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TWO CUPS AT THE LORD’S SUPPER?

 

All Scripture references are to the New International Version,

 Anglicised edition, unless stated otherwise.

 

Question: Accounts of the Last Supper in Matthew and Mark record that the breaking and distributing of the bread preceded the passing around of the cup. The following passage from Luke 22: 15-20 (with emphasis added) seems to confuse the issue. It implies that Jesus distributed two cups, or the same cup twice (17, 20). What is the explanation?

 

15 And he said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the kingdom of God.’ 17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ 19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’

 

Answer: In addition to Luke, the Last Supper is recounted in two other Gospel records and one epistle: Matthew 26: 26-29; Mark 14: 22-25; 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26. All are quoted below. Each of the passages follow more or less the same order:

 

1. Bread: Jesus takes, gives thanks, distributes.

2. Cup: Jesus takes, gives thanks, distributes, with the instruction to drink, ‘all of you’.

3. Kingdom: Jesus says He will not drink of the cup again with his disciples until the kingdom comes. In the Corinthians passage, Paul’s statement of v. 26, ‘until he comes’, is a variant, but seems to embody the same principle as Jesus’ statement in the Gospel narratives, ‘I [will] drink it anew with you . . .’.

 

Matthew 26: 26-29:

26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ 27 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.’

 

Mark 14: 22-25:

22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ 23 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,’ he said to them. 25 ‘I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.’

 

1 Corinthians 11: 23-26:

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

 

As already noted, the sequence in the Luke passage under review differs in some details from the other accounts: in Luke the cup appears (1) before the bread, and (2) is referred to twice – in v. 17 and again in v. 20.

 

15 And he said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover [pascha] with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the kingdom of God.’ 17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ 19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’

 

How to account for the differences?

 

Possible Explanations

One suggestion is that some text in the Luke passage has been added, and did not appear in earlier manuscripts. The New Testament and Wycliffe Bible Commentary has this:

 

Which is given for you. This phrase and the entire succeeding text through verse 20 are omitted in the Western text, which usually amplifies rather than omits.’

 

The entry cites Westcott and Hort, but notes, in defence of leaving the text in place, that ‘there is a close parallel’ between the Luke passage and 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26. Indeed, the structure of Paul’s wording is the same as that found in the Luke passage:

 

‘in the same way, after the supper he took the cup’ (Luke)

‘in the same way, after supper he took the cup’ (Paul)

 

If we set aside the possibility of interpolated text, we will need to find another explanation. It will be helpful to reconstruct the likely sequence of events in Luke 22:

 

1. The table is set for the Passover supper and Jesus and the apostles sit down (vs. 13, 14; ‘prepared . . . Passover . . . reclined . . .’).

 

2. Jesus tells the apostles, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer,’ and that it will be the last Passover for Him (vs. 15, 16, 18).

 

3. Jesus receives the cup of wine from one of the apostles (v. 17). The Greek word translated ‘took’ is dechomai; it means actively ‘to receive’ or ‘to accept’; compare Matthew 10: 40 (‘who receives you receives me’); 1 Corinthians 2: 14 (‘man without the Spirit does not accept . . .’). Jesus then hands the cup to another, who passes it along to his companions (Luke 22: 17; ‘take . . . divide it among you’). This action marks the transition from a Jewish meal to an entirely different sort, one imbued with fresh and deeper meaning (v. 19; ‘my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me’).

 

4. The cup is returned to Jesus (v. 20). As with the bread, He imparts it with its new significance: ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’ This is not a second passing of the cup. ‘In the same way’ is Luke’s way of confirming that, like the bread, the cup was dedicated after Passover meal (‘after the supper’).

 

Looked at this way, the Luke passage harmonises with the other accounts: there was only one dedication of the cup. Luke’s account is self-correcting (if it needs correcting at all). In returning in v. 20 to our Lord’s explanation of what the cup signifies – the most important consideration – the Luke narrative restores the correct relationship between the bread and the cup.

 

Further Considerations: Exodus And The Wine

The order in which the bread and wine were distributed at the Lord’s Supper was, perhaps, determined by their significance with respect to each other. For instance, Jesus would have to give up His humanity before His blood could be ‘sprinkled’ at heaven’s propitiatory on behalf of His Church (Hebrews 9: 24, 25; 10: 19-22). This sequence appears to be confirmed by the Jewish type: the Passover lamb was (obviously) first killed before its blood could be applied to the doorposts and lintels (Exodus 12: 21, 22; ‘slaughter . . . Passover lamb . . . put . . . blood . . . on both sides of the door-frame.’).

 

Wine was not prescribed for the original Passover at the Exodus. However, by Jesus’ day the custom was well established, and He did not condemn its practise. The innovation was probably no accident, since God’s Providence in such matters is not subject to the whims of man. Other variations on the original Passover meal were introduced over the centuries, as evidenced by Jesus and the disciples reclining at table, not standing, as in the archetype. As C.T. Russell observes in a general sense: ‘The Lord evidently arranged all the affairs of Israel in conformity with the types which they were to express.’ [The New Creation: Its Passover (Brooklyn: IBSA; 1913), p. 462, par. 1, bot.]

 

The blood of animals slaughtered under the rituals of the Law was not eternally effective for the forgiveness of sin and the redemption of the world (Hebrews 10: 1-9). That its practise was implicitly stripped of this meaning by our Lord at the Last Supper is significant. Only the blood of Jesus had from Jordan onwards the power to cleanse and redeem. When He began His sacrificial service at the age of thirty, the legitimacy of the Jewish feast ended. This is to say that the introduction of the wine at the Passover feast – however it came about – already foreshadowed the blood of Christ, a fact corroborated by the emblematic use which Jesus made of it. Jesus had drunk wine on previous occasions, but only now did He ascribe new meaning to it.

 

For a detailed examination of the annual Memorial service, see the article on our website.

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Article copyright April 2012 ukbiblestudents.co.uk

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