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The Last Supper in Luke: An Important Textual Problem

The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture argues that there are textual variants still preserved among our manuscripts of the New Testament that were generated by scribes who were trying to oppose various kinds of “heretical” Christologies, including the one I discussed yesterday, which said (at least which its opponents said that it said) that Christ did not have a real flesh and blood body, and that as a result he did not really experience pain and death, but only appeared to do so.

The proto-orthodox theologians who responded to this view insisted that Jesus really was human, and they argued that it was precisely the bodily, human nature of Christ that allowed him to bring salvation.  By shedding his (real) blood and experiencing a (real) broken, crucified body, Christ brought about salvation for the world.  The docetists (those who claimed that Christ only “seemed” to have a body that could bleed and die), in the opinion of their opponents, had gone way too far in asserting that Christ was a divine being.  If he wasn’t human, he couldn’t save humans.

It appears that this debate did affect the scribes who copied their texts of Scripture.  One passage that was changed is the one I have discussed in two brief threads on the blog, the passage of the so-called “Bloody Sweat” (Luke 22:43-44), where Jesus is shown to be in very real human agony prior to his arrest.  It can be show that this passage was used by proto-orthodox theologians to counter docetic Christologies (see: he really was human!).  My argument in my book is that it was not only used to that end, it was actually created to that end.  The passage was not originally in Luke but was added by scribes who wanted to stress Christ’s real humanity.

There are other textual alterations that do similar things.  And yet others that stress another point that was routinely made against docetists, namely that it was precisely by shedding his blood and by experiencing a painful death that Christ brought salvation.  Without the shedding of (real) blood and the crucifixion, there would be no redemption.

This view affected the scribes copying the Gospels in several places, none more significantly, in my view, than a textual variant in…

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Why Would a Scribe Change Luke’s Account of the Last Supper?
Early Christian Docetism



  1. Avatar
    Judith  September 29, 2015

    Jana (9/26/15) mentioned a chikungunya epidemic at the pueblo where she serves and the need for mosquito repellent spray, netting and medication. Would you consider letting this be a blog project for those of us interested in sending a donation?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 30, 2015

      Great idea. I’ll do that as soon as I get more information from her.

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    teg51  September 30, 2015

    Interesting indeed, on a side note, do you think the last supper is as much a historical certainty about Jesus as for example , his crucifixion and trial?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 30, 2015

      No, not really. I think he certainly had a last meal with his disciples, probably a passover meal. But I’m not sure we know exactly how it happened or exactly what he said.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  October 1, 2015

        And you’re assuming he didn’t have any expectation of being arrested, right? So it may have been a perfectly “normal” Passover meal, not different in any way.

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    doug  September 30, 2015

    I’m glad you point out in your writings that there are multiple manuscripts for each book of the Bible, and that there are significant differences between some of those manuscripts. I don’t think the general public is aware of that. Many folks seem to think there is just one version of each book, and that in creating the Bible, scholars just translate that one version into English and the other current languages. This misconception supports the belief that the Bible is all accurate and true.

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    shakespeare66  September 30, 2015

    Awesome and fascinating Although it can be argued both ways, it seems “obvious” that someone had an agenda, and changed the text for obvious reasons. Lots of wrangling going on.

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    RonaldTaska  September 30, 2015

    Good post. Keep going. Thanks.

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    hgb55  October 2, 2015

    Bart, I read that the story about Thomas seeing the nail wounds in the hands of the post-resurrection Jesus in John 20:25 was fabricated in order counter the Docetist claims that Jesus never had a physical body and could never have been wounded by the crucfixion nails. Any reasonable basis for such a claim?

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