Acts 20: 7, an Important Verse
Let me commence by saying that all verses in God’s word are important, seeing that they are the product of God (2 Pet. 1: 19-21, I Cor. 2: 13, 2 Tim. 3: 16, 17). However, some verses are of greater consequence as they directly set forth teaching as to how to be saved, how to live as a Christian, and the work and nature of the church. The historian provides us with some valuable information and insight into the practice of the early church in Acts 20: 7. The verse reads thus:
"7: 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."
We know of the instituting of the Lord’s Supper, how to partake, and where to partake from various verses, however, Acts 20: 7 provides us with when to partake.
The Lord’s Supper, the spiritual hub for Lord’s Day worship. Jesus himself instituted the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26: 26-29). This memorial of Jesus’ death and announcement of his second coming is a Kingdom act, performed by Kingdom citizens and done in the Kingdom (Luke 22: 15-20). The fact that the early church observed this memorial of Jesus’ death declared not only its place in public worship, but also the reality of the establishment of the Kingdom (cp. I Cor. 11: 23f.). Anterior to Acts 20: 7, the historian wrote of the early Christians the following relative to the "breaking of bread":
"42: And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2).
The expression, "breaking of bread" (Greek, klasei tou artou) in Acts 2: 42 was something in which they regularly engaged and constituted part of their worship. The expression as spiritually applied, appears to have derived from, "…Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it…." (Matt. 26: 26). The unleavened bread and fruit of the vine present during the typical feast associated with Jewish worship (the "Passover") constituted the milieu for Jesus introducing his feast, the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine taking on a new, sublimated meaning that would "symbolize" his own sacrificial body and blood.
Exposition of Acts 20: 7. Having briefly observed the introduction, meaning, and general practice of the Lord’s Supper, let us now focus on an exposition of Acts 20: 7, the very important verse providing the detailed frequency of observance.
"And upon the first day of the week…." the Spirit led writer, evidently Luke, wrote of the early church just a few years following its beginning in Acts 2. Allow me to introduce an expression that I believe will assist us in our study. The expression, "Lord’s day" is from the Greek, kuriake emera and certainly, to say the least, sets apart a certain day from other days. While the phrase, "Lord’s day" is only found in Revelation 1:10, as far as Holy Writ is concerned, one is made to think of Paul’s expression, "Lord’s supper" (kuriakon deipnon, I Cor. 11: 20). Just as the "supper" was associated, belonged to, peculiar to the Lord, and distinguished from all other "suppers," the Lord’s day is also unique and singular. The question remains, which day peculiarly belongs to the Lord? I submit that Acts 20: 7 is very relevant to making such a determination.
It is evident from the context that Paul deliberately made it a point to meet on "the first day of the week" with the church at Troas (see Acts 20: 5, 6). The reason they, the saints at Troas, came together on the first day was to "break bread," as we shall see
The expression, "…first day of the week" in Acts 20: 7 is from the Greek, mia ton sabbaton. Literally translated, mia ton sabbaton is rendered, "one or first (mia) of the (ton) Sabbaths" (sabbaton). As you can see, mia ton sabbaton is idiomatic and thus rendered, appears awkward in English. Relevant verses to aid in an understanding of mia ton sabbaton or "…first day of the week" are Matthew 28: 1; Mark 16: 2; Luke 24: 1; and John 20: 1. Matthew tells us that Mary Magdalene and the "other Mary" came to Jesus’ sepulcher, "In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week…." Mark mentioned it was early on the first day; Luke said on the first day, very early in the morning; and John described the time as early, still dark, on the first day of the week. Regarding Matthew’s time statement, commentator Albert Barnes thus comments:
"The word ‘end’ here means the same as ‘after’ the Sabbath – that is, after the Sabbath was fully completed or finished, and may be expressed in this manner: ‘In the night following the Sabbath, for the Sabbath closed at sunset, as it began to dawn’" (Barnes on the New Testament, Vol. 1, pg. 317).
The chronology of Jesus’ death and resurrection assists in determining the meaning of mia ton sabbaton. Jesus was crucified Friday afternoon, the day of preparation for the Sabbath (Luke 23: 54, see vs. 44-56). Jesus said that he would be resurrected on the third day (Matt. 16: 21). Hence, based on common computation, the involved chronology indicates to us that mia ton sabbaton simply is referring to the day following the Jewish Sabbath, the day we call Sunday or the "first day of the week". I belabor this point in view of some who teach that Jesus was raised on the Sabbath and that mia ton sabbaton means on a Sabbath or the Sabbath following a Sabbath. Some contend that mia ton sabbaton was a Jewish way for designating a special Sabbath in connection with the Passover. However, as we have seen, this is not the case.
