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The Order of the Lord’s Supper

by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.

In Matthew (26:26-27) and Mark’s (14:22-23) record of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus blessed the bread first and then the cup. However, Luke seems to give the opposite order with the cup mentioned first (22:17-19). Is this difference a discrepancy in which the inspired writers contradict each other?

It is certainly the case that Jesus only instituted the Lord’s Supper one time. He either blessed the bread first or He blessed the cup first. He did not do it both ways. So can we make sense of the text in such a way that the Bible is not discredited, recognizing that Jesus did not do it both ways? On that lone night so long ago, when He instituted the Lord’s Supper, which way did He do it? Bread then cup, or cup then bread?

It is clearly the case that Bible writers do not always claim to be representing a particular event in chronological sequence. Luke could have easily been treating the Passover and Lord’s Supper incident topically. In such a case, no contradiction would exist. However, in this particular instance, a different explanation presents itself.

Read carefully Luke’s reporting of the event:

Then came the Day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover must be killed. And He sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat.” …When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. Then He said to them, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (22:7-21, emp. added).

Observe carefully that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper on the tail end of the observance of the Jewish Passover. One must be careful to distinguish between the two, particularly since the same emblems were used for both, and since the former typifies the latter. The killing of the Passover lamb under Judaism anticipated the death of Jesus Who, in turn, became “our Passover” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Luke, more than Matthew and Mark, demonstrates this close parallelism.1

Luke actually has two allusions to “cup”—one in verse 17 and the other in verse 20. The first “cup” was taken during the Passover and the second “cup” was part of the institution of the Lord’s Supper.2 Hence, Luke does not differ from Matthew and Mark in specifying the same order for partaking of the Lord’s Supper, i.e., first the bread and then the cup. Luke’s use in verse 21 of “likewise” refers back to “He took bread,” and “after supper” refers both to the bread and the cup of the Lord’s Supper.

This fact is further supported by Paul in his recounting of the occasion in 1 Corinthians 11:23-29. Observe the indications of sequence he portrays—

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body (emp. added).

Observe that Paul goes out of his way to emphasize the order that Jesus instigated—bread/cup and eat/drink. He even clarified that the cup that is part of the Lord’s Supper was done “after supper,” i.e., after the Passover meal. So the “cup” of Luke 22:17-18 was the cup that was associated with the Passover meal—not the Lord’s Supper cup which is noted in verse 20 after the Passover meal and after the bread of the Lord’s Supper.

Another consideration pertains to the fact that Luke 22:17-20 constitutes a textual variant. However, the Committee for the UBS Greek text concluded that the cup-bread-cup sequence is authentic based on “the overwhelming preponderance of external evidence.”3 Further, Sir Frederick Kenyon and S.C.E. Legg offer the only plausible explanation for the existence of variants by noting:

The first cup given to the disciples to divide among themselves should be taken in connection with the previous verse (ver. 16) as referring to the eating of the Passover with them at the reunion in Heaven. This is followed by the institution of the Sacrament, to be repeated continually on earth in memory of Him. This gives an intelligible meaning to the whole, while at the same time it is easy to see that it would occasion difficulties of interpretation, which would give rise to the attempts at revision that appear in various forms of the shorter version.4

Hence, the first allusion to “cup” in verse 17 links back with the eating and drinking of the Passover meal in verses 15-16, while the second allusion to “cup” refers to the Lord’s Supper. Luke agrees with Matthew and Mark that, when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, He first took the bread and then took the cup. There is no contradiction.

REFERENCES

1 See J.W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton (no date), The Fourfold Gospel (Cincinnati, OH: The Standard Publishing Foundation), p. 646.

2 Ibid, p. 658. See also J.W. McGarvey (1910),Short Essays in Biblical Criticism(Cincinnati, OH: The Standard Publishing Company), pp. 342-343.

3 Bruce Metzger (1971), A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (New York: United Bible Societies), p. 176.

4 Sir Frederick G. Kenyon and S.C.E. Legg (1937), “The Textual Data” in The Ministry and the Sacraments, ed. Roderic Dunkerley (London: SCM), pp. 285-286.

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