Dynamic Range: Breaking Bread and the Eucharist

Dynamic Range: Breaking Bread and the Eucharist

This post is based on Acts 2:42 and 46. In the NLT of Acts 2:42 the phrase breaking of bread, admittedly a bit less than meaningful in modern English, is translated as sharing in the Lord’s supper. The NRSV reads “breaking of bread” but a note in the New Interpreter’s Study Bible suggests “Lord’s Supper,” and the New Oxford Annotated Bible has a note suggesting “Eucharist.” (These are in the study notes, not translator’s notes. The NLT does not have a note.

I’m questioning the validity of this translation for the time in question. We might well ask just what this activity consisted of at the time, and whether “Lord’s Supper” or “Eucharist” will suggest the right idea to modern readers. Personally, “Lord’s Supper” brings up my youth as a Seventh-day Adventist, and celebration of the Lord’s Supper which happened every quarter and was a longer church service than normal. It would be hard to fit that concept in which an activity carried out daily.

Eucharist is even more formalized and I would suggest that what is practiced in modern churches is very different from what would have happened at this time. I’m aware this wasn’t suggested as a translation but rather as a study note, yet even so is not the modern English reader misled?

Most likely this breaking of bread was a common meal by which Christians offered fellowship. It is unlikely that there was much ritual beyond what would be normal at a Jewish meal. The thing that was special about these meals was the offering of fellowship. I’m having a hard time replacing “breaking of bread” with something useful, but I’m thinking of one of these:

  • sharing a common meal
  • eating together as a sign of fellowship
  • commemorating Jesus and their fellowship by eating together

Perhaps, however, the CEV has the best of it, however, with “They also broke bread . . .”

7 thoughts on “Dynamic Range: Breaking Bread and the Eucharist

  1. The NLT released a revision in 2004 with significant changes in many places. Acts 2:42 is one, and the result is more like what you advocate. Here is a comparison of the complete verse:

    NLT 1996
    “They joined with the other believers and devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, sharing in the Lord’s Supper and in prayer.”

    NLT 2004
    “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.”
    *2:42 Greek the breaking of bread; also in 2:46.

  2. Keith, That represents a substantial error on my part. I failed to specify that I was reading from the 1996 NLT. I even have a copy of the 2004. [Wiping egg off of face!]

    I’m glad to see they gave consideration to that rendering. I do think it’s a good example to use in elucidating what we mean by dynamic equivalence, however.

  3. I suspect that “breaking of bread” was an idiom in Koine Greek, as it is in the language into which I am helping to translate the Bible, meaning “eating together” and no more or less. On this basis NLT 2004’s “sharing in meals” is good but the added comment “(including the Lord’s Supper*)” is quite inappropriate and anachronistic.

    How do NLT and other versions render Luke 24:35? If not the same as Acts 2:42, what is the justification?

  4. Luke 24:35 in the 1996 NLT is “as he was breaking bread” and the same in 2004.

    Acts 2:42 is changed as noted, but 2:46 is inconsistent and reads “met in homes for the Lord’s Supper,” though of course the footnote relates. Still why is the same phrase translated differently in the two verses?

  5. One more note, Peter. Is the appropriate time frame the historical period or Luke’s time of writing? Is it possible that Luke, in looking back, is intentionally reading in some form of the communion commemoration?

  6. Henry, a good point that Luke might have been reading the text anachronistically. But even by his time I doubt if communion was done anything like anyone’s modern Lord’s Supper. 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 gives a picture of what it was like, and should have been like, in the first century: a shared meal, not a religious rite.

  7. You’re probably right that it would still not be correct to translate as “Lord’s supper,” but I still think it’s an intriguing exegetical question.

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