Holman Bible Dictionary
Common fellowship meal of the church preceding the Lord's Supper. The Love Feast or Agape (meal) was a significant dimension of the fellowship and worship of the early church. As a concrete manifestation of obedience to the Lord's command to love one another, it served as a practical expression of the koinonia or communion that characterized the church's life. While the only explicit New Testament reference to the agape meal is found (agapai in Greek) in Jude 1:12 , allusions to the practice may be seen in other New Testament texts. “The breaking of bread” in Acts 2:42 is most likely a reference to a special remembrance of Jesus' last supper with His disciples, but the allusion ( Acts 2:46 ) to their taking of food “with gladness and singleness of heart” implies that a social meal was connected in some way with this celebration. Paul's discussion of the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-34 ) also suggests a combining of the ceremonial act with a common meal. Such a practice is also suggested in Acts 20:7-11 . By the second century the word agapai had become a technical term for such a common meal which seems to have been separated from the ceremonial observance of the Lord's Supper sometime after the New Testament period.
The origin of the love feast is probably to be found in the religious fellowship meals which were a common practice among first-century Jews. While the Passover meal is the most familiar of these, such meals were also celebrated to inaugurate the sabbath and festival days. On these occasions a family or a group of friends who had banded together for purposes of special devotion (know as chaburoth from the Hebrew word for “friends”) would gather weekly before sundown for a meal in the home or another suitable place. After hors d'oeuvres were served the company would move to the table for the meal proper. The host would pronounce a blessing (a thanksgiving to God), break the bread, and distribute it among the participants. the mealtime would be characterized by festive, joyous religious discussion. With nightfall, lamps were lit and a benediction recited acknowledging God as the Creator of light. When the meal was over, hands were washed, and a final benediction pronounced over the “cup of blessing” (compare 1 Corinthians 10:16 ) praising God for His provision and praying for the fulfillment of His purposes in the coming of His kingdom. The meal was concluded by the singing of a psalm. It was not uncommon for small groups of friends to gather weekly for such meals.
It is possible to suggest that Jesus and His disciples formed just such a fellowship group and that the fellowship meals of the early church which came to be known as the agapai or love feasts are a continuation of the table of fellowship that characterized their life together and served as a concrete manifestation of the grace of the kingdom of God which Jesus proclaimed. Jesus' last meal with His disciples may represent one specific example of such a fellowship meal causing some to trace the origins of the love feast directly to this event. See Lord's Supper; Food; Worship .
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