Questions: Does “Breaking Bread” Refer Solely To Communion? Does “For As Often As You Eat This Bread And Drink This Cup” Allow Personal Judgment As To The Frequency Of Observing Communion?

Since I started this blog a few weeks ago, I’ve had some really good questions pop up in the comments to my various articles and in private e-mails to me.  These questions are legitimate and deserve a biblical, logical answer (1 Pet. 3:15).  That’s why I started a “Questions” category in my blog a few days ago.  From time to time I’ll be posting articles which answer the questions people bring to my attention.

One reader gave me a great comment in response to my article about whether Christians should take communion every Sunday that deserves a biblical answer.  I’ve cited the comment below, along with my responses to each of the points raised within it:

If you do not mind a bit of positive critique, I find it an eisegetical stretch to claim that the 3,000 new Christians observed communion on the Day of Pentecost, in Acts 2. They may have, but the text does not record it. Verses 42-47 appear to provide a general description of the ongoing, daily activity of the early Jerusalem church. They met together, at temple daily and in homes, enjoying meals together. Breaking bread — in this context, as verse 46 indicates clearly, and in general usage in that day, and today — does not refer solely and exclusively to communion. Your article does not allow this obvious point.

I understand the reasoning behind this point of view.   Acts 2:42 mentions “the breaking of bread,” while Acts 2:46 uses the phrase “breaking bread.”  Since the latter verse also says that the early disciples were “breaking bread in their homes” and then mentions receiving “their food,” it is clear that the term “breaking bread” as used in Acts 2:46 is referring to the first Christians eating a common meal in their homes.  This conclusion is further strengthened when we see that the Greek word translated “food” (trophe) in Acts 2:46 is never used in the New Testament in any passages which talk about the Lord’s Supper.

However, it needs to be pointed out that just as we examined what the rest of Acts 2:46 brought out in order to arrive to the correct conclusion that “breaking bread” in that verse referred to an ordinary meal, we likewise need to examine what the rest of Acts 2:42 mentions in order to determine the proper usage of “breaking bread” in that verse.  In this case, the phrase “breaking bread” is surrounded by descriptions of acts of worship.  The verse records how the first disciples “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching,” a reference to the preaching of God’s Word (Acts 6:2).  In addition, they also “devoted themselves” to “prayer,” another act of worship done during their assemblies.

Interestingly, notice also that they “devoted themselves” to “fellowship.”  This word comes from the Greek word koinōnia, and is defined as “fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse.”  Paul was inspired to use this same word in correlation with the notion of “breaking bread” in 1 Cor. 10:16 when he wrote, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?  The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”  Notice that he is making an obvious reference to the Lord’s Supper in this passage (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23-25), and in doing so he uses the term “communion” (koinōnia, “fellowship” in Acts 2:42) and the idea of “breaking bread” interchangeably.  In like manner, Luke in Acts 2:42 mentions both terms – “fellowship” (koinōnia, “communion” in 1 Cor. 10:16) and “the breaking of bread” – in the context of listing  acts of worship.  Thus, it is not an eisegetical error to conclude that he, like Paul, is using the terms interchangeably to refer to the Lord’s Supper.

Therefore, we see a distinct difference between Acts 2:42 and Acts 2:46 in how the two passages use the term “breaking bread.” The former uses it in the context of listing acts of worship, and uses it alongside a term which, when Paul used the same terms interchangeably, referred to the Lord’s Supper.  The latter uses it in the context of the early Christians eating food in their homes.  Therefore, the former refers to the Lord’s Supper, while the latter refers to a common meal.  Some translators imply that they recognize this distinction by their adding the article “the” in Acts 2:42’s “breaking of bread,” thus making the verse say “the breaking of THE bread,” while failing to do the same in Acts 2:46.  (Examples of this include Young’s Literal Translation and the Weymouth New Testament.)

Concerning why in my article I alluded to Acts 2:42 being evidence that the first Christians partook of the Lord’s Supper on the day of Pentecost, a Sunday, I came to that conclusion not because the text of Acts 2 specifically says so.  The commenter is correct to say that it does not specifically say so, although it is definitely implied considering that the day of Pentecost is what is referred to the immediate preceding context (Acts 2:1-42).  The main reason I stated that conclusion is given in the article, namely that Jesus had specifically mentioned partaking of the Lord’s Supper with his disciples in the kingdom on “that day” (Matt. 26:29; Mark 14:25) when “the kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:18).  The kingdom of God is the church of Christ (Col. 1:13), and the church came on the day of Pentecost, a Sunday (Acts 2:1-41).  Thus, Jesus’ prophecy of partaking it with his disciples (in spirit – Matt. 18:20; Heb. 2:11-12) on “that day” when “the kingdom of God comes” would have to have been fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when the church began, which was the first day of the week.  In order for it to have been fulfilled, those newly baptized Christians would have had to have observed communion on that very same day.  The fact that Luke mentions these first disciples worshiping together (Acts 2:42) immediately after recording their conversion and the subsequent beginning of the church on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-41) lends credence to this view.

