The Passover: Jesus with his Disciples
The second episode of the Passion Narrative in the Synoptics is the Passover meal which Jesus shared with his disciples the night of his arrest. In the Synoptic tradition, this “Last Supper” was unquestionably part of the Passover celebration. This setting was established in the narrative introduction (Mk 14:1 par), and is affirmed again at the start of this episode (vv. 12ff). The Passover setting of the Passion narrative is just as clear in the Gospel of John (12:1; 13:1, etc); however, as you may be aware (and as we shall see), there are significant chronological differences between John and the Synoptics on this point.
Mark 14:12-25 (par Matt 26:17-29; Lk 22:7-39)
There is a clear and simple three-part division to this episode in the Synoptics, as illustrated first by the Gospel of Mark:
Each of these parts has a specific thematic association:
This thematic structure was probably inherited by the Gospel writer from the early tradition, though it is possible that he played a significant role in emphasizing it within the narrative. Each of the parts will be discussed in turn, beginning with Mark and then examining the parallels in Matthew and Luke to see how the tradition(s) may have been modified or developed.
Mark 14:12-16 / Matt 26:17-19 / Luke 22:7-13
There are two basic elements to the tradition in vv. 12-16 which, we may assume, caused it to be included in the core narrative: (1) the significance and importance of the Passover, and (2) an early historical tradition regarding the specific location (the “upper room”) in which the meal took place. With regard to the first point, the importance of Passover is indicated by the careful preparations that are made for it. Jesus gives specific instructions to his disciples (vv. 13-15), though it is not entirely clear whether this reflects arrangements which had already been made or, in particualar, special foreknowledge by Jesus as to how things would come about. The parallel with the preparations for his “triumphal entry” (11:2-6 par) suggest that the Gospel writer(s) understood it in the latter sense.
Matthew and Luke both follow the Markan narrative with relatively little variation. Matthew’s account (26:17-19) is briefer and simpler, as is typically so for this writer when developing the Tradition. Luke (22:7-13) follows Mark much more closely, including the detail of the Passover sacrifice (v. 7). However, there are a couple of notable differences (in v. 8):
- Jesus appears to take the initiative with the disciples (cp. Mk 14:12b), and
- The two disciples are identified as Peter and John; this detail most likely represents a development of the tradition, according to the early Christian tendency toward identifying otherwise unnamed figures.
The initial directive by Jesus in Luke’s version also serves to give added emphasis to the Passover theme.
Mark 14:17-21 / Matt 26:20-25 / Luke 22:14-38
The Passover meal itself is the setting for vv. 17-21ff, though the meal itself is really only described (partially) in Luke’s version. The primary focus of this scene in the Synoptic tradition is the dramatic moment of the identification of Judas as the betrayer. This may be outlined as follows:
- The narrative setting (v. 17)
Note how the dramatic purpose of Jesus’ twin declaration is to identify the betrayer:
The first declaration indicates that it is one of Jesus’ disciples who is present, eating at the table with him. The second further identifies the man as one of the Twelve—i.e. one of Jesus’ closest disciples. This level of intimacy is also indicated by the parallel: “eating with me”—”dipping into the dish with me”. Possibly there is an allusion here to Psalm 41:9, an association specifically made (by Jesus) in John’s Gospel (13:18), and one which would doubtless have been recognized by early Christians familiar with the Scriptures. The Son of Man saying in verse 21 is the most distinctive element of the narrative, and unquestionably reflects a very early and well-established tradition:
“(On the one hand) the Son of Man leads (himself) under [i.e. goes away] even as it has been written about him, but (on the other hand) woe to that man through whom the Son of Man is given along [i.e. betrayed]! Fine for him if that man had not come to be (born) (at all)!”
As in the earlier scene, Matthew (26:20-25) follows Mark closely, but again narrates in simpler fashion. He includes one detail which would seem to reflect a development of the tradition: in verse 25, Judas (identified by the author as “the one giving him [i.e. Jesus] along”) asks “Is (it) I, Rabbi?”, to which Jesus responds “You (have) said (it)”. It is rather an odd detail; its inclusion may be meant, in part, as a foreshadowing of Judas’ greeting at the moment of the arrest, where he also uses the honorific title “Rabbi” (v. 49).
Luke’s Gospel shows far more extensive development of the tradition here. The main differences are: (1) the identification of Judas and Son of Man saying occur after the institution of the Lord’s Supper (22:21-23), and (2) two blocks of teaching are included (vv. 24-30, 35-38)—one after the Lord’s Supper and the other after the prediction of Peter’s denial (vv. 31-34). These differences will be discussed in the upcoming note on Luke 22:14-38.
Mark 14:22-25 / Matt 26:26-29 / Luke 22:17-20
These verses preserve the important early Christian tradition of the institution of the “Lord’ Supper”. Their significance will be discussed in more detail in an upcoming note, but here will be helpful to observe the basic tradition as it is preserved by Mark (and Matthew). The outline is very simple:
- Action by Jesus (the bread):
“taking bread (and) giving a good account [i.e. blessing] (to God), he broke (it) and gave (it) to them” (v. 22a)
- Words of Jesus:
“Take (it)—this is my body” (v. 22b)
- Words of Jesus:
- Action by Jesus (the cup/wine):
“taking (the) drinking-cup (and) giving good words of (thanks for God’s) favor, he gave (it) to them and they all drank out of it” (v. 23)
- Words of Jesus:
“This is my blood of the diaqh/kh [i.e. ‘covenant’] th(at) is poured out over many” (v. 24)
- Words of Jesus:
An additional saying/declaration by Jesus (v. 25) concludes the solemn moment:
“Amen, I say to you that, no—I will not drink yet (again) out of the produce of the vine, until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
This saying, with its “Amen, I say to you” (a)mh\n le/gw u(mi=n) formula (a well-attested mark of Jesus’ own style), is parallel to the declaration in v. 18.
Once again, Matthew (26:26-29) follows Mark, though with a couple of key differences (marked by italics):
- “Take (it and) eat…”
- “…poured out unto the release [i.e. forgiveness] of sins“
- “…that day when I should drink it new with you in the kingdom of my Father“
Generally these details (along with a couple of other small modifications) appear to reflect a degree of development, an expanding of the core tradition with added information or emphasis. This will be discussed further, along with Luke’s unique presentation of this material, and the parallel tradition recorded by Paul (in 1 Cor 11:23-26), over the next two notes.