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Day for the Lord's Supper

On What Day Should We Have the Lord's Supper?

 

INTRODUCTION:

When should we eat the Lord's Supper? Many denominations have the Lord's supper once a month, once every three months, once a year, only on special holy days, or just whenever they feel like it. Other groups sometimes have it on weekdays. And some members of the church will go weeks at a time not attending when the saints commune, even when they could come.

The questions to be answered in this lesson, then, are: (1) What day should we have the communion, and how frequently does that time occur? (2) How important is the day for having the Lord's supper? Does it really matter?


I. Background Information


A. Principles of Bible Authority

We must have Bible authority for everything we do in serving God.

We must not participate in any practice in God's service unless we find it taught in the gospel. If God's word says to do a thing, we must do it just as He says and not change it.

Matthew 15:9 - Our worship to God is vain if it is based on human doctrines.

Galatians 1:8,9 - If we teach anything other than what is taught in the gospel, we are accursed.

2 John 9 - If we do not abide in the teaching of Jesus, we do not have God. To have God, we must abide in Jesus' teaching.

The Bible is a complete and perfect guide to everything God wants us to do (2 Tim. 3:16,17; John 16:13; 2 Peter 1:3). We do not need to have a passage specifically forbidding us to do certain acts in order to know they are wrong. When God tells us what to practice, then it would be wrong to do something different, even if He nowhere expressly said not to do the other thing. If He says to do one thing, and we do something else, then we are following human doctrines and a different gospel, so our worship is vain and we have not God.

Why shouldn't we use milk and lamb on the Lord's table? God said to have unleavened bread and fruit of the vine. Why shouldn't we sprinkle or pour for baptism? God says to bury in baptism. Why shouldn't we baptize babies? God said people must understand, believe, repent, and confess before baptism. These and many other acts are wrong because there is "no Bible authority for them," even though no passage expressly forbids them. They are different from what God said. They are nowhere taught in the Bible.

Likewise, if we find that God has told us what day to have the Lord's supper, but we do it on some other day, then we would be acting by human authority. We would not be following Jesus' teaching and would violate the principle we are studying.

This principle of following Bible authority is fundamental to our understanding of this and other subjects.

God teaches us, not just by commands and direct statements, but also by examples and "necessary inferences."

To abide in Jesus' teaching, we must know how to determine what His will is. His will is sometimes stated directly in commands and direct statements. But it is other times taught by examples and by reasoning to conclusions that necessarily follow from what is stated.

1 Peter 2:21 - Jesus left an example that we should follow His steps.

Philippians 3:17; 4:9 - Paul gave us an example to follow as a pattern. We should do the things seen in Paul, as well as the things heard from him.

1 Corinthians 11:1 - Imitate Paul as he imitated Christ.

Hebrews 5:14 - Not all lessons to be learned from Scriptures are simple and obvious. We must have our senses exercised in Bible study, so we can discern the proper conclusions.

Acts 17:1-3 - Paul reasoned with people from the Scriptures to reach conclusions that necessarily followed but were not directly stated in those Scriptures. This is done in many Bible passages (see Matt. 22:23-32; Heb. 7:11-25; Matt. 19:3-9; etc.).

Hence, God's will on a matter may be revealed by examples or conclusions that necessarily follow from what is stated, even though the conclusion itself is not directly stated.

As we study any passage on a subject, we must also take into account other passages on the subject.

Acts 3:22,23 - We must hearken to all things Jesus teaches.

Matthew 4:4,7 - Man must live by every word from God's mouth. When the devil quoted a passage, Jesus cited another passage to show the devil had misused the first passage.

For instance, suppose we find a passage that shows God approved of His people doing a thing in a certain way, then in another passage we find that He approved of them doing the thing a different way. We should then conclude that it doesn't matter which way it is done. But if we take all the information we have on a subject, add it up, and find that there is only one way revealed for doing a thing, then that is the pattern we must follow.

B. Observations Regarding Bible Memorials & Feasts

The Lord's supper is a memorial feast. We participate in memory of Jesus' death (Matt. 26:26ff; 1 Cor. 11:23ff; etc.). In the Old Testament, God instituted several other memorials and feasts. These are not in effect today (Heb. 10:9,10; Gal. 3:23,24; 5:1-4; Col. 2:14,16; etc.). But the Old Testament record can teach us some useful lessons (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:1-12).

