Part One: A Valid Question » What did Jesus say? [An answer in four parts]
There is a question I have fielded repeatedly over the last few years. The query usually reaches me in the week following a Sunday communion. The most recent version arrived by text from a fellow in one of our small group Bible studies, “I am perplexed about what Jesus said when He broke the bread.” My brother noted that the pastor who was officiating the communion quoted Jesus as if the verse read, “This is my body broken for you.” So, he asked me to check the Greek to let him know which is correct: “ . . . my body broken for you . . .” or “ . . . my body given for you.” To answer this question, I reviewed the pertinent Scripture passages that quote Jesus in the context of His final meal (Last Supper) prior to His arrest.
Matt. 26:26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” [Scriptures are quoted from New International Version, unless otherwise referenced.]
Mark 14:22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” 23 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.”
Luke 22:15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” 17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
John 6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” 52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.”
1Cor. 11:23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In 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.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
The verb ‘broke’ does occur in Matthew, Mark, Luke & 1st Corinthians. Let’s chart the use during the meal of the verb break/broke:
Matthew 26 Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it (Broke - eklasen; 3rd person singular of klao)
Mark 14 Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it (Broke – eklasen)
Luke 22 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it (Broke – eklasen)
John 6 [no occurrence]
1st Corinthians and when he had given thanks, he broke it (Broke - eklasen)
Even though the verb does appear in these four passages, none of these occur in a verbal statement from the mouth of Jesus. Each time, the gospel writer uses the verb to set the stage for the subsequent statement by Jesus. In each of these verses, the verb is kla-o, which means to divide food into two or more parts (in the New Testament, the Greek verb klao occurs 14 times; the noun klasis occurs 2 times, and are used exclusively for distributing bread). The verb carries no nuance of breaking with significant force, violence, pain or suffering. The oldest and most reliable ancient Greek manuscripts confirm that Jesus did not use any form of the verb klao in His discourse over the Last Supper. The Scripture could accurately be translated, “Jesus took the loaf of bread, gave thanks for it and divvied it up.”
Below is the complete list of occurrences of klao/klasis/eklasen in the New Testament:
Matt. 14:19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.
Matt. 15:36 Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people.
Matt. 26:26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
Mark 8:6 He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people, and they did so.
Mark 8:19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied.
Mark 14:22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”
Luke 22:19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
Luke 24:30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.
Acts 2:46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,
Acts 20:7 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.
Acts 20:11 Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left.
Acts 27:35 After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat.
1Cor. 10:16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?
1Cor. 11:24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
See also the 2 uses of the noun klasis
Luke 24:35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
The English word ‘break’ is a resilient and flexible expression that can convey a wide variety of ideas across a broad semantic range, depending upon the context: break your silence, break a fast, take a break from work, break a sweat, break your neck, break a fingernail, break a twenty, break a sail, break a code, break a witness, break a pattern, break your fall, break a tie, break a circuit, break a record, break a habit, break a law, break a promise, a break in the storm, a break of a wave, breaking news, a break in the teen’s voice, a break in traffic, a prison break, break someone’s heart, break of day, break off an engagement, give me a break. Bible translators have felt the freedom to use this resilient word to convey the meaning of numerous Greek terms. While klao & klasis (to break & a breaking) carry no overtones of violent force or shattering action, there are several Greek verbs that always imply those overtones. [see Part Two]
This Is My Body . . . For You
Part Two: Some things get lost in translation.
The most frequent New Testament Greek term for forceful breaking is: suntribo = to break, bruise, smash or shatter a solid object into pieces, requiring significant force of destruction.
Matt. 12:20 A bruised (suntetrimmenon = smash, bruise, break) reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory.
Mark 5:4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him.
Mark 14:3 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
Luke 9:39 A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him.
John 19:36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,”
Rom. 16:20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.
Rev. 2:27 ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery’— just as I have received authority from my Father.
A synonym of suntribo is katagnumi = to break or to shatter a rigid object (suggesting need for significant force).
Matt. 12:20 A bruised reed he will not break (kateazei = shatter), and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory.
John 19:31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.
John 19:32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other.
John 19:33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.
Finally, the marvelous prophecy of the rejected stone becoming the cornerstone includes the very strong term: sunthlao = to break, crush, dash or shatter a solid object into pieces, with the implication of destruction.
Matt. 21:44 He who falls on this stone will be broken (sunthlasthasetai) to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”
Luke 20:18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken(sunthlasthasetai) to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”
These verbs, all translated into English as break (or broke, broken) carry with them the nuance of violence, aggression, power and shattering force. Meanwhile, the verb klao (and noun klasis) also get translated as break or a breaking, yet carry the nuance of gentle good manners around the table with family and friends. Now picture the comic hero, The Incredible Hulk, sitting at the table with you. You kindly ask him to break the loaf of bread and pass the pieces around so that everyone can share. Being The Hulk, he uses all of his superhuman strength to rip, tear and decimate the fragile fiber of the whole grain loaf. He forcefully hurls chunks of the bread across the table. Is this what comes to mind when you consider “breaking bread?” I would be misguided to invite The Hulk to break the bread. It is also misguided to claim that Jesus was similarly broken, when the most ancient and reliable Biblical Greek manuscripts do not say so.
So, what did Jesus actually say about His body in the context of the Last Supper?
