Examining the NLT and the Lord’s Supper at Acts 2:42

This is only a statement of my viewpoint on Acts 2.42, especially in light of the NLT. I am, as always, open to discussion and would encourage it.

Recently, this came up in a conversation regarding the Communion service in which I used the NLT as my base for pointing out that the Apostle’s celebrated the Lord’s Supper daily during the primitive Church.

God’s Word to the Nations   The disciples were devoted to the teachings of the apostles, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.

KJG  And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

NASB  They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

NET They were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

New Living Translation  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.

NA -27Ἦσαν δὲ προσκαρτεροῦντες τῇ διδαχῇ τῶν ἀποστόλων καὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ, τῇ κλάσει τοῦ ἄρτου καὶ ταῖς προσευχαῖς.

As you might suspect, or rather expect, the other translations are literal, while the NLT uses the dynamic equivalence method. The NLT combines both of the suspected meanings in its translation. I believe that the phrase refers to the practice of celebrating the Lord’s Supper daily which may include other meals.

First, we should remember that each writer in the New Testament has his own voice, style, and words which he uses in communicating his message. We cannot assume to use Paul’s language to justify what we believe is Luke’s usage here. We should also remember that certain books come after others, or tell stories of events which happened much earlier. This is the case here as opposed to the weekly (?) Communion practice found in 1st Corinthians. We do know from the Corinthian situation that people were using the Communion table to get drunk and fat. The Lord’s Supper was accompanied by a regular meal and people would generally take advantage of it as a time to engorge themselves, thereby disrespecting the Eucharist.

Regarding the Peshitta – I still hold to Greek Primacy, but the Peshitta is important in noting an early interpretation of Luke’s words here.

And they were steadfast in the teaching of the apostles and were fellowshipping in prayer and in the breaking of communion. Magiera Peshitta Translation

I feel that it is unnecessary to give Calvin’s words here, as it is his words about the issue as commentary; however, as Calvin makes my point much more succinctly than I could, and it is Calvin:

As touching prayer and doctrine the sense is plain. Communication or fellowship, and breaking of bread, may be taken diversely. Some think that breaking of bread doth signify the Lord’s Supper; other some do think that it signifieth alms; other some that the faithful did banquet together among themselves. Some do think that koinwnia, doth signify the celebrating of the Holy Supper; but I do rather agree to those others who think that the same is meant by the breaking of bread. For koinwnia, unless it have somewhat added unto it, is never found in this sense; therefore, I do rather refer it unto mutual society and fellowship, unto alms, and unto other duties of brotherly fellowship. And my reason why I would rather have breaking of bread to be understood of the Lord’s Supper in this place is this, because Luke doth reckon up those things wherein the public estate of the Church is contained. Yea, he expresseth in this place four marks whereby the true and natural face of the Church may be judged. Do we then seek the true Church of Christ? The image thereof is lively depainted and set forth unto us in this place. And he beginneth with doctrine which is, as it were, the soul of the Church. Neither doth he name all manner of doctrine, but the doctrine of the apostles, that is, that which the Son of God had delivered by their hands. Therefore, wheresoever the pure voice of the gospel doth sound, where men continue in the profession thereof, where they exercise themselves in hearing the same ordinarily that they may profit, without all doubt there is the Church.

Robertson, who contains a statement which alludes to the NLT’s present translation, says:

The breaking of bread (tēi klasei tou artou). The word klasis is an old word, but used only by Luke in the N.T. (Luke 24:35; Acts 2:42), though the verb klaō occurs in other parts of the N.T. as in Acts 2:46. The problem here is whether Luke refers to the ordinary meal as in Luke 24:35 or to the Lord’s Supper. The same verb klaō is used of breaking bread at the ordinary meal (Luke 24:30) or the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19). It is generally supposed that the early disciples attached so much significance to the breaking of bread at the ordinary meals, more than our saying grace, that they followed the meal with the Lord’s Supper at first, a combination called agapai or love-feasts. “There can be no doubt that the Eucharist at this period was preceded uniformly by a common repast, as was the case when the ordinance was instituted” (Hackett). This led to some abuses as in 1st Corinthians 11:20. Hence it is possible that what is referred to here is the Lord’s Supper following the ordinary meal. “To simply explain tēi klasei tou artou as=‘The Holy Communion’ is to pervert the plain meaning of words, and to mar the picture of family life, which the text places before us as the ideal of the early believers” (Page). But in Acts 20:7 they seem to have come together especially for the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Perhaps there is no way to settle the point conclusively here.

