A baked food, sometimes leavened, the basic ingredient of which is flour or meal. Bread (Heb., leʹchem; Gr., arʹtos) was a staple in the diet of the Jews and other peoples of antiquity, the art of bread making being common knowledge among the Israelites, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and others. Even in modern times in some parts of the Middle East, bread is of chief importance, and other types of food are of secondary significance. At times the Bible seems to use “bread” for food in general, as at Genesis 3:19 and in the model prayer, which contains the request: “Give us today our bread for this day.”
In making bread, the Hebrews generally used wheat flour or barley flour. Wheat was more expensive, so persons might often have to content themselves with barley bread. Reference is made to barley bread at Judges 7:13; 2 Kings 4:42; and John 6:9, 13. Some flour was rather coarse, being prepared by the use of mortar and pestle. However, “fine flour” was also in use. (Ge 18:6; Le 2:1; 1Ki 4:22) The manna Jehovah God provided for the Israelites during their wilderness trek was ground in hand mills or pounded in a mortar.
It was customary to grind the grain and bake fresh bread daily, and often the bread was unleavened (Heb., mats·tsahʹ). The flour was simply mixed with water, and no leaven was added before the kneading of the dough. In making leavened bread, the general practice was to take a piece of dough retained from a previous baking and use it as a leavening agent by crumbling it into the water prior to the mixing in of the flour. Such a mixture would be kneaded and permitted to stand until it leavened.
Offerings made to Jehovah by the Israelites consisted of some baked things. (Le 2:4-13) It was not permissible to use leaven in offerings made by fire to Jehovah, though certain offerings were not burned on the altar and could contain leaven. (Le 7:13; 23:17) The use of leavened bread was not allowed during the Passover and the Festival of Unfermented Cakes associated with it.
The prominence of bread in the daily diet of Biblical times is indicated by repeated references to it throughout the Scriptures. For example, Melchizedek “brought out bread and wine” before blessing Abraham. (Ge 14:18) When Abraham sent away Hagar and Ishmael he “took bread and a skin water bottle and gave it to Hagar.” (Ge 21:14) Imprisoned Jeremiah was given a daily ration of “a round loaf of bread.” (Jer 37:21) On two occasions Jesus Christ miraculously multiplied bread to feed vast crowds. (Mt 14:14-21; 15:32-37) Jesus taught his followers to pray for “bread for the day according to the day’s requirement.” (Lu 11:3) And the psalmist fittingly identified Jehovah God as the one providing “bread that sustains the very heart of mortal man.”
Figurative Use. The term “bread,” as used in the Bible, has a number of figurative applications. For instance, Joshua and Caleb told the assembled Israelites that the inhabitants of Canaan “are bread to us,” apparently meaning that they could easily be conquered and that the experience would sustain or strengthen Israel. (Nu 14:9) Great sorrow that might be associated with divine disfavor seems to be reflected in Psalm 80:5, where it is said of Israel’s Shepherd Jehovah: “You have made them eat the bread of tears.” Jehovah is also spoken of as giving his people “bread in the form of distress and water in the form of oppression,” evidently referring to conditions they would experience under siege and that would be as common to them as bread and water.
In speaking of those who are so wicked that they “do not sleep unless they do badness,” the book of Proverbs says: “They have fed themselves with the bread of wickedness.” (Pr 4:14-17) Yes, they seem to sustain themselves on wicked deeds. Of one who may acquire the material provisions for life by deceit or fraud, Proverbs 20:17 states: “Bread gained by falsehood is pleasurable to a man, but afterward his mouth will be filled with gravel.” But regarding the good and industrious wife it is said: “The bread of laziness she does not eat.”
The Bible also uses “bread” figuratively in a favorable sense. Isaiah 55:2 shows that Jehovah’s spiritual provisions are far more important than material things, stating: “Why do you people keep paying out money for what is not bread, and why is your toil for what results in no satisfaction? Listen intently to me, and eat what is good, and let your soul find its exquisite delight in fatness itself.”
When instituting the new meal that would commemorate his death (on Nisan 14, 33 C.E.), “Jesus took a loaf and, after saying a blessing, he broke it and, giving it to the disciples, he said: ‘Take, eat. This means my body.’” (Mt 26:26) The loaf meant Jesus’ own fleshly body “which is to be given in your behalf.”
About a year earlier, Jesus Christ had contrasted “bread that comes down from heaven” with the manna eaten by the Israelites in the wilderness and had plainly stated: “I am the bread of life.” He showed that he was “the living bread that came down from heaven,” adding: “If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever; and, for a fact, the bread that I shall give is my flesh in behalf of the life of the world.” (Joh 6:48-51) This ‘eating’ would have to be done in a figurative way, by exercising faith in the value of Jesus’ perfect human sacrifice. (Joh 6:40) Jesus presented the merit of his ransom sacrifice to his Father Jehovah God upon his ascension to heaven. By means of this merit, Christ can give life to all obedient ones of mankind. As foretold under divine inspiration, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means “House of Bread” (Mic 5:2; Lu 2:11), and through Jesus Christ life-giving “bread” is provided for all believing mankind.