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Paul Celebrates the Lord’s Supper with Pagan Soldiers?

Posted by on Aug 26, 2011 in ordinances/sacraments, scripture | 21 comments

Paul Celebrates the Lord’s Supper with Pagan Soldiers?

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?


21 Comments

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  1. 8-26-2011

    It certainly seems that there is a difference between the church gathered to break bread in remembrance of Christ and declaring His death and resurrection until He comes again and giving thanks for a meal with unbelievers. When Paul says “but when you come together” there appears to be something unique about a shared meal “as the church” versus a regular meal. I give thanks before we eat dinner each night, I don’t think that is an observance of the Lord’s Supper.

  2. 8-26-2011

    Arthur,

    My question would be this: Should every meal that we eat together with other believers be eaten as the Lord’s Supper in spite of the way we currently do it?

    -Alan

  3. 8-26-2011

    That chapter in Acts just begs a deeper, more figurative meaning. I perceive something almost like a parable, but can’t quite grasp hold of it yet. There’s more at stake here than threat of [b]physical[/b] harm or hunger…

  4. 8-26-2011

    Aaron,

    I would interested in what you decide, because I don’t see any kind of figurative or parabolic language in that chapter, or in much of Acts actually. But, if you find something, please share it with us.

    -Alan

  5. 8-26-2011

    Alan,

    I certainly wouldn’t gamble anything upon it. It’s more of an instinct (nervous twitch?) trained by far too many Lit survey courses than any useful person should take.

    Regardless, a more figurative meaning wouldn’t change the clear, factual narrative that Luke is describing. It would simply lie *underneath.*

    In reading Numbers 21 this morning, I was struck by how “accidental” the picture of the atoning Savior was presented. We’re fully dependent upon the Holy Spirit to reveal what His final intentions behind a passage are. You see that same style of presentation all throughout the Old Testament – hidden deep within a passage of judgment toward the nations, you will see a glimmering whisper of the hope to come.

    I am constantly amazed at how layered Scripture is. A passage can have a literal/historical meaning and yet there will be a deeper hint of the Kingdom.

  6. 8-27-2011

    Alan,

    I think there is a difference between the “breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42, and “breaking bread” (Acts 2:46). While both are probably talking about a meal, I believe one is speaking of a special remembrance within the new covenant community. I think one of Paul’s major emphasis in 1 Corinthians 11 is that the Lord’s Supper is to be different (in other words, not like an every day common meal) than other meals one would eat at home. One was to remember the Lord together, the other was to satisfy hunger. While one can do both at each, “when you come together in one place” (1 Cor. 11:20) is speaking of a meal together within the new covenant community. At least that is my take on it.

  7. 8-27-2011

    Aaron,

    I’d still love to hear your thoughts, if you come up with anything else.

    Ron,

    Why do you think Acts 2:42 and Acts 2:46 point to different kinds of meals?

    -Alan

  8. 8-27-2011

    Would it be improper exegesis to bring 1 Cor 11:26-29 as well as the theological concept of being “part of the body” into the equation? That is to say, can one not assume that Paul would have certain standards for those who could partake in “Breaking of Bread” when it is done in the sacramental/ceremonial sense?

  9. 8-27-2011

    Andrew,

    That’s exactly the point raised here. What makes one meal “sacramental/ceremonial”? Most would point to exactly the kind of phrasing that is used in Acts 27:35.

    -Alan

  10. 8-27-2011

    If we can assume that the phrasing can be used for both types, i.e. a “normal” meal or a “sacramental/cermeonial” meal, then I would suggest that there must be other clues one can use to determine what kind of meal it was. For example, the participants.

    But I’m not sure if this approach is eisegesis or exegesis. However, I think reliance on the verbal clues alone is not enough, when they have a meaning spectrum that includes both types.

  11. 8-27-2011

    Andrew,

    Of course, the other option is that there is no difference when it comes to meals between believers – unless, as we see in 1 Corinthians 11, we are eating together but not treating one another properly. Then, even though we might have the right participants and even the right words, we’re still not eating the Lord’s Supper.

    -Alan

  12. 8-28-2011

    I love this discussion. I would love to hear more thoughts on it. I don’t have anything profound. When I was a part of my last community of believers (before we moved to L.A) we did communion as a shared meal with believers and unbelievers that were there. We talked about His death and our thankfulness for what He had done. And we talked about completely frivolous things during that meal. It was a wonderful example of love being shared and the reason we do what we do…Jesus!

  13. 8-28-2011

    Nothing profound here, either. :) My simple thinking is that anyone of that time (Jew or Gentile, or Christian) would understand “breaking bread” or “breaking of bread” as fellowship, whether in ritual or ‘religious’ sense or simply as people coming together for any occasion. I personally don’t read anything (such as “Lord’s supper”) into those phrases in any of the above passages. I simply see people eating together. They may very well remember the Lord as they do this, but I personally don’t think that when a phrase such as “breaking bread” is used, that it automatically means observing what Paul was talking about in 1 Cor 11. Really just an opinion. :)

  14. 8-28-2011

    Kimberly,

    I’m glad you enjoyed the discussion. I did also. I loved the way you described your shared meals!

    Joel,

    I wonder if this is what Paul was talking about at the end of 1 Corinthians 5.

    -Alan

  15. 8-30-2011

    http://johnmarkhicks.wordpress.com/2009/03/26/breaking-bread-in-luke-acts-v-acts-27/ here are some similar thoughts. John Hicks has done some pretty good work on the Lords supper.

  16. 8-30-2011

    In ” symposium to Eucharist” the author shows from a plethora of ancient sources that both ceremony and secular were merged in these banquet meals, from Greek culture to Jewish culture. We generally don’t have sacred meals, or eat “ordinary meals” in a sacred or ceremonially sense (no, not with candles in the background while wearing robes). I think our difficulty comes from our own Dualisms, sacred/holy, politics/religion, piety/public ethics, but first century saints didn’t drive a wedge between the two.

  17. 8-30-2011

    D’Angelo,

    Thanks for the link and the info. I’ve been away this evening, so I’ll have to check it out tomorrow.

    -Alan

  18. 9-2-2011

    Oops, I just about forgot I had posted here, as I hadn’t set it to notify me of follow-up comments.

    Yep I think 1 Cor 5 could apply here, and it’s really just the overall sense that I get from the NT, and from my understanding of that time period, that ‘breaking bread’ simply meant to eat together. In and of itself, the phrase didn’t mean observing the Lord’s Supper. And so Christians could eat (“break bread”) with pagans, and it not necessarily mean that they were officially observing anything, other than a display of the love and acceptance that Jesus Himself showed in eating and drinking with “sinners.”

  19. 9-2-2011

    Joel,

    Thanks for the follow-up.

    -Alan

  20. 8-28-2012

    Alan,

    “Technical terms”? Has it come to this?

    Paul fed the soldiers per the wishes of our Father. It would not be uncommon for him to give thanks for the food the soldiers were about to eat.

    I do not see how this is to be tied to The Lord’s Supper. Paul was feeding soldiers. That was it.

  21. 8-28-2012

    Donald,

    Exactly. Paul was simply sharing a meal. And, I think many instances that we consider to be some type of special observance (“the Lord’s Supper”) is also simply a common meal shared between brothers and sisters in Christ.

    -Alan