The Seating Arrangement at the Last Supper

I went to my church’s Bible study last night.  We’re going through A Fragile Stone: Peter: Jesus’ Friend, With Michael Card.  Our focus last night was on the last supper.

The way that Michael Card was presenting the seating arrangement at the last supper, John sat at Jesus’ right hand, which was the honored seat.  Judas sat on Jesus’ left hand, which was the seat of the intimate friend.  And Peter sat in the less prestigious servant’s seat, which was far away from Jesus. 

Card backed up much of what he was saying with Scripture, and this site fills in some of the gaps.  (Well, Card did not present documentation that the right hand was the honored seat, whereas the left hand was the seat of the intimate friend, but he did present evidence that, according to the Gospel of John, John and Judas were sitting next to Jesus at the last supper, and those were most likely honored seats—-see Mark 10:37-40).  John (assuming that John is the Beloved Disciple in the Gospel of John) sat close enough to Jesus to be able to lean into Jesus’ breast and ask him the identity of the betrayer (John 13:23, 25).  Peter obviously was not sitting close to John, for Peter had to motion for John to ask Jesus who the betrayer was, implying some distance (John 13:24).  And Judas was probably sitting next to Jesus because Judas was close enough to receive the sop that Jesus gave him, plus Judas was privy to the discussion about who the betrayer was, whereas most of the disciples at the table were not.  After all, most of the disciples at the table did not think that Jesus, when he told Judas to do his task quickly, was referring to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, but rather to Judas’ responsibilities as the group’s treasurer (John 13:26-29; cp. Matthew 26:25).  John and Judas were privy to the discussion about Judas being the betrayer, indicating that they probably sat next to Jesus.  And perhaps Peter was privy to the discussion as well, from his lowly and distant seat, if John motioned to Peter that Judas was the betrayer!

I wish that the lesson got more into why Judas was sitting in an honored spot next to Jesus at the last supper.  Was Jesus trying to discourage Judas from going through with the betrayal?  That doesn’t exactly work, for Jesus told Judas to do the betrayal quickly.  Was Jesus being ironic in honoring someone who was not particularly honorable?  

Our workbook was asking us questions about how Peter must have felt to be put in the role of a servant.  Some said that Peter probably felt honored to be given the task of making the arrangements for the last supper (Luke 22:7-16).  And yet, because Peter was likely one of the disciples who was arguing that he was the greatest (Luke 22:24-27), we in the group were speculating that Peter must have felt upset that he had been assigned such a lowly place to sit.  On page 41 of the workbook, we read: “As you think about the possibility of being slighted by a good friend, how can this scene help you to realize that the friend may have had a good reason for his or her action—-and that it was not directed at you?”

The thing is, I’m not sure that Peter was particularly upset in the story.  The text does not say that he was upset.  Rather, Peter remains fiercely loyal to Jesus, affirming that he would die for Jesus and would never deny him.  And Peter is especially offended that Jesus was washing the disciples’ feet, probably because he firmly believed that the master was above the disciples and should not be serving them.  Peter may have wondered why he got a shoddy seat, and yet his love for Jesus could have overwhelmed any resentment he may have felt.  Or perhaps Peter, notwithstanding his bravado, was someone who was naturally a giver: he was the type who stepped in and did things that needed to be done.  He’d be like my Grandma at Thanksgiving: he can’t take a break and eat because he’s busy looking out for other people’s needs.  Or maybe he wanted to serve Jesus, for, as I said, he had firm beliefs about masters being above their disciples in authority.  In that scenario, he voluntarily sat in the servant’s seat.

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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8 Responses to The Seating Arrangement at the Last Supper

  1. Walco J Richard says:

    I have a concern how the members of the last supper were arranged. In biblical times the master would sit at the left hand’ Nobody was worthy to sit at the right hand of the master. This was attested to in the bible. And the two apostles who wanted to be the worthiest of all the desciples. Jesus said, the last would be first and the first would be last. The divinci painting,depiscts the table as semi roulnd. The diners were usually in aprone position, or laying down? Jay Richard. A Catholic

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  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    I thought the tables were arranged in a U sort of shape, but I don’t know for sure.

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  3. JCMG says:

    More of a J shape. Like a Roman table. Because the Romans had not a that time conquered Judea but the Judeans had agreed to become a province of Rome they were allowed to sit like Romans, much to the Romans’ chagrin.

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  4. LisaWilson says:

    a young lady came on the bus that I was operating one day and asked this same question; where was Judas sitting at the last supper and i told her i believed he sat either at Jesus right or left but i knew he was close to Jesus because Jesus knew of the betrayal that was at hand and he wanted Judas close to him so that when the hour had come as Jesus always spoke about it wouldn’t ne too awkard for Jesus to give instructions to go ahead with what he was planning to do, he knew Judas as treasurer and he also knew of his greed so he kept him closer than a brother, Jesus loved them all but he also knew that because of the hour to come that each one of them also had there tasks to do

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  5. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Thanks for your comment, Lisa.

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  6. Steve says:

    I have to wonder if the disciples didn’t choose for themselves where to sit (after all Luke 14:7 tells us the guests picked the places of honor at the table which prompted Jesus to tell a parable about taking the place of less honor), hence the dispute that broke out among them that we are told about in Luke 22:24. I also am convinced that Judas was at His left and John at His right. For reasons already mentioned, we know they were in close proximity, Jesus offered Judas the sop, and John leaned on His breast (due to leaning on their left sides while reclining at the table, this pretty much clarifies John’s position). But there is another thing we don’t want to forget, Scripture says, (Mt. 25:35-46) that when Jesus returns He will separate the sheep from the goats. The sheep on His right, the goats on His left. The sheep to eternal glory, the goats to damnation. It would be just like God and His Word to be consistent in every detail. I have also often thought about the position of the 2 thieves who were crucified along with Jesus. Which one do you think would have hung to His right and which to His left?

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  7. Leisha Joyce says:

    By peter sitting so far from the master would that mean, the first will be last and the last will be first were peter was last he would be first to rule?

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  8. jamesbradfordpate says:

    I don’t know. That would make John last!

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