2:46ff One in the Apostles' Teaching, Fellowship, Breaking
Bread and Prayer
by Deborah M. Gill
Professor of Biblical Studies and Exposition
Assemblies of God Theological Seminary
The scriptural passage in focus for this year's Week of Prayer
for Christian Unity is often quoted as an exemplar-a description
of the norms-of the Early Church. And that it is! What better
model is there for us in living our lives as Christ followers
and in patterning our prayers to please him?
Moreover, these biblical norms are to be practiced in unity.
Such is an intentional emphasis of this passage on the part
of the original author. Throughout these six verses, Luke
repeatedly nuances the narrative with expressions associated
with Christian unity: such as homothymadon (Acts 2:46; cf.
1:14; 4:24; 5:12; 7:57; 8:6; 15:25; 18:12; 19:29); and epi
to auto (2:44 and 47; cf. 2:1; 1:15) among others.
The former term, homothymadon, is translated variously
throughout the New Testament in the NRSV as "together,
with one accord, [in/as one] body, unanimously, [in a] united
[manner]." Its etymology is rich. Comprised of two Greek
words: homo, "one and the same, common;" and thymos,
"mind, purpose, impulse," homothymadon, means
"unified in purpose, sharing a common mind, having one
and the same impulse." Other versions augment NRSV translation
options by rendering the expression: "in/with one accord/impulse,
in/with one voice/heart/mind, as one person, all, joined together."
There is a strong emphasis on unity with this word, homothymadon.
Even more remarkable, though, is the latter expression, epi
to auto. Though its meaning is obscure and so difficult
to render, that it is sometimes left un-translated in the
New Testament, epi to auto becomes a quasi-technical term
in Early Christian literature for unity in the Christian body.
Whereas homothymadon is used for unity in a variety
of contexts, epi to auto has a distinctively Christian
application. As these are the last three words of the Greek
text of our passage, we will return to discuss epi to auto
as the commentary reaches that place. Luke uses these words
climactically, as the root cause of the great things that
transpire after Pentecost.
For now, whet your spiritual appetite with the quest for the
fruit of the unified practice of discipleship: its consequences
for the world, and its results from God. And as you do, please
join in this prayer: "Father, make us ONE IN THE APOSTLES'
TEACHING, FELLOWSHIP, BREAKING OF BREAD, AND PRAYER."
Using this passage, as a standard is appropriate, as such
is consistent with the literary purpose of its author. Luke
composed this, his second volume, the Acts of the Apostles,
as a sequel to the Gospel of Luke. From the beginning, he
seems to have envisioned a two-part work.
Luke explains that after careful investigation (Luke 1:3),
"I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the
beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after
giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles
whom he had chosen" (Acts 1:1b-2). His purpose in writing
is "so that you may know the truth concerning the things
about which you have been instructed" (Luke 1:4).
The setting, both literary and historical, is the Day of Pentecost-the
birthday of the Church. Faithful to Jesus' command, one hundred
twenty of his followers (eleven of the original apostles,
certain of his female followers, and Jesus' mother and his
brothers [Acts 1:14-15]) had remained in Jerusalem and waited
(ten days) for the "promise of the Father." Jesus
had previously told them, and now had recently pledged within
in a few days, that they would be baptized in the Holy Spirit
On that appointed day, their unity was evident. Luke uses
both the term homothymadon in 1:14; and epi to auto
in 1:15 and 2:1. In such a unified spiritual environment,
the Holy Spirit was poured out, just as (according to Peter)
Joel had promised (cf. Acts 2:16-21 and Joel 2:28-32). The
supernatural manifestations were magnificent. "[A] sound
like the rush of a violent wind
filled the entire house
where they were sitting," which Luke is careful to point
out "came from heaven" (Acts 2:2). "Tongues,
as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each
of them" (2:3). And most amazing of all, "All of
them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in
other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability" (2:4).
This remarkable event caught the attention of persons from
far away places (2:9-11), which were temporarily in the city
of Jerusalem for pilgrimage (2:5). Jews of the Dispersion
and Gentile proselytes and God-fearers, who could afford to
financially, would "go up" to the Holy City annually,
arriving in time to celebrate the Passover and staying through
the Feast of Pentecost. "Amazed and astonished"
that they could hear in their own languages Galileans
"speaking about God's deeds of power," they asked,
"What does this mean?" (2:7-12).
Peter lost no time in declaring the eschatological significance
of the event (2:16), quoting Joel's prophecy (2:17-21), and
thus proclaiming the way of salvation. He moved immediately
into identifying Jesus Christ as the "Lord" by rehearsing
the following elements of the kerygma (an early pattern of
apostolic preaching). God validated Jesus of Nazareth through
deeds of supernatural power; God foreordained the crucifixion
and raised Jesus from the dead (2:22-24). Prophecies confirm
the death and resurrection of the Messiah (2:25-32, 34-36).
Jesus, whom God has raised and exalted to his right hand,
has received the promise of the Father and has poured out
what these witnesses could now see and hear (2:33). God has
made the one whom they crucified to be both Lord and Messiah
Conviction led the crowd to ask Peter and the other apostles,
"Brothers, what should we do?" (2:37). Peter explained
the necessary steps and their consequence. In the Greek text,
this sentence contains three main verbs, two commands (in
the imperative mood) and one promised result (in the indicative
mood, future tense): (1) repent and (2) be baptized
in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins;
and you, too, (3) will receive this gift of the Holy
Inclusivity and Unity
God's promises, and consequently, Peter's invitations are
both broad in their intended audience. Peter welcomes all
to receive the Holy Spirit. He explains that the Spirit is
the precious gift from the Father and is meant "for you"-the
original, Day-of-Pentecost audience of Jews (from Judea [2:14]
and of the Diaspora), for "your" descendents throughout
history, and for all Gentiles. [Those who are] "far
away," makran, is a Jewish technical term used in New
Testament times for the Gentiles. Thus, this gift (the very
Spirit of God dwelling in a believer) is for everyone from
every ethnicity in every generation whomever the Lord God
will call to himself (2:39). Talk about an inclusive invitation-here
is a foundation for prayer for unity!