Whenever God authorized a special memorial or feast in His worship, He has always told man when and how often to do it.

When it was important enough to God to institute a memorial feast, then it was also important enough to Him to tell when to do it. There are no exceptions to this in Scripture. Consider the following examples:

Memorial/Feast

Scripture

Time

Frequency

Passover

Ex. 12:6,14,24ff

14th Day, 1st Mo

Annual

Trumpets

Lev. 23:24

1st Day, 7th Mo

Annual

Atonement

Lev. 23:27

10th Day, 7th Mo

Annual

Tabernacles

Lev. 23:39-44

15th Day, 7th Mo

Annual

Sabbath

Ex. 20:8-11

7th day of week

Weekly

Lord's Supper

Acts 20:7

1st day of week

Weekly

If the Lord's supper does not have a specified time and frequency for partaking, then it is the only one of God's appointed memorials or feasts that does not. And it is a memorial to the most important event in history! Why go to all the trouble to design the memorial, describe in detail how to do it, then leave no guidelines about when? Surely we should expect the New Testament to tell us when to have the Lord's supper.

When God states the day for observing a memorial, the language also necessarily implies how often it should be done.

Consider the Old Testament examples already listed. In most cases God simply said a day to have it, but the people were expected to understand from that how often to have it. They were to have it every time the specified day occurred!

If a feast or memorial was to occur on a certain day of a certain month of the year, then the people would do it as often as that time occurred; hence, an annual feast. If it was stated to be on a certain day of the month, then as often as the day of the month occurred, it would observed; hence, a monthly observance (Ezek. 46:1,6,7). If it was to occur on a certain day of the week, then it would be done as often as that day of the week occurred; hence, a weekly observance (such as the sabbath).

When God set a day for the observance, then that also settled the frequency. He did not have to expressly state it should be done every time that day occurred. This was understood (a "necessary inference"). If people observed the memorial on days other than when God said, would they have been obeying Him? If the specified day arrived and people could observe it but failed to, would He have been pleased?


II. A Study of Acts 20:7


This is the passage that tells us most about when the New Testament church observed the Lord's supper.

A. A Study of the Verse in Context

Verses 1-6

After the days of unleavened bread (the Passover - v6), Paul and his traveling companions left Philippi in Macedonia on a journey to Jerusalem. They took five days to get from Philippi to Troas, then they waited there seven days.

Verse 7

The disciples came together on the first day of the week to break bread. At that time, Paul preached to them, and spoke till midnight, though he was planning to leave the next morning.

The expression "break bread" here must refer to the Lord's supper as it does in Matt. 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 10:16; and 1 Cor. 11:23,24. In some contexts this phrase may refer to a common meal (see Acts 2:46), but that cannot be the case here. This context clearly refers to a church worship assembly, and Paul had already taught in 1 Cor. 11:17-22,34 that Christians were not to eat common meals in their worship assemblies. If this were a common meal, Paul would have violated his own teaching in 1 Cor. 11.

Verses 8-16

During Paul's long speech, Eutychus fell asleep, fell out a window, and was killed. But Paul raised him from the dead.

As planned, Paul left at daybreak (v13). His intent was to cross land and catch up with the boat, which had already sailed earlier (v13,14). They were hurrying to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost (v16 - this left them only 50 days to make this trip - Lev. 23:15,16).

B. Conclusions from the Passage

The day for the Lord's supper is "the first day of the week."

We expected God to tell us a time for this act to be done. We know God teaches by example as well as by command. The example of Acts 20:7 shows that the day for the Lord's supper is the first day of the week.

The nature of the language shows that the frequency for the Lord's supper is every first day of the week.

Just as in the Old Testament observances, when God states a day to do a thing, it should be done as often as that day comes (see the chart). The day for observing the Lord's supper is the first day of the week. But every week has a first day. Whenever the first day of the week comes, that's when the disciples should come together to break bread.

Note the parallel to the sabbath:

Exodus 20:8,10 - Remember the sabbath day (7th day) to keep it holy.

Acts 20:7 - Disciples came together on the first day of the week to break bread.

Just as Exodus 20:8,10 meant to remember every 7th day to keep it holy, likewise Acts 20:7 means we should come together every 1st day to break bread.

