Did the Church Come Together for a Common Meal in Acts 20?
by Greg Gwin
A question has been asked about 'eating' in Acts 20:6-11:
"And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days. And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together. And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead. And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him. When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed."
We have emphasized two instances of "breaking bread" in the text. This expression is an idiom that can have reference to either a common meal (as in Acts 2:46) or the Lord's Supper (as in Acts 2:42; I Corinthians 10:16; 11:23-26).
We believe the first reference in Acts 20 is in regards to the Lord's Supper. We reach this conclusion because:
- The context implies that Paul waited in the city of Troas for seven days in order to be present at this assembly. Why wait if this were a common meal that could have been eaten on any day of the week?
- The disciples had specifically come together for the purpose of this 'breaking of bread'. But Paul had previously condemned the concept of a church coming together for the eating of common meals (I Corinthians 11:20-22,34). Paul would not have violated his own teaching in this matter, and therefore this must have been referring to the Lord's Supper.
But, what about the second occurrence of "breaking bread" in Acts 20 (verse 11)? Here we conclude that the meaning is of a common meal, because:
- The assembly had already been broken up because of the death and miraculous revival of Eutychus.
- The timing of this 'eating' was at sometime after midnight (vs. 7) and thus, by either Roman or Hebrew timekeeping, would have been on Monday, not Sunday.
- The meeting of the church, now dismissed, had likely occurred in a private home where common food stuffs would have been available for those who normally lived there and their guests.
- Paul did this without violating the previously mentioned prohibition on the church 'coming together' to eat common meals (I Corinthians 11:20-22,34).
- And, Paul is the only one mentioned who consumed the food (vs. 11). This was in anticipation of his leaving the city within a matter of hours to continue his journey. It would be impossible to prove that any other person ate a single morsel of food, and therefore impossible to use this text to demonstrate that the whole church was involved in eating a common meal as an official or sponsored activity of the collective body.