Barry Newman's Blog

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”.


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