The Daily Observance Of The Lord’s Supper In The Early Church

It is written:

“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. ….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.” (Acts 2:42, 46-47)

While it is not frequently considered among some members of the church of Christ, there is a great deal of evidence that many in the first century church partook of the Lord’s Supper on a daily basis, not just weekly (Acts 20:7). One evidence for this conclusion stems from Acts 2:42, 46.

Let’s consider several important facts about this passage.

The Context

Acts 2:41-47 describes the conversion of many of the Jews on the Day of Pentecost. Having heard of the atoning work of Jesus Christ, His burial, and resurrection of the third day (Acts 2:13-36), they were cut to the heart and cried out what they needed to do to be saved (Acts 2:37). Receiving the Gospel answer of their need to repent and be baptized by the authority of Christ to have their sins forgiven and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), there were some present who gladly received the Word of God and were baptized that day (Acts 2:41). We are specifically informed that when this occurred, the Lord added them to His church (Acts 2:41, 47).

The new Christians continued to assemble together. It is here that we read this important statement about their new lives as Christians:

Acts 2:42-And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.

This passage describes how the disciples continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and especially in “the breaking of bread.” Please make notice of this, as we will come back and study it in greater detail shortly.

Acts 2:43-45 describes the continuing ministry of the Apostles of Christ and the devotion and kindness of the new Christians.

Acts 2:43-45-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.

Notice how Luke joins together the praise offered to the Lord by the new church, combined with their acts of devotion and benevolence.

With the context in mind, lets turn back now to a study of the communion in this passage.

The Breaking Of Bread

The text uses the phrases “breaking of bread” two times in five verses (Acts 2:42, 46), both in the context associated specifically with the praise of the Christians and their acts of kindness towards those in need.

The phrase “breaking bread” was a common one in the New Testament era for eating a regular meal.

However, the same phrase had reference to the Lord’s Supper.

1 Corinthians 10:16-17-The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? 17  For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.

How do we know if a passage that uses this phrase is referencing the Lord’s Supper or a common meal?

The answer is context.

What does the context of Acts 2;42 & 46 show us about whether this is referencing the Lord’s Supper or a common meal?

Seven Reasons Why Acts 2:42 & 46 Refer To The Lord’s Supper

In my understanding, there are at least seven reasons which indicate that the breaking of bread in Acts 2:42 & 46 is primarily a reference to the Lord’s Supper.

First, Luke specifically indicates that the breaking of bread in this passage is part of the “praising God” in Acts 2:47. This would indicate the Communion.

Second, the other items in the passage indicate that this breaking of bread is speaking of the Supper in context to worship. Notice: Apostles’ doctrine; fellowship; and prayers. This all speaks of the “breaking of bread” in a context of worship (i.e., the Lord’s Supper).

On this point, some suggest that there is a difference between the “breaking bread” of Acts 2:42 and the same phrase used in Acts 2:46. However, the evidence suggests that this is not the case.

“But this new community also gathered daily in homes for the fellowship of breaking bread. They shared food with joy and generosity. There is no reason to distinguish between the breaking of bread in Acts 2: 42 and Acts 2: 46—they refer to a meal in the context of which the liturgical pattern was displayed [breaking bread], the Lord was remembered, and his presence celebrated. The structural connectedness of Acts 2: 41-47 means that 2: 42 and 2: 46 refer to the same kind of “breaking bread.” Whatever this “breaking bread” is ought to be interpreted against the background of Luke 22 and 24 so that those texts inform our understanding of Acts 2. It is incredulous that Luke would use the same language (“ breaking bread”) to describe two different things within the space of five verses, especially when the Gospel of Luke informs our understanding of what it means to break bread. Consequently, “breaking bread” in Acts 2: 42 and 2: 46 refer to the Lord’s supper which was experienced as a daily meal in the Jerusalem church.” (John Mark Hicks, Come To The Table: Revisioning The Lord’s Supper, 977-982 (Kindle Edition); Abilene, TX; Leafwood Publishers)

Third, the phrase “house to house” throughout Acts is often associated with worship. This points to the “breaking bread” in Acts 2:42 & 46 as the Lords Supper.

Acts 1:13-14- And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. 14  These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

Acts 5:42-And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

Acts 8:3-As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

Acts 12:12-So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying.

Acts 16:40-So they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.

Acts 17:5-7-But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. 6  But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. 7  Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus.”

Acts 20:20-how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house,

Notice the many connections in these passages from Acts relating the ideas of the “church” and “worship” with personal homes. Acts 2:46 is part of the same pattern, suggesting that the “broken bread” in this passage involved an act of worship.

