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Acts 2:37-47

[This paper was the first exegetical paper that I wrote. I hope that you find it useful.]


Orientation and Context

Significance of Text

            The narrative passage of Acts 2:37-47 is very important for several reasons pertaining to our understanding of the early church. First, this passage speaks of the early church in its earliest stage. Second, this passage speaks of how the early church began to grow. Third, this passage speaks of the influence of the Holy Spirit on the lives of the apostles and the lives of those who heard the message of the Gospel.
            First, this passage speaks of the early church in its earliest stage. The scene recorded in these eleven verses occurred after the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and immediately after the first recorded sermon given by any of the apostles. This passage also describes how the early church overcame some of the issues with which they were faced. In addition, in informs us of the priorities of the earliest church. It demonstrates the love that each believer had for each other from the very beginning. All of these things are important for us to understand today. Since neither the apostles nor any other member of the early church is still alive today, it is important for us to study these aspects of the early church in order to understand them.
            Second, this passage describes how the early church began to grow. The authors of the Abingdon Bible Commentary realized this and called it the passage that describes the “rise of the community of believers” (Eiselen, 1098). This passage describes the exponential growth of the early church. It is important for us to understand our beginnings in order to properly understand the role of the church. If we are to truly understand the early church, we must understand how the early church began to grow. It is therefore vital that we examine this passage to see how the church began to grow and overcome many of the challenges with which they were faced.
            Finally, this passage is important because it speaks of the influence of the Holy Spirit on the lives of the apostles and the lives of those in the early church who heard the message of the Gospel. Commentator Matthew Henry noted this by stating that “we are now to see another blessed fruit of the pouring out of the Spirit in its influence upon the hearers of the gospel” (Henry, 1643). It is important for us to look at how the Holy Spirit moved in the lives of both the apostles and those who heard the message of the Gospel.

Historical and Social Setting

            This passage was likely written by Luke, the first-century companion of Paul the apostle (Varughese, 140). This is demonstrated by the use of the “we” passages in the later chapters of this book (Varughese, 140). The firsthand statements in these chapters lead scholars to the undeniable conclusion that the author of Acts was a traveling companion of Paul the apostle. Luke is the only known member among Paul's traveling companions who could have been present for all of the events that occurred during the chapters that contain the “we” passages. In addition, there is a strong connection between the book of Acts and the Gospel of Luke, both of which are addressed to the same individual, Theophilus (Varughese, 140). The authorship of Luke's Gospel went practically unquestioned in the early church (Longman, 702-703). Because of the close ties to the book of Acts, we can safely say that the book of Acts shares the same author. Thus, we can say with confidence that Luke the physician, the traveling companion of Paul the apostle, is the author of both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts.
            Scholars sometimes disagree on the exact date that the book of Acts was written. Some scholars, such as Alex Varughese, have argued that the book of Acts was written in “the late 70s or early 80s” (Varughese, 172). Many other scholars have argued for a date of around 64 AD. These scholars argue that “Acts contains a number of features that point to a date earlier than AD 70 for its composition” (Longman, 699). Some of these features include “the portrayal of the situation of the Jews in Acts”, “the estimation of Roman justice that is implicit in the work”, and “the archaic nature of the language in Acts” (Longman, 699-700). It seems that the case for an early date, approximately 62-66 AD, is stronger and more comprehensive than the case for any other date for this work.
            The contents of the book of Acts was originally meant for someone named “Theophilus”. While we do not know exactly who this man was, Theophilus was likely a gentile who was interested in the life of Christ and the early church. Theophilus may have been a Roman convert to Christianity who was looking deeper into the life of Christ. It may also be possible that Luke intended for Acts to be read by others in addition to Theophilus. Some have argued that, concerning his works, Luke “intended and desired it to be read by Christians, especially new converts” (Longman, 27).
            As for the particular passage of Luke 2:37-47, we must realize that immediate social setting. Immediately prior to the events at the beginning of this passage, Simon Peter preached his first sermon after Pentecost, and the first recorded sermon of any of the apostles. The Holy Spirit moved in such a mighty way that 3,000 individuals were added to the church in a single day. The early church dedicated themselves to living out the teachings of Jesus, but they experienced what can best be described as growing pains. Despite these, the church sought unity in love.