This is not the first time in this chapter, though, that God
has opened his arms wide to all. The prophecy of Joel, with
which Peter identifies the events of the day, is expansive
in its inclusivity. Joel wrote that God had promised in the
last days he would pour out his Spirit on all flesh, regardless
of gender ("your sons and daughters shall prophesy"
[2:17a]), regardless of age ("your young men shall see
visions and your old men shall dream dreams" [2:17b]),
and regardless of class ("Even upon my slaves, both men
I will pour out my Spirit; and they will
Early in the chapter, near the beginning of Peter's sermon,
we learn that the gift of salvation is also granted to "everyone
who calls on the name of the Lord" (2:21). Later in the
chapter, towards the end of Peter's homily, we realize that
it is God who initiates the call (2:39). Everyone who calls
on God for salvation has first been enabled to call on God,
through the Holy Spirit; and Scripture affirms again and again,[i]
that God's call to salvation is universal.
The precursor of Christian unity is the inclusivity of the
call of God. Since God created all peoples to come to know
him (Acts 17:24-27), God wills that the composition of Christ's
church be diverse, a gathering into one of all God's children
who are presently dispersed (John 11:51-52). Inclusivity is
a recurrent theme in Luke's writings. From the beginning of
the book of Acts, Luke (through the words of Jesus) makes
us aware that the purpose of the power of the Holy Spirit
is to share the good news to the ends of the earth (1:8)-so
wide is Christ's reach in salvation. As the Spirit is poured
out enabling Christ's servants for ministry, Luke emphasizes,
"all were filled with the Holy Spirit" (2:4) and
that tongues of fire had "rested on each of them"
(2:3). The callings of God to salvation and to service are
universal, limited only by our willingness to answer.
As Peter's message closes, an enormous crowd responds to the
invitation. "So those who welcomed his message were baptized,
and that day about three thousand persons were added"
(2:41). The very next verse (42) is the first verse of our
scriptural passage: "They devoted themselves to the apostles'
teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the
prayers." Although some translations [ii] place this
verse as the topic sentence of the following paragraph (designating
the paragraph as vv. 42-47) and thus seeing it as a description
of the life of the Early Church after Pentecost, the
New Revised Standard Version and others [iii] view this sentence
as an integral part of Pentecost-Luke's culmination to the
events of the day. As incredible a spiritual ingathering of
3,000 converts might be, still, a community of committed disciples
is a greater testimony!
By retaining v. 42 as part of the preceding paragraph (which
begins at v. 37), we connect this sentence as the conclusion
to and consequences of Peter's explanation regarding how to
have ones sins forgiven and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit
[iv] (NRSV). Such a context for v. 42 (i.e., keeping it part
of the preceding paragraph) also makes the subject of the
verb very clear, and answers the question, "Who devoted
themselves to the four items listed?" The unexpressed
subject, the antecedent of "they," is the "about
three thousand persons," who "welcomed his message,"
"were baptized," and "were added" to the
Church that day-they are the ones who devoted themselves to
the unified practice of discipleship.
Following the NRSV paragraphing, then, we thus interpret verse
42, not as the start of a paragraph relating details about
a new religious institutional reality, but as a transition
linking the people and purpose of Pentecost to the robust
life of the nascent Church. Luke distills the devoted discipleship
of the earliest Church to four essential elements. When believers
live out of such a life in unity as brothers and sisters of
Christ, the impact on the world for Christ's Kingdom is great!
|Quintessence of Christian Unity
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and
fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
It is evident that the author
Luke is an educated person and a careful Greek writer. He
clearly organized the structure of our passage in order to
demonstrate his own emphases. Verse 42 contains the "Quintessence
of Christian Unity"-Luke's condensation of the portrait
of Church life in the light of Pentecost to four consummate
essentials. In the paragraph following (vv. 43-47), an "Explication
of Christian Unity," Luke expands on the four elements
and their consequences. These four elements are not only keys
to maintaining the unity of the Church, but also pointers
regarding how to pray for unity. (Though Luke presents his
list as four elements, its items overlap. Some would re-categorize
Luke's list into two distinct items: teaching and fellowship,
with breaking of bread and prayer falling in the latter. [v]
Others may note that all four items are descriptive
of New Testament koinonia, or of biblical discipleship.
We have chosen to follow Luke's four-part structure.) We will
mention these four elements and their byproducts now as they
are listed in vv. 42-43, and then return to look at them in
greater detail as Luke expands upon them in the following
paragraph, vv. 44-74.
The 3,000 persons who had such a powerful experience with
the Holy Spirit on that day, immediately began devoting
themselves [vi] to a new lifestyle in light of Pentecost.
Luke makes a major tense shift with the first word of v. 42.
The prevailing tense up to this point in Acts is the aorist.
Luke narrates the events surrounding Pentecost in the simple
past tense. All the main (i.e., finite) verbs of all six verses
in our passage (Acts 2:42-47), however, are in the imperfect
tense. (In Greek, the imperfect indicates past time, continuous
action.) Thus from the opening word of our passage, Luke is
no longer relating one-time occurrences in the history of
the Church, but is now describing the habitual lifestyle and
repeated practices of prototypical Christians.
