10. Linguistic Context
Through Ancient Church History and Ancient Church Theology, I discussed that the first First Century Church was completely Jewish. The Church began Jewish, to believe otherwise dismisses Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. Jesus was born under the Law of Moses, lived faithful to the Law of Moses, and observed the Feasts of God and the Feasts of Israel. The First Century Church used the Law of Moses to preach Jesus as Messiah, and to teach the Church its practices.
One of the most interesting things that I have learned in my studies is that Jesus fulfilled some of the Israelite Traditions, known in the NT as the tradition of the elders and the traditions of the fathers (e.g. Matthew 15.2; Galatians 1.14). Thus, I came to realize that it is wholly inappropriate to interpret Jesus as negating the entirety of the teachings of the elders and fathers – those being the Sages, the Rabbis, and other religious leaders of Israel. Jesus simply was not against every tradition, and some of those traditions were part of the first First Century Church, as my discussion about Communion will reveal.
I have discussed, at length, the things I have learned about the Jewish reality of the First Century Church. As I have walked my faith and experienced religion in the churches, it simply amazes me the sheer number of disciples who practice their faiths without knowing the origins. In this era of back-story movies and novels devoted to the establishment of the origins of characters, it seems wholly appropriate to see the origins of the Lord’s Supper also known as Communion.
In my religious heritage, Communion is observed every week, every Sunday, without exception. From my studies, it seems that my heritage has observed communion every week, since probably the days of Alexander Campbell. As such, Communion was and is an integral part of my spiritual life. Yet, God allowed my studies to grow, giving me greater contextual awareness and knowledge about the Lords’ Supper. As such, my appreciation for Communion’s origin totally improved and my enjoyment and appreciation for the moment increased the more. For me, Communion has moved away from a weekly formal procedure, to an engagement I totally look forward to, with an added eagerness anticipating partaking of the Seder with my Master.
Communion as I Was Taught
The institution of the Lord’s Supper, Communion, is recorded in every Gospel except John. Jesus commanded Communion. The Apostle’s encouraged the practice of Communion. The early church practiced Communion. How did my religious heritage arrive at its conclusion for Communion observance on every Sunday? The method is entirely based on my religious heritage’s hermeneutical principles. Allow me to briefly explain.
Jesus instituting Communion is recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Paul provided some instructions on how to partake of the Lord’s Supper in First Corinthians. The Book of Acts shows the early church breaking bread. From the history in the Book of Acts and the instructions found in First Corinthians, it is interpreted that the Lord’s Supper is to be observed every week on Sunday.
That summary was given without verses for ease of reading. But here are the verses:
My church heritage has one additional hermeneutic principle used to arrive at the conclusion for Sunday Communion observance. That hermeneutic principle concerns the silence of the NT Scriptures. Hermeneutically, the following is concluded:
My church heritage, through its specific hermeneutical reasoning, arrives at an interpretation that is valid according to my church heritage’s hermeneutical principles. That hermeneutical interpretation conclusion stands strong. For those individuals within my church heritage who firmly believe in Sunday observance of the Lord’s Supper, I am not attempting to persuade you not to do so. I do actually believe the Communion results derived from my church heritage’s hermeneutical interpretation provide a blessing for those observing the Lord’s Supper.
As I enter into this discussion about Communion and Comprehensive Context, I do so knowing that learning a Comprehensive Context Study Method affected my previous hermeneutical interpretation and conclusion. I simply entreat readers to see what caused me to rethink my conclusion about Communion. My current understanding of the Lord’s Supper partially grew out of my inability to resolve the tension I observed about Communion found in the Gospel of Luke, the topic of my next section.
Communion and My Observations
Interestingly, there is information in the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts that cannot be easily reconciled against my church heritage’s weekly practice of the Lord’s Supper. Luke 22.17-20 records the institution of the Lord’s Supper, but this passage specifies that there are two cups – two cups for the fruit of the vine. Yet, Matthew and Mark mention only one cup. Until I learned the Comprehensive Context of the Lord’s Supper, I wondered why this was.
I am now going to refer to the act of breaking bread. My religious heritage hermeneutically refers to Acts 20.7 to prove two things regarding Communion. One, that Paul stopped long enough to partake of Communion. Two, Paul stopped to partake of Communion on the first day of week, Sunday. But, there is at least one problem using this verse.
When I read the Book of Acts, both Acts 2.42 and Acts 2.46 mention the act of breaking of bread. This creates a dilemma. While much has been said to reconcile this breaking of bread dilemma (of which I will not detail here), the dilemma revolves around the following questions. Is breaking bread only a meal? Or is breaking bread only Communion? Or, is breaking bread a meal with Communion?
Unfortunately, Luke disrupted my previous hermeneutical interpretation. Luke, in his first volume (the Gospel of Luke) recorded two cups, using my church heritage’s hermeneutical principles Luke does not easily correlate with Matthew and Mark. Luke, in his second volume (The Book of Acts) used the phrase breaking bread in seemingly different ways. What is the disciple to do?
My observations may seem like I am being overly particular. But, observations like these are the very things that cause consternation about Christian interpretation and Church doctrine. So how does one go about resolving dilemmas? I am certain that each Church and Christian will determine for themselves how they are going to practice Communion. But to resolve dilemmas, I am certain that both the Church and the Christian need more than just the pages of the Bible.
My experience and studies have proven that Believers need a Bible dictionary and other research books in addition to the Bible. These additional books offer technical information (like cultural insight) that the Bible does not always provide. These tools provide details into the biblical narrative, by providing cultural, social and historical information that help shed light on these dilemmas.
Additionally, though usually not addressed, Believers need to keep in mind theological considerations. As discussed, the Theology that Believers use to interpret the Scriptures influences doctrine – the way in which faith is lived out. In this section, I will discuss the significance of Comprehensive Context – how cultural, social, historical and theological contexts affected my understanding of the Lord’s Supper.
Luke’s first volume (the Gospel of Luke) will be the starting point to resolve the dilemmas of my observations. Additionally, Luke’s first volume will be examined through Comprehensive Context. I will also refer to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. I will refer to other Biblical books, including the OT. And, I will discuss information that affects Communion not found in the Bible.
What Is Comprehensive Context?
It seems that almost everyone knows what context is, including me. I want to mention that it seems that understanding of context includes an assumption. Christianity teaches and affirms bits and pieces of contextual information. Both Churches and Christians assume these bits and pieces of contextual information are understood and accepted by Bible readers. Additionally, since it is the Church that primarily presents the contextual information, context generally goes unquestioned. However, there is one thing that we know: no one likes being taken “out of context”.
To help identify the idea of context, I refer to Dictionary.com(1) which provides two entries that help define context. Here are the two entries for our consideration:
These two definitions help us recognize that context is the backdrop of information behind any given topic. The difficult thing about context is that context is not always readily apparent. In many circumstances, context has to be re-constructed.
Experience has shown me, that many have practical experience of the first definition of context. Many know that the words, phrases, sentences, and even paragraphs surrounding a passage of scripture affect the interpretation of that passage. Awareness of that contextual application is most certainly true and valid. However, practicing the first definition without the second definition is incomplete. For Comprehensive Context, incorporation of the second definition is also needed.
Quality Bible students constantly reference the physical text – known as Literary Context – surrounding any given passage. However, every Bible book is replete with passages that have circumstances that lay behind the Literary Context (e.g. cultural situations, historical situations, even theological situations). These circumstances and facts surround the Bible’s words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. These things surround each Bible book and the Bible itself.
Studying Comprehensive Context includes facts beyond the Literary Context. These facts fill-in and paint the picture of the situational context. These additional circumstantial contextual facts fit into categories like: culture, government, history, ritual practices, society, and theology (the things meeting the second definition). These secondary contexts are investigated by asking questions like:
Only by investigating as many Comprehensive Contexts as possible will the fullest meaning be taken from the Biblical text. In essence, every Bible verse and Bible passage is understood in context by discovering the circumstances and facts affecting that Biblical text. These contexts can reveal a much different understanding and application than we may have been given.
