Book Review: The Lost Supper

A couple of years ago, I wrote a review of a book called “The Lost Supper”, by Matthew Colvin, which I’ll share below. Alternatively, you can read it here.

Essentially, it’s a book about the Lord’s Supper which begins, not with metaphysical speculation, but with a thorough exploration of the very Jewish historical background to the meal. Matt is a Classics scholar by training, and his expertise certainly shows in the book.

About a year ago, he was interviewed by Alastair Roberts on the book, which you can access here.

More recently, he has shared effectively a four thousand word summary of the book as part of a Theopolis conversation, which can be found here. If you don’t want to pay the full price for the book, the article over at the Theopolis Institute website is well worth a read.

Here is the review I wrote on the book:

In “The Lost Supper”, Matthew Colvin explores the meaning of the last supper between Jesus and his disciples. Unlike many other treatments of the supper, which begin with the question of “real presence”, Colvin begins with a different premise altogether, namely that of trying to situate the supper in its original Jewish context. Drawing on the approach of scholars like NT Wright and David Daube, Colvin argues that the supper should be understood through the lens of later Passover traditions, insofar as those traditions resemble the first century context. Colvin is cautious in his approach though, never simply reading the later Seder traditions back into the gospel accounts, but instead carefully examining the evidence and weighing the arguments and counter-arguments before reaching his conclusions.

Colvin identifies a number of connections between the Seder and the gospel accounts. Based on several lines of evidence, he identifies the bread with which Jesus identifies himself as having existing Messianic significance in the earlier traditions. Likewise, he identifies the reference to the cups in the meal as being associated with a tradition of four cups reflected in the later Seder. Many of the arguments that he makes are based on a careful linguistic analysis, sometimes involving a reconstruction of the spoken Aramaic which stands behind the Greek texts. He also utilises a text called the “Peri Pascha”, a Passover liturgy used by early Quartodeciman Christians, which gives us a powerful window into early Passover traditions.

This isn’t just an exercise in historical reconstruction though. Colvin applies his analysis in a number of ways throughout the book, showing how an overemphasis on “real presence” in the supper is based on a misreading of the key passages and leads us to miss the point of the Lord’s supper as celebrated by Christians. Instead, he argues that the supper is best understood as a ritual meal in which participants are renewed through identification with the Messiah in his death and resurrection. He draws a number of other applications from this in the final chapter of the book.

All in all, this is a valuable work which sheds a great deal of light on the original meaning of the supper. It deals with all of the key passages, even including a section addressing the reference to “bread” in the Lord’s prayer. Packed full with powerful insights, I commend this work to anyone wishing to learn more about the meaning of the last supper.

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