Saturday, February 19, 2011

Communion, In Acts 20:7?

*Please note: I do not necessarily agree with everything from every article or website that I link to for this post - except, of course, mine!  ;-)

In one of my recent posts (A Different Way To View It...) I covered Acts 20:7-8, mainly focusing on the issue of the disciples' coming together "...on the first day of the week..." (vs.7a). This time I would like to zero in on the rest of that verse, where we read that "...the disciples came together to break bread..." (vs.7b). This verse has traditionally been used to support the notion that the disciples made a gradual move away from worshiping together on the Sabbath (specifically Saturday), to gathering together on Sunday to celebrate "The Lord's Day", and to take "communion" together. But as I shared in the post mentioned above, nowhere in the bible is Sunday made of exceptional importance regarding Yeshua's resurrection, but rather, it was the third day that was emphasized. And this begs the question... the third day of what? And, as I shared in that post, it was and is the third day after Passover, which happens to be the biblical feast of "Firstfruits" (for more info. click on the link above to read the post if you have not already).

So, not only is Acts 20:7 most likely not a Sunday "Church" gathering (which is the common viewpoint today), but I will contend that the gathering did not include a "communion" service, as is the common view today as well. I've heard bible Teacher after Pastor after bible Teacher teach on this passage, and interpret it as a Sunday gathering where the disciples listened to bible teaching (the only part of the interpretation that is correct), and had "communion."

I would like to quickly say before we move on that I am not against communion, or even believers gathering together on Sunday to fellowship and study the bible together, pray, etc. My point will be to show, from the text, and from other passages in the bible as well that not only was Acts 20:7 not a Sunday gathering/communion service, but also that such a concept was non-existent to Yeshua, and His first century followers.

First, we need to look at the phrase "break bread" for we are told that the disciples came together to do that very thing here in Acts 20:7. But, does the phrase "break bread" intend to convey to us the idea of what is commonly called "communion", or, "the Lord's supper?" I don't believe that this is what Luke (the author of Acts) intended to convey to us. The term "break bread" was, and is a common Jewish expression for "sharing a meal." For instance, the following quote will show that the phrase is still understood this way, in our modern day:

"Eating together, according to Jewish law, means thanking God together, and a zimun is how you do it. One companion (in the literal sense of one with whom you break bread) invites the others to thank God or bensh together.
Zimun is the mishnaic Hebrew for invitation.  In modern Hebrew, we say hazmanah. The root of both the ancient and current terms is the same: z’man, meaning time.  
Zimun and hazmanah are natural outgrowths of z’man as the original, biblical meaning of the term was a set time — everything and every purpose under heaven has an appointed time (z’man) — based on Ecclesiastes 3:1.  An invitation, or zimun, is an appointment; a temporal arrangement.
Indeed modern Hebrew does not distinguish between invitation and a summoning to appear.  In Israeli restaurants, you mazmin your food; you also mazmin a taxi when you are ready to go home. In English, of course, we invite neither meals nor taxis, we order or book them. Ehud Olmert has been huzman for questioning by the police; now, he certainly was not invited, he was summoned.  It is also interesting to note the similarity between the Hebrew z’man and the English summon.
A postprandial zimun is a ritual that acknowledges the meaningfulness of eating as a community — that eating together is part of being together." (1) (emphasis mine)

Aside from the phrase being used today to denote "a meal", it is used in the scriptures multiple times in reference to a simple meal as well (see Matt. 15:36 and Acts 2:46 for a couple of examples). Within Judaism, to "break bread" was, and is, an idiom that meant/means to recite a pre-meal blessing and, or, to the meal itself (to read an article that illustrates this point in more depth, please read "Breaking of Bread the Jewish Understanding").

So, I don't see that Acts 20:7 gives us any direct reason to believe that the gathering of the disciples to "break bread" was anything more than a communal meal together, not unlike a Havdalah meal today. Furthermore, the idea that it was "communion" comes from (in the opinion of myself, and others) an eisegetical (reading something into the text, rather than exegesis - drawing something directly out of the text) reading of the passage, for nowhere does it indicate that it was anything more than a shared meal. Now, the wording "...when the disciples came together to break bread..." does indicate that their coming together was not irregular - in fact, it seems that it was a natural communal gathering of the disciples, but again, as I shared in my previous post on this passage, and at the beginning of this paragraph, it was more likely a communal meal to end the sabbath together, or perhaps a meal celebrating the first of the counting of weeks until Shavuot (Pentecost).

