Updated: May 9
A few years ago, Lighthouse members used to come together on a night called “Breaking Bread.” During that time, we would come together for a small meal, a brief Bible Study, and of course a time of fellowship. This led me to research the term “Breaking Bread,” and its origin. I prepared this to present at that time, yet never got to share what I found. We discontinued using the term, Breaking Bread and now instead have our Wednesday evening Bible Study. A few times per year we do have special times of Fellowship; often a pot-luck meal where we enjoy a wonderful time and tasty food.
We are now partaking of the Lord’s Supper on the last week of the month. So, in preparation for this special time and to prepare for the coming celebration of Easter, I felt compelled to share what I found.
If you ask most Christians today, what the term, “Breaking Bread” means, you may get this answer – it refers to the Lord’s Supper. It was instituted on the night he was betrayed. They may even quote the Scripture referring to this. Being curious as I become, especially when preparing a Bible Study, I searched the Scriptures to see where the term Breaking Bread actually comes from. To my surprise, I found the term used many times in the New Testament, but only found two times in the Old Testament that used both words together in the same verse. I found that this topic could take several weeks, if not months, to cover. The word Bread alone appears in all the Scriptures over 350 times in almost as many verses, depending on which translation you use. Its meaning has been used to mean, “Staff of Life,” “Earning a living,” “sharing in the future Kingdom,” “the Word of God,” and “Christ as the True Bread from heaven.”
Bread is also associated with various religious rites: the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exod. 12:8, 14-20; 13:3-10); the Bread of the Presence (Exod. 25:23-30; 40:22-23; Lev. 24:5-9; Heb. 9:2); various cereal offerings (Exod. 29:2, 23-25; Lev. 2:4-16; 7:9; 1 Sam. 10:3-8); the manna in the wilderness (Exod. 16:14-30); and the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-23; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). The latter was also called the breaking of Bread. (Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7, 11).
Textual Searches for the word Bread show:
The New King James Version - 346 results in 315 verses
Authorized Version - 361 results in 330 verses
English Standard Version -331 results in 302 verses
American Standard Version - 366 results in 334 verses
New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update - 316 results in 286 verses
No, we are not going to go through all those verses. The first mention of Bread in the Bible is found appropriately enough in Genesis 3:19.
In the sweat of your face you shall eat Bread till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.”
And in Genesis we find both Bread and wine together.
“And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.)” (Genesis 14:18)
The earliest reference to Breaking Bread I found was in Jeremiah.
“No one shall break bread for the mourner, to comfort him for the dead, nor shall anyone give him the cup of consolation to drink for his father or his mother.” (Jeremiah 16:7)
“The tongue of the nursing infant sticks to the roof of its mouth for thirst; the children beg for food, but no one gives to them.” (Lamentations 4:4) [“The tongue of the infant clings To the roof of its mouth for thirst; The young children ask for bread, But no one breaks it for them.” (Lamentations 4:4) NKJV]
It became a challenge to find the answer as it was apparent from the above two verses, that the term Breaking Bread was a Jewish tradition of some sort. So, I continued to do research. I wanted to find out what the term Breaking Bread meant; where it came from; what it is and is not and so I continued to investigate its origin and meaning.
A Google search led me to some whacko sites [Rabbit trails as Pastor Bob would call them] as it often does, but also to some Jewish sites that gave great insights into the term. While we don’t have time to cover all I found, I thought a quick overview would suffice for our purpose on this Blog. We do not have adequate time to cover the following terms and others related to Judaism – That’s a whole other great Bible Study.
The Torah is Judaism’s most important text. It is composed of the Five Books of Moses and also contains the 613 commandments (In Hebrew - mitzvot) and the Ten Commandments. The word “Torah” means “to teach.” In English it is called the Pentateuch.
The Oral Law for the Jews is found in the Talmud & Mishna. The Oral Law is a legal commentary on the Torah, explaining how its commandments are to be conducted. Common sense suggests that some sort of oral tradition was always needed to accompany the Written Law, because the Torah alone, even with its 613 commandments, is an insufficient guide to Jewish life. Although orally passed down from generation to generation, the Talmud is not unlike the many commentaries we are used to reading today.