The "to be" verb in the imperfect tense (esan),
plus the participle of proskarteo in the present/progressive
(proskarterountes), combine to create a periphrastic
imperfect construction. With the force of a frequentive or
iterative imperfect, the beginning of the sentence could be
translated "They continually devoted themselves
." When, however, an author uses a series of imperfect
verbs (as Luke does from vv. 42-47), the first in that series
may indicate a focus on the beginning of those regular, repeated
actions. Such "inceptive" use of the imperfect could
be translated, "They began devoting themselves
." The verb proskartereo means, "to be faithful
to, to attach oneself to, to persist in, to persevere in."
The verb carries an emphasis on continuity and takes dative
of the person to whom, or thing to which, one is devoted.
Following this verbal construction, Luke lists four nouns
and noun phrases in the dative case as objects of the disciples'
devotion. (Interestingly, in the Greek, all four take definite
articles, giving a slightly different nuance in several cases
than what we might expect in English.) Literally, "They
began devoting themselves to the teaching of the apostles
and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the
prayers." From this list in v. 42, the four objects
of the disciples' devotion seem clear enough, but when he
explicates them in the following paragraph (vv. 43-47) we
realize that Luke does not have our twenty-first-century connotations
of these terms-especially of "fellowship"-in mind.
(We will return to insights on these four elements in the
discussion of the following paragraph of text [vv. 43-48].)
By sentence diagramming the Greek text of our passage (vv.
42-47), we see that Luke presents a three-part progression
of the description, consequences, and results of Christian
unity twice. The first progression is brief; it is one sentence
long, an unadorned list of four elements [the "Quintessence
of Christian Unity"] (v. 42) followed by a concise summary
of consequences and results (v. 43). The second time Luke
presents the progression, he expands on it (clarifying and
developing it in greater detail) and slightly modifies the
order. In vv. 42-43, for example, Luke moves from a description
of the behavior of believers > to its consequences
for others > to the subsequent results, which come
from God. Then in vv. 44-47, Luke goes through the same
progression (of the description, consequences, and results
of Christian unity) again, augmenting his analysis now to
four verses. See the overview summary outlines below. (At
the end of this commentary, these outlines appear again, fully
annotated with a condensed version of the commentary.)
FRUIT OF THE UNIFIED PRACTICE
INTRODUCED (IN TWO VERSES)
|1. Behavior of Believers [viii]
[v. 42 ] (which produces > )
2. Consequences in Others [ix] [v. 43a ] (and brings
3. Results from God [v. 43a]
EXPANDED (IN FOUR VERSES)
1'. Behavior of Believers [v. 44-47a] (which produces
2'. Consequences in Others [v. 47b] (and brings
3'. Results from God [v. 47c]
In his sequencing, Luke saves
the best for last-climaxing each progression with the results
God gives. In his development, however, Luke invests most
words and verses in describing the lifestyle of believers.
Thus we know that the behavior of Christ's followers is definitely
the focus of our passage. As we apply this passage to the
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we see that Christ's disciples
can do a great deal to promote unity; and when we do, the
world will take note, and God will take action and receive
Explication of Christian Unity
|43 Awe came upon everyone, because many
wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.
Luke moves immediately to explicate
the ramifications of such a unified practice of discipleship.
Verse 43 contains two independent clauses: "Fear, reverence,
or awe" came upon "every soul" (which includes
even those persons outside the Church); and many "wonders
and signs were being done by the apostles." The NRSV
connects the two clauses with the conjunction, "because,"
suggesting that the wonders and signs of the apostles were
the cause of the awe on the part of the entire population.
The Greek text, however, contains no such conjunction (hoti).
In fact, however, the Greek contains the enclitic particle
te. This particle is used in Acts far more frequently than
in any other book in the New Testament (over 150 times). Its
primary use is as a "marker of close relationship between
sequential states or events" and is to be translated
as "likewise, and so, so." [x]
Therefore, a translation of "because" is ruled out
as it is not a valid translation for te; "and" is
possible; but "and so" is most probable. The text
should be translated, Awe came upon everyone, and so,
many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.
Jesus' did not do many mighty works in places filled with
unbelief (and disbelief!) (Matthew 13:58). His power was most
active, however, where there was faith. Reverence for God
throughout the whole community-even outside the Church-a consequence
of the behavior of the believers, resulted in the supernatural:
many wonders and signs.
A "wonder," teras, is "something that
astounds because of transcendent association; a prodigy, portent,
or omen." A "sign," semeion, is a "distinguishing
mark whereby something is known; an event that is an indication
or confirmation of intervention by transcendent powers; a
miracle, or portent. [xii] " The supernatural work of
God is a sign pointing to the reality of God, and an evidence
of his presence among his people. What are the end results
of the kind of devoted discipleship described in v. 42? God
did great works and gained great glory.
That completes Luke's first progression, which can be summarized
|(Behavior of Believers)
o As the Christians were devoting themselves to the unified
practice of discipleship;
(Consequence in Others)
o the world was reverencing God and
(Results from God)
o God was doing great things and gaining glory.
With v. 44, Luke begins the three-part
progression of the description, consequences, and results
of the practice of Christian unity a second time, this time
with several expansions-and one abbreviation.
|44 All who believed were together and
had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions
and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had
need 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in
the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food
with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having
the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord
added to their number those who were being saved.