Comprehensive Context goes beyond devotional reading, and casual Bible study. Comprehensive Context is extensive and requires both dedication and effort. This passage from Second Timothy comes to mind “study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Take special note that study means endeavoring or diligence. Remember the Bible is simple, but it is not simplistic.
While some may shy away from Comprehensive Context, it is essential for a more dynamic and more rewarding understanding of the Bible. Comprehensive Context is as important for Biblical understanding as flour is to preparing bread. Lest we forget, flour is the final product of a multi-step process from planting of the wheat seed to the harvest of the wheat to the refining of the wheat grain into flour, all essential for bread.
It is worthwhile to examine, in detail, the field of contextual studies. But, my time must be limited to discussing Communion and Comprehensive Context. As such, I leave the reader with these recommendations:
I have simply witnessed the amazing effect of Believers and Bible readers and students having the skills to investigate the Bible for themselves. With such abilities, they can’t help but want more awareness of the Comprehensive Context for any Bible passage. Because having such allows them to better digest the Bible’s information and then live a life informed and transformed by God’s Word.
I am not alone in my observation about Bible verses and contextual issues. In my next major article (section), I will include thoughts from Alexander Campbell and what he called “versifying”. While Campbell’s thoughts have merit to this discussion, for me, his thoughts are best discussed within the next section of information.
In part, my presentation of Communion and Comprehensive Context is based upon the book: “Elements of Biblical Exegesis: A Basic Guide for Students and Ministers (Revised and Expanded)” written by Michael J. Gorman. Gorman’s book was part of my curriculum in Bible School, and was the foundation that launched me into Comprehensive Context. Since Gorman’s book does not focus on theology, to his work I add Theological Context.
In this current section, I will examine Communion and Comprehensive Context. As such, I will investigate the following contextual areas:
Within those discussion areas, I will provide things I have found. I hope to provide insight into the Communion Passage found in Luke’s first volume. Most importantly, through Comprehensive Context, I hope to demonstrate how my previous hermeneutical interpretation of Communion has been affected. Once I have discussed those areas, I will provide my conclusion.
Comprehensive Context acknowledges that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke narrate (as in tell) Communion. Comprehensive Context acknowledges that Matthew, Mark and Luke, and John for that matter, narrate their information differently than how the other books of the OT or NT narrate their information. Thus, Narrative Context changes from the Gospels to the Epistles, and changes again in Revelation.
Matthew narrates differently than Paul. Paul narrates differently to each Church. James’ Narrative Context is different than Jude’s. Thus, each NT book has its own Narrative Context, unique to itself. So, Comprehensive Context appropriately acknowledges that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are a Gospel Narrative Context.
Because of similarity in content, Matthew, Mark and Luke have been labeled Synoptic Gospels. While similar, those Gospels are NOT identical; their Narrative Contexts are NOT identical. To think such, dismisses Narrative Context and dismisses the way in which each author assembled their telling of the Gospel. Thus, Comprehensive Context affirms the following about these Gospel Narratives:
To me, that seems apparent. But, acknowledging this difference is necessary for studying Narrative Context. The Bible Reader/Student (exegete) must be mindful of these differences in the Gospel Narratives. Thus, while revealing similar information, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke do not have the same Narrative Context, as I will explain in the next section.
The Gospel of Mark was written by John Mark. John Mark was not one of the chosen twelve. But Mark was a traveling companion of Peter, who was one of the chosen. Eusebius informs us that Mark wrote in a different order, but accurately recorded the Gospel that Peter preached. Thus, what is important is that Mark wrote for a Gentile – perhaps specifically a Roman – audience. Mark seems to contain more information that would appeal to the Gentile than the Jew.
The Gospel of Luke was written by Luke. Luke was a physician and not one of the chosen twelve. While Luke was a laboring and traveling companion with Paul, Paul was not one of the handpicked chosen twelve, but was still chosen by Jesus (post-ascension) to be an Apostle. The interesting part of Luke’s Gospel is that Luke tells his audience, Theophilus, that he (Luke) is going to write a historical account, stating it as “a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us … to write unto thee in order…”. (Luke 1.1-4)
Luke specified his audience as Theophilus (Luke 1.3). Some have speculated that Theophilus is an individual person. However, after examining the meaning of Theophilus, I say that Theophilus is not any specific person, but a general reference to Believers. Allow me to give reasoning.
Thayer’s Greek Definitions states that Theophilus means friend of God. As such, it seems that Luke’s Gospel of historical information is designed for any audience that is a friend of God, or friendly toward God. This means two things. One, we have a better grasp of Luke’s intended audience. Two, we can recognize that Luke’s Narrative Context is an ancient historical accounting method of the Good News. Thus, Luke’s Gospel in Narrative Context reveals things in historic order helping the friend of God, the Believer in Jesus as Messiah.
Seeing just these few aspects of Author and Audience Context affects the Narrative Context. Just knowing Author and Audience aspects means that:
These authors, whom I believe had the help of the Holy Spirit, each wrote a Gospel for a different reason, achieving differing goals. Comprehensive Context matters. Matthew aims to persuade a different audience than Mark. Mark aims to persuade a different audience than Matthew. Both of which have different goals than Luke. Luke does not seek to persuade toward belief; instead Luke affirms that which was already known by the Believer.
In the opening four verses of Luke’s first volume (the Gospel of Luke), Luke specifically mentioned his audience and his goal. In Luke 1.1-2, we find that the specific audience is an audience who believes in God and believes that Jesus was the Messiah. Thus, it is impossible for Theophilus to believe that Jesus is the Messiah and not believe that God is the one who gave the Messiah.
In Luke 1.3-4, Luke stated his goal: thorough historical account to provide reassurance to the Believer. True, Luke’s historical account varies from that which would be assembled my modern writers. But Luke is not a modern historian, we would call Luke an ancient historian, and Luke and his Gospel must be read as such. However, Luke’s stated goal provides vastly important information. Luke stated that he is going to provide historical background information, information that will aid the Believer’s faith in Jesus and in the events around Jesus.
Knowing that is tremendously important when the disciple reads the account of two cups in Chapter Twenty-Two. There is a Communion cup in Luke 22.17 and another Communion cup in Luke 22.20. These cups provide both historical time markers and ritualistic identifiers. The disciple simply needs to learn the historical setting and the ritual. The historical setting is partly revealed by Literary Context, but the ritual is not.
Literary Context: The Gospel as Literature
Literary Context keeps us aware that the Gospel is a type of story. Each Gospel Narrator tells their Gospel in a unique way. To them their story is anything but fiction; it is reality. They narrate their telling of that story through literature. Through that literature they create tension, provide resolution, incorporate moments of sadness, regret, challenge, triumph, and some exposition. Thus, each Gospel Narrator narrates the information in a specific way to bring forth an audience response.
As such, each Gospel Narrative has at least three major sections: beginning, middle, end. However, Luke also provides a prologue (Luke 1.1-4) and an epilogue (Luke 24.51-53) giving five parts. I outline these five parts as:
To read, study or teach Communion, it is simply not enough to quote Luke 22.19-20 and its information about Communion. I believe that Luke, through Holy Spirit inspiration, placed that Communion information in a specific place in the Gospel narrative.
Church Liturgy is important, so are Liturgical implications. Knowing that, some Modern Disciples may not know why liturgy is the way it is. However, it seems unwise to either ignore liturgy or simply accept liturgy without examination. The exegete can examine the Gospel Narrative and receive insight for some liturgical items. However, it is spiritually unwise to turn to Luke 22.19-20 and refer to Communion at the expense of the Gospel Narrative and Literary Contexts.
So, I ask: where is the exegete in Luke’s Gospel Narrative? Luke 22 is found in the fourth part (the End). The three previous parts have led us up to this point. Since we as exegetes recognize that we are within the fourth part (End) of Luke’s Gospel Narrative, we as exegetes must determine where we are in the fourth part (End).
Exegetes can outline the fourth part (End) similar to the following:
As we can see from the outline, we are toward the beginning of part four (End), and we are specifically in the area identified as “Jesus and Passover.” Outlining the Literary Context revealed Passover. Within the Literary Context of Passover, we find two other contexts: the Historical Context and Ritualistic Context. These two contexts should not be ignored and are the focus of my next section.
