The Breaking of Bread and the Breaking of Boundaries

A Study of the Metaphor of Bread in the Gospel of Matthew

by Minkyu Lee (Author)
©2015 Monographs XII, 230 Pages
Series: Studies in Biblical Literature, Volume 161


This book investigates the Matthean use of bread and the breaking of bread in light of cognitive conceptual metaphor, which are not only intertwined within Matthew’s narrative plots but also function to represent Matthew’s communal identity and ideological vision. The metaphor of bread and its cognitive concept implicitly connect to Israel’s indigenous sense of identity and religious imagination, while integrating the socio-religious context and the identity of Matthean community through the metaphoric action: breaking of bread. While using this metaphor as a narrative strategy, Matthew not only keeps the Jewish indigenous socio-religious heritage but also breaks down multiple boundaries of religion, ethnicity, gender, class, and the false prejudice in order to establish an alternative identity and ideological vision. From this perspective, this book presents how the Matthean bread functions to reveal the identity of Matthew’s community in-between formative Judaism and the Roman Empire. In particular, the book investigates the metaphor of bread as a source of Matthew’s rhetorical claim that represents its ideological vision for an alternative community beyond the socio-religious boundaries. The book also reviews Matthean contexts by postcolonial theories – hybridity and third space – subverting and deconstructing the hegemony of the dominant groups of formative Judaism and the imperial ideology of Rome.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Editor’s Preface
  • Abbreviations
  • 1. Introduction
  • The Purpose of the Project
  • Previous Studies
  • Bread and the References to Ingestion
  • The Gospel of Matthew and Community
  • Methodologies
  • Metaphor Theory
  • Other Methods and Hermeneutic Perspectives
  • Overview
  • 2. Bread/Meals in Second Temple Judaism and Relevant Social Memories
  • Food and Meals in Second Temple Judaism
  • Food and Meals and Jewish Communal Identity
  • Food and Meals in Literature: Identity Demarcation
  • Social Memories of Bread and Meals
  • Passover Meal with Unleavened Bread
  • Unleavened Bread and Passover
  • Ritualization: Maintaining Identity
  • New Year: New Beginning
  • Manna: Bread from Heaven
  • Bread from Heaven
  • God’s Complete Care
  • God who Provides Food: Nursing Imagery
  • The Breaking of Bread in Human Relationship
  • Messianic Banquet
  • God Will Provide Again
  • The Ultimate Triumph and Vindication
  • Bread and the Word of God: Ideology
  • Female Wisdom and the Gift of Life
  • Eating the Bread and the Word of God: Ideology
  • Synthesis: Bread/Food and Metaphoric Conceptions
  • 3. The Metaphor of Bread in Feeding Narratives and Matthean Community
  • Bread in the First Feeding Narrative (14:13–21)
  • Significant Features of the Narrative
  • ἀναχώρεω (withdrawal)
  • Location and Time
  • Character of Jesus and the Crowds
  • The Metaphoric Meaning of Bread in the First Feeding Narrative
  • Not Just for the Satisfaction of Hunger
  • The Bread as a Source of Formation of Identity
  • The Breaking of Bread: Actual Formation of Community
  • The Role of the First Feeding Narrative in the Context of Matthew’s Gospel
  • Fulfillment of Previous Discourses and Teachings of Jesus
  • Only for the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel
  • The Bread in the Second Feeding Narrative (15:29–39)
  • Significant Features of the Narrative
  • Location: Mountain
  • Crowds: Gentile
  • The Breaking of Bread: Expansion of Matthew’s Community
  • Breaking the Boundaries
  • Eschatological Banquet: New Israel
  • The Role of the Second Feeding Narrative in the Context of Matthew’s Gospel
  • Initial Step of the Second Phase of Jesus’ Mission Beyond Israel
  • Toward the Great Commission
  • Matthean Bread and Identity In-between Formative Judaism and Roman Empire
  • Deviation from the Conventional Jewish Heritage
  • Expansion of Communal Boundaries (Inclusion of All Minorities and Gentiles)
  • Legitimating of Matthean Community: Ekklesia vs. Their Synagogue
  • Different Interpretations of Torah
  • Resistance to the Roman Imperial Ideology
  • Provision of God over the Empire
  • Meals as Resistance to the Roman Empire
  • Messianic Banquet of Zion
  • Association Meal Gathering for Social Bonding
  • Establishment of the Alternative Kingdom and Ideology
  • Matthew as Voluntary Association in the Third Space
  • Voluntary Association
  • Communal Identity in the Third Space
  • 4. The Metaphor of Bread toward All Nations: New Covenant and Ideology in Hybridity
  • The Bread and the Canaanite Woman: “Even the Dogs Eat the Crumbs!”
  • Significant Features of the Narrative
  • Jesus Comes into the District of Tyre and Sidon
  • Dialogue Between Jesus and the Woman
  • The Dogs and the Canaanite
  • The Metaphor of Bread and the Canaanite Woman
  • It Is All about the Bread: Debate on the Metaphor of Bread
  • Dogs Eat the Broken Bread
  • Prophetic Fulfillment
  • The Breaking of Bread: Breaking Boundaries
  • The Role of the Canaanite Woman in the Context of Matthew’s Gospel
  • The Bread in Jesus’ Last Supper: “This is my Body!” (26:26–29)
  • The Metaphor of Bread and Jesus’ Last Supper
  • Narrative Context of Passover
  • Representation of New Communal Identity
  • The Metaphor of Bread and Jesus
  • This Is My Body: πάντα τὰ ἔθνη
  • Social Bonding in a New Covenant: Forming New Identity
  • Breaking the Boundaries: Heavenly Banquet
  • The Role of Jesus’ Last Supper in the Gospel of Matthew: Ideological Manifesto
  • Matthew’s Communal Identity in-between Formative Judaism and Roman Empire
  • Alteration from the Conventional Perspective of Judaism
  • Mission toward All Nations: του̑τό ἐστιν τὸ σω̑μά μου
  • The Tensional Division between Jesus’ Teaching and that of Jewish Leaders: Beware of the Yeast of the Pharisees and Scribes
  • Jesus as a New Leader who Provides Life-Giving Source
  • Resistance to the Roman Empire
  • Jesus as the Agent of God and the Only Life-Giving Source
  • New Covenantal Community: New Ideology
  • Expansion of Boundaries
  • Matthew’s Community and Hybridity
  • 5. Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Series Index


