Lord’s Supper: Ancient and Modern Practice

When we come to the Acts of the Apostles (thought to be written by Luke), we read in 2:42 that the new church devoted herself to “the breaking of the bread.”  The definite article before “breaking” most likely indicates that this was a practice well-known to the early church.  Yet something interesting happens: four verses later, in verse 46, we see a somewhat parallel text:

verse 42

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching

verse 46

And day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple,

verse 42:

and fellowship, in the breaking of bread

verse 46:

and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart,

verse 42:

and the prayers.

verse 47:

praising God

Some commentators have drawn a distinction between “the breaking of the bread” in verse 42 and “breaking bread” in verse 46.  Arguing that the verse 42 reference is probably liturgical Communion, they distinguish it from the verse 46 reference to common meals in the home.  But this distinction cannot stand.  It is unlikely that discussion of breaking bread would have wholly different referents within a span of only four verses.  The most natural interpretation is that verses 46 and 47 explain verse 42.  Again, verse 42 is not liturgical; it is a snapshot of life for the church.

What can be concluded from our treatment of the passage?

1.  The fellowship of “the breaking of the bread” at the Last Supper was the pattern of the gathering of the church as she collectively remembered her Lord and enjoyed his abiding presence among them.

2. The well-known “breaking of bread” in the early church occurred in homes as they made remembrance of Jesus part of their common meals together.  There is no indication at this point that the “Lord’s Supper” was understood to be a cultic act performed in what we now call “corporate worship”.

How great a distance is there between the modern practice of the Lord’s Supper and its ancient beginnings?


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