Breaking Bread at Troas: 3

Acts 20:7
IT has already been noted that the gathering together of the saints at Troas (Acts 20:77And 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. (Acts 20:7)) was the united action of the assembly in that town. And the phraseology employed is such as indicates a common and habitual custom of the church of God. This indication is certainly obscured in our ordinary version through the use of the third person for the first. But the revised and other critical translations restore the true force of the passage by rendering a better text “when we were gathered together to break bread” (verse 7), and again, “in the upper chamber where we were gathered together” (verse 8).
These words are sufficiently precise to establish that we have here a spontaneous action in concert of the assembly; while not a syllable implies that they were specially summoned to hear Paul's parting instructions and exhortations. In further confirmation of this view it may be not without profit and interest to refer briefly to similar expressions used in this very book.
The assembly in Jerusalem was certainly not specially convoked on the occasion recorded in Acts 4:3131And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:31). On the contrary it was so much the habitual arrangement for them to be together at that particular time, that Peter and John, on being dismissed with threats by the Jewish council, went direct to their own company where united prayer was made to God. “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together συνηγμένοι as in Acts 20:7, 87And 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. 8And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together. (Acts 20:7‑8): cf. Acts 4:3131And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:31).
In contra-distinction from this instance of formal and customary meeting we find that, when Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch after their tour of service in the gospel, they “gathered the church together” and “rehearsed all that God had done with them” (Acts 14:2727And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. (Acts 14:27)). Again, when Barnabas and Paul with Judas and Silas returned to the same place with a certain communication from the assembly at Jerusalem, it states “when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle” (Acts 15:3030So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle: (Acts 15:30)). In like manner, Paul calls together the Ephesian elders to Miletus (Acts 20:1717And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. (Acts 20:17)).
Here then are three instances of special gatherings of the saints by invitation, and each is distinguished by that form of expression we might expect from the stated and usual gatherings of the saints in their corporate capacity.
At Troas therefore we are undoubtedly taught that the visitors gathered together along with the whole assembly to break bread, just as Barnabas and Paul had previously done for a whole year at Antioch (Acts 11:2626And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. (Acts 11:26)); and those who deny this wrest the scripture to the damage of their own souls and of the souls of others.
But turning to another kind of perversion of the truth there are those1 who will have it that breaking of bread has reference to the love-feast or the social meal eaten by the early Christians and not to the Lord's supper except as a minor adjunct; but not so those who are bound by the clear and unequivocal language of scripture.
The usage of the phrase “breaking of bread” in the Acts is surely convincing in itself. Speaking of the Pentecostal assembly, the record is “and they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers” (Acts 2:4242And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Acts 2:42)). This use of the term along with “the apostles' doctrine and fellowship” and the “prayers” forbids our reducing the breaking of bread to common social intercourse or even the love-feast. Indeed it is expressly distinguished from ordinary meals in the verses that follow. “And they continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people” (vers. 46, 47). So that breaking of bread cannot be confounded with eating meat on this occasion; and it is the evident intention of the Spirit that they should not be so confounded.
In the passage, Acts 20, the same distinction is maintained. In verse 11, after the Eutychian episode, Paul returned to the upper chamber, broke the bread, ate, and conversed till break of day. This does not sound like the Eucharist as it is often supposed to be,2 which is invariably referred to as the action of the whole assembly. Compare verse 7, “when we come together to break bread “; and 1 Cor. 10:1616The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16), “The bread which we break.” But in verse 11 it is Paul who breaks the bread, as he does in Acts 27:3535And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat. (Acts 27:35), after the fourteen days' fast on ship-board. Here the apostle, after his discourse and before his long journey which was to commence at dawn, partakes of the loaf to satisfy his hunger; so that eating in this case is not participating in the feast of remembrance, but taking a meal as in Acts 10:1010And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, (Acts 10:10); in connection with which “conversing” is appropriately used, in distinction from the more formal discourse that had gone before.
