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James Still Institution Narrative

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The Institution Narrative of Luke 22:19-20

James Still

1. Introduction

In the gospels, issues involving fasting, eating, and drinking plague Jesus. Just after his forty day fast in the wilderness, Satan tempts Jesus to turn a stone into bread (Mt. 4:3; Lk. 4:3). While still at Capernaum in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, John the Baptist’s disciples approach Jesus and ask why his disciples do not fast as they do (Mk. 2:18-22; Mt. 9:14-17; Lk. 5:33-39). Soon thereafter, Jesus’ disciples are caught picking heads of grain for food in violation of the sabbath regulations (Mk. 2:23-28; Mt. 12:1-8; Lk. 6:1-5; cf. Exod. 20:10; Deut. 5:14). Jesus is forced to fashion an awkward tu quoque defense on their behalf by pointing out that David also violated the sabbath when he ate the bread of the Presence at the temple at Nob (1 Sam. 21:1). Despite Mark’s attempt at distancing Jesus from his disciples’ behavior in this incident, Jesus’ reaction reveals that he also did not fast or refrain from violating the sabbath.[1] In Luke’s narrative, just before setting out for Jerusalem, Jesus is still sensitive enough about the point raised earlier by the Baptist’s disciples that he complains, "John the Baptist appeared on the scene, eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, `He is demented.’ The Son of Adam appeared on the scene both eating and drinking, and you say, `There’s a glutton and a drunk’" (Lk. 7:33-34; Mt. 11:16-19). Even a saying in Thomas reports that some people invite Jesus to fast and pray with them only to be told, "What sin have I committed, or how have I been undone?" (GThom 104). Given the tension in the gospels between Jesus and his adversaries concerning food at mealtime, it is ironic that Jesus will use the Last Supper to communicate one of the most sacred traditions of the Church.

In this paper, I will explore the imagery and role of bread and wine as the body and blood of Jesus in the Last Supper (Mk. 14:17-25; Mt. 26:20-29; Lk. 22:14-38; and Jn. 13:21-26). I will pay particular attention to the Gospel of Luke and Luke’s portrayal of Jesus at the Last Supper. I conclude that Paul might not have received the institution narrative of 1 Cor. 11:23-26 from the Jerusalem Church as is often supposed.

2. The Last Supper

In Luke’s account, Jesus meets at the appointed hour with his disciples to eat the passover meal in the upper room prepared for them (22:12, 14). After announcing the traitor, Luke’s narrative deviates from the Gospel of Mark. Jesus tells his disciples that he is about to suffer, that he shall not eat the passover meal until the kingdom, and then "he took a cup, gave thanks, and said, `Take this and share it among yourselves. For I tell you, I certainly won’t drink any of the fruit of the vine from now on until God’s domain is established!’" (22:17-18). After offering this first cup, the Lukan narrative moves straight into the Eucharist episode of the bread and wine as symbolic of the body and blood of the new covenant (22:19-20). The institution narrative in Luke seems to be influenced by Paul’s wording in 1 Cor. 11:23-26.[2]

In contrast to Luke, Matthew follows Mark’s outline so that right after the traitor is announced, Jesus immediately engages in the establishment of the Eucharist (Mk. 14:22-24; Mt. 26:26-28). Mark and Matthew then conclude the ritual with the language in Lk. 22:18; yet, they omit a second cup. Jesus’ actions in 22:19 follow a liturgical formula involving the sequence of the four verbs took, blessed, broke, and gave (Johnson, 1991, p. 147). Luke foreshadows this action in 9:10-17 during the miraculous feeding of five thousand people. There, Luke writes that after "taking the five loaves and the two fish [Jesus] looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd" (9:16). This four verb formula is also repeated in an ordinary meal following Jesus’ appearance on the road to Emmaus (24:30).