Historical and Ritualistic Contexts
In Literary Context, we outlined the entire fourth part (End) of the Gospel Narrative into ten parts. It is important to recognize that Luke 22.1 established the Historic Context. Luke established the Historic Context when he spoke of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
In order to better understand Communion, we need to know more about the Feast of Unleavened Bread. For brevity sake, we will not exhaustively look at this Feast. But in order for us to have a better feel for this Feast we at least need to know when this Feast was established and the meaning of this Feast. It is also necessary to find out if there has been any development and enlargement of meaning within, to, and of this Feast throughout Israelite history.
In addition to learning that it was the Feast of Unleavened Bread, we also learn from Luke 22.7 that “the Passover must be killed.” The word Passover should automatically create questions. The exegete does well to determine the history of Passover and its importance to Israel.
These pieces of information (the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Passover) provide markers in the Historical Context; and hint at the Ritualistic Context. The Disciples in Luke Twenty-Two were not just re-enacting history, they were participating in ritual. Ritual carries meaning. Ritual is Liturgy. If the Modern Disciple wants to follow the Master Jesus, the Modern Disciple should feel compelled to ask: In what ritual is Jesus participating?
Here is how I have determined some of the Historical and Ritualistic Contexts. However, there is one other major historical item that is true, no matter how strange it may seem, Jesus was born, lived, and died under the “Old Law” (Galatians 4.4-5). Thus, as a covenanted and devout Jew, Jesus simply would not offend God by neglecting something found within the Law of Moses. The ritual Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover are found in the Law of Moses.
Exodus 12.1-20, 12.43-49; 13.1-10 established the historical beginning and theological meaning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Importantly, observance of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover are required as part of God’s Covenant with Israel (Exodus 23.15). The Law of Moses has rules for preparation, rules for who can partake, and rules for when to partake. One major rule is that all the leavening was to be removed from the house and bread was to be made without any leavening (Exodus 13.7). While the Torah (the Pentateuch) has additional information, this establishes our Historical Context.
Let’s go back to the when. Historically and Ritualistically when is once yearly (Exodus 13.10), during the month of Abib (Exodus 13.4), and the Feast was to last seven days (Exodus 13.6). Perhaps, the exegete (at least in my religious heritage) is now thinking about Paul and his admonition “for as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup” (1 Corinthians 11.26). To me, it seems appropriate and natural to conclude that this is where a NT exegete should be.
From the Historical Context, Ritualistic Context and the Torah Narrative Context we can see that they support a once per year observance. This is the observance schedule that Jesus would have maintained. This is the Liturgical cycle that Jesus’ first disciples observed. Also, as discussed in Ancient Church History and Ancient Church Theology, Saul/Paul walked orderly keeping the Law of Moses even though he was a Disciple of Jesus. As such, the primary immediate context (Historical Context, Ritual Context and Torah Narrative Context) is Jewish. Thus, Jesus, the Apostles, including Saul, and the first Disciples observed this Feast once each year.
However, there is another part of this Historical Liturgical Ritual that was developed by the Jewish culture. This ritual is nowhere within the pages of the Torah, and nowhere within the OT. The NT only offers allusion (keep in mind that allusion is a type of literary device). The Ritual Liturgy is discussed and originated outside the Bible. Whether one agrees or disagrees, likes or dislikes this aspect is irrelevant – Jesus partakes and then fulfills Israelite National tradition.
That tradition was an additional meal developed as commemoration during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. That Ritualistic, culturally derived tradition is the Seder (say-der). The Seder is a meal that is eaten during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The meal has specific symbolic elements and those elements represent specific things. I encourage my readers to study the Seder and its elements for further awareness and insight.
The exegete must study the tradition of Seder in order to resolve the variance in the number of cups among the Gospel Narratives. That study reveals the symbols used, what each cup symbolized, and helps identify which cup Jesus used for what purpose. Remember, Luke wrote a historical account for believers “to know with certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed” (Luke 1.4).
The Seder includes four cups of wine (or Fruit of the Vine). Each cup is used to commemorate four aspects of a promise found in Exodus:
Luke informed Theophilus about two cups. The number of Seder cups and the symbolism of each cup have greater meaning than what is included here. The symbology of the Seder cups is needed information. Knowing which cups Jesus used becomes insightful and spiritually uplifting. But for us, Luke records two cups (Matthew and Mark one cup), but there were more cups at that Feast table.
In the Gospel Narratives, Jesus used two specific Seder symbols and gave them fulfilled meaning. In addition to the four cups, on the Feast table sat matza, unleavened bread. Jesus used the unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine and put fulfilled meaning into those symbols. Sages had disputed the meaning of these symbols many years prior to Jesus.
Partial Comprehensive Context Summary
At this point in our examination of Comprehensive Context, we have examined some details in Narrative, Literary, Historic and Ritualistic Contexts. We have learned from that examination that author and audience matter, and that literary style is important.
We have seen that literature reveals History. The Gospel Narrative revealed the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover. Both of those were established during the Exodus and Covenanted at Mt. Sinai. Both of which were to be observed once a year in the month of Abib.
We have also seen that literature reveals Ritual. The Gospel Narrative alludes to the Seder and portions of its symbolism. Again, the Seder is not found in the OT; it is found in Jewish Tradition. The specific Seder elements alluded to in the Gospel Narrative are the Fruit of the Vine and the Unleavened Bread. Knowing this, allow me to address the Communion cup variances in the Gospel Narratives.
If the Gospel of Matthew is intended for a Jewish audience, then it makes sense that Matthew would not inform a Jewish audience about the Seder. Why would a Jewish author incorporate details about a Jewish tradition into a Jewish document intended for a Jewish audience who have been practicing and observing the tradition since childhood? In essence, if Matthew’s audience truly is Jewish, then a Jew would already have a working familiarity with their Traditions and with the Seder.
If the Gospel of Mark is intended for a Roman-Gentile audience, then it makes sense that Mark would not inform his Roman-Gentile audience about the Seder. At first read, that statement may sound odd, but taken in light of my discussion in Ancient Church History, the statement makes sense. As discussed in Ancient Church History, Gentiles in the First Century associated with the Jews at Synagogue. As such, these Gentiles most likely would have been familiar with some of the Jewish Traditions, and for our discussion in particular, the Seder. Additionally, based upon the information in Ancient Church History, the Roman-Gentile audience hearing the Gospel of Mark, most likely were God Fearers or perhaps even Proselytes. As such, these two specific groups of Gentiles would, by their very association with the Jews, especially a Proselyte, have associative knowledge of the Seder. As such, if the focus of Mark’s Gospel is the God Fearing Gentile or the Proselyte Gentile, then it makes sense that Mark would exclude those details about the Jewish Seder.
However, I will make one additional assertion about Mark not including details about the Seder. While I am relying on my experience, that experience has demonstrated time and again, that in most instances, Gentiles either do not understand the Jewish traditions or do not want to know the Jewish traditions. In essence, give the Gentile Jesus, but not the Traditions. This seems to be because the Gentile, even the Gentile Believer, seldom sees the relevance of the traditions surrounding the Gospel; if this assertion is somewhat accurate, then it offers a reason why Mark did not include any information about the Seder. Mark seems far more concerned about Jesus and about his audience coming to have faith in Jesus, than with communicating traditions.
However, Luke is not trying to persuade his audience to belief. Instead, Luke is writing to affirm or confirm the Believer’s faith. Thus, it makes sense that Luke would include details not found in Matthew or Mark. Again, we know that Luke wrote to Theophilus (friend of God) who could be either Jew or Gentile, and that Luke included more detail in his Narrative about Communion. Luke did such so the believer could “know with certainty” the events of Passover, the Lord’s Supper, and the significance of that event.
With Luke providing more details (like mentioning two cups), he provided literary markers about the Passover and the Seder. Thus, Luke works in harmony with Matthew and Mark. In keeping with his own thesis (Luke 1.1-4), Luke provided Historical Context identifiers and Ritualistic Context items. Luke did this so that the Believer could have further understanding about the Gospel they had believed. So, whether the Believer came to believe by the Gospel of Matthew, or the Gospel of Mark, or the Gospel of John, or someone else preaching the Gospel, the Historic Gospel of Luke confirms and clarifies aspects surrounding the Gospel.