Likewise, with the Troas church setting, in Acts 20, lends itself to three views on the breaking of bread. First, the reference could be to communion, as verse 7 seems to indicate. Breaking bread, however, could refer to a common meal, as verse 11 seems to indicate. A third option is that two bread breakings took place, the first being communion and the latter a common meal. The wording of the text itself allows these possibilities; however, I tend to accept the third option, so we seem to agree fairly well here.  Of course, the inspired Luke is not writing liturgical instruction in the text. His focus is on Paul’s preaching and the miracle performed, as he references the church’s practice of meeting on the first day of the week, or Sunday, with an emphasis on communion. Luke does not intend in this text, however, to imply that communion or a worship gathering is restricted to the first day of the week only. If so, then worship and communion are both restricted to Sunday only.

Prov. 30:5 says that every word of God is “tested.”  In other words, the inspired writers had a reason for every word that they wrote.  Therefore, we should not be so quick to imply that Luke’s intention was to focus solely on the miracle and the discourse.

With this in mind, a careful reading of Acts 20:7 and Acts 20:11 brings out several notable points, some of which are similar to the distinction between Acts 2:42 and Acts 2:46.  For one, examine the phrase “we were gathered together” in Acts 20:7.  The personal pronoun “we” shows that Luke was present on this occasion.  However, what is even more interesting is the expression “were gathered together.”  It comes from the Greek verb synagō, and Luke used this verb in a passive voice form.  Grammatically, this means that Luke was stating that he and his fellow disciples did not gather or assemble themselves together on the first day of the week not by their own authority, idea, or suggestion; rather, they “were gathered together” by an extraneous or external directive.  From what source did this extraneous directive come?  The only other specific scriptural evidence we have comes from 1 Cor. 16:1-2, which has Paul – under inspiration (1 Cor. 14:37; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; Eph. 3:3-5) – directing the Corinthian and Galatian churches (and implicitly, all other churches – 1 Cor. 4:17) to take up a collection for needy saints “on the first day of every week.”  Therefore, God was the source of the extraneous directive which gathered together Luke and his fellow disciples on the first day of the week, and Paul’s inspired usage of the Greek term kata in 1 Cor. 16:2 combined with what we read in Acts 20:7 shows that God directed the early Christians to assemble together “on the first day of every week.”

Keeping this in our thoughts, let’s examine the phrase “to break” in Acts 20:7It comes from the Greek verb klaō, and Luke used this verb in an infinitive tense.  Grammatically, this means Luke was stating that the purpose for the disciples being called together on the first day of the week was “to break bread.”  Was the specific purpose they assembled together on the first day of the week to eat a common meal together…or was the specific purpose to partake of communion?  The scriptural evidence shown in the preceding paragraph and compiled in my article suggests the latter.  Would God have called them together on the first day of every week simply to eat a meal together?  Or would he have called them together to memorialize his Son’s death through observance of communion, and to do so on the day his Son had referred to while instituting the Supper?

Now, look at Acts 20:11.  A careful reading of the verse shows that the only one who had “broken bread”at this point was Paul, rather than the entire group.  Furthermore, the word “eaten”comes from the Greek word geuomai and has among its definitions, “to taste” and “to take nourishment.”  Geuomai is never used in any passages which mention the Lord’s Supper, thus giving support to the conclusion that Acts 20:11 is referring to Paul eating an ordinary meal after the entire assembly of disciples had earlier observed the Lord’s Supper in Acts 20:7.

Concerning the commentor’s inference from my article that communion and worship could only be done on Sunday, he is partly right.  Of the five acts of worship described in the New Testament (singing, hearing a message from God’s Word, prayer, communion, and giving of our means), only communion and the giving of our means have any sort of specific day assigned to them (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2).  On the contrary, Christians are told to sing praises whenever they are cheerful (James 5:13), which would take place not only in the assembly (Heb. 2:12) but also throughout the week (Phil. 4:4).  Likewise, Christians are told to continually devote themselves to prayer (Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:17-18) and to the Word (1 Pet. 2:2; 1 Tim. 4:13, 15-16).  Thus, we are to worship God through receiving instruction from his Word, prayer, and song throughout the week, either publicly or privately…but the observance of the Lord’s Supper and the giving of our means are limited to only Sundays.

