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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Last Supper

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LAST SUPPER.—Although the relation of the Last Supper to the Jewish Passover is treated with more or less fulness elsewhere (see Dates, vol. i. p. 413 ff., and Lord’s Supper (I.)), it appears advisable to handle the whole subject in a special article.

The Paschal controversy, which agitated the first ages of Christianity (see Calendar), has only a general connexion with the inquiry on which we are entering. We note* [Note: See art. ‘Chronology’ (Turner) in Hastings’ DB i. 411 f.] that the trend of opinion at first was towards the view that Christ was crucified on the 14th day of the Jewish month Nisan, and therefore on the day on which the Paschal lamb was killed; from which it follows that the Last Supper (whatever was its nature) preceded the Jewish Passover by several hours. In the 3rd cent. the view that our Lord kept the Passover with the Jews on the 14th, and was crucified on the 15th, began to come into favour. When we approach the sacred records, we find that the first three Evangelists so express themselves, that, in the opinion of some, they represent our Lord as eating the Paschal Supper with His disciples on the night of His betrayal. It is certain that St. John (18:28) represents some of the Jews as not having eaten the Passover several hours later. On these premises, there appears to be a discrepancy between the accounts in the sacred narratives. When an honest attempt is made to arrive at a conclusion, a great authority on the history of Christ’s ministry is compelled to confess his inability to solve the enigma.† [Note: See Sanday, art. ‘Jesus Christ’ in DB ii. 634b.] By some it has been thought that Christ anticipated the day of the Paschal Supper, in order to eat it with His disciples;‡ [Note: This seems to be the view which Dr. Sanday, on the whole, favours; see art. quoted in preceding note. For the view that the Last Supper was an anticipated Passover meal, resembling the ordinary Passover in form and order, and held before the statutory date, see artt. ‘Jesus Christus’ (Zöckler) in PRE3, ix. p. 32; ‘Eucharist’ (J. Armitage Robinson) in EBi, col. 1419. A good summary of arguments and opinions is given by Ellicott in Lectures on the Life of our Lord, pp. 322, 323, nn.] by others, that the heads of the Jewish people deferred their Passover in order to have time to apprehend and condemn Jesus.§ [Note: The Passover might be deferred for a month for those who were legally debarred from observing it on the proper day (Numbers 9:9-12), but there is no provision in the Law for postponing it for one day: this explanation of the action of the rulers is improbable in itself, and contrary to their expressed intention (Matthew 26:5); further notice of it is superfluous.] The object of this article is to show that the first three Gospels preclude the notion that the Last Supper was a Passover, and therefore, as St. John certainly seems to represent the Passover as still to come while the Supper was proceeding,* [Note: John 13:29. Edersheim (Life and Times, ii. 566 ff.) explains the φαγπν τὸ τάσχα of John 18:28 as referring to sacrifices of the Paschal season. The opinion of such a writer demands respectful consideration, and a similar explanation is adopted by many. From 2 Chronicles 35 we learn that other sacrifices were offered at the Paschal season besides the lambs; see 2 Chronicles 35:7-8; 2 Chronicles 35:13.] that there is no discrepancy in the accounts.† [Note: The position maintained in this article is identical with the explanation given by the late G. Wildon Peiritz in The Gospels from the Rabbinical point of view, 1873. By birth a Jew, of German nationality, a Cambridge graduate, and an Anglican priest, of wide reading and profound learning, Peiritz had, to an exceptional extent, the ability to form a correct opinion on the problem before us.]

