The Eastern Orthodox use the term “Mystical Supper” which refers both to the biblical event and the act of Eucharistic celebration within liturgy. The Russian Orthodox also use the term “Secret Supper” (Church Slavonic: “Тайнаѧ вечерѧ”, Taynaya vecherya).
The last meal that Jesus shared with his disciples is described in all four canonical Gospels (Mt. 26:17–30, Mk. 14:12–26, Lk. 22:7–39 and Jn. 13:1–17:26). This meal later became known as the Last Supper. The Last Supper was likely a retelling of the events of the last meal of Jesus among the early Christian community, and became a ritual which recounted that meal.
Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians,[11:23–26] which was likely written before the Gospels, includes a reference to the Last Supper but emphasizes the theological basis rather than giving a detailed description of the event or its background.
Background and setting
Key events in the meal are the preparation of the disciples for the departure of Jesus, the predictions about the impending betrayal of Jesus, and the foretelling of the upcoming denial of Jesus by Apostle Peter.
Prediction of Judas’ betrayal
In Matthew 26:24–25, Mark 14:18–21, Luke 22:21–23 and John 13:21–30 during the meal, Jesus predicted that one of his Apostles would betray him. Jesus is described as reiterating, despite each apostle’s assertion that he would not betray Jesus, that the betrayer would be one of those who were present, and saying that there would be “woe to the man who betrays the Son of man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
In Matthew 26:23–25 and John 13:26–27, Judas is specifically identified as the traitor. In the Gospel of John, when asked about the traitor, Jesus states:
It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.
Institution of the Eucharist
The three Synoptic Gospel accounts give somewhat different versions of the order of the meal. In chapter 26 of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus prays thanks for the bread, divides it, and hands the pieces of bread to his disciples, saying “Take, eat, this is my body.” Later in the meal Jesus takes a cup of wine, offers another prayer, and gives it to those present, saying “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
In chapter 22 of the Gospel of Luke, however, the wine is blessed and distributed before the bread, followed by the bread, then by a second, larger cup of wine, as well as somewhat different wordings. Additionally, according to Paul and Luke, he tells the disciples “do this in remembrance of me.” This event has been regarded by Christians of most denominations as the institution of the Eucharist. There is recorded celebration of the Eucharist by the early Christian community in Jerusalem.
The institution of the Eucharist is recorded in the three Synoptic Gospels and in Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. As noted above, Jesus’s words differ slightly in each account. In addition, Luke 22:19b–20 is a disputed text which does not appear in some of the early manuscripts of Luke. Some scholars, therefore, believe that it is an interpolation, while others have argued that it is original.
A comparison of the accounts given in the Gospels and 1 Corinthians is shown in the table below, with text from the ASV. The disputed text from Luke 22:19b–20 is in italics.
|Mark 14:22–24||And as they were eating, he took bread, and when he had blessed, he brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take ye: this is my body.||And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave to them: and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.’|
|Matthew 26:26–28||And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it; and he gave to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’||And he took a cup, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, ‘Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins.’|
|1 Corinthians 11:23–25||For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you: this do in remembrance of me.’||In like manner also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do, as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.’|
|Luke 22:19–20||And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave to them, saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.’||And the cup in like manner after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, even that which is poured out for you.’|
Although the Gospel of John does not include a description of the bread and wine ritual during the Last Supper, most scholars agree that John 6:58–59 (the Bread of Life Discourse) has a Eucharistic nature and resonates with the “words of institution” used in the Synoptic Gospels and the Pauline writings on the Last Supper.
Prediction of Peter’s denial
In Matthew 26:33–35, Mark 14:29–31, Luke 22:33–34 and John 13:36–8 Jesus predicts that Peter will deny knowledge of him, stating that Peter will disown him three times before the roostercrows the next morning. The three Synoptic Gospels mention that after the arrest of Jesus, Peter denied knowing him three times, but after the third denial, heard the rooster crow and recalled the prediction as Jesus turned to look at him. Peter then began to cry bitterly.
Elements unique to the Gospel of John
In John, Jesus’s last supper is not explicitly referred to as a Passover meal. Furthermore, John’s recounting of events has the crucifixion taking place concurrently with the evening Passover meal. Recent scholarship suggests that John’s chronological peculiarity is a result of his use of a more modern calendar than the one that would have been in use when Jesus was alive years earlier. As a result, the evidence dates the Last Supper to the same evening as the start of Passover, with the crucifixion taking place two days later. John therefore stands alone in its sequencing, which contradicts not only the uniform chronology expressed in the Synoptics but also the recent scholarship, the conclusions of which are supported by historical astronomical data.