Literary Context

            Acts 2:37-47 is a historical narrative. In other words, this passage speaks of historical events that were being communicated to the original audience. The contents of this passage communicate a clear message about the history of the early church and how it grew quickly after Simon Peter's first sermon after Pentecost, and how the early Christian movement came to spread quickly throughout Jerusalem. It speaks of the early church beginning to accomplish Christ's command to spread the message of the Gospel all over the world.
            This context relates to the rest of Scripture as we see the beginning of the fulfillment of God's plan in the spreading of the good news of Christ. As more and more people began to follow Christ and dedicate themselves to Him, God's plan of salvation became something that was lived out.

Presentation of the Text

Scripture Passage

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying ,”Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 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, 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.

Text Critical Notes

            In Acts 2:38, there is some debate among scholars about the exact meaning of the Greek word “εἰς”. There have been at least 4 different proposals about the intended meaning of this word. Regardless of the position that a scholar takes on this issue, it is clear that Luke is here drawing a connection between repentance and baptism, an outward symbol of the inward change (Longman, 749).
            There are some words that could have had multiple meanings. For example, in Acts 2:40, the term that is often rendered “testified” can also mean “warned”. In verse 41, the term often translated as “welcomed” literally means “who acknowledged the truth of” (NET Bible, tn 89). In verse 45, the term rendered as “possessions” in the NRSV may or not refer to actual real estate. This is one issue on which scholars debate. It may refer to real estate, or it may refer to possessions in general (NET Bible, tn 100).

Outline of Passage

  1. Those who heard Peter's message about Christ were “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37).
1.      Peter exhorts these individuals to “Repent, and be baptized” (Acts 2:38).
2.      Approximately 3,000 believers were added to the church and baptized (Acts 2:41).
3.      These individuals devoted themselves to “the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
  1. The church developed a unique community.
1.      The apostles performed many “wonders and signs” (Acts 2:43).
2.      The Christian community “had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45).
3.      The early church had unique fellowship among one another as they “broke bread”, spent time in the temple, and praised God (Acts 2:46-47).
  1. The church grew in number daily (Acts 2:47).

Those Who Heard Peter's Message About Christ Were Cut To The Heart

Peter exhorts these individuals to “Repent and be baptized”

            When Simon Peter finished preaching his first sermon, there was an immediate response from the people to whom he was preaching. These individuals were from “every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5-6). That is, these individuals were from all over the known world and from every corner of the Roman Empire. It would seem to be a difficult task to communicate to each and every one of them. However, the spiritual truth that should be drawn from this is that God can communicate to any individual at any time, and in any setting.
            These individuals who heard Peter's sermon were “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37), to their very core. Scholars appear to unanimously agree that this passage indicates a great conviction, by the Holy Spirit, of those who heard this sermon. Simon Peter, in his sermon, constantly reminded his listeners of their act of crucifying Christ. This would have turned most people against Peter and against Christ. Despite this, the Holy Spirit was able to convict the hearts of these individuals who heard Peter's sermon. The spiritual truth that must be drawn from this is that the Holy Spirit can convict the hardest of hearts in situations that should make these individuals more stubborn against Him.
            Those who heard Peter's sermon were so convicted that they immediately sought advice from Peter and the apostles by asking “Brothers, what should we do?” (Acts 2:37). The title they used for the apostles “andres adelphoi”, often translated as “brothers”, appears to be “a type of formal address found within first-century synagogues” (Longman, 726). This word is used only by Luke in the New Testament, and does not appear anywhere outside of Acts in the cannonical books of the Bible (Longman, 726). It shows the attitude that Peter's listeners had toward the apostles after hearing the word about Christ. They should have had a hardened heart. Instead, the Spirit of God melted their hearts and allowed them to be humbled so that they could come to Christ.  They should have looked poorly upon the apostles. Instead, they looked to them for more information. They sincerely wanted to know more about Christ. If the Spirit of God can do this for these individuals, what can stop Him from doing the same today?
            Simon Peter's response to his audience was that they should repent. Repentance as it is used here “implies a complete change of heart and confession of sin” (Longman, 749). In other words, it represents a turning around of one's heart when one is going in the wrong direction spiritually. This is what is meant by the Greek word “metanoeo”, translated as “repent” in Acts 2:38. Repentance is not merely an intellectual exercise. It is an event that affects an entire person.
            Peter also told his audience that they should be baptized. Simon Peter and the rest of the apostles linked baptism with repentance. Repentance is an inward change. Baptism is an outward symbol of that inward change. These two things were to be done, and then the audience would receive “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). It is important that we note that “the gift of the Spirit” mentioned here is not the same as the spiritual gifts that Paul spoke about in his epistles. The “gift of the Spirit” mentioned by the apostles in Acts 2:38 is a reference to the Holy Spirit Himself, not to a particular gift of the Spirit. Thus, those who repented and were baptized would receive the Spirit of God, who would then lead and guide them on their new faith-walk with Christ.
            The apostles also linked the forgiveness of sins to repentance and baptism. This would have been in keeping with the theology of first-century Judaism. Some scholars have noted that “In Jewish thought, God's renewal of his people by his Spirit and a symbolic cleansing with water go hand in hand” (Longman, 753). Thus, baptism is an individual's way of publicly saying “my transgressions have been washed away”. The apostles also made it clear that this promise, as well as the promise of the gift of the Spirit, were not only for their listening audience. This promise is also for “you, your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him” (Acts 2:39). This promise was for those who were present as Simon Peter preached, those in future generations, and those in distant places. Scholars debate whether or not the apostles were referring only to Jews with this statement, or whether they also meant to include Gentiles (Longman, 752). However, as Longman notes, “in recounting Peter's words here in Acts, Luke meant them to be read as having Gentiles ultimately in mind—whatever Peter may have been thinking at the time” (Longman, 752).
            Simon Peter told his audience to “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation” (Acts 2:40). The Greek terminology here appears to indicate that Peter was,in a sense, giving a warning to his audience. This should not be understood as Peter preaching that these individuals should save themselves. The thrust of this conversation between the apostles and the new converts to Christianity is that only Christ is able to save. Rather, Peter was likely warning his audience that they should avoid living in a corrupt manner.