1. In examining the evidence afforded by the four accounts, we find, with satisfaction, that they have been handed down to us intact, and that no attempt was made to harmonize the records, as by the omission of the words τὸ πάσχα from Luke 22:15, which seem at variance with the statements in St. John. There is one critical problem in St. Luke—the retention, or omission, of the mention of a second cup, and the order of the Bread and the Cup in the Institution;‡ [Note: The Received Text of Luke 22:19-20 is read in ‘codd. Graec. et verss. fere omn.’ (Nov. Test., Lloyd-Sanday, Append. p. 121)—i.e. it has the very highest diplomatic attestation, including the old uncials. It can be rejected only on a priori grounds. The case illustrates the difference between two schools of criticism—those who follow the testimony of ancient MSS, and those who are influenced by subjective considerations. Dr. Sanday (l.c. 636b) says: ‘We cannot doubt that both these types of text existed early in the 2nd cent. Either may be original. And this is just one of those cases where internal evidence is strongly in favour of the text which we call Western. The temptation to expand was much stronger than to contract; and the double mention of the Cup raises real difficulties of the kind which suggest interpolation.’ See also a full discussion of the Lukan account of the Institution by Mr. Blakiston, in JThSt, July 1903, p. 548 f. Dr. Lambert (ib. Jan. 1903) well sums up the arguments and authorities for adhering to the Received Text.] but the solution of this problem will not affect the chief thesis in our position. Herein is another proof, if proof be needed, of the honesty and faithfulness of the ancient scribes, who, in the midst of one of the greatest controversies of the early Church, resisted the temptation to accommodate the records to particular views of the event.

2. The five following indications of time may be collected from the several accounts:

(1) When Jesus had finished His great eschatological discourse, and the rulers were forming a plan for His apprehension and condemnation, it wanted two days to the commencement of the Paschal Feast—μετὰ δύο ἡμέρας τὸ πάσχα γίνεται (Matthew 26:2, Mark 14:1, Luke 22:1). ‘After two days’ must be interpreted according to the reckoning which makes ‘after three days’ equivalent to ‘on the third day.’ This Jewish usage is well known, and is found, e.g., in Matthew 20:19 parallel with Mark 10:34 and Luke 18:33, where τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ in the First and Third corresponds to μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας in the Second Evangelist.§ [Note: As there is a v.l. harmonizing the text of Mk. with that of Mt. and Lk., we may compare Matthew 27:63, where the text is certain.] Now the Passover was slain late in the afternoon of the 14th Nisan, and some hours earlier leaven was put out of the houses, in preparation for the ‘days of unleavened bread,’ which, strictly speaking, began with the eating of the lamb in the early hours of 15th Nisan.|| [Note: | So Chwolson in Das letzte Passainahl Christi und der Tag seines Todes, quoted by Mr. Box and Dr. Lambert; see note*, p. 8b below. Cf. Turner, l.c.] The terminus ad quem of the ‘two days’ must be the last hours of 14th Nisan. The terminus a quo may be any hour after 12th Nisan had been succeeded by the 13th.

(2) In arranging for the apprehension of Jesus, the rulers decided that it should not be attempted on the Feast Day (Matthew 26:5, Mark 14:2). If they carried out their intention, it follows that the night of the apprehension and trial was before the slaying of the Passover; and that the Last Supper, whatever it was, did not coincide with the Paschal Feast. The hurried proceedings of the night suggest an attempt to secure a condemnation within a limited time. This is intelligible if the Feast had not begun; otherwise it is hard to see why men who were, in that case, willing to try a prisoner on the first day should have scrupled about extending the proceedings to any necessary length.

