Notes on Prayer: Philippians 1:3-11

Philippians 1:3-11

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, his references to prayer follow the familiar pattern we have noted in his other letters (esp. 1 Thessalonians). The focus on prayer is a prominent element of the introduction (exordium) portion, in which Paul offers thanks to God for the believers whom he is addressing (here, in Philippi):

“I give thanks to my God for (His) good favor upon every remembrance of you, (at) every time and in every need [de/hsi$] of mine (expressed to God) over all of you, with joy making the need [de/hsi$] (known)…” (vv. 3-4)

Prayer is defined here (as it frequently is by Paul) in terms of making one’s need (de/hsi$) known to God. As Paul does this, he makes mention (bringing to mind/memory, mnei/a) of the believers in the congregations where he has worked as a missionary (such as in Philippi). Indeed, many of the requests he makes to God are “over” (peri/, i.e., on behalf of) these believers. This is an important point of emphasis that we have noted repeatedly in these studies—how the focus of one’s prayers ought to be for the needs of others, at least much (or more) than for our own needs.

Part of Paul’s focus in prayer, and which features prominently in the letter-introductions, is that the believers for whom he prays will continue to grow in faith and Christian virtue. Just as they responded to his initial preaching of the Gospel, so he asks that they will continue to respond:

“…upon your common-bond in the good message, from the first day until now, having been persuaded of this very (thing), that the (One hav)ing begun in you a good work will complete (it) until (the) day of (the) Anointed Yeshua” (vv. 5-6)

As is typically the case, Paul frames this faithfulness of believers in eschatological terms. Given the fact that first-century Christians almost universally evinced an imminent eschatology, this is hardly surprising. The “day of Christ Jesus” —that is, the day when he will return to earth to usher in the Judgment—was expected to come very soon, within the life-time of believers.

In the expression e)pi\ th=| koinwni/a|, the preposition e)pi/ (“upon, about”) should probably be understood in a causal sense (i.e., because of); in English idiom, we might say, “on the grounds of”. The noun koinwni/a is a fundamental word used to express the unity (common-bond, community) of believers (cf. Acts 2:42; 1 Jn 1:3ff), and is used with some frequency by Paul (13 of the 19 NT occurrences are in the undisputed Pauline letters). This “common bond” is defined in terms of the Gospel (“good message, good news”). As is often the case in the New Testament, the noun eu)agge/lion is used in a comprehensive sense, extending from believers’ initial response to the Gospel preaching until the present moment (“from the first day until now”).

The “common bond” between believers can also be viewed in the specific (local) context of the relationship between Paul and the Philippian congregations. In this regard, Paul gives thanks for the Philippians’ continued support for his missionary work; this support certainly includes their prayers for him (v. 19). We have discussed this aspect of Paul’s prayer-references in the previous studies.

It is Paul himself who is persuaded (vb pei/qw) of the fact that God is faithful and will complete the work begun among the Philippian believers. As believers, we also have to do our part, remaining committed to the Gospel (and the common-bond of unity), following the example of Jesus (2:5-6ff), and allowing ourselves to be guided by the Spirit (2:1ff).

Following the thanksgiving of vv. 3-6, Paul shifts to address the Philippian congregations directly in vv. 7-8:

“Even so it is right for me to have this mind-set over all of you, through my holding you in the heart—both in my bonds and in the account (I give) and (the) confirmation of the good message—all of you being my common partners of the favor (of God). For God (is) my witness, how I long after all of you with (the) inner organs [spla/gxna] of (the) Anointed Yeshua.”

Paul says that it is right (di/kaio$) and proper for him to hold this view regarding the Philippians, because they have already demonstrated their faith and commitment to the Gospel. Indeed, they continue to support Paul through the difficulties and travails of his mission-work, even to the point where he has been imprisoned (“in my bonds”). The noun sugkoinwno/$ (“common [partner] together”) is, of course, related to koinwni/a, and reflects a more active and direct manifestation of the “common bond” of Christian unity—in terms of participation and cooperation in the Christian mission. The bond of unity is also an emotional bond, as Paul describes how he “longs for” the Philippian believers, with a longing that reflects the very “inner organs” (spec. intestines, as the seat of emotion) of Christ himself. This longing is further manifest in Paul’s prayers for the Philippians:

“And this I speak out toward (God) [proseu/xomai]: that your love still more and more would abound, with (full) knowledge and all perception, unto your giving consideration (to) the (thing)s carrying through (as pleasing to God), (so) that you would be shining like the sun, and without striking (your foot) against (a stone), until (the) day of (the) Anointed” (vv. 9-10)