The Mishnah is the first written record of what was the Oral Law. As the name implies, the Oral Law was never written down as a formalized text or permanent record. It had been passed on from one scholar to the next, from one generation to the next.
While the Torah covers the 613 commandments, they do it over the entire five books. Finding information on any law means you must go through all five books to find them. Thus, the Talmud was organized by subject matter and grouped accordingly. One can pick a specific law and find all the texts of the Torah listed there together.
The term Breaking Bread is first found in the Talmud & Mishna, the Oral Law of the Jews. It is here that the term further explained the Torah’s rules on eating and blessings, etc. The term “Breaking Bread,” refers not only to Bread, but the meal and wine if any served at the meal. It refers to the Blessing of the Meal.
An article written by a Messianic Jewish Teacher – “Emphasis added” Breaking of Bread, the Jewish Understanding By: Luana Fabri "Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha'olam, hamotzi lechem, min ha aretz." "Blessed are You, O LORD our God, King of the Universe, who has brought forth Bread from the earth."
At the beginning of the family meal, this blessing is said as the Bread is broken. The blessing is referred to as "the Breaking of Bread." Sharing meals is a very important part of Jewish family and community life. So important, that special blessings are said at the start and end of the meal. The term "Breaking Bread " is mentioned several times in the New Testament writings. It is important that we look at what it means in Jewish life, to "Break Bread"
. The "Breaking of Bread" is something which is done only in the context of a meal. In fact, the Talmud (Jewish Oral Law) uses the term only in reference to the blessing at the start of the meal. The one who says the blessing over the Bread is referred to as the one who "Breaks Bread". At every meal, it was, and is the custom to have Bread and wine. The blessings over the Bread and wine are said at the beginning of the meal. The one, who recited the blessing, did so while literally breaking the Bread. Following are some examples of this from the Talmud (the quotations are exact):
Our Rabbis taught: A man should not Break Bread for visitors unless he eats with them, but he may Break Bread for his children and the members of his household so as to train them in the performance of religious duties. I.e., recite the blessing. Talmud - Mas. Rosh HaShana 29b
R. Abba said: On the Sabbath it is one's duty to Break Bread over two loaves. i.e., to recite the blessing. Talmud - Mas. Chullin 7b
It is related of R. Phinehas B. Jair that never in his life did he say grace over a piece of Bread which was not his own; Lit.,'to (Break Bread)'. Talmud - Mas. Berachoth 39b
R. Abba said: On Sabbath one should Break Bread from two loaves. Lit. say blessing. Talmud - Mas. Berachoth 46a
So, in these few examples, we can see that the Jewish terminology "Breaking Bread ", simply refers to the "blessing" at the start of the meal, or to the meal itself. In the days of Yeshua, a 'communal meal' was a common practice, particularly among the Jewish Sect of the Essenes. The Essenes, a community living mostly in the Judean hills, were known for their absolute community of goods. Those who came into the Community had to give all they had: there was one purse for all, and all members had expenses, clothing, and food in common. In the second chapter of the book of 'Acts', many of the believers in Messiah began to follow the Essene lifestyle, selling their belongings, having all things in common and Breaking Bread (sharing communal meals) from house to house: "And all believers were together and had all things in common; and those who had possessions sold them and divided to each man according to his need. And they went to the Temple every day with one accord; and at home they broke Bread and received food with joy and a pure heart."
We can see how this compares to the practice in the book of Acts.
“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” (Acts 4:32–35). We know following this, that Ananias, with Sapphira Lied to the Holy Spirit and was struck dead.
Reading most of the New Testament where the term Breaking Bread appears, it is referring to the previously described traditions of “Blessing the Meal.” It does not refer to the Lord’s Supper at all. Even on that night He was betrayed, Jesus had sent Peter and John ahead to have the Passover Meal prepared. Let’s read Luke:
Luke 22:7–13 (Matt. 26:17–19; Mark 14:12–16)
“Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.” (Luke 22:7–13)
Luke 22:14–18 (NKJV) The Passover is Celebrated (Matt. 26:20, 29; Mark 14:17, 25)
“And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Luke 22:14–18)
As you can see from the above verses the Lord and His Disciples were celebrating the Jewish tradition of the Passover meal. This means that they would have started the meal with the Breaking of Bread, aka the Blessing of Bread. It was not until later during the meal that the Lord instituted the Lord’s Supper.
