the weblog of Alan Knox

Eating together

Posted by on Oct 5, 2009 in books, fellowship, gathering | 3 comments

In Witness to the Gospel: The Theology of Acts (edited by I. Howard Marshall and David Peterson), Brad Blue writes a chapter called “The Influence of Jewish Worship on Luke’s Presentation of the Early Church.” Blue concludes that while there were a few changes, “[I]t is abundantly clear that the Jewish antecedents to Christian assembly… are felt throughout… The church, then, was a Christian synagogue.” (pg 497)

In one section, called “Eating Together,” Blue discusses the Jewish synagogue practice of “breaking bread”:

[T]he Jewish rite of ‘breaking the break’ or simply ‘the breaking’ was the coinage for the ritual for the opening of a meal. The ritual included the following elements: (1) the host (with bread in hands) would offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God; (2) those at the common table would respond with ‘Amen’; (3) the host would then break and distribute the bread; (4) the host would begin to eat and would be followed by the guests. Thus the ‘breaking (of the bread)’ is a metonym for the prayer of blessing and the distribution. With respects to the NT evidence, this meaning satisfies the contexts (cf. Luke 24:35; Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7, 11; 27:35).

It is clear that ‘the breaking’ is always, at this early date, a constituent of a meal scene: by its definition it necessitates a meal scene here. (pg 488-89)

The early Christians were Jewish. The people who wrote the New Testament manuscripts were Jewish. For the most part, early church practices were Jewish.

Even eating together was part of Jewish “religious” practices. This was not something new or inventive for the church (although it seems new and inventive today). It was as much a part of synagogue and church practices as reading and discussing Scripture (the idea of the sermon came along much later).

However, many things changed. Concerning the common meal, one thing in particular changed: the host. The head of the synagogue was no longer the host of the common meal. Jesus Christ was now the host. It was his meal, his table, and he served his family.

This is Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26:

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 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.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26 ESV)

The Corinthians were eating and drinking (1 Corinthians 11:20-21), but they demonstrate by the way they eat and drink (that is, in the way they treat one another while they are eating and drinking) that they are not eating or drinking from the Lord’s table. The Lord is not their host. The people have become their own host.

When Paul quoted Jesus’ words, he was not given the church a formula to repeat. He was reminding them who instituted, who serves, and who hosts when they eat from the Lord’s table. That is, it is the Lord himself.

Paul told them to examine how they were treating one another when they dined together. Why? Because they were dining with the Lord.


3 Comments

  1. 10-5-2009

    Great thoughts Alan!

    We always have a meal in our home fellowship, but because of space limitations and logistics we have not really “observed” the Lord’s Supper.

    I think one thing we miss when we break bread together is the sequence of the breaking of the bread, eating the meal and THEN, taking the cup. That lends some formality to the meal, but I believe there are ways to celebrate the “breaking” of the bread and honor the Lord’s Supper.

    This week I am going to break some bread before we eat and then somehow take the cup after we finish eating and before we gather for the Word and singing.

  2. 10-5-2009

    Jack,

    Some people will probably disagree with me, but in 1 Cor 11, I think that Paul is pointing out that some things are more important than the “elements”.

    -Alan

  3. 12-5-2012

    Great piece, Alan. Thanks!

    Our fellowship’s site delves into various aspects of the Lord’s Supper as a Christ-centered fellowship meal. The following article pulls together insights from several authors and sources:

    http://lambblood.com/lord-s-supper-logic.html

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