(3) The third indication of time presents some difficulty. On a day called ‘the first day of Azuma’ preparations were made for the Feast, according to Mt. (Matthew 26:17) and Mk. (Mark 14:12), at the suggestion of the Twelve; according to all three (Matthew 26:18-19, Mark 14:13-16, Luke 22:7-13), with the consent and at the command of the Master. Strictly speaking, the πρώτη τῶν ἀζύμων would indicate the 15th Nisan, for the period during which leaven was prohibited commenced with the Paschal meal, following the slaying of the Paschal lamb in the closing hours of 14th Nisan. So late a date for the πρώτη is precluded by the circumstances of the narrative; but it is incredible that Mt. could make an erroneous statement in a matter connected with the greatest solemnity of the whole of the Jewish sacred year. The reasonable conclusion is, that, in a popular way of speaking, a day before the legal day had acquired the name of ‘First day of Azuma,’ and not unfitly, if on that day early arrangements were commenced for the complete exclusion of leaven from the houses.* [Note: Wieseler, quoting from the Talmudical tract Pesachim, that the search for leaven in houses must be made in the night preceding 14th Nisan, in order that it might be put away by midday, and nothing leavened eaten afterwards, argues that the day before the Passover was made ready was reckoned as belonging to the Feast of Unleavened Bread. See Chronological Synopsis of the Four Gospels, tr. Venables, pp. 334, 335, and art. Passover in Hastings’ DB (W. J. Moulton), vol. iii. p. 690. Peiritz (op. cit. pp. 28, 29, 33, 34) describes the arrangements made by Jews on the day before the legal Preparation day, and adds: ‘There is a very intelligible reason why that Thursday should, in a subordinate sense,—loosely, we may allow,—be called the first day of unleavened bread.’] Mk., bearing in mind,. as often, the needs of non-Jewish readers, adds, ὅτε τὸ πάσχα ἕθυον. The point of time need not be pressed too strictly; the gloss is no more than an explanation that the season of Azuma was the time of the offering of the Passover. The expression in Lk. is more difficult. In Luke 22:7 we read, ἦλθεν δὲ ἡ ἡμέρα τῶν ἀζύμων, ἐν [Note: ἐν is omitted by some authorities; but the attestation is insufficient, nor would the omission affect the translation—‘when it behoved,’ or ‘in which’; see Winer’s Grammar, iii. § xxxi. 9, a.] ᾑ ἔδει θύεσθαι τὸ πάσχα. But there was more than one day of Azuma. In Luke 22:1 he had written ἤγγιζεν δὲ ἡ ἑορτὴ τ. ἀζ. It looks as if ἡμέρα below was equivalent to ἑορτή above—not 24 hours, but a period;‡ [Note: Many examples occur of the use of ἠμίρα for a period of long duration; but it is then regarded in contrast to conditions which may be described as ‘night,’—e.g. Romans 13:12; or as the time when certain conditions are realized,—e.g. 2 Corinthians 6:2, to which latter sense belongs the oft-recurring expression ‘day of the Lord,’ or ‘my day’ (John 8:56); but there seems no exact parallel to the use we have supposed of ἡμέρα as equivalent to ἡμέραι. Yet, if we limit the term to the ‘first day,’ the remainder of the sentence is inexact, the lamb being slain before the legal ‘first day’ began. It seems impossible to treat the sentence as rigidly and historically accurate, in the terms in which the text has come to us.] or else there is some little inexactitude in a mere reference to an observance which it was unnecessary for the purpose of the narrative to describe precisely.

(4) The fourth note of time is given by the ὀψίας γενομένης of Matthew 26:20 and Mark 14:17 [Note: Of the ‘two evenings,’ it is better to take this as the second, rather than the first, which would be our ‘late afternoon.’] These verses immediately follow the statement that the disciples ‘made ready the Passover.’ The natural interpretation is to take them as indicative of the evening of the day when the Upper Room was engaged. We have therefore another date, from which we may argue backwards to the limitations of the πρώτη τ. ἀζ. It ended with sunset on the night of the Betrayal. It began with the preceding sunset. At any time during those 24 hours. it is permissible to place the commencement by the disciples of preparations for a Passover which would be kept in circumstances they never anticipated. According to our present argument, the Master had passed into Paradise before the Passover was eaten. That would not prevent the disciples complying with the requirements of the Law, except in so far as some might have contracted ceremonial defilement during the events of Good Friday. But this would not apply to all; and here may be found the explanation of the preparations. The Master permitted the disciples to make ready for what was legally requisite; but He made this the occasion of suitable provision for the new Passover which He designed to provide, but of which they, as yet, knew nothing.

Parallel with the ὀψία of the first two Evangelists is an interesting expression in Luke 22:14 ὅτε ἐγένετο ἡ ὥρα. While in itself absolutely vague, in connexion with the preceding words, ‘they made ready the Passover,’ it would naturally indicate the commencement of 15th Nisan, when the lamb was eaten; but in view of considerations already stated, we must reject such interpretation, and read the term in connexion with what follows, and is peculiar to Lk., ‘with desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.’ The ὥρα was the Master’s time for one of the great acts of His incarnate life, not a particular division of a particular day in the Jewish calendar. So it is used in Luke 22:53 below—αὔτη ὑμῶν ἐστιν ἡ ὥρα, ‘your time,’ ‘opportunity.’* [Note: the same use of ὥρα by Christ at Cana (John 2:4), and a similar sense in 1 John 2:18.]

