What Does the Bible Mean by Breaking Bread?
The Broken Bread at the First Communion Represented Jesus’s Body
The phrases breaking bread, break bread, and broke bread only appear in the New Testament. And they only show up eleven times, appearing in Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, and 1 Corinthians.
Should we understand this idea of breaking bread as a euphemism for Communion or simply for any time people share a meal?
We should remember that sliced bread did not exist two thousand years ago. Though they could have cut bread with a knife, it’s more likely they use their hands—the most convenient tool available to them—to divide a loaf of bread and distribute it to everyone at the meal.
Here are the situations when the Bible talks about breaking bread.
The First Communion
We first hear of Jesus taking bread and breaking it into pieces so he could dole it out to the disciples during the first Communion. This took place during the Passover meal (Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, and Luke 22:19). And Paul references this concept in 1 Corinthians 10:16.
A Simple Meal
We next hear this phrase used after Jesus travels down the road to Emmaus with two of his followers. This is after he resurrected from the dead, and his traveling companions don’t recognize him. When they reach the village, they urge him to stay with them. He does. They sit down to eat. Jesus takes the bread, thanks God for it, breaks it into pieces, and passes it out to them (Luke 24:30 and Luke 24:35). At this point they recognize Jesus.
The Early Church
The idea of breaking bread occurs five times in the book of Acts.
The fifth time occurs when Paul is at sea during a terrible storm. When they’ve given up all hope, Paul encourages everyone on board by telling them that though they will lose the ship and cargo, everyone will live. He took bread, thanked God for it, broke it, and gave it to everyone to eat, all 276 people (Acts 27:35). Note that most of these people who ate this bread were not followers of Jesus. To them this was a simple meal and not a religious practice.
A Final Thought about Breaking Bread
We considered that in Bible times, the most practical way to divide bread for people at a meal was to break it (not slice it). We remember that at the first Lord’s supper Jesus said the bread represented his body, which would soon be broken when he was crucified. Therefore, at every meal afterward, Jesus’s followers would see bread being broken, and it would automatically remind them of Jesus’s body being broken for them in the ultimate sacrifice.The breaking of bread at each meal would remind Jesus’s followers of him. Click To Tweet
Without speaking a word, the breaking of bread at each meal would remind Jesus’s followers of him.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.