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
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. 🙂