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QA - Question 194 – Is the Last Supper Commemorative of a Seder Meal? (November 7, 2009)

Question 194 – Is the Last Supper Commemorative of a Seder Meal?

…Also, I recall that you [Bob Sungenis] and I dialogued several years ago about the Hahnian Third Cup interpretation. Through the use of the Greek, you proved quite definitively that the Last Supper could not have been the Four Cup seder, based on the Greek words for leavened and unleavened bread (the artos, etc. analysis). Can you please find or repeat that analysis? That completely undermines the Third Cup interpretation. I appreciate it.
-John [Salza]

Here I am leading a 2 part study on the Mass for our K of C Church and Bible Study, and last week singing the praises of Scott Hahn's analysis of the 4 cup Seder, bridging the Last Supper to the Cross, and now I find out its off base???
Indeed, do tell... Is this in an old article we no longer have up on the site?AMDG.
-Laurence Gonzaga


Laurence, I thought Hahn’s interpretation was at least an interesting speculation until about five years ago, when I actually researched the original Greek. There is a distinction between the bread used in the Seder versus the bread used at the Last Supper (unleavened (azumo) versus leavened (artos)). Because Jesus used different bread than the Seder, it is almost as if He was distinguishing the Last Supper from the Seder, not typologically fulfilling it. While St. Paul refers to the Eucharistic chalice as the “cup of blessing” (1Cor 10:16), this doesn’t mean there is a formal correspondence between the Seder and the Eucharist. There are other non-Seder allusions to Old Testament terminology in connection with the Eucharist, such as Psalm 116’s “cup of salvation” (v.13) with the “sacrifice of thanksgiving” (v.17). Moreover, I never found a single Church Father who said that Jesus was drinking the “Fourth Cup” on the Cross (many of Hahn’s speculations are want of patristic support, as you know). Rather, my interpretation of Jesus’ words “I thirst” is that He was thirsting to satisfy the Father’s wrath against our sins. He was bringing the propitiatory sacrifice to consummation. The wine Jesus receives is an illusion to the cup of God’s wrath (Isa 51:17,22; Jer 25:15; Apoc 19:15), not the Fourth Cup of the defunct Jewish Seder supper.
I hope Robert can find that Q&A on this issue. It expands on the foregoing and, in my mind, puts the issue to bed.
-John [Salza]


I found the piece I wrote back in 2006 on this issue.

Here it is:


Robert, I recall you saying that you did not subscribe to the theory of the Fourth Cup. However, it seems like a plausible typological interpretation. Please explain your problems with it. Are there technical reasons that would actually refute the theory? The idea is this: Before Christ instituted the Eucharist, He was celebrating the Seder meal which was composed of four cups. The Third Cup is called the "cup of blessing" and the Fourth Cup is called the "cup of consummation." The argument is that Christ instituted the Eucharist with the Third Cup, and did not proceed to drink the Fourth Cup in the Upper Room. Support for this is the fact that Paul calls the Eucharistic cup the "cup of blessing" in 1 Cor 10:16. After Jesus drank the Third Cup and sung the customary hymn, the Gospels say He went out to the Mount of Olives (even though the Passover protocol was to finish with the Fourth Cup). In the garden, He asks His Father for the "cup" to pass, acknowledging He had one more cup to drink, but to let the Father's will be done. On the road to crucifixon, He is also given a cup to drink but denies it. Finally, on the cross, He asks for the cup when He says "I thirst." Drinking it, He says "it is consummated" (in reference to the Fourth Cup of "Consummation"). You are also aware of the other typological elements at play (Passover, lambs being killed, Pilate finding no fault in him, Jesus wearing a priestly tunic, the cup being given on a hyssop branch, etc, all relating to the Passover sacrifice). The point is that the Fourth Cup typology makes a strong connection between the sacrifice in the Upper Room and the Sacrifice of the Calvary. The link between the Third and Fourth Cups merges the two events into one, demonstrating that the sacrifice began in the Upper Room, not on the cross. I look forward to your thoughts on this.
[~John Salza]

