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The Striking Conclusion: Jesus’ Last Supper in Luke

This sub-thread about the Last Supper and the death of Jesus in the book of Luke (and Acts), part of a longer thread on The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, has (itself) taken a rather remarkably circuitous route.  Let me remind you how we started this little side-trip.

First the biggest picture.  I am describing my book – originally written over twenty years ago now (my God, how does this happen???) – about how scribes in the second and third Christian centuries changed their texts in order to make them more obviously “orthodox” and less susceptible to use by Christians who held Christological views deemed “heretical.”

The current sub-thread has all been on one textual variant, a passage in Luke 22:19-20, the account of Jesus at his last supper.  If you recall, there are two forms of the text, one much longer than the other.   We are asking whether Luke originally wrote the longer version of the text (so that scribes shortened it by taking out a verse and a half) or if he wrote the shorter version (so that scribes lengthened it by adding a verse and a half).  Here, to jar your memory, are the two forms of the text.  First I give the longer one, with the words in question in bold and underlined.  (Verse numbers are indicated):

17 And he took a cup and gave thanks, and he said: “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I say to you that from now on I will not drink from the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.” 19 And taking bread he gave thanks and broke it and gave it to them saying, “This is my body that is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  20  Likewise after supper (he took) the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood that is shed for you.  21 But see, the hand of the one who turns me over is with me at the table….”

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.

17 And he took a cup and gave thanks, and he said: “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I say to you that from now on I will not drink from the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.”  19 And taking bread he gave thanks and broke it and gave it to them saying, “This is my body. 21 But see, the hand of the one who turns me over is with me at the table….”

What all of the preceding posts have been arguing, at the end of the day, is that this shorter form of the text was what Luke originally wrote.  The arguments are convincing only when considered at some length (I haven’t spelled them out as fully as I would like in these posts; but after a while they tend to get kind of technical and less than interesting, unless you’re a hard core textual critic or exegete; I have fuller discussions in the book itself).   But they boil down to this:

  • Whichever direction the change was made (scribes omitting the text or scribes adding the text), it does not appear to have been a pure accident, a slip of the pen. Someone appears to have changed the text intentionally.
  • In that light, it is very hard indeed to see why a scribe would have omitted the words (it would not, for example, have been in order to make the text more like the parallel passages in Matthew, Mark, or 1 Corinthians, since the shorter text does not make the passage conform to the others)
  • But it is easy to see why a scribe would have inserted the words, since now the text sounds more like these other passages and – an important point – now Jesus explicitly states that the bread and the cup represent his broken body and the blood that he would shed for others.
  • And so, on the one hand, the longer text is more like what scribes would probably have been comfortable with.
  • And on the other hand – this has been the point of my most recent points – that view that Jesus death was “for others” is precisely a view not found otherwise in Luke’s Gospel or the book of Acts. Luke has in fact eliminated that kind of language from the passages he inherited from his predecessor Mark.   Luke otherwise (in his Gospel or in Acts) does not present a doctrine of atonement as a way of understanding Jesus’ death.  But this passage does.

And so, to conclude: the shorter passage would NOT be one that scribes would be likely to have created but IS one that Luke would have been likely to write; conversely, the longer passage would be LIKELY to have been created by scribes but would have been UNLIKELY to have been written by Luke.

My conclusion: the shorter form of the text is what Luke wrote.

My secondary conclusion: the longer form of the text is what scribes created.

And so the final Big Question: what, at the end of the day, actually motivated scribes to modify the text?  In my next post I will point out why I consider the alteration to be an orthodox corruption of Scripture.





Luke’s Last Supper and Orthodox Corruptions of Scripture
Luke’s Understanding of Jesus’ Death



  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 11, 2015

    Excellent and clear summary. although I still struggle with scribes making up stuff to fit their views. But, on the other hand, I guess that is what humans do, but, for goodness sake, this is “scripture” isn’t it? I wouldn’t dare even write in my Bible even though I now consider it to be a mixture of story and history…..

    I look forward to the conclusion (Did some early Christians oppose the idea of the atonement and the scribe wanted to address that issue?) and plan to read the “Orthodox Corruption of Scripture” right after I finish rereading “How Jesus Became God.” and “How God Became Jesus.”


    • Bart
      Bart  October 12, 2015

      I’d say for the scribes at the time it wasn’t “Scripture” in the way it is for modern Bible believing Christians.

      • Avatar
        jdmartin21  October 12, 2015

        Interesting point. Today many Christians think of the bible not only as scripture – sacred writings, but for them it is the “Word of God”. When in the history of the bible was this “Word of God” understanding first articulated?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 13, 2015

          It goes all the way back . The NT speaks of the OT as the Word of God. aNd by the second century some Christians called books that later came to be the NT that.

  2. gmatthews
    gmatthews  October 11, 2015

    It seems like an odd segue to go from “…This is my body” to “But see, the hand of the one…” Is it possible that Luke is contrasting the two clauses intentionally? The “good” body of Jesus versus the “evil” hand of Judas who will betray him?

