French bread, photo by David Monniaux, available through Creative CommonsBread is a basic food, a staple part of the daily diet in many countries of the world. In many cultures, food is not only seen as nourishment for the body but also as having spiritual significance. Sometimes this is because offering food is an essential part of hospitality, and sharing food is a sign of community.

God's provision

To have bread means to avoid hunger, and from the beginning of the Bible it is seen as provision from God. In Genesis 28:20-21, Jacob makes a vow that ‘If God will be with me … and will give me bread to eat … then shall the Lord be my God.'

In this way the provision of bread became part of the relationship between God and his people. The Old Testament relates that when the Israelites were making their way from Egypt towards the land of Canaan, and were starving in the desert, God told Moses, ‘I will rain down bread from heaven for you,' and then sent a form of bread, called manna, which appeared with the morning dew (Exodus 16:4; Exodus 16:14-15).

Jesus the Bread of Life

The idea that Jesus is the Bread of Life has multi-layered significance, representing both physical and spiritual provision for the needs of human beings. Many people know the story of the feeding of the five The feeding of the 5000thousand (John 6:1-14) where Jesus performed a miracle, ensuring that just five barley loaves and two fishes provided enough to feed a vast crowd of people. Immediately after that event, Jesus identified himself as giving spiritual nourishment to all. He reminded his followers of the gift of manna in the Old Testament, telling them, ‘It is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world … I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty' (John 6:32-33; John 6:35).

Holy Communion

The greatest significance of bread for Christians is that during the Last Supper (the final meal Jesus had with his disciples before his crucifixion), Jesus gave bread to his followers, together with wine, as a symbol of the sacrifice he was about to make by dying on the Cross to gain forgiveness for humankind. ‘And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me' (Luke 22:19). Christians remember this moment, and the sacrifice Jesus made, whenever they share bread and wine by taking part in the service of Holy Communion, or Mass.

Bread in Literature

Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale

In literature, one of the most telling and ironic instances of the spiritual significance of sharing bread and wine is in Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale. Here the three rioters (who themselves represent a terrible parody of the Trinity) decide that the youngest will fetch bread and wine, supposedly to mark their fellowship; in fact, since they feel no love and friendship, but only greed, they kill each other.

Related topics

Big ideas: Last Supper, eucharist, communion, mass

Other cultural references

Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale

Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.