R. Sungenis: John, in general, I think we have to be very careful when we attempt to use analogies and allegories to prove Catholic dogma. A tendency to use proof-texting, for example, is often utilized when attempts are made to prove Catholic doctrines about Mary from the Old Testament. Some are tempted to mold the allegory so that it will fit the doctrine, and since allegories are somewhat fluid, one can usually cut and paste them until he finds an impressive connection, after which we are prompted to marvel how the Old Testament teaches Mary’s Immaculate Conception, Perpetual Virginity or Assumption. In actuality, the Old Testament doesn’t provide any factual evidence supporting these three Marian doctrines, and the New Testament can only vouch for one, perhaps two, at best. In fact, some Old Testament allegories could be fashioned in such a way to deny some Marian doctrines. Marian doctrines are supported mainly by Catholic magisterial pronouncements, and the factual evidence regarding those doctrines comes mainly from Tradition, not Scripture.

Similarly, to claim that Jesus’ drinking from the cup at the Last Supper is analogous to the Third cup of the Jewish Seder meal, while the drinking from the sponge on the cross is analogous to the Fourth cup of the Seder meal, requires a lot of pliability with both the Last Supper and the Seder meal. I’m not saying that it isn’t possible, rather, I’m only offering a few words of caution. Allegories can be good teaching tools, but more than often they can detract from the truth because they just don’t fit the historical events as precisely as the inventor wants them to fit.

Let’s see some of the difficulties we might have with saying that the Last Supper was a Seder meal.

First, John 13:29 suggests that the Last Supper was not a Passover meal, since, after the Apostles had already celebrated the Last Supper, they later thought Judas was leaving in order to buy things for the upcoming Passover. As such, the closest the Last Supper could be is the Preparation for Passover, but not the Passover (which came the day after), and therefore it could not be a Seder meal.

Second, the Seder meal employs only unleavened bread, but the Last Supper used leavened bread. The Greek for unleavened bread is AZUMOS, which corresponds to the Hebrew MATZOT (where we get the English phrase “matzot bread”). We can see the correspondence between the two words in the LXX (e.g., Ex 12:18; 23:15; Lv 23:6).

But the Greek for leavened bread is ARTOS, and the Hebrew equivalent is LEKHEM, and this correspondence also appears in the LXX (e.g., Lv 23:17). The importance of the distinction is this: in the passages of the New Testament that describe the Last Supper, in each case, the Greek word ARTOS (leavened bread) is used, never AZUMOS (unleavened bread) (e.g., Mt 26:26; Mk 14:22; Lk 22:19; 1Co 11:23-28). This must be distinguished from “the feast of Unleavened Bread” that is referred to in Mt 26:17; Mk 14:1,12; Lk 22:1, 7. In each of these verses, the Greek word AZUMOS is used for the word “Unleavened.”

These distinctions are important considerations because, without the use of unleavened bread, there was little resemblance to a Passover celebration, and thus it would be difficult to make a one-to-one correspondence between the Last Supper and a Seder meal. Moreover, in the passages of the New Testament that contain a description of the Last Supper, there is a necessary distinction that is often missed between the Passover Preparation Day (Thursday, Nisan 14) and the actual Passover Day (Friday, Nisan 15), but various translations fail to make the distinction. The importance of this distinction is that the Preparation day was not the Passover day, no more than Christmas eve is Christmas day.

Technically speaking, the comparison between the Last Supper and the Seder meal has a few other problems. The traditional Seder meal had 15 different steps. Within those steps, four cups of wine would be consumed at four different points in the Seder. The first cup, taken during the Kiddush or first step, was consumed to commemorate a day of sanctification. The second cup, during the Maggid, was consumed to commemorate the cup of wrath God poured on the Egyptians. The third cup, during the Barech, was consumed to commemorate the redemption resulting from God’s wrath. The fourth cup, also during the Barech, was consumed to express praise to God and an anticipation of the eschaton, which was initiated after a child was sent to the door to look for Elijah to announce the coming of the Messiah.

