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DID PAUL EAT THE LORD’S SUPPER WITH THE CHURCH AT TROAS?

By Curtis Pugh

 

And there accompanied him into Asia Sopater of Berea; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timotheus; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus.    These going before tarried for us at Troas.  And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days.  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.  And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together.  And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead.  And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him.   When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed.  And they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted” (Acts 20:6-12 – Emphasis added).

          As this text has been used much against the strict Baptists, it has been on my heart for several months to point out some things about this passage.  I believe the truth of it will strengthen the position held by those Baptists whom I regard as sound in their practice with regard to the Lord’s Table.  I refer to local-church only, closed-communion Baptists as being sound in their practice.  Those who believe in a universal-church, open-communion or denominational-communion have had a field day with this passage.  They say this passage proves that Paul ate the Lord’s Supper with a Church of which he was not a member, i.e. the “Church at Troas.”  They say that Paul preached to this “Church at Troas” a lengthy sermon that continued until the dawn.  They often also say that the early Churches observed the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day, but space forbids us to enter into that discussion here.  I shall attempt to answer these questions by asking and answering some questions myself

          First question:  What are the undisputed facts in the case?  Let me answer this question by making nine brief statements: (1) Paul intends on returning to Syria (v. 3), but because of danger from the Jews he makes his way through Macedonia.  (2) He sends a group of friends and fellow laborers in the Gospel on ahead of him to Troas.  Those men were Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Timothy, Tychicus, and Trophimus.   They are listed for us in verse 4.  (3) Paul and Luke (and possibly others) traveled together to Troas.  We know this because the writer (Luke) says that these above-mentioned men waited for “US” at Troas, thus including himself (and possibly others) as being in the company of Paul.  (4) Paul and Luke and others if there were any with them, sailed from Philippi to Troas in five days, arriving there either on the Lord’s Day evening or early on our Monday morning (v. 6).  (5) After seven days, on the first day of the week, Paul and “the disciples” came together to “break bread” (v. 7).  (6) Paul spoke with them until midnight when a young man fell asleep as Paul spoke and fell down from the third level to the ground (v. 9).  (7) He was taken up as dead, but Paul went down and embraced him, saying that his life was in him.  (8) Paul returned to the upper chamber and after he “had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while” even until the dawn, he departs.  (9) Because the young man was alive, those remaining were greatly comforted.

          Second question: What are the disputed facts?  It is here that the issues of local-church only and closed communion come to the fore.  The dispute arises concerning these things: (1) Who were the disciples that gathered in the upper chamber?  (2) What is meant by the phrase “to break bread?”  (3) Did Paul preach a sermon to this group or engage in a prolonged conversation with them?  If Paul gathered with a Church in Troas and took the Lord’s Supper with them, we must conclude that Paul was not a local-church only, closed-communion Baptist after all and if our position is not destroyed altogether, it is most certainly weakened.  So let us proceed with more questions and answers.

Third question: Was there a Church in Troas?  And if I may, let me also at this point ask, “who founded it?”  The facts are these:  While some attempt to maintain that Paul founded a Church in Troas on his first missionary journey, there is absolutely no support for such a claim!   The Word of God says, And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas.  And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us.  And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them” Acts 16:8-10).  It does  not sound to me as if there was an opportunity to preach the Gospel and establish a Church in Troas on this first missionary tour as many claim.

Later Paul would write these words concerning his visit to Troas: Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord, I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother: but taking my leave of them, I went from thence into Macedonia” (2 Corinthians 2:12, 13).  Paul here says that he had an open door to preach the Gospel in Troas, but that he left that place and went into Macedonia because God spoke to him in a vision.  Writing about this verse (2 Cor. 2:12), A.T. Robertson says, Here was an open door that he could not enter.”   Although Paul wanted to preach the Gospel in Troas, Titus did not keep his appointment to meet Paul there and Paul, having seen a vision, “immediately” (Acts 16:10) took his leave of them and went from thence into Macedonia” according to 2 Cor. 2:13.  So there is no time for Paul to establish a Church in Troas. 

In fact, we have no biblical record at all of any Church being established in Troas: period.  There is no secular record, according to J.R. Graves, of any church being established in Troas until the second century.  John Gill mentions this fact as well.  So we have neither a record of the founding or the existence of a church at Troas in the Bible nor even within the first Christian century, if I may call it that.  It looks bad for the open-communionist, but it gets even worse!

Let us consider another important question: If there was not a Church at Troas, just who were the “disciples” who gathered with Paul on this occasion?  We know the names of some of them, at least.  There were Sopater..., Aristarchus... Secundus..., Gaius..., Timotheus..., Tychicus... Trophimus” according to the text quoted at the first of this article.  These seven, plus Luke and Paul, and perhaps others who traveled with them, made up the group of disciples who gathered in that upper chamber.  So there were at least nine men present.  Eutychus, the sleepy young man, was probably not a disciple, but may have been a servant of the owner of the upper chamber which doubtless they rented for their stay in Troas.  There may have been others, perhaps all the members of the family whom we think rented the room to Paul and his entourage.  It is possible and perhaps even likely that Eutychus and others were present to serve the meal and look after the supply of food and drink.  While we cannot go further than the Bible, we can at least see that it is possible that a significant number of people would have been together in that upper chamber and also about the house in cooking and preparing food, and in transporting it to the upper chamber, etc.