Bultmann (1968) traces the institution wording to the Hellensitic Church (pp. 265-66). However, most contemporary commentators disagree and argue that what Paul "receives from the Lord" is church tradition with the authority of the Lord behind it as with 1 Cor. 7:10 and 9:14 rather than a direct revelation from Christ. For example, Kilmartin (1965) points out that "all the elements of the institutional accounts have been shown to be native to Jewish thought and hence point to a Palestinian origin completely independent of Greek mystery religions" (p. 141). Jeremias (1966) argues that the eucharist words can be linguistically traced back to a pre-liturgical Aramaic stage of tradition. Thus, he thinks that we have no reason to doubt that the institution wording in the gospel accounts go back to the historical Jesus himself. Marshall (1978) is more cautious, however, and suggests that it is impossible to be exactly sure what Jesus said. Despite this problem, Marshall agrees that it is possible, if not likely, that the tradition goes back to Jesus rather than the early Church since the institution agrees with Jesus’ self-understanding as a martyr. Both commentators agree that the institution narrative of 22:19-20 was originally separated from the Passover meal in which it was later set. Marshall considers it likely that "the essential part of the story which related to the institution of the Lord’s Supper was separated off from its framework for cultic use, as 1 Cor. 11:23-26 would appear to indicate, and was then replaced in a Passover setting when the passion narrative was being put together" (p. 801). If Jeremias and Marshall are correct in suggesting that the institution wording of 22:19-20 was not part of an original Passover meal but rather stood on its own for cultic use, how can we be sure it came from the historical Jesus rather than Paul or the early Church?

It is curious that Paul mentions very little of the historical Jesus’ teaching.[3] Further, Paul’s own defense of his ministry in the letter to the Galatians seems to be in tension with the argument that he received the eucharist ritual from the Jerusalem Church. Rather than immediately going to Jerusalem after his conversion experience as one would expect, Paul writes that he spent the next three years in Arabia (Gal. 1:17).[4] With the exception of a brief fifteen day visit after his seclusion in Arabia, Paul will not again return to Jerusalem for fourteen more years (Gal. 2:1). If Paul received any church traditions, it would probably have been during this brief visit with James and Peter after returning from Arabia. However, Paul denies that any of his teachings are from other men in authority. In fact, Paul goes to great lengths to distance himself from the Jerusalem Church and its gospel:

"For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ . . . I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia" (Gal. 1:11-17).

Paul goes on to contrast his gospel from the perverse teachings of those "who were reputed to be something" (the three "pillars" of James, Cephas, and John) and to defend himself from their interference (Gal. 2:6-10). Paul has become aware that those sent by James and the Jerusalem Church have approached the Galatians with traditions that do not agree with the gospel that Paul taught them previously. In Second Corinthians, Paul likens his opponents to "superlative apostles" who preach a different Jesus from the one that he had preached to them (2 Cor. 11:4-6; 12:11). The Jesus that Paul preaches, of course, is the Christ of the cross. Thus, Paul’s gospel is the "message of the cross" (1 Cor. 1:17-18) and his eucharist wording in 1 Cor. 11:23-26 rests upon the cross theology.[5] In Galatians, Paul shows a remarkable contempt for "man’s gospel," code words perhaps for the Jerusalem Assembly, and he is suspicious of all teaching that derives from the authority of those in Jersualem.[6] There is room to doubt that Paul’s Eucharist teaching derives from church tradition, or what would be for Paul the false "pillars" of the Jerusalem leadership.

If this is so, where might Paul have received the eucharist tradition? It is possible, of course, that Paul needed to look no further for his soteriology than the pervasive Dionysian cult in the pagan world. However, it is not necessary to think that he went outside of Hellenistic Judaism for his gospel. In 1 Cor. 10:1-5, Paul makes an allegorical connection to the "supernatural food and drink" provided to the Israelites in the wilderness (Exod. 13:21; 14:22; 16:4-35; 17:6; Num. 14:29-30; 20:7-11). Hamerton-Kelly (1973) argues that Paul could be reinterpreting the Exodus narrative along strong Hellenistic-Jewish lines (p. 131). This is seen in Paul’s midrash of Exodus 17:6 where he considers Christ to be a "moving rock" that followed the Israelites out of the desert. The rock is also a strong motif in Jewish mysticism, where pre-existent Wisdom was deeply associated with the rock in the desert (Hamerton-Kelly, pp. 131-32). Vermes (1975) discusses another strand of Jewish mysticism from the Targum Neofiti Exodus 16:15, which he translates as:

"The children of Israel saw and said to one another, mn’ hw’, for they did not know Moses. And Moses said, hw’ is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat."

