Breaking of Bread

views updated


An early technical term used in Acts 2.42, 46; 20.7, 11; 1 Cor 10.16 for the celebration of the Eucharist. The Jews were accustomed to beginning their common meals with a prayer of grateful praise to God (the Semitic idea behind ε[symbol omitted]χαριστία, ε[symbol omitted]λογία) spoken over a loaf of bread, which was then divided among the participants (e.g., Berakhot 46ab). Although foreshadowed at least linguistically in the Old Testament (Is 58.7; Jer 16.7; perhaps Lam 4.4), this breaking of bread, as a special rite with fraternal and religious significance, was unknown in the Greek and Roman world; fractio panis is itself an expression of Christian Latinity.

Jesus had used this ordinary Jewish rite during the meals of His public ministry (Mk 6.41 and parallels). The accounts of the Last Supper in Mk 14.22 (and parallels) and 1 Cor 11.24 indicate the place the rite had in the institution of the Eucharist and why the Judaeo-Christians used the breaking of bread as a technical term to describe the reenactment of the lord's supper. In Acts 2.4247 the breaking of bread is mentioned as parallel to temple worship in a liturgical context: the Christians of the primitive Jerusalem community were faithful to fraternal union, the breaking of bread, and common prayerall characteristic of a liturgically communal life (Acts 4.32). The sorrow of the Last Supper had given way to the joy of the meals eaten with the risen Lord (Acts 2.46; Lk 24.30, 4143; Jn 21.913). As in the didache (14.1), the Christians of the Pauline church at Troas met on Sunday precisely for the breaking of bread (Acts 20.711). Paul's words (1 Cor 10.16; 11.2329) related the breaking of bread to the Body of the Lord, conceived of as a sacred meal.

In Lk 24.1335, the two disciples at Emmaus recognized Jesus in the breaking of bread. It appears that Luke used this term with a eucharistic meaning. Perhaps his intention was to show that, while the Scriptures lead to Christ, only the Eucharist permits Christians to recognize and possess Him fully. A similar purpose can be discerned in Acts 27.3338: Paul's action in taking ordinary food is described in eucharistic terminology (took bread; gave thanks to God; broke it) to remind the readers that the Eucharist is the true "food for your safety" (or "salvation," σωτηρία has both meanings). Writing about 25 years later, St. Ignatius of Antioch described the broken bread as "the medicine of immortality" (Ephesians 20.2). The multiplication of loaves in Jn 6.113 not only served as a prelude to the great discourse on the bread of life, but like the Synoptic accounts (Mk 6.41; 8.6 and parallels) was described in terms reminiscent of the Last Supper, thus showing how the early church saw in this miracle a foreshadow or type of the eucharistic banquet.

Bibliography: j. dupont, "Le Repas d'Emmaüs," Lumière et vie 6 (Bruges, Belg. 1957) 7792. b. e. thiering, "Breaking of Bread and Harvest in Mark's Gospel," Novum Testamentum 12(1970) 112. e. laverdiere, The Breaking of the Bread: The Development of the Eucharist according to the Acts of the Apostles (Chicago 1998).

[c. bernas/eds.]