Acts 2:42-47 – The Early Community of Believers

Clint Arnold points out in his Acts commentary that they community in Acts Two was characterized by four types of activities. Acts 2:42 says that the believers were devoted to these four activities.  The verb here (προσκαρτερέω) has the idea of being busy with something, or even “to persist” (BDAG).  The word appears twice in this paragraph, in verse 46 the community is daily worshiping in the temple and sharing meals together.

First, they devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles (διδαχή). This instruction is for new converts who may not have heard Jesus teach.  The apostles are witnesses passing along the things which they have seen and heard.  It is entirely possible that the apostles had common set of instruction which they regularly passed along to new converts.  If this is the case, then there was a basic body of tradition within months of the death of Jesus which could be called the “teaching of the apostles.”

Second, they devoted themselves to fellowship (κοινωνία). Since this word has the connotation of sharing common, this is likely an allusion to the communal life described in the next verses (Fitzmyer, Acts, 269).  At the very least this includes alms and care for the poor.  I would suggest that many of those who needed assistance were Diaspora pilgrims who accepted the message of Jesus and remained in Jerusalem rather than to return home after Pentecost.

Third, they devoted themselves to “breaking of bread.” While this phrase can be used of sharing a meal together, it is likely that Luke is describing the community as celebrating some form of communion.  In Luke 21:19 the same words are used as Jesus takes bread and breaks it.  In Luke 24:35 it is used for the resurrected Jesus breaking bread as two disciples realized who he was.  I think that Jesus’ practice of common meals was the foundation for this practice — they all ate and drank together as one group.

Fourth, they devoted themselves to prayers. Since the Greek is plural this is plausibly a reference to daily prayers in the Temple.  It would not be unusual for Jewish men to go to the Temple several times a day to pray, so the community continues to worship at the Temple regularly.  In fact, Acts 2:46 indicates that the disciples met in both private homes and in the Temple.  This likely put them into contact with other observant Jews who would then be introduced to Jesus as Messiah.

Since a major interest in this series of studies is how to “apply” the book of Acts, it is critical to ask if  Luke is describing an ideal Christian community, or the specific community in Jerusalem.  While it is easy to see these four elements as generic components of Christian community everywhere, there are other elements in this paragraph which do not seem to be found elsewhere.  I will come back to this later, but notice for now that the community sold property, pooled resources, and distributed these funds to the poor.  Giving to the poor is a standard description of Christian community, but “living in common” only appears here in Acts 2.  There is nothing which makes me think the Antioch church was pooling resources, nor does Paul give any such instruction to his churches.

The fact that these earliest believers are devoted to these activities daily is also unique in the apostolic period.  There is no other group of believers who appear to have left their jobs to devote themselves to spiritual activity.  In 1-2 Thessalonians Paul seems to instruct the members of the church to not retire from daily life and be constantly devoted to ministry.  2 Thess 3:11-12 specifically tells people to go out and get jobs so that they are not a burden.

What is the reason Christians are quick to apply Acts 2:42 but not Acts 2:43 (miracles) or 2:44-45 (communal living)?  What is the difference between what is happening in Acts 2 and 2 Thessalonians 3?

29 thoughts on “Acts 2:42-47 – The Early Community of Believers

  1. As you point out, there seems to be a ‘break’ of some kind between the earliest primitive period of the Church and the Pauline period. The question I’ve asked myself is, “Why?” I don’t have an answer, other than perhaps the need for that particular function of body ministry wasn’t present. But, it puzzles me.

    Great post.

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  2. I believe that God created the Bible to transcend time and culture, to apply today the same as it applied to the original church. That could mean a lot of things. I like the statement posed by Mr. Long, “It is critical to ask if Luke is describing an ideal Christian community, or the specific community in Jerusalem.” This is really critical to ask about everything in the Bible. Are we to greet one another with a holy kiss? Or are we to greet on another with love, and a holy kiss was equivalent to our modern handshake? I imagine that the original church was on a significant emotional high. Everything was new and nothing had yet been established beyond the teachings of Jesus. Communal living in modern America would creep people out and probably do more damage than good to God’s message. However, each of these four activities seems important to the church at their core. Teaching new converts, fellowship of any sort, communion, and prayer seem like good building blocks for the church from any perspective.

