Barry Newman's Blog

October 17, 2011

The Breaking of Bread (Full Series PDF)

Here is the full series

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October 16, 2011

The Breaking of Bread (part VI)

Filed under: Agape meals,Eucharist,Holy Communion,Lord's Supper — barrynewman @ 8:28 pm

They devoted themselves to …

However, in spite of the argument so far, does the word translated “devoted” indicate that there was some “ceremony” involved?  The Greek word, “proskartero” used in Acts 2: 42, carries with it a strong sense of purpose but nothing that automatically associates it with the practice of a “ceremony”.  The behaviour exhibited by those recently added to the faith was characterised by a fixed determination. They set themselves to learn from the teaching of the apostles, to engage with one another in a common bond, to have simple meals together and to participate in prayer.

They also sold possessions and goods and distributed to those who were in need – a sure sign of community cohesion.  They attended the temple together – another sign of their new found community spirit.  Perhaps it was particularly in the temple that they engaged in prayers.  And they broke bread in their homes – perhaps indicating that it was only in homes that these simple meals could be shared and then only with a limited number of people.  Their communal spirit, their fellowship, was characterised by spontaneity and simplicity.

Indeed, it is possible that in Acts 2: 42 there is an emphasis on the simplicity of the meals of the early disciples, rather than potentially more elaborate ones were self indulgence could hold sway.

And it was with glad and generous hearts that they partook of food, whether or not that was mainly bread. Perhaps some food, some bread, was given to the poor whether the believing poor  or the non believing poor, as they praised God and as people in general favourably looked up them.

It was the behaviour of a people who had discovered the Messiah and who had had their lives transformed.  Arguably, to start to understand their response as principally or even partly conforming to a ceremony would seem to diminish their new found allegiance and their generous attitude towards others.

Concluding Remarks

It seems at this point as though a sledge hammer has been used to crack the proverbial nut.  They devoted themselves … to the breaking of bread” is a simple but profound reference to a very purposeful practice of early disciples sharing simple meals, the solid component of which consisted mainly or entirely of bread.  We do not know what sort of bread or what varieties of bread may have been eaten but it was almost certainly and in the main, bread.

If this is true any connection with the so-called Lord’s Supper is just a myth.

However, what of the Lord’s Supper itself – presumably a reference to 1 Corinthians 11: 20?  What is actually being referred to in this text?  This was a question I asked some time ago but it still needs to be asked again.

October 15, 2011

The Breaking of Bread (part V)

Filed under: Agape meals,Eucharist,Holy Communion,Lord's Supper — barrynewman @ 9:07 pm

The Breaking of Bread

In the Old Testament there are a few references to “pieces of bread” (e.g. Genesis 18: 15; Judges 19: 5; 1 Samuel 2: 36; 28: 22; 1 Kings 17: 11; Proverbs 28: 2: Ezekiel 13: 19) and one poignant reference to the breaking of bread (Jeremiah 37: 21- little ones ask for bread but no one breaks bread for them). However, there is no evidence for the existence of a technical expression, the sense of which is “the breaking of bread”.  None the less, Blomberg may still be correct, with reference to some point in time, when he states, “Breaking bread to begin a dinner formed an important responsibility for the father of a home in Jewish circles”.[1] This comment is echoed by Peterson (and referred to above) – “the term describes the initiation of an ordinary meal in the Jewish fashion of breaking a loaf with the hands and giving thanks to God.”[2]

Certainly this position seems to be adopted by Jesus when he officiates at the feeding of the 5, 000, the feeding of the 4, 000 and when he administers the Last Passover meal.  In the feeding of the 5, 000, the breaking of the bread is expressed in terms of, “klasas (broke) … artous”, “kateklasen … artous” and “autous (them) … kateklasen” (Matthew 14: 19, Mark 6: 41 and Luke 9: 16 respectively).  In the feeding of the 4, 000 the breaking of the bread is expressed by means of, “eklasen … them understood” and “artous…  eklasen” (Matthew 15: 36 and Mark 8: 6 respectively).  Luke omits mention of the feeding of the 4, 000 and although John refers to the feeding of the 5, 000 he does not mention the breaking of bread.  That Jesus either blesses (“eulogeo”) or gives thanks (“eucharisteo”) is mentioned in all six instances.  There is however, no standard way in which the procedure adopted by Jesus is reported by the Gospel writers.