Paul essentially repeats his confident hope (and wish) from verse 6 (cf. above), regarding the Philippians being ‘made complete’ in anticipation of the return of Christ (“the day of [the] Anointed”). The Christian growth in virtue is understood in relation to the fundamental ethical principle of love (a)ga/ph), and it is  this ‘love principle’ (or ‘love command,’ cf. Rom 13:8-10, etc) that informs Paul’s ethical instruction and exhortation in the body of the letter (beginning at 2:1ff). If the love of Christians continues to grow and abound (vb perisseu/w), then all other important aspects of Christian life will follow. The ultimate goal of this growth is expressed through the rather colorful pair of adjectives: ei)likrinh/$ (“shining like the sun”) and a)pro/skopo$. The latter term literally means something like “without striking/dashing against,” which, as an idiom, relates to the idea of striking one’s foot against a stone (and thus falling); in simpler English, we would say “without stumbling”. The promise of being made complete in Christ is summarized more succinctly in verse 11 as “having been filled (with the) fruit of righteousness”. How often do make such a prayer—that our fellow believers would be “filled with the fruit of righteousness”?

This interrelationship between Paul and the Philippian congregations continues to be a key point of emphasis throughout the remainder of the exordium. Paul prays for the Philippians’ continued growth in the Gospel, while they are to pray for him in his continued mission-work of preaching the Gospel. The latter is the focus in vv. 19-26, while the former is emphasized in vv. 27-30. His prayer for the Philippians is expressed as an exhortation to them, marking a transition to the ethical instruction in chapters 2-4:

“Only as it comes up (to the level) of the good message of the Anointed, may you live as a citizen…” (v. 27)

The verb politeu/omai (lit. something like “live as a citizen”) refers, in a comprehensive sense, to a person’s daily life and conduct. The exhortation means that this does not happen automatically for believers—it requires commitment and attention on our behalf. The power to achieve this measure of growth, and to realize the ideal of unity, does, however, come from God (and His Spirit); if we are faithful, and allow God’s work to proceed in our hearts and lives, then we will be made complete. Indeed, Paul’s prayer is that the Philippians would be faithful in this regard; let us, too, make such prayer on behalf of our fellow believers, asking (together with Paul):

“…that you stand in one spirit, with a single soul striving together in the trust of the Gospel”

 

Notes on Prayer: Romans 8:26-27; 10:1; 12:12

In our survey of the references to prayer in the Pauline letters, there are three remaining references in Romans to be considered briefly:

    • Romans 8:26-27
    • Romans 10:1
    • Romans 12:12

Romans 8:26-27

“And even so, the Spirit also takes hold opposite together with (us), in our lack of strength; for th(at for) wh(ich) we should speak out toward (God), according to (what) is necessary, we have not seen [i.e. we do not know], but the Spirit it(self) hits on it over (us), with speechless groanings; and the (One) searching the hearts has seen [i.e. knows] what the mind(-set) of the Spirit (is), (in) that [i.e. because] he hits upon it over (the) holy (one)s according to God.”

Paul’s syntax is a bit tricky to translate literally, but I have attempted to do so above, as cumbersome as it might seem in modern English. I have provided exegetical notes, along with an examination of the passage within the overall context of Romans, in an earlier study, which you should consult. This is one of the key Pauline passages on prayer, and the aforementioned study discusses it in detail.

Romans 10:1

“Brothers, the good consideration of my heart, and (my) need [de/hsi$] (expressed) toward God over them, (is) for (their) salvation”

This verse marks the beginning of chapter 10, which is at the midpoint of chapters 9-11. These famous chapters, which I discuss in the earlier series “Paul’s View of the Law” and “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”, need to be understood within the overall framework of the letter. In some ways there is a parallel between chapters 9-11 and 2-4; certainly there is an interesting symmetry and balance of presentation:

    • Rom 2-4—addressed primarily to Jews, emphasizing that Gentiles are on an equal footing before God with regard to both judgment and salvation
    • Rom 9-11—addressed primarily to Gentiles, emphasizing the (future) salvation of Israelites/Jews and their inclusion into the body of Christ

In between (Rom 5-8) Paul presents a kind of “salvation history”, an exposition of the Gospel message for all human beings—Jews and Gentiles alike. Chapters 9-11 actually have the character of a personal appeal or confession—indeed, this characterizes each of the sections (matching the numbered chapters):

The opening verses of each section, with their personal and moving tone, lead into a presentation of arguments. The main issue at hand is how the Israelite/Jewish people relate to the new Christian identity. As a missionary and representative (apostle) of Christ, Paul saw how many of his fellow Israelites and Jews had been unwilling to accept the Gospel, some even being openly hostile to his missionary work (as narrated repeatedly in the book of Acts, cf. also 1 Thess 2:14-16, etc). Even Jewish believers could be opposed to his presentation of the Gospel, especially his unique view of the Law and his missionary approach to the Gentiles, as seen in Acts 15:1ff and throughout Galatians. At some level, this must have been traumatic for Paul, and difficult to understand—how could so many of God’s elect people, Israel, fail to trust in Christ? While he never really addresses this directly in his other surviving letters, it is clear that he had thought about it a good deal. The result is the wonderful, if somewhat enigmatic, exposition in Romans 9-11.

Chapter 10 is the second of the three main sections; it may be outlined as follows:

    • Rom 10:1-4—Paul’s personal address: The Law and justice/righteousness (vv. 3-4)
    • Rom 10:5-13—Argument: Justice/righteousness is realized in Christ.
    • Rom 10:14-21—Exposition: The Proclamation of the Gospel, and Israel’s response to it, in three parts:

As noted above, each of the chapters begins with a personal address by Paul. In chapter 10, the theme of the personal address (vv. 1-4) is: The Law and justice/righteousness (vv. 3-4). The reference to prayer in verse 1 thus must be understood within this context. Paul expresses his heartfelt desire that his fellow Israelites and Jews would trust in Christ and be saved:

“(my) need (expressed) [de/hsi$] toward God over them (is) for (their) salvation” (v. 1b).

The noun de/hsi$ is something of a Pauline term; of the 18 New Testament occurrences, 12 are in the Pauline letters, including including 7 in the undisputed letters—in addition to its use here, it also occurs in 2 Cor 1:11; 9:14; Phil 1:4 [twice], 19; 4:6. The related verb de/omai is also used in Rom 1:10; 2 Cor 5:20; 8:4; 10:2; Gal 4:12; 1 Thess 3:10. The fundamental meaning of the verb is to be in need; in the context of prayer to God, it denotes making one’s need known (to God). The noun has a similar meaning, as it is used here, for example. It is a need for Paul because it is a burden on his heart, and so he expresses it to God.

In verses 2-3 he offers his diagnosis regarding Israel’s current situation:

“For I witness regarding them that they hold a fervent desire of God, but not according to (true) knowledge upon (Him); for, lacking knowledge of the justice/righteousness of God, and seeking to stand (up) th(eir) own [justice/righteousness], they did not put themselves (in order) under the justice/righteousness of God.”

Then follows, by way of contrast, the famous statement in verse 4, functioning as a concise (and controversial) summary of the Gospel:

“For (the) Anointed (One) is (the) completion [te/lo$] of the Law unto justice/righteousness for every (one) th(at) is trusting.”

For more on this verse, cf. my earlier note. Salvation is to be found, not through observing the Torah regulations, but through trust in Christ. His desire is for Israel to be saved, and he believes that this will yet take place, however unlikely it may seem from his current vantage point. Chapters 9-11 represent a complex and powerful treatise on Israel’s ultimate conversion within the framework of early Christian eschatology (cf. the article in the earlier series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament). Paul’s thoughts on this subject also relate to his current missionary efforts, which include his journey to Jerusalem with the “collection for the saints”, which, in his mind, symbolized the unity between Jewish and Gentile believers. Chapters 9-11, including his prayer-wish in 10:1, also reflect this same hope for unity.

Romans 12:12

“…rejoicing in hope, remaining under in distress, being strong toward speaking out toward (God)”

Chapters 12-15 comprise a new section in Romans, in which Paul offers a range of ethical and practical instruction. If the theme of justification (i.e., being made right before God) by faith is a central theme of the letter in the earlier chapters, then chaps. 12-15 could be described as “a paraenetic development of the consequences of justification” (Fitzmyer, p. 637), illustrating how the justified believer should live. The basis of this instruction is found in the opening verses—the declaration in verse 1 that believers are to present their bodies as “living sacrifices” to God, followed by the directive in verse 2:

“and do not be conformed to the (pattern of) this Age, but be changed in form [i.e. transformed] by the renewing of the mind, unto the considering (acceptable) by you what the wish of God (is)—the good and well-pleasing and complete (thing).”

Justification leads to the transformation of the believer—a change in his/her entire way of thinking and acting; only this requires a certain willingness of the believer to be guided by the Spirit, as well as by the teaching and example of Jesus (embodied in the love principle). In verses 3-8, Paul goes on to emphasize the extent to which this new way of life takes place with the community of believers. In Romans, no less than in the Corinthian letters, Paul strongly emphasizes the ideal of the unity of believers.

