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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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MEALS.—The prevalent custom amongst the Jews in the time of Jesus was to have two formal meals in the day. Both these are referred to more than once in the Gospels by the terms ἄριστον and δεῖπνον (cf. Luke 14:12, where both words occur in the same context), and we know from these writings that it was to either of these meals that guests were invited to partake of the festive hospitality of their friends (cf. Luke 14:12, Luke 11:37, Luke 14:16 f.). Besides these, it was customary to have an informal meal at an early hour of the day (ἀκράτισμα or ἄριστον πρωϊνόν), which was a very light repast, consisting of a piece of bread, or bread with some accompanying relish, such as oil or melted butter (Robinson, BRP [Note: RP Biblical Researches in Palestine.] 2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] ii. 18). This meal is only once referred to in the NT (John 21:12; John 21:15), and there the word used is the same as that which occurs in the Lukan narrative of Jesus ‘dining’ (ἀριστᾶν) in the Pharisee’s house (Luke 11:37 f).

It is probably this meal which ‘the virtuous woman’ of Proverbs rises so early to provide (Proverbs 29:23 [LXX Septuagint ] = 31:15 [Heb.]), and which at the present time constitutes the breakfast of the populace in Palestine. It is, moreover, probable that it is this meal which is called in the Talmud the ‘early snack’ (פַּת שַׁהֲדִית), though Edersheim refers this descriptive title to the ἄριστον of the NT (see his Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, ii. 205 n. [Note: note.] 3; cf. also Plummer, ‘St. Luke,’ in Internat. Crit. Com. on Luke 11:37).

The mid-day meal, corresponding somewhat to the modern luncheon, was partaken of at hours varying, according to rank and occupation, from 10 a.m. till noon (Shabbath, 10a). It was partaken of immediately after the business of the forenoon was concluded, whether in the market-place (Mark 7:4), in the synagogue (Edersheim, vol. ii. p. 205; cf. 1 Kings 13:7), or during the heat of the middle of the day, when the labourers were compelled to desist from their field work (cf. Ruth 2:14). Josephus informs us that the Jews were required by their Law to make their breakfast (ἀριστοποιεῖσθαι) at noon on Sabbath days (Vita, 54, cf. also Genesis 43:16; Genesis 43:25 and 2 Samuel 24:15, where the LXX Septuagint has ἕως ὥρας ἀρίστου, which is rendered by Pesh. ‘till the sixth hour’). This, too, was generally a meal of a simple character, consisting of bread with parched corn, the former being moistened with a little vinegar (Ruth 2:14), or of bread broken down into a bowl of pottage, together with some weak or diluted wine (στάμνον οἴνου κεκερασμένου, Bel 33 [LXX Septuagint , Swete’s ed.]). Fish grilled by laying it upon the hot charcoal (ἀνθρακιά) was also a common article of food accompanying the bread (see John 21:9).

The principal meal of the whole day was the δεῖπνον, which was eaten after the day’s work was finished (see Luke 17:7). This would naturally be about the time of the going down of the sun, which will explain the Lukan narrative of Jesus and the two disciples at Emmaus (πρὸς ἑσπέραν, Luke 24:29 f.). This was the time of the day when Jesus is recorded by the three Synoptists to have miraculously fed the multitudes (ὥρα πολλή, Mark 6:35; ὀψίας δὲ γενομένηςκαὶ ἡ ὥρα ἤδη παρῆλθεν, Matthew 14:15; ἠ δὲ ἡμέρα ἤρξατο κλίνειν, Luke 9:12). The Passover was also eaten during the evening, and it was at the conclusion of that festal meal (μετὰ τὸ δειπνῆσαι) that Jesus instituted the Feast memorial of His death.

We find numerous references to the δεῖπνον in the writings of Josephus, from whom we learn incidentally that this was usually an elaborate meal and closely connected with sacrificial feasting; that sometimes it was prolonged to a late hour, which may explain the Preacher’s reference to the dangerous habit of over-eating before retiring to sleep (Ecclesiastes 5:11, cf. Tobit 8:1; Josephus Vita, 44, 63, Ant. vi. iv. 1, xiv. xv. 11, etc.; 3 Maccabees 5:14).

The principal constituent of every meal was bread, which was regarded, indeed, as the meal itself. So much so was this the case, that the word ‘bread’ (לָחֶם) was used by the ancient Hebrews either for bread in particular or for food in general (see Encyc. Bibl. art. ‘Bread,’ vol. i. col. 604). It was over the bread that the blessing was pronounced which was thus supposed to have been spoken over all the rest of the solid food eaten during the first part of the meal. So strongly was this held by all Jews, that for them bread assumed a quasi-sacred character, and elaborate rules were devised for its treatment at table (see Edersheim, op. cit. vol. ii. pp. 205–210).