I now have two important questions. Did Jesus intend for the bread and the fruit of the vine to be the only remaining elements of the Seder Tradition to remain in practice? Or Did Jesus intend for his disciples to continue observing the Seder as their Master had, but with new meaning behind that ritual? I have my studied conclusion; but I leave the answer for my readers to discern.
My previous understanding of Communion contains specific aspects. So, I will attempt to address a couple of these aspects. I will discuss the linguistic aspects of the word bread and the act of breaking bread and their relevance to Communion. But first, I am compelled to discuss Theological Context.
During the week of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, that same week of Passover, Jesus used the Seder meal to reveal that the Seder is complete only when the participant knows that the third cup (the cup of redemption) is secured in the blood of the lamb. For Believers, the Lamb is Jesus the Messiah, the Anointed, the One that had to be crucified and resurrected from the dead.
In the First Century, Jesus made a powerful connection to three major elements for the Children of Israel. With newly fulfilled symbolism, Jesus connected all the way back to the first Passover – Israel’s exodus from Egypt, written of in the Law of Moses. With that newly fulfilled symbolism, Jesus connected back to the National Traditions of Israel. Further, through the newly fulfilled symbolism, Jesus connected back to the Prophets, where the prophet Jeremiah declared a New Covenant (Jeremiah 31.31-34).
The Prophet Jeremiah declared that new covenant was not going to be exactly like the covenant God made with the Children of Israel at Sinai. Instead, the new covenant would be somewhat different. We must also note that Jeremiah’s new covenant is about Israel and Judah. The names Israel and Judah represent the time period of nationalistic history where the kingdom was divided. So, the new covenant would be with both kingdoms (north and south), with the Gentiles being invited (Isaiah 2.2-3; Jeremiah 3.17-18). Additionally, Jeremiah’s proclaimed that with the new covenant God would write his law on the hearts of his people.
Theologically, it is important that Israel could only sacrifice at the location God specified (Deuteronomy 12.10-12). With Rome invading Jerusalem (A.D./C.E. 70) and destroying the Temple, the place for acceptable sacrifices was removed. Since then, there have been no Temple services, no sacrifices offered, not even the Passover lamb. As such, for the Believer, it is important that God, through his Anointed Jesus, gave fullness to the Seder.
Since the Nation of Israel’s future would unfold where sacrifices could not be offered at the Temple, it meant the Passover Lamb could not be sacrificed. Therefore, Jesus became the fulfillment of the Lamb, and the Seder emblems took on new completed meanings. The Seder meal came to symbolize Jesus’ Death as the New Covenant Lamb in very much the same way that the killing of the exodus Passover lamb was the symbol of the deliverance from the destroying angel in Egypt.
Remember, the Seder was an additional meal eaten at the beginning of Passover week. Again, this meal received “new” meaning with fullness found in Jesus the Messiah, the Anointed from God.
The Seder has three pieces of matzah (unleavened bread) stacked vertically. The middle piece of matzah is broken into two pieces. One half is wrapped in linen and hidden away. That hidden half returns later, bought back at a price in order to return to the Feast table.
As for the Fruit of the Vine, it is the third cup that represents Jesus’ blood, the Cup of Redemption. Speculation is given to which cup Jesus said that he would not drink. However, since the Seder is tradition, the tradition can be modified by participants, so I am uncertain. Since, Jesus brought redemption to Believers, irrespective of the other cups, no other cup specifically matches the theme of Redemption.
Technically, the Seder cannot replace the Passover meal as described in Exodus; doing such would alter God’s commandments. Thus, the Seder cannot be the Passover meal detailed in the Law of Moses. As such, the Communion (the Lord’s Supper) is built on the tradition of the Seder meal.
However, the early Jewish Church’s observance of the Seder (The Lord’s Supper) contained at least three elements that harkened back to the Passover. These elements include:
Additionally, the Seder was observed during the week of Unleavened Bread, thus observed only once annually, during the month of Abib; not quarterly, not monthly, not weekly.
Jesus did give full and “new” meaning to the Seder. However, Jesus should not be interpreted as intending for his Jewish disciples to stop observing the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Doing so would be a violation of following God’s Law (doing the will of the Father), we know this because these Feasts are found itemized in the Law of Moses (Exodus 23.14-19). From Ancient Church History and Ancient Church Theology, we know that there were many First Century Jews who believed in Jesus and must have continued to observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread because they were zealous for the Law of Moses.
When considering Acts 21.17-24 (again see Ancient Church History and Ancient Church Theology for further discussion), we can surmise that Paul observed the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As discussed in Ancient Church History and Ancient Church Theology, it is proper to conclude that Paul’s religious behavior is consistent with being a Jew keeping the Law of Moses and following Jesus as Messiah. Thus, Paul would participate in the Feast of Unleavened Bread (cf. Acts 20.6 for Luke’s citation, Luke is not completely specific, but Luke’s grammatics allude to Paul participating in the Feast).
In examining Narrative Context and Literary Context, it is important to recognize how the Author established and used their phraseology. First and primarily, the Author, within their Literature defines and determines the meaning of their words and phrases. How one Author uses a word does not automatically equal the way another Author would use that same word. In essence, two authors can use the same word and convey a variation of meaning.
Linguistic Context is related to Literary Context, but in my application they are not the same. Literary Context investigates the literature. While literature definitely consists of linguals (the words used to express ideas and concepts), Literary Context focuses on the type of literature genre (e.g. poetry, history). However, Linguistic Context examines the Author’s words, how that Author defines those words, and if that Author uses those words within their other writings.
I want to offer an example of why Linguistic Context is important. Where I am from, Texas, when I order a coke, the wait-staff asks me which type of soda I want. However, in the Mid-West, when I have ordered a coke, the wait-staff didn’t ask me what type, they brought me Coke (Coca-Cola®).
With this example, I am not aiming to determine who uses language correctly; I am showing the difficulties of language itself. To the Mid-West wait-staff, I stated exactly what I wanted. But, maybe I didn’t want Coca-Cola® even though I used the word coke. In Texas, the generic word for any type of soda is coke. In the Mid-West, the generic word for any type of soda is pop. Since, the Mid-West wait-staff did not hear me say the word pop, they inferred that I meant Coca-Cola® – which may or may not have been true.
I am trying to illustrate that it is a tremendous assumption to presume that all NT writers use terms in exactly the same way. In many instances, Literary Context provides enough hints that the reader can determine the Author’s intent. However, there are times that Linguistic Context must be examined to determine if what we, as readers, are reading is actually the Author’s intent.
With those things in mind, when Luke expresses the concept of breaking bread, we need to ask: How is Luke defining his terms? To read into Luke’s Literature our current or accepted definitions and terminologies may or may not be correct. Additionally, it is possible that Luke and another writer could use phrases that are similar, but in fact carry a variation in meaning. When studying the Bible, Linguistic Context becomes important, very important.
The Bible does not have English origins. The Bible is from Ancient Middle Eastern origins, where no one spoke modern day English, or even KJV 1611 English. The Bible originates in Hebrew not Greek. The OT contains the Semitic Languages of Hebrew and Aramaic. While the NT was communicated in Greek, it does not come from a Greco-Roman culture. The NT comes from a First Century Jewish culture, where they focused on the things of the Israelite Nation, speaking Hebrew, Aramaic, and with some Jews using Hellenistic Greek. All of these affect Linguistic Context.
We also need to recognize that the Bible contains idiomatic expressions. Idiomatic expressions are phrases that contain words that sometimes express concepts contrary to the words (like the phrase “it’s raining cats and dogs”). All of these things affect our understanding of the Bible. With increased awareness, we utilize that knowledge to understand how to live their faith in our world.
The concept breaking bread will be the topic in our next segment. The concept will be examined at length. But what is important for us to ask at this point is: What does Luke mean when he refers to the act of breaking bread?
