(Act 2:41 ESV) So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
I take “about three thousand souls” to be quite literal. The first congregation of Christ’s church was a megachurch! So much for those who insist that the optimal congregation size is 150 …
Ray Vander Laan points out that the number of Israelites killed due to the worship of the golden calf while Moses was on Mt. Sinai was 3,000. If we remember that Pentecost was the anniversary of the giving of the Torah, we see an anti-type. History is reversed. Instead of 3,000 damned due to rebellion, 3,000 are saved, leaving the rest of Israel in rebellion.
I should note that these 3,000 “were added,” that is, added to the original 120. The 3,000 were added upon baptism, whereas the original 120 (not just the apostles) did not have to be baptized. Plainly, therefore, the receipt of the Spirit is sufficient to save.
We’ll see in the conversion of Cornelius and his household that Peter had them baptized in water after they’d received baptism in the Spirit. This makes sense if we recall that baptism is not only the time when the Spirit is normatively received but also the time when the church accepts a convert into communion (it’s not either-or but both-and in the ordinary case). And it was of critical importance that the Jewish Christians accept their new Gentile brothers and sisters. Hence, they needed to take some action to show their acceptance of the Gentiles.
(Act 2:42 ESV) And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Some read this and the following verses and find an order of worship, not only a listing of particular “acts of worship” but even the order in which the acts must be done. However, it’s highly unlikely that Luke was intending to prescribe the rules for formal worship. Indeed, it’s clear from the context that he’s describing church life, not an hour on Sunday. Yes, some of what is described might be typical of a formal assembly, but Luke covers much more ground than that.
Therefore, to understand this section of Acts, we shouldn’t imagine the early Christians visiting their church house on Sunday mornings. After all, Luke says nothing of Sunday, and there were no church buildings.
And so, if Luke’s agenda is not to deliver a body of rules about how to conduct the Sunday morning service, what are his purposes here? I can see at least two —
First, Luke’s perspective is that of prophecy fulfilled. Peter has just finished a sermon built on prophecy. As we’ve seen, Pentecost is suffused with Old Testament symbolism and typology. It’s surely true that Luke continues in that vein.
Second, of course, these things really happened and they do demonstrate the life of the early church, as experienced in Jerusalem — not as a book of rules or acts of worship but, rather, the heart of the Christian experience.
“To the apostles’ teaching”
What do you suppose they taught? No lesson outlines are preserved, and so Luke must consider the content to be clear enough from the context. And that means they taught the life and teachings of Jesus, as taught in Luke, and the fulfillment of prophecy, as we saw in the earlier passages in Acts. And that would make sense.
What is missing is lessons on ecclesiology, that is, how to do church: five acts, rules for appointment elders, that sort of thing. No, Luke doesn’t give us the early teaching here because he’s already given us the early teaching.
They devoted themselves to the koinōnia. Now, we see this word used very frequently in Paul’s writings, but it is only found here in Luke-Acts. It’s nearly unknown to the Septuagint.
The word can refer to community, fellowship, sharing, participation, or partnership. It can also refer to a contribution or gift (2 Cor 9:13, for example). I “share” with you by giving to you. We’ll shortly see that Luke likely chose this word for both of its meanings.
Modern Christians read “fellowship” and assume potluck dinners and foyer conversations, but Luke had something much more intimate in mind. He’ll give us more details shortly.
- What does Luke mean by “devote themselves”? What would that look like? Do we do that?
- Do you agree with the author’s suggestion regarding the nature of the apostles’ teaching in those days? Would that have been enough? What else should have been taught? Anything?
- How does Luke’s description differ from how we do church today? Is our way better?