(5) The appellation paraskeuç affords yet another mark of time. There were paraskeuai before various days. In connexion with our present inquiry we note the Preparation of the Sabbath (Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54), and the Preparation of the Passover (John 19:14). On this latter paraskeuç our Lord stood before Pilate, and was condemned (Jn. l.c.). Therefore the Passover had not yet been eaten; much less could the day before have been the Day of the Passover. But the day of the condemnation and crucifixion was also the prosabbaton (Luke 23:54; Luke 23:56, cf. Mark 15:42). In that year the two paraskeuai coincided, and the first day of unleavened bread was also the Sabbath; hence St. John calls that Sabbath ‘an high day’ (19:31). The paraskeuç was our Friday,† [Note: Paraskeuç is rendered in the Pesh. by ‘arubhta, which is from a root meaning to set (of the sun). It became the name of Friday in the use of the Syrians, ‘because on that day the sun set and darkness reigned’ (see Payne-Smith, Thes. Syr. col. 2984). Herein is preserved a tradition of the day of the Crucifixion, accepted with such confidence that from it the sixth day derived its name, as the first day has been known from earliest times as the Lord’s day, because it was the day of the Resurrection. Cf. Mr. Turner’s remarks, l.c. p. 411 f.] Nisan 14, and the day of the crucifixion.

3. (i.) St. John was one of the two disciples who were specially charged with the Paschal preparations. It is recognized that the evidence afforded by his narrative is absolutely plain and consistent. It has been said that he silently corrects the others.‡ [Note: So Mr. Turner in art. quoted above.] From our point of view, as we hold that they preclude the notion that the Last Supper was a Passover, St. John adds the emphatic testimony of an eye-witness to our conclusion. The Supper was before the feast of the Passover (John 13:1); it was supposed that it might be necessary to buy what there was need of against the feast (John 13:29); several hours later some of the rulers had not yet eaten the Passover (John 18:28);§ [Note: The Passover, which was slain ‘between the evenings’ of Nisan 14, was usually eaten in the early hours of the night following, for time must be allowed for taking the lamb to the house and roasting it. This would be the commencement of Nisan 15 (see Exodus 12:8). But Exodus 12:10, Numbers 9:12, and Deuteronomy 16:4 suggest the possibility of extending the time of eating, provided all was consumed before morning light. But it was already morning (Matthew 27:1-2) when the Jews objected to enter the Judgment Hall (John 19:28) lest they should be debarred from eating the Passover. Therefore they could not have contemplated eating of a lamb slain the afternoon before. They must have anticipated a Passover in the hours to follow. Every scrap of evidence tends to confirm the view for which we contend.] the following day, when Jesus was crucified, was the preparation of the Passover (John 19:14). Language could hardly be more distinct; and some evidence, which seems to support a different view, can be explained. Taking St. John’s words in their natural sense, and reading them without prejudice, no one would gather from them that the Supper described by him was the Passover. It seems reasonable to demand that the less distinct and somewhat inexact language of the other three should be interpreted in the light of the last account.

(ii.) It has been claimed by some that the account of the meal in the three Evangelists agrees with the ritual of a Passover; by others, that no trace of a Passover can be found in it. To us, we confess, it seems that the details of a Paschal celebration have been discovered after the importation of ideas which are not on the surface of the narrative. The initial statement that Jesus sat down with the Twelve (ἀνέκειτο, Matthew 26:20; ἀνέπεσεν, Luke 22:14) is against the usual interpretation of the directions given in Exodus 12:11 : it is supposed that a change of posture had been admitted in later times. The two cups of wine are regarded as two of the four or five which were handed round at the feast; but in view of the serious difference of opinion amongst critics as to the genuineness of the reading in Lk., which gives the notice of a second cup, it seems unfair to press this identification. The dish in which the sop was dipped is identified with the dish of haroseth, a kind of sauce,* [Note: Its nature is described in Buxtorf, Lex. Talmud. col. 831.] which was an adjunct of the Paschal meal; but this is an assumption, rather than a deduction from evidence. The hymn sung on leaving the upper chamber is identified with the Hallel (Psalms 115-118) sung at the conclusion of the Passover ritual; but ὑμνεῖν (Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26) does not necessarily denote the use of a particular composition, and in Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16, ὕμνοι are distinguished from ψαλμοί.

