Eucharistic Reflections 6

A close reading of Luke’s account [see after the jump] of the last supper reveals that Jesus and his table companions drank more than one cup of wine. Brant Pitre, in his new book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper, sees the Lord’s Supper as a new Exodus, a new Passover, the Bread of Presence, and — today’s reflection — as extending all the way to the Cross where Jesus drank wine a final time.

Brant Pitre’s argument is this: there are four cups (kiddush, haggadah, berakah, hallel) in a Passover seder. Luke mentions cups two and three. When Jesus says he will not drink another cup of wine until he drinks it anew with them in the kingdom, he chose voluntarily not to drink the fourth cup — and that cup was hinted at in Gethsemane (“let this cup pass from me”) and then only on the cross both refused and then later consumed (from a sponge). Thus, “it is finished” means at least that the Passover seder is now officially over.

Pitre, assuming that the Passover Seder we know today was basically in force in the 1st Century, opens up a more concrete way of seeing the Last Supper, and in particular he shows how their singing of the hymn would have been from the hallel hymns (Psalms 113-118). These would have been evocative for Jesus as he contemplated his own death.

Pitre’s point about Jesus waiting to drink the 4th cup works on the assumption of the Passover Seder.

Passover then must be tied to the death of the Jesus on the cross. Jesus saw his own death in terms of the Passover sacrifice — he was the Passover lamb.

14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 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 fulfillment 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 from 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.21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!”

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  • rjs

    Fascinating way to think about this.

    Verse 17 seems to suggest that he didn’t drink this cup either (which would be the third cup of the seder I guess).

    Is there something I’m missing – or just reading too much into?

  • Scot McKnight

    RJS, it appears to me that the suggestion of Pitre encounters problems in Luke, but not in Matthew or Mark.

    Luke has two cups, the 2d and 3rd cups. But Pitre sees the vow not to drink in v. 18 applying to the 4th cup, which isn’t mentioned. Jesus consumes the 2d and 3d cups. In Mark (14:25), the vow not to drink is at the end and just before the singing of the hallel hymn.

    I wrote to Brant about this, but haven’t heard back from him.

  • EricW

    Don’t some like Jeremias argue that Jesus fasted at the supper? I.e., while he may have blessed God for the bread and wine and given them to the disciples to consume, he himself did not partake of them?

    And I believe it’s not certain if four or two cups were drunk at Passover in the 1st Century. Mishneh Pesahim 10(?) isn’t historically reliable re: the pre-70 A.D. Seder, IIRC.

  • I hope you don’t mind, but I linked this post on my blog. I just started a year long meditation on Jesus’ word from the Cross.

    I look forward to reading more of your writings.

  • Tom

    For some yeas now, I’ve been fascinated and encouraged by the “rediscovery” that Jesus was a Jew and the New Testament writers, as well. I think Pitre’s effort clearly reflects this new-found perspective, but I’ve noticed that an over-enthusiasm often forces the screen of later Jewish practice onto the text. It may work, but I think it can get lost in detailed parallelism, verging on allegorical interpretation – finding meaning in the smallest detail. At best, I think we have intriguing hints, and should leave it at that.

  • Ryan

    Tom #5:

    I think we have MUCH more than “intriguing hints”. Yes, it can be difficult for 21st Century Americans to understand the layers and depth of meanings in the text. To understand the fullness of the “Jewishness” (a word?) of the NT requires thorough investigation and study…a simple reading will not do. But once that effort has been done, layers upon layers of meaning burst out of the text and passages suddenly become much more meaningful and actually begin to make sense particularly in light of the reactions of the people.

    The Last Passover is one such incredible example. Most Christians do not understand that each cup had significant meaning, particularly the third (referenced in this post). This was the “cup of redemption”…and was the cup Jesus lifted and said it was a “new covenant” in His blood. Just coincidence? I don’t think so. The disciples and original audience would have seen the deep meaning of Jesus statement applied to the third cup of Passover…which most of us completely miss.