So, moving on from there, I would like to look at the issue of "communion" as a whole, and see if what Roman Catholicism, and "Protestantism"(2) understand and practice as "communion" is actually what Yeshua instituted for us to remember Him by, and what the biblical disciples actually observed.

I think that we all know that "communion" came from what many call "The Last Supper"(3), the account of which can be read in Matt. 26, Mark 14, and Luke 22.(4) Please go back and read these passages (or at least one of them) to get the sequence of events fresh in your mind. As Luke was the author of the book of Acts, I will focus mostly on his account of the event. If we look at the account, and take the facts point by point, we will see everything within it's context, which is of utmost importance. I'm sure we have all heard Pastors in the pulpit, as well as on the radio hammer home that point - "context, context, context!" Well, that's a great point, however, I think that it is quickly thrown out the window, as often we are pointed to the "early Church Fathers" to give backing to the understanding that is poured into passages such as the "Last Supper" narratives. And that is what we call eisegesis.

So, what was the "Last Supper", and what did Yeshua intend for His followers to do as a memorial of Him? The first question is obvious from a plain reading of the text - it was a Passover meal(5). The second question, then, is where we need to focus. Just what was and or is it that Yeshua intended for His disciples to do in remembrance of Him? The Catholic Church has weekly Mass. All of the other "Christian" denominations(6) have a form of "communion" in some form or fashion, and to varying degrees of regularity.Typically, it is practiced with a small flat cracker or piece of bread, and either wine or grape juice (usually about a thimble full or so!). In many instances a scripture passage or two is read (1 Cor. 11:23-34 for example), and then a prayer is offered, and everyone partakes. But my question is this - was this what Yeshua intended for us to do in remembrance of Him?

How does a piece of cracker or bread, and a small sip of juice or wine remind us of Him? Well, it very well could, and certainly does for many people, precisely because Yeshua told us to consume both items while remembering what He did for us. But I believe it goes further than that. Did Yeshua intend for us to simply grab any ol' piece of bread or cracker, grab some juice (whatever happens to be near by), say a prayer and eat? You see, the problem with this is that it is completely devoid of any context (something in which another thing is anchored, or grounded to and in). You might be thinking "well, the context is Yeshua's death", and that, of course, is right. But Yeshua's death was not devoid of context either. The message of redemption was and is deeply embedded in the feast(s) of Passover/Unleavened Bread/Firstfruits. Yeshua Himself made His death, burial, and resurrection inherent within those feasts. He repeatedly made reference to His resurrection being on the third day (a matter already discussed in "A Different Way To View It"). We know that His death coincided with Passover. It was at His last Passover seder that He took the bread (matza - unleavened bread), and said that it, as in, the matza, specifically the Passover matza, represented His body! It was the wine, specifically the wine traditionally consumed at Passover (and according to Luke's gospel, the "cup after dinner" - ie., the "cup of redemption") that He said represented His blood! In other words, the matza and wine of Passover were the elements that were to represent His body and blood, given in atonement...given for redemption. 

Paul makes an interesting connection is 1 Cor. 5. He first begins by rebuking the Corinthian congregation for allowing blatant sexual immorality in their midst, and being "puffed up" about it even (see vs. 2)! He then does something that is very Hebraic - he takes a tangible physical thing and relates it to an intangible, spiritual truth. He took the example of the removal of all leaven from ones home at Passover, and related it to our removing the "leaven" from our lives. In other words, just as at Passover we remove literal leaven from our homes, we are to remove "spiritual" leaven from our hearts and lives. After all, there must be a reason for the removal of all leaven from our homes at Passover. But what? It is a picture of the removal of leaven from our hearts and lives. The ritual of Passover is meant to teach us - to be a picture of spiritual things, demonstrated by hands on participation in a tangible, real experience. Isn't this how we learn best? Are not Tech schools for that very purpose. When someone is studying to be a Mechanic (well, I guess today they are called "Technicians"), do they simply read books and look at pictures? No. They get their hands dirty. They work on vehicles. So it is with medical students. So it is with just about every trade out there.

Paul then goes on to say that "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us" (vs. 7). So, was Paul just spiritualizing the Passover event, or Yeshua's death? No, for Yeshua really died. But He is also our Passover lamb. But, is He a literal lamb? Of course not. The physical teaches the spiritual. A real lamb was sacrificed at Passover, but was a spiritual picture of the ultimate sacrifice - Yeshua. Yeshua literally died at Passover, but He is not a literal lamb. Get it? The physical and the spiritual blend together, and BOTH are important. Understanding this, and wanting us to grasp the spiritual implications of the cleaning out of leaven from our homes, Paul makes the correlation between the removal of literal leaven, a spiritual picture of sin. And understanding the literal death of Yeshua, Paul then goes on to say "Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened [bread] of sincerity and truth." (vs. 8). He makes a spiritual application for us using one of the main elements of Passover.