Approximately 3,000 believers were added to the church and baptized
           
            In the sense that Jewish baptism “the break with one's Gentile past and the washing away of defilement” (Longman, 752), so also baptism in the name of Jesus represented a break with the past and the washing away of sins. Approximately 3000 people were so convicted by the Spirit of God about the truth of Jesus Christ that they needed to “break” with their past life without Christ and wash away their transgressions. This does not seem radical to us today. In this context, however, this was a very radical step.
            It is commonly assumed that Simon Peter spoke directly to approximately 3,000 people, who then accepted his message. This, however, may not be entirely accurate. It is more likely that there was “something of a process as a result of Peter's preaching, not necessarily a large crowd of three thousand who heard and responded en masse” (Longman, 753). Some areas of Jerusalem at this time would have worked to amplify Peter's voice. However, it is unlikely that he spoke directly to 3,000 people.

These individuals devoted themselves to “the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers”

            The early church distinguished itself by devoting itself to the teaching of the apostles. The church in Jerusalem looked to the apostles for their doctrine and for information about “Jesus' earthly ministry, passion, and resurrection” (Longman, 756). The apostles were eyewitnesses to the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There was no one more credible to whom the early church could turn for their doctrine.
            The early church also dedicated itself to fellowship. The early church was a community, not merely a group of individuals. To strengthen this community, they had fellowship with one another. At this time, the early church was seen as a sect of Judaism, especially since they “continued to observe Jewish rites and customs and had no intention of breaking with the nation or its institutions” (Longman, 756-757). No one was ever meant to live his or her Christian life in isolation. Rather, we were intended to live among a community of believers.
            Scholars often debate what Luke meant by the phrase “the breaking of bread”. Some believe that Luke was referring to what we commonly call “Communion”. Those who believe this point to the fact that Luke placed this expression “between two such religiously loaded terms as 'the fellowship' and 'prayer'” (Longman, 757). Other scholars believe that Luke was referring to an ordinary meal. These scholars often point to the fact that Luke has used this same phrase to refer to an ordinary meal, such as in Acts 20:11. Other scholars believe that Luke was referring to “an agape feast that emphasized the joy of communion with the risen Lord and of fellowship with one another” (Longman, 756). Whatever theory an individual believes concerning Luke's use of this phrase, it is clear that the early church shared meals as a community and that, while they did this, the focus remained on Christ.
            The early church also devoted themselves to prayer. Longman has noted that “there appears the parallelism between prayer in the life of Jesus and prayer in the life of the church” (Longman, 757). The early church appears to have used the prayer life of Christ as a model for their own prayer lives. It also appears that the early church took part in both corporate and individual prayer, as well as both formal and informal prayer.

The Church Developed A Unique Community

The apostles performed many “wonders and signs”

            The first-century community in Jerusalem witnessed many signs and wonders at the hands of the apostles of Christ. Luke records that “awe came upon everyone” (Acts 2:43). It is likely that this meant both Christians and non-Christians living in Jerusalem (Longman, 757). Many who were not part of the church witnessed these miraculous works at the hands of the apostles. Luke likely intended his mention of these signs “to suggest that the miracles done by the apostles should be taken as evidences of the presence of God with his people, just as in the ministry of Jesus the miracles done by him showed that God was with him” (Longman, 758). This is not to be understood as a way in which the apostles brought attention to themselves, as though they had done something great. Rather, the miraculous signs that were being done through the apostles pointed back to Christ Jesus and to God the Father.

The Christian community “had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need”

            The early church stood in unity, even when it came to their possessions. Even though the early church found Christ, each member of the early church still had needs that needed to be met. The solution that came forward was to sell their possessions and give the proceeds to those in need. This much, at least, is obvious. Longman also notes that this was an “established practice” of the early church (Longman, 758).
            Scholars sometimes disagree on what possessions the early church would sell in order to give the proceeds to those in need. At least two different theories exist. Some scholars argue that it was established practice for the early church to sell their possessions, but not necessarily their property, in order to give the proceeds to the needy. Other scholars argue that the established practice was to sell both possessions and property to give to those in need.
            Those who hold the view that it was not established practice to sell property often point to the tandem use of the Greek words ktema and hyparxeis which, when used in tandem, “likely signifies more what would be called personal possessions apart from real estate” (Longman, 759). Those who hold the view that it was established practice to sell both possessions and property may point to the later example of Ananias and Sapphira, who sold real estate to give the money to the church, but kept some of the money back for themselves. As a result, they both died that day.

The early church had unique fellowship among one another as they “broke bread”, spent time in the temple, and praised God

            The early church would meet daily in the temple. Since all of the Christians in Jerusalem at this time appear to have been Jewish, they likely wanted to continue in the traditions that they had inherited, and “retain their hold on the religious forms they had inherited and to express their new faith through the categories of the old” (Longman, 758). During these daily meetings, the Jerusalem church would offer praise to God.
            Even though the early church gathered in the temple, they ate in their homes. The Greek used in this passage of Scripture implies more than a small snack. It implies “a substantial meal” (Longman, 758). This may be what Luke was speaking of in verse 42, or this may be a different type of feast. Whatever the case may be, it is clear that the early church lived a life of fellowship with other believers.

The Church Grew In Number Daily

            Some texts, such as the Codex Bezae (D), first use the term ekklasia, or church, in verse 47. However, this may not be the case. Many texts simply do not. It appears that the early church viewed themselves as a sect of Judaism, and thus may not have distinguished themselves from Judaism this early in the life of the church. It appears that the term “church” was not used until Acts 5:11 (Longman, 760). Even here, however, it appears that the church still considered itself a sect of Judaism. Regardless of the point at which the church began to distinguish itself from Judaism, it is clear that the early church clearly understood its Jewish roots.
            Luke closes out this section of Acts by explaining that, each and every day, more people became Christians and were added to the number of the church. In the Greek sentence structure, Luke placed the term ho kyrios, a term translated as “the Lord”, first in this sentence in order to emphasize the role that the Lord plays in adding people to the church (Longman, 759). It is not the apostle or the church member who adds to the church. Instead, it is the Lord Himself.