The Last Supper certainly did not have 15 steps to it. But even if we were to concentrate only on the eating of bread and drinking from the cup, there still remain some incongruities. For example, at the Last Supper, there was no ceremonial washing of the hands that took place in the Seder meal. Something new is introduced, which is the washing of feet, and this new washing has a completely different meaning, since it stresses servanthood, not spiritual cleansing.

There is no first or second drinking of the cup at that Last Supper, but merely a drinking before and after the partaking of leavened bread. Even the idea that Jesus drank the fourth cup at the cross as he was offered the vinegar and hyssop doesn’t have a Seder parallel, since Mark 14:25 says that Jesus would not drink again until the kingdom arrived, that is, after his resurrection. Analogically speaking, if the third cup was the Eucharistic cup, the fourth cup would not come until after the cross, not before it.

The Last Supper is, in its essence, a whole new celebration. This is to be expected, because Jesus is bringing a New Covenant. It is not a covenant of unleavened bread, but a covenant of leavened bread. Unleavened bread was instituted to commemorate the haste in which the Jews had to leave Egypt (as if a woman didn’t have time to put leaven in her bread and watch it rise). But that is not the case any longer. There is no rush or cause for alarm in the New Covenant. The New Covenant anticipates complete rest in Christ, not haste (Hebrews 4:3-10).

Although it seems that some passages in the Gospels equate the Last Supper with the actual Passover, this is not necessarily the case. Spiritually speaking, Jesus was to be our Passover on Good Friday, on the 15th of Nisan, not eat of the Passover Seder that Jews consumed on Nisan 15. In fact, soteriologically speaking, there should be a setting aside of the Seder meal. It had to be set aside so that the New Covenant could be established. When, for example, Matthew says in Chapter 26 that:

17 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain one, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the passover

it may merely mean that the apostles prepared the room for what they anticipated as a Passover meal on the following day, Friday (Nisan 15), not the Last Supper, which took place on Thursday (Nisan 14). This is supported by the fact that Lk 22:11 uses the aorist subjunctive (“that I may eat”) not the future indicative (“that I will eat”), showing that it was not definite that Jesus would be present to eat the actual Passover of Nisan 15 with his Apostles. The reason that the room would be booked in advance (that is, two days before the actual Passover of Nisan 15) is that Jerusalem at this time was like Grand Central Station during Christmas, and rooms needed to be reserved way ahead of time.

As it stands, Jesus was only able to attend the Preparation Day, Nisan 14, but that was never considered a Seder meal. The same is true in Luke 22:15 where Jesus says that he “desired with desire” to eat the Passover with his Apostles. This Hebraism simply means that he longed to do so, but whether he would be able to do so is another question. The answer to that question was told to Him in the Garden of Gethsemane when the cup that he was to drink at Passover was going to be the cup of God’s wrath He sustained on the Cross.

In addition to the fact that the Gospels never mention the Seder meal, or even make it into an allegory or analogy, we do not have to depend on the distinctions in the Seder meal to demonstrate the connection between the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. The connection between the two events is made clear in the precise Greek words and grammar the Synoptic gospels employed (See my book Not By Bread Alone, pages 143-167).

Does this mean that the “Fourth Cup” idea is wrong? I’ll leave that to you to decide. I’m only pointing out some of the various problems with taking that allegorical approach. Allegory is exciting. I used to do it for many years in my own bible study. I have many bibles filled with all kinds of allegorical notes. After a while, however, one begins to see that there is a tendency to “read into” biblical narratives what one wants to see, and the allegories never quite match the reality to the extent they are purported to match it. For this reason, I’ve always been very cautious about such methodologies when interpreting Scripture.