    On the other “hand”, I’ve been reading the Epic of Gilgamesh the past few nights and if that work isn’t a study in strange segues I don’t what is!

    • Bart
      Bart  October 12, 2015

      I think it seems odd only if you know the other versions of what he said; otherwise, not so much.

  3. Avatar
    Wilusa  October 11, 2015

    Just something I find a bit puzzling: Why is the “title” at the head of this post different from the one in the *link* to it?

  4. Avatar
    rivercrowman  October 11, 2015

    Another great post Bart, you’re the best! … I’ve highlighted the text in my KJV, NRSV, and New World Translation Bibles.

  5. Avatar
    Stephen  October 11, 2015

    Then how would you interpret “This is my body” in the shorter verse 19?


    • Bart
      Bart  October 12, 2015

      He’s saying, I think, that the eucharistic bread is to bring him back to mind; it is a commemorative meal.

  6. Avatar
    Steefen  October 12, 2015

    Well, if we go with the chronology: Corinthians written first, Mark written second, Matthew written third, Luke writes, I’m going to write a more historical gospel, writes fourth, then John is written fifth, then, you’re saying Luke corrected Paul, then the author/s of Mark and Matthew to set the record straight. We know that John has the body and blood BUT he doesn’t put it at the last supper–Jesus teaches this to the disciples before the Last Supper and some of them abandon him because the teaching was too hard.

    Why was it important for John to move the passage forward, before the Last Supper? Orthodoxy needed Jesus ministry to spend some time with this teaching. It is not believable. We can have Jesus teaching this in the privacy of the Last Supper right before getting arrested. This gives the disciples the opportunity not to go public with altering Jewish practices of sacrifices at the Temple of Jerusalem. They would have been run out of town like Paul if not killed, if the crowd had their way.

    John was written after the destruction of the Temple. No more sacrifices at the Temple, who cares if Jesus is now the sacrifice. After Temple sacrifices stopped and shortly thereafter when the Temple came down, the Christology of Jesus Christ’s body and blood on a universal altar as opposed to a specific physical altar, now destroyed can be proclaimed without fear of reprisals.

    What is striking about where you say Luke leaves off is that Jesus says the bread is his body but he doesn’t go as far as saying consume my blood of the new covenant, which of course falls into the territory that I teach: drink communion, the blood, and run headlong into Leviticus 17: 10: “‘I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people.” Luke did not want to go that far.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 12, 2015

      If a book is written later, it does not mean that its author necessarily knew the works of his predecessors

  7. Avatar
    madmargie  October 12, 2015

    I think it was because the longer form agreed with their personal theology..

  8. Avatar
    willow  October 14, 2015

    Hi, Bart! I’m so relieved to learn your weight loss can be attributed to the Mediterraneans! I’ll make a donation if you’ll buy a new suit. lol

    Might I ask, what’s your take on the bread/flesh, wine/blood, symbolism missing from the Didache, as well the implication that sacrifices continue post crucifixion and ressurrection?

    Thanks in advance.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 15, 2015

      Yes, I’m more than happy to take personal donations. Please make them in unmarked bills.

  9. Avatar
    MrYofi  October 21, 2015

    How sure are we that the accounts of the last supper took place? I don’t think jews would take on a ritual that symbolizes drinking human blood.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 22, 2015

      I rather doubt that the words at the Last Supper are what Jesus actually said…

  10. Rick
    Rick  November 7, 2015

    Catching up on back reading… and sorry to break any current train of thought but: Do you make anything of the fact that in the longer version there are two cups, one in the normal course of the supper and one after to bring in the new covenant in blood. It looks like it would have been difficult in English to work the blood of the covenant into the first cup perhaps forcing the second?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 8, 2015

      I”m not sure why it would be heard to work the blood of the covenant into the first cup.

  11. Avatar
    Kazibwe Edris  October 14, 2016

    luke know that his source mark is dependant on isaiah 53. luke is not seeing atonement for sins in isaiah 53, so he interprets isaiah 53 differently than mark. is this a possibility?

  12. Avatar
    ColinG  November 7, 2016

    Bart, fascinating as ever. It’s interesting that in this blog, where you side with Luke being shorter than Mark, you raise the possibility of Luke not knowing Mark. Are you drawn to the idea of Luke not knowing Mark, or am I misreading you?

  13. Avatar
    Spiral  December 14, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Can you name a few of the manuscripts, perhaps the one Greek manuscript that you referred and a few Latin manuscripts, that have the shorter version of Luke’s Last Supper?

    Also, can you name a few of New Testament scholars on either side of the controversy regarding which of these version is original to Luke?

    I appreciate the work you do. Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 14, 2018

      I have a full discussion in my book Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, with indications of scholars on both sides; or you might check out any of the critical commenties. The shorter text is found only in Bezae and the entire Latin tradition, which is why Hort classed it as a Western non-interpolation.

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