In addition to the revealing Greek expression mia ton sabbaton, we also have the wording, kata mian sabbatou. Paul wrote thus to the Christians at Corinth:
"1: Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. 2: Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come" (I Cor. 16).
The expression kata mian sabbatou literally and rigidly means, "Every first of the Sabbath(s)." Again, this expression is also idiomatic (a Hebraism). Albert Barnes observes the following regarding, "Upon the first day of the week" in I Corinthians 16: 2:
"Upon the first day of the week. Greek, "On one of the Sabbaths." The Jews, however, used the word Sabbath to denote the week; the period of seven days, Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:9; Luke 18:12; 24:1 John 20:1,19. Comp. Leviticus 23:15; Deuteronomy 16:9. It is universally agreed that this here denotes the first day of the week, or the Lord's-day" (Barnes on the New Testament, Vol. 5).
A. T. Robertson noted regarding, "…first day of the week" in Acts 20: 7 thus: "Either the singular (Mark 16:9) sabbatou or the plural sabbaton as here was used for the week (sabbath to sabbath)…. In Revelation 1:10 the Lord's day seems to be the day of the week on which Jesus rose from the grave" (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. 3). Regarding the expression, "first day of the week" in general, W. E. Vines remarks: Literally and idiomatically, ‘one of Sabbaths,’ signifying ‘the first day after the Sabbath…" (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, pg. 138).
As Greek grammarian Marvin R. Vincent notices, kata in kata mian sabbatou ("first day of the week") found in I Corinthians 16: 2 "…has a distributive force, every first day" (Word Studies in the New Testament, Vol. 3, pg. 288). Hence, Marshall in the Interlinear Greek-English New Testament has, "On the first day of every week…." I mention this to show that the first day of the week, not the Sabbath associated with the Jew and the Law of Moses, was a day regarding the early Christians that enjoyed special and regular recognition.
Notice that we are now seeing the correlation between the "…first day of the week" and "the Lord’s day." The "first day of the week" (our Sunday) and the "Lord’s day" are tantamount or one and the same. Therefore, it should be no surprise that the greatest memorial that the world has ever known should be observed on the day of Jesus’ resurrection, a memorial that celebrates the death and resurrection of the Lord.
"…when the disciples came together to break bread…." The writer now tells us regarding intent and particularity. The Lord’s Supper is the essential epitome of Christianity for without Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of his return, Christianity would be meaningless (cp. I Cor. 15).
The syntactically linked wording, "…when the disciples came together to break bread" (Greek, …sunegmenon klasai) is not only indicative of purpose but also of practice, especially when all pertinent matters are considered. As seen, the breaking of bread was a regular and static act of Lord’s Day public worship performed by the Jerusalem church (Acts 2: 42). Semi-annual or annual observance will not satisfy the description in Acts 2: 42. Since the Lord’s Supper is mentioned along with other regular acts of public worship, why should it seem strange to suggest that the breaking of bread was done each Lord’s day?
Many of the early historians remark that the frequency of the Lord’s table was each Lord’s Day. Tertullian (204 A.D.) wrote: "The church of Christ composed of baptized believers, does…meet each Lord’s day to…partake of the Lord’s Supper…." (See "Quotations," accessed from the home page, for more information.) John Mason, noted Presbyterian scholar, wrote: "Communion every Lord’s day was universal, and was preserved in the Greek church till the Seventh Century" (Church History for Busy People, pg. 86, I might add, I Cor. 11: 26, "for as often…", does not negate or preclude the verses which show how often). The acclaimed Pulpit Commentary states regarding, "…to break bread" in Acts 20: 7, "This is also an important example of weekly communion as the practice of the first Christians" (Vol. 18, p. 143).
Let us now explore a little more the wording "break bread." The "breaking of bread" among Orientals carried with it more innate significance than with peoples of the world today. To "break bread" was associated with sustenance, God’s blessings, and sharing in these blessings. One wrote:
"Since there is this attitude of sacredness in relation to ‘staff of life,’ there grows out of it the universal Eastern custom of ‘breaking’ bread and not cutting it….To cut bread would be thought of as cutting life itself. This custom of breaking bread rather than cutting it, is found throughout the scriptures. In Lamentations 4: 4 we read: ‘The young children ask bread, and no man breaketh it unto them.’ Thus the expression ‘breaking of bread’ came to mean the taking of a meal whatever was included in the meal. Because Christ broke bread when he instituted the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, the expression came to refer to that ordinance. Matthew 26: 26: ‘Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave to his disciples.’ Thus we read in Acts 20: 7: ‘And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached to them." (Manners and Customs of Bible Lands, p. 45, by Fred Wight).