Summation

            Luke gives us a description of the life of the early church. Despite the fact that those who came to Christ after hearing Peter's first sermon were from various backgrounds and from all over the known world, the early church stood united in their love for and fellowship with one another. This manifested itself in various traits which are recorded in Acts 2:37-47.
            First, those who came to Christ after hearing Peter's first sermon came with repentant hearts. While they may have heard about Jesus prior to hearing Peter's sermon, they were heavily convicted by the Holy Spirit after hearing Peter speak. Their lives were changed in the moment that they met Christ, and their actions backed this up. The original Greek implies that they had an entire change of heart.
            Second, those who came to Christ after hearing Peter's first sermon were baptized. Baptism is an outward sign of the inward change that had occurred in their hearts. The original Greek links baptism to repentance in this way. Linked to both of these in the original Greek and in first-century Jewish theology is the forgiveness of sins. Thus, Simon Peter's statement that those who heard him should “repent and be baptized.....so that your sins may be forgiven” (Acts 2:38) makes more sense when this connection between repentance, baptism, and the forgiveness of sins is noted. On this day, approximately 3,000 people were added to the church. It is unlikely that Simon Peter preached to 3,000 people at one time, given the way in which Jerusalem was built in the first century. Rather, it is far more likely that Peter preached to a large crowd of people, who then went and told other people, so that approximately 3,000 people were reached in one day.
            Third, the early church dedicated itself to the apostles' teaching. There was no other group of people more trustworthy to tell about the life, Person, and mission of Christ than those that He taught personally. These were eyewitnesses of the life of Christ, and it was to them that the early church looked for doctrine and spiritual guidance.
            Fourth, the early church displayed its unity by its fellowship. The Jerusalem church understood itself to be a community rather than a group of individuals. As such, the early church lived like a community rather than a group of individuals. This bore fruit in the form of unity unlike what we see in Western culture today.
            Fifth, the Jerusalem church “broke bread” together. There are several theories about what Luke meant by this statement. Each theory has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. However, it is clear that, whatever the specific details about the type of feast that Luke had in mind, the Jerusalem Christian community opened its home to other Christians and they ate these meals as a community.
            Sixth, the Jerusalem church prayed together. For the Jerusalem church, prayer was not merely an individual exercise. There was an individual aspect to prayer, of course. However, prayer was also practiced in larger groups. It was just as important to the Jerusalem church to pray corporately as it was to pray privately.
            Seventh, the apostles performed many wonders and signs. Luke intended for these miraculous signs that were being performed by the apostles to be taken as evidence of the presence of God. These signs were not meant to draw attention to the apostles. Rather, they were intended to draw attention to Christ.
            Eighth, the Jerusalem church sold their possessions in order to help those who were in need. While scholars disagree on whether or not the Jerusalem church sold property in addition to possessions, the concept that all can agree on is that the Jerusalem church made great sacrifices in selling their own possessions for the sake of others.
            Ninth, the early church expressed unity by their daily meals in the homes of other believers. The original Greek implies that these were not simply light snacks that were enjoyed. Rather, these were full meals that would be shared with other believers.
            Tenth, the Jerusalem church expressed unity by daily meeting in the temple and praising God. At this point, it appears that every follower of Christ was also a Jew. For a Jew living in Jerusalem, it would have been natural to want to carry on some of the Jewish traditions. This may have been one way in which the Jerusalem church expressed its Christianity, since Christianity grew out of God's fulfilled promises to the Jewish people.
            Not only did the church stand unified, but individuals were being added to the church on a daily basis. Luke makes it clear in this passage that it is the Lord who was adding people to the church each and every day. It was not the apostles, or the other believers in Jerusalem. Instead, without the Lord, no one could have been added to the church.

Application

            It is very easy to become divided today. We divide ourselves along political lines, along demographic lines, along theological lines, and along several other lines. It is far too easy for us to focus on the differences among us, as Christians. However, we as the church must stay united in what we do. Bible-believing Christians from every denomination, demographic, and political view hold more in common than we often believe that we do. When we stand united as a church, we should begin to see what we saw in the Jerusalem church. We should begin to see such care for others that we are willing to sell our worldly possessions to help another. We should see greater fellowship among the church. We should begin to see our communities and lives change as more people come to Christ daily.
            We must also remember that Christianity should not be practiced entirely independently of other believers. So often, we focus on individual prayer at the expense of corporate prayer. When was the last time that your church had a regular prayer meeting? A day intended specifically for prayer as a church body? This is but one example of a part of the Christian life that should be practiced both corporately and individually, yet is only practiced individually for many people. The modern church should look at the early church as an example.

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Works Cited


Anderson, Bernhard W., Bruce M. Metzger, and Roland E. Murphy. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books. New York: Oxford UP, 1991. Print

Eiselen, Frederick Carl, Edwin Lewis, and David George Downey. The Abingdon Bible Commentary.     New York: Abingdon, 1929. Print.

Henry, Matthew, and Leslie F. Church. Matthew Henry's Commentary in One Volume: Genesis to             Revelation. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1978. Print.

Longman, Tremper, and David E. Garland. The Expositor's Bible Commentary: Luke--Acts. Grand             Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007. Print

"NET Bible Online." Acts 2. Web. 29 May 2016.

Varughese, Alex, and Roger Hahn. Discovering the New Testament: Community and Faith. Kansas         City, MO: Beacon Hill of Kansas City, 2005. Print.

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