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

In my previous post I started to discuss a textual variant that I covered in my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, a very important variant for understanding Luke’s account of Jesus’ last days, for grasping Luke’s view of the importance of Jesus’ death, and for seeing how scribes occasionally modified their texts for theological reasons.

The passage has to do with what Jesus said and did at the Last Supper.  Here is the form of the text as found in most of the manuscripts.  (I have put verse numbers in the appropriate places)

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 coverant 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….”

As I pointed out yesterday, the words in bold and underlined are missing from one of our oldest Greek manuscripts and from some Latin manuscripts.  In those witnesses then, the text reads as follows:


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….”

So which is it?  Did a scribe decide to omit the words in question from a text that originally had them, or did a scribe decide to add the words from a text that originally lacked them?  Those are the two choices.

Here’s one way to approach the question:  which thing was a scribe…

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Luke’s View of Jesus’ Death
The Last Supper in Luke: An Important Textual Problem



  1. Avatar
    pruffin  September 30, 2015

    This is a great series of posts. I enjoy the detail.
    I’m wondering about the phrase, “…turns me over…” and whether that may be an idiom.
    Also, he stated that the bread was his body. Is it perfectly clear that he’s talking about his body and not the bread being “turned over”?
    I’m sorry if they seem to be nonsensical questions. I’m not a Greek reader.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 1, 2015

      He’s talking about himself being turned over (handed over) to the authorities.

  2. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  September 30, 2015

    Luke 24 39, what do you know of this verse Bart? What is being said ? Does it have any connection with 1 Corinthians 15 53-54. And you have said you never worked with Xavier De Guillebon? Do you know if he does any religious works? He looks familiar for some reason? And when is your next live event !!??

    • Bart
      Bart  October 1, 2015

      It is stressing that Jesus had a real physical body after the resurrection, a point Paul also stresses in 1 Cor. 15

      • TWood
        TWood  February 1, 2017

        This always seemed like Paul and Luke were saying different things to me:

        Luke: “a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

        Paul: “It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body… flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.”

        I fully understand Paul believed Jesus had a *real* resurrected body *of some kind*—but he seems to say it wasn’t made of the *same stuff* as a normal pre-resurrection “physical” body (which can’t appear in locked rooms or on roads to Damascus). The difference between “blood” and “bone” seems like a trivial difference to me… where am I going wrong?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 4, 2017

          Paul differentiates between “flesh” and body — radically. Luke saw them as the same thing. I’ll post on this.

          • TWood
            TWood  February 4, 2017

            Yes, please do! I’ve always struggled to fully get what they were saying in each case…

            I’m thinking a “spiritual body” without flesh would be heretical to the proto-orthodox, if indeed Paul’s suggesting such a body.

            I await your post for details…

          • TWood
            TWood  February 7, 2017

            Have you posted on this yet? If you have I missed it. I’ve read Carrier on this, and while I find his mythicist views highly suspect (they remind me of those who believe the moon landing was a hoax), his work on Paul’s belief about the resurrection is at least interesting (he also uses Origen for support). I’m trying to see if it’s possible to understand what Paul really believed about Jesus’ resurrection and how it relates to believers’ future one. I just started reading JBTG but so far I haven’t run into a part that directly helps me here—maybe I will soon—I haven’t read very far yet to honest). But these three questions stick out in my mind.

            1. For Paul, is the resurrected body an *exchange* (old corruptible body ‘left behind’ in favor of a new heavenly incorruptible body)—Or a is it a *change* (old corruptible body transformed into a new incorruptible body)?

            2. And regardless of the answer to the first question, is the resurrected body physical or spiritual? What does “flesh and blood cannot inherit” mean to Paul? Does he mean it’s a real body but that it’s not made of the same *stuff* as our current body? A body of “energy with no mass” (like a photon as opposed to an electron?)