Editor’s Preface

More than ever the horizons in biblical literature are being expanded beyond that which is immediately imagined; important new methodological, theological, and hermeneutical directions are being explored, often resulting in significant contributions to the world of biblical scholarship. It is an exciting time for the academy as engagement in biblical studies continues to be heightened.

This series seeks to make available to scholars and institutions, scholarship of a high order, and which will make a significant contribution to the ongoing biblical discourse. This series includes established and innovative directions, covering general and particular areas in biblical study. For every volume considered for this series, we explore the question as to whether the study will push the horizons of biblical scholarship. The answer must be yes for inclusion.

In this volume, Minkyu Lee examines the use of bread and the act of breaking bread as metaphors in Matthew’s Gospel. Lee argues that this use of bread in Matthew shapes and represents Matthew’s “communal identity and ideological vision.” The author contends that while much of the scholarly focus with regard to Matthew’s use of bread has been Christological in orientation and in light of the Eucharist, the use of bread is instrumental in understand the identity of the Matthean community. Lee notes, “the Gospel of Matthew re-defines and represents its own identity and the boundary of community, especially when Jesus ← ix | x → breaks bread to share with others including Gentiles and the marginalized.” Employing metaphor theory and incorporating narrative criticism, together with the concepts of hybridity and Third Space, the author establishes a strategy for interpretation. This study is certain to generate ongoing discourse, and will not only further expand the biblical horizon, but will do so in a direction that invites further conversation.

The horizon has been expanded.

Hemchand Gossai

Series Editor ← x | xi →



ABThe Anchor Bible
ABcAnalecta Biblica
ABDThe Anchor Bible Dictionary
ABSAcademia Biblica Series
ANTCAbingdon New Testament Commentaries
APOTEThe Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English
BECNTBaker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
BDAGA Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 2nd and 3rd edn.
BRBiblical Review
BSBibliotheca Sacra
BTBBiblical Theology Bulletin
CBQCatholic Biblical Quarterly
EBCThe Expositor’s Bible Commentary
IBCTPInterpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching
ICCThe International Critical Commentary
IBSIrish Biblical Studies ← xi | xii →
JAARJournal of the American Academy of Religion
JBLJournal of Biblical Literature
JETSJournal of the Evangelical Theological Society
JSNTJournal for the Study of the New Testament
JSNTSJournal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series
JSOTsupJournal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series
JSPSJournal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha Supplement Series
LNTSLibrary of the New Testament Series
NCBCThe New Cambridge Bible Commentary
NICOTNew International Commentary on the Old Testament
NIGTCThe New International Greek Testament Commentary
NTNovum Testamentum
NIBCNew International Biblical Commentary
NIDBThe New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible
PTMSPrinceton Theological Monograph Series
SBLSociety of Biblical Literature
SBTStudies in Biblical Theology
SCJStudies in Christianity and Judaism
SJStudies in Judaism
SJSDSupplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism
SNTSMSSociety for New Testament Studies Monograph Series
SNTSupplements to Novum Testamentum
SPSacra Pagina
SVCSupplements to Vigiliae Christianae
TDNTGerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich (eds.), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. (trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley; 10 vols; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans)
VTVetus Testamentum
WBCWord Biblical Commentary
WUNT2Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament. 2. Reihe ← xii | xiii →




The Purpose of the Project

Literature in the meaning of the word, as Terry Eagleton argues, is an ideology that has the most intimate relationship to questions of social power.1 If one sees “literature” in functional rather than ontological terms, the criteria of what counts as literature would be an ideological expression in which the literary work represents one’s own concerns and the values of the society one lives in. The ideology here is not so much about a physical means of enslavement but “a mental one, operating in terms of ideas, beliefs, cultural practices and religion,”2 which reveals some kind of relation to the maintenance and reproduction of social power or a vision of socialization. All these social and mental phenomena appear in literature, including in biblical literature.

Especially in the light of the functional perspective on literature, the meaning and usage of specific foods in the text reflect various components of culture, identity, and even an ideological vision.3 The image of a specific food is derived from the historical experience of a community and common knowledge, which are crucial elements for the formation of communal identity and self-consciousness. For instance, when one eats turkey on Thanksgiving Day, most North Americans know the meaning of eating turkey together and its cultural background. Likewise, Israel ← 1 | 2 → has special images and experiences of specific foods such as manna, quail, and bread. So these foods are not just nutritional supplies for satisfying human hunger when they are used as metaphors in biblical literature. Rather, the usage of food exhibits symbolic and metaphoric meaning for representing cultural identity and ideological vision beyond their literal expression.

This project will investigate the Matthean use of bread (a;rtoj) and the act of the breaking of bread as metaphors, which are not only intertwined within Matthew’s narrative plots, but also function to represent Matthew’s communal identity and ideological vision. In the Gospel of Matthew, bread (a;rtoj) and its relevant feeding scenes appear in five principal places: Jesus’ temptation (4:1–4), the Feeding of the Five Thousand (14:13–21), the Canaanite woman (15:21–28), the Feeding of the Four Thousand (15:29–39), and Jesus’ Last Supper (26:26–30). In the history of Matthean scholarship, these narrative units have been mostly interpreted independently in light of the themes of Christology and the form of Christian Eucharist, while not drawing scholarly attention to the motif of bread and the cultural conception or symbolic image of bread in the Matthean narrative context. However, when bread is recognized as a metaphor, it reveals a significant literary motif and interpretive frame for the Gospel of Matthew as a whole.

The metaphor of bread in Matthew’s Gospel implicitly connects to Israel’s indigenous sense of identity and religious imagination, while presenting the reconstruction of the communal identity of the group of Jesus’ followers that is the Matthean community, through the metaphoric act of the breaking of bread. The Israelites had a common sense of identity and self-consciousness, which were formed by their own experience with God in the past, especially the unleavened bread and manna in the wilderness: bread from heaven.4 The common knowledge and experiences of bread have led the Israelites into a common “religious imagination”5 in solidarity through the generations. As Juliana Claassens argues, the memory of the Passover meal and God’s provision in the wilderness provided some features in Israel’s religious imagination, which formats and germinates Israel’s communal identity.6 In Jewish culture, even up until first century Judaism, bread and other specific foods in the communal feast or banquet have important functions to bond people in solidarity in the sense of Jewishness and to keep the originality of the Jewish heritage, while intensifying group identities and demarcating the ideological boundaries from others.

Therefore, the memory and historical-cultural experience of food are part of the cognitive knowledge of the Israelites and sources of a conceptual metaphor in reference to feeding languages or food/bread. Through the connection to ← 2 | 3 → the Passover meal, manna, and other common memories and experiences around bread including ritual meals, one can examine the metaphoric conceptions and socio-religious image of bread in Jewish tradition, which formed the cognitive conceptual knowledge of the Jewish reader. Thus, the reader can apply these metaphoric conceptions to the interpretation of Matthean bread and its relevant narratives: how bread as metaphor functions in the Matthean narrative; how Matthean bread as literary motif communicates with the reader’s cognitive conceptions and exhibits its own meaning; and how these narratives in Matthew represent Matthew’s communal identity and reflect the community’s ideological vision.

Through the bread Jesus provides, the Gospel of Matthew re-defines and represents its own identity and the boundary of community, especially when Jesus breaks bread to share with others, including Gentiles and the marginalized (14:13–21; 15:21–28, 29–39) and identifies himself with the bread (26:26–29) as a sacrificial life-giving source, which was broken and given to others. Furthermore, while the metaphor of bread and the breaking of bread as a narrative strategy keep the Jewish indigenous socio-religious heritage, Matthew breaks down multiple boundaries of religion, ethnicity, gender, class, and the false prejudice in order to establish a new identity and ideological vision. From this perspective, one can see Matthew’s own rhetorical claims with the metaphor of bread in the context of Matthean community in struggles between formative Judaism and Roman Imperial ideology, while signifying the destruction and reconstruction of communal identity and ideological vision beyond multiple boundaries.

If we extend our reading frame beyond its literal expression and see a narrative function and cultural conceptual value of the bread as a metaphor, it is not only a powerful narrative strategy for Matthew to represent and express communal identity and ideological vision, but it also becomes an effective hermeneutic lens for the reader to interpret Matthew’s Gospel in a new way. So the purpose of this book is 1) to analyze the literary motif of bread, the rhetorical functions of bread as a metaphor, and its strategic narrative function in the Gospel of Matthew; 2) to re-read the Gospel of Matthew as a whole; and 3) to investigate the context of the Matthean community and their identity, as reflected in the metaphor of bread and the Matthean feeding narratives. Through this research, this book will provide another hermeneutic apparatus and lens to interpret Matthean feeding narratives and the references to ingestion in the Gospel of Matthew as a whole. The book presents another way to see how the Matthean community established an identity and communal vision amid the conflicts between formative Judaism and Roman Imperialism in the first century C.E. ← 3 | 4 →

Previous Studies

In the history of New Testament scholarship, many scholars have paid special attention to the references to food and meals in the light of the themes of Christian sacramentalism and Eucharist, while giving little consideration to the cultural concept of the food and the literary motif in its narrative context. A review of scholarly works on bread and other references to ingestion will clarify the purpose of this project and show the direction of the hermeneutic lens and strategy that I use in this volume. Furthermore, the review of Matthean scholarship will guide the way of research on the identity of Matthean Community in its own context. This section will briefly deal with the previous scholarly works, concerning both references to ingestion in the New Testament and the context of community in the Gospel of Matthew.


XII, 230
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (July)
use of bread matthew israel judaism methaphor of bread
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XII, 230 pp.

Biographical notes

Minkyu Lee (Author)

Minkyu Lee obtained his PhD in New Testament studies from Chicago Theological Seminary. He is currently a lecturer at several universities in South Korea.


Title: The Breaking of Bread and the Breaking of Boundaries
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