(iii.) Those who fail to discover traces of a Passover meal in the accounts of the Last Supper, who point to the absence of allusion to a lamb, and generally to the weakness of the evidence adduced, may reasonably claim an argument e silentio for what that is worth. It may be added that the supposition of the disciples, that the preparations for the feast were not complete (John 13:29), seems strange indeed if they were already keeping the feast. Preparation for the Passover was so important in the eyes of the Jews, that the day preceding had derived its appellation of paraskeuç from their scrupulous care; see Matthew 27:62.

4. We can now tabulate the order of the sacred days in accordance with the conclusions at which we have arrived. It will be convenient to use the modern names for the days. In the early morning of Sunday our Lord rose. This tradition is universally accepted, and further discussion would be superfluous. The Saturday was the ‘first day of unleavened bread’ (for the eating of unleavened bread began legally with the Paschal meal),† [Note: Exodus 12:18; but in later practice, for greater strictness, leaven was excluded earlier See note *, p. 6b above.] and was Nisan 15. Friday, Nisan 14, was the official Preparation Day. Between it and the commencement of Nisan 15 the lamb was slain and eaten. Thursday evening was the beginning of the paraskeuç, and some hours before that the exclusion of leaven commenced, from which custom, as we have suggested, the day had acquired the popular appellation of ‘first day of Azuma.’ This was the 13th of Nisan, and began with sunset on Wednesday evening. During the 24 hours which followed Wednesday afternoon, the disciples began to make ready for the Passover. On Thursday evening (Matthew 26:20, Mark 14:17) Jesus sat down with them for the Last Supper; and this, according to St. John (13:1), was before the Passover.

5. But our Lord called that Thursday evening meal a ‘passover’—τοῦτο τὸ πάσχα, Luke 22:15. As we have shown that the meal preceded the legal Passover by some 24 hours, there are but two explanations of the words recorded by St. Luke—(i.) an anticipatory celebration was held, or (ii.) πάσχα is used in a mystical sense.

(i.) An anticipation of the Passover might have been either (a) from a desire to keep with the disciples a rite which, on the legal and customary day, would be precluded by the crucifixion; or (b) with the intention of reverting to a more exact date, and correcting an error in time which had crept into the Jewish calculations.* [Note: The Rev. Matthew Power, S.J., in his learned and elaborate essay, Anglo-Jewish Calendar for every day in the Gospels, says, ‘Our Lord, keeping to the lunar-legal computation, partook of His last supper on Thursday evening, Nisan 14.… The Jews, in obedience to the popular reckoning, had their Paschal Supper on Friday evening.… The Synoptists adopt, like our Lord, the strict lunar-legal mode of reckoning; the Fourth Gospel elects to follow the popular style.’ Even if the rule of Badhu was already in force, as Father Matthew supposes, there remains the difficulty, which writers shirk, of any one obtaining the sacrifice of the lamb before the hour appointed by the priests. Stapfer is one of the few who recognize the difficulty; but he overcomes it by rejecting the Johannine account and accepting the others. See Palestine in the time of Christ, p. 323f. Cf. JE ix. 553.] The impossibility of procuring the sacrifice of a lamb except on the day commonly observed, would have been fatal to any such plan. (1) Our Lord was not a householder, but a guest. It would be usual, perhaps, in such a case, to share in the lamb offered by the householder. This would require the assent of the householder to an abnormal, and apparently illegal, arrangement. Or if (2) we suppose that the thirteen were to constitute a family, and have their lamb to themselves, there would still be, as there would be in the former case also, the insuperable difficulty of getting the lamb killed by the priests before the legal day. (3) It has been supposed that there was a difference of opinion between Jewish schools as to the date of the Passover; but this argument, if it has, which is doubtful, any foundation, is of no value in the present inquiry. One party only was paramount at a time: there is no proof that there was a choice of dates for the celebration.† [Note: Matthew 26:2 and parallels compared with John 13:1-2 do not suggest any difference of practice as to the date of observing the anniversary.] If, however, by an ‘anticipatory Passover’ is meant an imitative meal, with herbs and unleavened bread and wine, but without a lamb,‡ [Note: Caspari (Chron. Geogr. Einleit.), referring to Pesachim x., supposes the Supper to have been a Maẓzoth meal, of which the essential element was unleavened cakes (maẓẓoth), with or without a lamb, eaten everywhere, and by all—for all were required to eat unleavened bread, though only the ceremonially clean were permitted to partake of the lamb—such meals being still observed in the present age.] this is not forbidden by the second explanation of our Lord’s words; yet we doubt whether such an imitation of the reality would have been contemplated. It seems so utterly alien to Jewish sentiment,§ [Note: ‘Jews … would consider it a shocking piece of profanation to enact anything resembling the great Paschal meal the evening before its time.’ Peiritz (himself a Jew), op. cit. p. 30.] as to be inconceivable for the deliberate act of One who held the Law in honour. Moreover, the act could hardly have been kept secret, even if the ‘good-man of the house’ had respectfully submitted to what would have greatly shocked his religious sentiments. Some rumour must have reached the ears of those who were willing to bear witness against Jesus. On such evidence a most damaging charge could have been founded; yet not a word of such charge is found in the records of the trial.* [Note: The Rev. G. II. Box has contended with much ability in an article in JThSt, April 1902, that not the Passover, but the weekly Kiddush, which preceded the meal on the eve of the Sabbath, is the antecedent of the Eucharist. In this case our Lord must have celebrated it 24 hours earlier: but Mr. Box supposes that He often celebrated Kiddush; there was Kiddush of Passover and of Pentecost, and other occasions, besides the weekly Sanctification. In the January number of JThSt the Rev. Dr. Lambert, replying to Mr. Box’s argument, that the evidence of the first three Evangelists is self-contradictory, follows Chwolson by supposing an error in the text. We make no supposition, but offer an explanation of the traditional evidence.

