The Bible uses different terms to help us understand various aspects of the Lord's Supper. So consider the use of the expression "breaking of bread." And notice in particular that, like many other aspects of the language of the Lord's Supper, this expression is highly symbolic.
Acts 2:46 - "...breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart." [Acts 20:11; Luke 24:31; etc.]
Some claim this proves that "break bread" never refers to the Lord's Supper, especially in Acts 20:7. However, terms like "eat," "drink," "supper," and "table" also often refer to common meals, yet we realize sometimes they refer to the Lord's Supper. The context must determine.
Notice that, even when referring to a common meal, the expression is figurative or symbolic. If "break bread" is literal, all that would happen is that some bread would be broken. But everyone understands that the expression involves more than that. The bread is not just broken but it is eaten. And furthermore, the meal almost always involves more than just bread.
Every passage says Jesus took "bread" and "broke it" - Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23,24. So it is appropriate to refer to the Lord's Supper as "breaking bread."
Acts 2:42 - These converts continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. Note that every item in the list is worship. What authorized act of New Testament worship involves "breaking bread"? The Lord's Supper!
In the context of a church worship assembly, "break bread" must mean the Lord's Supper, since common meals were forbidden in church assemblies - 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 (note verse 34).
Acts 20:7 - The disciples came together on the first day of the week "to break bread." The fact Paul preached proves it was a worship meeting. Paul had previously forbidden common meals in church worship assemblies, therefore this was the Lord's Supper.
1 Corinthians 10:16,17 - The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ? The context refers to the cup which is a communion with the Lord's blood, the bread which we break in communion with the body of Christ, and partaking of the Lord's table (verse 21). Surely "breaking bread" in this context refers to the Lord's Supper.
Notice that we who are many all partake of the one bread (verse 17). So, every member breaks bread. The Lord wants all Christians everywhere throughout the world in every congregation to participate in the breaking of the bread.
Some have mistakenly concluded that the expression "break bread" refers to some ceremony that the one in charge of the meal goes through by officially breaking a piece of bread before it is distributed to the others. But the fact that all break bread shows that the expression simply refers to the fact that everybody is to participate in the meal.
When Jesus blessed the bread, broke it, and gave it to the disciples to eat, this simply means that, after He said a prayer, He ate some and then gave to the rest of them instructing them to eat.
So, in Acts 2:42; 20:7, "break bread" is simply a general term for participating in the Lord's Supper, whatever that involves. It cannot be strictly literal, else why doesn't it say "eat bread" or "drink the cup"? Like "partake of the Lord's table," "break bread" is simply an expression that stands for all that is involved in participating in this memorial meal.
(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2017
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.