In this text, as in all the Bible, let us not be guilty of eisegesis, i.e. of reading into the Scripture what is not there.  We believe our loose-communion friends are guilty of that and we charge them to be faithful in drawing out the meaning of the text rather than reading their preconceived ideas into it.  There is just no hint, statement, or reason given in the Bible to cause us to believe there was a previously existing Church in Troas when Paul made this visit.  Only the suppositions of some commentators would lead us to believe that there was.  But let us proceed to the next question in our search for the truth in this matter.

Let us consider exactly what is meant by the phrase “to break bread?”  Open-communionists (those who believe in allowing all professing believers to partake of the Supper) and denominational-communionists (those who believe in allowing the members of other Baptist Churches to partake with them in the Supper) say that the phrase means to take the Lord’s Supper.  A.T. Robertson, famous Greek scholar and either an open-communionist or a denominational-communionist admits that the words themselves refer to the “agape” feast of ordinary food.  Both he and Matthew Poole argue that this “agape” feast was followed by the Lord’s Supper and that the Supper is what is intended here.  But they do so from prejudice, I fear, and not from anything warranted by the words, for they admit that the words refer to taking a meal of ordinary food.  The word used for bread in verses 7 and 11, by the way, is an ordinary word for bread and while it can include unleavened bread, often means raised or leavened bread, so another question might be raised here: Did Paul eat leavened bread in the Lord’s Supper with the Church at Troas?  But we are in process of showing that Paul did NOT eat the Lord’s Supper, nor did anyone in this instance and so we shall not digress into a discussion of what kind of bread was used that night. 

The same language describing eating ordinary food is used both here (vs. 7, 11), and definitely also in Acts 27:35 where Paul, as a prisoner on board a ship and in the midst of a storm says, “…he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat.”  If our friends who are “loose” on the Supper can demonstrate to us and state with a straight face that Paul took the Lord’s Supper on the ship, I will readily admit that he ate the Supper at Troas in the text before us in Acts chapter twenty.  The words used in Acts twenty-seven of Paul and also of Paul in Troas are ordinary words used of an ordinary meal and do not indicate that the Lord’s Supper was intended.

And so we come to our final question: Did Paul “preach” a sermon to this group or engage in a dialog with them?  Those who maintain that a communion service was observed at Troas when Paul was there also maintain that he preached to them.  However, the Greek word for “preached” in verse 7 and “preaching” in verse 9 is used 13 times in the New Testament.  The King James translators translated it as “dispute” six times; “reason with” two times; “reason” two times; “preach unto” one time (here in verse 7); “preaching” once (here in verse 9); and “speak” one time.  So here is a word that is NOWHERE ELSE IN THE BIBLE translated as “preach” and yet some insist that it ought to portray to us an orderly Church meeting with Paul standing before a silent congregation and delivering a sermon.  It just does not portray that!  It is IN BOTH PLACES the Greek word that transliterates as “dialegomai” – from which we get our English word “dialog.”  Now a sermon is the speaking of one man, but a dialog is a conversation or interchange of words and sentences between at least two persons, perhaps more.  Webster gives as two possible meanings these: “dialog: a conversation between two or more persons” and “an exchange of ideas and opinions”  (Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary).  A dialog is NOT preaching!  Paul did not preach this night at Troas!  He and the men with him spent the evening in conversation, in exchanging ideas, but there is nothing in the Bible to cause us to think that Paul preached a sermon in that place at that time.

So what do we have in this much-disputed text?  (1) We have no evidence that there was a Church in Troas at the time Paul visited there.  (2) We have biblical evidence that Paul, in fact, did not spend much time in Troas on his first visit and did not preach and organize a Church there at that time – when most if not all commentators say he did.  (3) We have language descriptive of an ordinary meal used to describe what took place when these disciples gathered together that First Day evening.  (Baptists do eat on Sunday, you know!)  (4) We find no evidence that Paul preached on this occasion, but rather that he and those with him lingered in conversation until midnight when the bored and uninterested young man, Eutychus, having nothing to do, fell asleep and fell down from the third level of the building.  After restoring him to life, Paul continues his dialog – he “talked a long while, even till break of day.”  Why the lengthy discussion?  Perhaps Paul and the disciples continued long in dialog because Paul was going to go afoot (Acts 20:13) and meet the disciples who labored with him at the seaport of Assos.  He was continually in danger and varied his route and method of transport to confound his enemies (Acts 20:3) and it seems that that may have been his motive in leaving them on this occasion.  These co-workers with Paul loved him and knew not if they would see him again after this night in Troas for he would depart on the morrow.  Let it be remembered that Paul was going up to Jerusalem.  He will meet with the elders of the Ephesus Church at their seaport of Miletus where there will be much weeping because they know that they will see his face no more (Acts 20:37, 38).  Considering what lay ahead, it is little wonder that Paul and these men who love him and labored with him would continue their conversation throughout the night.  The meeting described for us is one of tenderness and brotherly affection in an informal setting as these travelers were about to part company once again.

And so we conclude that Paul did NOT eat the Lord’s Supper with the supposed Church at Troas.  We have sound and biblical reasons for our conclusion.  We can say with confidence that he did not even serve the supper nor was there a communion service held in that place at that time.  There is no evidence that there even existed a Church in Troas at the time of this visit.  Our open-communion friends and denominational-communion friends have neither leg nor foot to stand on to support their views in Acts chapter 20!  Let them attempt to defend their position from somewhere else, for they have no ammunition here!  Let us who would follow the Bible resolve to study it carefully and follow it faithfully and continue with the biblical practice of closed, local-church only communion.

 


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