Suppose people want to have the Lord's supper once a year, once a month, on week days, etc.? What Bible authority could they offer for it? If we respect Bible examples, and if we must find our practices authorized in the gospel, then we could no more have the Lord's supper at other times than we could baptize babies or eat lamb and milk in the communion.

C. Could Acts 20:7 Be an Unusual, Exceptional Case?

Some aspects of the example were exceptions.

If we must obey New Testament examples as in Acts 20, folks sometimes ask, "Does that mean the preacher must preach till midnight, and somebody must fall asleep, fall out the window, and die?"

However, the context of the example itself clearly implies that these were unusual circumstances. These were not normally expected or required even of the disciples at Troas. If so, then surely they would not be required of us.

Was the Lord's supper on the first day exceptional?

Someone may think that maybe the disciples' assembling to commune on the first day was an unusual circumstance. Like these other things, maybe this too was not their normal practice, so we don't have to imitate it. Maybe they just met that day, because an apostle was visiting?

What is there in the context that would indicate it was unusual for the church to meet on the first day? On the contrary, the context clearly shows that this was not unusual. The passage says they came "to break bread," not that they came because there was a visiting apostle (v7). The implication is that this was the typical time the church met for the Lord's supper, and Paul simply used their normal meeting as an occasion to teach.

When Paul arrived in town, he had to wait 7 days till the church met. But he was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem, so much so that he left the next morning after staying up all night. His ship had already left, and he had to travel over land to catch up with it (v8-16). If the church could have met for the Lord's supper on just any day, why wait so long to call the meeting?

Troas had advance notice of Paul's coming. His travel companions had arrived ahead of time (v5). Knowing Paul was coming, and then knowing he was in such a hurry, why would the church wait till the last possible day to meet, make him stay up all night, and make him leave by land instead of on his boat? Why not just call the meeting 2 or 3 days earlier? Clearly the first day of the week mattered.

And why does the account even mention the day of the week when they met? Why bother to tell us how long they waited after arriving? Many other passages mention special meetings of Christians called for special purposes; but we are not told what day of the week those meetings occurred. The only day of the week ever singled out for special mention regarding worship of Christians is the first day of the week. Christians did meet on other days, but the only day especially mentioned, and the only day on which we are told they had the Lord's supper, is the first day of the week. If the day is not significant, why mention this day, and never mention any other day?

The passage clearly states that the disciples came together on the first day of the week to break bread. There is no evidence that it was exceptional for the church to assemble on that day for that purpose. On the contrary the evidence indicates that the first day of the week was especially significant. The church met on that day, because that is when they normally met. We will see further evidence of this later from 1 Corinthians.

If we respect Bible examples, we will come together to break bread each first day of the week.


III. The Teaching of Other Passages


Acts 20:7 leads us to believe we should have the Lord's supper on each first day of the week. However, we recall that we must take all the Bible says on a subject.

For example, some ask why we don't have the Lord's supper in an upper room (third story) as in Acts 20:8,9. The answer is that, when we study other passages, we find there is no significance to the place. The church in Jerusalem met in a porch of the temple, for example (Acts 5:11-14).

Could it be that there are likewise Bible passages other than Acts 20:7 that would show that the church may have the Lord's supper on a day other than the first day of the week? Or does other teaching elsewhere strengthen that conclusion?

A. Teaching Regarding the Lord's Supper & Assemblies

Acts 2:42

The first congregation of converts "continued steadfastly" in breaking bread as well as the apostle's doctrine, prayer, etc. (Again we note that the other items in this verse are acts of worship. So we conclude, in harmony with 1 Cor. 11, that the breaking of bread in this passage is an act of worship, the Lord's supper, not a common meal.)

"Continue steadfastly" does not define how often the disciples had the Lord's supper. But it tells us it was a regular event, commonly done among them, and they were committed to it. It was not a rare event, nor was it hit and miss.

Hebrews 10:25

The church had regular assemblies and the members were expected to not miss. This does not mention the Lord's supper, nor does it tell how often the assemblies occurred.

It does, however, reinforce the idea of regular meetings. And it shows members should be committed to those meetings. When the church is meeting, members need to be there.

1 Corinthians 11:17-34

Jesus wants all His people to remember His death in the Lord's table (v23-26). This is not optional. We should be committed to participating in it.

The Lord's supper should be eaten when the church assembles (v20,33; cf. v17,18,34). This is contrasted to common meals, which Paul rebukes the church for having in their assemblies. They should have their common meals at home (v22,34) - i.e., apart from church activity.

The passage does not, however, tell what day or how often this should be done. It simply says that, "as often as" it is done, it should be done in the manner here described. ("As often as" simply means "whenever" or "every time" - see NIV, NEB, Wms, Knox, Gdspd, etc. It is a "relative adverb," per Vine and Thayer. It simply means that, whenever one thing happens, the other thing happens. But of itself the expression does not absolutely tell you how often either thing happens. Example: We will deduct income tax from your check as often as you get paid.)

1 Corinthians 16:1,2

Corinth was ordered to take up collections on the first day of the week. Churches in Galatia, Achaia, and Macedonia (and no doubt elsewhere) were doing the same (see the references below). This clearly implies assemblies on the first day of each week. (The passage is commanding a common collection by the church, not just private treasuries of individuals at home. Individual treasuries would have to be gathered together when Paul came to take them on to Jerusalem, and this is exactly what he said should not happen.)

Further note that this collecting by the church occurred, not just on one first day of the week, but as an ongoing practice done repeatedly on the first day of each week (see NASB, NIV, RSV, NEB, etc.).

Note that the passage says the same thing about collecting money that Acts 20:7 says about the Lord's supper. Both were done on the first day of the week. Denominations often have the Lord's supper once a quarter or once a year, but have the collection every time you turn around. The Bible says the same thing about both.

Note also that there is a connection between Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:1,2. In 1 Corinthians Paul instructed churches to collect funds on the first day of the week to send to the needy saints in Jerusalem. Afterwards, he and other men went through those cities and gathered up those funds to take them to Jerusalem. (See 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8 & 9; Rom. 15:25-27; Acts 24:17.) This is the trip the men were taking in Acts 20. As they traveled, they stayed in Troas to have the Lord's supper with the church there on the first day of the week.

Consider it now. This proves conclusively that it was not unusual or coincidental that Troas met on the first day. Why should anyone think otherwise? Of course, they were meeting regularly on the first day: God had commanded it as Paul had already revealed in 1 Corinthians 16! As Paul traveled, he met with the church at Troas on the day God had appointed for the collection. But the example of Acts 20:7 shows that the day they met for the collections was also the day they met for the Lord's supper! Surely this is not just coincidence!

Conclusion

Put all this information together. The disciples were steadfast in the Lord's supper and in attending their assemblies. They had the Lord's supper in their assemblies. And they took up collections on the first day of the week.

Acts 20:7 then adds that the disciples came together on the first day of the week to break bread. The churches assembled regularly, including assemblies on the first day of the week. When they assembled on the first day of the week, they had the Lord's supper and they took up a collection. It all fits together, so the pattern becomes clear.

So studying other passages does not lead to the conclusion that Acts 20:7 was an unusual event. There is no indication the Lord's supper was taken on other days. Instead, the pattern confirms that the practice of Acts 20:7 fits the overall picture of the churches' practice.

B. The Significance of the First Day of the Week

Do other passages imply that the first day of the week has any special significance or not? Is there anything that would explain why God would want the church to assemble on the first day for the Lord's supper and collection?

Mark 16:9 - Jesus arose on the first day of the week.

The resurrection of Jesus is in many ways the greatest event in the history of the world. In many ways the crucifixion was as great, but the crucifixion would have been a defeat had it not been for the resurrection. The crucifixion left the disciples in sorrow and grief. The resurrection was the ultimate victory and cause of rejoicing.

Furthermore, no passage directly names the day of the week on which Jesus died, but all four gospel accounts tell us Jesus arose on the first day of the week, and all of them mention it repeatedly. Why this emphasis on the first day unless there is some significance to it? (Luke 24:1,4,21; Mk. 16:2; Matt. 26:1-7; Luke 24:1-9; John 20:1-10; see also the verses under the following points.)

John 20:19 - Jesus first appeared to His disciples on the first day of the week.

Jesus' appearances are also crucial to our faith, because by them He proved that He really is the Son of God (Rom. 1:4; 1 Cor. 15:1-8).