I was surprised not to find a reference to 1 Cor. 11:23-26 in your article. There, Paul states:

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night 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, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

“Do this . . . .” “. . . whenever you drink it . . . .” “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup . . . .” Paul, here, gives inspired leeway as to when the Lord’s Supper is observed. It is “whenever.” The immediate context is “when you come together as a church” (vs. 18, 33), which appears to be at least on the first day of the week, or Sunday (1 Cor. 16:2). The Jerusalem church, however, came together daily (Acts 2:46). (Could the Corinthian church have gathered daily as well?) From this, shall we not conclude that a “whenever” observance of the Lord’s Supper could be daily, on Sundays, or at any time?

This is an understandable conclusion to come to after a casual reading of the passages under consideration; yet, in light of what is shown above and in the article under discussion, it is found to be erroneous.  The “breaking of bread” in Acts 2:46 is shown conclusively to refer to an ordinary meal eaten in one’s home, and is the only usage of the term in correlation with the record of the first disciples meeting daily in the temple.  The “breaking of bread” in Acts 2:42 is used in correlation with acts of worship done immediately upon coming of the kingdom on the first day of the week which was Pentecost (Acts 2:1-41), thus showing that it’s a reference to communion and making it fall under the significance of the singular “day” mentioned by Christ when he instituted the Supper (Matt. 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18; cf. Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2), that day being the first day of the week.  Therefore, we can conclude that the first disciples worshiped in the temple through instruction of God’s Word, prayer, and song and ate together on a daily basis, but the only time they observed communion and gave of their means would be on the first day of every week.  The fact that church history shows that the early Christians did this, as cited in the commentor’s point below as well as in my article, gives more credence to this conclusion.

You do well in citing the so-called Church Fathers to buttress your view on weekly communion. I prefer weekly observance as well, based on the Troas text in Acts and early church history. I will not, however, condemn other believers on the basis of their Lord’s Supper observance frequency, whether it is daily, on Sunday, once a quarter, on Passover, on Christmas Eve, etc. – since Paul’s inspired citation of Jesus indicates that we may observe communion “whenever,” of course with the proper spiritual mindset. To do otherwise, is to speak where scripture has not spoken and to go beyond what is written, or intended, in scripture.

Ps. 119:160 brings out how “the sum”or “entirety”of God’s Word is truth, meaning that we have to take all of what Scripture says about a certain matter into account in order to know the whole truth about that subject.  For example, many say that all one has to do in order to be saved is to believe in Jesus and cite John 3:16…all while ignoring other passages which stress the necessity of confession of that faith in Jesus (Rom. 10:9-10), repentance of sins (2 Cor. 7:9-10), baptism (1 Pet. 3:21; Mark 16:16), and obedience (Heb. 5:9; Matt. 7:21-23).  In like manner, Paul did use the seemingly general term “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup” in 1 Cor. 11:26, but that is not the only thing Scripture has to say about when and how often to observe communion.  Paul was among those who “were gathered together” by the extraneous divine directive on the first day of the week to observe communion (Acts 20:7).  He himself was inspired to single out the first day of every week in his command for Christians to give of their means (1 Cor. 16:2).  His Lord and Master mentioned a singular “day” in which he would spiritually observe communion with his disciples, that day being when the kingdom came (Matt. 26:29; Mark 14:15; Luke 22:18; cf. Matt. 18:20; Heb. 2:11-12).  The kingdom – the church – came on the day of Pentecost, the first day of the week (Acts 2:1-42; cf. Lev. 23:15-16).  Taking all of that scriptural data into account alongside of Paul’s statement in 1 Cor. 11:26 shows that Paul only had in mind Sundays when he wrote, “For as often as you…”  

Paul and other inspired writers also wrote the very thing the commenter alluded to above: how imperative it is to not go beyond what is written in Scripture (1 Cor. 4:6; Rev. 22:18-19; Gal. 1:6-9; Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6).  Those who decide to partake of communion on days other than Sunday are doing exactly that, regardless of their sincerity (Matt. 7:21-23).  In doing so, their worship is based on the traditions of men rather than on the commandments of God, and is thus vain (Matt. 15:7-9).  It is my prayer and hope that what is shown here helps all who read it to know and obey the truth about these matters.

