There seems to be a longstanding tradition to say, during Holy Communion, that Jesus’ body was broken for us. In Richard Baxter’s writings, we see that “The Words of distribution – “Take yee, Eat yee, This is the Body of Christ which is Broken for you, Do this in remembrance of Him,” … – followed the [1549 Book of Common Prayer and 1637 Scottish Book of Common Prayer].” (emphasis mine).
Vernard Eller, in his book titled Could the Church Have It all Wrong? (1997) says that, “In the Lord’s Supper the bread represents the body of Jesus broken for us.” (emphasis mine). Well known bible teacher, John Piper, also uses similar language: “The Lord’s Supper is precious beyond words as a gift from Jesus to his church not only as a reminder of his death for us, but also as an occasion when he draws near to nourish our intimacy with him and strengthen us by his shed blood and his broken body.” (emphasis mine)
This article will attempt to answer the question whether it is right to say that Jesus’ body was broken for us, in a manner which is most faithful to Scripture. First off, let us look at what the Gospels have to say about the matter. It is of utmost importance since these are from Jesus Himself who instituted the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.
- The Gospels
While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”
While they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is My body.”
And when He had taken some bread and 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.”
From the above passages, what we can derive is that that which is broken is the bread. We see no mention of Christ’s body being broken. A.T. Robertson shares this point when after referring to John 19:30 he said, “The bread was broken, but not the body of Jesus.” However, could it be argued that the broken bread is representative of Jesus’s broken body? We will evaluate the strength of this interpretation later in the article. Moving on, let us examine Pauline passages which make mention of the Holy Communion.
- Pauline Writings
1 Corinthians 10:16(NASB)
Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?
1 Corinthians 11:24(NASB)
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 10:16 seems to support the earlier mentioned proposition. After all, if the broken bread is a sharing in the body of Christ, it would seem to naturally follow that the broken bread is used figuratively for His broken body. John Wesley seems to agree with this when he said that, “… this broken bread is the sign of my [i.e. Jesus’s] body …” (emphasis mine)
With regards to 1 Corinthians 11:24, it appears to be a re-mention of what we see in the Gospel accounts. However, if one were to look at the exact same verse in a few other translations, we see an additional phrase (i.e. “which is broken for you”, “which Is about to be broken for you”). 
King James Bible
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.
Aramaic Bible in Plain English
And he blessed and he broke and he said, “Take eat; this is my body, which is broken for your persons; thus you shall do for my Memorial.
Jubilee Bible 2000
and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you; this do in remembrance of me.
Webster’s Bible Translation
And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
Weymouth New Testament
and after giving thanks He broke it and said, “This is my body which is about to be broken for you. Do this in memory of me.”
World English Bible
When he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “Take, eat. This is my body, which is broken for you. Do this in memory of me.”
Young’s Literal Translation
and having given thanks, he brake, and said, ‘Take ye, eat ye, this is my body, that for you is being broken; this do ye — to the remembrance of me.’
This is what is known as a textual variant. According to New Testament scholar Dr Daniel Wallace, a textual variant is basically “… the difference in wording found in a single manuscript or a group of manuscripts (either way, it’s still only one variant) that disagrees with a base text.” The phrase is basically a textual variant because it is not found in the oldest extant Greek New Testament manuscripts which we have today. If you are interested to find out more about textual variants, click here.
Tim Peck notes in his blog post the different manuscripts which contain the abovementioned textual variant: “For those interested: אc, C3, Db,c, G, K, Ψ, 81, 88, 104, 181, 326, 330, 436, 451, 614, 629, 630, 1241, 1739mg, 1877, 1881, 1962, 1984, 1985, 2127, 2492, 2495, Byz, Lect.”
In light of John 19:31-37, even if the textual variant in 1 Corinthians 11:24 is original/right (meaning that we have an explicit passage that Jesus’s body was broken for us), the phrase “which is broken for you” cannot be referring to literal broken bones.
John 19:31-37 (NASB)
 Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
 So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him;
 but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs.
 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.
 And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe.
 For these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, “Not A BONE OF HIM SHALL BE BROKEN.”
 And again another Scripture says, “They SHALL LOOK ON HIM WHOM THEY PIERCED.”