Devoted to Alignment with Christ
The first of the four elements of discipleship, described
in v. 42 as "devoting themselves to the teaching of the
apostles" is abbreviated in v. 44a in the NRSV phrase,
"All those who believed were together." This is
the first time in the Book of Acts that Luke uses the term
"believers" or "those who believed" (the
participle of pisteuo used substantively). On the Day of Pentecost
(v. 41), the group of 3,000 is described as "those who
welcomed, accepted, or received his message;" but now
(in v. 44) they have already become "believers."
What makes them believers? Consistent with Luke's formula:
embracing the teaching of the apostles constitutes being a
What is involved in embracing (being devoted to) the teaching
of the apostles?
The Church had just been born and the only teachers as yet
were the apostles. Jesus, in the Great Commission (Matthew
28:19-20) had commanded them to make disciples. Not only were
they to proclaim ["whenever and wherever they go"
[xiii] ] the gospel, or Good News announcement, that Jesus
is Lord and Savior of all peoples; and to baptize converts
upon the confession of their faith; but also they were to
teach them to obey all the things that Jesus had commanded
There is no discipleship in embracing Truth in the head, unless
it also penetrates the heart, and transforms ones life. Devotion
to the apostles' teaching would involve not only receiving
and believing the message of Christ, but also aligning ones
life with his. Obedience to Christ's commands and conformity
to Christ's life are the non-negotiable characteristics of
being a disciple and the source from which all other discipleship
practices flow. This is what is meant by being devoted to
the teaching of the apostles: not simply information-but transformation!
Not only are they believers (devoted to the teaching of the
apostles), but they are "together" in their belief
(Greek: epi to auto). This obscure phrase, which refers
to unity of the Body of Christ, is the predicate of the sentence.
Luke uses a finite (imperfect, i.e., continuous past action)
"to be" verb, esan, to make this an independent
clause. It is the main idea, grammatically speaking. Literally,
"All who were believing were continuing to be in a condition
of Christian unity."
In v. 42, devotion to alignment with Christ ("to the
teaching of the apostles") was first among the four practices
of the lifestyle in light of Pentecost. In v. 44, the practice
of "all those who were believing" is expanded to
include the continuous condition of their "being united."
[Now] all the believers were united.
Devoted to Sharing with the Needy
In the short list of v. 42, koinonia is the second of the
four dative nouns to which the disciples since Pentecost were
devoted. In v. 44b of the expanded edition, Luke presents
this as a main idea (an independent clause with a finite verb):
kai eichon hapanta koina. "[They] had all things in common."
Literally, reflecting the imperfect tense of echo, They
were having all things in common, i.e., they
were possessing all things collectively.
From a cursory reading of the English text, "they devoted
to fellowship," a twenty-frist-century
audience may assume that this "fellowship" refers
to an informal chumminess of the early Church, a friendly
association with people who share similar interests. [xiv]
So typical is such an understanding of the English word "fellowship"
when it is used in a religious context, that "church
fellowship" is an entry of its own in the thesaurus.
[xv] Yet too often that kind of "club-like" fellowship,
when practiced in the local church, is regrettably more exclusive
Let us look beyond our present-day setting to what Luke was
referring when he explained that the believers were devoting
themselves to "the fellowship" (v. 42). Verse 44b
expands on the biblical concept in reporting: "they had
all things in common;" and verse 45 explains how they
got to this point: "they would sell their possessions
and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need."
The fellowship of the early Church was no mere club for Christians,
nor a guild for the godly. It was a brotherhood and sisterhood
of Christ-followers who took to heart the needs of the greater
community, and gave of their own resources to meet them.
The noun, koinonia (in v. 42), is the Greek word translated
"fellowship." The adjective koinos, [xvi]
(in v. 44), [having all things] "in common," shares
the same root. The numerous Greek cognates in the koinonia
word group pertain to being of mutual interest or shared collectivity;
to be communal, or common. [xvii] The adverb, koine,
for example, describes what is done collectively, or together.
[xviii] The verbs, koinoo and koinoneo, mean
to make one a participant [in something], to share [something
with someone], to have a share [in], and to participate [in].
"To share or participate in the deeds of others means
to be equally responsible for them.
something can reach such a degree that one claims a part in
it for oneself." [xix] When these early believers saw
a need, they accepted responsibility, took it on as their
own, and did their part to meet it. In so doing they become
"companions, partners, sharers," koinonoi (koinonos,
singular). [xx] One who has learned to live out this kind
of "fellowship," who is inclined to giving and sharing
what is ones own, is characterized as koinonikos, "generous,
liberal." [xxi] Paul uses the word koinonia when
he thanks God for the Philippians (Philippians 1:5) who shared
in supporting his gospel ministry and for those for Macedonia
and Achaia who were pleased to make a contribution
for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem (Romans 15:26).
Keener explains, "The Greek language Luke uses [in vv.
43-35] is language that Pythagoreans and others used for the
ideal, utopian community." The Jews in Qumran, for example,
"turned all their possessions over to the leaders of
the community so they could all withdraw from society. That
is hardly the case here, although the economic sharing is
no less radical." [xxii] This sharing of the early Christians,
however, was not a form of communism, where there was no private
property. "Rather, what is described here is that no
one was claiming any exclusive right to whatever property
he or she had, and when need arose the early Christians readily
liquidated what assets they had to take care of fellow believers'
What did it mean for them to devote themselves to "the
fellowship"? (Not that they were church potluck junkies!)
Church "fellowship" of the New Testament, koinonia,
is less of a closed club for Christians, and more of a personal
partnering to meet people's needs. The Early Church was a
community of compassion. Not mandated by a higher up, koinonia
is a voluntary, sacrificial act of love. Keener calls it,
"the practice of radically valuing people over possessions."