Fourth, the word “gladness” in this passage suggests that Luke is referring to the worship of God’s people, again tying the “breaking of bread” with the Lords Supper.

“Although Luke associates “gladness” here especially with food[ 448] (i.e., especially the home meetings, discussed above), it may also have some relevance for the public meetings. In the psalms, “gladness” could describe celebratory worship of the Lord, often corporate worship in the temple.[ 449] Many Greek and Roman thinkers argued that wisdom and virtue, rather than bodily pleasure, yielded happiness.[ 450] Jewish people often connected it with God’s commandments[ 451] and also with prayer (Tob 13: 1) and worship (Jub. 36: 6; Jos. Asen. 3: 4).[ 452]” (Craig S. Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary : Volume 1: Introduction and 1:1-247, 47724-47728 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Academic)

Fifth, the early translations of the New Testament reflect that the earliest translators understood these references in Acts 2:42, 46 to be allusions to the Lord’s Supper (and possibly also to communal fellowship meals).

For example, notice the Syriac translation of these passages:

Acts 2:42, 46 (Syriac)-And they persevered in the doctrine of the legates; and were associated together in prayer, and in breaking the eucharist….And they continued daily in the temple, with one soul: and at home, they broke bread and took food rejoicing, and in the simplicity of their heart.

Sixth, the scholars of several modern Bible translations indicate that they believe the breaking of bread in Acts 2:42, 46 is primarily a reference to the Lord’s Supper.

Acts 2:42 (Murdock)-And they persevered in the doctrine of the legates; and were associated together in prayer, and in breaking the eucharist.

Acts 2:42, 46 (Amplified)-And they steadfastly persevered, devoting themselves constantly to the instruction and fellowship of the apostles, to the breaking of bread [including the Lord’s Supper] and prayers….And day after day they regularly assembled in the temple with united purpose, and in their homes they broke bread [including the Lord’s Supper]. They partook of their food with gladness and simplicity and generous hearts,

Acts 2:42, 46 (NLT)-All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer…They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity.

Seventh, the evidence from church history shows that many of the early Christians partook of the Lord’s Supper on a daily basis.

“In the apostolic period the Eucharist was celebrated daily in connection with a simple meal of brotherly love (the Agape), in which the Christians, in communion with their common Redeemer, forgot all distinctions of rank, wealth, and culture, and felt themselves to be members of one family of God” [Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 1—Apostolic Christianity, p. 473]. For many centuries, and in many different parts of the world, the Lord’s Supper continued to be celebrated with great frequency and great thanksgiving. “In many places and by many Christians it was celebrated even daily, after apostolic precedent, and according to the very common mystical interpretation of the 4 petition of the Lord’s prayer—’ Give us this day our daily bread'” [Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 2—Ante-Nicene Christianity, p. 236]. Cyprian (died 258 A.D.; beheaded for his faith during the bloody persecution of Emperor Valerian; a church leader in Carthage, North Africa) spoke in his writings of the “daily sacrifice” of the Lord’s Supper. So also did Ambrose (died 397 A.D.), who was one of the most distinguished of the 4 century Church Fathers, and a leader of the church in Italy. Chrysostom (345-407 A.D.), the most popular and celebrated of the Greek Church Fathers, complained of the small number of people who showed up for the “daily sacrifice” of the Lord’s Supper. Augustine (354-430 A.D.; influenced by Ambrose in Milan; one of the most influential leaders of the Western Church; lived at Hippo, North Africa) indicated that the observance of the Lord’s Supper varied from place to place. Early on, there was no set pattern: some observed it daily, some weekly, some at other times. Basil (died 379 A.D.; one of the most noted church leaders in Asia Minor) wrote, “We commune four times in the week, on the Lord’s Day, the fourth day, the preparation day, and the Sabbath.” These few references, and a great many more could be cited, indicate sufficiently that in the early centuries of the church’s existence the frequency of observance was varied, and it was not considered a point of contention. The direct teaching of Scripture was “as often as” (1 Cor. 11: 25-26), and in the early years this was complied with daily, as well as less frequently, with such diverse practices not being made tests of faith or conditions of fellowship. The Lord directed, “as often as,” and these early disciples took Him at His word. It is a fact that the frequency has always varied over the centuries, but it was not until much later in history that a specific time was ordained by various groups as the only acceptable time to observe the Lord’s Supper, and eventually their preferences and practices evolved into precepts, thus becoming not only tests of faithfulness and conditions of fellowship, but even terms of salvation.” (Al Maxey, One Bread, One Body, 600-682 (Kindle Edition); Baltimore; Publish America)

Thus, it seems from a careful study of Acts 2:42, 46, the early church often took the Lord’s Supper on a daily basis.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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