Arton … eklasen” is used of Jesus taking bread and then breaking it in each of the three references to the Last Passover meal in the Gospels (Matthew 26: 26; Mark 14: 22; Luke 22: 19). The same expression (“arton … eklasen”) is also used in the reporting of the Last Passover meal by Paul (1 Corinthians 11: 23, 24).  Though there are some slight differences among the four renderings in terms of what is written between, “arton” and “eklasen”, the deep significance of what Jesus did may have been codified in the traditions from early times.

More to the point however, setting aside the references to the feeding of the 5,000, the feeding of the 4, 000 and the Last Passover meal, in what ways is the act of the breaking of bread expressed throughout the rest of the New Testament,?

There are only seven such instances: “arton … klasas” (Luke 24: 30), “klasei tou artou” (Acts 2: 42), “klontes … arton” (Acts 2: 46), “klasai arton” (Acts 20: 7), “klasai ton arton” (Acts 20: 11), “arton … klasas” (Acts 27: 35) and “arton on klomen” (1 Corinthians 10: 16).  None of these expression are equivalent to any of those related to the feeding of the 5, 000, the feeding of the 4, 000 or the Last Passover meal.  And only two are identical – the expressions found in Luke 24: 30 and Acts 27: 35 – Jesus at Emmaus and Paul when shipwrecked.  Even here, two words lie between “arton” and “klasas” in Luke but six words between “arton” and “klasas” in Acts.

Specifically, the expression used for the breaking of bread in Acts 2: 42 has no equivalent anywhere in the New Testament.  Generally, unless the breaking of bread expressions found in the Last Passover meal accounts are the exception, there is no evidence anywhere in the New Testament for a technical expression being used for the breaking of bread.  There is a practice – “breaking bread”, but there is no set terminology.

Another related matter.  Blomberg cites Klaus Berger, as noting “that the expression ‘to break bread’ does not occur outside of biblical Greek, not even in Philo or Josephus.”[3]  This claim is probably strictly correct.  However, Jeremiah 17: 7 in the Septuagint refers to “klasei artos” (There shall be no bread broken in mourning.) and references to pieces of bread or bread that has been broken are to be found in Ezekiel 13: 19 in the Septuagint (“klasmaton arton”), Athenaeus Deipnosophistae, Book4, Kaibel, para. 34, 1.3 (“artous … katakeklasmenous”) and Athenaeus Deipnosophistae, Volume 2, 1, p. 46, 1.5 (“artoi … katakeklasmenoi”).  Certainly the idea of bread having to be broken is present, not surprisingly, in literature outside of the Greek New Testament.  And a possible reason for why there is no mention of the explicit practice of breaking bread in the extant Classical Greek literature is that the bulk of such literature that relates to meals deals with banquets rather than simple meals.

Yet it may well be that “breaking bread”, together with the giving of thanks or similar, was an expression that was only used within Jewish communities around about the time of Jesus.  However, as already stated, there is no evidence that there was the one expression used commonly throughout Judaism.  Furthermore, as laboriously outlined above, references to “bread” are substantially references to “bread” literally understood.  With these two matters in mind, one is entitled to claim that there is no substantial evidence that the breaking of bread in Acts 2: 42 is anything other than a reference to the breaking of literal bread, a practice undertaken in ordinary meals for “ordinary” people.  Furthermore, bread may have been the main part of those meals or the only substantial solid component of those meals.

Peterson probably correctly claims, that the adoption of the term, “the breaking of bread” was only adopted as a title for some practice which he refers to as the Lord’s Supper in the second century A.D.[4]  As he intimates, this of course can have no bearing on understanding the text in Acts 2: 42.


[1] Blomberg, p. 94

[2] Peterson, p. 161

[3] Blomberg, p. 94

[4] Peterson, p. 161.  He cites the Didache and Ignatius letter to the Ephesians. The Didache (14.1): “but on the Lord’s day, after you have assembled together, break bread and give thanks; Ignatius, Ephesians, XX:  “… so that you may obey the bishop and the presbytery with a mind free from distraction; breaking one bread which is the medicine of immortality, the antidote preserving us that we should not die but live for ever in Jesus Christ.”

