Did the Early Church Observe the Lord’s Supper on a Daily Basis?
“It is becoming increasingly common to hear Christians argue that the first-century church, under the oversight of the apostles, observed the Lord’s supper on a daily basis. Hence, it is alleged that it does not matter upon which day Christians partake of the communion elements. The time and frequency are said to be optional matters. We have been asked to comment upon this.”
The chief “proof-text” for this new concept is Acts 2:46.
“And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat [food] with gladness and singleness of heart.”
Some are contending that this passage affords evidence that the primitive saints broke bread, i.e., partook of the Lord’s supper, on a daily basis. The exegesis underlying this view is flawed in several particulars.
- The expression “daily” denotes the frequency with which the disciples were meeting in the temple. Grammatically, it does not modify “breaking bread.” Thus, even if it could be established that “breaking bread,” in verse 46, is an allusion to the Lord’s supper, there still would be no proof that the communion was an everyday occurrence.
- The term “breaking bread” in this passage does not refer to the Lord’s supper; rather, it denotes a common meal. This is evidenced by the fact that they are paralleled with “eat their food” in the same clause. The word “food” translates the Greek trophe, which essentially means nourishment (Danker, et al., Greek-English Lexicon, 2000, p. 1017). The term (employed some sixteen times in the Greek New Testament) is never used of the communion, for such was not designed to nourish the physical body.
A comment from Presbyterian scholar, Albert Barnes, speaks to this point:
“Here [meat -KJV] it means all kinds of sustenance; that which nourished them – trophes – and the use of this word proves that it does not refer to the Lord’s supper; for that ordinance is nowhere represented as designed for an ordinary meal, or to nourish the body” (Commentary on Acts, p. 59).
- In Acts 2:42 there is a reference to the disciples “breaking the bread.” Notice the article preceding “bread” (not translated in our common versions, but present in the Greek text). The article indicates that a special “bread” is under consideration, i.e., the Lord supper (cf. Acts 20:7 “the breaking of bread” and 1 Corinthians 10:16 “the bread which we break”).
However, in Acts 2:46 there is no article in connection with “bread,” hence a distinction seems to be drawn between the “bread” of 2:42 and 46 (cf. A. Campbell, The Christian System, pp. 272-273). Numerous scholars do not believe that the Lord’s supper is referred to in Acts 2:46 (cf. R.C.H. Lenski, A.T. Robertson, J.W. McGarvey, W. E. Vine, etc.).
- There is an interesting context later in the book of Acts that may add some insight to this matter. Near the conclusion of his third missionary journey, Paul had departed from Phiippi after “the days of unleavened bread” — which came just following the Jewish Passover — (cf. Acts 20:6), and he was making his way hurriedly to Jerusalem. He hoped to arrive there in time for Pentecost — fifty days after Passover (cf. 20:16).
In spite of the fact that he had a journey of several hundred miles yet to make, which could involve difficult sailing conditions, he took the time to tarry seven days in Troas. Why? The most reasonable inference is so that he could meet with the saints of that city and observe the communion with them. Burton Coffman noted:
“Presumably, this delay from Tuesday till the following Monday was to enable the missionary group with Paul to observe the Lord’s supper with the church in Troas, an inference from the fact that no reason was given for the delay, coupled with the account of the Lord’s day meeting in Troas immediately after mentioning the delay” (Commentary on Acts, p. 384).
If this reasoning is correct, the following question is entirely appropriate: if the communion was being observed daily, or if the time of this commemoration was optional, what need would there have been for a delay of one week? This is circumstantial evidence for a weekly (not daily) Lord’s supper.
The Record of Church History
The testimony of the writings of those who lived shortly after the apostolic age bears unmistakable witness to the fact that the Lord’s supper was observed each week on Sunday, and only upon that day. In the Didache (a document written about A.D. 120), the statement is made that Christians “come together each Lord’s day of the Lord, break bread, and give thanks” (7:14). Justin Martyr (c. 152) also speaks of Christians meeting on Sunday and partaking of the communion (Apology I, 67).
In his book, Early Christians Speak, Everett Ferguson has observed that the literature of the post-apostolic age indicates that the Lord’s supper was a constant feature of the Sunday service. He declares that there is no second-century evidence for the celebration of a daily communion (p. 96).
Thus, it must be concluded that there is no biblical authority for the novel concept that one may partake of the Lord’s supper at his own discretion.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.