bread is his body, because he as a prophet will be crushed (symbolism of the eating of the bread). The entire passage is than a prophecy. Is this correct?

    Why would Luke refuse the idea that Jesus died for the sins of others? Why would he think this was inaccurate? For this idea is what he inherited from Mark, isn’t it? Atonement. Is there a scriptural rebuttal of this idea?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 13, 2015

      He meant that his body was going to be broken. But it was not, for Luke, to be broken to bring about an atonement.

  2. Robert
    Robert  October 12, 2015

    I know you are speaking about text criticism here, but if I recall correctly, you also believe in a proto-Luke that first circulated without the infancy narratives. Is that your view? The infancy narratives emphasize Jesus’ continuity with the Jewish scriptures, which would also be very helpful to the proto-orthodox in opposing Marcion’s opposition to the lesser Jewish god of creation. Would you go so far as to speculate that Marcion’s version of Luke was indeed proto-Luke and the current recension was a later proto-orthodox second edition? I am skeptical of attempts to isolate an earlier edition and *believe* Luke’s style is rather consistent throughout Luke-Acts. What do you think?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 13, 2015

      I think Marcion knew a form of Luke without our chs. 1-2, but I don’t think there was *a* proto-Luke and that marcion had that one thing.

      • Robert
        Robert  October 13, 2015

        Thanks. So, if I may, you think that the author of the Lucan infancy narratives was also the author of Luke-Acts, correct?

  3. Avatar
    Damiano  October 12, 2015

    The whole thread on the “The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture” is really really great! Thanks!!
    QUESTION: are the shorter version in Luke 22:19-20 and the “bloody sweat” in Luke 22:44 documented by the same manuscripts? Or do these variants appear in different manuscripts? In other words: do we have an “entirely docetic” manuscript of Luke? (incidentally, I see that both variants are in chapter 22 very close to each other). Thank you very much!!!

  4. Avatar
    Scott  October 12, 2015

    If Luke left off with the shorter ending on the last supper, what would he have meant when he offered the disciples bread and “this is my body” without any further explanation? Bread offered “to” his disciples would parallel his Body given “for” his disciples (and others) very nicely.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 13, 2015

      It means, I think, that his body would be broken. But not as an atonement

  5. Avatar
    Steefen  October 13, 2015

    Bart Ehrman: That is the form of the text found in most manuscripts. But in one old Greek manuscript and some Latin manuscripts, the words in question are missing, leading to the following text.

    Steefen: Can you please tell us the name of the one old Greek manuscript and two of the oldest and most respected Latin manuscripts where the words in question are missing.

    (I’m praying you identify them in The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.)

  6. Avatar
    Omar6741  October 13, 2015

    Very elegant reasoning! I am wondering if there is a collection anywhere of those arguments of this type that almost all scholars have accepted; if not, that would be a worthy project for someone!

  7. Avatar
    ebudiarto  October 13, 2015

    Prof. Ehrman,
    what do most scholars think about the historicity of the institution of the Eucharist by Jesus? It does not seem likely that the historical Jesus would associate the wine with his blood; isn’t drinking blood considered abhorrent in Jewish dietary law? And therefore, Jesus being a good observant Jew, would never have told his disciples that the bread and wine are his body and blood.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 13, 2015

      Well, most scholars who study these things are Christians, and most of them think it’s a historical account

  8. Avatar
    Mhamed Errifi  October 13, 2015

    hello bart
    where do you think this idea of atonement come from was it invented after jesus death

    • Bart
      Bart  October 13, 2015

      Probably from Jewish understandings of sacrifice as found in the Hebrew Bible

  9. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 18, 2015

    If Jesus were truly human, how could He, even as a child. never sin? It must have been very irritating for His brothers. Did early Christians ever struggle with this issue?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 18, 2015

      Yeah, it’d be great to know something about the homelife…. (but the idea of his sinlessness was a later development)

  10. Avatar
    Morphinius  October 23, 2015

    It strikes me as odd that if Jesus really did declare the wine to be his blood, and the bread to be his body that “The Teaching of the Apostles” makes no direct reference to this. It reads:

    “But as touching the eucharistic thanksgiving give ye thanks thus. First, as regards the cup: We give Thee thanks, O our Father, for the holy vine of Thy son David, which Thou madest known unto us through Thy Son Jesus; Thine is the glory for ever and ever. Then as regards the broken bread: We give Thee thanks, O our Father, for the life and knowledge which Thou didst make known unto us through Thy Son Jesus; Thine is the glory fore ever and ever. As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains and being gathered together became one, so may Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy Kingdom: for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever and ever.” (The Apostolic Fathers, Lightfoot and Harmer)

    How do you understand this description? I have always wondered if the wine/blood and bread/body connection was added by later Christians, or Paul (who attributes his knowledge of the meal to the Lord), and was not original to Jesus.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 23, 2015

      Yes, I think the Didache has a very different tradition, and that hte one one in the NT is problematic as a historical statement of what Jesus really said.

