Breaking bread = Church service?
Another bread and butter “proof” text used to show 1st day or Sunday observance in the Bible is Acts 20:7. In most cases, only verse 7 is quoted and you’ll see why. Here it is:
7 Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight. (NKJV)
7On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. (NIV)
Many Christians go on to show from that verse that they had a church service, because Paul spoke to them and they broke bread. Therefore undeniable proof of the Apostles worshiping on Sunday. Remember, proper interpretation requires looking at the entire context before coming to a conclusion. So let’s look at the entire context and break down the passage.
1 After the uproar had ceased, Paul called the disciples to himself, embraced them, and departed to go to Macedonia. 2 Now when he had gone over that region and encouraged them with many words, he came to Greece 3 and stayed three months. And when the Jews plotted against him as he was about to sail to Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia. 4 And Sopater of Berea accompanied him to Asia—also Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia. 5 These men, going ahead, waited for us at Troas. 6 But we sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days joined them at Troas, where we stayed seven days.
7 Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upper room where they were gathered together. 9 And in a window sat a certain young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep. He was overcome by sleep; and as Paul continued speaking, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down, fell on him, and embracing him said, “Do not trouble yourselves, for his life is in him.” 11 Now when he had come up, had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while, even till daybreak, he departed. 12 And they brought the young man in alive, and they were not a little comforted.
13 Then we went ahead to the ship and sailed to Assos, there intending to take Paul on board; for so he had given orders, intending himself to go on foot.
Summary of Acts 20:1-13
Basically, the first part of the Chapter tells us about Paul and a number of disciples traveling to various parts of Asia (Macedonia, Greece, Syria, Philippi) and eventually settling at Troas for a period of seven days. At the end of the stay at Troas, Paul and the disciples met on a Saturday night (first day of the week, note: will be expanded on shortly) having an informal gathering, something like the nighttime Bible studies we often have, with last minute instructions from Paul. During the discourse, a man fell asleep on the window and fell down. He was thought to be dead, but when Paul came down and saw him, he was alive. They came up and had a meal together (broke bread) and talked some more til dawn, when Paul had to leave for his travels.
That’s the true meaning of the passage. No indication it was a regular church service. Some Christians will object, “but they broke bread, it must have been a communion service”. I’ll usually reply, if you had no idea what communion was, what would the “breaking of bread” mean to you? To eat or have a meal right? Let’s “break” it down.
Does Breaking Bread in the Bible imply a Church Service?
Many Christians who hear the term “Breaking bread” automatically think communion or last supper, because it is often associated with the term. However, back in the time of the Christ, the term “break bread” was primarily understood as eating a common meal. You have to take the cultural context into consideration. They didn’t have sliced bread back then, but big whole loaves, and oftentimes, the crusts got hard. The only way to eat the bread is to break it up into smaller pieces. That’s where the term comes from.
So in Acts 20, Paul and company were gathered to eat. I’ll prove it by letting Scripture be its own interpreter. First lets look at the definition of the word “bread”, as there is contention by some who claim the phrase is used only in a communion type setting. The Greek word for bread in Acts 20:7 is artos . Same word used in Luke (9:13 “5 loaves 2 fishes”, 24:30), Acts (2:42, 46, 20:11, 27:35), and many more. In all those verses, breaking bread involved gathering at a meal. We obviously need to eat everyday.
The following are other examples of breaking bread, with the first one coming from the same setting in Acts 20:
” 11 Now when he had come up, had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while, even till daybreak, he departed. (NKJV)
7 Nor shall men break bread in mourning for them, to comfort them for the dead; nor shall men give them the cup of consolation to drink for their father or their mother. 8 Also you shall not go into the house of feasting to sit with them, to eat and drink.” (NKJV)
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.
41 And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all. 42 So they all ate and were filled.
28 Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther. 29 But they constrained Him, saying, “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” And He went in to stay with them.
30 Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight….
35 And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread. 36 Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.”….. 41 But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?” 42 So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. 43 And He took it and ate in their presence.
40 And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” 41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. 42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. 46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart,47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
34 Therefore I urge you to take nourishment, for this is for your survival, since not a hair will fall from the head of any of you.” 35 And when he had said these things, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it he began to eat. 36 Then they were all encouraged, and also took food themselves.
The only time breaking bread was used in context of communion was when Jesus instituted the Lord’s supper:
22 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”
23 Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. (c.f. Matt 26:26; Luke 22:19)
As we can see above, the majority of the Biblical references to breaking bread defines it as simply eating a meal. So from looking at the context of Acts 20:7-11, breaking bread = dining together. How can we be sure? Because they met during the evening, and must have been having supper together.
Saturday Night Bible Study
Many small groups at my local church meet during the evenings to fellowship and study the Word of God together. Typically, there are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night meetings. Usually before or after the study, they have a meal, as most meetings are around supper time. The setting in Acts 20:7 sounds like the exact same scenario. Here are some reasons why we can know it was Saturday night:
1. Verse 8 tells us there were many lamps lit in the upper room. The New Living Translation has it this way:
8 The upstairs room where we met was lighted with many flickering lamps.
It’s obvious it was a evening/nighttime gathering. When Christians use this verse to prove Sunday observance, they should be consistent and hold services at night.
2. The author of Acts, who many believe the same writer of Luke’s gospel, used the Jewish method of keeping time, in which days started at sundown. Hence the Sabbath is always Friday at sundown to Saturday sundown. The first day of the week thus is Saturday night (sundown)
3. It was at someone’s residence, as the upper level/upstairs room indicates. As seen numerous times throughout the NT, Jesus and Paul worshiped on the Sabbath at typical places of worship, synagogues.
4. Eutychus fell asleep. Naturally, when it’s late at night you tend to get sleepy.
5. Lastly, the ate and talked until daybreak (v. 11) Then Paul departed. Paul, wouldn’t break the Sabbath by beginning a journey on it, that’s why he chose to do it on a Sunday.
Therefore, looking at the overall context, the overwhelming evidence points to the fact that the disciples met for a Saturday night fellowship, just before Paul set out for his continuing journeys in the morning. The meeting was more of a Bible study and a farewell gathering for Paul and the disciples, rather than a typical church service. Finally, breaking bread doesn’t imply a communion service, but simply dinner.