Communion Meditations: On Breaking Bread

CommunionThe scriptures speak of the Lord’s Supper in terms of “breaking bread.”  For example,

(Act 20:7 ESV) 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.

Ponder for a moment why “break bread” became an expression for the Lord’s Supper. It’s really an expression for eating a common meal.

A typical First Century Jewish meal would have a course of unleavened bread, flat bread made with flour and oil, not unlike a soft tortilla. The bread would have been baked fresh in a brick oven and brought in hot and steaming.

The host would say a blessing and then tear off piece of the bread, passing the remainder to his guests. The tearing of the bread to divide it among guests was the “breaking” of the bread.

You see, you can’t break bread alone. You can only break bread by dividing the bread among other supper guests. To break bread is to engage in table hospitality.

You can sing praises to God alone. You can pray alone. You can listen to recorded sermons alone. You can write a check to the church alone. But you can’t break bread alone.

One of the purposes of the communion is to remind us that we are a body. This is something we have to do together. And that’s because we are most like Jesus when we are together — because together we form the body of Christ.

(Eph 4:15-16 ESV) 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Therefore, as we break this bread, remember that this is not just between you and God. You are, as God wishes, breaking bread with fellow believers, members of the same body, united in Christ to be built up in love.

And you can’t be united in Christ and built up in love alone.

This bread is represents the body of Christ sacrificed — because we are the body of Christ sacrificed. We are “sacrificed” because we’ve committed to the form of sacrificial love that Jesus showed us on the cross — doing for others knowing he was getting the raw end of the deal. He knew it wasn’t fair. And he loved us so much he did it anyway.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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14 Responses to Communion Meditations: On Breaking Bread

  1. Jay, I don't wish to be argumentative, but I have to ask a question: How does Acts 20:7 obviously refer to the Lord's Supper?

    The phrase "breaking bread" is never used in the context of the Lord's Supper where one can be definitive about it. In fact, it is always used to mean common meal. Even in 1 Cor 11 the Lord's Supper is never referred to as "breaking bread," several other things, but not "breaking bread." If we are going to say that "breaking bread" can mean "Lord's Supper," we should agree that any time we find the phrase it could mean "Lord's Supper." That means that it is possible in Acts 2 that they were having the Lord's Supper daily together as they met from house to house. We cannot pick and choose when we think it refers to the Lord's Supper or not.

    Jesus said (as Paul stated), "…as often as you drink it…"

    Jesus said this statement to his fully Jewish disciples. They partook of this particular Seder meal yearly during Passover, it was nothing new to them.

    Since there is no definitive verse of the phrase "breaking bread" being used to refer to the Lord's Supper, and there is a possibility that Acts 20:7 could be referring to a common meal as was their custom (especially with visitors), and Paul was taking the opportunity to teach, as he WAS a Rabbi (teacher), then we should conclude that it was a common meal. We cannot bind any other interpretation without an authoritative example.

    I too, was taught that this verse refers to the Lord's Supper, but after studying every occurrence of the phrase "breaking bread," I can find no precedent.

    This may not be a popular post, but I pray it will give those with un-veiled eyes opportunity.

  2. One other thought I just had as I was reading this passage in Acts 20 is that it says that Paul "prolonged his speech until midnight." So, in verse 11, after Paul brought Eutychus back to life and they went up and had "broken the bread" it was actually done on Monday.

    I wonder what precedent this sets? Just some interesting observations I never saw before.

  3. About 3 hours ago, I wrote the following for a communion meditation in our church bulletin for later this month:

    A Common Meal – Or the Lord’s Supper?

    And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts….” – Acts 2:42, 46

    Does verse 46 here speak of something different from the breaking of bread in verse 42?

    “Breaking of bread” in verse 42 is from artos, the Greek word for bread or a loaf. In verse 46, this same word is translated as food.

    The question, then, is whether the church was all gathered together in one place to eat the Lord’s Supper (“the breaking of bread”, v. 42) or if they did this from house to house (v. 46).

    IF v. 46 references the Lord’s Supper, then in the very beginning of the church it was a daily occurrence.

    Some refer to the Lord’s Supper by the name Eucharist. This comes from the Greek word for giving thanks.