    Just one reason to be grateful for a resource such as this. Thanks, Scot, for posting!

  • It’s funny how verses can be very familiar to me but I don’t always grasp the overarching meaning. I never put together the symbolism of wine and passover in the crucifixion and resurrection in this way. Thanks for the post.

  • My review of the book is up at Englewood Review of Books: st

  • Dan Smith

    Believing as I do that all “break bread” passages refer to the common meal for sustinance, I find no example of Jewish Christians participating in the “Lord’s Supper.”
    When Jesus, in the upper room, instructed the Apostles to eat/drink in memory of Him, I believe he was providing them with a new Passover Lamb to be recognized/remembered/celebrated annually at the Passover Seder.
    The Corinthian Gentiles, not observing Passover, where instructed by Paul to recognize/remember/celebrate Jesus and His body (the church) at each meal (every gathering?).

  • I heard this first from Scott Hahn, on his DVD, “The Fourth Cup.”

    A big part of me likes this lens (as I’ve alluded to earlier in this series regarding David Daube and the afikomen), and a small part of me still wrestles with the points Scot raises above (#2) as well as whether or not the Last Supper was really a Seder.

  • EricW

    For those who like to research these things, here is my annotated bibliography of sources I used to reconstruct a 1st-Century Seder. Note that this was done in the 1980s, and scholarship has progressed since then:


    Barclay, William, THE LORD’S SUPPER, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1967. A short, readable book.

    Bloch, Abraham P., THE BIBLICAL AND HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF THE JEWISH HOLY DAYS, Ktav Publishing House, Inc., New York, 1978. This book gives the best analysis of the evolution of the seder.

    Bokser, Baruch M., THE ORIGINS OF THE SEDER: THE PASSOVER RITE AND EARLY RABBINIC JUDAISM, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1984. The author explains how and why the Passover celebration changed after the destruction of the Temple. Extensively analyzes the text of MISHNAH PESAHIM 10, the earliest full description of the post-biblical Passover seder, and other ancient sources.

    Dalman, Gustaf, JESUS-JESHUA: STUDIES IN THE GOSPELS, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1929. A helpful book, which also examines the Aramaic behind the gospel tradition.

    Daube, David, THE NEW TESTAMENT AND RABBINIC JUDAISM, The Athlone Press, University of London, 1956. Many interesting insights into Jesus’s words and actions, obtained by relating them to rabbinical traditions and sayings.

    Edersheim, Alfred, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JESUS THE MESSIAH, Longmans, Green and Company, New York, 1904. A sometimes ponderous book, often more homiletical than exegetical or historical, but with lots of information nevertheless.

    Edersheim, Alfred, THE TEMPLE, ITS MINISTRY AND SERVICES AS THEY WERE AT THE TIME OF JESUS CHRIST, Bradley & Woodruff, Boston, 1904. A good book, with valuable information on first century Jewish religious life. Includes some later elements in its description of the first century seder.

    Feeley-Harnik, Gillian, THE LORD’S TABLE: EUCHARIST AND PASSOVER IN EARLY CHRISTIANITY, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1981. Contains a good conjectural description of the first century seder.

    Foston, Hubert M., THE EVENING OF THE LAST SUPPER: A NEW COMPARISON OF THE RECORDS, W. Heffer & Sons, Ltd., Cambridge, England, 1928. The “new comparison” is an examination of some of the particular words used by the gospel writers, with a view to suggesting a different answer to the question of whether the last supper was a Passover meal. Very difficult, not on account of the subject matter or the argument, but because of the author’s literary style.

    Freedman, Jacob, POLYCHROME HISTORICAL HAGGADAH FOR PASSOVER, Jacob Freedman Liturgy Research Foundation, Springfield, Massachusetts, 1974. The author uses different colors to show vividly and clearly which portions of the modern seder date to which eras of rabbinical and Jewish history.

    Gaster, Theodor Herzl, PASSOVER: ITS HISTORY AND TRADITIONS, Henry Schuman, Inc., New York, 1949. Liberal scholarship. Useful in that it contains a valuable description from a nineteenth century work of the Samaritan Passover.