John 13 includes the account of the washing the feet of the Apostles by Jesus before the meal. In this episode, Apostle Peter objects and does not want to allow Jesus to wash his feet, but Jesus answers him, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me”,[Jn 13:8] after which Peter agrees.
In the Gospel of John, after the departure of Judas from the Last Supper, Jesus tells his remaining disciples [John 13:33] that he will be with them for only a short time, then gives them a New Commandment, stating: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” in John 13:34–35. Two similar statements also appear later in John 15:12: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you”, and John 15:17: “This is my command: Love each other.”
At the Last Supper in the Gospel of John, Jesus gives an extended sermon to his disciples.[John 14–16] This discourse resembles farewell speeches called testaments, in which a father or religious leader, often on the deathbed, leaves instructions for his children or followers.
This sermon is referred to as the Farewell discourse of Jesus, and has historically been considered a source of Christian doctrine, particularly on the subject of Christology. John 17:1–26 is generally known as the Farewell Prayer or the High Priestly Prayer, given that it is an intercession for the coming Church. The prayer begins with Jesus’s petition for his glorification by the Father, given that completion of his work and continues to an intercession for the success of the works of his disciples and the community of his followers.
Time and place
Historians estimate that the date of the crucifixion fell in the range AD 30–36. Physicists such as Isaac Newton and Colin Humphreys have ruled out the years 31, 32, 35, and 36 on astronomical grounds, leaving 7 April AD 30 and 3 April AD 33 as possible crucifixion dates. Humphreys proposes narrowing down the date of the Last Supper as having occurred in the evening of Wednesday, 1 April AD 33, by revising Annie Jaubert’s double-Passover theory. The rationale is as follows.
All Gospels agree that Jesus held a Last Supper with his disciples prior to dying on a Friday at or just before the time of Passover (annually on 15 Nisan, the official Jewish day beginning at sunset) and that his body was left in the tomb for the whole of the next day, which was a Shabbat (Saturday).[Mk. 15:42] [16:1–2] However, while the Synoptic Gospels present the Last Supper as a Passover meal,[Matt. 26:17][Mk. 14:1–2][Lk 22:1–15] the Gospel of John makes no explicit mention that the Last Supper was a Passover meal and presents the official Jewish Passover feast as beginning in the evening a few hours after the death of Jesus. John thus implies that the Friday of the crucifixion was the day of preparation for the feast (14 Nisan), not the feast itself (15 Nisan), and astronomical calculations of ancient Passover dates initiated by Isaac Newton, and posthumously published in 1733, support John’s chronology.
Historically, various attempts to reconcile the three synoptic accounts with John have been made, some of which are indicated in the article on the Last Supper by Francis Mershman in the 1912 Catholic Encyclopedia. The Maundy Thursday church tradition assumes that the Last Supper was held on the evening before the crucifixion day (although, strictly speaking, in no Gospel is it unequivocally said that this meal took place on the night before Jesus died).
A new approach to resolve this contrast was undertaken in the wake of the excavations at Qumran in the 1950s when Annie Jaubert argued that there were two Passover feast dates: while the official Jewish lunar calendar had Passover begin on a Friday evening in the year that Jesus died, a solar calendar was also used, for instance by the Essene community at Qumran, which always had the Passover feast begin on a Tuesday evening. According to Jaubert, Jesus would have celebrated the Passover on Tuesday, and the Jewish authorities three days later, on Friday.
However, Humphreys has calculated that Jaubert’s proposal cannot be correct, as the Qumran solar Passover would always fall after the official Jewish lunar Passover. Nevertheless, he agrees with the approach of two Passover dates, and argues that the Last Supper took place on the evening of Wednesday 1 April 33, based on his recent discovery of the Essene, Samaritan, and Zealot lunar calendar, which is based on Egyptian reckoning. Humphreys’ implication is that Jesus and other communities were following the original Hebrew calendar putatively imported from Egypt by Moses (which requires calculating the time of the invisible new moon), rather than the official Jewish calendar which had been adopted more recently, in the 6th century BC during the Babylonian exile (which simply requires observing the visible waxing moon). A Last Supper on Wednesday, he argues, would allow more time than in the traditional view (Last Supper on Thursday) for the various interrogations of Jesus and his presentation to Pilate before he was crucified on Friday. Furthermore, a Wednesday Last Supper, followed by a Thursday daylight Sanhedrin trial, followed by a Friday judicial confirmation and crucifixion would not require violating Jewish court procedure as documented in the 2nd century, which forbade capital trials at night and moreover required a confirmatory session the following day.
