Bible Review 20:4, August 2004

Dinner with Jesus & Paul

The Social Role of Meals in the Greco-Roman World

By Dennis E. Smith

For Jesus and Paul, meals were not simply everyday events. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is portrayed as teaching while at the dinner table, performing miracles at feasts and sparking controversy by his choice of dinner companions. In the churches of Paul, meals were the setting for most if not all church gatherings, whether in Antioch (Galatians 2:11–14), Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:17–34) or Rome (Romans 14:1–4, Romans 13–23).

It’s no coincidence that pivotal events and conversations in the life of Jesus and his earliest followers take place over the dinner table. Throughout the Greco-Roman world, meals were a means of creating and solidifying social bonds. A better understanding of this common practice sheds fresh light on some of the most familiar, and most crucial, New Testament events.

Consider for example Mark’s depiction of a meal of Jesus with tax collectors and sinners:

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