October 12, 2011

The Breaking of Bread (part IV)

Filed under: Agape meals,Eucharist,Holy Communion,Lord's Supper — barrynewman @ 10:16 pm

The New Testament

The Greek word, “artos” occurs 95 times in the New Testament with the most common translations in the NASB being “bread” (70x) and “loaves” (22x). Continuing to refer to the NASB, “loaf” is used twice and “meal” once.  “Artos” is in a plural form in all instances where the translation is “loaves” but also where it is “meal”, “loaf” and in 19 instances where it is “bread”.  All but 15 occurrences are found in the Gospels, with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John having 21, 20, 15 and 24 instances respectively.  Chapter 6 of John contains 21 instances.  This is the well known chapter that tells of the feeding of the 5, 000, relates what Jesus said about the bread from heaven given during the time of Moses and speaks of Jesus declaring how he is the bread of life.  All but one of the references to “loaves” refers to the feeding either of the 5,000 or the 4, 000.

While it may be true that sometimes “bread’ could be understood to be a reference to “food”, for example, in the exclamation, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14: 15), the prime reference in most instances seems to be to bread itself.  Even in the case, just cited, the statement seems to echo the reference to “eating the bread of life in the kingdom of God” mentioned earlier and underlying this sentiment may be the idea that in dire circumstances, having or not having literal bread could mean the difference between life and death.

The request, “Give us our needed bread today.” (Matthew 6: 11) could be understood as a reference to our much needed heavenly food.  Yet it may well be that behind the request lies the image of a day labourer who would relish having in his possession, before being paid at the end of the day, the food he needs to survive.  If that is the case, then perhaps the underlying reference is still to literal bread – the probable main fare of a day labourer.

“Bread” in the reference to John “the immerser” eating no bread and drinking no wine (Luke 7: 33) may be a reference to leavened bread rather than unleavened bread, but the prime reference would still seem to be to bread.

When the crowds are fed the fish and the bread, the bread as bread is in contrast with fish.  The same contrast applies when Jesus provides fish and bread for some of his disciples (John 21: 13).

Paul’s appeal to “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food” (2 Corinthians 9: 10) indicates a connection between bread and food but it is literal bread that is in mind.

The one translation of “artos” as “meal” in the NASB (Mark 3: 20) – there was such a large crowd “that they could not even eat a meal” might be appropriate, as “artos” is in a plural form.  However, as indicated above, such plural forms regularly occur where the translation is simply, “bread”.  It could be that we are so influenced by our English speaking world eating habits that we cannot imagine that an appropriate comment in the Semitic world of Jesus could be that there was such a large crowd that it was not even possible to eat bread.

The point being made is that eating bread as a substantial component of a meal seems to have been very common in the world of Jesus.  This is not to deny that at relatively formal meals, at banquets for special occasions or at meals enjoyed by the relatively wealthy, there would have been a variety of foods presented and eaten.  For example, though bread was almost certainly consumed at the probably formal or semi-formal dinners to which Jesus was invited there are no references to actual bread being eaten on those occasions.  Other foods probably dominated. Of course the references to foods other than “bread” at the Last Passover meal are not unexpected but for history’s sake, bread, unleavened bread, was an important component of such a meal.

By and large, bread seems to be an ordinary and substantial component of the “ordinary man’s” meal.  There may have been differences between what was eaten at various times of the day, even by the “ordinary man” – meals later in the day being of better fare than those one or two taken earlier, but even at the evening meal at Emmaus bread was involved (Luke 24: 30).

It should come as no surprise that Paul wrote, “we ate no one’s bread without paying for it” as a general way of referring to how he acquired his food on his missionary enterprise, or that he exclaimed, in referring to those who did not want to work, that they should “eat their own bread” (2 Thessalonians 3: 8, 12) even if more is being indicated than just “bread”.

October 11, 2011

The Breaking of Bread (part III)

Filed under: Agape meals,Eucharist,Holy Communion,Lord's Supper — barrynewman @ 9:46 pm

The Intertestamental Period

In his chapter entitled, “Contagious impurity: Intertestamental developments” in Contagious Holiness: Jesus’ meals with sinners, Blomberg makes a number of incidental references to “bread” though his intention is simply to tease out certain Jewish perspectives on various meal situations.[1]

“Tobit stresses the exemplary giving of bread to the hungry.”  “Tobit is told, ‘give none (of your bread) to sinners.’”  Sirach’s book of wisdom “echoes Tobit by forbidding gifts of bread to the ungodly.” In Joseph and Aseneth “a heavenly visitor leads Aseneth to discover a honeycomb … which is specifically dubbed ‘the bread of life’” In the Testament of Jacob there is a reference to “eating the bread of life in the kingdom of God.”. One of the Qumran hymns of praise applies Psalm 41: 9 in terms of “[all who have ea]ten my bread have lifted their heel against me.” In the Rule of the Congregation there is a reference to “‘[no-one should stretch out] his hand to the first-fruit of the bread and of [the new wine] before the priest, for [he is the one who bl]esses’ the wine and bread.”  Philo, in one of the works, discusses certain “culinary traditions and a common meal comprising of only bread and salt.”