[xxiv] After selling and dividing their own resources, they
possessed all things in common, collectively, communally.
Some emergent churches have found a way to mitigate against
materialism and practice, as a community, a kind of first-century
koinonia in the twenty-first century. They intentionally
possess collectively certain household tools or appliances,
e.g., a chain saw, a garden tiller, or a carpet steam cleaner.
Since the average household does not use those items daily,
there is no need for every family to buy one of their own,
store it, and maintain it for such infrequent use. These contemporary
Christians have suggested, "Why not own those things
collectively, save the extra expense, and invest it in meeting
In The Rise of Christianity, sociologist Rodney Stark,
chronicles the story of early (post-New Testament) Christians
who practiced koinonia. During times of plague that frequently
swept through ancient cities and decimated the population,
Christians' compassion for the suffering extended beyond their
own families. They took responsibility to care for the diseased
and dying of other families in the same gentle and loving
way as they cared for their own. What resources they possessed
they willing shared with the needy. Those who were nursed
back to health often chose to follow Jesus. And pagan family
members, who had abandoned loved ones in their own flight
from infection, witnessed upon their return home the sacrificial
koinonia of the Christians. So impressed were they
with this kind of generous compassion, that many accepted
Christ as Savior and joined themselves to the community of
this kind of people. [xxv]
What source of funds did these early Christians tap to meet
the needs of the impoverished? Not the government dole, nor
the coffers of the religious institution, but the personal
property of the believers. To arrive at the place of holding
all things collectively, their regular practice was selling
and distributing. Luke invests a full, compound sentence (with
two finite verbs) in explanation. They were selling
their possessions and goods and they were distributing the
proceeds to all, as anyone was having need.
The believers would sell their possessions and goods, ktemata
(ktema, singular) and hyparxeis (hyparxis, singular).
Though both terms are near synonyms, when they appear together
they are nuanced variously. Luke uses the former term to refer
to "that which is acquired or possessed
property; a field, or piece of ground." [xxvi] The latter
term from hyparcho, "I exist," refers to
"property, possessions, belongings," the things
necessary to sustain existence or that which ought "to
be in ones service for ones well being." [xxvii]
A Greek reader, noting etymological roots, would notice Luke's
striking play on words.
|o The believers were "un-acquiring"
their acquisitions (getting rid of what they got, selling
what they bought).
o They were scattering what they had gathered (distributing
what they collected,
sharing with others what they had kept for themselves).
o Things they had once safeguarded in order to sustain
their own existence,
were now being shared in the service of others, because
they had come to recognize and take responsibility for
those with needs.
In Lucan theology, the worst
hypocrisy for a believer is to be rich and stingy! [xxviii]
Devoted to Worship
In Acts 2:46-47 Luke describes the "every day" lifestyle
of these disciples. He begins the clause with the words kat'
hemeran, "day by day," and ends the clause with
a parallel expression, kat' oikon, "house to house."
Luke's focus on the activities of this community of believers
features two contrasting locations: the Temple and the home.
Interestingly, the verb (a participle) Luke uses to begin
v. 46, is the same verb (and also a participle) he used (periphrastically,
i.e., with the imperfect of the "to be" verb) to
begin our passage in v. 42: proskarterountes, "devoting
themselves to," or "persevering in," with an
emphasis on "continuation." The English translation
of v. 46 states no object of their devotion; but the Greek
text clarifies with the adverb, homothymadon. That
powerful adverb of unity is translated variously as "in
one accord, with one heart, as one." Luke uses it here
to emphasize the unity in their worship of God: Day
by day, as they were continuing in one accord in the Temple
. Not only was their corporate worship consistent and
regular, but it was also unified!
"Temples were among the best public places to gather,
and people often congregated there." [xxx]The favorite
meeting place of the young Christian congregation was Solomon's
Colonnade in the Temple on the eastern edge of the outer court.
There they would carry on discussions and offer praise to
In v. 42 (the "Quintessence of Christian Unity"),
when Luke simply lists, without comment, the four essential
elements of early Christian discipleship, the fourth and final
element (in that list) to which they were devoting themselves
was "the prayers." Used with the definite article
and in the plural, suggests Luke is referring to formal prayers,
both Jewish and Christian. There were hours of public prayer
in the morning and evening offerings in the Temple for the
Jews and the early Christian believers participated in them
|The earliest believers not only viewed
the old forms as filled with new content, but also in
their enthusiasm they fashioned new vehicles for their
praise. In addition, it is not difficult to envision the
earliest believers using extemporaneous prayers built
on past models-such as Mary's Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55),
Zechariah's Song of Praise (Luke 1:67-79), or Simeon's
Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:28-32). [xxxi]
Devoted to Friendship with
The Greek clause in v. 46 does not begin with a main verb;
it begins with two (dependent) participial clauses: one describing
the believers' practices in the Temple; and one referring
to practices in the home. Following, and grammatically supporting
these two previously mentioned dependent participial clauses,
comes the independent clause-the main thought of the sentence-which
describes their meal fellowship: "[they] ate their food
with gladness and sincerity of heart." Here again, Luke
uses an imperfect tense (emphasizing continued past action)
of the verb, metalambano, "I share in, receive, partake
of," thus literally, "they were partaking of their
food." The predicate participles are in the present tense
(also emphasizing progressive, i.e., continuous, action) and
functioning adverbially, i.e., and while breaking bread
from house to house, they were partaking of their food
Just what does this "breaking [of] bread" refer
to? F. F. Bruce, in his commentary on the Greek text lists
the three options: the Eucharist, an Agape feast, or an ordinary
meal. Bruce succinctly suggests, "if we gather from v.
