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Breaking bread means sharing a meal together

Posted by on Oct 2, 2012 in blog links, ordinances/sacraments | 11 comments

Breaking bread means sharing a meal together

Over at “God Directed Deviations,” Miguel asked a good question last week in his post “Does Breaking Bread = The Lord’s Supper?” I’ve commented on the phrase “breaking bread” before, but I thought it would be interesting to visit the topic again.

The comments on Miguel’s post are interesting, with some saying, “Yes, ‘breaking bread’ refers to the Lord’s Supper / the Eucharist / Communion,” and others saying, “No, ‘breaking bread’ does not refer to the Lord’s Supper.”

Here are some of Miguel’s questions and comments from his post:

Let’s go back to breaking bread. What was commonly understood when someone used this term? Was it the Lord’s Supper? Was it a general term for sharing a meal? I don’t think we can definitively say one way or the other.

There are several instances in the New Testament in which the phrase “breaking bread” cannot refer to “the Lord’s Supper”: the feeding of the 5000/4000 (Matthew 14:19, Matthew 15:36, and parallels) and Paul feeding the pagan sailors and soldiers on a ship in a storm (Acts 27:35).

Then, there’s this interesting passage in Jeremiah, which could not have referred to “the Lord’s Supper” and yet includes “breaking bread” and “sharing the cup”:

No one shall break bread for the mourner, to comfort him for the dead, nor shall anyone give him the cup of consolation to drink for his father or his mother. (Jeremiah 16:7 ESV)

It seems, instead, that “breaking bread” is an idiom for “sharing a meal.”


11 Comments

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  1. 10-2-2012

    I think from what I’ve read in Scriptures it means a meal but that the Christians remembered the Lord when they did it together. They didn’t have a communion “service,” they just shared life together and remembered the Lord. Historical secular writings do, however, mention Christian “love feasts,” which indicate that at some point it may have taken on a more liturgical significance.

  2. 10-2-2012

    In feeding the 5000 & 4000, there is the symbol of His death: One for many. Even Paul’s bread for “pagan sailors” witnessing the power of God in Christ depicts the symbolism of the Son’s propitiation for men.
    We would be on guard against forming practice as doctrine. Even to Mark’s and Luke’s account there is what may amount to a difference of practice [Luke has the cup being shared twice], and as today there continues considerable variation from place to place.
    There is no restriction given for frequency of our remembrance of the Master’s great sacrifice; neither is their compunction descending in us, should we at some time eat and drink and pray without pausing to remember.
    And yet… I can scarcely today observe the loaf without reflecting upon His death; or wine being poured out as to image His blood loss for our gain.

  3. 10-2-2012

    Dan,

    As far as I can tell, the “Lord’s Supper” and “Agape feast” were the same meal for a long time. It was only later that only small pieces of bread and small sip from the cup was considered the “Lord’s Supper” or “Eucharist.” Even in the Didache, which mentions the bread/cup, it also says, “After you are filled…” indicating that it was part of a meal.

    Marshall,

    The point, though, is that it was not simply a piece of bread or a sip from the cup – it was part of a meal. In the feeding of the 5000 and 4000, the people ate as much as they could. “Breaking bread” is not about the spiritual significance. It was a term used during that time without spiritual significance. The term points to a meal; the significance is gained because of the presence of Jesus Christ as the originator/host of the meal.

    -Alan

  4. 10-2-2012

    Could it not mean either one, or both together, according to context?

  5. 10-2-2012

    Breaking bread in the early church was a robust meal shared in the jovial warmth of christian family. Today, we have paltry elements distributed as part of a carefully orchestrated liturgy.

  6. 10-2-2012

    How would you handle 1 Corinthians 11:34? That passage makes me think this meal isn’t primarily about alieviating hunger but about remembering. Do you think the quantity of food consumed is important? And do you think the Didache is actually describing a full blown feast/meal? The author only mentions bread and wine and then gives a prescribed prayer of thanksgiving to be prayed afterwards. And later on he says this should be done every Lord’s day and only by baptized believers. I’m probably wrong, but to me it seems kinda liturgical fairly early on.

  7. 10-2-2012

    David,

    I think “breaking bread” always points to a meal. I don’t think that meal was always considered the “Lord’s Supper” (see the passages I mentioned above). I can’t find any examples where the phrase “breaking bread” is used when a meal is not in the context. Do you know of any examples?

    Bob,

    Yes, I think that changed happened fairly soon after the first generation of disciples died. When there were problems during the meal, people started arguing that the meal should be set aside.

    Ben,

    I would handle 1 Corinthians 11:34 by noticing that that statement is in the middle of a passage in which Paul is talking about a meal. Like he says, some were eating too much while others were getting no food at all. (So, if they were that hungry, then they should eat at home.) The question is not the quantity of food or whether or not there is any kind of spiritual significance. The point is that the phrase “breaking bread” is always used in the context of a meal. To say that “break bread” means only tearing apart and eating a small piece of bread changes the meaning of that idiom.

    -Alan

  8. 10-3-2012

    I think that – according to the whole revelation in the Bible – breaking bread can mean both matters, both eating a meal together (see when the Lord Jesus broke bread and gave it to the two disciples in Emmaus), and the Lord’s table / the Lord’s supper.

    Also, an interesting thing: if we read in Corinthians we realize that in the beginning of the church life the believers would come together and have a love feast, after which they would break the bread… – the Lord’s table is supposed to be around, related to, in the midst of, and like eating a meal. It’s a feast. It’s very interesting, if you consider it…

    In any case, such a practice or such a doctrine / teaching should enrich our spiritual life and not bring about differences of opinion. It’s all for the building up of the Body of Christ, that God may be expressed through every member of the Body…

  9. 10-3-2012

    Stefan,

    I think I’m tracking with you… “Breaking bread” is a phrase that always refers to a meal, and sometimes that meal is the Lord’s Supper. I agree that sharing the Lord’s Supper as meal enriches our spiritual life together.

    -Alan

  10. 10-4-2012

    Alan, there are associations you seem to be making which could only succeed to possibly divide brethren. [caveat]
    We should consider any amount of food offered, no matter how small or great, as to our meal, in part or whole. A piece of bread with a sip of wine is as sufficient as to gorge ourselves with food. Pampered westerners may choke on this thought, demanding more to their own comfort. Yet, is not Paul saying, “What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink?” Best not to be coming together with stomachs grumbling, craving the love feast food rather than the righteousness found in our Beloved?
    The connection of Christ’s flesh and blood is inseparable with the Passover meal pointing forward, and thereby delimiting our clumsy focus upon an enjoyable meal as foundational. There is no direct teaching to synchronize His remembrance with a feast, or an afternoon, or an evening, or even a particular day of the week. If you’ve borrowed or built a system for the Lord’s Supper beyond the landscape or your own conscience, you have sinned.
    It is entirely OKay to share in apologetic form what is done where you gather, such as Beresford Job and others often testify. We’re always glad to hear of how Christ is manifest everywhere! But slip to build a doctrine of it, you thereby set yourself on a collision course with Grace Himself.

  11. 10-4-2012

    Marshall,

    I don’t see the connection between saying that the phrase “breaking break” points to a meal and your suggestion that I’m building a doctrine that separates the brothers/sisters in Christ. For one thing, I regularly fellowship with brothers/sisters who disagree with me about the meaning of the phrase “breaking bread.” Why? Because it’s not the understand of that phrase that unites us. We are united in Jesus Christ and by his Spirit.

    -Alan

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