    Gavin, Frank, THE JEWISH ANTECEDENTS OF THE CHRISTIAN SACRAMENTS, Ktav Publishing House, Inc., New York, 1969. Some interesting insights.

    Goodman, Philip, THE PASSOVER ANTHOLOGY, Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1961. A collection of Passover facts and stories from all ages of Jewish history.

    Graves, Robert and Podro, Joshua, THE NAZARENE GOSPEL RESTORED, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1954. A controversial reconstruction of the “authentic” gospel by scholars who reject the Christian interpretation of Jesus. Some interesting and valuable notes.

    GREEK-ENGLISH NEW TESTAMENT, Edited by Barbara and Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger, Eighth Revised Edition (Greek text: Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th edition), Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart, 1994.

    Grelot, P. and Pierron, J., THE PASCHAL FEAST IN THE BIBLE, Helicon Press, Inc., Baltimore, 1966. One volume in a Catholic study series.

    THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, International Bible Society, East Brunswick, New Jersey, 1973, 1978, 1984. A popular standard Evangelical translation.

    Jeremias, Joachim, THE EUCHARISTIC WORDS OF JESUS, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1966. The author firmly believes and persuasively argues that the last supper was a Passover meal. A standard work on the subject by a well known scholar.

    Kitov, Eliyahu, THE BOOK OF OUR HERITAGE: THE JEWISH YEAR AND ITS DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE, Feldheim Publishers, New York, 1978. Sets forth and explains clearly and simply the rabbinical teachings on the seder and its elements. Contains a fascinating eyewitness account by a Roman official of the Passover celebration in the days of the second Temple.

    Levy, Isaac, A GUIDE TO PASSOVER, Jewish Chronicle Publications, London, 1958. Good, brief description of the evolution of the Passover celebration.

    Lipson, Eric-Peter, PASSOVER HAGGADAH: A MESSIANIC CELEBRATION, JFJ Publishing, San Francisco, 1986. Based on the traditional Jewish seder, with New Testament passages and comments.

    Maertens, Thierry, A FEAST IN HONOR OF YAHWEH, Fides Publishers, Inc., Notre Dame, Indiana, 1965. Proposes that Jesus, following a different calendar, celebrated his own Passover feast earlier than the Temple priests, in order to show that the feast had been fulfilled in his person.

    Marshall, I. Howard, LAST SUPPER AND LORD’S SUPPER, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1980. Explores the relationship of the Lord’s supper to the last supper, describes the first century seder, and discusses whether the last supper was a Passover meal.

    NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, California, 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995. A popular literal Evangelical translation.

    THE NEW JERUSALEM BIBLE, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1985. A new revision of THE JERUSALEM BIBLE. Excellent textual and study notes.

    THE PASSOVER HAGGADAH, WITH HEBREW AND ENGLISH TRANSLATION ON FACING PAGES, Introduction and Commentary: Based on the Studies of E. D. Goldschmidt, Edited by Nahum N. Glatzer, Schocken Books Inc., New York, 1953, 1969, 1979, 1989. A standard work, with many helpful notes.

    PESAHIM: HEBREW ENGLISH EDITION OF THE BABYLONIAN TALMUD, Translated into English with notes, glossary and indices by Rabbi Dr. H. Freedman, B.A., Ph.D., under the editorship of Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein, B.A., Ph.D., D.Lit., The Soncino Press, London, 1967 (New Edition). The rabbinical sources on Passover. Very little relates to the first century seder.

    Raphael, Chaim, A FEAST OF HISTORY: PASSOVER THROUGH THE AGES AS A KEY TO JEWISH EXPERIENCE, WITH A NEW TRANSLATION OF THE HAGGADAH FOR USE AT THE SEDER, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1972. A good historical look at the evolution of the feast, with photographs and illustrations.

