Ministry Resources

A Brief Description of the Early Church

Author: Dr. Craig Keener

Acts 2:41-47

Verse 41:

Summary sections (such as 2:41-47 here) appear often in ancient literature. Luke’s estimate of conversions is a large number of people (Josephus estimated only 6000 Pharisees altogether!), though not impossible. In contrast to lower earlier estimates, recent estimates of Jerusalem’s population are often 80,000 or higher; pilgrims for Pentecost swelled the numbers higher still. Because worshipers needed to purify themselves ritually, the temple mount had a massive number of immersion pools, rendering the baptism of large numbers there plausible.

Verse 42:

Ancient groups often ate together (for example, Pharisaic fellowships, cultic associations). Greek associations typically met and ate together once a month. Table fellowship created friendship and loyalty ties. Music or other entertainment, but also discussions and even lectures, were frequent at common meals in antiquity. Here the focus may be apostolic teaching and prayer.

Verses 43-45:

Luke’s description here may adapt the language used by some philosophers for the ideal community (a utopia); others also compare the ancient ideal of “friends” sharing things in common. Qumran sectarians surrendered all possessions to their community and withdrew into the wilderness from the larger society. While Qumran does show the extent to which some groups could go, we should not ignore differences as well. Thus there is no withdrawal here, and believers apparently sell property simply when needs arise (4:34-35), continuing to use their homes (2:46). Christians’ sacrificial lifestyle continued in the second century, mocked by rich pagans until the church later absorbed society’s values.

Verses 46-47:

People often congregated under the colonnades of temples, which were normally considered public places. Jerusalem’s temple also hosted public prayer during morning and evening offerings (see comment on 3:1). Greek associations (trade guilds, etc.) often met just once a month.

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