Notes on Prayer: Acts 2:42-46; 3:1

Acts 2:42-46; 3:1

Following the coming of the Spirit upon the disciples (Acts 2:1-4ff) and Peter’s sermon expounding this event (2:14-40), we find another notice regarding the unity of the first Christians (vv. 42-46). This is very much parallel to the initial narrative summary in 1:12-14 (cf. the prior study on v. 14). Many of the same points and themes are re-stated, but other important details are introduced as well. Here is the main statement in v. 42:

“And they were remaining strong toward the teaching of the (one)s sent forth, and (to) the common (bond), in the breaking of bread and the speaking out toward (God).”

The same verb (proskartere/w) and participle form was used in 1:14, and is a key term for expressing the unity of the early believers. They were “strong toward” each other, being at the same time “strong toward” those very things which are signs and marks of that unity. Foremost of these, in 1:14, was prayer (proseuxh/), literally the “speaking out toward (God)”. Prayer is again mentioned here in 2:42, but in the plural (proseuxai/), implying repeated instances of the Community praying together.

However, the first mark of unity mentioned in v. 42 is attention to the teaching (didaxh/) of the apostles (lit. the ones “sent forth” [by Jesus as his representatives]). The plural a)po/stoloi refers primarily to the circle of the Twelve. As noted in the previous study, the symbolism of the twelve is essential to the early narratives of Acts, as expressed by the key episode of the restoration of the Twelve (1:15-26), which symbolizes the eschatological concept of the restoration of Israel (i.e., the Twelve tribes). This restoration was realized for the author of Acts by the early Christian Community (in Jerusalem) and its missionary outreach into the Nations. The presence and work of the Spirit, along with the proclamation of the Gospel, represent the true fulfillment of the promise of the Kingdom for Israel (1:6-8).

The teaching by the apostles is centered on the proclamation of the Gospel, but also extends beyond it to include instruction for different areas of Christian life and belief. Apostolic teaching also touched upon issues of leadership and management of the Community. Paul’s letters represent an expanded form of this mode of teaching, whereas we have only small pieces of it contained within the narratives of Acts.

Parallel with the teaching (= preaching/proclamation of the Gospel) are the other aspects of unity summarized by the keyword koinwni/a, which is sometimes translated blandly as “fellowship”, but which in the New Testament more properly refers to the “common bond” between believers. The noun is only used here in the book of Acts, even though what it signifies pervades the entire book (especially the early chapters), and may rightly be highlighted as a central theme. The term is used relatively frequently by Paul in his letters (13 times, out of 19 NT occurrences), and 4 times in 1 John (1:3, 6-7). The common-bond between believers is further manifest, in daily life and practice, by two primary activities:

    • “the breaking of bread” —the expression refers to a common meal shared by the Community, but also alludes, most likely, to celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The eucharistic symbolism of the “breaking of bread” is well-rooted in the early tradition (Mk 14:22 par; Lk 24:30, 35; 1 Cor 10:16-17; 11:23ff).
    • “the speaking out toward (God)” —as noted above, the use of the plural here refers to regular times of prayer by the Community, when they are gathered together.

Verses 44-45 describe still another manifestation of the “common bond” (koinwni/a) between believers. The early Jerusalem Christians lived in a communal manner, holding property and assets in common. Land and possessions were sold, with the profits from the sale placed into a common fund. In many ways, this is a continuation of the lifestyle practiced by Jesus and his followers (Jn 12:5-6; 13:29; Lk 8:2-3). The importance of commitment to this communal approach is illustrated by the episode in 5:1-11. While this communalistic ideal was not maintained for long, nor was it continued to any great degree as Christianity spread out of Jerusalem, many believers have recognized the value of the ideal as a sign of Christian unity and mutual love.

Verse 46 repeats the thematic wording from v. 42 (and 1:14), combining the key terms proskarterou=nte$ (“[remain]ing strong toward”) and o(moqumado/n (“with one impulse,” i.e., with one heart, of one accord):

“and according to (each) day, remaining strong toward (each other), with one impulse, in the sacred (place), and breaking bread according to (each) house (where they dwelt), they took nourishment together in joyfulness and without a stone in (the) heart…”

Expressions of the united spirit of the Community here frame the summary description of the places where the Community gathers; this can be outlined, thematically, as follows:

      • “remaining strong toward (each other), with one impulse”
        • “in the sacred (place)” [i.e., the Temple precincts]
        • “according to (each) house” [i.e., the individual houses of believers]
      • “in joyfulness and smoothness [lit. without a stone] of heart”

The breaking of bread (communal meal and celebration of the Lord’s Supper) takes place in believers’ homes (early form of ‘house churches’), while the Temple continued as an important location for prayer and worship (and teaching) by the Jerusalem Community (cf. the concluding words of the Gospel of Luke, 24:53).

In particular, the reference to the Temple here prepares the way for the episode that follows in chapter 3, as does the statement regarding the miracles performed by the apostles (v. 43). Here is how the episode is introduced in 3:1:

“And (the) Rock {Peter} and Yohanan stepped up into the sacred place [i.e. Temple] upon the hour of speaking out toward (God) [proseuxh/], the ninth (hour).”

Two details are most significant: (1) the location of the Temple precincts, and the fact that the early believers are coming to this location; and (2) the time of the episode, identified as “the hour of prayer”. The association with prayer (proseuxh/) is clearly important, relating to the prayer-references we have been examining (in 1:14, 24 and 2:42). From the standpoint of the Temple ritual, the ninth hour (comparable to 3:00 pm) is the time of the evening (afternoon) sacrifice (cf. Exod 29:39; Num 28:3-4, 8; Ezek 46:13-15; Dan 9:21; Josephus, Antiquities 14.65), when many Israelites and Jews would traditionally devote themselves to prayer.

This is the same time (and general locale) for the Angelic announcement to Zechariah in the Lukan Infancy narrative (Lk 1:8-10ff). Indeed, the Jerusalem Temple serves as an important symbolic location in Luke-Acts. While there was little opportunity for the author to develop this theme within the Synoptic Tradition proper, it features prominently in the Infancy narratives, which are thoroughly Lukan in composition. The Temple-setting features in three different narrative episodes: (1) the annunciation of John’s birth (1:8-23), (2) the revelation by Simeon (and Anna) regarding Jesus’ destiny and identity as the promised Messiah (2:23-38), and (3) the episode of the child Jesus in the Temple (2:41-51), with its climactic declaration (by Jesus) in v. 49.

As most commentators recognize, for the author of Luke-Acts, the Temple serves as an important point of contact (and continuity) between the Old and New Covenant. The old form is filled with new meaning—that is, by the revelation of Jesus (as the Messiah). While the Temple continues to be frequented by the Jerusalem Christians, it is given an entirely new emphasis (and role) for believers. In particular, the importance of the sacrificial ritual is replaced, almost exclusively, by the emphasis on teaching and prayer. This is established in Luke-Acts by the description of Jesus’ activity in the Temple (Lk 19:47; 20:1; 21:37-38 [cf. also the parable in 18:10ff]), and continues with the behavior of believers (Lk 24:53; Acts 2:46, etc). For more on the subject, cf. my article “The Law in Luke-Acts” (Part 1).

The Temple precincts serve as the locale for three important episodes in Acts: (i) the miracle and sermon-speech by Peter in chapter 3; (ii) the following conflict-encounter and speech in 4:1-22; and (iii) and the similar conflict episode in 5:12-42. The Temple also features prominently in the Stephen episode (narrative and speech) in chaps. 6-7. The old form of the Temple is filled by the new message of Christ, manifest through the presence/work of the Spirit (healing miracles, etc) and the proclamation of the Gospel.

The central activity of prayer thus relates not only to the unity of early believers, but also to the early Christian mission. This will be discussed further in the next study, which will focus on the prayer-speech—a variation of the sermon-speech format in Acts—in 4:23-31.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *