Acts 2:41-43, Part 1

(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.

“The fellowship”

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?

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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13 Responses to Acts 2:41-43, Part 1

  1. Rich says:

    You are describing these events in the same manner as groups who believe that baptism of the Holy Spirit adds one to the universal church and one gets baptized by water to join the local congregation. They believe the 3000 joined the local Jerusalem megachurch rather than being mostly other language (dialect?) visitors who were actually added to the universal church and probably established smaller congregations when they returned to their home towns.

    Is this your intention?

    Note: I understand this is a tangential detail from your attention getter. However, it can have larger ramifications.

  2. Laymond says:

    (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 …”

    Jay, does it say anything about the meeting place they agreed on. every Sunday morning, or are you saying that churches in Alabama, and churches in Texas are all counted as members in that “megachurch that follows Jesus.
    Man things are getting wierder, and wieder around here.

    “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.”
    Jay, are you saying? you know for sure the apostles, and the 120 , were not baptized. did I miss where it says that.?
    That Jesus did not mean it when he said baptism was necessary to fill all righteousness.? That it was necessary for him to be baptized, but not his followers.?

    Mat 25:46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

    Did Jesus say, baptism was necessary to fill all righteousness, and only the righteous was going to heaven. Maybe at different times, but yeah he said it.
    I believe Jesus meant what he said, no matter when he said it.

  3. Emmett says:

    I’m sure that Jay, being an attorney, knows full well that he can’t prove a negative. Therefore, he can’t prove that the 120, et al, were never baptized. I’m not sure why it is important to establish that point. It has no bearing whatsoever on what was taught *by* the Apostles *to* the crowd in Jerusalem. At least I don’t see that at this point in my journey.

    As Francis Chan has said, why would any new believer try to argue that baptism is optional? The question is simply too arcane for that. It takes preconceived notions and the acceptance of doctrines that are substantially younger that Acts 2 for that to even be a question.

    As to the cited text used as “proof texts” in the establishment of a “new law”, “five acts”, etc., the same thing applies. These arguments just weren’t in the minds of those who actually witnessed the fulfilled Promise that Pentecost. It has taken centuries to refine them.

  4. hank says:

    Jay, you wrote:
    “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.”

    What do you mean by “the receipt of the Spirit is sufficient to save”? Do you believe that the 12 (or 120) went from actually being lost to saved at the point the HS filled the house and caused them to speak in tongues? Were the disciples and apostles of Christ NOT saved prior to the day of Pentecost? If they were saved before Pentecost (which must be true), then their “receiving the Spirit” had nothing to do with getting them saved. Remember, the Lord told them that they were already clean and that he was abiding in them long before the Spirit came on Pentecost.

    Similarly, I don’t believe that the Cornelius house went from being lost to save at the point the HS fell on them. Do you believe that every faithful and God fearing Gentile was lost throughout the time between the establishment of the church and the case of Cornelius?

    If the faithful Gentiles like Cornelius (the “other sheep” Jn. 10:16) could be saved before the church, is it not possible that God allowed them to remain saved until they actually were allowed into the church (Acts 10)? If so, then perhaps Cornelius did not go from being lost to saved in ch. 10, but rather, kept on being saved. I know that Peter delivered a message by which they “would be” saved, but it does not have to mean that there were not saved already.

    Consider how that those who received Jesus were given the right/power “to become” the children of God (like even Zechariah and Elizabeth), but such does not mean that all the faithful Jews were lost until they received the Lord. Rather, when they did receive him, they merely kept on being saved.

    I believe that the times of ignorance which God overlooked, when God suffered the Gentiles to walk in their own ways (be faithful and saved according to the light and info available to them), included the 10+ years after the establishment of the church and did not fully end until the time wherein Paul declared it had ended in Acts 17:30.

    What do you (and anybody else here), think?

    I appreciate your articles here…

  5. hank says:

    Suppose Cornelius was just as faithful and God fearing well before the day of Pentecost? Would he not be saved then? If so, do you believe he (and every other faithful Gentile) became lost as soon as the day of Pentecost arrived?

    Whoever contends that Cornelius went from being lost to saved in Acts 10 must address these questions…

  6. Todd Collier says:

    Wow somethingJay says that I actually completely disagree with: Though there is no out right mention of the 120 being baptized there is ample statement in the Gospels as o what was normal for becoming a disciple. John baptized his disciples. Jesus baptized His and then His disciples baptized more. I admit it is not conclusive, but it is still far more likely than not that the 120 were baptized by or into fellowship with Jesus long before Pentecost.

    As for the great “list” in Acts 2:42 I don’t see a list of “acts of worship.” I see their “devotions.” These are not the things Christians do on Sunday mornings, they are the things that mark a Christian life as being Christian. The rest of the passage – yet to come – points out the daily nature of these devotions and the large group, small group nature of the fellowship.

  7. Burntribs says:

    I just started reading “A Gathered People” by Hicks, Melton, & Valentine, and they say that verse 42 refers to two things – teaching & fellowship and that the prayers and the breaking of bread are describing fellowship. Is this generally how the verse is understood?

  8. It is how I presently understand it; however, I usually find that my understanding is not “general.”

  9. Several have written in surprise that anyone, especially one versed in law, would dare to claim what Jay does: *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.*

    Problems with this syllogism are obvious. The 3,000 could as easily have included the 120 (unless the 120 included the 12 apostles) so that the 3,000 were added to and numbered with the 12. It is not stated that the 120 were considered as having been added to the church prior to Pentecost. The apostles were exceptional. The 120 are merely listed as having been present prior to the gathering which was called together by the sound of a rushing, mighty wind. But it’s the apostles who were said to be the spokesmen of the day. I’m confident that it was only the apostles, who had been promised they would be baptized in the Spirit, who were baptized. Jay differs. I dare to believe Jay is wrong. It’s NOT the receipt of the Spirit which saves. Only those saved receive the gift, but the conversion occurs prior to the gift, if we can believe Peter spoke for God as quoted in Acts 2:38.

    And to affirm that the 3,000 were saved by any action of the Spirit is unprovable. The apostolic message was that the Spirit would be given as a result of repentance and baptism of believers in Jesus as Lord. The two gifts were based on the same obedience–remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Both resulted from the new birth which culminates in baptism in water. I’d like to be able to agree with Jay. In this I surely cannot agree. He is wrong in supposing that receipt of the Spirit causes remission of sins. That is NOT what the apostle promised. It is not the way remission of sins occurred then or ever will occur.

    It’s easy to get confused when we’re willing to be confused. But the gift of the Spirit AND remission of sins follows the new birth of water and spirit. Each passage on any subject must agree with every other passage if indeed the Word is inspired by the One Spirit. And every other mention of conversion MUST agree with what Peter pronounced on the first Pentecost when the church was established. So we don’t try to twist Peter’s words to agree with what we think we’ve found in some other passage. We understand the other passage to agree with Acts 2:38 as properly understood. That’s what we should do unless we don’t believe in the inspiration of the New Covenant books.

  10. Jerry says:

    This time, I believe Ray is correct. Not only does Acts 2:38 put remission of sins and the reception of the Holy Spirit after baptism, so does Galatians 3:26 – Gal 4:6 where we become children of God by faith for [γαρ, gar] we have been baptized into Christ. Then 4:6 says because [῞Οτι. hoti] we are sons, God sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts.

    I believe Titus 3:5 also suggests the same thing. There, the “washing of regeneration” precedes “the renewal of the Holy Spirit” in the text – whether it does in chronology or not.

    Jay, I believe you have made some assumptions in this article that are not necessary – and then proceeded to build a theological argument based on those assumptions.

    It is an assumption that the 120 were included in the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost. They may have been, but the text does not say so. You infer it.

    It is an assumption that the 120, including the 12, were not baptized – either by John or in the baptism John 4:1-2 describes. True, there are difficulties with saying they were baptized prior to the cross. Those difficulties can be overcome by assuming (now I’m doing it too!) that they were included in the Pentecost event. Yet, to add that to the assumption that they were not baptized to argue that this proves it is the receiving of the Holy Spirit that saves puts you onto shaky ground that demands that two assumptions be right.

