I will attempt to answer this particular concern in this post.
When this series of posts began, I mentioned in passing that there seems to be an assumption that both Paul and Luke were attempting to provide an exact quotation of what Jesus said. Certainly, it is often assumed, Luke was quoting Jesus' exact words! Or, certainly Paul was. Really? Certainly?
What if neither of them were quoting Jesus exactly? Well, one may then object that it's impossible to know what Jesus actually said. At least, that's the allegation. But let's back up the truck a bit. Is it impossible to know what Jesus actually said when instituting his Supper? From this point forward, I am going to approach this concern with as much deductive reasoning as possible. My hope is that, in the end, the reader can, in fact, know what Jesus actually said, and might possibly be willing to go one step further by betting on that conclusion.
First, notice that Matthew's gospel doesn't record the exact same words as Mark or Luke. In Matthew's account (26:26), Jesus merely says "Take, eat; This is my body." In Mark's account (14:22), Jesus merely says "Take; this is my body." If this was all the textual evidence that we were left with, should we therefore assume that they both were intending to quote the exact words of Jesus in full? Should we even assume that such assumptions were at least Matthew's, simply because his account has the longer reading (i.e. "Take, eat...")?
Let's pretend for a moment that we didn't have Paul's account, but we did have Matthew and Mark, as well as Luke's account which simply says, "This is my body given for you...". Should we therefore assume that Luke intended to quote Jesus' exact words simply because he provides the longest quotation? Certainly Luke was more likely to quote Jesus' exact words because his account is more complete, or so they say. To doubt Luke's more complete account of Jesus' words would be as foolish as doubting Thomas, or so they may say. Actually, the inverse is true. To doubt like Thomas is more like doubting that Luke's account is not a full quotation of what Jesus said. Thomas doubted because he assumed too much about two very different accounts: Jesus alive, and Jesus standing in front of him alive after dying. Likewise, sincere Christians assume too much about two very different accounts: the "full" account of Luke, and the "full" account of Luke after reading the accounts of Matthew and Mark. Obviously, from the very texts themselves, Luke didn't find it necessary to insert the exact same words as Matthew and Mark. Matthew and Mark both say "Take, eat"; but Luke doesn't. Therefore none of them can contain the "full" quotation of Jesus if we assume that at least two of the three synoptic authors faithfully quote Jesus at all. All three can't be quoting Jesus in full. And so, isn't this prima facie1 evidence that our assumptions about Luke's quote being the full quote are mistaken?
Consider the alternative quotation from Paul's account in I Cor. 11:24. Look at the evidence in favor of the rite which he offers:
- Paul was an Apostle of the Lord Jesus. The only other account recorded for us by the hand of an apostle is Matthew. (Even though Mark accompanied Peter, and one can safely assume that Mark's gospel was aided by Peter, there is no evidence that Peter's own hand wrote it's content.) And we know, simply by comparing the synoptic gospels, that it's obvious Matthew did not intend to record Jesus' words at the Last Supper in full or with exact precision. Paul's account, therefore, carries some weight as the last remaining apostle to hand-write Jesus' words.
- As was noted in an earlier posts, both here and here, the textual evidence also favors Paul's record, which says "Take, eat; this is my body broken for you...".
- Paul's words include every single word which Matthew, Mark, and Luke record, with the exception of the word "given" in Luke's gospel.
- Neither Matthew, Mark, or Luke go out of their way to claim or even imply that they intended to quote Jesus in full, or with exact precision. Rather, from their own omissions, it is conclusive that none of the synoptic authors intended to give a full, exactly precise quotation of Jesus' words, but rather the essential meaning of Jesus' words. After all, it's not like the exact words which Jesus used are magical. If one word is missing from Mark's gospel (i.e. "eat"), the message of Mark remains just as valid as Matthew's account, as well as the rite itself. Likewise, Luke omits the words "take, eat". This does not mean that Christians should freak out when their pastor chooses to consecrate the elements with Matthew's insertion of "take, eat". Both rites are proper and authoritative, and both accounts convey the same essential meaning of the rite which Jesus instituted.
- Paul does, as a matter of fact, go out of his way to both claim and imply that he intended to quote Jesus in full. Whether he intended to do so with exact precision, must be left to conjecture. In I Cor. 11:23-24 (NKJV) Paul says: "For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, 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." Not only does Paul include everything contained within the synoptic gospels, but also, by saying rather clearly that he has delivered and is delivering unto them what he received from the Lord, he is saying, in essence, that this is what the Lord said, so continue to heed what He actually said.
- Also, Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians years before Luke wrote his gospel, which lends some more credibility to Luke's expansion of Paul's rite, as well as what Matthew and Mark recorded (assuming that Matthew and Mark's letters were available for him to give an orderly account, Luke 1:1-4). Interestingly enough, we know that Luke was a companion of Paul's second missionary journey, and was with him in Corinth. It is also very likely that Luke was as an amanuensis of Paul during his missionary journey,2 which means that it is certainly possible, if not probable, that Luke modified the rite which Paul delivered unto the Corinthians. In other words, if we assume that one of two people, either Luke or Paul, had to modify the other's words, Luke is the most likely candidate. Luke may very well have been aware of the rite which Paul delivered unto the church of Corinth, having been there with him, and yet he chose to deliver his gospel with a variant form of Paul's rite. By modifying Paul's rite, "this is my body broken for you" to read instead, "this is my body given for you", the essential message remains the same. If such a modification was made by Luke, it was possibly, if not probably, for the purpose of avoiding any unpleasant connotations of the word "broken" to his audience, the "most excellent Theophilus" (Luke 1:3).
- If Jesus really did actually say "broken", not "given" as it's found in Luke's account, there still remains no contradiction in meaning, because the meaning of the rite which Paul delivered to the church of Corinth conveys the same idea as Luke's account: the broken loaf of bread represents Jesus' broken body given for them.
If I were a betting man, I would call the bluff of modern translations concerning I Cor. 11:24 because the evidence is stacked in favor of the KJV translation. If the pot was higher than usual, I would then raise double that Paul records the actual words which Jesus said "the night in which he was betrayed".
1. prima facie is Latin for "first appearance", and it describes something which, based on one's first impression of the evidence, should be accepted as correct until proven otherwise.
2. For a convincingly detailed historical and textual account of these claims, see David Allen, The Lukan Authorship of Hebrews [B&H Academic: Nashville, TN; 2010]; Also, among the wide variety of discussions on the internet, a few of them caught my attention in the past: