Breaking of Bread

Preface

In this teaching, “Breaking of Bread”, I attempt to elucidate what the term means and what it is referring to by discussing its Hebrew origins and its connection with the Old Covenant Meal – The Passover Meal, as well as its Christian usage and its connections with The New Covenant Meal – The Lord’s Supper. Both of these meals are examples of “Breaking Bread” – essentially an Agape Meal to Celebrate Life.

The Old Covenant Meal ~ The Passover

In the Hebrew calendar, the Passover Meal was celebrated on the 14th day of the first month called Nisan, which is the month of April in our Gregorian calendar.  The Hebrew word for Passover is Pesach.  In the book of Exodus, we read about the origin of the Feast of Passover.[1]  The feast was instituted as a memorial of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and their redemption from the bondage of Egyptian slavery.  For the Passover Meal, an unblemished lamb was taken for each household and sacrificed.  Its blood was applied to the doors of the house as a protection from the angel of death the Lord was sending to strike down the firstborn in every household in Egypt.  The apostle Paul refers to “Christ, our Passover”,[2] because Jesus fulfilled the Feast of Passover: “The wages of sin is death.”[3]; but through the shedding of His blood on the cross as “the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world”[4], Jesus set us free from sin and death, and redeemed us from its bondage.

But let’s take a little closer look at the Passover Meal itself.  The Passover Meal is called the Seder.  In Exodus, the Lord instructed that an unblemished lamb was to be eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, signifying that Jesus, Himself being “the Lamb of God” was “unleavened” with sin, and suffered bitterly for our sin.  It was this Passover Meal that Jesus was celebrating with His disciples on the Feast of Passover in the upper room in Jerusalem the night He was betrayed.  At that meal, Jesus demonstrated that He would fulfill the Passover, and in so doing was also instituting a New Covenant Meal.  Jesus was saying to His disciples: “Whenever you celebrate the Passover, remember I am ‘the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.’”  “Remember, I fulfilled the Passover.”

The New Covenant Meal ~ The Lord’s Supper

But Jesus was indicating even more than that.  The fact that Jesus fulfilled the Passover means that He was pointing to something beyond the Passover Meal.  He was pointing to the New Covenant and a New Covenant Meal.  He was saying: “Whenever you eat bread and drink wine – whenever you have a special meal together – do it in remembrance of Me.  Remember: ‘I am the Bread of Life’.  Whenever you eat the bread, remember My body; and whenever you drink the cup, remember My blood, and you shall have My life in you and in your midst.”[5]  Of course, we know that this New Covenant Meal is what we now call The Lord’s Supper.  But my point is that this New Covenant Meal is also “the breaking of bread”.

The Breaking of Bread

Both the Passover Meal and the Lord’s Supper are examples of the term “the breaking of bread”.  This term applied to any meal to which guests were invited.  The term “breaking of bread” refers to what the host did before His guests at the beginning of the meal:  Standing at the head of the table, he would take bread, give thanks for it, break the bread, and pass it on to his guests in a ritual of welcome.  After the meal, the host would again stand at the head of the table, take a cup of wine, give thanks for it, and pass it on to his guests as a ritual of celebration.[6]  The apostle Paul tells us that this is exactly what Jesus did at the Lord’s Supper.

1 Corinthians 11:23-25 reads: “… the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’  In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’”

A Meal to Celebrate Life

What we call “The Last Supper” was a Passover Meal in celebration of redemption, and also a New Covenant Meal celebrating the newness of life available to the followers of Christ.  My point is that it was a meal.  It is incorrect to imagine that what Jesus did with His disciples in the upper room was Holy Communion as we practice it.  It was not. What Jesus did with His disciples in the upper room was a meal.  The I Corinthians 11 scripture passage bears this out.  The apostle Paul said that Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and broke the bread; and then He took the cup after the supper.[7]  In Luke’s gospel, we also see the important phrase: “after the supper”.[8] You see, in between the bread and the cup was a meal.  In between the elements of our Holy Communion, the bread and the cup, there was a meal.  What we now The Lord’s Table or The Lord’s Supper was originally part of “the breaking of bread” – it took place at the beginning and end of the meal

This meal Jesus had with His disciples in the upper room was not His “last supper” – it was not His last meal.  The scriptures show that Jesus celebrated a meal with His disciples at least three times between His resurrection and ascension.  At least three times before His ascension Jesus appeared to His disciples and “broke bread” – ate and drank with His disciples and had a meal.

We will read three specific instances in the scriptures where Jesus had a meal with His disciples after His resurrection, but the point is this: Jesus celebrated life with a meal – He celebrated His resurrection life with a meal.

In the New Testament accounts, it is written that there was a 40-day period between Christ’s resurrection and ascension, and that during this time He appeared to more than 500 people.[9]  During this period, three times at the very least, He chose to celebrate life with a meal.  This was obviously very meaningful to Him.

In Acts 10:40-41, the apostle Peter is preaching and says: “… God raised up (Jesus) on the third day, and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.”  Obviously, Peter’s main point is that God raised Jesus back to life; but the most significant thing he remembers about the resurrection appearances is that Jesus celebrated life with a meal. 

On what is now called Resurrection Sunday, Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus and had a meal with them probably late in the afternoon.  Luke writes: “Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened, and they knew Him.”[10]

Later in the day, Jesus appeared to His disciples in the upper room where they were staying in Jerusalem.  He came at dinner time: The apostle Mark wrote: “Later He appeared to the eleven (Doubting Thomas wasn’t there.) as they sat at the table.”[11]  And of this visit, the apostle Luke writes: “… He said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’  They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; and He took it and ate it before them.”[12]

And then the apostle John tells us that Jesus appeared to His disciples at the Sea of Galilee early in the morning in time for breakfast.  John writes: “Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.’  Jesus said to them, ‘Come and eat breakfast.’ …. Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.  This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.”[13]

The significance of these resurrection appearances at mealtimes is that Jesus enjoyed eating; and he told His disciples: “Whenever you do this – whenever you have a meal together – remember Me and celebrate life – My resurrection life.”  This is the essence of “the breaking of bread”. 

I believe these concepts were more meaningful and more easily grasped by the 1st Century Christians than for us today.  This is because the Jewish people major on celebrating life.  They have a saying: “Le Chayim”, meaning “to life”.  In the Eastern worldview of the Hebrews or Jews, this physical life is not seen as being separate from spiritual life.  They see and celebrate the spiritual in the physical.  It is our Western worldview that makes such a distinction separating the physical and the spiritual.  But the Jews see and celebrate the spiritual in the physical.  And the main way they celebrate life is through eating and drinking at special meals – what they called “the breaking of bread”.  In all cultures a meal may be used in a celebration, but the Mediterranean cultures excel at celebrating life through their eating and drinking.  Now if we cannot accept that they know how to eat and drink better than us, at least we can accept the fact that they enjoy it more.  They celebrate life through their eating and drinking.  So did Jesus.  This is why He spoke of life and equated it with eating and drinking.  And this is why He shared meals with His disciples after His resurrection.  He was setting a precedent for His disciples – a model or pattern for His Church.

The Agape Meal

The early Church did carry on this practice for approximately 150 years.[14]   It was called “the breaking of bread” or the “Agape Meal”.  The Greek word, agape, simply means love – the God kind of love.  In time, the thanksgiving of the bread at the beginning and the cup at the end became separated from the meal.  A separate ritual was formed called The Eucharist – meaning thanksgiving.  For various reasons, the Eucharist and the Agape Meal became two separate services; but for 150 years they were together in one service.  What were the reasons?

Abuse – like that which Paul is addressing in I Corinthians 11.  Inconvenience – Putting on a meal and cleaning up afterward can be laborious if we have lost the joy of working together.

The reason that Paul gives in his epistle is that the believers had lost the joy of eating together – they lost the “sacredness” of the Agape Meal.  He wrote to the Corinthians saying: “When you gather in the same place, you can’t possibly be eating the Lord’s Supper.  Each of you eats his own supper without waiting for each other.  So, one person goes hungry, and another gets drunk… Do you despise God’s church and embarrass people who don’t have anything to eat?  What can I say to you?  Should I praise you?  I won’t praise you for this.”[15]  You see, they forgot what it was all about.  But you can see from Paul’s words that they were having a meal – not just the elements of Holy Communion – it was a meal.  And we can see that Paul considers this Agape meal – to be a sacred meal, because he warned them not to do it in such “an unworthy manner”.  That is the real meaning of those verses of judgment.[16]

So originally, Communion was the beginning and the ending of an Agape Meal.  I cannot think of a good reason why “the breaking of bread” could not be restored to its original format.  Throughout Church history, reformers like Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians and John Wesley and the early Methodists returned to the practice of the Agape Meal.

As the apostle Paul was admonishing the early Church, the “breaking of bread” or the Agape Meal should be considered as sacred as the thanksgiving for the bread and cup that precede and follow it.  I don’t believe that for Paul sacred would have meant solemn.  I don’t believe he expected a love feast of eating and drinking to be a solemn occasion.  The word Eucharist means thanksgiving.  The breaking of bread and the Agape Meal are occasions of celebration – a celebration of life – a celebration of resurrection life.  Sacred doesn’t mean solemn.  Sacred means consecrated to the Lord.

So, how can the breaking of bread – how can an Agape Meal – how can a Potluck Meal be consecrated to the LordBy being aware that the Lord is in our midst.  By being aware that we are eating and drinking with Jesus – just as He did with His disciples after His resurrection.  I will close with a scripture which “says it all” for me.  It gives a picture of a sacredness without a solemnity.  It’s about seeing and celebrating the spiritual in the physical.  It speaks of Le Chayim – “to life”.  It is an example of people sharing a meal before the Lord – aware of His presence in their midst.  This is from Exodus 24:11 “So they saw God, and they ate and drank.”[17]  Or as another translation simply puts it: “They shared a meal together in God’s presence!”[18]

ADDENDUM

Proclaiming the Lord’s Death ~ An Evangelistic Event

 “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which 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 He took the cup also 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.”[19]

This says that “the Lord’s death” is proclaimed. I think it safe to say that the Lord’s resurrection is also implied, for Paul made a case a little later in this same epistle[20] that without the resurrection, the whole of the gospel and our faith would be vanity. So, the Lord’s resurrection is implied, but the focus is clearly “the Lord’s death”. Here I would like to hopefully shed some light on why Paul may have focused on the Lord’s death.

Paul said that we “proclaim” the Lord’s death. The Greek word which is here translated “proclaim” is kataggello, which can also be translated announce, declare, make known (publicly) – and also explain.

Paul said “you”, that is, “we” proclaim, announce, make known publically – we explain the Lord’s death. This whole concept originates with the Passover Meal. When the Lord instituted the Passover, he instructed the men of Israel by saying: “You shall explain (Hebrew: Haggadah) to your son on that day, this is done because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.”[21]

An excerpt from John Gill’s commentary[22]:

“The apostle here refers to a custom used by the Jews on the night of the Passover to show forth the reason of their practice and the institution (of the Passover) to their children ….  Saying how different is this night from all other nights …. Particularly he was to inform (them) what several things showed forth or declared[23]; (for example) that “the Passover” מגיד, “declared” or “showed forth” that (with regards to the angel of death) the Lord passed over the houses of our fathers in Egypt …. and these things are called הגדה, “the declaration”, or “the showing forth”; and there is a treatise called הגדה של פסח, “The Showing Forth of the Passover” (The Hagadah), in which, besides the things mentioned, and many others, it is observed[24], that it was commanded (that) the Jews לספר, “declare” the going out of Egypt, and that everyone that diligently declares the going out of Egypt, is praiseworthy. Now the apostle observes this end of the Lord’s Supper, to show forth His death, in opposition to the notion of the “Judaizing” Christians at Corinth, who thought of nothing else but the showing forth of the Passover …. whereas the true and only intent of (the Lord’s Supper) was to show forth the death of Christ, redemption by Him, and the greatness of His love expressed therein, and which is to be continued till his second coming….” 

So, we see that in celebrating the Passover, Israel proclaimed a message of the Lord’s redemption; and that in celebrating the Lord’s Supper, the Church proclaims essentially the same message of redemption, specifically through the work of Christ, “the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world”.[25]

But I think it also accurate to say that the Lord’s Supper – in and of itself – proclaims that message – to us, the Church, and also to the world. The Lord’s Supper – in and of itself – makes an evangelistic proclamation – an evangelistic announcement. For this message was not initiated by Israel; nor was this gospel first introduced by the Church. This message originates in the heart and mind of God “before the foundation of the world”; and yet today, the Holy Spirit continues to make it known publically when in a spiritual and personal way, He sovereignly explains the meaning of the message to the hearts of people.

In his epistle, the apostle Peter refers to this message that was birthed before the foundation of the world: “(You were redeemed) with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world but was manifest in these last times for you.”[26] The apostle John also makes the same reference to “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” in the Book of Revelation.[27]

And the Holy Spirit, Who has been poured out upon all humanity, today continues to “testify of Jesus”[28] in the hearts of people by “proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes”. This is what the Scriptures refer to as the “eternal gospel” for it spans from eternity past into eternity future. The apostle John writes in the Book of Revelation: “Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth —to every nation, tribe, language and people.”[29] The message of the Cross – the message of the Lamb Slain – is the “bottom line” of all that God has to say to humanity.

And so, the Lord’s Supper can be an evangelistic event when so explained. Namely, from before the foundation of the world, that is, before sin ever came into the world through the Serpent in the Garden, the Lord purposed and planned the coming of “the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world”. And by Christ’s atoning blood sacrifice, He redeems all who will utterly depend upon His redeeming sacrifice.

This is the message that we are to remember every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper – that is, every time we Break Bread. This is a message that is to be “proclaimed” continuously until He returns to bring the redeemed into His eternal kingdom.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Exodus 12:1-13

[2] I Corinthians 5:7

[3] Romans 6:23

[4] John 1:29.  All Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

[5] John 6

[6] IVF Bible Dictionary, 750; The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, A. Edersheim, Vol. II, 206; Christian Worship in the Primitive Church, A.B. MacDonald, 125.

[7] I Corinthians 11:23-25

[8] Luke 22:20

[9] Acts 1:3 & I Corinthians 15:6

[10] Luke 24:30-31a

[11] Mark 16:14

[12] Luke 24:41-43 New American Standard Bible

[13] John 21:9-10, 12a, 14

[14] Up to the time of Justin Martyr, 150 A.D. ref. The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Abingdon Press), Article: The Lord’s Supper by M.H. Shepherd Jr.

[15] I Corinthians 11:20-22 God’s Word Translation

[16] I Corinthians 11:27-34

[17] Exodus 24:11

[18] Exodus 24:11 New Living Translation

[19] 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 New American Standard Bible

[20] 1 Corinthians 15

[21] Exodus 13:8 The Amplified Bible

[22] Exposition of the Entire Bible

[23] Moses Kotsensis Mitzvot Tora prec. aff. 41. 

[24] P. 5, 6. Ed. Rittangel. & Seder. Tephillot. Ed. Basil. fol. 243. 1

[25] John 1:29, 36

[26] 1 Peter 1:19-20

[27] 13:8

[28] John 15:26

[29] 14:16

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At Christ’s Table – ACTpublications

“Explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.” 1 Corinthians 2:13

© 2005

W.D. Furioso, Writer ~ Frances Furioso, Editor

At Christ’s Table Ministries ~ ACTpublications ~  https://www.AtChristsTable.org

 ACTpublications may be freely shared, reproduced, and distributed – unaltered, in digital or print formats. Any quotations or excerpts must also be unaltered and referenced with the above information.

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Quo Vadis

God is always moving forward in His kingdom plans and purposes. He never moves backward. And for those who love Him, He never stops moving in our lives for His glory. But to continue moving on with God “from glory to glory” requires our living “from faith to faith”. It takes an act of faith