Acts

2:42-47

1. The early church in Jerusalem, 1:1-5:42

vii] The life of the early Church

Synopsis

Luke has gone into some detail in recording the events surrounding the gift of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. He now gives us a thumbnail sketch of life in the first Christian church, the church that evolved following the conversion of some 3,000 people on the day of Pentecost.

 
Teaching

The gospel-focused interaction of the apostolic community of the way, through mutual sharing and worship, prompted ongoing growth.

 
Issues

i] Context: See 1:1-11.

 

ii] Structure: This passage, The life of the early church, presents as follows:

Ministry focus of the early church, v42;

Continuance of apostolic signs, v43;

Communal lifestyle, v44-45;

Worship, v46-47.

 

iii] Interpretation:

Luke's description of life in the apostolic Christian fellowship in Jerusalem reveals a church embracing mutual care (they held all things in common) and devotion (they daily attended the temple), both demonstrating their commitment to Jesus as messiah. The community's common ownership of property demonstrated a high level of commitment, although it is unclear to what extent this pooling of resources affected the private ownership of property. Acts records the ongoing ownership of property - houses, businesses, etc. cf. Acts 21:8. As Peter states in the incident with Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5, the property owned by them was theirs to do as they wished; there was no compulsion to sell it and donate part or all of the proceeds to the church. Although unstated, it is likely that Luke is describing the generous giving of surplus funds for use in a common purse. As for the community's continued involvement in Jewish practice and worship, their engagement with those outside the fellowship evidenced an evangelical spirit that stood opposed to inward looking navel-gazing.

Luke repeats and expands his description of the early church in 4:32-37 and 5:12-16. The description is somewhat of an apology, an attempt to present the Christian fellowship in a positive light - they are a caring community, not troublemakers, a community firmly tied to Judaism, not sectarian separatists. The narrative also evidences Luke's overall thesis of the planting of God's messianic community in Jerusalem and its expansion to the ends of the earth / Rome through the preaching of the gospel.

 

iv] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

 
Text - 2:42

Life in the early church, 2:42-47. i] Ministry focus of the early church, v42. The early converts placed themselves under the authoritative teaching of the Lord conveyed through the apostles. This "apostolic" teaching was finally recorded in the New Testament and so a congregation today, which submits to the New Testament, submits to the apostolic faith. Community in the early church was expressed in a number of ways. First, they fellowshipped together; they were a community of friends. Second, they shared in "the breaking of bread." This is most likely the Lord's Supper, but it could just be a fellowship meal shared by the congregation - a love-feast. The disciples would often share a meal with Jesus after he took bread, broke it and blessed it. If it is the Lord's Supper, then the "breaking" is referring to Jesus' body broken for us. Third, they devoted themselves to "prayer." We know that the members of the early church attended public worship at the temple and joined in prayer during their house meetings.

de "-" - but, and. Transitional, introducing a new literary unit.

hsan ... proskarterounteV (proskarterew) aor. mid. part. "they devoted [themselves] to" - they were continuing steadfastly, persevering, continually sticking at it and not letting up. Imperfect periphrastic construction probably serving to emphasize durative aspect of the action, ie. "constant in their attention", Johnson. The verb is related to four dative nouns: "teaching / fellowship / breaking of bread / prayer". This implies that a sense "assiduously practised what they heard" may well be the dominant meaning. "They spent all their time in listening to the apostles", Barclay.

th/ didaxh/ (h) dat. "the [apostles] teaching" - the instruction [of the apostles]. Dative of direct object after a proV prefix verb, here "devoted to", so also the following three nouns, fellowship, breaking and prayers. Probably "devoted themselves to", but possibly "in". Probably not distinct from the apostles preaching. The content is undefined, but probably the "tradition" paradosiV, ethical and practical teaching, but surely also the gospel of God's grace in Christ, "a grounding in the central promise God had given in Jesus", Bock, although contra Fitzmyer.

twn apostolwn (oV) "the apostles" - Often viewed as a subjective genitive, ie. the apostles did the teaching, but probably just adjectival, possessive.

th/ koinwnia/ (a) dat. "to the fellowship" - The article denotes that "there was something distinctive in the gatherings of the early believers", Longenecker. Presumably in the sense of a close association, "share the common life", REB. Other meanings are possible. Barrett lists four altogether: i] association; ii] communism; iii] an equivalent sense to the breaking of bread; iv] almsgiving - a sense which is supported by Paul's use of the word with regard the collection for the poor. Lohse thinks the word describes a gathering for worship. "They were like family to each other", CEV.

th/ klasei (iV ewV) dat. sing. "to the breaking" - in/to the separation of two parts. Probably a form of the Lord's supper is intended since the word is packaged between two other significant Christian acts within the fellowship of believers. None-the-less, something akin to a fellowship meal / love feast may be intended, even some other cultic meal associated with the community's continued participation in temple worship.