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    • The Holy Kiss is a good point, although it comes from one of Paul’s letters. However, what does it matter if communal living creeps out Americans if that is the best way to “be the Church”? I happen to think it is not the best way, but creeping out Americans (while a great deal of fun) is not the best measure of correct behavior.

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      • I understand what you say. My point is more about the logic of it. It seems like pulling Christians out of society to form an enclosed group is counter-productive to the spreading of the message. It seems to me that the Bible encourages self-sustaining Christian individuals over clique-like groups. Communal living just doesn’t seem to make sense in any society relative to the entire new testament teaching.

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      • “Communal living just doesn’t seem to make sense in any society relative to the entire new testament teaching.”

        I agree, Joe, and it appears no where else in the NT. The problem (for me) is why it even appears here in the first few chapters of Acts? Is this the “pure form” of Christianity? Or is there something apocalyptic going on?

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  3. It’s hard to really expound on what all Joe has said about these factors of the early church. I think that this goes back to the discussion we had last posting about the heart of the early church. Teaching, preaching, breaking bread, and prayer are simple actions of the church that are modeled by Christ along with the early church. Like Joe was saying, the others aspects like living in community, a kiss greeting, etc are more of a cultural thing. The modern church needs to find ways to incorporate the 4 basic principles of the early church into modern, cultural standards. Whether or not these others things are included, aren’t important. Again, it’s the heart of the church that really matters, and the four principles line up with that.

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    • It is always tough to really pick out exactly what a church should do but i believe that the bible is where we have to find our model of what the church should look like. The four principles of teaching, preaching, breaking bread and prayer, are essensial for the church to be like the church found in acts and like david said, these four principles are going to look differently in today’s culture then in the time of acts. The important thing to do now is figure out how to implement these four principles.

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    • I agree with you David that we should not have to take on the cultural aspects of the early church, but to continue to use the teachings that Jesus gave His body to practice. I do think that our church is lacking and is thirsty for more of the routine once a month communion, and the others… I think that the Jewish culture did these things in a great way because it was a community practice and it reached into the daily lives of these new believers. I feel like along with the four basic principles we need to make an effort to live in a closer community with fellow believers, so that we will not become bored or complacent with just the Sunday morning stuff, but that we will push each other, keep each other more accountable in the deeper things that are happening in our everyday lives and with this community becoming stronger in doing all of these things, it or we would grow even thirstier for the Word, God, that we would dink so much we would have to spit, puke out this truth on the surrounding communities!

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  4. I believe that quite often churches tend to focus to misinterpret things such as the four devotions mentioned. Fellowship has turned into casual juice and cookies after a Sunday sermon. Communion has unfortunately become juice and crackers. I feel that we as Christians have the duty to remember the point of things. We need to understand that we pray to grow closer to and talk with our father. The apostles had the privilege to study directly under Jesus’ teachings and since we could not, we were given the Bible as a source. Dave is right when he says we need to find a way to incorporate these basic devotions into our everyday lives and in our churches.

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    • Unfortunately communion has turned into just juice and crackers for some people and no longer realize or think about the true meaning. But don’t get me wrong there are still a lot of people that truly take it seriously. I almost feel as if some of these things have almost turned into a routine and is treated as something that we are supposed to do but not what we want to do.

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      • True Bryce – communion is certainly ritualized away from the original feast, sharing with the poor, etc. But is that really a bad thing? What happens in communion seems like a spiritual act of worship, a time of self reflection and confession, etc. Is that what these people were doing in Acts 2:42?

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  5. This entire topic is one that is very dear to my heart, partly because of the cultural and social contrasts to modern churches (which is very interesting), but also because I have always been taught traditional “Acts 2 dispensational theology”–though my baptist church would shudder at the phrase. Realizing that traditional influences may not be sturdy evidence for solid thought processes, I am beginning to understand the subtle complexity and overwhelming simplicity of the church.