A variant scribbled in the margin adds "by the Memra (word) of the Lord for food" (p. 139). Vermes argues that "Neofiti must have understood hw’ in mn hw’ as a pronoun referring, not to an object but to a person" (p. 140). Only if mn hw’ reads "What is he?" does the clause "for they did not know Moses" make sense. Under this interpretation, Vermes concludes that Moses replies, "he is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat" and the variant adds, "He is the bread given to you by the word of the Lord for food" (p. 141).

The bread imagery is also identified with the pre-existent Wisdom in Proverbs 9:1-5 in a case where she is not displaced, but has instead set up a house for all that hunger for insight:

"Wisdom has built her house, she has set up her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table. She has sent out her maids to call from the highest places in the town, "Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!" To him who is without sense she says, "Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave simpleness, and live, and walk in the way of insight."

In addition to a meal setting with bread and wine, the "pillar" or foundation imagery that Paul used in reference to James in Gal. 2:6-10 is also associated with Wisdom in this passage. Vermes points out that the "bread and wine" in the Proverbs passage above is presented allegorically as the spiritual nourishment of the Law in later rabbinic exegesis. Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah, in Gen. R. 70:5, suggests,"the bread is the Torah, as it is written: Eat of my bread" (qtd. in Vermes, p. 142). Wisdom provides Torah to the Israelites so that those who eat her bread and drink her wine live rightly with the Law. Vermes finds ample evidence in Philo’s Hellenistic Judaism for an allegorical interpretation of the manna/bread imagery and Moses role as heketas logos or the "suppliant Logos." Philo allegorizes that the Logos is "the heavenly incorruptible food of the soul" as well as "the heavenly wisdom" (De Muatione Nominum 259; qtd. in Vermes, p. 143). Elsewhere, Philo implies that Moses was a "divine man" who acted as a mediator between God and human beings (Williamson, pp. 115-117). Thus, Philo interprets Moses as a "living Torah" rather than a mere vehicle for the physical tablets of the Law. Vermes concludes that Targum Neofiti supports a circumlocutional interpretation of Ex. 16:15 in which Moses’ utterance "he is the bread" refers directly to Moses himself as "a personification of the divine nourishment allotted by God to Israel" (p. 145). Moses is Wisdom, Logos, and Torah incarnate. Philo’s allegorical imagery of Moses = Logos = manna is seen in the Gospel of John, only now Jesus rather than Moses is the true Logos. In John’s gospel, Jesus strongly denies the identification of manna with Moses and instead declares, "I am the bread of life" (6:35), decisively usurping the role of divine nourishment that Philo had identified with Moses. Therefore, while it is possible that Paul’s soteriology is informed by the pagan world, it is not necessarily so. There were sufficient strands in Hellenistic Judaism to provide a context for Paul’s consideration that the body and blood of Christ is divine nourishment or "supernatural food and drink" for the soul.

3. Jewish Christianity

While Paul’s eucharist theology fits nicely into certain strands of Jewish mysticism, the same cannot be said for Jewish Christianity as understood by the surviving disciples in Jerusalem. The sacrament of body and blood is noticably absent from texts originating in the Palestinian/Syrian communities. For example, the Q gospel’s central christology involves an understanding of Jesus as a future redeemer; yet, there are no references to the institution wording or a cross theology. The Gospel of Thomas, like the wisdom layer of Q, understands Jesus’ redemptive role in his wisdom teaching. The Epistle of James and the Didache, which are believed to originate in Jewish Christianity even if they do not go back to James or the Twelve, emphasize the Law and contain nothing of Paul’s body/blood consumption sacrament. O’Connor (1988) discusses the implications of the eucharist wording in the Didache and its implications on the institution wording found in Paul and the Gospels.[7] The Didache teaches that the cup represents the "holy vine of [God’s] servant David" made known through Jesus, while the thanksgiving prayer said over the broken bread involves "life and knowledge" made known through Jesus (p. 9). That the bread symbolizes knowledge might involve Jesus’ as a prophet of Wisdom, and hence, a wisdom teacher. On the other hand, Koester (1982) argues that the Eucharist meal described in Didache 9 and 10 shows the same "eschatological orientation" of the shared meals in Acts 2:42-47. The fact that Luke does use the four-verb liturgical formula in an ordinary meal setting seems to support Koester’s argument (Lk. 24:30). The oldest sections of the Didache, which teach a eucharist tradition that probably dates to the mid first century, does not contain the consumption imagery of the institution wording. Further, Chilton (1994) has shown that the primitive stages of eucharist practices that precede the Pauline interpretation, portray Jesus’ meals as celebrations of purity in anticipation of the kingdom of God. Thus, the joyful eschatological meals described in Acts 2:42-47 inform and stand prior to Paul’s stage of the eucharist tradition in 1 Cor. 11:23-25.