            3. And does Paul’s view contradict Luke’s “flesh and bone” statement?

          • Bart
            Bart  February 9, 2017

            I’ll be devoting a number of posts to just htese questions after I’m done with the current thread. Short answer: Paul thought the resurrected body would be a glorification of the present body. He would not differentiate between a physical body and a spiritual body the way we would. He differentiated between a fleshly body (one that participated in the evil power of the flesh) and a spiritual body. Big (Huge) difference for him. The future body would not participate in sinful flesh. It would be physical and psiritual both. (“Flesh” for him does not mean what it does for us. For him it is the part of the human that is corrupted by sin. It is not a synonym for physical body)

  3. Avatar
    nacord  September 30, 2015

    I see why an accidental addition of the verses is unlikely, but might a scribe who has read Matthew and Mark’s accounts a good many times have the bit about the cup being the blood of the new covenant so ingrained in his mind that he would write something similar out of habit? Though that wouldn’t explain the “do this in remembrance of me” part…and that would have some bearing on one’s view of the Eucharist.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 1, 2015

      Possibly — though the words are not exactly waht you find in the other accounts.

  4. Avatar
    Stephen  October 1, 2015

    Prof Ehrman

    Interesting discussion. To me this is the most fascinating part of what you do and the information hardest to access by the non-specialist. Thanks!

    But if I might ask you a question that has come up over in the discussion forum. What do you think of the speculations that the writer of Mark’s gospel might have known Homer and used stories from the Iliad and the Odyssey to shape his narratives about Jesus? Would any of the NT writers (including Paul) have had access to the Greek classics?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 1, 2015

      I don’t think there’s good evidence that Mark was writing specfiically with Homer in mind, though some similarities can be found, largely because they were common tropes in antiquity.

  5. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 1, 2015

    Sounds reasonable so far,

  6. Avatar
    godspell  October 1, 2015

    But then why would the words have been left out of the original version of Luke? The author of Luke is not exactly known for his minimalism. He adds many new details to the gospel story (most of which are not terribly credible). Why edit that one passage from Mark and Matthew? So that would be the real question, and perhaps that’s what you’re getting to next.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 1, 2015

      Yes, he would have edited it to make it coincide closer with his theology. See today’s post.

      • Avatar
        godspell  October 1, 2015

        I did. Fascinating stuff. I’ve always wondered about that guy. I guess, given the extreme paucity of information, I’ll be wondering forever. But that gospel in particular grinds a whole lot of axes.

  7. Avatar
    Wilusa  October 1, 2015

    Is it possible the *earliest* idea someone had about what Jesus might have said and done was merely that – in his expectation of the Kingdom’s coming *soon* – he’d resolved to abstain from drinking alcohol until it came?

  8. Avatar
    madmargie  October 5, 2015

    When reading the scriptures, I often have to wonder which scribe followed Jesus around and recorded his words. In the case of this passage, one of his disciples would have had to be literate and it is my understanding that literacy was rare in that day.

    So if that all is true, how were his actual words even known at all?

    My conclusion is that the person who wrote Luke (and also those who wrote the other scriptures) could not have known his actual words.

  9. gmatthews
    gmatthews  November 1, 2015

    I’ve been reading Geza Vermes the past few nights and he brought up something that made me think of this recent series of posts on Luke’s Last Supper account. Vermes was talking about the earliest Christian rituals that pre-date Paul like baptism and the Lord’s Supper and he mentioned 1 Cor 11:23. When I look at that verse it is almost identical to what Luke supposedly wrote (the fuller text found in almost all of the early manuscripts), far closer than what Mark or Matthew wrote.

    What is your take on this? This would seem to predate Luke by 20-25 years or so?

    I don’t see this 1 Corinthians verse in the index of Orthodox Corruption so I’m assuming you don’t talk about it there. I’m going out on a limb, but is it possible that some later scribe possibly interpolated Paul’s sentence into Luke? That wouldn’t explain why the overall wording is _SO_ close though (to my untrained eye at least).

    • Bart
      Bart  November 1, 2015

      Yes, I think the scribe behind the interpolation into Luke was influenced by the text in 1 Corinthians (though it is not simply scissored and pasted in — they are not worded identically)

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