    However, there is no doubt that this gathering of believers was different than any community before experienced by Jews. Sacrifices were through, priests were beginning to be done away with and traditions were slowly morphing into what would soon become new tradition. The answer to the question kiss greetings and communal living seem to be lingering effects from first-century society and, simply with developments in culture have started to fade. This is not to say that they are either commanded or wrong, but rather that the important aspects seem to have a more resonating tone with believers (Last supper, fellowship, etc) and the lesser “traditions” (holy kisses, communal living… and even baptism) become secondary to the overall cause of the Church (local and universal):

    God’s glory.

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    • Do you think that this initial wave of thousands immediately stopped sacrificing in the Temple? I really do see the community in Acts 2 to be a Jewish Reform Movement at this point in the history.

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  6. Cappon I always find your comments extremely thought provoking. In regards to your “significant emotional high” and “nothing was established”, if I am not mistaken the twelve still acted like Jews and kept the law. They just believed Jesus was the Messiah that others were waiting for, Paul and Peter later have an argument over keeping of the law. My personal opinion is the whole communal living came out of the fact that all the Jews were now moving to Jerusalem to await the gathering of Israel as P Long stated in his other blog.

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  7. Its kind of funny to look at how today’s modern church looks at the four activities that Arnold talks about in his Acts commentary. I think in many ways we have lost site of what true fellowship is and what it is meant to be or look like. Sadly, it has come down to coffee and cookies in the fellowshipp hall and everyone gathers around their favofrite table around their favorite people. That is taking the idea of fellowship way out of context of what God wants it to be. COmmunion is almost a joke sometimes because all it is is a scripture reading and we eat bread or crackers and drink grape juice. Prayer is suppose to be for the whole idea of growing closer to God and deepening our relationship with him on so many level.
    I am not trying to bash any churches here in the least. I am merely saying that sometimes as a church in today’s society.. we tend to loose focus on these things

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  8. The only thing that strikes me is a few chapters later on, Ananias and Sapphira are struck down for not being communal. First of all, does this not fit with the rest of Scripture wherein God no longer punishes for their sins but forgives and redeems? Secondly, if indeed God was punishing them, then wouldn’t that mean that we are REQUIRED to live in a communal type way? From a commenter: “Communal living in modern America would creep people out and probably do more damage than good to God’s message” – So culture dictates the Word of God? I’ve been told the reason we don’t follow exactly the teachings about women is because that was the culture then, this is the culture now. But that doesn’t make sense, because our culture for a very long time oppressed women in the name of Jesus (also not in the name of Jesus, but thats another story for another time), and I was also told slavery was part of that culture. Now, we have homosexuals fighting for rights, and people are saying the BIble says it is wrong. Technically, it does, but if I’m going by Christian logic, why shouldn’t I just say culture’s changing, and now the verses about homosexuality no longer apply to today? See, this is where I get confused, we want to defend the Bible, but what if Jesus was here today? Do you think he would still tell us to sell all we have? I don’t consider myself wealthy compared to most other Americans, I have a tiny room for rent, and by most American standards, I would be high lower class or lower middle class, and I still feel I can help people in some areas such as paying for a meal or something. I still recognize that I am fully capable of purchasing non-necessities, or more or less conveniences that our society has deemed as necessities (such as cars). If you really think about it, if everyone sold their car who works within distance of walking or taking a bus, how much money could we actually save? Just a rambling thought, but I digress.

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  11. I agree with your 4 points, with some further elaboration.

    .1) The teaching of the Apostles meant the 12 True Apostles, who knew Jesus personally for 3 1/2 years, were appointed and recognized – The Eleven plus Matthias. (They were not reading the letters of Paul the Pharisee.)

    .2) Fellowship, yes.

    .3) Breaking of bread was a common meal together, like a dinner party with extensive discussion, and yes that WAS communion – not a tiny piece of dry cracker and a tiny thimble of grape juice drunk hastily, cleanly, quietly, in social isolation while in the midst of a huge crowd of people in a huge meeting room.

    .4) Prayer, yes. Not sharing prayer requests for an hour and then praying for 5 minutes at a “prayer meeting”, or holding a “Pentecost meeting” with lectures for 2 hours, and a 20 second “blessing” prayed at the end…..
    Prayer, yes.

