September 2, 2013

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe

Topic #II: The Church in Jerusalem, Acts 2.1-8.3

Subtopic B: Summary of the Young Church (Acts 2.42-2.47)                                          

Lesson II.B.1: Unity Among the People

Acts 2.42-47 (KJV)

42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 

43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 

44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 

45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 

46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 

47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.


42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, 

“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine (In the things taught by the apostles.),” which is the same as the doctrine of Christ, and He is the author, teacher, and subject of His doctrine; the essential themes of which is peace with God, pardon of sins, righteousness, and salvation by faith in Him: this is system of belief the apostles received from Christ, and constantly taught in their ministry; for that reason, it is called “the apostles' doctrine.” The word “doctrine” now has a technical connotation, and means a collection and arrangement of abstract views supposed to be contained in the Bible. In the Scriptures the word means simply "teaching"; and the expression here denotes that they continued to be present when the apostles gave instructions. One evidence of conversion is a desire to be instructed in the doctrines and duties of the Christian religion, and a willingness to attend the preaching of the gospel. These young converts had embraced this doctrine gladly, and were not only believers of it, but resolute believers; they were constantly hearing it, continually involved in the ministry of the apostles, committed to memorizing the doctrines taught by the apostles, and stood firm in the faith of the Gospel, in spite of all the rebuke cast upon them by their countrymen, and the hardships they endured for it.


“Fellowship” does not mean the apostles' fellowship, but the “fellowship” of the Church (which would include the apostles)—that common life of close brotherhood in which they did everything together, and shared with the others all they possessed, so that there seemed to be one heart and one mind shared by all of them.  Although fellowship in our day does not have the same depth of sharing, we still have many things in common with those first Christians, as well as having many things in common with our brothers and sisters in Christ. All Christians have the same hope of heaven; the same joys; the same hatred of sin; the same enemies to contend with. Consequently, they have the same subjects of conversation, of feeling, and of prayer; and they have spiritual union in these things. And thus the early Christians had their property in common. “Fellowship” here may apply to any or to all of these things: to their conversation, their prayers, their dangers, or their property; and it also means that they were united with the apostles, and participated with them in whatever happened to them. Christians feel that they are a band of brethren, and that, however much they were separated before they became Christians, now they have many important interests in common; they are united in feelings, in interests, in dangers, in conflicts, in opinions, and in the hopes of a blessed immortality. These first Christians became known for their constant contributions towards the support of the apostles and of the poor members of the church.

“Continued steadfastly in” means they were frequently hearing the apostles teaching, frequently fellowshipping, frequently attending the Lords Table, and praying frequently. This is the inspired record of the result of their conversion. Nowhere is it recorded that any of these apostatized, and therefore we should not presume they ever did. Though they had been suddenly converted; though they were suddenly admitted to the church; though they were exposed to persecution and contempt, and many trials, yet the record is that they adhered to the doctrines and duties of the Christian religion. The word rendered "continued steadfastly” confirms to their perseverance and faithfulness.

and in breaking of bread, 

“Breaking of bread” refers to "the Holy Eucharist " or “the ordinance of Communion.” “Breaking of bread” was the usual name the ancients used for the Lord's supper; which seems to be intended here, and not a common meal, since it is mentioned here as a part of religious exercises: and though the Jews used to begin their meals with breaking of bread, the whole meal is never called by that name. These saints should be commended for eating their meals together, because it shows their socialness, harmony, and brotherly love; but that is not hinted at here. However in Acts 2:46 where it is mentioned as something different from a common meal, it seems to indicate they were celebrating the Lord's Table whenever the ordinance was administered, which was often. For “Breaking of bread” see Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; Luke 24:30; 1 Corinthians 11:24; 1 Corinthians 10:16; Acts 20:7.  

and in prayers.

“And in prayers” not only refers to their prayer closets, and the time of family prayer, but prayer in the church; in the public prayers of the church; they took part in all opportunities for prayer and gladly embraced them. This was one effect of the influence of the Spirit, and an evidence of their change. A genuine revival will always be followed by a love of prayer. Note how the ancient Christians were engaged in the Church:

1. They were built up on the foundation of the prophets and apostles; Jesus Christ himself being the corner stone.

2. They continued steadfastly in that doctrine which they had received from God.

3. They were separated from the world, and lived in a holy Christian fellowship, strengthening and building up each other in their most holy faith.

4. They were frequently breaking bread in remembrance that Jesus Christ died for them.

5. They were faithful in prayers, knowing that they could be faithful only as long as they were upheld by their God, and knowing also that they could not expect his grace to support them, unless they humbly and earnestly prayed for its continuance.

