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In the Christian Gospels, the Last Supper (also called the Mystical Supper) was the last meal Jesus shared with his Twelve Apostles and disciples before his death. The Last Supper has been the subject of many paintings, perhaps the most famous by Leonardo da Vinci.

According to what Paul the Apostle recounted in 1 Corinthians 11:23–26,[1] in the course of the Last Supper, and with specific reference to eating bread and drinking from a cup, Jesus told his disciples, "Do this in remembrance of me". In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus institutes a new covenant of his blood and body, the wine and bread. Many Christians describe this as the "Institution of the Eucharist" (see Maundy Thursday). Scholars once looked to the Last Supper as the source of early Christian Eucharist traditions.[2] More recently, scholars see the account of the Last Supper as deriving from 1st-century eucharistic practice[3][4] of as early as the mid-50s of that century (the date of the writing of 1 Corinthians), 20-25 years after the death of Jesus. The Gospel of John recounts, instead of the institution of this new covenant with wine and bread, Jesus' washing of the disciples' feet,[5] and also depicts Jesus as speaking at length in his farewell discourse about his divine role.

The vessel which was used to serve the wine is sometimes called the Holy Chalice, and has been one of the supposed subjects of Holy Grail literature in Christian mythology.


Lord's Supper

Early Christians celebrated the Lord's Supper before any scripture was written on the topic.[6] It was a religious gathering and communal meal.[6] The practice was similar to Jewish feasts and to gentile memorial dinners.[6] The agape feast, once considered a separate event from the Eucharist, is now seen as one version of Eucharistic practice in a time marked by diversity in Christian ritual.[6] According to contemporary scholarship, accounts of the Last Supper reflect this ritual practice.[6]

New Testament

Descriptions of the Last Supper appear in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, in the Synoptic Gospels, and in the Gospel of John


Paul's letter to the Corinthians: the earliest description of the Last Supper

Mystical Supper, Russian icon, 1497

The earliest written books of Christian scripture are the letters, or epistles, of Saint Paul, the apostle to the gentiles. In his first letter to the church he had founded in Corinth, usually attributed to Paul's two-year stay in Ephesus (between 53 and 57 AD)[7][8] Paul described the Last Supper:

23For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." 25In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26, NIV

Paul states he learned of this "from the Lord", without specifying whether he learned it by a direct revelation, or through intermediaries.

Robert Funk and members of the Jesus Seminar consider the Lord's supper to have derived not from Jesus' last supper with the disciples but rather from the gentile tradition of memorial dinners for the dead.[9] In this view, the Last Supper is a tradition associated mainly with the gentile churches that Paul established, rather than with the earlier, Jewish congregations.[9] In any event, contemporary historians largely discount the Last Supper accounts as authentic, considering the accounts to derive from apostolic practice rather than the other way around.[10]

Last Supper in the Synoptic Gospels

All three Synoptic Gospels[11] also recount, in similar words, the same supper.[12] The gospel accounts are more detailed, including the meal's location (an upper room) and Jesus' foreknowledge of his betrayal by Judas.

Last Supper in John

In John, Jesus has his last supper and is executed not on the day Nisan 15 (Passover) but on Nisan 14, when the Passover lambs were slaughtered. Presumably the author preferred this date because it associated Jesus as the Lamb of God with the sacrificial lambs of Passover.[13]

In John, Jesus does not institute a new covenant of bread and wine.[5] Here he washes the disciples feet.[5] Foot-washing may have been a localized Christian initiation in place of baptism, which seems not to have been universal in apostolic times.[6]

At the meal, according to John, Jesus gave an extended sermon to his disciples.[14] These discourses resemble farewell speeches called testaments, in which a father or religious leader, often on the deathbed, leaves instructions for his children or followers.[15] This sermon is sometimes referred to as the farewell discourse of Jesus, and has historically been considered a source of Christian doctrine, particularly on the subject of Christology. Amongst the canonical Gospels, John is unusual in the complexity of its Christology (which has led to questions about its authenticity), and this sermon portrays one of the most complex Christological descriptions in John. Jesus is presented as explaining the relationship between himself and his followers, and seeking to model this relationship on his own relationship with God.

The account in chapters 14-17 of John includes an extended metaphor of Jesus as the true vine. God is described as the vine tender, and his disciples are said to be branches, which must "abide" in him if they are to "bear fruit". The disciples are warned that barren branches are pruned by the vinedresser. This image has been influential in Christian art and iconography. The disciples are reminded of the love of God for Jesus, and of Jesus for the disciples (especially the beloved disciple), and are then instructed to "love one another" in the same manner. It goes on to speak of the "greatest love" as being the willingness to "lay down" life for one's friends, and this passage has since been widely used to affirm the sacrifice of martyrs and soldiers in war, and is thus often seen on war memorials and graves.

