When you read commentaries, articles, essays, or blog posts concerning the Lord’s Supper / Communion / the Eucharist, you’ll find reference to terms like “give thanks” and “break bread.” Often, these terms are treated like technical terms that refer to the Lord’s Supper.
For example, many will point to Jesus’ last supper with his disciples before his crucifixion (in Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, and Luke 22:14-20) as a prefiguring of the Lord’s Supper. In these passages, we find phrases like “took break,” “blessed [the bread],” “broke [the bread],” and “gave [the bread] to his disciples.” Then, when the terms are found later in Scripture (in Acts, for example), then the author must be talking about the Lord’s Supper.
Thus, many point to Acts 2:42 as indicating that the early church partook of the Lord’s Supper when Luke writes:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42 ESV)
Similarly, some say that Paul and those traveling with him shared the Lord’s Supper with the church in Troas:
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. (Acts 20:7 ESV)
But, there is a very interesting passage at the end of Acts that we should consider as well. This account takes place in the middle of a storm on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea. Luke writes:
As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food. It will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves. (Acts 27:33-36 ESV)
Luke had told us a few sentences earlier that Paul was talking with the Roman centurion and soldiers (Acts 27:31), but it’s not hard to assume that he was talking with his own traveling companions and the sailors as well.
Notice that this account includes much of the technical language that we saw associated with the Last Supper (and the Lord’s Supper) previously: “took bread,” “gave thanks [for the bread],” and “broke [the bread].” And, yes, the term translated “gave thanks” is the same term from which we get the word “Eucharist.”
So, many argue about whether or not this represents the Lord’s Supper. Some suggest that it is, since the various technical phrases are used. Others suggest that it is not, since Paul shares it with pagan soldiers and sailors.
But, would Paul understand the problem like we do? Would he be concerned with whether or not he was “partaking in the Lord’s Supper”?
Instead, what if these technical terms simply mean that Jesus and Paul shared a meal with those around them? And, what if these same terms in other places in the New Testament simply pointed to a shared meal? (For example, see Acts 2:42, Acts 2:46, Acts 20:7, Acts 20:11, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 1 Corinthians 11:26-28)
If these words are technical terms that point to a special ordinance/sacrament/ritual and not to a common meal, then how do we explain what Paul was doing in Acts 27?