43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 

And fear came upon every soul: 

This seems to refer to the dread, veneration, and wonder which fell upon the greater part of the people, and prevented them from interfering with the disciples. It was inspired by God, and was like the first settlement of Israel in the land of Canaan, when God placed the fear and the dread of the Israelites upon all the people of that land: “There shall no man be able to stand before you: for the LORD your God shall lay the fear of you and the dread of you upon all the land that ye shall tread upon, as he hath said unto you” (Deuteronomy 11:25). The multitude had just before this mocked the disciples saying, “…These men are full of new wine” (Acts 2:13); but the mood of the crowd had changed because their consciences were stung with remorse, and they were fearful of the judgments of God; and the wonders and signs continually wrought by the apostles were at once proofs of the celestial origin of their doctrine and mission, and of their own immorality, treachery, and wickedness.  And now the fear prompted by the events on the day of Pentecost, by the signs and wonders during the weeks preceding and for some time following, and by the wonderful unity and holiness of the newborn Church, had such a profound effect upon every soul at Jerusalem that all hostility was paralyzed, and the disciples had the time and the freedom to multiply, consolidate, and establish themselves before the storm of persecution fell upon them. 

and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.

The multitudes in Jerusalem heard the apostles speak with divers tongues (languages they never spoke before), and Peter preach in the shocking manner he did, and saw many thousands embrace the Gospel of Christ at once, and profess faith in Him, and submit to baptism in water; and this happened only a few weeks after His crucifixion, and while He was under the greatest reproach and scandal.  There was also the many wonders and signs done by the apostles “in Jerusalem,” as it is written in the Vulgate Latin, and Syriac versions; such as casting out devils, healing the sick, causing the lame to walk, etc. which were those things promised by Christ, and therefore should be done by them—“And these signs shall follow them that believe ; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues” (Mark 16.17)—and which were necessary for the confirmation of the Gospel, and of the apostles' mission to preach it. The Vulgate Latin version adds another clause, much like the first part of the text, "and great fear was upon all": and the Alexandrian copy, and some others, read, "In Jerusalem, there was great fear upon all." 

44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 

And all that believed were together, 

“All that believed” are all those that believed that Jesus was the Messiah; that was the distinguishing feature of their religion and how they were known to others. The assertion that they “were together” means they "agreed together," which is how the Arabic version renders it: all these believers were of one mind and judgment, as to doctrines, and they agreed in their views and principles of religion; and they were of one heart and soul, were friendly and responsive to each other, and were mutually assisting one another in secular life, as well as in their spiritual life.

“Were together” does not mean that they lived in the same house, since it is not reasonable to think that the three thousand believers (Acts 2:41), and the 120 spoken of in Acts 1:15, were all together at one time, or in one place, in Jerusalem,  but they were united as a community, or engaged in the same thing. They were undoubtedly often together in the same place, or in several places, for prayer and praise, and to celebrate the “Lord’s Table.” One of the best means for strengthening the faith of young converts is for them to meet together often for prayer, conversation, and praise.

and had all things common; 

Perhaps this has not been well understood. At all the public religious feasts in Jerusalem, there was a sort of community of goods. No man at such times rented houses or beds in Jerusalem, instead all were provided to visitors free-gratis by the owners. The same may be understood of their ovens, cauldrons, tables, spits, and other utensils. Also, water was provided for them at the public expense. Therefore a sort of community of goods was no strange thing at Jerusalem, at such times as these. It appears, however, that this community of goods went much farther, because they “had all things common” which means all their property or possessions (See Acts 4:32-37; Acts 5:1-10.).  No man called anything in particular his own; and whatever he had, his brother was welcome to it, and might freely take it, and use it, as if it was his own. We are told in Acts 2.45 that the new converts “…sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” The apostles, while they were with the Savior, evidently considered all their possessions common property, and Judas was made their treasurer. They regarded themselves as one family with common needs, and therefore there was no benefit in their possessing extensive property by themselves. Yet even then it is likely that some of them kept part of their property rather than devote it to the common use. It is clear that the Savior did not command them to place their possessions into a common reserve, nor did the apostles instruct others to do so: "While it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold was it not in thine own power?" (Acts 5:4). It was, therefore, entirely voluntary, and was evidently designed for the special circumstances of the early Christians. Many of them came from outside Judea. They were from Parthia, and Media, and Arabia, and Rome, and Africa, etc. Also, it is probable that they remained longer in Jerusalem than they had originally planned; and it is not at all improbable that they would now be denied the usual hospitality of the Jews, and excluded from their customary kindness, because they had embraced Jesus of Nazareth, who had been just recently put to death. Under these circumstances, it was natural and appropriate for them to share their property while they remained together.