Thought at one extreme the references are to food handouts and at the other to “heavenly food”, along with the Old Testament literature, they lend additional support to the general notion that for Israel, “bread” of one form or another could be a significant component of a meal.


[1] Blomberg, pp. 65-96.

The Breaking of Bread (part II)

Filed under: Agape meals,Eucharist,Holy Communion,Lord's Supper — barrynewman @ 2:41 am

The Old Testament

The Hebrew word, “lechem”, generally translated, “bread” or “food”, occurs 287 times in the Masoretic text of the Old Testament and is found in 30 of its books.  In the New American Standard Bible (NASB) “bread” is the dominant translation (186x) with “food” (83x) being the next most common.[1]  However, it is often problematic as to which of “bread” or “food” is the appropriate sense.  Sometimes it is fairly clear, that “bread” is the issue.  For example, where reference is made to a “lechem” of barley bread that in a dream crashed into a tent (Judges 7: 13) and where Jeroboam instructs his wife to take ten “lechem” with her to the prophet at Shiloh (1 Kings 14: 3). In each case “lechem” is to be understood as a loaf or loaves of bread of one composition or another.  Other times, it might well be that “food” is the more appropriate word.  For example, the “food” (NASB) that Saul had not eaten all day and all night (1 Samuel 28: 20). Yet in the verses that follow a woman indicates that she would like him to have a piece of “bread” (NASB) and then kneads and bakes flour to make “unleavened bread” (NASB) (1 Samuel 28: 22, 24).  That is, there is a suggestion here that the first reference may have actually been to “bread” rather than “food”.  (It should be noted that there are special words for “unleavened bread” [matstsah] and “leavened bread” [chametz] though they have the more general senses of simply “unleavened” and “leavened”, respectively.)  The reference to “lechem” in 1 Chronicles 12: 40, given its context, is probably better understood as a reference to “food” in general: “Those who were near to them … brought food on donkeys, camels, mules and oxen, great quantities of flour cakes, fig cakes and bunches of raisins, wine, oil, oxen and sheep.  There was joy in Israel” (NASB). Numerous times, “bread” is mentioned in conjunction with “water” (e.g. Exodus 23: 25; Deuteronomy 23: 4; 1 Kings 13: 8 ff; Ezra 10: 6; Isaiah 30: 20; Hosea 2: 5; Amos 8: 11, just to cite a few) and an idiomatic expression may underlie some or many of the instances.  On the other hand, many if not all of the references may be to literal bread and water.  One thinks of the proverbial and actual “bread and water” supplied to, for example, prisoners in England in times past.

That God might and did cut off the supply of bread in Israel is testimony to the importance of bread for the survival of God’s people (Leviticus 26: 26; Psalm 105: 16 [a reference to the time of Jacob]; Isaiah 3: 1 [both bread and water supplies to be cut off]; Ezekiel 4: 16; 5: 16 [again both water and bread are mentioned]) even if “food” in general is to be thought of rather than “bread”.  Yet the Leviticus and first Ezekiel passages seem to make it clear that “bread” is the underlying consideration:  “When I break your staff of bread, ten women will bake your bread in one oven, and they will bring back your bread in rationed amounts, so that you will eat and not be satisfied” (Leviticus 26: 26 [NASB]); “I am going to break the staff of bread in Jerusalem, and they will eat bread by weight and with anxiety, and drink water by measure and in horror, because bread and water will be scarce; (Ezekiel 4: 16, 17a [NASB]).

The point to be made is that “bread”, of some sort or another, made from some grain or another, was a not uncommon component of the diet of this Semitic people.[2]  Even where “bread” is to be understood as a reference more generally to “food”, this in itself probably indicates how significant bread was as a source of food.  It could well be that because “bread” does not assume the importance in a modern English speaking world that it had in that ancient world, we are more disposed to translate “lechem” as something other than “bread” than we have a right to.  We are familiar with bread in connection with sandwiches, toast or buns etc. but bread is not our main source of food. In the ancient Jewish world, special grain based delicacies were undoubtedly prepared[3] but basic bread of one sort or another seems to have been an important component of the regular diet for ordinary people in ordinary times.