The Hebraistic φαγεῖν ἄρτὄν occurs again and again as a synonym for an ordinary meal (Matthew 15:2, Mark 7:2, Luke 14:1; Luke 14:15, cf. John 21:13, Genesis 43:16 [LXX Septuagint ], Exodus 3:20 [LXX Septuagint ], etc., see art. Bread above and in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible , vol. i. p. 315b). Keeping this fact in mind, we are enabled to feel the force of Jesus’ words in His great sacramental discourse (John 6:26-59), and also to understand the true reason for the rejection by the Jews of His reiterated claims. It was not that their interpretation of His words was carnal (cf. John 6:52-58). ‘There was no gross misunderstanding on their part, but a clear perception of the claim involved in the Lord’s words’ (Westcott, Gospel of St. John, ad loc.). The phrases in which He couched these claims were such as would present no real difficulty to a thinking Jew, as they might easily be paralleled out of his sacred literature (ὁ ἄρτος τῆς ζωῆς, ὁ ἄρτος τοῦ θεοῦ, ὁ ἄρτον ὁ ζῶν, ὁ ἄρτος ὁ ἐξ οὐρανοῦ καταβάς). Bread, which is the representative and symbol of all earthly food, is the type of Him who is the Representative Man, imparting life to all who will partake of His Spirit.

On three different occasions we are told that Jesus was the invited guest of a Pharisee; and, so far as the circumstances in each instance testify, it was at one of their ordinary meals that He was present. It is remarkable that it is St. Luke who records all these occurrences, and at the same time it is noteworthy that he uses three different expressions in his wording of the formal invitations (ἵνα φάγῃ μετ αὐτοῦ, Luke 7:36; ὅπως ἀριστήσῃ παρʼ αὐτῷ, Luke 11:37; σαββάτῳ φαγεῖν ἄρτον, Luke 14:1). Not only are the invitations eouched in varying phrases, but St. Luke uses different words when referring to the attitude of the guests at the meals (κατεκλίθη, Luke 7:36; ἀνέπεσεν, Luke 11:37; συνανακειμένων, Luke 14:15). There is every probability that in each case it was the mid-day meal to which Jesus was invited. It became customary amongst the Jews to make three elaborate meals on the Sabbath day (‘Observa diem Sabbati; non Judaicis deliciis,’ quoted by Plummer, op. cit. p. 354). So much so, indeed, was this the case, that specially devised rules were made for carrying out the observance of the Sabbath feasts, and special spiritual benefits were supposed to be conferred on those who, overcoming the difficulties interposed by poverty, supplied themselves with the choicest procurable food for that day (see Peah, viii. 7, and the examples quoted from Shabbath by Lightfoot in his Hor. Heb. et Talm. [Note: Talmud.] on Luke 14:1; cf. Edersheim, op. cit. ii. 52, 437; Farrar, Life of Christ, ii. 119 n. [Note: note.] 2). It was on the occasion of one of these Sabbath meals that a fellow-guest of Jesus, on hearing Him speak, answered with the exclamation, ‘Blessed is he that shall eat bread (φάγεται ἄρτον) in the kingdom of God’ (Luke 14:15), referring, of course, to the popular Jewish idea that the Messianic Kingdom was to be ushered in by a banquet, and that feasting was to be the chief occupation of those who shared its glories (cf. Isaiah 25:6),—an idea which finds a place in the illustrative teaching of Jesus on the universal character of the future Kingdom of God (cf. ἀνακλιθήσονται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ, Luke 13:29; see Wendt, Lehre Jesu, English translation vol. i. pp. 217, 221).