In a review of Humphreys’ book, the Bible scholar William R Telford points out that the non-astronomical parts of his argument are based on the assumption that the chronologies described in the New Testament are historical and based on eyewitness testimony. In doing so, Telford says, Humphreys has built an argument upon unsound premises which “does violence to the nature of the biblical texts, whose mixture of fact and fiction, tradition and redaction, history and myth all make the rigid application of the scientific tool of astronomy to their putative data a misconstrued enterprise.”
No more specific indication of the location is given in the New Testament, and the “city” referred to may be a suburb of Jerusalem, such as Bethany, rather than Jerusalem itself. The traditional location is in an area that, according to archaeology, had a large Essene community, a point made by scholars who suspect a link between Jesus and the group (Kilgallen 265).
Saint Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem is another possible site for the room in which the Last Supper was held, and contains a Christian stone inscription testifying to early reverence for that spot. Certainly the room they have is older than that of the current coenaculum (crusader – 12th century) and as the room is now underground the relative altitude is correct (the streets of 1st century Jerusalem were at least twelve feet (3.7 metres) lower than those of today, so any true building of that time would have even its upper story currently under the earth). They also have a revered Icon of the Virgin Mary, reputedly painted from life by St Luke.
Bargil Pixner claims the original site is located beneath the current structure of the Cenacle on Mount Zion.
Theology of the Last Supper
Aquinas stated that based on John 15:15 (in the Farewell discourse) in which Jesus said: “No longer do I call you servants; …but I have called you friends”. Those who are followers of Christ and partake in the Sacrament of the Eucharist become his friends, as those gathered at the table of the Last Supper. For Aquinas, at the Last Supper Christ made the promise to be present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and to be with those who partake in it, as he was with his disciples at the Last Supper.
John Calvin believed only in the two sacraments of Baptism and the “Lord’s Supper” (i.e., Eucharist). Thus, his analysis of the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper was an important part of his entire theology. Calvin related the Synoptic Gospel accounts of the Last Supper with the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6:35 that states: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry.”
Calvin also believed that the acts of Jesus at the Last Supper should be followed as an example, stating that just as Jesus gave thanks to the Father before breaking the bread,[1 Cor. 11:24] those who go to the “Lord’s Table” to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist must give thanks for the “boundless love of God” and celebrate the sacrament with both joy and thanksgiving.
Main article: Maundy Thursday
See also: Agape feast
These meals evolved into more formal worship services and became codified as the Mass in the Catholic Church, and as the Divine Liturgy in the Eastern Orthodox Church; at these liturgies, Catholics and Eastern Orthodox celebrate the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The name “Eucharist” is from the Greek word εὐχαριστία (eucharistia) which means “thanksgiving”.
Early Christianity observed a ritual meal known as the “agape feast” These “love feasts” were apparently a full meal, with each participant bringing food, and with the meal eaten in a common room. They were held on Sundays, which became known as the Lord’s Day, to recall the resurrection, the appearance of Christ to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the appearance to Thomas and the Pentecost which all took place on Sundays after the Passion.
The fifth chapter in Quran, Al-Ma’ida (the table) contains a reference to a meal (Sura 5:114) with a table sent down from God to ʿĪsá (i.e., Jesus) and the apostles (Hawariyyin). However, there is nothing in Sura 5:114 to indicate that Jesus was celebrating that meal regarding his impending death, especially as the Qur’an insists that Jesus was never crucified to begin with. Thus, although Sura 5:114 refers to “a meal”, there is no indication that it is the Last Supper. However, some scholars believe that Jesus’ manner of speech during which the table was sent down suggests that it was an affirmation of the apostles’ resolves and to strengthen their faiths as the impending trial was about to befall them.
Some Jesus Seminar scholars consider the Lord’s supper to have derived not from Jesus’ last supper with the disciples but rather from the gentile tradition of memorial dinners for the dead. In this view, the Last Supper is a tradition associated mainly with the gentile churches that Paul established, rather than with the earlier, Jewish congregations.
Prominent New Testament Scholar E.P. Sanders states in his book The Historical Figure of Jesus that Jesus having a final meal with his disciples is almost beyond dispute, and belongs to the framework of the narrative of Jesus’s life.
Luke is the only Gospel in which Jesus tells his disciples to repeat the ritual of bread and wine. Bart D. Ehrman states that these particular lines do not appear in certain ancient manuscripts and might not be original to the text. However, it is in the earliest Greek manuscripts, e.g. P75, Sinaticus, Vaticanus and Ephraemi Rescriptus.
However, many early Church Fathers have attested to the belief that at the Last Supper, Christ made the promise to be present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, with attestations dating back to the first century AD. The teaching was also affirmed by many councils throughout the Church’s history.
- Gospel figures in art by Stefano Zuffi 2003 ISBN978-0892367276 pp. 254–59
- “Last Supper. The final meal Christ with His Apostles on the night before the Crucifixion.”, Cross, F. L., & Livingstone, E. A. (2005). The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. rev.) (958). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
- Gwyneth Windsor, John Hughes (21 November 1990). Worship and Festivals. Heinemann. ISBN978-0435302733. Retrieved 11 April 2009.
On the Thursday, which is known as Maundy Thursday, Christians remember the Last Supper which Jesus had with His disciples. It was the Jewish Feast of the Passover, and the meal which they had together was the traditional Seder feast, eaten that evening by the Jews everywhere.
- Walter Hazen (1 September 2002). Inside Christianity. Lorenz Educational Press. ISBN978-0787705596. Retrieved 3 April 2012.
The Anglican Church in England uses the term Holy Communion. In the Roman Catholic Church, both terms are used. Most Protestant churches refer to it simply as communion or The Lord’s Supper. Communion reenacts the Last Supper that Jesus ate with His disciples before he was arrested and crucified.
- The Bible Knowledge Background Commentaryby Craig A. Evans 2003 ISBN0781438683 pp. 465–77
- The Encyclopedia of Christianity, Volume 4 by Erwin Fahlbusch, 2005 ISBN978-0802824165 pp. 52–56
- Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church / editors, F. L. Cross & E. A. Livingstone 2005 ISBN978-0192802903, article Eucharist
- The Gospel according to John by Colin G. Kruse 2004 ISBN0802827713 p. 103
- “The custom of placing the eucharist at the heart of the worship and fellowship of the Church may have been inspired not only by the disciples’ memory of the Last Supper with Jesus but also by the memory of their fellowship meals with Him during both His days on earth and the forty days of His risen appearances.”, Bromiley, G. W. (1988; 2002). Vol. 3: The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (164). Wm. B. Eerdmans.
- The Oxford History of Christian Worship. Oxford University Press, US. 2005. ISBN0195138864
- Funk, Robert W. and the Jesus Seminar. The acts of Jesus: the search for the authentic deeds of Jesus.HarperSanFrancisco. 1998. Introduction, pp. 1–40
- An Episcopal dictionary of the church by Donald S. Armentrout, Robert Boak Slocum 2005 ISBN0898692113 p. 292
- The Gospel according to Luke: introduction, translation, and notes, Volume 28, Part 1 by Joseph A. Fitzmyer 1995 ISBN0385005156 p. 1378
- The Companion to the Book of Common Worship by Peter C. Bower 2003 ISBN0664502326 pp. 115–16
- Liturgical year: the worship of God Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 1992 ISBN978-0664253509 p. 37
- Humanists and Reformers: A History of the Renaissance and Reformation by Bard Thompson 1996 ISBN978-0802863485 pp. 493–94
- The Orthodox Church by John Anthony McGuckin 2010 ISBN978-1444337310 pp. 293, 297
- The church according to the New Testament by Daniel J. Harrington 2001 ISBN1580511112 p. 49
- Steven L. Cox, Kendell H Easley, 2007 Harmony of the GospelsISBN0805494448 p. 182
- Mark 14:20–21
- “Lord’s Supper, The” in New Bible Dictionary, 3rd edition; IVP, 1996; p. 697
- Craig Blomberg (1997), Jesus and the Gospels, Apollos, p. 333
- (Brown et al. 626)
- Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible 2000 ISBN9053565035p. 792
- Peter: apostle for the whole church by Pheme Perkins 2000 ISBN0567087433 p. 85
- The Gospel according to Matthew, Volume 1 by Johann Peter Lange 1865 Published by Charles Scribner Co, NY p. 499
- “Was the Last Supper 24 hours earlier? Scientist claims historic meal was TWO days before Jesus’ crucifixion”, Daily Mail Reporter, April 18, 2011. Daily Mail website. Retrieved 10 Feb. 2017.
- Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985. “John” pp. 302–10
- Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective by Andreas J. Kostenberger 2002 ISBN0801026032 pp. 149–51
- 1, 2, and 3 John by Robert W. Yarbrough 2008 ISBN0801026873 Baker Academic Press p. 215
- Funk, Robert W., Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar. The five gospels. HarperSanFrancisco. 1993.
- The Gospel according to John by Herman Ridderbos1997 ISBN978-0802804532The Farewell Prayer: pp. 546–76
- Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity: A History of New Testament Times by Paul Barnett 2002 ISBN0830826998 pp. 19–21
- Paul’s early period: chronology, mission strategy, theologyby Rainer Riesner 1997 ISBN978-0802841667 pp. 19–27 (p. 27 has a table of various scholarly estimates)
- The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament by Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum 2009 ISBN978-0805443653 pp. 77–79
- Colin J. Humphreys, The Mystery of the Last SupperCambridge University Press 2011 ISBN978-0521732000, pp. 62–63 
- Humphreys 2011, p. 72 and p.189
- Pratt, J. P. (3 September 1991). “Newton’s Date for the Crucifixion”. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society. 32 (3): 301. Bibcode:1991QJRAS..32..301P.
- “Judaism and Christianity in the first century”. google.com.
- Pope Benedict XVI (2011). “The Dating of the Last Supper”. Jesus of Nazareth. Catholic Truth Society and Ignatius Press. pp. 106–15. ISBN978-1586175009.
- Humphreys 2011, pp. 164, 168
- Staff Reporter (18 April 2011). “Last Supper was on Wednesday, not Thursday, challenges Cambridge professor Colin Humphreys”. International Business Times. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
- Telford, William R. (2015). “Review of The Mystery of the Last Supper: Reconstructing the Final Days of Jesus”. The Journal of Theological Studies. 66 (1): 371–76. doi:10.1093/jts/flv005. Retrieved 29 April 2016.
- Bargil Pixner, The Church of the Apostles found on Mount Zion, Biblical Archaeology Review 16.3 May/June 1990 
- Reading John with St. Thomas Aquinas by Michael Dauphinais, Matthew Levering 2005 ISBN9780813214054 p. xix
- A–Z of Thomas Aquinas by Joseph Peter Wawrykow 2005 ISBN0334040124 pp. 124–25
- The ethics of Aquinas by Stephen J. Pope 2002 ISBN0878408886 p. 22
- The Westminster Handbook to Thomas Aquinas by Joseph Peter Wawrykow 2005 ISBN978-0664224691 p. 124
- Reformed worship by Howard L. Rice, James C. Huffstutler 2001 ISBN0664501478 pp. 66–68
- Calvin’s Passion for the Church and the Holy Spirit by David S. Chen 2008 ISBN978-1606473467 pp. 62–68
- Agape is one of the four main Greek words for love (The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis). It refers to the idealised or high-level unconditional love rather than lust, friendship, or affection (as in parental affection). Though Christians interpret Agape as meaning a divine form of love beyond human forms, in modern Greek the term is used in the sense of “I love you” (romantic love).
- Brown et al. p. 626
- Liturgical year: the worship of God. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). 1992. p. 37. ISBN978-0664253509.
- Christology in dialogue with Muslims by Ivor Mark Beaumont 2005 ISBN1870345460 p. 145
- Khalife, Maan (2012). “Last Supper of Jesus According to Islam”.
- Funk, Robert W. and the Jesus Seminar. The acts of Jesus: the search for the authentic deeds of Jesus.HarperSanFrancisco. 1998. “Mark,” pp. 51–161
- Sanders. The Historical Figure of Jesus. Penguin Books. pp. 10–11. ISBN978-0140144994.
- Vermes, Geza. The authentic gospel of Jesus. London, Penguin Books. 2004.
- Ehrman, Bart D.. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. HarperCollins, 2005. ISBN978-0060738174
- The Martyr, Justin. “The First Apology”.
- of Lyons, Irenaeus. “Against Heresies”.
- of Alexandria, Clement. “The Paedagogus (Book I)”.
- of Antioch, Ignatius. “The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans”.
- of Antioch, Ignatius. “The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians”.
- of Antioch, Ignatius. “The Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans”.
- Tertullian. “On the Resurrection of the Flesh”.
- Augustine. “Exposition on Psalm 33 (mistakenly labelled 34)”.
- “First Council of Nicæa (A.D. 325)”.
- “Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431)”.
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