Barry Newman's Blog

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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