The Bread Was Broken, Not the body


Ministers in the Reformed tradition have always been shy about stressing rituals and symbols. We don't kneel as the Anglicans do, and we seldom raise our arms as Pentecostals do. We don't know what gestures we should use in the "presentation" of the offering, and we are unsure if we ought to lift the chalice or goblet in the Lord's Supper. But we do have a fixed tradition in the "breaking of the bread." And here we give the wrong message.

Before the Lord's Supper is observed in many Presbyterian and Reformed churches, most of the bread has been cut into bite-sized pieces. It sits in gleaming plates covered with white linen. One plate right in front of the minister, however, contains long, crust-free bars of bread that the minister breaks in the sight of the congregation. When the moment comes to say the words of 1 Corinthians 10:16, a Reformed minister will lift a piece of bread for all to see, break it and say: "The bread which we break is a communion with the body of Christ."

Misleading Ritual

The act of bread-breaking is one of the few dramatic and memorable rituals we Reformed people ever see in church. And the message seems clear: just as this bread is now broken before our eyes, Christ's body was broken for you and me.

That's also how the Heidelberg Catechism has it: "As surely as I see with my eyes the bread of the Lord broken for me ... so surely his body was offered and broken for me ..." (Lord's Day 28). The hymn used to reinforce this teaching: "Thy body broken for my sake, my bread from heaven shall be." But in the newest Christian Reformed hymnal it says, "Thy body given for my sake, my bread from heaven shall be."

The body of our Lord was not broken for us as the bread is broken. The bread is broken in order to distribute itónot to act out the brokenness of the body.

The crucial text, 1 Corinthians 11:24, reads: "[He took a loaf of bread] and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.'" The words "which is for you" beg for some addition, such as "which is given for you" or "which is broken for you."

Wrong Translations

So from early times, scribes have been adding such words. As a matter of fact, the word "broken" was inserted in the Greek text on which the King James Version was based. But the true text reads: "This is my body which is for you." And that's how we find it in all newer versions.

However, because of that added word, a misunderstanding has crept into the tradition that surrounds the celebration of the Lord's Supper. If we love truth more than tradition, we must now make clear that breaking bread has nothing to do with a broken body. "Breaking bread" is a term for sharing food. In Bible times, bread was not cut, but broken and then given to guests or members of the family. "Breaking bread together" means eating together.

[It is worth noting that some recent liturgies have perpetuated the older translation, while others have changed it. Worship the Lord, of the Reformed Church in America, still reads "This is my body which is broken for you," while the Presbyterian Service for the Lord's Day and the Christian Reformed "Service of Word and Sacrament" now read, "This is my body, which is for you," and "The body of our Lord was given ... ."]

The Lord's body was sacrificed for us on the cross. And we share in the fruits of that supreme sacrifice when we eat the bread and drink the wine. But the Lord's body was as little broken as was the Passover lamb's (Ex. 12:46). Christ is our Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7). In his death the words were fulfilled: "None of his bones will be broken" (John 19:36).

Andrew Kuyvenhoven is a former editor of The Banner and is a retired pastor in the Christian Reformed Church.


Reformed Worship 22 © December 1991 Worship Ministries of the Christian Reformed Church. Used by permission.