Summary of the Text

A Sound Foundation: Acts 2:42 would make for a solid outline for a worship service, checklist for a congregation’s life together, or personal schedule for an afternoon. Most of what we are called to do as disciples could fit within this framework, of study, fellowship, (perhaps sacramental) shared meals, and prayer. When considering the snapshot of early church life in Acts 2:42-47, this sound foundation should always be kept in mind.

Word Study: proskarterountesThis participle appears twice in this passage, in verses 42 and 46. It consists of the prefix pros- added to the verb kartereō (to be steadfast), which derives from the familiar root kratos (strength, or power). Proskarterein, then, means “to persist or persevere (in something).” In our passage this gets translated (NRSV) as “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching…” in 2:42, and—more loosely in verse 46—“they spent much time together in the temple…”
Persevering in spiritual disciplines and persisting in corporate worship might seem quite distant from the core root of strength/power, but I find that this compound word and its New Testament usage accurately reflects the true power that is available to Christians, and can serve as a helpful corrective for an understanding of Christian strength that in some circles is corrupted by too great a sense of brute force. 

Signs & Wonders: Coming from a tradition that tends to see the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit as coming to an end after the apostolic age (and leaning in this cessationist direction myself), references to “wonders and signs” in the New Testament capture my attention and stoke my curiosity. Are these signs and wonders that elicit such a sense of awe in 2:43 in fact a model for us to strive for still today? Or are they one aspect of the early church’s ministry that was intended just for this period of establishing the church? It does strike me that all of the particular actions that are mentioned in the passage speak of more “ordinary” spiritual gifts—praising, praying, sharing, supporting one another (could these be the signs and wonders here?). Even if the “wonders and signs” here refer (as they typically do) to the Spirit’s extraordinary gifts, it is noteworthy that these wonders lead (merely) to awe (or perhaps fear). It is the ordinary gifts of the Spirit that seem to lead more directly here to “having the goodwill of all of the people” and to the Lord adding daily “to their number those who were being saved.”

Word study: phobos:Most modern translations render this word in verse 43 as “awe”—rather than as “fear”—and that is a valid translation of the word. The added note in verse 47 about “having the goodwill of all the people” supports taking phobos in this more positive sense. And yet I don’t know that we can completely dismiss the more basic sense of “fear,” especially since this is clearly the sense of the word in a related passage in Acts 5. In both Acts 5:5 and 5:11, a great phobos is said to have come over the people after the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira when they violated the principles of community laid out in chapter 2. Is it possible that there could be more of an overlap of meaning in the “awe” of Acts 2 and the “fear” of Acts 5 than modern translations suggest?

Koina & Koinōnia:It’s easy in translation to miss the direct etymological link between this early church community’s “fellowship” (koinōnia) and their having all things “in common” (koina). And yet many congregants will have positive associations with “fellowship” while quietly (or not quietly) dismissing the concept of holding any possessions “in common” as a form of godless communism. While this particular community of believers doesn’t necessarily provide a blueprint that all other Christian communities must emulate, a preacher might highlight these paired terms in verses 42 and 43 to remind the congregation that fellowship runs deeper than a Styrofoam cup of coffee and that it has more to do with social justice than with one’s social calendar.

“As Any Had Need”: According to the poor laws in early modern England, the “worthy poor” were to be given assistance, while those who were “willfully idle” were punished for their laziness. Part of me appreciates a certain wisdom and justice in this distinction (as difficult as some cases would have been to discern and to legislate), and this ethic could be defended via scriptures like Proverbs 19:15 (“an idle person will suffer hunger”). And perhaps the opening depiction in Acts 2:42 of the community’s devotion is meant to suggest such a universal industry that no one among them would have been in need due simply to their sloth. But still, the distribution of proceeds is said to be for “all, as any had need”—without any qualifications besides need. Surely churches should be judicious in allocating limited resources, but at least as a default position this passage suggests that a person’s need should be right at the top of our criteria for helping others.

Public & Family Worship: Luke mentions the breaking of bread twice in this passage, first in 2:42 and suggesting a public worship context, and then again in 2:46, which is specifically said to be “at home.” Verse 46 itself contains references to both public, corporate worship (“they spent much time together in the temple”) and family worship (“they broke bread at home”). This little added detail of faith practices extending to the home expands our picture of the early church’s worship, revealing a consistent community devotion in which every aspect of the believers’ lives was shaped by their faith. Surely this consistency contributed to the growth they experienced. 

A Foreboding Cloud Looms: If Acts 2:42-47 were made into a movie would it be a sweet, family-friendly reflection on neighborliness and small-town values, or the first act of a horror movie? I’m not so sure myself. As much as I love the goodwill and generosity that mark this account, I can’t read it apart from the looming cloud of Acts 5, when Ananias and Sapphira pay with their lives for violating this spirit and then lying about it to the Spirit. Whether the preacher acknowledges this tension or not, surely some in the congregation who know what is around the corner will have a hard time embracing this depiction of early church life as an unambiguous good. And even if we have a hard time making sense of the harsh justice of Acts 5, it can at least be a reminder that there can be no utopian society of sinful people so long as we are in this fallen world.

Daily Growth: Still, in the midst of human brokenness and the early fault lines that emerge in this communal harmony, this early church community is blessed with daily growth, and their faithful discipleship bears fruit that extends beyond their original confines. I don’t know that this means that a church’s faithfulness necessarily expands its membership—or that a growing church is necessarily being faithful to its calling. But it can be one useful metric—that a loving community tends to be attractive to others. And it’s worth noting, as a final observation, that this growth is not said to be the result of having the right “church growth” strategy, but of the community seeking to love God and others.

Mark Brewer

Darren Pollock is Pastor of Panorama Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Church History at Fuller Seminary. A graduate of UC Davis (BA in classics), Princeton Seminary (MDiv), and Calvin Seminary (PhD in historical theology), he lives in Temple City, CA, with his wife Ashley, two young children Charlie and Carter, and step-cat Fanny.

Darren is the author of Early Stuart Polemical Hermeneutics: Andrew Willet’s 1611 Hexapla on Romans (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2017). He has also been published in Jonathan Edwards Studies, Anglican & Episcopal History, and Word & World, and he contributed multiple entries to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017).

After Christ and his family, Darren most loves crossword puzzles and Scrabble, Zion National Park, good coffee, passion fruit, and the ascendant Sacramento Kings.

Sermon Resources

Key Quote

Anyone wanting to proclaim the glory of Christ to the ends of the earth must consider not only how to declare the gospel verbally but also how to demonstrate the gospel visibly in a world where so many are urgently hungry.

David Platt 


Key Illustration

The Threat of the Christians

The fourth-century emperor Julian (AD 331-336) feared [Christians] might take over the empire. Referring to Christians as “Galileans” and Christianity as “atheism” (because of their denial of the existence of pagan gods) and believing their religion to be a sickness, he penned this directive to his officials:

We must pay special attention to this point, and by no means effect a cure. For when it came about the poor were neglected and overlooked by the [pagan priests, then I think the impious Galileans observed this fact and devoted themselves to philanthropy. And they have gained ascendency in the worst of their deeds through the credit they win for such practices.

For just as those who entice children with a cake, and by throwing it to them two or three times induce them to follow them, and then, when they are far away form their friends and cast them on board a ship and sell them as slaves…by the same method, I say, Galileans also begin with their so-called love-feast, or hospitality, or service of tables-for they have many ways of carrying it out and hence call it by many names-and the result is that they have led many into atheism [i.e. Christianity].

Quoted in Michael Frost, Surprise the World, NavPress, 2015.

Additional Sermon Resources