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Acts 2:42-47 Biblical Commentary:
For an introduction to Acts 2, see the commentry for Acts 2:1-21.
Also see the exegesis for:
• Acts 2:14a, 22-32
• Acts 2:14a, 36-41 (which also includes verses 33-35)
ACTS 2:42. THEY CONTINUED STEADFASTLY
42They continued steadfastly (Greek: proskarterountes) in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship (Greek: te koinonia—the fellowship), in the breaking of bread (Greek: tou artou—the bread), and prayer.
“They continued steadfastly“ (proskarterountes) (v. 42a). Proskarterountes can mean “to be earnest” or “to persevere” or “to be constantly diligent” or “to adhere closely to.” This is the same word that Luke used to describe the activities of the disciples following Jesus’ ascension when he said, “All these with one accord continued steadfastly in prayer” (Acts 1:14).
The impression that Luke gives us here is of the disciples’ faithful and regular adherence “in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and the prayer.”
“in the apostles’ teaching“ (v. 42b). In his Gospel, Luke devotes a great deal of attention to Jesus’ teachings (Luke 4:16-27, 42-44; 6:1-11, 20-49; 8:4-21; 9:1-6, 21-27; 43b-50, 57-62, etc.). In his Great Commission, Jesus instructed his disciples to make disciples,“teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). He promised them that the Holy Spirit would “remind you of all that I said to you” (John 14:26).
In the Book of Acts, Luke frequently mentions teaching (2:42; 4:2; 5:21, 25, 28, 42; 13:12; 17:19; 18:11; 20:20; 28:31), but doesn’t divulge the content of that teaching. We can be sure, however, that “the apostles’ teaching” included what they had learned from Jesus as well as a strong emphasis on the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. As time passed, it would also include matters of church discipline—but not enough time has passed at this point for church discipline to be a major emphasis of church teaching.
“and fellowship“ (te koinonia—the fellowship) (v. 42c). Note that koinonia has the definite article (“the”)—just as the other three disciplines mentioned in this verse.
Many people today are familiar with the word koinonia. We talk about koinonia groups, by which we mean small groups that encourage Christian fellowship and sharing. That’s a good use of the word.
Koinonia means fellowship or sharing. Luke says of the early Christians, “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and koinonia (fellowship or sharing), in the breaking of bread, and prayer” (Acts 2:42). Paul used it to speak of the fellowship that Christians enjoy with Christ: “God is faithful, through whom you were called into the koinonia (fellowship) of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9).
The koinonia that the disciples feel will naturally express itself in the sharing of resources among themselves (vv. 44-45; see also Romans 15:26; Galatians 6:6; Philippians 4:14-20; Hebrews 13:16).
“in the breaking of bread“ (tou artou—the bread) (v. 42d). When Luke speaks of “the breaking of bread,” does he mean an ordinary meal or the celebration of the Lord’s Supper? We can’t be certain. People would use the phrase “breaking of bread” or “breaking bread” to speak of ordinary meals.
However, the use of the definite article (the bread) could point to a special meal—i.e. the Lord’s Supper. Also, “the breaking of bread” in this context is one of four activities. The other three (teaching, fellowship, and prayer) are spiritual in nature, which suggests that Luke might intend the breaking of bread to be a spiritual discipline (the Lord’s Supper) as well (Fernando, 121).
Luke records four occasions where Jesus broke bread (Luke 9:16; 22:19; 24:30, 35). One of those (22:19) was the occasion when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. The others, while speaking of ordinary meals, use language that clearly evokes the Lord’s Supper (language such as “bless,” “broke,” “gave”). In the Book of Acts, Luke records two occasions where disciples broke bread. One (20:7) refers to the Lord’s Supper, while the other (27:35) refers to an ordinary meal.
“and the prayer“ (v. 42e). The use of the definite article (the prayers) suggests that these may be set prayers used in public worship. We know that these disciples spent a good deal of time in a temple (v. 46), so the phrase, “the prayer”, probably includes prayers used in the temple. It probably also includes prayers, such as the Lord’s Prayer, which arose from a Christian context. There is no reason why it could not also include private prayers.
