Previous | Next

January 1983 · Vol. 12 No. 1 · pp. 34–35 

Book Review

Last Supper and Lord's Supper

I. Howard Marshall. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981. 191 pages.

Reviewed by David Ewert

I. Howard Marshall’s name has become commonplace among students of the Scriptures in the last several years. Marshall is Professor of NT Exegesis at the University of Aberdeen and is attracting evangelical doctoral students from all over the world, as his countryman F.F. Bruce drew them to Manchester in his day.

Marshall is an extremely well-informed scholar who has the gift of writing in a manner that ordinary mortals can understand what the scholars are trying to say. He has enriched the field of NT studies greatly in the last while by his prodigious literary output.

I first became acquainted with Marshall a decade ago through his volume: Luke: Historian and Theologian (1971)—a book which I found very helpful. Since then he has written at least two volumes on Christology (1976, 1977), a commentary on the Johannine Epistles (NICNT, 1978), and a 928-page critical commentary on the Gospel of Luke (1978)—not to mention other writings.

His latest contribution, Last Supper and Lord’s Supper, is, as are all his works, “unashamedly academic” (by his own confession). The non-professional should, however, not neglect Marshall’s books on that account. Like his teacher, A.M. Hunter, Marshall has the gift of expressing himself clearly in non-technical vocabulary. But now to the book.

In his first chapter the author asks whether contemporary Jewish or pagan religious meals may have influenced the practice of the Lord’s Supper in the Early Church. Marshall sees little connection between the Lord’s Supper and the religious meal of the ancient orient. The Passover meal, however, provided the setting for the Last Supper, at which the Lord’s Supper was instituted.

Chapter two can be skipped conveniently by those not interested in questions regarding the historicity and the diversity of the eucharistic texts. Although the reports of the Last Supper in the three Synoptic gospels vary in detail (as they do also from Paul’s account), Marshall concludes that “the essential content of what happened and what Jesus said is remarkably unaffected by this uncertainty” (p. 56).

A question that cannot be answered with absolute certainty is: What kind of meal was the Last Supper? Marshall devotes an entire chapter to answering this query. He agrees with J. Jeremias that the meal had paschal features, but that leaves the chronological discord between {35} the Synoptics and John unresolved. His conclusion is that Jesus held a Passover meal earlier than the official Jewish date, and that he was able to do so as the result of calendar differences among the Jews.

In chapter 4 Marshall deals with the significance of the Last Supper (the actions and words of Jesus, the bread and the cup). This is followed by a chapter on the Lord’s supper in the Early Church, concentrating on the eucharistic texts in 1 Corinthians and Acts.

In his concluding chapter (chap. 6) Marshall discusses the significance of the Lord’s Supper in the Early Church (and today). He throws out some interesting suggestions for the practice of the Lord’s Supper in our day. Let me pick out several of these.

(a) The Lord’s Supper should be celebrated frequently (perhaps every Lord’s Day). (b) It ought to be combined with the preaching of the Word. (c) It may be conducted by anyone authorized by the church (not necessarily an ordained minister). (d) If a common cup is not practicable, celebrants might partake simultaneously of individual cups. (Since it is western custom to sit at meals, the Lord’s Supper should be celebrated by the congregation sitting down, suggests Marshall. One might then ask: “Is a common cup western practice?”) (e) The NT knows nothing of “consecrating” the elements and, therefore, there should be no epiclesis. (f) Some symbol of love and unity should be included in the celebration (in our culture, perhaps the shaking of hands), as well as a practical expression of concern for the needy. (g) Since the Lord’s Supper in the NT was a meal, it could be meaningful for the church today to return to this practice. (h) “If, on the one hand, it is regrettable that some branches of the church fail to make use of the help and inspiration that can be drawn from the treasury of liturgy and hymnody, it is also, on the other hand, regrettable if adherence to a fixed and elaborate form of service is made the norm in other branches of the church” (p. 157).

Here is a book, packed with information, well worth its price. Although the subject is difficult, the book is executed with such clarity, that all serious Bible students could profit immensely from reading it.

Previous | Next