From the College Press New Testament:

Included in their oneness were the spiritual activities of the Lord’s Supper and prayer. “Breaking of bread” in v. 42 probably refers to the observance of communion in congregational worship. This conclusion seems likely because of its association with the other elements mentioned. The last element is given in its plural form in the Greek text. They devoted themselves to “the prayers.” Since the believers continued to make the temple central to their gatherings, it is not surprising that they continued to recognize the times for prayer.

We should admit that the Communion Table was indeed, a very important part of the early Church, one which Paul devoted some time to defending the holiness thereof. Here, at Pentecost, even with the Apostles being so close in time to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, they too still saw the importance of celebrating the sacrament.

I also bring to note that in the Didache, a work only starting to be compiled sometime shortly after the Apostles (I would take a later date and multiple authors), reads,

But on the Lord’s day, after that ye have assembled together, break bread and give thanks, having in addition confessed your sins, that your sacrifice may be pure. Didache 14:1

Clearing we see that the breaking of bread is symbolic of the Communion table, and in this case, follows closely to Paul’s admonition in 1st Corinthians 11.

I don’t think the idea of the Eucharist is to bestow some sort of Grace, but to call the community together in an eschatological hope and to serve as the Passover of the Church. By a constant reminder of the Lord’s Sacrifice, it beckoned the young church to holiness, to missional work, and to a life lead to Christ. I would have to agree with those commentators who have gone on before, in stating that here, Luke clearly was writing about a time in the life of the young Body of Christ in which the Church, endued with the Spirit, held for marks:

  • They continued in the teachings of the Apostles
  • They continued with each other in fellowship/community
  • They continued to embrace the sacrifice of Christ through the Lord’s supper
  • They continued in prayer

Daily.

On another note, I think that usage of ‘breaking of bread’ does allow for the NLT’s translation. Again, my thoughts. I believe that, while not literal, the NLT does allow for Luke’s voice (at least how I and others have heard him) come through. Further, it would seem to me that with all the eating going on in the early Church, this might make for the case that the early Church was Baptist. 🙂

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26 Replies to “Examining the NLT and the Lord’s Supper at Acts 2:42”

  1. I can’t believe you’re defending the NLT at this point. What happened to the idea of a translation being just a translation?

    1. John, what makes the NLT less than a translation? I noted that it is not literal, and that their is question as to what ‘breaking of the bread’ means, as well as summarizing that these are my thoughts, and it is how I hear Luke.

      I’m not sure what else you mean?

  2. Thanks for your back-handed compliment of the Aramaic Peshitta here 🙂 It’s nice to see those who believe in Greek Primacy still recognise how fundamentally important the Aramaic Peshitta is…

  3. Paul used the term “Lord’s Supper” (kuriakoß deipnon) in 1 Corinthians 11:20. 1 Corinthians was written about 54AD ( http://wbmoore.wordpress.com/2008/07/16/dates-for-new-testament-books/ ). Now, in describing the Lord’s Supper, Paul mentioned cup of thanksgiving and breaking the bread (1 Cor 10:16), but those are elements of the Lord’s Supper.

    Luke would have been written either around 42AD or 59AD. The book of Acts was written either around 42AD or 60AD. But in both cases, because Luke went around with Paul and wrote of what Paul did, I think Luke would have used what ever terminology Paul used. So, if Luke was speaking of the Lord’s Supper, then I would expect Luke to use the same term as Paul, rather than merely ‘breaking bread” (which was the common term for eating together, as you mentioned was used in Luke 24:30-35). The term was used when speaking what happened in the Lord’s Supper, not because it was the Lord’s Supper, but because it was an element of it – one literally broke bread to share it or to eat it.

    I am also not in agreement that Luke was necessarily speaking of the Lord’s Supper in Acts 20:7. I’ve been to churches which had service and lunch immediately afterwards as a matter of fellowship, especially when there visiting pastors or missionaries were present. Sometimes we would have the Lord’s Supper, and sometimes not.

    1. So, you are basing your views on your thoughts instead of using what Luke said in which he compiled earlier accounts for his history and it seems you are further basing your views on your current experiences rather than what the text and cultural situation called for.

      We know for a fact that the Church Meal was a union of the two. Further, relating to the dates, Pentecost, which Luke only related based on the oral tradition which he received, happen much earlier that Paul’s ministry. Again, we have to allow for the voices of the text to come forth.