It is the Author, Luke who establishes his Literary Context. Some claim that Luke’s Literary Context changes from the Gospel of Luke to the Book of Acts. However, the Literary Context of this two-volume set changes very little. Some exegetes consider the Gospel of Luke a Gospel Narrative and the Book of Acts as Historic Narrative. However, Luke established that his account of the Gospel is in the style of Historic Narrative. We can know that Luke considered his Gospel Historic Narrative by his statement:
Luke is not writing a Gospel Narrative persuading Theophilus to believe Jesus is the Messiah. Instead, from the opening four verses of Luke’s Gospel, we know that Theophilus already believes Jesus is Messiah. Thus, Luke is writing a Historic Narrative about the events surrounding Jesus.
In his Historic Narrative, Luke includes events not found in the other Gospels (e.g. the birth of John the Baptist, and Jesus being presented at the Temple). These details are given to Theophilus not to establish faith, but so that Theophilus would have confidence and conviction regarding Jesus. Thus, Luke is strengthening faith not establishing faith. This makes Luke’s purpose significantly different than Matthew, Mark and John. This affects Luke’s Linguistic Context.
In both of his volumes, Luke uses Historic Narrative. Thus, like the Book of Acts, the Gospel of Luke is Historic Narrative. Luke’s two volumes are a unit, working together in unison. Thus, these two volumes should be read and studied together. As such, these two volumes should receive the same Author Context, and the same Author’s Linguistic Context. Luke thoroughly and unquestionably established his purpose, his context, his linguistics. Since, Luke authored both volumes, Luke’s linguistics define the intentions of his work, not we as Believers, or readers, or students, or exegetes.
As for the Linguistic Context, we are somewhat at a disadvantage in the English Language. The reason for this is because in the Greek Language, Luke used two different words for bread. Here are the two Greek words Luke used for bread:
The Greek word ἄζυμος (azumos) is translated into English as unleavened bread. The Greek word ἄζυμος is found in these verses (two verses in the Gospel of Luke, and two verses in the Book of Acts):
From these four verses, it is clear that ἄζυμος refers to the Feast of Unleavened Bread. During, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Luke does use the other Greek word for bread (ἄρτος). While ἄρτος, in most instances, does refer to leavened bread, ἄρτος (bread) during the Feast of Unleavened Bread is always without leavening. If ἄρτος (bread) was made with leavening during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, doing so would not be in harmony with the Law of Moses, as discussed in the sections “Historical and Ritualistic Contexts” and “Theological Context”.
As discussed, ἄρτος (bread) can be used to refer to unleavened bread (Luke 22.19). However, in most instances, ἄρτος (bread) refers to leavened bread. Either way, whether leavened or unleavened, we know that bread itself can be eaten as food, or bread can be included as part of a meal.
With the above, we saw Luke’s Linguistic Context by his choice of Greek words. We also saw the verses that contain Luke’s words, and those words were found throughout Luke’s two-volume Historic Narrative. While we will not examine the Literary Context for every verse, we can obtain a general sense of whether bread refers to food/mealtime. I will make my comments about the Gospel of Luke; then I will give my comments on the Book of Acts.
Of the Gospel of Luke verses provided above, here are the verses where bread is clearly used as literal food, or where bread is part of a meal.
Of the Gospel of Luke verses located above prior to my comments, there are two verses where bread may not clearly represent food. The first is found in Luke 14.15; the second is in Luke 22.19. I will discuss Luke 22.19 in the section “The Act of Breaking Bread” because in it Jesus took bread and broke it.
With Luke 14.15, it seems possible that one can interpret the use of bread as figurative and not literal. However, consider the Literary Context (Luke 14.1-24). Jesus is setting at a meal (Luke 14.1-6). Using a parable, Jesus spoke about table arrangements at mealtime (Luke 14.7-11). Then Jesus said to invite people that cannot repay for the meal received (Luke 14.12-14). Furthermore, the verses that follow Luke 14.15 discuss mealtime (Luke 14.16-24). Thus, using Literary Context we can know that bread in Luke 14.15 refers to literal food.
Of the Book of Acts verses located above and prior to my comments, there are three verses where bread may not clearly represent food. The first is found in Acts 2.42; the second in Acts 20.7 with the third in Acts 20.11. I will discuss all three of these verses in the section “The Act of Breaking Bread” because all three verses reveal the act of breaking bread. Acts 2.42 uses the phrase breaking of bread, Acts 20.7 uses the phrase to break bread, and Acts 20.11 uses the phrase had broken bread.
The only instance where ἄρτος (bread) applies specifically to unleavened bread is Luke 22.19. The Literary Context (Luke 22.1-20) clearly established the Historical time setting as the Feast of Unleavened Bread. While this is Luke’s one alternate use of ἄρτος, we can know that this instance of ἄρτος refers only to unleavened bread because, Luke established his Linguistic Context in Luke 22.1 by using ἄζυμος (azumos), the specific word for unleavened bread. As such, interpreting the Linguistic Context of ἄρτος in Luke 22.19 completely depends on the Linguistic Context of ἄζυμος found in Luke 22.1, and Luke 22.7. I will have more about Luke 22.19 in the section “The Act of Breaking Bread”.
Additionally, for Linguistic Context, Luke used the Greek word ἄζυμος (azumos) four different times. Two of those instances (Luke 22.1 and Luke 22.7) were discussed in the previous paragraph. The other two instances are found in the Book of Acts (Acts 12.3, Acts 20.6). Acts 12.3 will not be examined because that instance of ἄζυμος (azumos) does not have direct correlation. However, Acts 20.6 does have correlation for the Context to the act of breaking bread. Thus, Acts 20.6 will be examined in the section “The Act of Breaking Bread”.
When seeing the Author Context, Literary Context, and Linguistic Context we can see that bread always referred to literal bread used in a meal, even if that meal was the highly symbolic Traditional Seder meal (the Seder was discussed in greater detail in the section “Theological Context”). There may be one exception to literal bread. Luke 22.19 is the verse where Jesus takes literal unleavened bread and makes it a symbol of his body, but Jesus still used and referred to literal unleavened bread. There are eight verses (Luke 22.19, Luke 24.30, Luke 24.35; Acts 2.42, Acts 2.46, Acts 20.7, Acts 20.11, Acts 27.35) that refer to the act of breaking bread, these will be examined in the next section “The Act of Breaking Bread”.
Breaking of bread is used twice (Luke 24.35; Acts 2.42). Breaking bread is used once (Acts 2.46). To break bread is used once (Acts 20.7) and had broken bread is used once (Acts 20.11).
Additionally, there are three passages that refer to the act of breading bread, and these passages describe the act with different phraseology. Here are the verses:
Luke 22.19 is interesting because of where it falls in Luke’s Literary Context. The immediate Literary Context (Luke 22.13-20) reveals that Jesus will have his final observance of Passover, which occurred the exact same night that he was betrayed. Additionally, the immediate Literary Context must be interpreted within the remote Literary Context (Luke 22.1-20).
The remote Literary Context (Luke 22.1-20) tells us that Luke 22.19 had Jesus and his act of breaking bread fall within the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As discussed in the sections “Historical and Ritualistic Contexts” and “Theological Context” the Feast of Unleavened Bread used bread containing no leavening.
In Luke 22.19, Luke did use the Greek word ἄρτος (bread). In the section “The Word ‘Bread’ ” we saw that ἄρτος primarily referred to leavened bread. However, Historical, Ritualistic, and Theological Contexts modify this instance of ἄρτος. In this instance, while Author Context uses the same Greek word, Luke uses the Greek word in a different Literary and Linguistic Context.
When using Comprehensive Context, Luke 22.19 and its use of ἄρτος can only be interpreted as unleavened bread. Thus, this verse reveals Luke using the same Greek word (ἄρτος) in two distinct ways having two distinct applications. Luke’s use affected both Literary and Linguistic Contexts; this is why Comprehensive Context matters.
Because Luke 22.19 is affected by multiple Contexts, Comprehensive Context clarifies Luke’s intended use and our interpretation. As such, Luke 22.19 speaks specifically to unleavened bread. As a side note, I just want to add that unleavened bread is also known as matza. From Comprehensive Context, the bread in Luke 22.19 is unleavened, it is literal food, and it is part of the annual ritual Traditional meal called Seder.