46 that they took the principal meal of the day in each other's
houses, observing the Lord's Supper each time they did so,"
this "breaking bread" probably refers to all three.
[xxxii] An important part of the lifestyle of these new converts
was communal meals. Such intimate friendship with believers
and hospitality in their homes was an effective vehicle for
relational discipleship as well as a successful social bridge
for evangelism, especially in the first century.
|Most special groups in antiquity ate together
(mystery cults, Pharisaic fellowships, burial associations,
etc.). Many Greek associations met for communal meals
only once a month, however (contrast 2:46). This earliest
Christian practice of daily meals (later reduced to weekly)
is thus noteworthy.
Table fellowship denoted intimacy, and discussions or
even lectures at meals were common. Given the topic of
discussion recommended by Jewish pietists and what this
text says about teaching and prayer (possibly including
participation in the temple prayers- 3:1), early Christian
fellowship undoubtedly centered more on intimate worship,
sharing and learning the Scriptures than its modern Western
counterpart tends to do. [xxxiii]
Luke adds one final description
(a prepositional phrase) to their practice of bread breaking:
"they broke bread at home and ate their food with
glad and generous hearts" [emphasis added]. Again,
the Greek text contains another nuance of the unity of the
early Christian's practice of discipleship. The object of
the prepositional phrase (cf. "hearts" in the English
translation italicized above) is singular in Greek ("heart");
literally, "with gladness
of heart." The
collective individuals of the corporate community possess
a singular heart!
The New Testament concept of the heart refers, in an all-inclusive
sense, to the inner life of humans. The "seat of physical,
spiritual and mental life." [xxxiv] The unified heart
of the early Christian community is characterized by the joy
of their discipleship relationships and by their aphelotes.
Strong's lexicon presents the etymology of this word as the
compound of phellos (in the sense of a stone as stubbing
the foot) prefixed with a negative particle a-. [xxxv] Their
unified heart was like a field of good soil, not stony and
shallow: "without stone." Their inner motivations
were entirely uncontaminated by any cause for stumbling. The
term aphelotes came to mean, singleness, simplicity,
[xxxvi] and generosity; from its use for the "humility
associated with simplicity of life - 'humility, humbleness,
simplicity." And while breaking bread from house to
house, they were partaking of their food with a glad and
As Luke transitions from the explication of these early disciples'
devotion to its consequences for others he adds that they
were praising God. Whether their praising took place
in the Temple or in the homes-or both-it too, was part of
their regular practice of worship.
Consequences in Others
In Luke's first progression, he cites as the consequence in
others of the unified practice of discipleship: "awe
came upon everyone" (v. 43), literally, "fear came
upon every soul." By using psyche (soul) instead
of a different word for "people," Luke is not limiting
this reaction to the Christians, nor the Jews; fear came upon
on all [kinds of] people (inclusively). Others were reverencing
In this his second, expanded progression, the first of the
fruits of the unified practice of discipleship is favor. These
early Christians were having the goodwill of all the
people. The Greek word for "people" here,
laos, refers to the people of Israel. Early in Acts, the response
of the laos toward the Christians and their lifestyle
was largely favorable. In fact, the stricter Jewish Christians
of Jerusalem, like James, were held in respect among the Jews
for quite a long time. [xxxvii] As the narrative of Acts progresses,
Luke reports how the attitude of the laos toward the Church
worsens; but at this point in the narrative, Luke shows Christianity
as the fulfillment of all that is Jewish, and that the early
mission to the Jews was well received. [xxxviii] The people
of Israel were respecting the Church.
Results from God
The fruit of the unified practice of discipleship is not only
the goodwill of others; the results granted by God are even
greater! "And day by day, the Lord added to their number
those who were being saved" (v 47b). Again we note Luke's
emphasis on the regular, recurrent nature of his account (literally):
And day by day the Lord was adding
were being saved.
God's salvific work in the world is the climax of the whole
passage! And to what can it be attributed? Luke uses that
obscure phrase, those three Greek words: epi to auto, as the
culminating root cause of the great things that transpire
after Pentecost. This may be his point of the whole passage.
The phrase, epi to auto, is a Greek idiom that defies
literal translation. (The NRSV translates it "together"
in v. 44 and as "their number" in v. 47.) The meaning
of the phrase is obscure in the New Testament, though its
use is quite common in Classical Greek and in the Septuagint.
Yet the term "acquired a quasi-technical meaning in the
early church" signifying the union of the Christian body,
such as "in church fellowship." [xxxix]This light
from early Christian literature illuminates our understanding
of the New Testament. Paul uses the term in 1 Corinthians
11:20 for the gathering of the congregation for the Lord's
Supper and in 1 Corinthians 14:23 for the meetings of the
corporate body when spiritual gifts are in use. Luke intends
this nuance in Acts 1:15 (of the one-hundred-twenty tarrying
together in the Upper Room) and also in 2:1 (for their all
being in one spirit and in one place on the Day of Pentecost).
F. F. Bruce renders the term as "together in Christian
fellowship," noting that early Christians may have been
recognized as a separate synagogue within the Jewish community-the
"Synagogue of the Nazarenes." [xl] Interestingly,
the Hebrew equivalent (hayahad) is something of a technical
term for the community at Qumran (cf. 1QS 1:1; 3:7). Witherington
adds, epi to auto "refers to a gathered group
in harmony with one another." [xli]
With the final three words (epi to auto), Luke climaxing the
result of the disciples' lifestyle in light of Pentecost "And
to this group gathered in harmony with one another the Lord
was adding day by day those who were being saved."
