Commentary on The Scriptural Text — Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2011    

Guía Diario de Escritura y Oración

 

Acts 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
Springfield, MO

Introduction

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."

Purpose

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).

Context

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 (1:4-5).

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 (2:35).

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 Spirit (2:38).

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 and women, … I will pour out my Spirit; and they will prophesy" [2:18]).

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.

Transition

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

Acts 2
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. [vii]

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 OF DISCIPLESHIP
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 glory.

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 as follows:

(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 believer.

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 them.

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 themselves … 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 than inclusive!

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. … Participation in 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' needs." [xxiii]

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 others' needs?"

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 … landed 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. [xxix]

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 God.

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 fully.

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 Believers

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 humble heart.

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 God.

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 … those who 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.

Conclusion

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 Testament Christians.

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 of Discipleship."

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."


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                                                                  ENDNOTES

i See, for example: John 1:4, 7, 9, 12.
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, 1998), 160.
vi Text in bold italics is my personal translation of the biblical text.
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: BDAG.)
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.
xviiBDAG, 552.
xviiiIbid, 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,        1997).
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 through          corruption and extortion.
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. Grand          Rapids: 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 fellowship          meal (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 Christ's          death, 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 (Luke          22:19), 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 meal,           placing the expression, as he does, between two such religiously loaded terms           as 'the fellowship' and 'prayer.' Even an ordinary meal among Jews, of course,           would have had something of a sacred flavor. In a Christian setting, where           hearts 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, of           course, there may very well have been a deepening of understanding with           regard 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.
          Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds. Greek-English Lexicon of the New            Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd ed. (Accordance electronic edition.            New 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 From           the First-Century World: Primary Sources for New Testament Study. Grand           Rapids: 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,            1994), 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."

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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.

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