    Regelson, Abraham, THE HAGGADAH OF PASSOVER, Shulsinger Brothers, New York, 1949. “Introductory Notes and Supplement” by Rabbi Sidney B. Hoenig, 1961. A nicely illustrated edition of the traditional haggadah. The notes and supplement contain valuable excerpts from the biblical, rabbinical and historical writings on Passover.

    Rosen, Ceil and Moishe, CHRIST IN THE PASSOVER, Moody Press, Chicago, 1978. Moishe Rosen is the founder of Jews for Jesus, and Ceil is his wife. This book compares the biblical, ancient and modern Passover seders, and relates them to Christ.

    Schauss, Hayyim, GUIDE TO JEWISH HOLY DAYS: HISTORY AND OBSERVANCE, Schocken Books, New York, 1938. A very readable but cursory examination of the subject.

    Segal, Judah Benzion, THE HEBREW PASSOVER FROM THE EARLIEST TIMES TO A.D. 70, Oxford University Press, London, 1963. Liberal scholarship. Difficult reading.

    Silver, Arthur M., PASSOVER HAGGADAH: THE COMPLETE SEDER, Menorah Publishing Company, Inc., New York, 1980. Its subtitle is “Step-by-Step Directions, Halakhic References, Reasons, and Sources for the Customs of the Seder,” and that’s what it contains.

    TANAKH, “A NEW TRANSLATION OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES ACCORDING TO THE TRADITIONAL HEBREW TEXT,” The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1985. “Tanakh” (j`” n1Ta) is an acronym for Torah, N’vi im and K’tuvim, the three traditional divisions of the Hebrew Scriptures.

    Theiss, Norman, “Passover and Eucharist: the Seder for Christian Use,” UNA SANCTA, Brooklyn, New York, 1965. A first century Passover haggadah. My research shows that some of the sections the author has included are from the post Temple era.

    Theiss, Norman, “The Same Night in Which He Was Betrayed: a Study of Passover and Eucharist,” UNA SANCTA, Volume 23, Number 4. This is the article that accompanies “Passover and Eucharist: the Seder for Christian use,” and includes additional notes and references.

    Zeitlin, Solomon, SOLOMON ZEITLIN’S STUDIES IN THE EARLY HISTORY OF JUDAISM, Volume I, Ktav Publishing House, Inc., New York, 1973. “The Liturgy of the First Night of Passover” (and the accompanying introduction) describes the development of the seder liturgy and the evolution of its elements. Focuses on the three (or four) sons and questions, and the dipping at the meal (the pesah into the haroset). Also discusses Jesus and the last supper.

  • Ryan

    Dan #9:

    The Apostle Paul was a Jewish Christian and he gives instructions to churches concerning the proper way to remember His sacrifice (I think we could call that “The Lord’s Supper”)…it’s probably safe to say that Paul must have observed the Lord’s Supper.

    Looking into the Corinthians passage, the practice of this meal had most likely developed into an entire “fellowship meal” and the problem was of the Corinthian abuse of: their fellow, poor believers and the elements themselves. So he proceeds by explicitly tying their meal back into “The Last Supper” by quoting Jesus, then in 1 Cor. 11:27 ties in eating “bread” and drinking the “cup” into the “body” and “blood” of the Lord. I believe you are misguided to say that the “body” being referenced here is the church…and by extension, it is the church to be celebrated every time they gather. Rather the body is that of Christ, broken and sacrificed for us, and it is that act to be celebrated by the church.

  • I did some research a while back into the ritual cups of wine in a Passover meal, and it turns out that and with each of the four cups Israel remembered one of God’s promises to them in slavery, found in Exodus 6:6-7.

    The promise of the first cup: I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.

    The promise of the Second Cup: I will free you from being slaves.

    The promise of the third cup: I will redeem you with an outstretched arm.

    The promise of the fourth cup: I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.

    And as I read these promises, I began to wonder if they weren’t just for the Israelites, but maybe there’s a second horizon on these promises, and maybe they were for us Jesus-followers too. Here are my thoughts.