As discussed, this verse occurs during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the week of Passover. During that week, Jesus took unleavened bread from the Seder meal, and told the disciples the unleavened bread represented him. Luke 22.19 emphatically reveals the act of breaking bread, even though expressed differently than the phrase breaking of bread in Luke 24.35.
In Luke 22.19, Jesus is clearly utilizing literal unleavened bread found within the Seder. Jesus made the eating of that unleavened bread into a symbolic action. Thus, the symbolism is only experienced when the disciples literally eat unleavened bread.
From the remote Literary Context (Luke 24.13-27), we know Jesus and the two from the Emmaus Road were eating a meal. In Luke 24.29, we learn that the meal occurred in the evening. In the KJV, Luke reveals that the two men said to Jesus, “Abide with us: for it is evening, and the day is far spent.”
In Luke 24.30, the phrase “sat at meat” tells us that it was mealtime. “Sat at meat” is an old King James English way of saying mealtime. The Greek behind the KJV’s “sat at meat” is κατακλίνω (kataklino G2625). In part, that Greek word conveys the idea of being at a table. Interestingly, Luke is the only NT author to use the Greek verb κατακλίνω, using it three times. Through Author Context, in Luke 9.14 and Luke 14.8, Luke established that κατακλίνω refers to eating a meal. Those verses discuss similar situational contexts, and are thus in keeping with Luke 24.30 and the act breaking of bread.
I have an observation. Luke 24.35 is Luke’s third reference to the act of breaking bread (the first two are Luke 22.19 and Luke 24.30). As such, the act of breaking bread is not unique to the Book of Acts. This means that Luke, in his first volume, established and defined the act of breaking bread, which referred to mealtime. Luke 22.19 was the symbolic Traditional Seder meal (discussed in more detail in the section “Theological Context”); Luke 24.30 and Luke 24.35 both refer to the evening meal that Jesus had with the two from the Emmaus Road.
From the examination of Luke’s first volume (the Gospel of Luke), we can see the following. The use of comprehensive Author Context means that Luke’s Linguistic Context of his first volume (the Gospel of Luke) influences the Linguistic Context Luke used in his second volume (the Book of Acts). This simply means that the Book of Acts should not receive lingual interpretation independent of the Gospel of Luke.
I have an exegetical question. From the examinations, do the Contexts of Luke 22.19, Luke 24.30, and Luke 24.35 indicate that the references to breaking bread in the Book of Acts need to be interpreted as mealtime?
To answer that question, the following must be kept in mind. One, it is Author Context that established the mealtime definition; thus Luke provided, at least, three instances of Linguistic Context used to define breaking bread. Two, it is possible that Luke’s use of Literary Context could modify the meaning of breaking bread, similar to how Luke used his Literary Context to affect the Linguistic meaning of ἄρτος (bread). Three, it is Luke who defines his intentions, not we as readers. Knowing that, let us examine Luke’s remaining five verses about the act of breaking bread.
Acts 2.42 is somewhat vague. The verse itself gives no clarity. The immediate Literary Context is the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2.1-41) and the resulting developments of that Gospel message (Acts 2.42-47). What Acts 2.42 does is offer the initial details following the Gospel message, in essence providing some developments of the people’s attitude after responding to Peter and the other Apostles (Acts 2.14, 41). Unless something brings forth an explanation, the breaking of bread in Acts 2.42 remains an enigma. But the enigma remains only for a few verses. Clarity is found when Acts 2.42 is read with the remainder of Acts Chapter Two.
Acts 2.46 is located in the exact same immediate Literary Context as Acts 2.42 (see previous paragraph). As such, Acts 2.46 does help resolve the mystery of breaking of bread in Acts 2.42. Here is how Acts 2.46 reads in the KJV: “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.”
Acts 2.46 offers some insight, especially when we know that they were breaking bread from house to house eating “meat”, as the KJV states. The Greek word behind the KJV “meat” is τροφή (Trophe G5160) which means food and/or nourishment. Knowing the definition of the Greek word helps define the Linguistic Context as mealtime, whether the disciples actually had meat is irrelevant, because the human body can consume bread and vegetables and receive nourishment.
Since Acts 2.42 and Acts 2.46 occur within the same Literary Context, Luke did not have to specify the idea of food in both verses. This type of writing is common, and is still used today. Many authors insinuate meaning of their words by their immediate Literary Context. This is the situation here with Luke and Acts 2.42. Thus, according to the specified information about food in Acts 2.46, and Luke’s establishment in Luke 24.35 that breaking bread means mealtime, we, according to Luke’s Author Context, can infer that Acts 2.42 is referring to mealtime, not Communion (also known as, the Lord’s Supper).
When considering the placement of Luke 24.35, Acts 2.42 and Acts 2.46, these three verses fall within three chapters of each other (the last chapter of Luke’s first volume and the second chapter of Luke’s second volume). The proximity of these three verses alone helps reveal the intended interpretation of Acts 2.42. In Acts Chapter Two, Luke is simply communicating that these First Century Disciples ate food together, routinely, in a warm friendly setting, in each other’s homes. Luke is not communicating anything about Communion. The question now arises: To what is Acts 20.7 referring?
Like previous verses, we need the immediate Literary Context of Acts 27.35. The immediate Literary Context is Acts 27.33-36. For this verse, the immediate Literary Context provides enough Literary Context to define the act of breaking bread. However, the remote Literary Context it is Acts 27.1-28.1.
In the KJV, the immediate Literary Context uses the word “meat” three times: Acts 27.33, Acts 27.34, and Acts 27.36. The KJV word “meat” translates the Greek word τροφή (Trophe G5160), which means food and/or nourishment. This is the exact same Greek word used in Acts 2.46.
Knowing that contextual information, in Acts 27.35, when Paul took bread and broke the bread, he is literally offering nourishment to the men on board that sinking ship. The immediate Literary Context does not reveal if bread was their only nourishment, or if the bread was part of a larger meal. In either event, the act of breaking bread in Acts 27.35 refers to mealtime.
To begin answering the question “To what is Acts 20.7 referring?” we need to find our Literary Context. The immediate Literary Context for Acts 20.7 is The Upper Chamber (Acts 20.6-13). The remote Literary Context is Paul’s Travels – Paul left Antioch (Acts 15.35), traveled through different cities, and made his way to Jerusalem (Acts 21.16). Thus, in Acts 20.7 Paul is traveling and The Upper Chamber is an occasion where he gathered with Believers.
Because I was taught that Acts 20.7 is evidence for the Lord’s Supper, I want to put the verses associated with the immediate Literary Context into our discussion. After the immediate Literary Context, I will provide my examination. Here is Acts 20.6-13 KJV:
Additionally in Acts 20.6, Luke gives us this information “we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread”. This information tells us that Paul paused his travels; remained in Philippi for the Feast of Unleavened Bread; observed the Feast; and when the Feast was over Paul resumed his travels. Thus, Paul remained in Philippi for the duration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Again, in the section “Historical and Ritualistic Contexts” we saw that during the Feast of Unleavened Bread is when the Biblical Passover and the Traditional Seder meal were observed. As discussed, these are the Historical and Ritualistic Contexts in which Jesus established the Lord’s Supper. From that contextual information, and from Luke’s Historic Narrative in the Book of Acts, we can see that Paul walked orderly, keeping the Law of Moses (cf. Acts 21.17-24, Ancient Church History, Ancient Church Theology).
That contextual information is important for examining the Comprehensive Context of Acts 20.7. The immediate Literary Context influenced by Comprehensive Context leads us to conclude that Paul, as an orderly Jew who kept the Law of Moses, would have observed Communion about twelve days prior to Eutychus falling out the window. That is how a Jew in the First Century would have observed the Lord’s Supper – doing according to prescribed Biblical Feast time keepings, congruent with the Law of Moses and the (Seder) Traditions the Jews had been given.
Additionally, Acts 20.6 tells us Paul took five days to travel from Philippi to Troas, and Paul stayed in Troas a total of seven days. In Acts 20.7, Luke tells us they gathered on “the first day of the week” but that Paul was “ready to depart on the morrow”. For our examination, all I want to point out is that on the last day of Paul’s stay in Troas is when the events of The Upper Chamber occurred. Thus, on Paul’s seventh day in Troas, something happened.
