The breaking of bread and the Lord’s supper
The question has often been asked, “How do we know when the phrase ‘The Breaking of Bread’ is referring to the Lord’s Supper and when it’s referring to a common meal such as was shared by brethren in Jerusalem in Acts 2:46?”
Certainly “The breaking of bread” is an appropriate description of partaking of the Lord’s Supper. It’s described as the communion of the Body and the Blood of Jesus. 1 Corinthians 10:16 (KJV) “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”
Note in Acts 2:42 “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” This phrase has the appearance of being in a spiritual context that coincides with 1 Corinthians 10:16 above, whereas later in the chapter a non-spiritual use of the phrase appears to exist: Acts 2:46 “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.” Does this latter usage refer to the Lord’s Supper or to a common meal? Other translations than the King James use wording that indicates the eating of a meal.
Other Scriptures shed light on the question. For instance, this latter usage of Acts 2:46 (breaking bread and eating their meat) does not appear at all to be the usage of the phrase when referring to the special gathering of the saints in Acts 20:7, “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.” Note the adverbial phrase which defines purpose of coming together: “When the disciples came together to break bread.” The purpose of their coming together on the First Day of the Week was “to break bread” and corresponds to the phrase as used in the above citation of 1 Cor. 10:16, “The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”
The breaking of bread of Acts 20:7 was not a common meal. In fact, the church was forbidden to substitute such a meal in place of the coming together to commune with the Lord in breaking bread. Notice 1 Cor. 11:20, 20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. 21 For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.” This passage is rebuking them for abusing the purpose of coming together to eat the Lord’s Supper by swapping in its place a common meal. One is not authorized to substitute these two separate practices with each other.
Both of these expressions, “to eat the Lord’s Supper,” and “to break bread,” were used of what was to occur “ upon the first day of the week when the disciples came together” (Acts 20:7). It’s interesting to note that in Acts 20, when Paul came to Troas, he abode for 7 days waiting to meet with the disciples for this designated purpose. If the “breaking of bread” could be practiced any other time than the First Day of the Week as was the case of the phrase as used in Acts 2:46, “daily . . . breaking bread from house to house,” he could have had the Lord’s Supper with them at any time without waiting, and then sped on his journey. However, there was a designated time for such gathering, a designated purpose for the gathering, and a designated prohibition of substituting a common meal with that purpose.
Summary of these thoughts: These passages speak of two different kinds of “Breaking Bread.” One was designated for the first day of the week “Eating the Lord’s Supper” – the communion of the body and the blood of Jesus – which was the purpose of their gathering on the First Day of the Week. The daily breaking bread and eating meat from house to house does not comply with that standard. Swapping one for the other was forbidden in 1 Cor. 11:20.
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