The sermon goes on to talk of Jesus' sending "another paraclete" (Greek: ἄλλο Παράκλητον), a "Spirit of Truth" that will "testify about" Jesus.[16] Paraclete comes from the Koine Greek word παράκλητος (paraklētos, "one who consoles, one who intercedes on our behalf, a comforter or an advocate"). When the dogmatic definition of the Trinity became necessary in the 3rd century, the passage became central to the arguments about the role of the Holy Spirit. Arguments about the Filioque, which partly caused the East-West Schism between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, centered around this verse. In some sectors of the early Jesus movement the paraclete was considered a more human figure, and, in the 2nd century, Montanus claimed that he himself was this paraclete that had been promised.

Verses 14:30-31 represent a conclusion, and most modern scholars regard the next three chapters to have been inserted later.[15]

Prominent Biblical scholars consider the farewell discourse not to be authentic.[15] Stories about Jesus and his teaching were transmitted orally for decades after his death, and the farewell discourse is too long and prose-like to have been transmitted this way.[17] In addition, it appears only in the gospel of John, which is considered a poor source for historical information about Jesus.[5][18] Most scholars regard the discourses as having been assembled over time, representing the theology of the "Johannine circle" more than the message of the historical Jesus.[15]



The Cenacle on Mount Zion, claimed to be the location of the Last Supper and Pentecost. Bargil Pixner[19] claims the original Church of the Apostles is located under the current structure.

According to later tradition, the Last Supper took place in what is called today The Room of the Last Supper on Mount Zion, just outside of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, and is traditionally known as The Upper Room. This is based on the account in the Synoptic Gospels that states that Jesus had instructed a pair of unnamed disciples to go to the city to meet a man carrying a jar of water, who would lead them to a house, where they were to ask for the room where the teacher has a guest room. This room is specified as being the upper room, and they prepare the Passover there. It is not actually specified where the city refers to, and it may refer to one of the suburbs of Jerusalem, such as Bethany; the traditional location is not based on anything more specific in the Bible, and may easily be wrong. The traditional location is an area that, according to archaeology, had a large Essene community, adding to the points which make several scholars suspect a link between Jesus and the group (Kilgallen 265).

Saint Mark's Syrian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem is another possible site for the room in which the Last Supper was held, and contains a Christian stone inscription testifying to early reverence for that spot. Certainly the room they have is older than that of the current coenaculum (crusader - twelfth century) and as the room is now underground the relative altitude is correct (the streets of first century Jerusalem were at least twelve feet (3.6 metres) lower than those of today, so any true building of that time would have even its upper storey currently under the earth). They also have a revered Icon of the Virgin Mary, reputedly painted from life by St Luke.

Bread and wine

The Last Supper (1594) by Tintoretto.

The Synoptic Gospels and Paul recount that Jesus took some bread, said a prayer (which Matthew and Mark refer to as a "blessing", Luke and Paul as a "giving thanks"), gave the pieces to his disciples, and told them: "This is my body." At the end of the meal, he took a cup (Luke mentions another cup at the start of the meal), probably of wine, offered a prayer (a "thanksgiving" in Matthew and Mark, no direct mention in Luke and Paul, who use the adverb "likewise"), gave it to his disciples, and spoke words associating it with his blood. Paul and Luke mention an instruction to "do this in memory of me". And the Eucharist, which "is recorded as celebrated by the early Christian community at Jerusalem and by St Paul on his visit to Troas",[20] was held to have been instituted by Christ.[12]

Jesus' action may be linked with Isaiah 53:12,[21] which refers to a blood sacrifice that, as recounted in Exodus 24:8,[22] Moses offered in order to seal a covenant with God: scholars often interpret the description of Jesus' action as asking his disciples to consider themselves part of a sacrifice, where Jesus is the one due to physically undergo it (Brown et al. 626).

Possible relation with Passover Seder

During Jewish Passover Seder, the first cup of wine is drunk before the eating of the (unleavened) bread, but here it occurs after. This may indicate that the event was not the first Passover Seder (which occurs on Nisan 15), and hence more in line with John's chronology (Brown et al. 626) which places it on Nisan 14, although the meal could easily have been altered during the Last Supper for symbolic/religious purposes.

By following Corinthians cited above or the Synoptic Gospels, it appears that the cup of wine, which is said to be drunk "after having eaten", refers to either the third cup of the Passover Seder, which is held during grace after meals, or the fourth, on which the Hallel is recited.