In Acts 20.7, Luke said “the disciples came together to break bread”. With that statement, my church heritage promotes the interpretation that Paul remained in Troas to break bread, as in take Communion, the observation of the Lord’s Supper. It is presented that Paul remained in Troas specifically to observe the Lord’s Supper. However, I have grown to question that interpretation based upon Luke’s immediate Literary Context, where in Acts 20.6 Luke tells us that Paul specifically remained in Philippi for the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Through Ancient Church History and Ancient Church Theology and through this discussion of “Communion and Comprehensive Context,” I have presented a differing reality for Paul. Additionally, throughout these works I offered reasons why Paul (Saul) did what he did, and why he taught the way he did, even though he was called to be an Apostle to the Gentiles.
Also, I have sufficiently acknowledged that neither Paul (Saul) nor the Jewish Church Council (the Council of Jerusalem, Acts 15) bound Gentile Believers to the Law of Moses. But, I have sufficiently presented that the Jewish Church, including the Apostles, situationally expected the Gentile Believers to read the Law of Moses and learn from it (see Ancient Church History for greater explanation).
For now, I want to consider only Literary Context. I find the interpretation of Paul remaining in Troas for the purpose of Communion, an interpretation that neglects the influence of Luke’s immediate Literary Context, especially the information found in Acts 20.6. Interestingly, the immediate Literary Context includes Acts 20.11, which itself provides additional clarity about Paul’s seven-day stay in Troas.
In Acts 20.7, Luke established that Paul preached to the disciples and preached until midnight, and Acts 20.9 said, “Paul was long preaching”. When discussing Acts 20.6, I discussed Paul being “ready to depart on the morrow” so please refer to my discussion about Acts 20.6. However, in Acts 20.8-9 we find the description of the upper chamber, the lighting thereof, and a specific man named Eutychus.
Now, as a preacher, I have witnessed many people fall asleep during my sermons, and I have witnessed that happen even during the shortest of sermons. So, obviously falling asleep during a presentation is nothing new, nor is it a symbol of a person’s heart. Sometimes, fatigue simply takes over, especially during the evening, or late at night as seen when Paul was preaching.
I submit that Eutychus is the focus of Luke’s information in Acts 20.6-13, everything else is incidental and descriptive to that moment. Luke described the upper chamber, the events that occurred there, stated what happened to Eutychus and described what Paul did to resolve the unfortunate situation of Eutychus falling from the window to his death. Luke recorded this Troas incident, not to reveal church function, church liturgy or church worship, but to show God’s power through the Apostle Paul. God through Paul gave back Eutychus, a dead man, his life.
From the Literary Context, we find many people in the upper chamber, Paul longwinded in his sermon, Eutychus fell from the window to his death, and Paul gave Eutychus back his life (Acts 20.8-10). This information is located between Acts 20.7 and Acts 20.11, both verses mentioning the act of breaking bread. Considering that the Literary Context affects Luke’s presentation of the Upper Chamber, we should find Acts 20.7 and Acts 20.11 remaining congruent with the remainder of Luke’s Author Context and Linguistic Context for breaking bread.
However, Acts 20.11 has additional information, a brief statement that Paul “had broken bread, and eaten”. In Acts 20.7 and Acts 20.11, Luke used the Greek word ἄρτος, which is translated into English as bread. Throughout Luke’s Linguistic Context, I have discussed that Luke uses ἄρτος to refer to both leavened and unleavened bread, but that ἄρτος primarily means leavened bread. Also, as defined by Luke, ἄρτος can refer specifically to bread as nourishment, or to a meal that could include bread.
In the KJV Acts 20.11, includes the word “eaten”. The Greek word γεύομαι (geuomai G1089) is translated into eaten. This Greek word means “to taste” but more importantly, the Greek word means “to eat” as in eating for nourishment. Throughout Luke’s two volumes, Luke described bread as nourishment, or presented the idea of bread being a part of a meal that nourishes. Luke, in his Literary Context of Acts 20.7 used a Greek word γεύομαι (Acts 20.11) that includes the idea of eating for nourishment. Luke, while changing his phraseology and means of expressing himself, still remains true to his Author Context and Linguistic Context.
This information convinced me of the following. Acts 20.6-13 actually and specifically place the focus on Eutychus, which means that Acts 20.7 is incidental to Eutychus’ story. Additionally, Acts 20.7 is defined by Luke’s Literary Context (Acts 20.6-13), and to remove this verse from its Literary Context is to do what Alexander Campbell terms “versify” (proof texting). Furthermore, Luke’s Literary Context (Acts 20.6-13) containing Acts 20.7 is directly affected by Luke’s Linguistic Context in Acts 20.11, which means that Luke is simply describing Paul gathering with the other disciples to eat for the sake of nourishment; nothing more, nothing less.
For Acts 20.7, I want to address one other issue. In Acts 20.6, Luke stated that Paul remained in Philippi. Luke changed physical locations by describing Paul’s travel from Philippi to Troas; it took Paul five days to make that journey. For some, it may be tempting to place Paul in Troas to partake of Communion (the Lord’s Supper), but according to Ancient Church History and Ancient Church Theology, it seems improbable for Paul to be in Troas participating in the Lord’s Supper.
Through my comprehensive presentation of Ancient Church History and Ancient Church Theology, and considering Comprehensive Context, I can no longer agree with the interpretation that Paul remained in Troas to observe Communion, also known as the Lord’s Supper. Paul gathered with the Believers in Troas to eat a literal meal, but before doing so Paul preached, Eutychus fell to his death, Paul gave Eutychus back his life, then Paul resumed preaching only after he ate his food. Paul ate a literal meal consisting of either only bread, or a meal that possibly included bread, in either event Luke’s Literary Context does not reveal.
As with almost every conclusion I have offered, I hesitate. A conclusion provides no reasoning structure, no evidence for conclusions derived. However, I know that some readers begin with a writer’s conclusion. Why some readers do such is beyond me. So, again I offer my conclusion knowing that some probably have not given time to see my thoughts and reasons.
As I provide my conclusion, I want to submit that it is far too easy to abuse Topical Studies and the Strong’s Concordance. They are easily abused because of the ease of study. The Cross-Referencing Word Study Method is easy. Believers learn lots of information, but do so at the expense of learning Comprehensive Context. Topical Studies and Concordances permit Believers access to cross-referenced Bible words, but no concordance establishes Comprehensive Context. As such, Topical Studies and Concordance Studies prove themselves contextually inadequate.
I will make a brief comparison. Comprehensive Context is far more arduous. Comprehensive Context study is very detailed and time consuming. The Comprehensive Context Study Method can and often challenges doctrine built by the Cross-Referencing Word Study Method. To state that idea another way: the Bible is simple, but it is not simplistic.
With regard to “Communion as I Was Taught” and my church heritage, I could discuss several other items. These items would include things like: a Comprehensive Contextual discussion of the Lord’s Supper in First Corinthians Eleven; the observance of the Lord’s Supper on the First day of the week; and/or the concept of the silence of the NT in relation to Communion observance. However, I forgo entering into more lengthy discussion about Communion.
I believe I have sufficiently shown through Comprehensive Context that it is contextually weak to use Acts 20.7 for Communion. With Communion and Comprehensive Context, I consider the Lord’s Supper sufficiently discussed, especially in light of my thesis regarding the hermeneutic used by my church heritage (for greater details, see my thesis about the OT in my second e-book), and my lengthy discussion about Ancient Church History and all the information about Theology (Six Theological Viewpoints and Ancient Church Theology). Having addressed why I will not discuss other items affecting my church heritage’s hermeneutical interpretation of Communion, I continue with the remainder of my conclusion.
That helps us to clearly understand that Paul, in his Literary Context (1 Corinthians 11.17-34), used these two phrases to establish the context of Communion.
Similar to Paul, Luke in his first volume used contextual markers in his Literary Context (Luke 22.1-20). In that Literary Context, we find, at least, three phrases that establish the context of Passover. Here are Luke’s three phrases:
Importantly, in his second volume, Luke provided no such context markers for Communion. Luke provided no Literary or Linguistic Context markers to interpret Acts 2.42-47 or Acts 20.6-13 as the Lord’s Supper.
As I have sufficiently demonstrated, Comprehensive Context is a lengthy and time- consuming process. I have also demonstrated that Comprehensive Context may offer a different understanding of the Scriptures than we may have been given. Yet, that should not matter, because the results are well worth the effort – drawing nearer to God through better understanding.
Additionally, Comprehensive Context offers a greater appreciation for what the Biblical authors were communicating. There is an unspoken reality with Biblical authors like Luke. Luke was giving his material to Theophilus, a contemporary. As a contemporary, Theophilus had a much greater understanding of the history, culture, society, traditions, and, in some instances, the theological contexts to interpret and understand Luke and his material. This is because both Luke and Theophilus were living in the time-period, culture and events that we consider Ancient History.
For us, we are now 21 centuries after the events. As such, we have to reconstruct as many of the events as possible about the Bible. These things influence our interpretation of Luke, and the Scriptures. As demonstrated, Comprehensive Context helps reconstruct the events around Acts 20.7, providing further Biblical understanding.
I offer a very conclusive thought. Interpreting Acts 20.7 as Communion where Paul and the Believers partook of the Lord’s Supper does so at the expense of Comprehensive Context, the very things that affect Luke’s original intended meaning. Comprehensive Context is something that Alexander Campbell seemed to aim for (see my next article which includes Campbell’s discussion of versifying) and something that my brotherhood told me we wanted.
Awareness of this information is critical for a historic understanding of Communion. Neither Matthew, nor Mark, nor Luke wrote detailing the events of Passover because they lived in a time frame and among a people where the Passover was completely observed and understood. This is because as discussed in Ancient Church History and Ancient Church Theology, the first First Century Church was Jewish, in which the Gentile Believers participated.
Again, while it may sound odd, Believers who rely only on the Bible will find themselves at a deficiency of information, which unfortunately makes the Bible insufficient. At a minimum, when the Believer wants to examine their questions about the Bible, they need a Bible Dictionary and a Theological Word Book. Some might want to argue with my statement, to them I ask: Where do you get your Bible definitions and information, from Thayer’s? Strong’s? Vine’s? Somewhere else? My point is rather simple, any use of external biblical study materials reveals dependence on sources outside the Bible, even when limited to one extra-Biblical source. That situation proves that the Bible is insufficient for clarifying itself.
One reason why the Bible is insufficient is because the Protestant Bible does not include the Macabbees, which reveals Hanukah. Yet, even if the Catholic Bible was used to learn about Hanukah, Believers would still not know about the Jewish Passover Tradition of the Seder. This is because the Seder was developed by the Jews to be a meal in addition to Passover. As such, the Seder cannot be found in the pages Scripture.
The Seder is based on Scripture, but the sacraments and the system of the Seder are not found in OT Scripture, period. As discussed in the section “Historical and Ritualistic Contexts”, the NT only hints at the Seder emblems. Yet, the Believers in the First Century would have immediately recognized what Matthew, Mark, or Luke wrote about because they practiced the very thing described in those NT Scriptures. But as the church moved from the First Century into the next and into the next and on down to our current century, general familiarity with the things described has been lost.
Interestingly and importantly, Jesus partook of and gave Messiah sanctioned approval to the use of the Tradition of the Seder through two major methods. One, Jesus never preached against the Jews observing Seder. Two, Jesus, in his last observance of Passover and the Seder, gave full meaning to the use of the emblems within the Seder. This means something very powerful, observing the Seder is completely acceptable to Jehovah, which makes some traditions acceptable to God.
Whether modern Believers know it or not; whether modern Believers like it or not, the Gospels and the Book of Acts record the Disciples and Jesus participating in sacred holy days (holidays) and sacred feasts not specifically established in the Five Books of Moses (Torah, aka The Pentateuch). Events like the Feast of Purim, Hanukah, and the Seder are not in Torah (the Pentateuch). The Feast of Purim is established in the book of Ester. Hanukah is established in the book of First Maccabees. The Seder is establish in Oral Torah, the traditions that the Sages and Rabbis taught, which were finally written down in the Mishnah. Interestingly, the NT records Jesus observing Hanukah (in KJV John 10.22 the Feast of Dedication), and the Seder (Matthew 26, Mark 14, and Luke 22), yet the NT remains silent about Jesus observing the Feast of Purim, however as a Jew he most likely did.
This discussion about Communion and Comprehensive Context, learning about Historic and Ritualistic observances is not guesswork. It is God through the Holy Spirit, and Messiah’s approval of the Seder Tradition telling us the history of communion. Like the Seder, there are things that the NT alludes to that are found in the Oral Torah. Modern Believers become better informed about the NT, when they study the Comprehensive Context that surrounds the arguments, dilemmas, issues, and theology that the NT reveals.
Additionally, while God ordained Passover as an annual observance, the Jews established the Seder. I limit my details about the Seder because I have already discussed it. However, to summarize, the Seder was an annual Traditional meal observed during the week of Passover (the Feast of Unleavened Bread).
Perhaps even more powerfully, in John Chapter Six, Jesus compared his body to bread and his blood to drink, and compared himself to the manna provided during the Exodus. The OT Scripture makes it clear that those in the wilderness ate manna every day, most likely multiple times daily, for the entire duration of the 40 years in the wilderness. Therefore, based upon Jesus’ own comparison, it seems quite scriptural that a Believer could observe the Lord’s Supper daily.
For a moment, I want to return to First Corinthians 11.17-34 and Paul’s admonition about the Lord’s Supper. No where in that Literary Context does Paul mention gathering upon the first day of the week, Paul said, “when ye come together in the church” (1 Corinthians 11.18 KJV), assembly time is not specified, this could be any day of the week (e.g. Monday, Wednesday, Friday). Even though Paul did not specify the day of the week for gathering, he does make reference to the night that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper.
In 1 Corinthians 11.23, in the KJV Paul stated, “the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread” and Paul went on to discuss the bread and fruit of the vine. By referencing the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Paul harkens to events of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which include the Passover and Seder, and the reality that they are observed once annually. This was the original setting.
However, in 1 Corinthians 11.25, Paul quoted Jesus who said, “as oft as ye drink” and in 1 Corinthians 11.26 Paul said, “as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup”. These statements should be applied first to the Historic and Ritualistic Context observed once annually. However, in the KJV, Jesus and his word “oft” and Paul and his word “often” can be interpreted giving Believers the freedom to observe the Lord’s Supper as many times per year as they desire. Irrespective of the frequency, Paul said, that in observing the Lord’s Supper, the Believer must remember that “ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.”
Knowing those Scriptural realities, and that the Lord’s Supper is based on a Tradition, it seems Believers have the liberty to eat the bread and drink the cup as frequently as they wish. Whether observance is once a year, once a month, once a week, once a day, or even once per meal, it is the Believer’s choice. In other words, the principles of those Scriptural realities guide Believers to their preferred frequency.
In essence, because of the liberty Believers have in Christ, the NT does not have to specify the frequency or specify the day to observe Communion. If God wanted, the NT could have been completely silent about the frequency of the observance of the Lord’s Supper. The only stipulation that Jesus put on the emblems was that Believers are to remember what the symbols represent. Jesus said, “this do in remembrance of me” (Luke 22.19 KJV), to which Paul gave a strong affirmation and exhortation to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11.17-34).
Thus, a Believer compelling another Believer to limit the Lord’s Supper observance to one time annually is inappropriate. But, it is equally inappropriate for a Believer to require another Believer to observe the Lord’s Supper only on Sundays, fifty-two times annually. This seems undeniable when going back to Jesus comparing himself to manna.
A Believer should regularly observe the body and blood of Messiah, regular observance is upheld as beautiful and scriptural. The frequency of observance is strictly up to the Believer. Teaching a doctrine that prohibits multiple observances, or teaching a doctrine that restricts the observance to a specific number of times, or teaching a doctrine that condemns other Believers for their choice of frequency is simply unfounded and Scripturally unsound.
Blessings and Shalom to all of God’s children.
To my brethren in Messiah, I quote Jesus. When tempted he said, “It is written, that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” and to his disciples he said, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”
(1) “context.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 12 May 2013. Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/context.