Luke 22:19–20 (NKJV) The Lord’s Supper is Instituted (Matt. 26:26–28; Mark 14:22–24)
19 And He took Bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 20 Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.
The Ritual of Communion was a ritual called ' Sparagmos and Omophagia'(eating raw flesh). In the Greek mysteries, Dionysus (or Bacchus - his Babylonian counterpart), was one of the main deities. His birth was celebrated on December 25. He was the god of wine. His followers, called "Bacchants,” celebrated the communion ritual of Dionysus by crushing the fruit of the vine and drinking the scarlet lifeblood pressed from its flesh. They also dismembered the animal which represented Dionysus (the bull), and worshipers would tear the bull to pieces with their hands and teeth. By practicing “Sparagmos” (the dismemberment of the sacrificial victim and eating the flesh and drinking the blood), it was believed the worshiper absorbed the nature, or life of the god into his own. Thus, having consumed the flesh of the bull and the wine representing Dionysus, the worshipers took on his power and character. This was a communion in the god's own body and blood - to become like the god, they had to consume the god.
The second century Church took this concept and adapted it to 'Jesus'. For this reason, the miracle of communion was that the symbols of 'Jesus', the Bread and wine, were believed to literally become his flesh and blood. This is called "transubstantiation” and is a belief of Catholics to this day.
Although the Protestant Church rejected 'transubstantiation', they kept the communion ritual, declaring that in the Bread and wine, the believer partakes spiritually in the flesh and blood of the god. There are three main doctrines of the Communion rite within Christianity: 1. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the wafer and wine of the Sacrament become the actual flesh and blood of Christ (Transubstantiation). 2. The Lutheran Church teaches that the flesh and blood of Christ are consumed in and with the Bread and wine. This doctrine is called Consubstantiation. 3. The Calvinists say that the Bread and wine give those who partake of them a spiritual participation of the flesh and blood of Christ.
So then when we come together during our Breaking Bread time (now Fellowship Meals), what should we be doing? What should we not be doing?
“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,” (Acts 2:46)
“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered.” (Acts 20:7–8)
Paul Ministering at Troas
“As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves. (We were in all 276 persons in the ship.) And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea.” (Acts 27:33–38)
What Breaking Bread is not. Conduct at the Lord’s Supper
When the Corinthians got together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, they turned it into a debacle which Paul addressed the abuses and misconception about the Lord’ Supper.”
“But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.” (1 Corinthians 11:17–22)
Many congregations spend a lot of money and effort in what they call Fellowship, building Fellowship Halls and inviting their parishioners to bring a friend to the meal. I have previously been to several of these and found them shallow in their Evangelistic endeavors to which they attribute this time. If the Word of God is mentioned, it is usually brief.
When we come together on the night we called “Breaking Bread,” now Fellowship Meals, we should come together to fellowship, not like the Corinthians, but more like the Essenes and the Hellenists found in Acts. Fellowship is defined as, “friendly association, especially with people who share one's interests.” We all may bring various dishes to share with each other during the meal, which before we eat; we too Break Bread, which is to say, give a “Blessing of the Bread or Meal,” just like that found in the Jewish Talmud. We should enjoy each other’s company and share in conversations that ought to be edifying to each other and glorifying to God. We often discuss worldly common interests, but then after the meal and fellowship time, let us not confuse this wonderful time with the Lord’s Supper.
When we come to partake of the Lord’s Supper let us come to the one common element that really matters, our beliefs in our Mighty and Sovereign God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, when we partake of the Lord’s Supper let us take it as Paul admonishes:
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.” (1 Corinthians 11:27–34)
In the above where Paul says “let him eat at home” I would say our Fellowship meals at the church could be added. Let us not confuse the two, Breaking Bread is our Fellowship time. The Lords Supper is a solemn time to reflect on what Jesus did for us; to give Him Glory.
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26)
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Hyperlinks in this document are for use of members on our website.