|Acts 2:41-43: The Early Disciples
IN WHAT WERE THE EARLY DISCIPLES ENMESHED?
Central Thought: The early disciples formed a community which exhibited togetherness through following the same teaching, sharing the same fellowship, breaking the same bread and offering prayers to the same God.
It is the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus. Peter has announced that God has raised Jesus from the dead, exalted him to the right hand of God, sat him down on the throne of David, and made him both Lord and Christ. The last days have begun. The prophecy of Joel has been fulfilled. Everyone is called to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus. Peter exhorts the audience to respond to the what God has down and seek their salvation from him. Our text details their response.
Verse 41. Those who believed the preached word about Jesus responded to the command to be baptized. Whoever believes that Jesus is Lord and Christ will submit to this requirement. Baptism is the command of God, and through it God saves those who believe his word. As a result of their faith response, they become part of a larger number, a community; they become part of the church. We are baptized into a community where God numbers us among the saved (Acts 2:47; cf. 1 Cor. 12:13).
Verse 42. Luke describes this newly formed community as devoted to four agenda items. This four-fold summary describes, in a general way, the character and practices of this early community of believers. The list is clearly differentiated and emphasized by the use of the article: the teaching of the apostles, the fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers.
First, they listened to the teaching of the apostles. When this new community gathered, it learned its faith from apostolic teaching. That teaching guided the faith and development of this community. The authority of the apostles in the community is seen in 5:12-16.
Second, they devoted themselves to fellowship. This term may have a broad range of meaning. It may have a general meaning of "togetherness" whereby members encouraged each other in various ways, especially in their assemblies as in 2:46. It may also have a narrow meaning such as the monetary gifts which members gave to the community as in 2:44-45. "Fellowship" and "common" are from the same root term. Their commonality (fellowship) is reflected in their sharing (holding in common) their possessions. Or, it may even be a general term which embraces the next two terms in verse 42. In other words, the text may identify "fellowship" as the breaking of bread and prayers. Others think it may refer to a "fellowship meal." Whichever meaning is intended, the general sense is clear. The early disciples invested time and energy in each other through meeting together and sharing their possessions with each other (as in 4:32).
Third, they devoted themselves to the breaking of bread. This phrase causes us to think back to Luke's first volume where Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper through taking the bread, blessing it, breaking it and distributing it among the disciples (Luke 22:19). What the Lord instituted, the earliest disciples practiced. In Acts 20:7, the disciples gathered for the purpose of breaking bread. The Lord's Supper was at the heart of Christian assemblies from the beginning, and it should be remembered that Pentecost fell on the first day the week. The connection between the first day of week and the Lord's Supper is made both in Acts 20:7 and here in Acts 2. Pentecost celebrated the harvest, and the Lord's Supper celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the first day of the week which is the first fruits of the end-time harvest.
Fourth, they devoted themselves to prayer. This statement reflects the piety of the new community and their devotional dependance upon God. To characterize this community as a praying one is a significant indicator of their attitude and demeanor. How often are our churches described as communities of prayer?
Verse 43. The apostles were the leaders of the community, and they demonstrated their authority by the miracles which they performed. Everyone, including "all the people" (2:47), recognized their authority which was confirmed by their miracles. They were "signs" of God's presence within this new community. They authenticated the existence of the church. God bore witness to his servants through these miracles (Heb. 2:3-4) which produced an awe in the hearts of believers.
Acts 2 is an important text in the Bible, particularly in the two-volume work of Luke. It is the transition from the ministry of Jesus to the ministry of the church. Pentecost is where the early disciples as a community, a church, are invested with the ministry of Jesus. The church takes up the work of Jesus himself and fulfills the ministry of Christ as a church. Acts 2:42 is particularly important in this light.
Acts 2:42 is rooted in the ministry of Jesus itself. It looks back to the teaching and work of Jesus. For example, Jesus carried on a teaching ministry himself. During the last days of his life, he was teaching in the temple every day (Luke 19:47). Jesus enjoyed fellowship with his disciples and provided for the needs of people through his ministry (Luke 18:35-19:9). During his last hours, he broke bread with his disciples and promised he would do so again in the kingdom of God at his table (Luke 22:16-30). Jesus, of course, was a person of prayer throughout his ministry (Luke 5:16) as in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-46). The ministry of Jesus provided a pattern for the Church.
Acts 2:42 also anticipates the ministry of the church throughout the rest of the story in Acts. The church depended upon the apostolic leadership, guidance and teaching of the apostles. The apostles taught daily in the temple courts (Acts 5:41-42). The ministry of the Word was given to them (Acts 6:4) and they directed the faith of the church (Acts 15:6). Their miracles authenticated their leadership and assured the believers that God is present in them (Acts 5:12) just as the miracles of Jesus confirmed his relationship with God (Acts 2:22). The church continued its fellowship through meeting together (Acts 2:46; 11:26; 14:27) and monetary gifts (Acts 11:29).
The disciples also continued to gather together to break bread (Acts 20:7). It is clear from Acts 20:7 that it was the habit of the Troas church to meet on the first day of the week for the express purpose of breaking bread. The Lord's Supper continued to be a central purpose for the Christian community. The disciples also continued to gather for prayer (Acts 4:24-31; 12:12; 13:1-3). In whatever circumstance, Christians turned to God and depended upon him through prayer.
The activities of Acts 2:42 were paradigmatic for the church--they characterize the heart of the community of faith. The church is a body of believers who follow the teaching of the apostles, encourage and meet the needs of fellow believers, break bread together and pray together. This is the model Jesus provided for his church. It was Jesus did with his disciples, and his disciples in the early church followed his pattern. As a church, we too are called to follow the pattern of Jesus.
1. Why is baptism such a difficult subject today when the first believers were so readily baptized?
2. What is the meaning of "devotion to apostolic teaching"? How is this seen in the book of Acts?
3. What is the meaning of "devotion to fellowship"?
4. What is the meaning of "devotion to breaking of bread"?
5. What is the meaning of "devotion to prayer"?
6. How does the ministry of Jesus reflect each of these four?
7. Is Acts 2:42 a pattern? What is meant by "pattern"?
First published as "In What Were the Early Disciples Enmeshed? (II)," Adult Bible Quarterly (Winter 1996-97), 21st Century Christian, 25-8.