There is a direct biblical connection given to us between the Passover lamb and Yeshua; The unleavened bread that is broken during the meal and Yeshua's body broken for us; The wine/juice drunk at Passover and Yeshua's blood shed for us; The removing of all leaven from our homes as a picture of removing the "leaven" from our lives (and Paul gives us the examples of removing the "leaven" of "malice and wickedness" and replacing them with the "unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" - vs. 8).

By having this connection, made by Yeshua and Paul directly, we have something to "anchor" our doctrines to. The doctrine/teaching of the body and blood of Yeshua, shed on the cross for us, and the removal of "leaven" from our lives is directly tied to the Passover seder and week of unleavened bread (and, as I shared in "A Different Way To View It..." the Feast of Firstfruits occurs during the week of Unleavened Bread, and is connected to Yeshua's resurrection)!

So, if we choose to celebrate our most fundamental and important doctrines in and with celebrations that are nowhere to be found in scripture, to what are they tied to? What is their anchor? There is none - we simply have to import our doctrines into whatever celebration or practice we are choosing to join in. Yet Paul directly tells us to "keep the feast" (again, vs. 8), as in, the Feast of Passover/Firstfruits/Unleavened Bread!

In 1 Cor. chapter 11, Paul again touches on "the Lord's supper" (calling it as such directly - vs. 20). It is obvious from vs. 21 that it is an actual "supper" as in, an entire meal, and not just a small cracker and thimble full of juice! He then goes on to tell us that "the same night in which He was betrayed" Yeshua "took bread" and "gave thanks" and then broke it and shared it with His disciples, teaching them that the bread they were partaking in was a picture of His body, "broken for you." The very passage that many, if not most or even all Pastors, Teachers, Priests, and whoever else administers "communion" to the people read prior to partaking in it. But , taken apart  from the Passover seder, what is the foundation underneath to which the element (ie, the bread) is grounded upon? Just look at what Roman Catholicism has done with it!(7) Well, "Protestantism", while removing the doctrine that the bread and wine are the literal body and blood of Yeshua, still have an anemic and ungrounded practice. I don't mean to imply that "communion" is evil in any way. And I am not necessarily against it either. But, why is it that we desire to "remember" Yeshua,as He instructed us to, yet don't do it within the context that He told us to do so?

Perhaps I will end this post for now, as it is quite long already, and visit this issue in the future. I still have much to say on it, but I made several points already that I don't want to get lost in the midst of a marathon post with point upon point upon point.

Please, if you have any comments, questions, or just plain want to challenge what I have said, feel free to do so. My desire is to bring us into a deeper engagement with the scriptures...after all "they are they which testify of [Yeshua]"! - John 5:39.

(1) Article, Zimun By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, January 22, 2009, The Jewish Chronicle Online - http://thejc.com/judaism/jewish-words/zimun
(2) As all other Christian denominations and types have come to be known, though true, historic "Protestantism" is quite different than modern day Baptists, or non-denominational congregations. 
(3) And then by Paul and the disciples as "The Lord's Supper" - see 1 Cor. 11:20 for example.
(4) John's gospel, ch. 13 is questionable as to whether it was a *true* Passover seder, or something else, and has been the subject of study and debate. For our purposes, I will leave it out for now, though you can go back and read it as well for your own study it you would like.
(5) According to many scholars, it was most likely a Passover seder, similar to modern seders, as Luke records a first "cup", and then one "after supper." Seder's today ('seder' means "order", and refers to the order of the meal which includes four cups of wine or grape juice, each one representing four themes within the Passover narrative, which can be read about here, here, and here, and the reading of which is also a major component of the seder.
(6) As noted above, all other denominations have come to be known as "Protestant", even if historically, many denominations and groups would NOT have been considered Protestant.
(7) My apologies if you are Roman Catholic, and are offended by this statement. I don't mean to offend anyone intentionally. But honestly, the practice of the Mass has absolutely nothing to do with scripture, nor the body and blood of Yeshua, no matter how much the Catholic Church claims that it has. Just read your bible and see.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

In The Meantime...

I am currently working on a new post, and hopefully I'll have it done soon (most likely next weekend though). In the meantime, I am posting a link to a teaching entitled, "Yeshua from Genesis to Revelation." Just click on this link and scroll down to where it says, "Eddie in Loveland CO Yeshua from Genesis to Revelation." I hope you will find it eye-opening, informative, and a great blessing.