    When we give thanks for our meals, we make them Eucharistic. That is, we recognize God as the giver and bring His presence to our table – whether it it the “Lord’s Table” or a common meal.

    In our giving of thanks for our daily bread, do we remember Jesus (other than to say, “In Jesus’ name, Amen”)? If we do, then we are coming close to what the Lord teaches His church to do when they come together to eat the Lord’s Supper.

    Might we be stronger as a church if we frequently ate together in our homes, giving thanks to God and remembering Jesus? Might we grow closer to one another in the Lord and stronger in His Spirit if we did not restrict our “Christian worship” to one hour each week when we are all together in one place?

  4. aBasnar says:

    Acts 2:42 is often referred to a s the 4 pillars of the church:

    Act 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers

    This is a summary of "church activities". Every chuirch uot to the present times without interruotion holds to these four things – amazing, isn't it? They do them differently, they have wrapped them in their own traditions, bot they still hold fast to them.

    And this is the first time, we have the phrase "breaking of bread" is a "church-setting". then we hae it just a few verses later:

    Act 2:46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,

    The third time is in Acts 20:7 where it is tied to the First day if the week. So even back then we may see two different traditions: Dayily communion amd weekly communion. In fact that's what we find later in church history as well.

    Church History is very crucial to really understand these reports, because there was a conitnuitiy in the churches from the first to the second generation, because of the overlap of generations. Around 120 there were still people in the churches who knew the apostles personally and knew very well what was handed down to the church. POlycarp, a close friend of the Apostle John dies as late as 150 AD! It is from theior testimonies and church practice that we can eb very sure that the phrase "breaking of bread" was a term pointing to the Lord's Supper. And we can learn a lot of other things from these brothers, too.

    Alexander

  5. aBasnar says:

    Might we be stronger as a church if we frequently ate together in our homes, giving thanks to God and remembering Jesus? Might we grow closer to one another in the Lord and stronger in His Spirit if we did not restrict our “Christian worship” to one hour each week when we are all together in one place?

    Just do it, and you will see …

  6. Jay Guin says:

    MM Harris,

    I commend to your reading the series on the Lord's Supper for a better understanding of my peculiar views: http://oneinjesus.info/index-under-construction/t….

    In general, I don't take Acts 20:6-7 as a "binding example" and think the breaking of bread was likely both a common meal and the communion. I think the two were normally combined.

    More than my own writings, I'd encourage a reading of John Mark Hicks' article: http://johnmarkhicks.wordpress.com/2009/03/28/bre… which is part of a larger series by him, which is excellent.

  7. HistoryGuy says:

    Jay & Alexander,
    Good posts guys. I tend to agree. Historically I see daily meals and a Sunday meal. I appreciate JMH revealing some theological understanding of daily community as well as the Lords Supper/Lords Day (Sunday) teaching.

  8. HistoryGuy says:

    Jerry,
    I posted before ending my thought. You made a good post as well 😉

  9. Don says:

    Sunday to be called the Lord’s day? Is it too much to ask that somewhere in the New Testament scriptures, where is the occasion where Jesus taught the apostles, or the apostles taught anybody that the first day of the week, Sunday, should be designated by the term, “The Lord’s Day”?

  10. Don, this is another example of our habit of reverse-engineering the scripture. “We call Sunday ‘the Lord’s day’, and John makes mention of ‘the Lord’s day’, so John must have been talking about Sunday, so that means the Bible says Sunday is ‘the Lord’s day'”. Oy, my head!

  11. servaline says:

    We are spiritually one in Christ, so if one is alone with no fellow believers to share a communal meal with, why can’t he/she break bread in the spirit with those others who may be sharing communal meals.

  12. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Servaline,

    I’d agree if that’s your best choice under the circumstances. Better to break bread alone but in “spiritual” communion than not at all. But I know too many people who’d rather commune alone than associate with fellow believers who disagree over how to use the church treasury or how many cups to use etc. We break communion all too easily, and our lonely communions are often symptoms of a much deeper spiritual disease.

  13. Alabama John says:

    Broke bread many times with a few Jar Heads using John Wayne Crackers if any of you know what they were.

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