Page's note on the passage therefore3 is quite groundless. “They had come together to break bread”; this would have taken place naturally at the end of Paul's discourse but for the interruption; he now therefore resumes the interrupted order of the meeting by breaking the bread.'“
This comment contains at least two assumptions which are without the slightest scriptural warrant. He assumes (1) that although the saints came together expressly to break bread, the act of remembrance was as a matter of course put aside for the purpose of listening to Paul's farewell discourse; so that, according to such exposition, to eat the Lord's supper was but a nominal reason for gathering. And it was quite “natural” too for the feast to be supplanted by ministry of the word, not necessarily introductory to the solemn observance, but as in this case a final charge in view of the apostle's immediate departure! Such a theory is without the support of a single word of scripture. It is never of the Spirit of God to displace the claims of the Lord by the claims of the church, or of the very foremost of the apostles. If the ministry of Paul was needful to the saints, the breaking of bread was due to the Lord. Nor would the apostle himself be a party to setting aside in any way what he had insisted upon in his recent epistle to the Corinthians. He could find no word of praise for the assembly at Corinth in respect of their observance of the feast; indeed he sharply rebukes them for the very thing for which misguided men contend as the truth. For it was at Corinth not at Troas where we find the saints allowing social intercourse to stultify if not to destroy the solemn character of the remembrance of the Lord. “What! have ye not houses to eat and drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not?” (1 Cor. 11:2222What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not. (1 Corinthians 11:22).) They truly came together in one place, but it was not (in effect) to eat the Lord's supper (1 Cor. 11:2020When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper. (1 Corinthians 11:20)). For, although their professed object in gathering was as at Troas to eat the Lord's supper, on account of the flagrant disorders that prevailed that object was nullified. So that, as the apostle tells them, they came together “not for the better but for the worse” (ibid). It is true that there were in the young Corinthian assembly the excesses of drunkenness and gluttony: but the principle enforced is that the Lord's desire on the night in which He was betrayed is paramount to all besides. And this principle effectually disposes of every human arrangement that tends to enfeeble the transcendent claims of the Lord's supper, whether it be an agape or a liturgy or a sermon apostolic (or otherwise).
The second assumption in the quotation made above is (2) that as a matter of course Paul breaks the bread—that is, in an official capacity. This likewise is without scriptural support. We have seen that the reference is to eating to appease hunger, and not to the feast of remembrance at all (ver. 11).
But so far from affording ground for presidency4 at the table of the Lord, scripture teaches that there all saints meet as one for the remembrance of Him. The Corinthians in their levity were introducing class distinctions at the supper, and even of a worldly character: the rich ignored the poor; self, not Christ, ruled to their shame. The apostle gravely reproved them and told them plainly that, in bringing personalities into prominence, they made it “their own” supper and not the Lord's.
The truth is that the breaking of bread is the action of the whole assembly of saints at which the Lord and none else presides, not even Paul or Peter. For the same one who declared himself not one whit behind the very chiefest of the apostles also confessed himself as less than the least of all saints. When it was a question of communicating the truth of God, he did so as an apostle and a prophet, as a teacher and a preacher. When it was a question of remembering the Lord he mingled with the rest. But it was the carnal desire for formalism that introduced the figment of ministerial administration in sub-apostolic days to the immeasurable loss of all concerned. What the Lord designed to bring the souls of His own in contact with Himself (“This do in remembrance of Me”), man thus perverts by setting up a medium between the soul of the saint and the One he remembers. Surely every child of God should resist such an innovation and all else that would hinder or mar the true character of the hallowed fellowship at the table of the Lord. W. J. H.
[NOTE—Is it not instructive to notice that the correction of abuse (which the apostle effected by recalling the Lord's supper in its true order, aim, and character as revealed expressly to himself) is introduced and closed, before the subject of the Holy Spirit and of His varied action in gift is entered on? No one would think of so treating either the one or the other according to the traditional practice of Christendom. For men are apt unconsciously to read and interpret scripture according to their ecclesiastical habits day by day. It is clear that God has written His word so as to be a standard of truth, to let us know what His mind was from the beginning, and thus to counteract that slipping away from His will, which is even more easy and inveterate in the Christian profession than it was in the previous Jewish one. The leveling of God's order is religious rebellion. This was at work actively at Corinth against the apostle himself. Similar evils have developed more and more to this day. All the more are the faithful called to own and honor His good pleasure. “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers,” etc. God has not abdicated His rights. But this other weighty matter is distinctly and designedly separated from the due and divinely appointed celebration of the Lord's supper. The disorder therein was not made the charge of elders even, or of any other official, but pressed home on the conscience and spiritual feelings of the saints themselves. Meanwhile the Lord, Whom they forgot, did not forget to chasten the guilty that they might not be condemned with the world.
The fact is that few of God's children are conscious how great and wide the departure is from the only standard of authority. Thus do we often hear of the church teaching this or that. How opposed to scripture! The church is taught and never teaches. The word of God comes to the church, and to all the church (not to one only), never from it: and for this God employs His servants. It is ministerial work, not at all the church's place. But the Lord's supper is essentially the church's feast, wherein ministers, however eminent, merge as saints, and the Lord alone is exalted in the communion of His infinite love and the incalculable indebtedness of each and all to His death. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not communion with the body of Christ? For we, being many, are one bread, one body; for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:16, 1716The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? 17For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16‑17)). Sin once leveled all where difference vanished; so does grace now in the remembrance of Him. It is good and right to own the Lord in every servant He sends; it is as least as good, if not better still, even here below to enjoy that blessed and holy supper, where such distinctions disappear in remembering Him Who died for our sins, and Who deigns to give His real presence in our midst. En. B. T.]