At first sight it may seem strange that Jesus should countenance the Jewish custom of Sabbath banqueting, which was carried to such excess that its character for luxury became proverbial. At the same time we must remember that the principle which lay at the root of this method of feasting was the honour of the Sabbath day (cf. three quotations from Shabbath illustrative of this in Lightfoot, op. cit. iii. 149). Nor was this practice out of harmony with Jesus’ views and teaching on the Sabbath rest, so long as it was conducted in a spirit of humility, mutual toleration, and charity (cf. Luke 14:7-14). It is of interest, and in this respect not without significance, to notice that, on the last Sabbath spent by Jesus before His Passion, He was the chief guest at a festive meal (ἐποίησαν οὖν αὐτῷ δεῖπνον ἐκεῖ, John 12:2). This was probably on the evening of the Sabbath day as it was drawing to a close and passing away, when festivities were of the most liberal and elaborate character (epulœ lautiores); and it is evident from the three narratives (St. Luke’s story of the anointing of Jesus by the ‘woman who was a sinner’ [7:37] can scarcely be a record of the same event [see, however, Hengstenberg, Com. on St. John, English translation pp. 1–33, etc.]) that it made a deep impression on the minds of Jesus’ followers (cf. Mark 14:3, Matthew 26:6 f., John 12:2). From the way in which St. John dispenses with the use of the nominative before the verb, it would seem that this meal was of a semi-public character, designed to do honour to Jesus, and that the house of ‘Simon the leper’ was made the meeting-place for all who wished to meet Him (cf. Westcott, ad loc., and Edersheim, op. cit. ii. 357 f.). It is impossible not to be struck with the way in which Jesus makes use of the opportunity afforded by His presence at these meals on the Sabbath, to inculcate lessons of large-hearted charity even when His host is inclined to be the discourteous critic (Luke 7:39; Luke 11:38; Luke 11:45 ff., Luke 14:1 ff. cf. John 12:7 f.). There is no appearance of disapproval in His attitude to wards what was tending to, if it had not already become, an abuse, because there were latent possibilities for good in the joyous and festive Sabbath. It was to these possibilities that He directed His attention.

Acting on these principles, we can understand His words and deeds on the evening when He instituted ‘the Lord’s Supper’ (κυριακὸν δεῖπνον, 1 Corinthians 11:20). As we have seen, the Jewish custom was to constitute the bread the representative food at their meals. In the same way wine was considered the representative drink. Many and elaborate rules were formulated as to the manner in which blessings were to be said over these, and the discussions arising out of the etiquette to be observed degenerated into meaningless verbalism (see Berakhoth, 35a, 36a, 41b, referred to by Edersheim, ii. 206). In spite of this spiritual decadence and barren ritualism, Jesus did what was characteristic of His general teaching. He rescued the primitive act from its debased surroundings, and the wine blessed (τὸ ποτήριον τῆς εὐλογίας) became the means of a participating of ‘the blood of Christ’ (κοινωνία τοῦ αἴματος), and the loaf blessed and broken (τὸν ἄρτον ὅν κλῶμεν, ἄρτον εὐλογήσας) became the joyful (εὐχαριστήσας) communion of ‘the body of Christ’ (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:16 f., 1 Corinthians 11:23-27, Luke 22:19 f., Mark 14:22 f., Matthew 26:26 f.). In a spirit somewhat similar He dealt with the elaborate ceremonial washings which His Jewish contemporaries sought to elevate to the rank of a compulsory religions rite (Matthew 15:2 = Mark 7:2 ff., Luke 11:38; for a description of this Jewish practice during meals, see Edersheim, ii. 207). Not the least remarkable of the lessons, objective and spiritual, inculcated by Jesus was that in which He transformed what had become a tedious and worse than meaningless series of forms into a beautiful example of social service and personal humility (see John 13:4 ff., cf. Luke 22:27). By this single act He gathered up into one the various customs of His day, including the hospitable one of the guests’ feet being washed by their host’s servants before they sat down to eat, and taught His disciples the dignity of labour in the service of humanity (cf. Matthew 18:1-14, see Westcott on Matthew 13:4, and Plummer, ‘St. John’ in Camb. Gr. Test. ad loc.). Nor must we omit to note here that the Church’s Eucharistic meal constitutes the most emphatic object-lesson of the essential oneness of all Christian people in a brotherhood as extensive as her own borders, as intensive and real as any of the claims of Jesus to rule within the sphere of human thought (cf. πἀντες δὲ ὑμεῖς ἀδελφοί ἐστε Matthew 23:8; and Philemon 1:16).

Several different words are employed by the Evangelists to denote the bodily attitude of the Jews at their meals, all of which, however, imply that the custom was to recline with the body stretched out (cf. Edersheim, ii. 207). In this respect it is interesting to note the differences in usage, and the preferences for one or more of these words which characterize each of the writers. St. Luke, for example, uses a word no fewer than 5 times which occurs nowhere else in the NT (κατακλίθηναι, Luke 7:36; Luke 14:8; Luke 24:30; κατακλίνειν, Luke 9:14-15). Hobart states that in his use of the active voice St. Luke is employing ‘the medical term for laying patients, or causing them to lie in bed, placing them in certain positions during operations—making them recline in a bath, etc.’ (The Medical Language of St. Luke, p. 69; cf. however, Luke 2:7; Luke 12:37). As might be expected, this Evangelist exhibits a richer and more flexible vocabulary than the others. On the only occasion of his using the verb κατακεῖσθαι (Luke 5:29 [D [Note: Deuteronomist.] has here ἀνακειμένων]) for sitting at meals, he seems to employ it because he has already, in the immediately preceding context, made use of the same word to express a different idea (cf. Luke 5:25). The same might, of course, be said of St. Mark, who has this word in the same two senses in the parallel narrative. It is not probable, however, that St. Luke sacrificed his customary literary independence by a verbal copying of St. Mark, who, moreover, uses the same word for Jesus’ reclining at Supper in Bethany (Mark 14:3).