Depiction of Last Supper in the Cathedral of Freiburg.

According to the canonical Gospels, during the meal, Jesus revealed that one of his Apostles would betray him and that would be Judas Iscariot. Despite the assertions of each Apostle that it would not be he, Jesus is described as reiterating that it would be one of those who were present, and goes on to say that there shall be woe to the man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.[23]

It is only in the Gospel of Matthew at Matthew 26:23-26:25[24] and The Gospel of John at John 13:26-13:27[25] where Judas is specifically singled out.

Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper poignantly portrays the individual reactions of the Twelve Apostles to the statement by Jesus, "One of you will betray me."[26][27][28]


All four canonical gospels recount that Jesus knew the Apostles (disciples) would fall away. Simon Peter states that he will not abandon Jesus even if the others do, but Jesus tells him that Peter would deny Jesus thrice before the cock had crowed twice. Peter is described as continuing to deny it, stating that he would remain true even if it meant death, and the other apostles are described as stating the same about themselves.


The Last Supper from the Heilig-Blut-Altar by Tilman Riemenschneider in St-Jakobskirche, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany.

The institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper is remembered by Roman Catholics as one of the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary,the First Station of the Scriptural Way of the Cross and by most Christians as the "inauguration of the New Covenant", mentioned by the prophet Jeremiah, fulfilled at the last supper when Jesus "took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, 'Take; this is my body.' And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, 'This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.'"[29][30][31] Other Christian groups consider the Bread and Wine remembrance to be a change to the Passover ceremony, as Jesus Christ has become "our Passover, sacrificed for us" (I Corinthians 5:7), and hold that partaking of the Passover Communion (or fellowship) is now the sign of the New Covenant, when properly understood by the practicing believer.

These meals evolved into more formal worship services and became codified as the Mass in the Catholic Church, and as the Divine Liturgy in the Eastern Orthodox Church; at these liturgies, Catholics and Eastern Orthodox celebrate the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The name "Eucharist" is from the Greek word εὐχαριστία (eucharistia) which means "thanksgiving".

Each major division of Christianity has formed often different theologies about the exact meaning and purpose of these remembrance ceremonies, but most of them are similar.


Palma il Vecchio's the Last Supper.
Jacopo Bassano's the Last Supper.

Early Christianity observed a ritual meal known as the "agape feast"[32] These "love feasts" were apparently a full meal, with each participant bringing food, and with the meal eaten in a common room. They were held on Sundays, which became known as the Lord's Day, to recall the resurrection, the appearance of Christ to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the appearance to Thomas and the Pentecost which all took place on Sundays after the Passion. Jude, and the apostle Paul referred to these as "your love-feasts", by way of warning (about "who shows up" to these). Following the meal, as at the Last Supper, the apostle, bishop or priest prayed the words of institution over bread and wine which was shared by all the faithful present.[citation needed] In the later half of the first century, especially after the martyrdom of Peter and Paul, passages from the writings of the apostles were read and preached upon before the blessing of the bread and wine took place.[citation needed]

Some supposed revivals of the "agape meal" are found in "fellowship", or "potluck" dinners held at some churches.


Simon Ushakov's icon of the Mystical Supper.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Last Supper is referred to as the Mystical Supper, because it is the Institution of the Sacred Mysteries (Sacrament) of the Body and Blood of Christ. The scene is often depicted above the Holy Doors in Orthodox churches, because it is here that the faithful stand to receive Holy Communion. The name indicates the Orthodox belief that the institution is more than a simple "memorial meal", but is the actual mystical union of the faithful with God.

Many Christians speak of the institution of the Eucharist as the "inauguration of the New Covenant", mentioned by the prophet Jeremiah, and believe this prophesy was fulfilled at the Last Supper, when Jesus said, "Take, eat; this [bread] is My Body; which is broken for you. Partake of the cup, drink; this [wine] is My Blood, which is shed for many; for the remission of sins". Other Christian groups consider the Bread and Wine remembrance as a change to the Passover ceremony, as Jesus Christ has become "our Passover, sacrificed for us" (1 Corinthians 5:7). Partaking of the Passover Communion (or fellowship) is considered to be the sign of the New Covenant, when properly understood by the practicing believer.

In another variation of the name of the Eucharistic service - not of the Last Supper itself - is "The Lord's Supper". This name is often used by the churches of minimalist traditions, such as those strongly influenced by Zwingli.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints commonly refers to the service as "The Sacrament". In their services, LDS churches typically substitute water for the wine used by Jesus at the Last Supper.