2 thoughts on “Questions: Does “Breaking Bread” Refer Solely To Communion? Does “For As Often As You Eat This Bread And Drink This Cup” Allow Personal Judgment As To The Frequency Of Observing Communion?

  1. Sometimes we take things for granted because we have been in the church for many years and have studied different subjects and forget that new Christians don’t have the knowledge and/or maturity to know and understand many things we take for granted. We need to take a step back and take a second look and see where we can help and teach these younger Christians to grow and mature. Keep up the good work.

  2. Thank you for continuing our conversation and for doing so in a fine Christian spirit. I enjoy our dialog, and I read and considered your reply carefully. Several days have passed, bu I have finally found time to respond.

    With gracious intent, your reasoning for demanding exclusive, weekly Sunday observance of the Lord’s Supper is flawed for the following reasons:

    1. Your conclusion rests heavily on the assumption that “the day” in Mt. 26:29 (Mk. 14:25; cf. Lk. 22:18) points to Pentecost Sunday in Acts 2 and further that “the day” directs implicitly the observance of the Lord’s Supper every Sunday exclusively. “The day,” however, cannot be interpreted so specifically.

    This is because the term in the Greek, as with the English, may refer to a time or dispensation, not to a specific date on the calendar. At the institution of the Lord’s Supper, could Jesus have in mind the Christian, or church/kingdom, age when he would join believers in this solomn remembrance? The term and the text grant this alternative interpretation. Further, if “the day” refers to a one-time event on Pentecost Sunday, nothing in the term demands ongoing, exclusive Sunday observance. (As an aside, I find it strange that the inspired Luke did not record the dramatic event of 3,000 new Christians observing communion for the first time in Acts 2, if, in fact, “the day” is interpreted to mean that they did.)

    Since “the day,” in the above texts, could be interpreted ligitimately to mean the Christian age, and not to an unrecorded Pentecost Sunday communion in Acts 2 or to ongoing, exclusive Sunday observance, then your argument is weakened greatly.

    2. The verb construction in “were steadfastly continuing . . . in the breaking of the bread . . .” (Acts 2:42) depicts ongoing activity without reference to a point in time beginning. If, however, the verb construction points to a Pentecost beginning, as you infer, then the same verb construction in Acts 2:46 (“steadfastly continuing every day in the temple”) could, likewise, imply daily breaking of the bread, fellowship, prayer, etc. — if one infers that the continuous daily temple activity of verse 46 involved the continuous worship activity of verse 42. I do not make that eisegetical inference; I merely point out the necessary conclusion to your reasoning.

    3. Regarding Acts 20:7, certainly the text shows that the early Christians at Troas came together on the first day of the week, to worship on the day that Christ arose and to observe communion, as a norm. The inspired Luke, however, is not writing universal liturgical instruction in the text, and since we have no text that clearly commands exclusive, every Sunday communion observance, we cannot read such into Acts 20:7. (As an aside, the passive voice does not demand “external directive,” or authority, inherently. For example, “we came together at the grocery store” could imply an arranged meeting or a by chance occurance.)

    Further, if Acts 20:7 restricts communion to once on every Sunday only, may we understand the verse to restrict worship to once on every Sunday only? Does the verse restrict Heb. 10:25 in the same manner as you understand it to restrict “whenever” in 1 Cor. 11:23-26?

    4. Regarding 1 Cor. 11:23-26, one must be careful to state what Paul had in mind, as he cites his inspired account of Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper. Your reasoning restricts the natural meaning of “whenever,” or “as often as,” to Sundays only, which denies the plain meaning of the term “whenever.”

    5. Early church history certainly indicates that churches observed the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week. Of course, early church writers can also be cited to show that believers observed communion even daily, more often than on Sunday’s only.

    In conclusion, the inspired New Testament writers do not give us clear and specific instruction regarding any obligatory frequency in the observance of the Lord’s Supper. They, however, do instruct us clearly as to the emblems to use during communion and to the reverent manner in which we should observe it.

    Frequent observance of the Lord’s Supper was an important aspect of early Christian worship. Since we have no clear New Testament instruction as to the frequency of communion observance, other than “whenever,” or “as often as,” we must not bind exclusive, weekly, Sunday observance of the Lord’s Supper on Christians. To do so, goes beyond what is written.

    I affirm, however, that observance of the Lord’s Supper each Sunday is a commendable practice that reminds Christians each week of the redemption and the promise that is offered freely in Jesus’ body and blood sacrifice.

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