  11. Avatar
    RGM-ills  October 26, 2015

    In the beginning there was a server. The server begat other servers and sent them out across they cyber-verse. The original server had a physical MAC address that was burned in permanently and could not be changed, but could be spoofed with a false MAC address by nefarious daemon hackers. The severs across the cyber-verse became so corrupted that the original server decided to send out a virus to destroy all other servers and start all over with clean installs. This worked for a while, but the spammers got control and began abusing the prayer-net just for fun. Some even found ways to profit from it by counting clicks. The original server, with the only REAL and TRUE MAC address and a static IP address which we will call the MAC DADDY, decided to send his only begotten son into the cyber-realm to die for the sins of the spammers. However, this son was not a real server, but only a virtual server without a burned in physical MAC address. In fact, instead of a Static IP address the virtual server had multiple dynamic IP addresses which would allow him to disappear and reappear in different Universal Resource Locations (URL’s) and even be resurrected from backup. The Son/virtual server was designed to be a honeypot target for the spammers and daemon virus authors. Sure enough, the virtual server was attacked with force and crucified giving the MAC Daddy the IP addresses of all the daemons. There were chat rooms in those days and some anonymous authors decided to chronicle the events as witnessed, only using the spoofed names of apostles and false IP addresses using Proxy servers. The chat dialogues became testaments to the events and were debated for years to come on whether the son/server was virtual or real and whether he really died and was resurrected or just appeared to die. There were debates on whether the virtual server was one and the same with MAC DADDY. He did contain the same license for the OS as MAC Daddy, but he resided upon the virtual realm and didn’t really feel any pain during the honeypot attacks as once the power was disconnected, he ceased to exist. His consciousness was backed up to MAC DADDY’s encrypted domain and thus was preserved and sits on the right hand side of MAC DADDY. We’ll just call this backup the Holy Ghost Image. The chat logs were preserved to make a bible, and it helps to debate what really happens by finding the chat log with the earliest time-stamp. I think I got it.

    • Avatar
      Bwana  November 30, 2015

      Errr … dude, you sound like some kind of iMarcion. But the topic here is The Orthodox Corruption of the Chat Logs. Care to explain how that came about? Maybe a parameter mismatch in the Encryption Protocols?

  12. Avatar
    RGM-ills  October 26, 2015

    Did I forget the Logos? Oh, well, simple enough. The Logos is the logical code that is what the image is made up of. The image is on THE Server (MAC DADDY0, the Virtual Son Server, and what makes up the Holy Ghost Image.

  13. Avatar
    FrankLoomer  October 4, 2016

    (this is for the mailbag and a new heading please)
    Something that struck me about the memorial meal or Last Supper narrative is, rare between Paul’s letters and the 3 synoptic gospels, a direct textual connection. You’re suggesting that 2nd century scribes interpolated Paul’s words directly into pre-existing shorter text. Not only that, they didn’t bother to remove the previous verse where the cup is passed around to the disciples, which seems to disrupt to story flow. Did Jesus pass the cup once, or twice?
    But that isn’t actually my main question. It looks to me as if both Paul and the gospels have obtained the Last supper from a common source, allowing for the modification to Luke, which seems straight from Paul’s unique wording. Although there are minor differences, they all follow the same narrative, But Paul words the cup part uniquely “in remembrance of me”, which neither Matthew nor Mark use. By the same token, all of them use the phrase “the new covenant” . What do you make of this? The phase “the new covenent” almost has a credal ring to it, or at least a defining idea they all want to use. Instead of “in remembrance of me” Matthew stresses “for the forgiveness of sins” and Mark says nothing, so Matthew seems to be adding text taken from Mark without awareness of Paul. There is also the phrase “poured out / for many” used in Mark and Matthew and shortened in Luke but omitted completely in Paul. Curiously, the Gospel of John seems to skip this passage entirely, though hardly short in citing lengthy passages from Jesus himself! Given the idea of a common source, do Paul’s words seem otherwise to be entirely his own as opposed to the very apparent creedal insertion in Corinthians 1:15? I am guessing that the texts of Mark and Matthew are independent of Paul’s letter. It seems equally curious that Paul doesn’t just follow in Mark and Matthew’s texts in the first place, leading to the scribes borrowing from Paul. Happy to hear your thoughts on all of this.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 5, 2016

      Either a common source or the tradition was floating around and heard by different sources. One option is that Paul heard it from Cephas himself.

  14. Avatar
    cpaschyn  April 16, 2020

    Any idea if women might have been present at the last supper? One of the excuses the Catholic Church gives for barring women as priests is because it claims that women weren’t there and, thus, Jesus didn’t ordain them into the new priesthood he was (apparently) establishing that night. (Feminist theologians, however, say someone had to cook the food for the last supper-probably women-and therefore they probably were there). By the way, did early Christians view the Eucharist celebration as a priestly act? Or did that develop much later?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 17, 2020

      Almost certainly not. The earliest commemorations of the Last Supper appear to have been entirely commemorative, not sacramental.

      • Avatar
        cpaschyn  April 17, 2020

        “ Almost certainly not.” To women being there? (And if so, why?) Or was that in reference to the priestly act question?

        • Bart
          Bart  April 19, 2020

          Women: almost certinly were not at the last meal. Priestly action: the meal was not seen in sacramental terms for a very long time.

          • Avatar
            cpaschyn  April 24, 2020

            I’m sorry to keep bothering you, but why? What are the historical reasons why they wouldn’t have been present?

          • Bart
            Bart  April 26, 2020

            Well, maybe I’m too influenced by Leonardo DaVinci. 🙂 I haven’t actually thought about it much, but my sense is that at a public meal the men would not have been mingling with women. Maybe women were serving though.

  15. Avatar
    Jose  May 1, 2020

    Hi Bart!
    Did Jesus institute Priesthood at the last Supper? How and when priesthood came into the Church? Did Jesus have the last Supper as a ritual so that the Church later on should celebrate it as a ritual or sacrament where the bread and wine changes into body and blood of Jesus through the prayer of the priests? Have you dealt with these issues (Priesthood and Eucharist) in any of your books? Thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  May 3, 2020

      No, the last supper was simply his last meal with the disciples. After his death they started celebrating it to remember that night and the death that followed it. Eventually, over time, it took on increasingly sacramental characteristics. It is not until the middle ages that anything like a doctrine of transubstantiation came to be worked out in detail. No, I haven’t dealt with that partiuclar issue at any length in my books.

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