Matthew 26 “this is my body” touto estin to soma mou =this is the body of mine
Mark 14 “this is my body.” touto estin to soma mou =this is the body of mine
Luke 22 “This is my body given for you . . .” touto estin to soma to huper humon didomenon =this is the body of mine on behalf of you all having been given [my rigid word-for-word translation]
John 6 “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” ho artos de hon ego doso hay sarkz mou estin huper tas tou kosmou zoays = the bread now which I will give the flesh of mine is on behalf the of world life
1st Corinthians “This is my body, which is for you.” touto mou estin to soma to huper humon =this of mine is the body on behalf of you all
Three of these passages include the preposition “on behalf of”, two passages include the active verb “give”, while two passages have neither the preposition nor the verb “give.” None of these passages, as translated by the New International Version include the verb “broken” (the same with RSV, ASV, NASB, NEB, TEV, NCV, & NLT).
However, in 1611 the team of translators working for King James preferred, “And when he had giuen thanks, he brake it, and sayd, Take, eate, this is my body, which is broken for you: this doe in remembrance of mee.” The two leading scholars of New Testament manuscripts, Bruce Metzger & Gordon Fee, have pursued exhaustive studies of the documents to determine that the verb klomenon does not occur in the first three centuries of First Corinthians manuscripts, but was added in a Greek copy in the late fourth century. This erroneous Greek copy was duplicated numerous times in Latin copies that Byzantine scribes produced in the 8-10th centuries (see First Epistle to The Corinthians in the series New International Commentary, by Dr. Gordon D. Fee, Eerdman’s Pub. 1987, pages 545-558; and A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, by Dr. Bruce M. Metzger, United Bible Society 1994, page 562). The likely explanation is that when the scribe, who was producing his hand copy in the fourth century, moved his eyes from the old document to the new document, he saw the verb klomenon/broken in the previous phrase (Jesus broke the bread). Then the scribe wrote the same verb twice. This is actually a common error found in ancient handwritten copies, known as dittography, duplicating a word or letter that occurs previously, such as within a phrase in the line directly above. It might have been facilitated by writer’s fatigue or poor lighting. The English translation team in 1611 followed the principle of accepting the majority reading (the words that appear in the majority of the manuscripts). If I receive a group email message, then type a quick reply without correcting my typos, then hit “reply all”, my mistake gets sent to everyone on that email list. A mistake is still a mistake no matter how many times it gets copied!
This Is My Body . . . For You
Part Three: Jesus was not broken!
Decades ago, following a communion service led by one of my colleagues, I asked him why he had quoted the King James Version, “this is my body which is broken for you,” even though he was well aware of the textual weakness. My colleague then explained that since the crown of thorns had pierced the flesh, and that the whip had ripped away flesh and the spear in Jesus side resulted in a flow of blood and water, then what Jesus meant was broken flesh.
I have struggled with that explanation. John’s Gospel provides a strong theological rationale for not viewing Jesus as broken.
33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” -John 19:33-36 [fulfilling the prophecy of Psalm 34:20].
As mentioned above, the Greek term for broken in verse 36 is suntribo (smash or shatter a solid object into pieces, requiring significant force of destruction), while the term for break in verse 33 is katagnumi (to break or to shatter a rigid object, suggesting need for significant force). The prophecy foretold that these actions would not be visited upon the Messiah. This is consistent with the truth that Jesus is our Passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7), whose bones should not be broken (Exodus 12:46 & Numbers 9:12) Elsewhere, Isaiah foretold that the suffering servant would be stricken, smitten, afflicted, pierced, crushed, punished, wounded, bruised, and oppressed (Isaiah 52-53). But not broken. The four Gospel accounts record the following verbs as they describe the actions taken against Jesus in the passion narratives: Jesus was scorned, despised, mocked, insulted, surrounded, torn, disjointed, parched, weakened, pierced and crucified. But not broken!
This Is My Body . . . For You
Part Four: Jesus was not broken, Jesus was given!
It is amazing how many preachers have waxed eloquent, explicating a theology of the brokenness of Jesus, based upon a singular verse translated from an unreliable variant reading in a late manuscript copy. One of the basic rules of correctly interpreting the Bible is to never build a doctrine upon one verse in isolation. A theology of the brokenness of Jesus is a doctrine built upon one verse badly translated. If we focus upon a theology of the brokenness of Jesus, we run the risk of ignoring the theology of the gift/sacrifice of Jesus. The Gospel of Luke records Jesus’ quote, “This is my body given for you.” The Gospel of John records Jesus’ quote, “this bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” In both passages, the English verb “give” is an accurate translation of the Greek verb didomi. This is the very same Greek verb that appears in John 3:16, “God loved the world in such a manner that He gave His unique only Son, that whoever would put their trust in Him would not perish but have eternal life” [my translation from the Greek]. God the Father did not give a gift wrapped as a pretty present with a delicate bow. Instead, a Biblical theology of the sacrificial gift reveals a robust understanding of a sacrifice, a ransom, an act of grace and a redemption price paid.
Jesus was not broken, Jesus was given!
Consider this short list of the uses of the verb didomi/give, when the LORD is the subject doing this sacrificial action:
Matt. 20:28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Mark 4:11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables
Luke 11:9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
Luke 11:13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:27 To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.
John 4:10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
John 6:32 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
John 6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
1Cor. 1:4 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.
Gal. 1:4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,
1Tim. 2:6 who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time.
Titus 2:14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
1John 3:1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
1John 5:11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
God loved the world, so He gave. God loved the world and it cost Him something. God loved the world, so He sacrificed His one-of-a -kind Son. The Church already recognizes the doctrine of the sacrifice of Christ. The statements that Jesus made during the Last Supper are at the heart of our theology of sacrifice. When we remember all that Jesus accomplished through His death and resurrection, let us remember clearly, reflect gratefully and quote accurately.
Jesus broke the bread. Jesus gave Himself.