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Old 05-14-2001, 08:50 PM   #1
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Post Two Last Supper Traditions

Earl D.

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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> And given its close resemblance to the sacred meal myths of the mystery cults, particularly the one attached to Mithras (which the second century church Fathers were so exercised to explain as the devilish deceit of the demons), we can regard it as a myth, probably created by Paul himself, to confer the sacramentalism he wished to give to the occasion of the communal meal, a sacramentalism which had no precedent in Jewish thought (and would have struck them as blasphemous idolatry), but fits squarely into the mystery cult ethos. </font>
Earl D. suggests that Paul invented the Last Supper and the Gospels simply got it from him. There are a number of problems with this view.

The first is that it does not appear that Paul's teachings of the Last Supper created any conflict with the Judaizers, and we certainly would have expected it to had the Judaizers been unfamiliar with the tradition. If it had been a Pauline invention, I agree with Earl D. that more traditional Jews would have found it problematic. The problem is that we have no evidence that the more traditional Jews found it very problematic. It is clear from 1 Corinthians that Paul had taught his new church than when he founded it. So it was an early tradition and part of Paul's missionary efforts. And, although Paul is forced to defend his apostleship and teachings regarding the law, even to his own churches, congregations, he is never forced to defend his teachings regarding the Last Supper. Would not the Judaizers that went to Paul's own churches to speak against some of his teachings have also spoken against the Last Supper? It appears that they did not. Paul is not forced to present a defense of the Last Supper, although he is forced to defend his more liberal teachings of the Law

The second problem I have is that the gospel authors were unaware of Paul's letters when they wrote their gospels. Of course, they may have been members of Pauline churches and learned of the tradition there. But, this does not appear to be the case. The author of Mark was apparently a member of the church in Rome. Paul most assuredly did not found the church in Rome and his one letter to them does not instruct them about the Last Supper. Moreover, there is evidence that its founders were of a conservative Jewish bent, unlikely to quickly accept an unfamiliar tradition regarding the drinking of human blood (unless previously exposed to it).

Of course it is possible that Mark did not obtain the tradition of the Last Supper from his church, but ignored his church's tradition in favor of adopting a Pauline tradition. The problem with this theory, and with any notion that Paul invented the Last Supper tradition, is that there existed a distinct, non-Pauline tradition of the Last Supper in the early Christian church.

This leads to my third, and perhaps most important objection. It is clear that we have two distinct Last Supper traditions in early Christianity. Both from Jewish Christians. The first, of course, is Paul's found in Corinthians. It appears that the tradition with which Paul is familiar is also in the Gospel Luke. The Gospels of Matthew and Mark, however, contain a distinct tradition regarding the Last Supper.

Let's examine the evidence for the two traditions:

As I said, the first tradition is found in Luke and 1 Corinthians. This is all the more remarkable because it is generally agreed that Luke wrote without any knowledge of Paul's letters. And although Luke had Mark's version in front of him, he felt compelled to include a separate tradition with which he was already familiar. This second, distinct tradition matches the tradition with which Paul is familiar.

The Corinthians/Luke Traditions

1 Cor. 11:24-25:

"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.'"

Luke 22:19-20:

"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.'"

The Matthew/Mark Tradition

The other comes from another source and is preserved in Mark and Matthew. I generally accept that Mark was written in Rome while Matthew was written in a more Jewish community in Antioch.

Matthew 26:26-27:

"And as they were eating Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body.' Then he took the cup and gave thanks, and gave it to the, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.' But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom."

Mark 14:24-25:

"And as they were eating , Jesus took brad, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body.' Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, "This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many. Assuredly I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the wine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.'"

The Differences

Let's look at the differences which support the existence of two distinct traditions:

In Corinthians/Luke, the Last Supper specifies that the body of Jesus was "broken/given for you." Neither Mark nor Matthew elaborate on the purpose of the breaking of Jesus' body.

In Corinthians/Luke, the Last Supper specifies that "in the same manner" or "likewise" he "took the cup after supper." Neither Mark nor Matthew specify the manner in which Jesus took the cup and neither places it after the supper. In fact, both Mark and Matthew portray the taking of the cup to happen right after the breaking of the bread. They say, " [t]hen he took the cup" while Luke/Corinthians say that he "took up the cup after supper."

In Corinthians/Luke the disciples are instructed to "do this in remembrance of me" after Jesus broke the bread. Neither Matthew nor Mark portray Jesus as saying that after the breaking of the bread.

In Mark/Matthew, Jesus informs the disciples that he will not drink with them until the Kingdom is established. Both Corinthians and Luke lack such statements.

The argument for distinct traditions, therefore, is well founded. It demonstrates that there were two distinct traditions attesting to the establishment of the Lord's Supper. Only one of which can be traced back to Paul. Significantly, both traditions originated with Jewish Christians, who felt obliged to include the references despite the traditional Jewish distaste for even symbolic references to drinking blood.

When you couple the complete lack of any indication from Paul that he was facing heat for his establishment of the Lord' Supper, even from the Judaizers, with the existence of two distinct traditions among Jewish Christians regarding the Last Supper, I see little support for the idea that Paul invented a Last Supper tradition that was unknown to the rest of the early church.

[This message has been edited by Layman (edited May 14, 2001).]
 
Old 05-15-2001, 08:08 PM   #2
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How do you connect this to pre-existing traditions of common meals, such as those in the mystery cults, the Essenes (celebrated as symbolic of the messaniac banquet to be held at the end of time) and so forth?

Michael
 
Old 05-15-2001, 08:18 PM   #3
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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by turtonm:
How do you connect this to pre-existing traditions of common meals, such as those in the mystery cults, the Essenes (celebrated as symbolic of the messaniac banquet to be held at the end of time) and so forth?

Michael
</font>
Meals with religious connotations are hardly distinct to Christianity. But if you are suggesting a causal relationship between particular pre-existing meals and the Last Supper, I think the Last Supper was most likely established by Jesus on the eve of his execution.

That being the case, I think that an Essene influence might be possible, but not firmly established. However, I'd like to know more about the Essene messianic meal to which you refer. Do you have a citation?
 
Old 06-04-2001, 01:54 PM   #4
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Because Mark and Matthew rely on a distinct tradition than Paul/Luke, what impact does that have on how we should interpret 1 Cor. 11:23?
 
 

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