[1] Other words occurring in the NASB as translations for “lechem” are: “meal” (9x), “loaves” (3x), “fruit” (1x), “prey” (1x), “something to eat” (1x), “cake” (1x) and twice the idea of “bread” or “food” is to be understood.

[2] Besides the word, “lechem” and the words often translated, “leavened” and “unleavened”, there are other words that occasionally appear that can relate to grain based products. For example, Sarah was instructed by Abraham to make “ash cakes” (uggah) from three measures of fine flour (Genesis 18: 6).  And see the word, “challah” in the note below, a general word for a “cake” that may have had a hole through the centre (e.g. Leviticus 8: 26 “He took one unleavened “challah” and one “challah” of bread mixed with oil”)

[3] The bread that David had distributed to people upon the joyous occasion of the ark having been brought into the city, named as his city, may have been of a special nature : “He distributed … a cake (challah) of bread and one of dates and one of raisins to each one” (2 Samuel 6: 19 [NASB]).

Though made to be food for a stringent diet and not as a delicacy, the bread that Ezekiel is instructed to make (Ezekiel 4: 9) is indicative of how varied a recipe for bread could be  – “Take wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet and spelt, put them in one vessel and make them into bread” (NASB).

October 9, 2011

The Breaking of Bread (part I)

Filed under: Agape meals,Eucharist,Holy Communion,Lord's Supper — barrynewman @ 10:25 pm

They devoted themselves … to the breaking of bread

(Acts 2: 42)

Jeremias is of the view that Luke in the Acts of the Apostles “refers to the Lord’s Supper exclusively in allusions and ambiguous phrases: ‘the breaking of bread’ (Acts 2: 42), ‘to break bread’ (Acts 2: 46; 20: 7, 11).”[1]  Less confidently, Bruce writes, that the term “’the breaking of bread’ [in Acts 2: 42] probably denotes more that the regular taking of food together: the regular observance of what came to be called the Lord’s Supper seems to be in view.”[2]  Blomberg has a similar point of view to Bruce.  “The most significant meal for early Christians, of course, was the Lord’s Supper, which may already be referenced in Acts 2:42”.[3]  The NIV Study Bible explains in a note to that text that “Although the phrase [the breaking of bread] is used of an ordinary meal in v. 46 … the Lord’s Supper seems to be indicated here.”[4]  In opposition to these points of view, Peterson states that “the term [the breaking of bread] describes the initiation of an ordinary meal in the Jewish fashion of breaking a loaf with the hands and giving thanks to God … To break bread was to eat together.”[5]   Where is the truth to be found?

Jeremias argues for his position, in part, by seeing the whole of verse 42 as a reference to early Christian worship and appeals to “the Eucharistic liturgies of the whole of the ancient church (Rome, Egypt, Africa)” and his understanding providing a possible solution “to the problem of how the Lord’s Supper came to be known as the ‘breaking of bread’ (Acts 2: 42, 46; 20: 7, 1)”.[6]  Bruce offers little by way of argument for his position but writes, “While this observance appears to have formed part of an ordinary meal, the emphasis on the inaugural action of breaking bread … suggests that this was ‘the significant element of the celebration’”[7](the last a quote from R. Otto.)  Blomberg follows his remark with, “Important epistolary teaching on its practice [the practice of the Lord’s Supper] occurs in 1 Corinthians 10: 14-22 and 11: 17-34”[8] but offers little else by way of argument for his perspective.  Peterson appeals to Acts 2: 46 as a clear instance of the reference to the breaking of bread not being associated with a rite and claims that “To break bread was to eat together.  The adoption of this term as a title for the Lord’s Supper is not formally attested until the second century A.D.”[9]  As for the notes in the NIV Study Bible, who knows what influenced the author to write as he/she did?


[1] Jeremias, J., The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, Study Edition, SCM Press, London, p. 133.

[2] Bruce, F.F., The Book of the Acts, revised edition, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1988, p. 73.

[3] Blomberg, C.L., Contagious Holiness: Jesus’ meals with sinners, New Studies in Biblical Theology 19, Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2005, p. 29.

[4] NIV Study Bible, update edition, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2008, p. 1682.

[5] Peterson, D.G., The Acts of the Apostles, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 2009, p. 161.

[6] Jeremias, ibid., pp. 118-122.

[7] Bruce, ibid, p. 73.

[8] Blomberg, ibid, p. 29

[9] Peterson, ibid, p. 161

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