In 1 Corinthians 11:24, some translations read “This is my body which is broken for you.” Is this a correct translation because in John 19:36 we read “that not a bone of Him shall be broken.”? Also what Old Testament scripture was referred to in John 19:36.
There are two questions here, so let me deal with them separately. First let’s deal with the last question. What Old Testament scripture was referred to in John 19:36? There are several that come to mind. One of the requirements of the Passover was that the suppliants were not to break a bone of the paschal lamb (Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12). A broken bone indicated an offering that was less than complete or perfect and the Israelites were to consider the entire meal of the Paschal lamb an offering to Jehovah. In Psalm 22:17 in the midst of a clear prophecy regarding the suffering Savior, it is said that he can count all of his bones. Another context in which this statement is made is in Psalm 34:20. While the Psalmist is describing the blessed state of the righteous, he describes the righteous one as one whose bones are not broken. This prophecy applies to the Christ as He is ultimately the fulfillment of all righteousness (Matthew 3:15). The early apostles recognized Him as “The Righteous One” as well (Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14) and all statements regarding the righteous within the Old Testament are fulfilled ultimately by and through Him. We also must remember that the Old Testament was revealed as a shadow of things to come. It should not surprise us that there are “hidden” prophecies regarding the Messiah that we would not recognize or that would even seem kind of unreasonable to us. God did not reveal His will under the Old Covenant in the same way that he clearly reveals His will under the New Covenant, so we can’t necessarily use the same standard of judging what appears reasonable or not as a fulfillment of prophecy. If God said it was a fulfillment, then that should be good enough for us, and he did say such.
As to the other question, 1 Corinthians 11:24 reads, “And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.” We should take note that this is the reading from the KJV. The ASV reads as follows, “and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, This is my body, which is for you: this do in remembrance of me.” The English Standard Version reads as follows, “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.” We should take note that only the KJV has the word “broken” in the text. This raises some interesting questions. First, was the word “broken” in the original manuscript. Second, if it was not, how did it get in there? Third, if it were, what would be its significance? These types of questions throw us into the middle of a discussion regarding the science of lower textual criticism. This area of study is the science that is used by scholars to determine which words were in the original manuscripts of the New Testament. As many of you know, we do not have the original autographs of the New Testament. So we must rely upon copies in order to have the Bible that we have. For the New Testament there are over 5000 copies of different sections of scripture that scholars have to study and compare. With the sheer number of copies made there are bound to be some errors. Some of the errors are merely transposition of letters or words, but other errors are more significant. This section of scripture happens to contain one of those types of errors. Now before I go on, let me state that I am not at this point saying what the error is. We know that because there is a difference in several of the manuscripts regarding this particular text, that there was an error. But we do not know at this point the nature of that error. We don’t know whether this word should be omitted or should be included. So we need to look at all of the available evidence to determine this one way or the other. How do we go about doing that?
Well, on the one hand, if we all knew Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, Coptic, Syrian, and a dozen other languages AND if we had all studied the various different forms of the ancient manuscripts and how people wrote on them, we could dive into every single particular text, learn its age, research how ancient scholars regarded the accuracy of the text, and then try to come to a conclusion about the authority of each particular text and once we went through all 5000 or so of them, our work would be near completion. OR, on the other hand, we could let someone else do all of that for us and just see what they have said about it. I think we will do the later, but even that is a matter of some technical difficulty. In each Greek text, there is at the bottom of each page what is called the apparatus. The purpose of this part of the text is to tell us exactly what amount of authority one reading has over another. Sometimes we get a clear understanding of what the original should be and sometimes we do not. In the cases where we don’t get a clear understanding, scholars have developed some rules that indicate which reading is the best reading. There are differences, however, among the scholars as to what rules are the best. The prevailing methodology is to give the greatest authority of the text to the oldest manuscript. The assumption is that the older the manuscript is, the closer it is going to be to the original. And in this particular passage, the oldest manuscripts do not contain the word “broken.” This is why you will find the word left out of all of the new translations. The word is within the KJV because the KJV translators used a Greek version that is called the “received text” from which to translate their version into English. The “received text” does contain the word “broken” in this passage.
There is another way that we might use to help us understand whether this word was in the original autograph or not. We can compare this section of text with the rest of the Bible and see if it is consistent with other passages that might be similar or bear upon the meaning of this passage. The most similar passage to 1 Corinthians 11:24 is found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus merely says, “Take eat, this is my body.” Luke’s account reads, “This is my body which is given for you. This do in remembrance of me.” So given that most of the oldest manuscripts leave the word “broken” out, and given that the other accounts of this event do not include that particular thought, and given that it does appear to be theologically inconsistent with other parts of the Bible, such as this passage in John 19:36, it is most likely the case that the word was added through a mistake or an incorrect memory early in the history of the transmission of the New Testament. However, there is the possibility that it could have been in the original language. Let’s assume that it was for a moment.
If this word “broken” was in the original language, to what is it referring? It is clear from other parts of scripture that Jesus bones were not broken. To what could this “breaking” refer? It could refer to the breaking of the external layers of the body of Jesus–that is, His skin–when His body was pierced with the crown of thorns, beaten with a flog, and then pierced with nails and finally when His side was pierced with the soldier’s spear. The Greek construction of the relative clause “which is broken for you” makes it impossible for this to refer back to the bread itself, though in English it is ambiguous.
The long and short of it is this. The weight of evidence indicates that the word was not in the original language, but even if it was, it can be understood in a way that would not mitigate against any other important Biblical teaching such as the fulfilling of prophecy in John 19:36. In essence, each variant reading doesn’t contain information that would cause a contradiction within the scripture. And this is also the case with the majority of variations in the original Greek text so that we can say with complete certainty that we have God’s complete word as given to us through the inspired hands of the apostles. We also have the promise of Jesus in Matthew 24:35 that His words would not pass away. So we can be assured in this way as well that we have God’s word.