Dr. J. Armitage Robinson expresses himself in harmony with our view: ‘The Eucharist had, in its earliest form, an element in common with the ordinary Jewish meal, which was sanctified by thanksgivings uttered over the bread and over the cup.… Our conception of the original institution must not be dominated by the consideration of the elaborate ceremonial of the Passover celebration. Such a consideration belongs rather to the subsequent development of the Eucharist as a Christian rite’ (art. ‘Eucharist’ in Encyc. Bibl. coll. 1419, 1420).]

(ii.) Seeing then that a literal interpretation of πάσχα in our Lord’s words to the Twelve is precluded by the conditions of the occasion, we adopt the alternative, and understand ‘passover’ to be here used in a mystical sense.† [Note: Our Lord was pleased to veil the meaning of His words in many ways. Besides prophecies of His death, which were misunderstood (Mark 9:32), and parables, which were not explained to all (Matthew 13:11), and figures, as sleep for death (John 11:11), He spoke in mystery of His body as a temple (John 2:19), of birth by water and the Spirit (John 3:5), of eating His flesh and drinking His blood (John 6:53). So, we believe, He called the Supper ‘this Passover,’ not in the literal, but in a mystical sense.] In such sense undoubtedly He spoke when He called the bread His body, and the wine His blood. Whatever opinion may be held of the nature of the presence in the Eucharist, the bread and the wine were then before His sacrifice, as they are now after His resurrection, His body and His blood in a mystical and spiritual sense. His promise to drink wine with them in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 26:29, Mark 14:25, Luke 22:18) was conveyed in the same terms of mystery; for in the kingdom of redemption there is no place for the Jewish Passover,—that has waxed old and vanished,—and still less can a literal fulfilment be conceived as having hereafter a place in the kingdom of glory. Yet in that kingdom there will be a feast, the mystical and spiritual supper of the Lamb, where the host will be the real Passover, of which the annual victims were the figures; He who is therefore called by St. Paul, ‘Christ our passover.’‡ [Note: This title of the Saviour, although of such frequent occurrence in ecclesiastical and theological language, occurs in the NT only at 1 Corinthians 5:7, the writer being St. Paul, who was intimately associated with the only Evangelist who records (Luke 22:15) that our Lord spoke of His Last Supper as τοῦτο τὸ πάσχα.]