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      • Yes – established by the testimony of 12 personal eyewitnesses, (the 12 Apostles.) Some teachings & ways of living, thinking, acting & reacting etc. are “more caught than taught”. These 12 men had been around Jesus, together in community, for long enough to “catch it” better than anyone else in the world, thus they had unique “Apostolic Authority.” No one else can rightfully claim that authority, if they are looking at the words and deeds of the Jesus of the Gospels first (rather than the self-promoting claims of Paul the Pharisee first.)

        The first characteristic recorded in Mark’s Gospel is as follows:
        “He appointed twelve – designating them apostles – that they might be with him….” [Mark 3:14] Yes, there is more involved than simply “being with him,” yet that is specifically listed first here in all our Bibles.

        Phillip, I’ve read some of your other posts about “Dispensationalism”, and I don’t want to be guilty of “straw man” arguments. I wanted to understand the mindset and thought process that would allow a “Bible Scholar” who believes passionately in “The Total Inerrancy of every word in the 66 Books of the Bible” to be “dismissive” of the Sermon on the Mount and say “It doesn’t apply to me today.”

        I believe that at the core, classical dispensationalism is based on one simple fundamental (wrong) idea- that “Paul was completely right in everything he wrote (and said and did), and everyone else was wrong, including Jesus ( at least for us for today as Gentiles).

        Paul the Pharisee didn’t believe in absolute truth, but rather taught relative truth that was profitable for him personally, as in “that may be true for you, but it isn’t true for me…”

        example?
        Paul wrote to the church he had abandoned in Corinth years earlier:
        “Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you !”
        [1 Corinthians 9:2]

        Paul was not an apostle to me – or to anyone else in the world either. His words here are just one of many pieces of evidence.

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  12. QUESTION? DO YOU THINK YOU CAN DEEPEN YOUR WALK BY
    BEING IN A SMALL GROUP THAT SHARES AND COMES TOGETHER AN EXTENDED FAMILY?

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    • Yes, small church groups can be very good for spiritual growth and development. Most large churches looks for ways to integrate people into smaller groups for prayer, Bible study and fellowship, even mutual exhortation and support.

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  13. This is an older post. But I wanted to comment on it as well. An important element we miss in this discussion is the apocalyptic expectation that the early church inherited from their brothers and sisters who followed Judaism. As I am learning in my Intertestamental Literature class, much of the popular writings at that time contained a undeniable amount of “end of the world” type language and expectation. Many were looking for the Messiah to show up to make the world right and few others (more militant resisters of the Roman Empire) actually claimed to be messiahs themselves. This apocalyptic psych undoubtedly carried over into early Christian perspectives. This is probably why the early church shared “all things in common” and “sold all their possessions and gave to the poor” (emphasis on ALL). They figured that Jesus would return very soon to set up His Kingdom on earth, so it didn’t matter as much if they gave away all their possessions and lived a more “communist” lifestyle. From their perspective, it was a wise use of their resources, because Jesus would come back soon anyway, and reward them for not being frivolous with their money or possessions. Obviously, Jesus did not come back as soon as they expected. It is possible that this is why, later, an offering is taken up to provide for the financial needs of the church in Jerusalem (showing that pure communist economics is not sustainable over long periods of time, Rom. 15:26). Even if this weren’t true, I don’t think that this part of the early church community is economically sane or necessary in America. I am not denying that it seems like an amazing way to grow in dependence and community amongst believers. However, it also seems difficult to facilitate in this culture.

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  14. My understanding of answering the last question (Acts 2 vs 2 Thessalonians 3):

    Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
    Acts 2:44‭-‬47 NKJV

    But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us. For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread. But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good. And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
    II Thessalonians 3:6‭-‬15 NKJV

    My understanding of this:

    In the early church, the rich sold their possessions and shared their wealth with the needy (Acts 2:42). Some needy people took advantage of this, they became dependant on the generosity of those that work, and didn’t feel the need to work as they were being taken care of. Paul wasn’t happy with this. He told the believers to admonish [reprimand & encourage] those not working to work.