In order to correctly understand this community of believers, we need to know that this type of communal relationship is found only in the Church at Jerusalem. No trace of its existence exists anywhere else in scripture; on the contrary, Paul speaks constantly of the rich and poor (See 1 Ti 6:17; Ga 2:10; 2 Co 8:13, 15, 9:6, 7; 1Co 16:2; Jas 2:1-5, 4:13.). But even at Jerusalem this bright vision of a paradise on earth was soon troubled by the earthly dissensions recorded in Acts 6; and the Christian community received a timely lesson that good things in themselves are not always practical in an evil world, where sluggish virtues must contend with bodily desires and hypocrisy.

45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 

And sold their possessions and goods, 

“And sold their possessions and goods” means they sold their houses and lands, their fields and vineyards, that is, what may have amounted to all their possessions, or as much as necessary in order to acquire the means of providing for the needs of each other. The word translated “possessions” refers to their fixed property, such as lands, houses, vineyards, etc. The word rendered "goods," refers to their personal or movable "property."

and parted them to all men, 

They shared only with those of the Community of Christians, not to others who were not part of that community. 

as every man had need. 

Notice that this was not an equal division where everyone gets the same amount, but the donations were doled out “As every man had need” which indicates that the rich sold their properties, and gave the proceeds to the apostles who divided the proceeds among the poor, or gave them enough of the proceeds to meet their present needs. This was done only by the Jews; who, when they embraced the Gospel of Christ, were warned that their former Jewish brethren would confiscate or destroy all they possessed; and therefore they sold their estates beforehand, and gave the profits to the apostles to be distributed by them according to the particular needs of individual believers. It was necessary that they do this at this time, both for the support of the Gospel in Judea, and for the carrying and spreading of it among the Gentiles, as well as supporting the poorer members of the community. But, we must bear in mind that this does not set a precedent or example for any generation afterwards; nor has any such thing ever been proposed to the Christian churches, or encouraged by any of the apostles. 

46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 

And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, 

It is suprisind that at this early age of the Church's existence Christians did not consider themselves separated from their Jewish brethren, or from the Old Testament institutions; that Christianity was just Judaism perfected; the gospel the full blossoming of the Law. The first Christian Jews, therefore, did not think of themselves as leaving the religion of their fathers, but rather hoped that their whole nation would in a short time acknowledge Jesus to be the Christ. Christian institutions, therefore— the prayers, the breaking of bread, the prophesying and speaking in tongues, and the apostolic teachings - were supplemental to the temple service, not antagonistic to it; and the church took the place of the synagogue rather than the temple. 

“And they continued daily with one accord in the temple” indicates the overriding importance of religion in their lives. Every day they went up to the temple, at the time of prayer, or whenever any religious service was to be performed; this was their constant practice, and they all did it. Since they were meeting in the Temple they were observing the hours of Jewish worship. This does not mean that they were constantly in the temple, but only at the customary hours of prayer—at nine o'clock in the morning, and at three o'clock in the afternoon.

It is not to be supposed that they continued to offer any of the sacrifices prescribed by the law.

and breaking bread from house to house, 

“House to house” means At home. It represents the private Christian place of meeting, as contrasted with the temple. The meaning is not that every disciple broke bread in his own house, but that they broke bread at the house where the Christian assemblies were held, whether one or more were present. We have already seen the Church gathered together "in an upper room" (Acts 1:13), in "one place," in "a house" (Acts 2:1, 2), and "together" (v. 44); and in Acts 4:31 we read: “And when they had prayed , the place was shaken where they were assembled together ; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. And we know that since the synagogue was “the house of prayer,” or “the house of assemblage,” the Christian place of meeting was called “the Lord's house,” from which we get the word "church." It was not unusual for the early Christians to take their food with them when they met for worship. The thing that linked them together was the love-feast, which formed an important part of the common life, of the early Christians. The whole description is a beautiful picture of Christian unity, piety, love, and joy.

This clause has several other interpretations that I shall mention. “Breaking bread from house to house” either means (1) administering the Lord's supper in private houses, which is how the Jews kept their Passover, sometimes administering it at one house, and sometimes at another; or (2) because there was so many of them, one house could not hold them all, so they divided themselves into smaller groups; and some met, and had the ordinance administered to them in one house, and some in another: or (3) this may refer only to their common meals, which they ate together at one another's houses with great love and friendship.

