The Bible says, “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink” (Col. 2:16, NIV); however, the symbolic and cultural idea of food extends beyond what we eat.
Power of Bread
By Jeff Couzins
The Bible says, “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink” (Col. 2:16, NIV); however, the symbolic and cultural idea of food extends beyond what we eat. Eating involves both biological and cultural elements, and sociologists believe that “human meal practices can be understood as a kind of language system.”1
This idea can be applied to families in the Apostolic Era, where every member of the household—family or otherwise—was subject to the authority of the father. The father was patron to all. A powerful symbolic representation of being under the headship of the father was captured at mealtimes, when all were dependent upon the father in order to eat. Consequently, some powerful practices were built up around eating and drinking.2
More Than Sustenance
The apostles’ devotion to sharing food together (Acts 2:42) can be said to describe a first-century Christian’s normal way of life.3 Here, food provides more than sustenance; it is the means to achieving a deeper fellowship between believers and their Lord.4
Furthermore, with repeated references to eating and drinking in Jesus’ teachings, alongside His desire to share meals with people marginalized by mainstream society, we get the impression that to Jesus, eating and drinking together has significance beyond its biological and cultural functions.5
When we look further, we find that food is everywhere in the Bible. It’s almost everywhere we look in Scripture. The place of food and fellowship in the Bible is sometimes overlooked when we focus on the commandments and doctrines, yet so much in the Bible seems to happen around the proverbial dining table. Are these references there just as a record of practical necessity, or is there some spiritual relevance to food and fellowship?
Food and Salvation
Food has a place in the plan of salvation. For example, it was eating the forbidden fruit that led Adam and Eve into sin through an appeal to the appetite.6 It was also through food that God taught us about the means of salvation.7 The Communion emblems are just one example of the symbolic link between food and salvation.
Another example is the Old Testament sacrificial system, which pointed to the sacrificial ministry of Christ in its varied forms and functions. For instance, all the main feasts in the Old Testament point to the ministry of Jesus. A feast isn’t just a small portion of food; it is a large meal. The main feasts were (1) the Passover, which pointed to the death of Jesus Christ; (2) Pentecost, which pointed to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; (3) Tabernacles, which pointed toward the second coming of Jesus; and (4) the Day of Atonement, which pointed toward judgment.
There was a greater purpose, however, than simply teaching about the plan of salvation through the offerings. The sacrificial system was not just to mediate forgiveness for sinners but to bring the people into fellowship with God (see Lev. 9:22). Sin offerings symbolized the confession of sin and an appeal for atonement through God’s forgiveness. Burnt offerings expressed worship, gratitude, and dedication to God. Peace offerings symbolized alliance with God and fellowship with other believers through eating the sacrifice together.8 More modern versions of the Bible (such as the NIV) translate “peace offering” as “fellowship offering,” indicating the social and cultural nature of the final offering.
The Old Testament worship service culminated in a fellowship meal, which all worshippers shared in God’s presence. Worship of God in the Old Testament was not complete until all the assembled people—prophet, priest, Levite, and laity—sat down to enjoy a fellowship meal together. And this concept of sharing food together continues through to the New Testament times as well. Jesus had finished teaching the people, for instance, before He fed the 5,000.
Food and Relationship
While food cannot save us, it can be representative of the relationship we have with Jesus Christ. For example, in Luke 24:41, after His resurrection, Jesus asked for food when He joined the disciples in the upper room. In John 21:9, after His resurrection, Jesus prepared a meal for the disciples who had gone fishing. In both instances Jesus in His resurrected form wanted to share food and fellowship with His disciples. Acts 2:42 says, “And they [the disciples] continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”
The breaking of bread in this verse indicates that the disciples were sharing food and fellowship with other believers. Biblically, food and fellowship go hand in hand with teaching doctrine and praying. But we often miss that connection. Food and fellowship are not separate things added onto the worship service in church; instead, they should be part and parcel of the process of worshipping and serving the living God.
As in the Old Testament sacrificial service, we can say that worship is not complete until we’ve shared a fellowship meal with the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. And fellowship extends beyond this as well. In Revelation 3:20 Jesus says that He will enter in and eat with anyone who opens the door of their heart to Him. Jesus links food and fellowship to a relationship with Himself. Scripture doesn’t just say that Jesus will keep you company. Instead, Jesus said, “I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (NIV; emphasis supplied).
Sharing food and fellowship are important aspects of human relationships, as well as our relationship with Christ. Everyone who has been saved throughout earth’s history is invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb described in Revelation 19:9.
Food and Church Services
The ultimate linking of food and fellowship with salvation, however, is found in the Last Supper. Jesus took the bread and said, “This is My body” (Luke 22:19). Then He took the cup and said, “This . . . is the new covenant in My blood” (verse 20).
Not sharing a full meal together during Communion does not detract from the fact that there is a significant connection between food and salvation. While food cannot save us, food can symbolize our relationship with God and our salvation.
First John 1:3, 4 says, “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.”
Fellowship in church is more than just having a good time together. Food shared in church is more than just eating together. After all, it was only a small piece of fruit that brought sin into the world. And likewise, it’s only a small piece of bread and a small glass of grape juice that symbolize the sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the cross.9 Food may seem like an insignificant aspect in the wider plan of salvation, but, biblically, it could be argued that worship is not complete until we have shared food and fellowship together with one another and with God.
We see a type of this when Jesus promises to share a meal with us in Revelation 3:20 when we invite Him into our hearts. Few “acts are more indicative of fellowship and communion than partaking of food together.”10 But the ultimate expression of sharing food together is found in “the apocalyptic idea of the eschatological meal, or the messianic banquet, the feast in the coming Kingdom of heaven.”11
So since we are subject to the authority of our Father in heaven, let us share meals together, perhaps after worship service on Sabbath, in our homes during the week, or at picnics and other social gatherings. When we do so, we are also fellowshipping with Jesus until He comes.
1 Jan Michael Joncas, “Tasting the Kingdom of God: The Meal Ministry of Jesus and Its Implications for Contemporary Worship and Life,” Worship 74 (2000): 330.
2 Florence Dupont, Daily Life in Ancient Rome, trans. Christopher Woodall (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1989), p. 103.
3 Robert W. Wall, “The Acts of the Apostles: Introduction, Commentary and Reflection,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Leander E. Keck et al. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), vol. 10, p. 71.
4 G.H.C. Macgregor, “The Acts of the Apostles,” in The Interpreter’s Bible, ed. George A. Buttrick et al. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1954), p. 50.
5 Joncas, pp. 330, 331, 346-350.
6 Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1890), pp. 54-56.
7 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 656.
8 Siegfred H. Horn, Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1980), pp. 963-966.
9 E. G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 653.
10 Francis D. Nichol, ed., The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1957, 1980), vol. 7, p. 763.
11 Ephraim Isaac, “The Significance of Food in Hebraic-African Thought and the Role of Fasting in the Ethiopian Church,” in Asceticism, ed. Vincent L. Wimbush and Richard Valantasis (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 331.