On that first day of the week after He had arisen, He appeared several times (Mark 16:2,9; Matt. 26:1,8-10; Luke 24:1,19-21; John 20:1,11-19). Note that one of these appearances occurred when the disciples had assembled. The disciples assembled on the first day of the week, because Jesus had arisen on that day. And Jesus Himself chose to come to that assembly (cf. Luke 24:33-40).

John 20:26 - The second day that Jesus appeared to the disciples was also a first day of the week.

Again we are told the disciples came together. This was the eighth day after the first appearances. The way days were counted would make this the next first day of the week (cf. Lev. 23:39).

So on the day Jesus arose the disciples assembled; then the next first day the disciples assembled again. On both occasions Jesus honored their assembly by coming Himself. Is this just coincidence?

You would not expect these passages to mention the Lord's supper, since the church had not yet begun. But if there is no significance to the fact these things happened on the first day of the week, why are we so expressly told the day when it happened?

Acts 2:1 - The day of Pentecost was a first day of the week (Lev. 23:15,16).

Note that the apostles had already gathered together on this day, even before they had any idea that the Holy Spirit would come then (cf. 1:1-11). But the Holy Spirit did come to their meeting. As a result many assembled together, the gospel was preached, and 3000 were baptized.

Note the great events that occurred on this first day of the week: (1) The Holy Spirit came. (2) The gospel was preached for the first time. (3) The first people were converted and became Christians. (4) The church began (cf. v47).

All this happened when the disciples were assembled together on the first day of the week. And from this time on they continued in, among other things, the Lord's supper (v42).

Acts 20:7 - The disciples came together on the first day of the week to break bread.

This may be the only time the Lord's supper is directly mentioned on the first day of the week, but it is certainly not the only passage that shows the first day of the week is significant. Nor is it the only passage that shows the disciples assembling on the first day of the week.

1 Corinthians 16:1,2 - The churches took up collections each first day of the week.

Together with all the other passages regarding the first day of the week and regarding Christians' assembling, this confirms that Christians assembled and took up the collection on that day.

Conclusions

Note the tremendous significance the first day of the week has to Christians.

Many of the greatest events in the history of the church occurred on that day. And of the events that occurred on that day, four of them involved Christians assembling on that day, and a fifth surely implies assembling. On two of these occasions, Jesus Himself attended those assemblies, and on another occasion the Holy Spirit attended. How can anyone doubt that the first day of the week has special significance in God's plan?

To see the force of this, consider what passages or events expressly name any other day of the week.

All these events, assemblies, and acts of worship are expressly mentioned as occurring on the first day of the week. But not one time is any other day of the week named as have any significance whatever to Christians. The second day of the week, third day, etc., are never even mentioned. The seventh day is mentioned, but only in connection with meetings of Jews, never in connection with meetings of Christians or events of special significance to Christians.

Some important events may have happened on other days, but never is any significance attached to the day. The day of the week is never named. Why all this emphasis on the first day, unless there is something special and significant about it?

So our study of other passages has turned up nothing to indicate the taking of the Lord's supper on the first day of the week in Acts 20:7 was just optional or coincidental. Nothing gives authority for having it any other day of the week.

In fact our study of other passages simply confirms the importance of the first day of the week. Considering these other passages, we are not surprised to see the disciples breaking bread on the first day of the week. We would be surprised to see it on any other day of the week.

The only day that has special significance for Christians is the first day of the week, and that is the only day on which we find Christians partaking of the Lord's supper.

CONCLUSION

Consider what we have learned in this study:

1) We must have Bible authority for all we do, and we must refuse to do that for which we have no Bible authority.

2) God's authority is revealed to us by examples and necessary inferences, as well as by commands.

3) God has always revealed the time and frequency for observing His special memorials and feasts.

4) The disciples were regular and diligent in having the Lord's supper and in assembling together.

5) The Lord's supper was eaten when the church was assembled.

6) Many major events in New Testament history occurred on the first day of the week.

7) Several passages mention Christians assembling on the first day of the week.

8) The Christians were commanded to give regularly on the first day of the week.

9) The disciples came together on the first day of the week to break bread.

10) The New Testament attaches no significance to any other day of the week, nor is there any indication the Lord's supper was eaten on any other day.

Conclusion: Bible authority teaches us to have the Lord's supper on each first day of the week. To have it any other day is to act without God's authority. Therefore, Christians must refuse to eat it on any other day.

(c) Copyright 1999, David E. Pratte

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