The term “breaking bread” may have come from the condition of Jewish bread, which was thin, hard, and dry, and was never cut with the knife as ours is, but was simply broken with the hands.

did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,

They “did eat their meat with gladness” signifies an attitude of great thankfulness to the God from whom they received their daily food, acknowledging that it all came from Him, and that they did not deserve His mercy, and so they ate together with much cheerfulness and friendliness for one another, without complaining about their lot, or envying each other, or without resenting what each other partook of. This is one of the effects of religion. It is far from gloom; it diffuses happiness over the mind; it bestows additional joy in the participation of even our ordinary pleasures.

“And singleness of heart” means without deceit and hypocrisy; either in their thanksgivings to God, or in their fellowship with each other; and with great sincerity, openness, and frankness before God, and one another. This also means “with a sincere and pure heart.” They were satisfied and thankful. They were not puzzled or anxious; nor were they desiring the luxurious living, or the vain objects of the people of the world (See Romans 12:8; 2 Corinthians 1:12; Colossians 3:22; Ephesians 6:5). The Syriac version joins this clause with the beginning of the next verse; "with singleness of heart, praising God.”

“Did eat their meat” proves that it does not refer to the Lord's Supper; because that ordinance is nowhere represented as being part of an ordinary meal, or for the purpose of nourishing the body (See 1 Corinthians 11:33, 34).

47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

Praising God, 

These new Christians were “praising God,” not only for their secular blessings and pleasures of life, which they shared with each other in a pleasant and joyful manner; but for their spiritual blessings—that the Lord had been pleased to call them by His grace, and reveal Christ to them, and pardon them who had been such vile sinners, give them a name, and a place in his house, and provide them with such agreeable and delightful company to have fellowship with, as the saints were.

and having favour with all the people. 

“Having favor with all the people” indicates they not only behaved with true brotherly love towards their brothers and sisters in Christ, but that they treated those outside the fellowship as they would like to be treated; courteously and kindly, and that they lived a life that honored God and their religion, which gained for them the good-will of the people. 

And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

“And the Lord” is a reference to Jesus, as the glorified Head and Ruler of the Church. It was the Lord who did this. There was no power in man to do it; and the Christian loves to trace all the increase of the church to the grace of God: “Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number” (Acts 5.14).

The word rendered "church" means "those who are called out," and is applied to Christians who are being called out, or separated from the world. He began with the three thousand converts on Pentecost, but following that miraculous event, converts were added daily (And continued to be added for a long time after Pentecost) by the ministry of the word—many souls were won and “added to the church” (The Holy Spirit caused or inclined them to be joined to the church.); the Holy Spirit inclined their hearts to give themselves to the church, and follow all the ordinances and commands of the Lord. Each one was chosen by God, and each was redeemed by the Lord Jesus’ precious blood, were regenerated and sanctified by the Spirit of God, and so were surely saved; but that cannot always be said about persons added to churches, many of them are not truly saved, and so they soon fall away; but these were added by the Lord, and there is a world of difference between being added by the Lord, and being added by men. 

“Such as should be saved” simply expresses the fact that there were those who would be, or who were about to be saved. It is clear, however, from this expression, that those who became members of the church were those who gave proof that they were sincere Christians; such as their life changed for the better, and they were not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. It is implied here, also, that those who are to be saved will join themselves to the church of God. This is almost universally required; and it constitutes one more evidence of piety when they are willing to face the world, and give themselves to the service of the Lord Jesus. Two remarks may be made regarding this last verse of this chapter; one is, that the effect of a consistent Christian life will be to command the respect of the world; and the other is that the effect will be the steady increase in the number of those who are saved. In this case they were adding to the church on a daily basis and their number was constantly increasing; and the same result may be expected today where there is similar zeal, self-denial, consistency, and prayer.

The appeal in verse 40 was "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." Those who were added to the Church were those who complied with this request, and escaped from complicity with their unbelieving countrymen. They were the remnant that escaped—“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16)—Believes the gospel message; believes in Christ as his Savior. And is baptized. These are the conditions of pardon; faith in Christ and obedience to his command. If anyone does not have enough faith in Christ to obey him, his salvation may be in question. “He that believeth not” remains in a state of unbelief and cannot enter into the kingdom of God—“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son” (John 3:18).

 This is God’s prescription for church growth.  If we will follow the example of Acts 2:42-47a, God will take care of growing the church Himself.