6. It has been thought that the Last Supper, while not an imitation, was celebrated with some outward features which connected it with the annual Passover, although the chief characteristic, the lamb, was absent.§ [Note: See note ‡ on preced. column.] It may have been so. Perhaps there was unleavened bread, and the dish of bitter herbs; but the narratives contain not a word to favour such a supposition. They seem to describe an ordinary Eastern meal,|| [Note: | See the account, from personal experience, of an Eastern supper, given by Peiritz, op. cit. pp. 13–15 and note, and the similar account by Thomson in The Land and the Book, pp. 126–128.] with the one dish in the centre, into which all the guests put their hands. The usual custom of giving the complimentary sop was observed, and wine was passed round. We believe that the Last Supper was in form only an ordinary repast, but that it was attended by the exceptional circumstances of the washing of the feet by the host, the mystic acts with bread and wine, and the strange, prophetic, and spiritual utterances of a long discourse. As we attempt to portray the scene, the outlines are simple, homely, ordinary; but the whole is pervaded by an air of mystery. It was not the Passover of Moses, but it was the initiation of the Passover of Christ.* [Note: Compare the remarks of Isaac Williams in The Holy Week, pt. iv. § ii. It is interesting to note that two writers so widely separated by antecedents and education, and to some extent by sympathies, as were he and Peiritz, arrive from different points at the same conclusion. In one case it is the opinion of a mind steeped in Patristic lore, in the other of a very learned Rabbinical scholar.] But see Passover (II.).

7. When we pass from the sacred narratives to Patristic tradition, we encounter controversy about the date of Easter which lasted for several generations, but produced no decision as to the nature of the Last Supper. The early separation of the Church from the Synagogue, although inevitable, was a loss to the former. Gentile converts found themselves the inheritors of rites and Scriptures derived from Jewish believers whose language and ideas they understood but imperfectly; hence the opinion obtained some credence, that Christ celebrated an anticipatory Passover; for they overlooked the insuperable hindrances to such an act which the Jewish customs would present. But one tradition has an important bearing on our inquiry. The Primitive Church had no scruple about the use of leavened bread in the Eucharist. Such has been the immemorial custom of the unchanging East; while in the West (as few would now deny), the use of unleavened wafers was brought in during the Middle Ages. If our Lord instituted the Sacrament at a Paschal Supper, He used, of necessity, unleavened bread. The desire to imitate His acts would, surely, if He had consecrated in unleavened, have found expression in an opinion that ordinary bread was inadmissible. There is no ancient tradition, of universal acceptance, that the sacramental bread must be unleavened. The use of ordinary bread is an unconscious admission that the Last Supper was not a Passover.† [Note: See full account of the Eucharistic bread in art. ‘Elements’ in Dict. of Christ. Antiq. (Smith and Cheetham), i. p. 601 f.; cf. Bingham’s Antiquities, bk. xv. ch. ii. § 5. Some heretics of early days, the Aquarians, Encratites, and Hydroparastatae, who were teetotallers, consecrated in water; see Bingham, ib. § 7.]

8. The discussion of this question is not merely academical. The practice of some Christians has been affected by the views entertained of the nature of the Last Supper. On the supposition that it was a Passover, it has been contended that the use of unleavened bread is obligatory in the Eucharist. The teetotaller extends the exclusion of leaven to the chalice, and demands the use of unfermented wine. Many love to think that they can find the words sung after the Supper in the Psalms of the Paschal Hallel. But the conclusions at which we have arrived lend no authority to the exclusion of leaven from the Lord’s Table, and are inconsistent with many expressions in well-known Communion Hymns, and in books of Sacramental devotion.‡ [Note: The Anglican Liturgy in the Proper Preface for Easter recognizes Christ as ‘the very Paschal Lamb,’ but throughout the Service there is not an expression or allusion which implies a particular view of the nature of the Last Supper.] There may be practical reasons for the use of wafers in preference to cubes of ordinary bread. As to what is called ‘unfermented wine,’ a previous question arises, whether mere grape juice is true wine. But whatever may be deemed most suitable for the sacramental elements in present-day use, our contention is that the Holy Mysteries were first administered at an ordinary meal, and with ordinary bread and wine for their outward and visible form.

Literature.—See under Dates and Lord’s Supper.

G. H. Gwilliam.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Last Supper'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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