Biblical Archaeology Review 43:2, March/April 2017

Biblical Views: From Supper to Sacrament: How the Last Supper Evolved

By Steven Shisley

The Lord’s Supper commemorates the meal when Jesus broke bread and distributed wine to his 12 disciples as symbols of his body and blood. How did this tradition, which the early Christians called the Lord’s Supper (or the Agapē), transition into what Christians today commonly call the Eucharist, Holy Communion or a sacrament? How did it evolve from a full meal to a ritual in the early Christian church?

The Synoptic Gospels recount that Jesus gave bread and wine to his 12 disciples during a Passover meal (Mark 14:22–25; Matthew 26:26–30; Luke 22:14–23). For the earliest Christians, Jesus’ final meal became a model for their own meals.

The phrase the “Last Supper” implies Jesus ate many meals during his life, and indeed several are recorded in the Gospels. During these meals, Jesus calls social outcasts to repentance and discipleship (Mark 2:13–17; Luke 15:1–2; Luke 7:34–50).1

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