See also

Paintings of the Last Supper


  1. ^ 1 Corinthians 11:23–26
  2. ^ The Oxford History of Christian Worship. Oxford University Press, USA. 2005. ISBN 0195138864
  3. ^ The Oxford History of Christian Worship. Oxford University Press, USA. 2005. ISBN 0195138864
  4. ^ Funk, Robert W. and the Jesus Seminar. The acts of Jesus: the search for the authentic deeds of Jesus. HarperSanFrancisco. 1998. Introduction, p. 1-40
  5. ^ a b c d Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985. "John" p. 302-310
  6. ^ a b c d e f The Oxford History of Christian Worship. Oxford University Press, USA. 2005. ISBN 0195138864
  7. ^ Corinthians, First Epistle to the, "The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia", Ed. James Orr, 1915.
  8. ^ Pauline Chronology: His Life and Missionary Work, from Catholic Resources by Felix Just, S.J.
  9. ^ a b Funk, Robert W. and the Jesus Seminar. The acts of Jesus: the search for the authentic deeds of Jesus. HarperSanFrancisco. 1998. "Mark," p. 51-161
  10. ^ The Oxford History of Christian Worship. Oxford University Press, USA. 2005. ISBN 0195138864
  11. ^ Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:13-20
  12. ^ a b Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church / editors, F. L. Cross & E. A. Livingstone 2005 ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3, article Eucharist
  13. ^ Sanders, E. P. The historical figure of Jesus. Penguin, 1993. p. 72
  14. ^ John 14-16
  15. ^ a b c d Funk, Robert W., Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar. The five gospels. HarperSanFrancisco. 1993.
  16. ^ John 14:16
  17. ^ Funk, Robert W., Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar. The five gospels. HarperSanFrancisco. 1993. "Introduction," p 1-30.
  18. ^ "The Gospel of John is quite different from the other three gospels, and it is primarily in the latter that we must seek information about Jesus." Sanders, E. P. The historical figure of Jesus. Penguin, 1993. p. 57.
  19. ^ Bargil Pixner, The Church of the Apostles found on Mount Zion, Biblical Archaeology Review 16.3 May/June 1990 [1]
  20. ^ Acts 20:7)
  21. ^ Isaiah 53:12
  22. ^ Exodus 24:8
  23. ^ Mark 14:20-21
  24. ^ Matthew 26:23-26:25
  25. ^ John 13:26-13:27
  26. ^ Matthew 26:21
  27. ^ Mark 14:18
  28. ^ John 13:21
  29. ^ Mark 14:22-24
  30. ^ Matthew 26:26-28
  31. ^ Luke 22:19-20
  32. ^ Agape is one of the four main Greek words for love (The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis). It refers to the idealised or high-level unconditional love rather than lust, friendship, or affection (as in parental affection). Though Christians interpret Agape as meaning a divine form of love beyond human forms, in modern Greek the term is used in the sense of "I love you" (romantic love).


  • Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament Doubleday 1997 ISBN 0-385-24767-2
  • Brown, Raymond E. et al. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary Prentice Hall 1990 ISBN 0-13-614934-0
  • Bultmann, Rudolf The Gospel of John Blackwell 1971
  • Kilgallen, John J. A Brief Commentary on the Gospel of Mark Paulist Press 1989 ISBN 0-8091-3059-9
  • Linders, Barnabus The Gospel of John Marshal Morgan and Scott 1972

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



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Proper noun

Last Supper


Last Supper

  1. (Christianity) The Passover meal that Jesus ate with his disciples on the night before his death.




Last Supper

Last Suppers

Last Supper (plural Last Suppers)

  1. An artistic representation of this event.

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From BibleWiki

The meal held by Christ and His disciples on the eve of His Passion at which He instituted the Holy Eucharist.



The Evangelists and critics generally agree that the Last Supper was on a Thursday, that Christ suffered and died on Friday, and that He arose from the dead on Sunday. As to the day of the month there seems a difference between the record of the synoptic Gospels and that of St. John. In consequence some critics have rejected the authenticity of either account or of both. Since Christians, accepting the inspiration of the Scriptures, cannot admit contradictions in the sacred writers, various attempts have been made to reconcile the statements. Mt 26:17 says, "And on the first day of the Azymes"; Mk 14:12}, "Now on the first day of the unleavened bread, when they sacrificed the pasch"; Luke 22:7, "And the day of the unleavened bread came, on which it was necessary that the pasch should be killed". From these passages it seems to follow that Jesus and his disciples conformed to the ordinary custom, that the Last Supper took place on the 14th of Nisan, and that the Crucifixion was on the l5th, the great festival of the Jews. This opinion, held by Tolet, Cornelius a Lapide, Patrizi, Corluy, Hengstenberg, Ohlshausen, and Tholuck, is confirmed by the custom of the early Eastern Church which, looking to the day of the month, celebrated the commemoration of the Lord's Last Supper on the 14th of Nisan, without paying any attention to the day of the week. This was done in conformity with the teaching of St. John the Evangelist. But in his Gospel, St. John seems to indicate that Friday was the 14th of Nisan, for (18:28) on the morning of this day the Jews "went not into the hall, that they might not be defiled, but that they might eat the pasch". Various things were done on this Friday which could not be done on a feast, viz., Christ is arrested, tried, crucified; His body is taken down" (because it was the parasceve) that the bodies might not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day (for that was a great sabbath day)"; the shroud and ointments are bought, and so on.