Of the 5 different words employed by the four Evangelists when speaking of sitting down to meals, St. Luke uses all (ἀνακλινειν twice, ἀνατιπτειν 4 times, ἀνακεῖσθαι with its compound συν- 5 times, κατακεῖσθαι once, κατακλίνειν 5 times); St. Matthew uses three (ἀνακλινειν twice, ἀνατιττειν once, ἀνακεῖσθαι and its compound συν- 7 times); St. Mark uses four (ἀνακλίνειν once, ἀνατιτειν twice, ἀνακεῖσθαι and its compound συν- 5 times, κασακεῖσθαι twice); St. John is characteristically limited in his use, and employs only two of these words (ἀνατιττειν 5 times, ἀνακεῖσθαι 4 times without any employment of its compound).

In the narrative of the conversion and call of Levi (Matthew), which is common to the three Synoptists, St. Luke is the only one who expressly states that Jesus was the guest of the new disciple (Luke 5:29), the latter having made a feast in honour of his recently discovered Master. St. Matthew uses the vague expression ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ (Matthew 9:10), which may mean ‘inside’ as contrasted with ‘outside’ (ἐπὶ τὸ τελώνιον, Matthew 9:9), where lay the scene of Levi’s call (cf. Plummer, ad loc.). St. Mark, on the other hand, seems to have understood that Jesus was the host and not the guest (cf. κατακεῖσθαι αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ αὐτοῦ, Mark 2:15, where his use of the same pronoun in the same sentence would point to this interpretation; see also συνανέκειντο τῷ Ἰησοῦ, Mark 2:15; τῶν συνανακειμένων σοι, Luke 14:10; τοῖς συνανακειμένοις [sc. τῷ Ἠρώδῃ], Mark 6:22). On the other hand, it does not seem at all certain that either of these two writers connected the conversion of Levi with the entertainment (cf. καὶ ἐγένετο, Matthew 9:10; καὶ γίνεται, Mark 2:15, which marks the commencement of a fresh narrative). It is improbable that St. Luke acted merely the part of interpreter by introducing his categorical assertion as a gloss (καὶ ἐποίησεν δοχὴν μεγάλην Λευεὶς αὐτῷ κ.τ.λ., Luke 5:29), thus doing away with a previous ambiguity. It is more likely that he had sufficient oral, if not documentary, authority to justify his statement (the word δοχή is peculiar to St. Luke, and is used by him only once afterwards as a general equivalent for ἄριστον ἢ δεῖπνον, Luke 14:12 f.); and we have St. Mark’s authority for connecting the conversion of Simon and Andrew with hospitality to their newly-found Master and His other disciples (Mark 1:16 ff., Mark 1:29 ff.). Whether, however, this partaking by Jesus of a Sabbath-meal in the house of Simon Peter was secondary to the purpose of healing the fever-stricken πενθερὰ τοῦ Σἰμωνος, would be difficult to determine. Nor must we forget the possibility that St. Luke’s authority for the statement that Jesus was the guest of His latest convert Levi may have been influenced by the parallel case we are here noticing—the conversion of the brothers Simon and Andrew and the subsequent entertainment in their own house of the newly discovered Messiah (cf. John 1:41).

Literature.—See for discussions of the last-mentioned questions, Wright, Synopsis of the Gospels in Greek, pp. 16 f., 23, etc.; Plummer, ‘St. Luke’ in Internat. Crit. Com. p. 159 f.; Gould, ‘St. Mark,’ ib. p. 41; O. Holtzmann, Leben Jesu, English translation p. 206; cf. art. ‘Matthew’ in Encyc. Bibl. col. 2986 f.; B. Weiss, The Life of Christ (T. & T. Clark), vol. ii. p. 125 n. [Note: note.] 2; Bengel, Gnomon of the NT on Matthew 9:10; and, for the problem as to the identification of Matthew and Levi, which is germane to that we are discussing, see Zahn’s Einleit. in das NT, ii. p. 264.

J. R. Willis.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Meals'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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