ACTS 2:43. FEAR CAME ON EVERY SOUL
43Fear (Greek: phobos—fear) came on every soul, and many wonders (Greek: terata—from teras) and signs (Greek: semeia) were done through the apostles.
“Fear (phobos—fear) came on every soul“ (v. 43a). The phobos mentioned here is something akin to “the fear of the Lord”—a phrase used frequently in the Old Testament and twice in the New (Acts 9:31; 2 Corinthians 5:11). In the Old Testament, the fear of the Lord is equated with wisdom (Job 28:28) and knowledge (Proverbs 1:7) and hatred of evil (Proverbs 8:13). The fear of the Lord prolongs life (Proverbs 10:27; 14:27) and gives confidence (Proverbs 14:26) and riches (Proverbs 22:4).
Phobos is a response to wonders and signs is a holy awe—the kind of deep respect that people feel in the presence of great power.
This phobos came upon everyone—believers and unbelievers—apostles and ordinary believers. There is no reason to assume that the apostles who are working these wonders and signs are not awed by the power being wielded by their own hands. They know that it is not their power, but God’s power. They know that they have a responsibility to use this power responsibly. They know that they can be held accountable for misusing God’s power. That’s enough to put the phobos of God in anyone.
“and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles“ (v. 43b). The Old Testament uses the phrase “signs and wonders” to speak of God’s revelation of himself through the use of his power in saving Israel (Exodus 7:3-5; Deuteronomy 4:34-35; 7:19; 13:1-2). That emphasis continues in the New Testament, but with the focus on the salvation effected by Jesus Christ and those whom he sent to carry out his mission (Acts 2:19-22; 14:3; 15:12; Romans 15:19; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:4).
Wonders would typically be miraculous events. Signs are actions that point to something beyond themselves. Both these wonders and these signs are for the purpose of revealing something about God—or establishing the credibility of the apostles who are working the signs and wonders.
ACTS 2:44-45. ALL WHO BELIEVED HAD ALL THINGS IN COMMON
44All who believed were together (Greek: epi to auto—at the same place), and had all things in common (Greek: koina). 45They sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, according as anyone had need.
“All who believed were together (epi to auto—at the same place), and had all things in common“(v. 44). “All…together” and “all things in common” continue the thread of unity that we have seen before (1:14; 2:1) and will see again (v. 46; 4:32).
“and had all things in common“ (koina) (v. 44b). Note the word play between koina (“in common”) in this verse and koinonia (“fellowship) in verse 42.
At first glance, we might think that this is first-century communism (minus communism’s atheism). However, modern communism is a top-down system that forces people into communal situations, regardless of their preferences. This first-century commonality is voluntary—not required or forced:
• As the next verse indicates, believers continue to own possessions and goods, and sell them as needed.
• In the story of Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-11), Peter chastised them for keeping back part of the proceeds from the sale of their property. He said, “While you kept it, didn’t it remain your own? After it was sold, wasn’t it in your power? How is it that you have conceived this thing in your heart? You haven’t lied to men, but to God.” (5:4). In other words, Ananias and Sapphira were not required to sell their property and turn over the proceeds to the church. Their sin was trying to make it appear as if they had given the full proceeds to the church while secretly holding back a portion of the proceeds. Their sin was trying to deceive God (5:4).
• Later, Luke will mention “the house of Mary” (12:12) as if she still owns her house.
“They sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, according as anyone had need“ (v. 45). “The verbs for ‘sell’…and ‘distribute’… are iterative imperfects…. This sharing was done again and again” (Bock, 152).
Some believers undoubtedly had considerable need. We know that some of the apostles left boats and livelihoods to follow Jesus. Some who had come to Jerusalem from other nations for the Passover may have elected to stay in Jerusalem after becoming believers.