  11. hank says:

    Good points, Jerry.

  12. Charles McLean says:

    I think I still see a situation here where the arguments are talking past one another. I think it is a matter of not reading one another carefully, or of attributing ideas not expressed. Jay writes pretty carefully, in my experience, whether I agree with him or not.

    Jay makes the point that it cannot be concluded from scripture that the 120, or the Twelve, for that matter, were ever baptized in water. He suggests that these people did not appear to receive what we commonly think of as “Christian baptism”– the Pentecost-forward “immersion for the remission of sins” by believers who have already been likewise immersed. Now, before you start pawing the ground for a rejoinder, note what was NOT said here. I will take this one in hand for myself, if I may.

    I do not argue that the Twelve (or the 120) were never baptized by anyone for anything. I simply note that one cannot determine this from a reading of scripture; one can only take our common practice and presume that the 120 saw things just as we do. This is not enough for a “thus saith the Lord”, in my view. Furthermore, as our so-called “Christian baptism” was a post-Acts 2:38 phenomenon, the 120 do not appear to have needed it at all. They were ALREADY the “number” to which the 3000 were added. Those who insist that these believers “must have been” baptized need to back away from that presumption; it’s not found in scripture. So, based on the scripture alone, one simply cannot conclude that one MUST be baptized in water if he is to be part of the church. As a fixed rule, it’s biblically unsupportable. Likewise, one cannot conclude that one MUST be water baptized to receive the Holy Spirit, not without imposing something on the text here and elsewhere.

    The issue here is NOT whether or not water baptism is called for by the Lord. Taking the discussion that direction is a diversion. The larger issue is the fact that we do not have enough biblical evidence to conclude some of the things we have historically taught as immutable truth. That does not mean we cannot teach what we DO read. In cases like this, we can teach them as priniciple, or as general practice, but when we go so far as to say, “It must be so, each and every time”, we have overstepped our Bible. We have taken our own faith and practice and inductively reverse-engineered select passages to support it; then we claimed this process as some sort of biblical proof. This may have been intentional, or well-intentioned, or simply the product of poor exegesis. In any case, the result is not truly FROM the scriptures; it has merely been INDUCED from the scriptures.

    We have also been engaging in what I would call “premise skipping”. We take one statement from Brother A, add another premise of our own, formulate a conclusion, and hand the conclusion around the neck of Brother A. For example: Brother A says, “We receive eternal life when we believe.”

    Incensed, we build the following syllogism:
    Brother A says we receive eternal life when we believe.
    Jesus said, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.”
    So, Brother A must not believe in baptism.
    Brother A believes in the baptism of the Spirit today.
    The Pentecostals down the street say that the tongues they speak are a sign of the baptism of the Spirit.
    SO… (and we have a selection here to choose from) Brother A must speak in tongues, or, Brother A believes in hollering gibberish in church, or Brother A is a closet Pentecostal.

    Poor Brother A. He best not open his mouth any further, lest we shovel another load into it before he can form a syllable. If we would refrain from this kind of sloppy reasoning and the resultant pointless argument, the first step is to listen harder to one another.

  13. Jerry says:


    Thank you for the above comment!

    It is so easy to attribute beliefs to someone else that they would repudiate! It has happened to me – and likely, I have done it to others. I wonder if this is not a cause of much of the division, not only among the churches of Christ, but in the entire world of Christendom.

    So many times we allow someone else to define what the Scriptures mean by, say, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Then when you go to the Scriptures and begin to try to see what it actually says – and discover that all Christians are baptized in the Spirit – then others hang the definition (in this case, that speaking in tongues is the sign of that baptism) on you. That has happened to me time and time again. And it does little good to point out that in the very chapter where Paul says we are all baptized in one Spirit (1 Cor 12:13), he goes on to indicate that not all speak in tongues (1 Cor 12:29). The objector has accepted the false definition of someone else and refuses to allow the Scriptures to correct that definition.

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