tou artou (oV) "of bread" - This genitive is usually classified as objective, although it can just as easily be treated as adjectival, attributive, limiting "a separation of two parts", here "of bread."

taiV proseucaiV (h) dat. "to prayer" - to the prayers. Again the presence of the article indicates particular prayers are in mind, possibly even set Jewish prayers.

 
v43

ii] The continuance of apostolic signs, v43. Peter had quoted Joel's prophecy which spoke of the dawning of the kingdom of God heralded by "signs on the earth beneath." Jesus performed such signs, and the apostles were empowered to maintain continuity between the ministry of Jesus and that of the apostolic community. For Israel, such signs fulfilled prophecy and so proclaimed the coming kingdom. Fellow Jews, who witnessed these amazing events, were filled with awe.

de "-" - but, and. Coordinative; "and".

pash/ dat. adj. "everyone" - in [every] soul. An idiomatic use of the dative, local, expressing space / sphere; "in every soul" = "everyone felt a deep sense of awe", Phillips.

egineto (ginomai) imperf. "was filled" - [and] there was occurring [fear in every soul]. "A feeling of awe was upon them all", Cassirer.

foboV (oV) "awe" - terror, fear, awe. Alt. "Fear" is possible, even "amazed", CEV, if the "everyone" means something wider than the Christian fellowship, but "awe", as in the sense of "reverential fear" seems better. The textual variant "in Jerusalem, there was great fear upon everyone" attempts to widen those who are affected and is certainly the common response to "signs and wonders."

terata kai shmeia "wonders and miraculous signs" - wonders and signs. "What revealed the heavenly accreditation of Jesus is now used by Luke to confirm the heavenly approbation of the apostles", Fitzmyer.

dia + gen. "by [the apostles]" - through, by means of. Instrumental, agency.

 
v44

iii] Communal lifestyle, v44-45: The dynamic unity of the Spirit experienced by these early believers ("the believers were together" = in fellowship / community) most likely enhanced a sense of the early return of Christ and so prompted a reaction to private property. They "had everything in common", in the sense that they viewed their possessions as the property of all. As a result, they sold their assets and divided them according to individual needs. Yet, it does seem that they kept their homes and businesses (eg. fishing boats), and so they probably only sold surplus assets which they then held in common. This communal life-style faded over time, eg. 4:32-5:11.

oiJ pisteuonteV (pisteuw) pres. part. "[all] the believers" - the ones believing. The participle serves as a substantive, although if the adjective panteV is taken as a noun, "all those", the participle serves as an attributive adjective, "all those who believed." The aorist variant would read "those who had become believers", Barrett.

h\san (eimi) imperf. "were" - The imperfect verb to-be here, as with the string of imperfect verbs that follow, is durative, expressing "established practice", Longenecker.

epi + acc. "together" - Spacial; "[were] at, in [the same]" = "were together." The believers continued to meet together in the same place, or just regularly met together. A variant drops the verb to-be h\san before the prepositional phrase and the conjunction kai, "and", after, producing a descriptive of the believers as "together in common", ie., a communal society of believers.

aJponta adj. "everything" - We know that they didn't have "everything" in common since they continued to own their own homes. It seems more likely that they held their surplus in common. None-the-less, Luke is describing a commonality highly regarded in the ancient world ("friends share everything") and practiced by some groups, eg. Qumran.

koina adj. "common" - they held everything in common, or possibly in a narrow sense, they had a common purse, held the donated funds collectively. It seems more likely that "they remained owners of property, which they put to the common use of others", Fitzmyer.

 
v45

epipraskon (pipraskw) "sold" - sell. As with diemerizon, "gave" ("divide" = "distribute"), the imperfect is durative probably expressing established practice, but possible iterative expressing repeated action, so MHT III - the selling being when needed, from time to time. Possibly, "they pooled their resources that each person's need was met", Peterson, although better "it was their custom to sell their goods and possessions, and to share out the proceeds among them, as any might need", Barclay.

kthmata (a atoV) "possessions" - Longenecker takes the view that the Christian community in Jerusalem adopted a form of communalism in line with the Qumran covenanters and this because they stressed the spiritual unity they possessed in Christ. Thus he views "possessions" as "real estate" and "goods" as "personal possessions." Whether or not this is the case it seems likely that "this sharing of material things in common is not a required communalism, but a voluntary caring response to need", Bock.

uparxeiV (iV ewV) "goods" - personal property, belongings.

pasin adj. "to everyone" - Dative of indirect object / interest - advantage. Presumably the distribution was to believers, although this is unstated.

kaqoti "-" - because. Causal conjunction often used by Luke with the sense "as / to the degree that", as here.

an + imperf. "-" - In classical Gk. this particle + opt. = iterative action, ie. repeated action. This sense is conveyed here although the classical form has weakened. The repeated giving is as someone had creian, "need", not daily.

 
v46

iv] Communal worship, v46-47: The believers gathered regularly in the temple for public worship, meeting in Solomon's colonnade on the east side of the outer court. As such, they functioned as a haburah, a Jewish sect, a feature of which was a communal meal. For the meal, they met "by households." Again, we are unsure if this meal was the Lord's Supper, or just a fellowship meal, but it is probably best to assume it was the Master's meal. The community was enriched with a sense of rejoicing and generosity (better than "sincere") and enjoyed popular good-will. They were focused in their praise of God and they grew in numbers daily. The "Lord added to their number" in the sense that God accepted those who believed in Christ - He added to the remnant those whom He intended to save. For this reason, the Christian community happily welcomed new converts into its ranks.

te "-" - then, so, and... A sequential marker. The believers were loving toward each other (acted in generosity) and loving toward God (attended the temple for worship / instruction and broke bread together; "daily they regularly frequented the temple with a united purpose and at home they broke bread together", Berkeley.

kaq hJmeran "every day" - daily, every day. Idiomatic phrase formed by the distributive use of the preposition kata + acc.; "day by day."

proskarterounteV (proskarterew) pres. part. "they continued" - persevering, devoting. As with the participle klwnteV, "breaking", this participle seems to attend the main verb "they shared [food]"; "they ate together .... breaking bread ... and continuing/devoting with one mind in the temple." Yet, it may act to modify the imperfect verb, being adverbial, temporal, as Berkeley above. The believers (not necessarily all) most likely gathered for the daily devotions at the temple, but also for the purpose of sitting under the teaching / preaching of the apostles; "day after day they met together in the temple", CEV.

omoqumadon adverb. "together". The weakened form is "together", but it possibly means "with one mind", or "unanimously".

en + dat. "in [the temple courts]" - Locative, expressing space / sphere.

klwnteV (klaw) pres. part. "they broke bread" - breaking. The participle, as above. Most likely a reference to the Lord's Supper, although a regular daily meal may be intended.

kat (kata) + acc. "in [their homes]" - Another distributive use of the preposition; "according to homes" = "from home to home" = "in each other's home"; "in their various houses", Barrett. Some argue that the reference is to a Christian meeting-house. Possibly "by households", ie. the communal meal was at the temple and the believers ate the meal together in family groups. For a haburah, a Jewish sect, a communal meal in the temple precinct was common practice.

metelambanon (metalambanw) imperf. "[ate] together" - they were sharing, partaking of [food]. It is difficult to understand how this statement relates to the breaking of bread. Was this a different meal, say a fellowship meal together? It seems best to treat this verb as commencing a new sentence which runs through to the end of v47; "So they received nourishment, praising God with happy and unruffled hearts, and enjoying the good will of all the people", Berkeley.

en + dat. "with [glad]" - The preposition is likely to be adverbial here, so "gladly and sincerely."

afelothti (afeloths) dat. sing. "sincere (hearts)" - simplicity, singleness [of heart]. Instrumental dative. Hapax legomenon, once only use in the NT, in fact, an uncommon word outside the NT, therefore the sense is disputed. "Generosity", Bruce, but also possibly "simplicity of heart", Cassirer, = "sincerity".

 
v47

ainounteV (ainew) pres. part. "praising [God]" - This participle, as with econteV, "having / enjoying the favor of", is attendant on the verb metelambanon, "they were sharaing [food]". They "ate together .... praised God and found (had) favor with all people." Possibly "giving God thanks before all the people", Begg, but rejected by Barrett. "They were always praising God and everyone liked them", Barclay.

proV + acc. "of [all the people]" - Expressing association, here a friendly relationship; "with all the people", ESV.

de "and" - but, and. Correlative, as NIV.

prosetiqei (prostiqhmi) imperf. ind. act. "added [to their number]" - of people added to, attached to, a group or an individual. An alternate reading adds tina th ekklhsia - "they were added to the church."

epi to auto "to their number" - in the same. The sense of this prepositional phrase is unclear and has prompted numerous textual variants. The preposition epi + acc. is spacial, so possibly "in that place" - "the Lord daily added to their number to the church in that place, those who were being saved", the phrase "in the church" being added to make sense of "in that place." Barrett argues that the phrase itself means "in the church / in church"; "one with the fellowship", Cassirer, "in the church fellowship", Bruce.

kaq hJmeran "daily" - Distributive, as above; "day by day."

touV swzomenouV (swzw) pres. pas. part. "those who were being saved" - the ones being saved. Participle serves as a substantive. Possibly a theological passive indicating that God was doing the saving, not the preachers; an important point to remember.

 

Acts Introduction

Exposition

 

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