    These people that don’t work end up being busybodies [meddling in other people’s businesses – amplified]. It can be assumed that sin, such as gossiping/slandering arises from this. Also Peter lists being a busybody as a sin next to murder (But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters.
    I Peter 4:15 NKJV). Paul says the following should happen to these busybodies: They should eat their own bread; a step further the believers should not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed [amplified adds “and repent”].

    Evidence that the Thessalonians were living in community: A busybody that finds work should eat his own bread. Paul had to specify this because everyone else was probably sharing bread (like in Acts 2:46). If someone doesn’t obey this Epistle, the other believers shouldn’t keep company with him so that he may be ashamed. This person would only be ashamed if everyone else was regularly keeping company with one another (I.e. in community). In 2 Thessalonians 3:6,7 Paul talks about “tradition which he received from us”, “follow us”. Paul knew the apostles personally, and they lived in community with one another, so it makes sense for Paul to teach the Thessalonians about living in community (like in Acts 2), if they weren’t already doing so.

    NKJV says “if anyone will not work”. Amplified says “if anyone is not willing to work”. So does this mean that if they are unable to find work, they should continue to be supported by the community? On the other hand it says “we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work”. So is it just as simple as commanding someone in the Name of Jesus to work, and they’ll find work? Maybe unemployment wasn’t such a big issue then?

    What I learn from this:

    We need to be in community with fellow believers regularly, yet still work hard.

    We need to be in community with poor (needy) believers, and support them (yes with food and money), and then help them find work.

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  15. This is a very good question. There are inconsistencies in our worldview of what Christian community should look like. Why is it we have imposed the four devotions you pointed out as a pillar essential of Christian community and not the others listed in Acts 2:43-45? If we are to emphasis one should we not the others as well?

    What has become automatic in our Christian teaching is that there must be a teaching, breaking of bread, prayers and good fellowship in order to be doing Christianity right. However, I think when we read verse 42 we find it is the most practical and understandable. Signs and gifts were always made to point back to Christ as evidence of His existence as well as done to penetrate unbelief. Dispensationalism does not give a valid reason for the lack of signs and miracles in today’s Christian world outside of the signs and miracles have “ceased” (1 Cor. 13:10). However, in dispensational belief the church started from as early as Acts 2 to I believe as far as Acts 24 (in some cases 28 I believe). However, all the miracles were done in any of the beliefs where the dispensation of grace began.

    I do not say that to spite dispensationalism, but I do think there is a reasoning away that happens when we speak of signs and miracles. It seemed to be a regular thing happening in their communities, why should we expect any less?

    The communal living aspect is interesting. From what I can get from the passage they sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need (Acts 2:45). In those times their possessions were their jobs, but when I think of being a fisherman or tent maker it still is an income you receive, you just don’t have what you purchased with the income prior to giving it all away to those in need.

    I think, the difference is Paul was adamant that these believers in Thessalonica stick to what they were taught by the apostles, because there were imposters in their fellowship who claimed they knew Paul’s teaching but were idle (2 Thess. 3:6-7). This idleness would make it harder to distinguish who was genuine in their faith and not. Those who are willing to humble themselves and work show fruit of Paul’s example, those who were not would obviously be proud and in rebellion. Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonians is different in that Acts 2 demonstrates a fully functioning Spirit filled Christian community. Paul’s purpose was to instruct, encourage and give warning to the Thessalonians so they may be restored into the big picture of what Christian community is.

    There are a couple theories I have concerning the question if Acts 2 believers worked. I think they did in some form. If they sell all that they have, and all have no jobs then their money is going to run out eventually….and quick. To keep up the example of communal living their must be income coming in. Paul furthers this instruction to the Thessalonians. However, Paul’s urgent statement in the name of the Lord, “to settle down and work to earn their own living” seems like an attack on the poor (2 Thess. 3:12). Yet, it was so they would not be a burden to those around them just as Paul had done so with them. If you can work then, work. Don’t be a burden to others. Give to the poor what you can and imitate Paul’s example by earning a living that you may give back as well.

    In my humble opinion, I believe we do need to incorporate and meditate on what Acts 2:42-47 is saying. We should not neglect two-thirds of what it means to be living and operating in a Christian community. The Bible at times seems contradictory to other Scriptures but it is truly consistent and in unity with itself. It just requires more prayer and meditation.

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