Eisenman (1996) takes a somewhat different approach and argues that "the Pauline symbolical consumption of `the body’ and `blood’ of Jesus is, perhaps, written over an originally more Jamesian core" (p. 729). He bases this argument on the textual dependence that 1 Cor. 11:24-26 and the gospels seem to have on the Gospel of Hebrews. For example, the slave of the High Priest that Jesus hands his linen clothes to in GHeb 9, reappears in the gospel narratives as the slave whose ear Peter cuts off with his sword (Mk. 14:47; Mt. 26:51; Lk. 22:50). Further, the four-verb liturgical formula of take, blessed, broke, and gave in Luke 9:16, 22:19, 24:30 (and parallels), is used in GHeb 9 in the context of an ordinary meal between Jesus and James the Just. Eisenman points out that James’ cognomen "Just" ("Just One," "Righteous One," or "Justus") is attested by Hegesippus and Eusebius, suggesting that James had a special status quite early in ancient Christianity (p. 189; Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. II, 23, 4-7). In Kabbalistic mysticism, the Righteous One (Zaddik) is "the Pillar that upholds the world" just as Noah was the only righteous man left just before the flood (Eisenman, p. 135). We see this idea reflected in Proverbs 10:25 where "the righteous is an everlasting foundation," which Eisenman translates, "the Zaddik is the Pillar of the World." Interestingly, the Zaddik’s pre-existence is stressed both in Proverbs 10:25 and Jewish mysticism. This theology is also closely tied to the pre-existence of Wisdom in the Q community (Hamerton-Kelly, p. 45). The Q theology and Jewish Zaddik mysticism converge in another wisdom genre work, the Gospel of Thomas, where Jesus declares that Heaven and Earth came into existence for James the Just (GThom 12). Thus, at least some early Jewish Christians considered James to be a pre-existent "Pillar" or Righteous One, language that Paul uses of James as well in Gal. 2:9. This might help explain why, in the Gospel of Hebrews it is James, rather than Jesus, swears to fast until the son of man rises from the dead (GHeb 9; cf. Lk. 22:17; Mk. 14:25; Mt. 26:29). If Eisenman is correct, at least one of the sayings attributed to Jesus belong to his brother James instead. This supposition would seem to solve the curious situation in Luke where Jesus swears not to eat the passover meal after he has already reclined at table (Lk. 22:14). Luke is the only witness to Jesus’ oath to fast and he might have received this tradition from the same source that became codified in the Gospel of Hebrews.

4. Conclusion

I have reviewed the main arguments concerning the origin of the institution narrative in Luke 22:19-20 and its parallels. On the one hand, Jeremias believes that the sacrament came directly from the historical Jesus, while on the other hand, Bultmann attributes the sacrament to the early Church. I have argued that the earliest source for the eucharist (Paul in 1 Cor. 11:23-26) is more consistent with the theology of Jewish mysticism than the theology of James and the Jerusalem Church. Since the body and blood consumption is not compatible with the Jerusalem Church and the earliest Palestinian or Syrian trajectories, I conclude that we have reason to think that Paul did not receive the institution narrative from the Jerusalem Church.


Bultmann, Rudolf. The History of the Synoptic Tradition. Trans. John Marsh. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1968.

Chilton, Bruce. A Feast of Meanings. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1994.

Didache. Introduction and Trans. Charles H. Hoole. London: David Nutt, 1894.

Eisenman, Robert. James the Brother of Jesus. New York: Viking, 1996.

Ellis, Peter F. Seven Pauline Letters. Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1982.

Haenchen, E. The Acts of the Apostles. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1971.

Kilmartin, Edward J. The Eucharist in the Primitive Church. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1965.

Koester, Helmut. Introduction to the New Testament. Vol. 2. New York and Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1982.

——–. Ancient Christian Gospels. Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990.

Marshall, I. Howard. "The Institution of the Lord’s Supper 22:19-20." Commentary on Luke. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978. 799-807.

O’Connor, James T. The Hidden Manna. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988.