- Possible Interpretations
Reading the Gospels together with the Pauline passages, one could still say that in a certain sense Jesus’s body was broken for us. He was scourged after all (see Matthew 27:26, Mark 15:15, John 19:1). Note here that the possible interpretation/answer being posited is that Jesus’ body was broken, not in the sense of broken bones but
- broken in the it-is-no-longer-whole (as a result of the things He endured prior to and during the crucifixion) sense; a figurative use of the word broken, and/or
- broken flesh
Both posited interpretations receive support from the following commentators:-
James Burton Coffman: “… the breaking of a bone is not the same as the breaking of the body. The spear that pierced Jesus’ side certainly broke his “body,” but did not break any bone.” (emphasis mine)
John Gill: “… as a symbol of his body being wounded, bruised, and broken, through buffetings, scourgings, platting of a crown of thorns, which was put upon his head, and piercing his hands and feet with nails, and his side with a spear.” (emphasis mine)
John Gill: “… for though a bone of him was not broken, but inasmuch as his skin and flesh were torn and broken by blows with rods and fists, by whippings and scourgings, by thorns, nails, and spear; and body and soul were torn asunder, or divided from each other by death.” (emphasis mine)
Theodore Beza: “This word “broken” denotes to us the manner of Christ’s death, for although his legs were not broken, as the thieves legs were, yet his body was very severely tormented, and torn, and bruised.” (emphasis mine)
John Calvin: “For although no bone was broken, yet the body itself having been subjected, first of all, to so many tortures and inflictions, and afterwards to the punishment of death in the most cruel form, cannot be said to have been uninjured.” (emphasis mine)
Brad Price: “We know that none of Jesus’ bones were literally broken ( John 19:36), but because His body was so badly battered, there is a sense in which we can say His body was figuratively broken. Psalm 22:14 predicted Jesus’ bones would be “out of joint,” but this does not mean any bones were literally broken.” (emphasis mine)
When asked about the issue being discussed, a seminary trained local pastor said the following: “While I agree that Christ wasn’t broken into pieces, the term broken in this context could refer to the “breaking off” of His flesh, veins, tissue, skin, blood vessels and so forth. There was two parts to the Seder (Passover meal). The bread and the lamb. The bread would always be broken (hence the practice of breaking bread) while the bones of the lamb will not be broken symbolizing the expectation of the resurrection. But let us bear in mind, that the flesh of that same lamb was broken too even though the bones were not.” (emphasis mine)
An article by the Church of the Great God sums the second proposed interpretation quite well: “Christ’s body was “broken,” then, not by the breaking of His bones, but by the breaking of His skin. Besides the spear that pierced His side and the metal spikes that nailed His wrists and feet to the stake, He was subjected to a most severe beating or whipping. This latter torture, foretold in [Isaiah 53:4], made Him nearly unrecognizable. His body bore a multitude of welts, skin lacerations, and open wounds, spilling His blood over all His body and to the ground. Isaiah 53:5 expands upon His scourging: “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” A stripe is “a stroke or blow made with a rod or lash.” This is how our Lord’s body was broken.” (emphasis mine)
So would it be right to say that Jesus’s body was broken for us? Strictly speaking, yes but you would have to be careful of the nuances involved. The danger of loosely using the phrase “Jesus’s body was broken for you/us” (or a variation of it) during the Holy Communion is that not everyone understands the word “broken” in the same way. If you agree to any of the above proposed interpretations, just briefly explain that
- Jesus’s bones were not broken,
- Yet as a result of the things Jesus endured, it could be said that His body was broken either figuratively or literally. The latter referring specifically to Jesus’s flesh.
 Glen J. Segger, Richard Baxter’s Reformed Liturgy: A Puritan Alternative to the Book of Common Prayer (2014)
 John Piper, “Idolatry, the Lord’s Supper, and the Body of Christ.” Desiring God. Accessed December 4, 2017. https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/idolatry-the-lords-supper-and-the-body-of-christ
 A.T. Robertson, “1 Corinthians 11:24.” StudyLight.org. Accessed December 7, 2017. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rwp/1-corinthians-11.html
 John Wesley, “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:24.” StudyLight.org. Accessed December 7, 2017. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wen/1-corinthians-11.html
 Daniel B Wallace, “The Number of Textual Variants: An Evangelical Miscalculation.” Daniel B. Wallace. Accessed October 6, 2017. https://danielbwallace.com/2013/09/09/the-number-of-textual-variants-an-evangelical-miscalculation/
 Tim Peck, “Was Christ’s body really broken for you?” Sojourner-Tim. Accessed December 4, 2017. http://sojourner-tim.blogspot.my/2011/09/was-christs-body-really-broken-for-you.html
 James Burton Coffman, “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:24.” StudyLight.org. Accessed December 7, 2017. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/1-corinthians-11.html
 John Gill, “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:24.” StudyLight.org. Accessed December 7, 2017. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/1-corinthians-11.html
 Theodore Beza, “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:24.” StudyLight.org. Accessed December 7, 2017. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gsb/1-corinthians-11.html
 John Calvin, “1 Corinthians 11:24.” StudyLight.org. Accessed December 7, 2017. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/1-corinthians-11.html
 Brad Price, “1 Corinthians 11:24.” StudyLight.org. Accessed December 7, 2017. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bpc/1-corinthians-11.html
 “Discerning Christ’s Broken Body.” Church of the Great God. Accessed December 4, 2017. https://www.cgg.org//index.cfm/fuseaction/Library.sr/CT/ARTC/k/546/Discerning-Christs-Broken-Body.htm; see also Bill Bradfod, “The Passover Bread and Wine: The Meaning of the Passover Symbols.” United Church of God. Accessed December 4, 2017. https://www.ucg.org/the-good-news/the-passover-bread-and-wine-the-meaning-of-the-passover-symbols: “At the Passover service, when we eat the bread that symbolizes the broken body of Jesus Christ, we should remember and deeply appreciate why He had to offer His body to be beaten and abused as a sacrifice for us. He was “smitten,” “afflicted,” “wounded” and “bruised” for our transgressions.”
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author, and they do not reflect in any way views of the institutions to which he is affiliated and/or the other Laikos Theologos contributors.