Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

197. The Names and Titles of the Breaking of Bread''

A long-established name for the memorial rite which is central to all true Christian faith and practice is "Breaking of Bread." This has clear Biblical sanction, as in the following references.

"And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, and in the Breaking of Bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42). It may well be that the comma here should come after "teaching", the other three phrases -fellowship, breaking of bread, prayers-being in apposition to "teaching" and all having reference to the sacrament.

Acts 2:46 goes on to mention "breaking bread from house to house." This can hardly refer to ordinary meals, for Luke was writing of things which had special significance in the early church. This, then, is the first allusion to what became an early church practice of holding memorial services in private houses-"the church that is in their house" is a phrase which meets the New Testament reader several times over (Rom.16 :5; 1 Cor.16 :19; Col.4:15; Philemon 2).

Again, when Paul came to Troas near the end of his third journey, he evidently arrived just too late for the meeting of the brethren, for although he "hasted if it were possible for him to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost", he nevertheless "tarried seven days" until "the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread." That this was the Breaking of Bread is made clear by the renewed mention after the restoring of Eutychus: "When he therefore was come up again, and had broken the Bread, and eaten ..." (Acts 20:6,7,11).

Since, then, this expression "Breaking of Bread" has the undoubted sanction of early church usage, it is unexceptionable. And yet one cannot help but wonder why this title was chosen in preference to others since it carried with it no suggestion of the drinking of wine as a symbol of the blood of Christ. (A hard-pressed Catholic looking for support for his church's practice of "communion in one kind" might have a point here!).

The Lord's Supper

"The Lord's Supper" is an alternative title specially popular with Methodists. The New Testament sanction for this is not so strong as would appear on the surface: "When ye therefore assemble yourselves together, it is not possible to eat the Lord's Supper" (1 Cor. 11:20RV). This is the only instance of its use, and here-as the context plainly shows (Study 192)-Paul had in mind the Agape or Love Feast, the actual meal of fellowship which in those days normally preceded the Breaking of Bread ceremony.

In any case this word "supper" is hardly appropriate to the small portion of Bread and sip of Wine taken by each participant. And in modern English "supper" normally denotes an evening meal, whereas current practice only rarely includes evening observance. So on three counts the term "Lord's Supper" is hardly appropriate. It should be reserved exclusively for the meal which Jesus had with his disciples in the upper room.

The Emblems - Communion

Another term, common enough in some quarters, which could well be let go is "the Emblems". Not that there is anything specially wrong with this - indeed, the dictionary definition is aptness itself: "symbols typical representation." But it is strange that neither gospel nor epistle has any use for the word, either in Greek or English. Its popularity stems from the hymnbook.

"Communion" is in common use in the churches, but hardly at all in Christadelphian circles, although indeed an exchange of these practices would be more suitable, for who are fitted to celebrate a true fellowship with Christ and a reality of fellowship with one another more than Christadelphians-and communion is fellowship: "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?" (1Cor. 10:16). Perhaps it is the popularity of this term elsewhere which has begotten current mistrust of it.


And the same probably goes for another term with even more pronounced ecclesiastical associations-the name Eucharist. This word, never heard in the ecclesias, means The Thanksgiving. The way in which this word is neglected, except when one is called upon to "give thanks for the Bread (or Wine)", is in sharp contrast with the emphasis in the records of the Last Supper.

That Jesus gave thanks for the Bread is stated by Luke and Paul (and perhaps by implication, by Matthew and Mark), and that he gave thanks for the Wine is mentioned in Matthew, Mark and Luke (and in Paul, by implication). There is also the same stress in John's "version" when he anticipates the Last Supper with his closely parallel account of the Feeding of the Multitude and his Master's "giving of thanks" (Jn.6:11,23).

In its scope this name Thanksgiving is the most comprehensive of any, for it associates the Bread and Wine with the gratitude of the believer to God for these spiritual blessings in Christ. It is equally meaningful for both the Bread and the Wine, and puts emphasis where emphasis needs to be put, on the fact that all is of God and His grace. Whoever sincerely takes the Bread and Wine is a recipient of what God gives him freely in Christ—a gracious forgiveness and a prospect of yet more abundant life-in return for all of which the communicant gives nothing and has nothing to give except his thanks. Could there possibly be a better word than Thanksgiving for the receiving of so rich and lavish and free a gift?

And yet there is no explicit example in the New Testament of the use of this title, unless 1 Corinthians 14:16 be so regarded: "Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?" This must surely have been written with reference to the ritual Thanksgiving, and not merely concerning grace before meat.

It is possible that there exist several less explicit references to the Breaking of Bread as the Thanksgiving. One example is Ephesians 5:14-21:

"Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that steepest and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." This is no quotation from Scripture, but is usually taken to be an excerpt from an early baptismal hymn.
"Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit"-a warning against abuse of the Love-Feast, of the kind which happened elsewhere (1 Cor. 11:21; Jude 12 RV).
"Speaking to one another (RV) in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs"-the hymns at their assemblies.
"Giving thanks always for all things. . .in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ"-the Eucharist?
"Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ" (RV)-a reminiscence of the self-demeaning of Jesus when he washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper?

This is the kind of interpretation which cannot be fully established, but such a view has the distinct merit of binding together what would otherwise be a series of random disjointed exhortations without sequence, such as a logical mind like Paul's was unlikely to indulge in.

Colossians 1 :12-14 is of the same character. No one detail requires reference to the Breaking of Bread, yet almost every phrase takes on a greater fulness of meaning and coherence is imparted to the whole, when it is so read: "Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath delivered us from the power of darkness (the very phrase used by Jesus just after the Last Supper; Lk.22 :53), and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son (cp. "I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me"; Lk.22 :29): in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins" (cp. "the blood of the new covenant for the remission of sins''). Interpretations on these lines remain possibilities, but can never be certainties.

To sum up, then, it would seem that of the expressions available to the present-day believer, Breaking of Bread, Communion, and Thanksgiving (or Eucharist) are the terms most expressive of the character of the rite and least open to objection. All three have Biblical sanction and recommendation. Yet concerning this matter we have no commandment of the Lord, but only that we "do this in remembrance of him."

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