The community of believers now exceeds three thousand people. In any community of that size there will always be some who are falling ill or dying and others who are suffering adverse circumstances. I worship in a church with a few hundred people on the church rolls, and the pastor usually mentions six or eight prayer requests each week—many of them quite serious. Churches with thousands of people on the rolls don’t usually try to address individual prayer concerns in worship, because doing so would take too much time. Large congregations have many needs.
The Jewish people had a tradition of distributing food to needy people, so these Christians are following a familiar practice by helping the needy. The thing that is different here is the heartfelt unity underlying their benevolence—and their willingness to make real sacrifices to help others.
ACTS 2:46-47a. THEY TOOK THEIR FOOD WITH GLADNESS
46Day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord (Greek: homothumadon—with one mind) in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness (Greek: apheloteti—simple—without pretense) of heart, 47apraising God, and having favor with all the people.
“Day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord (homothumadon—with one mind) in the temple“ (v. 46a). Jesus spent a good deal of time in the temple—cleansing it (Luke 19:45-46)—and teaching (Luke 19:47; 20:1; 21:37). Luke closed his Gospel by telling us that the disciples “were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:53). Now he tells us that they are continuing in that tradition. They have not left Judaism behind. Even though temple authorities were behind Jesus’ crucifixion, these disciples observe temple worship on a regular basis—”day by day.”
These disciples were surely aware that their participation in the temple put them in contact with large numbers of people to whom they could witness for Christ.
“and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness(apheloteti—simple—without pretense) of heart“ (v. 46b). The breaking of bread in this verse is almost certainly ordinary meals and not the Lord’s Supper. What we have pictured here is table fellowship unencumbered by pretentiousness or petty egos.
“praising God, and having favor with all the people” (v. 47a). Luke is writing the Book of Acts nearly a half century after these events took place. He paints the church in its infancy in idealistic colors, although he knows that the golden age has faded (Walasky, 47).
ACTS 2:47b. THE LORD ADDED TO THE ASSEMBLY DAY BY DAY
47bThe Lord added to the assembly day by day those who were being saved.
“The Lord added to the assembly day by day those who were being saved“ (v. 47b). The disciples were doing everything right—taking care of each other—living in harmony—worshiping God——but it was the Lord who added to their number. As Paul says in his first epistle to the Corinthians, “I planted. Apollos watered. But God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6).
In many churches today, there is a great concern for growth. Churches are often tempted to adopt the fad-of -the-month to pull in new people. Of more concern are churches who decide to avoid unpleasantries such as the crucifixion in favor of happy talk.
Brueggemann reminds us that this early church that grew so rapidly “did not devote themselves to evangelism, but to preaching and fellowship, to worship and acts of caring” (Brueggemann, 284). God honored their faithfulness by adding “to the assembly day by day those who were being saved” (v. 47b).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Barclay, William, Daily Study Bible: Acts, (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1976)
Bock, Darrell L., Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Acts (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007)
Bruce, F. F., The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Acts (Revised)(Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988)
Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year A (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995)
Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, A (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1992)
Dillman, C.N., in Bromiley, Geoffrey (General Editor), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Volume Four: Q-Z – Revised (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988)
Fackre, Gabriel, in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text. The First Readings: The Old Testament and Acts (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
Faw, Chalmer E., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Acts, (Scottdale, Pennsyvania: Herald Press, 1993)
Fernando, Ajith, The NIV Application Commentary: Acts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998)
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: The Acts of the Apostles (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003)
Polhill, John B., New American Commentary: Acts, Vol. 26 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992)
Walaskay, Paul W., Westminster Bible Companion: Acts (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998)
Wall, Robert W., The New Interpreter’s Bible: Acts, Romans, I Corinthians, Vol. X (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002)
Williams, David J., New International Biblical Commentary: Acts (Paternoster Press, 1995)
Willimon, William H., Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Acts (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988)
Willis, Wendell, in Freedman, David Noel (ed.), Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000)
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Copyright 2009, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan