Barry Newman's Blog

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.”


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