Most translations say the disciples devoted themselves “to prayer,” but the ESV translates the Greek article, to give us “to the prayers.” Hmm … Is this a reference to regularly scheduled, liturgical prayer?
Interestingly, the definite article (“the”) appears before each element: the teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, the prayers. This suggests that Luke intends to emphasis particular teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers.
Either this pattern of worship was well known in the early church because it was the common manner in which it was done, or Luke was attempting to convey that each element of the worship was the only one deserving of the name (par excellence).
Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics, by Daniel B. Wallace (1996).
I have to figure that Luke is emphasizing that we have — at last! — true teaching, true fellowship, true breaking of bread, and true prayer. The prayers therefore are prayers from the truly saved, those in true communion with God himself because they’ve accepted God’s Messiah and received God’s empowering Spirit.
Now, notice that prayer is not ritualized. Rather, they devoted themselves to prayer. Prayer was not a mere duty or requirement but a blessing received from God, to be enjoyed, even savored.
(Act 2:43 ESV) And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.
“Awe” translates phobos, meaning either fear (or even terror) or respect.
“Signs and wonders”
This is a reference back to the Exodus, as shown by Luke’s record of Stephen’s final sermon —
(Act 7:35-36 ESV) 35 “This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’–this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years.”
God proved himself the true God of Israel and Israel God’s chosen people by the many signs and wonders he performed during the Exodus. We see this pattern of thought throughout the Torah, especially the first few chapters of Deuteronomy, and then later through the Psalms and Prophets.
(Exo 7:3 ESV) But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt,
(Deu 6:22 ESV) And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes.
(Psa 135:8-9 ESV) 8 He it was who struck down the firstborn of Egypt, both of man and of beast; 9 who in your midst, O Egypt, sent signs and wonders against Pharaoh and all his servants;
Almost all the commentaries miss this, but Luke is intentionally copying the language of the Exodus to show that Pentecost is the new Exodus, the new redemption from slavery, the new call to leave a pagan land to enter the Promised Land. Therefore, God is again showing signs and wonders to create faith and lay claim to his Chosen People.
Thus, the Kingdom is the true Israel, the remnant whom God will bless, and those who reject the gospel are like the faithless Israelites who died in the desert.
Finally, it’s important that the signs and wonders were being done only through the apostles at this time. Therefore, it’s hardly arguable that receipt of the Spirit necessarily means having some miraculous manifestation. However, we certainly see later that it’s not only the apostles who receive such gifts.
- Why do you suppose the ancients used phobos to describe the community’s feelings toward God? Might it actually mean “fear”? How would you react if you weren’t in the Kingdom and you saw these miracles being done? How should you feel?
- How were the apostles’ miracles like the miracles done by God during the Exodus? Did these miracles serve a similar purpose?