      The cultural context, and the historical context, not the modern, calls for the phrase in question to contain within it, if not completely consist of it, the Lord’s Supper. As I note, the Aramiac also supplies evidence of this, as well as early Church Tradition and Paul’s own writings that the congregation would share a meal and the Lord’s Supper.

      1. No. I am basing my doctrinal beliefs on what the word of God says, rather than church tradition or what others say it says. Nowhere does Luke equate breaking bread with the Lord’s supper. But Paul is clear that the Lord’s Supper includes breaking bread. So, it makes sense to consider breaking bread to be eating and the Lord’s Supper to be the Lord’s Supper, which includes breaking bread. Of course, it may be that sharing with those who had need and doing signs were also the Lord’s Supper, but I don’t think that can be supported from the text any more than saying breaking bread is the Lord’s Supper.

        You are free to believe the early believers in Christ celebrated what for all intents and purposes is the Passover Seder (something done to recall the sacrifice God has provided for our eternal lives) every day. But it seems to me you are both reading something into the text (making it say what it does not) and bowing to tradition rather than what God’s word says. Strikes me of doctrinal development *grin*.

        1. Wb, I believe that many exegetes would agree, as well as Greek linguistics, with me, or rather, I with them. It is not tradition so much as sound cultural context derived from the Scripture. Note as well that the ancient Aramaic – which is pretty culturally significant to the Gospels – sees it in this case as such. Not only those I mentioned, but so too:

          As Vincent says,

          Used by Luke only, and only in the phrase breaking of bread. The kindred verb κλάζω or κλάω, to break, occurs often, but, like the noun, only of breaking bread. Hence used to designate the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

          As Gill says,

          and in breaking of bread; or “of the eucharist”: as the Syriac version renders it, which was an usual name with the ancients for the Lord’s supper; and which seems to be intended here, and not eating common bread, or a common meal; seeing it is here mentioned with religious exercises: and though the Jews used to begin their meals with breaking of bread, yet the whole repast, or meal, is never by them called by that name; and for what reason these saints should be commended for keeping their common meals, cannot be said, unless to show their sociableness, agreement, and brotherly love in eating together; and which is not hinted at here, but in Act_2:46 where it is mentioned as something distinct from this: it seems rather therefore to design, that they were constant at the Lord’s table, kept their places there, and duly attended whenever the ordinance was administered:

          Matthew Henry:

          They frequently joined in the ordinance of the Lord’s supper. They continued in the breaking of bread, in celebrating that memorial of their Master’s death, as those that were not ashamed to own their relation to, and their dependence upon, Christ and him crucified. They could not forget the death of Christ, yet they kept up this memorial of it, and made it their constant practice, because it was an institution of Christ, to be transmitted to the succeeding ages of the church. They broke bread from house to house; kat oikon–house by house; they did not think fit to celebrate the eucharist in the temple, for that was peculiar to the Christian institutes, and therefore they administered that ordinance in private houses, choosing such houses of the converted Christians as were convenient, to which the neighbours resorted; and they went from one to another of these little synagogues or domestic chapels, houses that had churches in them, and there celebrated the eucharist with those that usually met there to worship God.

          I think that their is significant evidence from the time of the Apostles, and their immediate followers, that in this case, the Lord’s Supper was intended.

          Oh, and Luke did associate the breaking of the bread with the Lord’s Supper – Luke 22.19. The Communion is clearly, and has always been, the bread and the wine. In Acts, we find, as has been nearly universally recognized from the very beginning, that the primitive Church ate the Lord’s Supper daily, at least for a while.

          Further, we know that some 70 years after Pentecost, it was still a tradition of the early church to partake of food at the meeting time –

          They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.

  4. Lk 22:8 tells us this was the passover meal. Yes, it was the Last supper, and it was called the Lord’s Supper by Paul in 1 Cor 11:17ff. I think 1 Cor 10:6-17 is speaking of elements if the Lord’s Supper which is named in chapter 11.

    I have no problen with celebrating the Lord’s Supper every day, every week, every month, or just once per year. I dont really care what church tradition says, I do not think it can be supported from the text that it is to be celebrated daily. I DO think that the passover meal should be a remembrance of Christ, our passover lamb, but we are not told how often to celebrate it. We only know for a fact that it was the passover meal, which was celebrated once per year. As for frequency, we are only told “as often as” in 1 Cor 11:25-26.

    1. Wb, I am not quoting Church Tradition here, just a tradition of exegetical material and indeed, a very early writing from believers and non-believers, say acknowledging history.

      But, in the end, it is not a doctrinal point and we both arrive at the same end.

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