That completes Luke's second
progression, which can be summarized as follows:
(Behavior of Believers)
o As the Christians were devoting themselves to the
unified practice of discipleship;
(Consequence in Others)
o the Church was enjoying the favor of the people; and
(Results from God)
o to their unity [epi to auto] [xlii] God was
adding the souls he was saving.
Contextually, our passage, Acts 2:42-47, provides a transition
from the events of the Day of Pentecost to the birth of the
Church and a summary of the practices of the earliest Christians.
Those first 3,000 who welcomed Peter's message about Jesus
Christ, believed and were baptized, immediately began to devote
themselves to a new lifestyle in light of Pentecost. Their
lifestyle is still exemplary to all who want to live as New
Throughout our passage, Luke, emphasizes two things. First,
the fact that every finite (main) verb in our passage is in
the imperfect tense (describing continuous past action) demonstrates
the nature of his narrative. [xliii] Luke is describing the
regular, recurrent, everyday practices of the earliest Christians.
These are the things they immediately began to do (v. 42)
and kept on, continually, doing (vv. 44-47). Second, the frequent
use of both common and unique vocabulary related to unity
and inclusivity reveals the center of Luke's focus. These
early believers practiced their discipleship together! They
were unified in (not only the accepting the teachings of the
apostles about Christ, but also in) their adherence to commands
of Christ. They were possessing all things collectively, and
as anyone had need they would sell and divide the proceeds.
Day by day, they continued in one accord in their worship
in the Temple. Going from house to house among the believers
they were breaking bread and partaking of their meals. They
were of one heart in their lifestyle, their attitudes, and
in enjoying God's blessings.
Structurally, Luke lists four elements of their practice of
discipleship (first in v. 42, as the "Quintessence of
Discipleship") then progresses to the consequences in
others and the results from God (in v. 43). In vv. 44-47,
Luke repeats the progression of their practice of discipleship,
its consequence in others, and its result from God (in an
"Explication of Discipleship"). Together, this twice-presented
progression reveals the "Fruit of the Unified Practice
The regular, unified Christ-like behavior of these early followers
of Jesus (devoting themselves to: aligning their lives with
Christ; sharing with the needy; enjoying authentic friendship
with believers; and worshiping God) continued to produce positive
consequences in the greater community: every soul reverenced
God, and the believers had the favor of all the people. The
ultimate fruits of this unified practice of discipleship are
the results that come from God: signs and wonders and souls.
The Holy Spirit continued granting signs and wonders through
the apostles (v. 43); and (as Luke's grand climax) to the
unity of these Christ-followers the Lord kept adding daily
the ones who were being saved (v. 47). A healthy, unified,
Christian community attracts people to Christ!
When these Christians consistently lived this kind of discipleship
in unity as brothers and sisters of Christ, the witness to
the world, the glory gained for God, and the impact for Christ's
Kingdom was great! What better model is there for us in living
our lives as Christ-followers and in patterning our prayers
to please him?
May we not only come to know what is the fruit of the unified
practice of discipleship, both its consequences for the world
and its results from God, but may we also come to fully experience
it. "Father, make us ONE IN THE APOSTLES' TEACHING, FELLOWSHIP,
BREAKING OF BREAD, AND PRAYER."
i See, for example: John 1:4, 7, 9,
ii E.g., KJV, NKJV, and NIV.
iii E.g., RSV, NASB, and the Message.
iv "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name
of Jesus Christ
" (Acts 2:38).
v Ben Witherington, III. The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical
Commentary. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
vi Text in bold italics is my personal translation of the
vii Fredrick William Danker, editor and reviser. A Greek-English
Lexicon of the New Testament
and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Accordance
electronic edition. Chicago:
University of Chicago, 2000), 881. (Abbreviated hereafter:
viii Verse 42 = the "Quintessence of Christian Unity."
ix Verses 43-47 = the "Explication of Christian Unity."
x BDAG, 993. The secondary use of te is as a coordinate, between
non-sequential items; and it is often
confused in the manuscript tradition with de (a common conjunction
meaning "but, and" or "now"). None of
the meanings mentioned in the lexicon,
however, is "because."
xi BDAG, 999.
xii BDAG, 920.
xiii This is the force of the "go" of the Great
Commission, which is not the main verb, but
a predicate participle, functioning adverbially.
xiv Apple Electronic Dictionary, version 2.1.3 (80.4) 2009,
n.p., s.v. fellowship.
xv Ibid, n.p., s.v. fellowship > church fellowship.
xvi Koina (neuter plural), in v. 44, as it agrees with "all
things." BDAG, 551.
xix Ibid, 552.
xx Ibid, 553.
xxi Ibid, 553.
xxii "The early Christians acknowledge that Jesus owns
both them and their property (cf. 4:32); they sell off property
to meet needs as they arise (4:34-35) and open their homes
as meeting places for fellow Christians (2:46). These actions
do not reflect an ascetic ideal, as in some Greek and Jewish
sects, but instead the practice of radically valuing people
over possessions. Such behavior reportedly continued among
Christians well into the second century, and it was long ridiculed
by pagans until pagan values finally overwhelmed the church."
Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New
Testament. (Accordance electronic edition. Downers Grove,
IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), n.p., loc. cit. Acts 2:43-45.
xxiii Witherington, 162.
xxivKeener, n.p., loc. cit. Acts 2:43-45.
xxv Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure,
Marginal, Jesus Movement
Became the Dominant Religious Force. (San Francisco: HarperCollins,
xxvi BDAG, 572.
xxvii Ibid, 1029
xxviii Luke implies that discipleship requires the renunciation
of wealth, a perspective rooted
in the fact that the wealthy of his time acquired their fortunes
xxixIn v. 42, where Luke first introduced the four practices
of the lifestyle in light of Pentecost they appear in the
order a, b, c, d. Here in the expanded version he now switches
the order of the final two practices in v. 46 (i.e., a, b,
d, c). Compare,
o Verse 42:
"They devoted themselves to
[c] the breaking of bread and
[d] the prayers."
o Verse 46:
"Day by day,
[d] as they spent time much time together in the Temple,
[c] they broke bread at home and
ate their food with glad and generous hearts
There is no significance to this change in order of the four
elements, other than artistic contrast. What does seem significant
to Luke, though, is his consistent division of the essential
elements of discipleship into these four.
xxx Keener, n.p., loc. cit. Acts 2:42-47.
xxxi Richard Longnecker, The Acts of the Apostles, in The
Expositor's Bible Commentary,
Frank Gaebeline, gen. ed. (Accordance electronic edition.
Zondervan, 1990), n.p., loc. cit. Acts 2:42.
xxxii F. F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text
with Introduction and Commentary.
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 100.
xxxiii Cf. Longnecker, n.p., loc. cit. Acts 2:42. "Just
what is meant by 'the breaking of bread'
in v.42 has been vigorously debated. Was it a type of Jewish
(like the 'Haburah' meals of the Pharisees), which showed
the believers' mutual
love and recalled their earlier association with Jesus but
was devoid of any
paschal significance as Paul later 'illegitimately' saw in
it (as H. Lietzmann charges)?
Or was it in these early years a paschal commemoration of
in line with Paul's later elaboration (cf. J. Jeremias)? Or
was it at first an agape
feast that emphasized the joy of communion with the risen
Lord and of fellowship
with one another, which Paul later quite 'legitimately' saw
to have also paschal
import, in line with the intention of Jesus (cf. O. Cullmann)?
The matter is somewhat
difficult to determine, for while 2:42 and 20:7 may very well
relate to the
full Pauline understanding (1 Cor. 10:16; 11:24), and while
Luke earlier referred
to 'the breaking of bread' in that way in his passion narrative
elsewhere he uses it for an ordinary meal (cf. Luke 24:30,
35; Acts 20:11;
27:35) and seems to mean just that even in 2:46.
"Yet it is
difficult to believe that Luke had in mind here only an ordinary
the expression, as he does, between two such religiously loaded
'the fellowship' and 'prayer.' Even an ordinary meal among
Jews, of course, would
have had something of a sacred flavor. In a Christian setting,
were warmed by devotion, it would have been an occasion for
joy, love, and
praise connected inevitably with Jesus. Probably 'the breaking
of bread' should
also be understood as subtly connoting the passion of Christ-though,
there may very well have been a deepening of understanding
to Christ's passion as the church's theology came more and
more into focus,
in accord with Paul's later elaboration of it."
xxxiii Keener, n.p., loc. cit. Acts 2:42-47.
xxxiv BDGA, 508.
xxxvi Strong's Greek Dictionary of the New Testament (electronic
version), n.p., s.v. aphelotes.
P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds. Greek-English Lexicon of
the New Testament
Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd ed. (Accordance electronic
York: United Bible Societies, 1989, n.p., 88.5, s.v. aphelotes.
xxxvii Hegesippus' account of the martyrdom of James the Just,
quoted by Eusebius, HE
ii.23, is evidence of the high standing the brother of Jesus
had among the Jews.
Quored in Walter A. Elwell and Robert W. Yarbrough, eds. Readings
First-Century World: Primary Sources for New Testament Study.
Baker, 1998, 182-183.
xxxviii Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger, eds.,
Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary
(Accordance electronic ed. 2 vols.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan,
n.p., loc. cit. Acts 2:47.
xxxix Bruce M. Metzger. A Textual Commentary on the Greek
New Testament. (New York:
United Bible Societies, 1971), 303-305.
xl Bruce, 101 (cf. 75-76).
xli Witherington, 161.
xlii Translated in the NRSV as "to their number."
xliii Even his participles (partial verbs) are all in the
present, i.e., progressive tense.
xliv Note, from earlier in the commentary: "Though Luke
presents his list as four elements, its items overlap. Some
would re-categorize Luke's list into two distinct items: teaching
and fellowship, with breaking of bread and prayer falling
in the latter. Others may note that all four items are descriptive
of New Testament koinonia, or of biblical discipleship. We
have chosen to follow Luke's four-part structure."
xlv Verse 42 = the "Quintessence of Christian Unity."
xlvi Verses 43-47 = the "Explication of Christian Unity."
Dr. Deborah M Gill began her
duties at AGTS in May 2006, after serving as Commissioner
of Discipleship and National Director of the Division of Christian
Education for the General Council of the Assemblies of God
(USA) from 2002-2006. From 1997-2001, she was senior pastor
of Living Hope (a small-group-based church) in North Oaks,
Minnesota. She has been a professor at both the undergraduate
and graduate levels in New Testament, Greek, homiletics and
music, and has served in missions in the Asia Pacific. Her
research interests are in biblical exposition, formation,
and women in ministry. She is a founding member of Christians
for Biblical Equality, co-founder of Women of the Cloth, and
member of the Network for Women in Ministry Steering Committee.
She is co-author (with Barbara Cavaness) of God's Women-Then
and Now (Grace & Truth, 2004 and author of "The Pastoral
Epistles" in Life in the Spirit New Testament Commentary
(Zondervan, 1999Dr. Gill lives a very active life and enjoys
racing sailboats with her husband, Jan Gill, an architect
specializing in church design.