Discrepancies in the Lord’s Supper (Communion) Accounts?

This brief essay I wrote for a class examines the differences in the four accounts of what is often called the last supper. I was limited to 1,000 word. Maybe there are some fun and exciting tidbits in here for you, heh heh.   🙄


There are four direct references to the Lord’s Supper in scripture. These accounts differ slightly in wording while some add additional content. The differences are minor enough to understand without casting doubt on the legitimacy of any of the four. The church did not seem to dispute the minute details of the discrepancies as much as they did the ecclesiastical implications of the bread and cup, [1] which is not the focus of this paper. It will be argued here that the differences between the four accounts can be reconciled primarily by 1) Understanding when each account was written 2) Understanding why and how the gospels were written. Scripture testifies of itself that it is God breathed,[2] yet God used imperfect men in their own language and context to record the inspired words, therefore scripture incorporates men’s personal understandings and perceptions in its rendering.

A Brief Overview of some Discrepancies in the Four Accounts of the Lord’s Supper

The three synoptic gospels specify a Passover meal (Matt 26:19, Mark 14:16, Luke 22:15). Paul refers to “the Lord’s Supper” (1 Corinthians 11:20), which he contrasts with their regular supper (1 Corinthians 11:21).

The synoptic gospels and Paul all say that Jesus took the bread and said “this is my body”, Luke adds “…which is broken for you, this do in remembrance of me.” Paul adds the same line as Luke, leaving out the word “broken”. Matthew, Mark and Paul lead with the bread, Luke indicated that Jesus presented the cup first (although this cup was not the cup associated with the covenant, that came after the bread which agrees with the other three accounts).

All four accounts reference the cup as the blood of the covenant, albeit in different orders in the sentence. Matthew, Mark and Luke mention the cup being “poured out”, while Paul does not. Matthew adds that the cup is poured out for the “forgiveness of sins”.

The synoptics all say that Jesus will not drink of the cup until: “I drink it with you in my Father’s Kingdom” (Matthew), “…drink it new in the Kingdom of God” (Mark), “…until the Kingdom of God comes.” (Luke). Paul does not reference this saying. Luke’s gospel and Paul are the only one’s to include “this do in remembrance of me”.

Reconciling the Differences

In regards to lines used only by Paul and Luke i.e. “this do in remembrance of me”, one should remember that Paul received his revelation directly from Jesus[3] and was a close companion of Luke[4]. If Luke referenced Matthew and/or Mark as sources when writing his gospel (this is disputed, but many agree that Luke’s gospel came after the two and he would have used at least one for reference[5]), it would make sense for Luke to incorporate any additional revelation (or even traditions) received by Paul. [6] Therefore this “undesigned coincidence is a proof of genuineness.” [7] The addition or refinement of phrases between Luke’s gospel and the other synoptics are acceptable. Paul also focuses less on the historical Passover event (he doesn’t mention it) partly because he is writing to “root Christian praxis in the action and authority of the historical Jesus”[8] in response to abuses of the Lord’s Supper by the church in Corinth. Through Paul one sees that the Last Supper has become the Lord’s Supper.[9] Luke probably incorporates some of the Lord’s Supper tradition that was established later. Matthew and Mark reflect the specific event that took place on the night before Jesus’ passion. Additionally, Paul was writing to portray a proper understanding of the meaning behind the Lord’s supper, not to provide an account of the events during the whole upper room meal, so it was not necessary to include Jesus’ saying that he would not drink of the wine again until the Kingdom comes.

Matthew’s addition of “forgiveness of sins”, while helpful, does not add any conclusions to the Lord’s Supper that isn’t already inferred from the relationship between Jesus’ passion and the Passover meal itself. The book of Mark records Jesus saying exactly three sentences from the breaking of the bread to the singing of the hymn and departing, surely more dialogue would have taken place at that portion of the meal. Each writer’s account is most likely a summary of the things they considered important enough to mention. Even with these differences, the meaning of the Lord’s Supper remains the same in each account.[10] All four include the important words of “covenant of my blood/blood of the covenant”, which indicates the “creation of a new universal eschatological order (a new covenant) through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”[11]

In reconciling differences in the Gospel accounts, Ellenburg suggests, “the text should never be divorced from the author’s intention.”[12] One may find variants in the chronology of events or in the wording, but rarely can one point to a clear variance in the intended meaning of the author. The gospels are not objective biographies, they are “theological biographies”.[13] The goal of these four men was to present Jesus Christ in a certain way (King, Son of God, Son of Man, etc.) based on their testimony and the testimony of other. In the case of John, it appears that he arranged many of the events topically. Chronological accuracy and word-for-word courtroom style recording was not their intent. In fact, the discrepancies of the four gospels show that the story of Jesus was not a man-made conspiracy.


The meaning of The Last Supper stayed intact and is practiced as The Lord’s Supper that Christians celebrate today. The discrepancies that exist are common in scripture, and reflect the purpose behind the gospel accounts, which is to theologically explain Jesus and his many works.

[1]. R. C. Sproul, What Is the Lord’s Supper?, First edition., The Crucial Questions Series (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2013), 38.

[2]. 1 Tim 3:16 (English Standard Version)

[3]. Gal 1:12 (New American Standard Version)

[4]. Col 4:14 (NASB)

[5]. Paul J. Achtemeier, Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature, Harper’s Bible Dictionary (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 577.

[6]. Ibid., 577.

[7]. Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 285.

[8]. Petrus J. Gräbe, New Covenant, New Community: The Significance of Biblical and Patristic Covenant Theology for Contemporary Understanding. (Milton Keynes: Paternoster Press, 2006), 105.

[9]. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. London: SPCK ;, 2005. 465.

[10]. Gräbe, 105.

[11]. Ibid., 107

[12]. Dale Ellenburg, “Is Harmonization Honest?,” in Holman Christian Standard Bible: Harmony of the Gospels (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 2.

[13]. Ibid., 2