The defenders of this opinion claim that there is only an apparent contradiction and that the differing statements may be reconciled. For the Jews calculated their festivals and Sabbaths from sunset to sunset: thus the Sabbath began after sunset on Friday and ended at sunset on Saturday. This style is employed by the synoptic Gospels, while St. John, writing about twenty-six years after the destruction of Jerusalem, when Jewish law and customs no longer prevailed, may well have used the Roman method of computing time from midnight to midnight. The word pasch does not exclusively apply to the paschal lamb on the eve of the feast, but is used in the Scriptures and in the Talmud in a wider sense for the entire festivity, including the chagigah; any legal defilement could have been removed by the evening ablutions; trials, and even executions and many servile works, though forbidden on the Sabbath, were not forbidden on feasts (Num 28:16; Deut 16:23). The word parasceve may denote the preparation for any Sabbath and may be the common designation for any Friday, and its connexion with pasch need not mean preparation for the Passover but Friday of the Passover season and hence this Sabbath was a great Sabbath. Moreover it seems quite certain that if St. John intended to give a different date from that given by the Synoptics and sanctioned by the custom of his own Church at Ephesus, he would have said so expressly. Others accept the apparent statement of St. John that the Last Supper was on the 13th of Nisan and try to reconcile the account of the Synoptics. To this class belong Paul of Burgos, Maldonatus, Petau, Hardouin, Tillemont, and others. Peter of Alexandria (P.G., XCII, 78) says: "In previous years Jesus had kept the Passover and eaten the paschal lamb, but on the day before He suffered as the true Paschal Lamb He taught His disciples the mystery of the type." Others say: Since the Pasch, falling that year on a Friday, was reckoned as a Sabbath, the Jews, to avoid the inconvenience of two successive Sabbaths, had postponed the Passover for a day, and Jesus adhered to the day fixed by law; others think that Jesus anticipated the celebration, knowing that the proper time He would be in the grave.


The owner of the house in which was the upper room of the Last Supper is not mentioned in Scripture; but he must have been one of the disciples, since Christ bids Peter and John say, "The Master says". Some say it was Nicodemus, or Joseph of Arimathea, or the mother of John Mark. The hall was large and furnished as a dining-room. In it Christ showed Himself after His Resurrection; here took place the election of Matthias to the Apostolate and the sending of the Holy Ghost; here the first Christians assembled for the breaking of bread; hither Peter and John came when they had given testimony after the cure of the man born lame, and Peter after his liberation from prison; here perhaps was the council of the Apostles held. It was for awhile the only church in Jerusalem, the mother of all churches, known as the Church of the Apostles or of Sion. It was visited in 404 by St. Paula of Rome. In the eleventh century it was destroyed by the Saracens, later rebuilt and given to the care of the Augustinians. Restored after a second destruction, it was placed in charge of the Franciscans, who were driven out in 1561. At present it is a Moslem mosque.


Some critics give the following harmonized order: washing of the feet of the Apostles, prediction of the betrayal and departure of Judas, institution of the Holy Eucharist. Others, believing that Judas made a sacrilegious communion, place the institution of the sacrament before the departure of Judas.

John's Gospel is the only one that refers to the coming of a Comforter, Advocate or Paraclete who will be there with and for the Apostles after the death of Jesus.


The Last Supper has been a favourite subject. In the catacombs we find representations of meals giving at least an idea of the surroundings of an ancient dining hall. Of the sixth century we have a bas-relief in the church at Monza in Italy, a picture in a Syrian codex of the Laurentian Library at Florence, and a mosaic in S. Apollmare Nuovo at Ravenna. One of the most popular pictures is that of Leonardo da Vinci in Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. Among the modern school of German artists, the Last Supper of Gebhardt is regarded as a masterpiece.

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.
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