Vermès, Géza. "He is the Bread"–Targum Neofiti Exodus 16:15." Post-Biblical Jewish Studies. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1975. 139-146.

Williamson, Ronald. Jews in the Hellenistic World: Philo. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.


[1] GThom 104 suggests that Jesus was defensive about not fasting, although Matthew insists that Jesus fasted before his temptation and ministry (Matt. 4:2; cf. Lk. 4:2). In Mark 2:23-28, Jesus was probably in violation of the sabbath regulations as well. I base this argument on the fact that Mark presents a very logical argument to the effect that (1) the sabbath day was created for humans (ho hious tou anthropou), (2) not humans for the sabbath, therefore (3) humans lord over the sabbath. Thus, Jesus is suggesting that everyone, himself included, can violate the Law in times of need. Bultmann (1968) finds support in the rabbinic parallel "The Sabbath is given over to you, not you to the Sabbath," for the generic sense of ho hious tou anthropou (from the Aramaic bar ‘enas) in this saying (p. 108). Luke omits v.27 in order to turn the generic sense of bar ‘enas into a circumlocution and a messianic title. However, Luke pays a steep price for this because, with Mark’s logical syllogism now gone, the Lukan Jesus is philosophically inept. The Pharisees had complained that by picking heads of grain, Jesus’ disciples were violating the sabbath regulations. To have Jesus answer that he is himself someone who transcends the sabbath is a red herring that fails to address the real concerns that the Pharisees have with his disciples’ wrongful behavior.

[2] Luke Timothy Johnson (1991) mentions that Luke 22:19 (when not dependent upon Mark 14:22) is closely related to Paul’s wording in 1 Cor. 11:24 in its use of eucharisteo (p. 338). Additionally, the longer reading of v.20 in Luke, "and the cup in like manner after supper" (kai to patarion osautos meta to deipnasai) is found exactly this way in 1 Cor. 11:25, which led some suspicious copyists to omit "after supper" from v.20.

[3] Koester (1990) mentions six instances in which Paul refers to the teachings of the historical Jesus. In 1 Thess. 4:15, Paul invokes the "word of the Lord" to address the issue of what happens to those in the community who have died prior to Jesus’ return. In 1 Corinthians, Paul claims that Jesus argues against divorce (1 Cor. 7:10-11), no dominical command (1 Cor. 7:25), those who proclaim the gospel should be paid by the gospel (1 Cor. 9:14), the command concerning prophets (1 Cor. 14:37), and perhaps the Eucharist (1 Cor. 11:23-26), although I will critically examine this point.

[4] Paul’s story does not agree with Acts 9:19-31. In Acts, Paul stays in Damascus for several days until a plot is hatched against him by the Jews there. Paul then escapes and is taken by Barnabas to the apostles in Jerusalem after which Paul "was with them going in and out in Jerusalem" that is, living intimately with the apostles (Haenchen, p. 332). In contrast, Paul insists that, after his three-year sojourn, he met Peter and James in Jerusalem for only a brief fifteen days before again setting out on his own for Syria and the Greek Diaspora (Gal. 1:18-20).

[5] Ellis (1984) points out that 1 Cor. 11:23-26 is difficult to explain as inserted in this section since it seems to break the continuity between vv 17-22 and the solutions presented in vv 27-34. There seems to be nothing in vv 23-26 that pertains to the problems Paul outlines in vv 17-22. Ellis argues that Paul must be reminding the Corinthians of the death of Christ. In other words, Paul brings up the bread and wine imagery "to remind them that the Eucharist they celebrate is itself a call to `cross’ theology, which is a theology of sacrifice of self for the sake of one’s brethren" (p. 90).

[6] In 2 Cor. 3:1-2, Paul hints at his opponents who showed up at Corinth with letters of recommendation that authorized them to preach the gospel. Ellis (1982) conjectures that Paul’s opponents are missionaries from the Jerusalem Assembly (p. 148). Paul appeals to Jer. 31:33 to suggest that because Christ wrote a "letter" (i.e., the new covenant) on their hearts, Paul does not need a letter from the "superlative apostles" that preach "man’s gospel."

[7] O’Connor (1988), like J. A. T. Robinson (Redating the New Testament), conservatively dates the Didache from 50 CE to the end of the first century. Additionally, he argues that sections 9 and 10, which contain the eucharist wording, appear to be even older and could go back to the years immediately following Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection (p. 5).


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