In all fairness, how do we distinguish between the "breaking of bread" as a social act and the "breaking of bread" as an act of public worship (Lord’s Supper)? This question is especially pertinent in view of the social gospel and its glorification of social meals. The original Greek does not really make such a determination and distinction. Just a few verses subsequent to Acts 2: 42, we read how the disciples broke bread from house to house (Acts 2: 46). Also just a few verses following Acts 20: 7, we read: "When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread…" (Acts 20: 11). In Acts 2: 46, "breaking of bread" (Gk., klontes arton) is clearly referring to a meal. I say this because it is distinguished from them being in the temple and it was done "daily." In Acts 20: 11, "broken bread" (Gk., klasas ton arton) appears to be a meal in view of the general language and description and also due to the fact the meal of verse eleven appears to have been on the second day of the week or our Monday (see vs. 7-11).
A growing controversy now dividing some churches of Christ is whether or not Acts 20: 7 is to be viewed as general in terms of meeting(s) or exclusive, authorizing only one meeting on the Lord’s Day. Some would insist on wording this, "Authorizing one meeting in which the Lord’s Supper is observed."
We must recognize authority, its binding in terms of requiring and excluding when a specific is provided (Matt. 28: 18, Heb. 7: 14). Since the "First Day" of the week is specified, all other days for observing the Lord’s Supper are excluded. Are we to also see only one assembly on the Lord’s Day and, thus, all other assemblies excluded?
When I read Acts 20: 7, I simply see the verse teaching that the disciples at Troas came together on the First Day of the week to break bread. The circumstance of Acts 20: 7 probably involved one meeting at Troas that Lord’s Day. However, no details are supplied. I do not, though, see any intention or indication that one meeting as opposed to more than one is being bound. Whether a church provides an opportunity for all or some to partake of the Lord’s Supper more than once, I do not believe to be a point being made by the historian. In the case of the Jew who was hindered from partaking of the Passover, provision was made to partake at a later time (Num. 9: 9-11). While such is not a complete parallel, I am not prepared to say that a local church cannot elect to meet more than once on the Lord’s Day and provide an opportunity to any legitimately hindered from attending the first service to partake in the second assembly. As to whether all are to partake, some, or just the hindered, I think such should be a matter of local and individual judgment. I just do not see such involved in Acts 20: 7 or any other verse touching on the Lord’s Supper (I do not believe I Corinthians 11: 33 is referring to Jesus’ memorial). I believe to read into Acts 20: 7 such a matter is adding emphasis and importance to the verse that is not resident or even in the mind of the writer. Moreover, to make an issue of such matters is to make an issue where none should be made, I am convinced. I believe the teaching of the scriptures is satisfied when Christians meet on the Lord’s Day to break bread. To expand this, as mentioned in the foregoing, is to inject endless and fruitless controversy and actually preclude the unity that is to characterize those partaking of Jesus’ memorial.
"…Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight." The Greek word often used in Acts by the historian Luke to describe Paul's preaching, even in Acts 20: 7, is the word dialegomai (often translated "reasoned" and "disputed" in the KJV). The root meaning of dialegomai is twofold in action, to think or reason, considering different and conflicting ideas). W. E. Vines comments thus on dialegomai, "To think different things with oneself, to ponder, then, to dispute with others.…" (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). Dialegomai is weakened when translated "lectured." Thayer observes regarding the use of dialegomai in Acts, "…mingle thought with thought…argue, discuss…to draw arguments from the scriptures with the idea of disputing…" (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, pg. 139).
Jesus promised to build his church and the church became a reality in about A.D. 30 (Matt. 16: 18, 19, Acts 2, cp. 5: 11). In view of there being "one body" or church, God’s people today constitute the same church of which we have read (Eph. 4: 4, 1: 22, 23). As God’s church, we are to believe and practice what they did with approval (2 John 9-11). In closing, regarding God’s church at Troas we have read, "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." Let us do the same. (If you are interested in the "second serving issue," be sure to read, "The Lord's Supper, the 'Second Serving' Controversy").