Was Jesus' Body "Broken" For You?

It is common during a communion celebration for pastors to say the bread is Jesus’ body, “broken for you.” But is “broken” the correct word to use? Let’s look at the four passages that mention the bread and Jesus’ body:

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26).

And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body” (Mark 14:22).

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).

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” (1 Corinthians 11:24)

The word “broke” is used in each passage, but every time it refers to Jesus breaking bread. The text never says Jesus’ body is “broken for you.” Matthew and Mark only record Jesus saying “this is my body.” In Luke, Jesus says His body is “given” for you. In 1 Corinthians, Paul quotes Jesus as saying His body is “for you.”

A Textual Variant in 1 Corinthians 11:24

So where does the phrase “broken for you” come from? It is from a textual variation of 1 Corinthians 11:24. And more importantly, it is included in the translation of the King James Version—“Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you.” Given the massive influence of the King James Bible on the English-speaking world, this means the phrase “broken for you” is a part of the tradition of many churches. 

So yes, some manuscripts of 1 Corinthians 11:24 actually say, “This is my body which is broken for you.”

But is this textual variant correct? Probably not. It is not found in the majority of manuscripts, and the reading is at odds with the parallel accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The most similar account is that found in Luke:

This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me (Luke 22:19).

This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me (1 Corinthians 11:24).

These passages are almost identical except that Luke adds “given.” And if Luke received his wording from the Pauline tradition (as some scholars suggest), it is even less likely that “broken” is the correct reading of 1 Corinthians 11:24, for Luke did not include the word. Of course, there are also textual questions about Luke’s passage, as some manuscripts lack Luke 22:19b-20 and thus end the verse at “This is my body.” However, most scholars prefer the longer reading because it is more difficult and has better manuscript support. Either way, “broken” has no support from the parallel passages.

As for the manuscripts of 1 Corinthians 11:24, Bruce Metzger says in A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament that the “concise expression τὸ ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν”[“which is for you”] in 1 Corinthians 11:24 is “characteristic of Paul’s style.” However, “[a]ttempts to explicate the meaning of the words resulted in the addition of various participles.” Thus, there are actually three variants here: (1) θρυπτομενον; (2) κλωμενον; and (3) διδομενον. The third (“given”) is an attempt to assimilate the passage to Luke 22:19. Metzger says the second (“broken”) is “derived from the preceding ἔκλασεν” (“broke”) within the verse (p. 496). 

In other words, scribes seemed to have added words to try to explain Paul’s concise quotation of Jesus (“This is my body which is for you”). It is therefore likely that the variant “broken” used for Jesus’ body in 1 Corinthians 11:24 was added by a scribe because the text used the same word to describe Jesus’ “breaking” of bread.

A Theological Basis for Rejecting “Broken”

However, there is also a theological reason why we should not say that Jesus’ body was “broken.” This is because Scripture is quite clear that Jesus’ body was not broken, even in death. John 19:33-36 says,

But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.”[1]

John is clear that Jesus’ legs were not broken. In fact, John quotes Psalm 34:20 that none of his “bones” were broken. This is because Jesus is “our Passover lamb” who was sacrificed for our sins (1 Corinthians 5:7). And the Passover lamb was not to have any of its bones broken:

It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones (Exodus 12:46).

They shall leave none of it until the morning, nor break any of its bones; according to all the statute for the Passover they shall keep it (Numbers 9:12).

Why then do pastors say Jesus’ body was “broken”? Some are relying on the tradition of the Kings James Bible that includes the textual variant “broken” in 1 Corinthians 11:24. Or more likely, they are confusing the language of the “breaking” of bread with Jesus’ body. But it was the bread that was broken, not Jesus’ body.

Jesus gave Himself as a sacrifice and died in our place so that through Him we might have forgiveness of sins (Mark 10:45; Luke 2:24; Galatians 1:4). And He commands us to break bread and drink wine that we might feed on Him in faith.

The bread is broken. But our Lord’s body was given for you.

[1] Some people, particularly defenders of the King James textual tradition, argue that the Greek word for “broken” in the textual variant in 1 Corinthians 11:24 [κλάω] is different from the Greek words for “broken” in John 19:33 [κατέαξαν] and John 19:36 [συντρίβω] (also used in Exodus 12:46 and Numbers 9:12). This is true, but words have a semantic range and can overlap in meaning. It is at least theologically problematic to say Jesus’ body was “broken.” Moreover, the Greek word for “broken” in 1 Corinthians 11:24 [κλάω] is used once in the LXX and 14 times in the NT—and every time it describes the breaking of bread. This further suggests a scribal error in the variant “broken” in 1 Corinthians 11:24.