This brings us to the instruction in verses 9-21, which, indeed, begins with the love principle (v. 9, cf. 13:8-10). This entire paraenesis follows a distinctive syntactical pattern, with an object noun (or phrase) in the dative followed by a participle that possesses the force of an imperative. This chain of habitual actions and attributes begins with the injunction in verse 9:

“…hating (thoroughly) the evil, (and) being joined [lit. glued] to the good”

The dualistic command has its roots in Old Testament tradition (Amos 5:15; Psalm 97:10), and was developed as an ethical principle within Judaism (e.g., 1QS 1:4-5); Paul’s wording resembles that in Testament of Benjamin 8:1 (cf. Fitzmyer, p. 653). The chain of injunctions that follows, utilizing the same grammatical pattern, illustrates what it means to “hate the evil and be joined to the good”. Prayer is just one of these attributes for believers, albeit an important one:

“…being strong/firm toward speaking out toward (God) [proseuxh/]” (v. 12)

The verb proskartere/w, which I translate literally above as “be strong/firm toward (something),” occurs primarily in the book of Acts where it functions as a key term expressing the unity of the early believers in Jerusalem (1:14; 2:42, 46; 6:4; 8:13). Paul uses it again in Rom 13:6, and in Col 4:2 it is used in virtually the same context as here (emphasizing the importance of being devoted to prayer). This verb signifies the active nature of believers’ prayers—the strength/firmness reflecting both their faith and devotion to God, but also their commitment to Christian unity (cf. above), since prayer is made over the needs of others as much as (or more than) it is made for one’s own needs. Certainly also implied is the idea of continual prayer, that believers are constantly engaged in prayer to God, which elsewhere Paul expresses by the adverb a)dialei/ptw$ (“without [any] gap [i.e. interruption],” cf. 1:9; 1 Thess 1:2; 5:17).

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Romans, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 33 (Doubleday / Yale: 1993).

Notes on Prayer: Acts 14:23; 20:36

Acts 14:23; 20:36

The importance of prayer in establishing congregations, in places where the Gospel was preached by the early Christian missionaries, can be seen in two key references from the Pauline missionary narratives of Acts. The first reference comes from the first missionary journey of Paul (and Barnabas), narrated in chapters 13-14. Toward the close of that narrative, as Paul and Barnabas travel back through the parts of Asia Minor where they had worked, their message to the groups (congregations) of new believers is presented in summary form (in indirect speech):

“…placing on firm (ground) the souls of the learners [i.e. disciples], calling (them) alongside to remain in the(ir) trust and (telling them) that ‘through many (moment)s of distress, it is necessary (for us) to come into the kingdom of God’.” (14:22)

Following this, we have this summary narration:

“And, (hav)ing raised the hand for them, according to (each) called-out (gathering), (to select) elders, (and hav)ing spoken out toward (God), with fasting, they set them alongside the Lord, into whom they had trusted.” (v. 23)

Throughout the first half of the book of Acts, Christian elders are mentioned, but always in relation to the main Community in Jerusalem (11:30; 15:2, 4, 6, 22-23; 16:4; cf. also 21:18). This is the first instance where we hear of elders being similarly selected/appointed for the local communities (congregations) of believers outside of Jerusalem—namely, in the cities of Asia Minor, where Paul and Barnabas had been doing their mission-work. The selection process is described by way of a distinct idiom, using the verb xeirotone/w (lit. “stretch [i.e. raise] the hand”); the background of this term indicates a vote of hands, though it may be used in a more general sense here.

This selection of elders was intended to provide leadership for the nascent communities that would remain in place after Paul and Barnabas (with their special apostolic leadership) departed. It was only part of the care shown to these groups of believers. Along with the selection/appointment of elders, there was a period of prayer and fasting—lit. “speaking out toward (God), with fasting”. Here the common verb for prayer, proseu/xomai is used. The prayer and fasting mentioned here may have been specifically related to the appointment of elders, but it seems better to understand it in the wider context of the congregation coming together with Paul and Barnabas prior to their departure. Ultimately, the purpose of their prayer relates to the final clause of the verse:

“they set them alongside the Lord, into whom they had trusted”

The verb parati/qhmi means “set/place alongside”, often in the sense of entrusting something to another person (for safe-keeping). In this case, Paul and Barnabas entrust each community/congregation of believers to the Lord. This shows again how prayer, in the book of Acts, is closely connected to the idea of the unity of believers—Christians united with each other, but also, and more importantly, united to the person of Christ. Though it is not stated here directly, this presence of Christ (the Lord), in and among believers, must be understood in terms of the Spirit. The fundamental association between prayer and the Holy Spirit has been mentioned a number of times in these studies, and it is important to keep it mind here as well.

The sense of unity is further emphasized in v. 27, when, after Paul and Barnabas have returned to Antioch, they gathered together the entire Community (i.e., all the local congregations, or house-churches, in Antioch) to tell them all the things that took place on their journeys, thus uniting, in a symbolic way, the new congregations of Asia Minor with the ‘parent’ church in Antioch.

Toward the end of Paul’s third missionary journey, again on his return trip home, we find a similar mention of the elders appointed by Paul and his co-workers. It is, in fact, the only other direct reference to Christian elders, outside of the Jerusalem Community, in the book of Acts. Thus it is proper to study it in light of the earlier reference in 14:23 (above).

When Paul had reached Miletus on his return trip, it is said that he sent a messenger to Ephesus and called the elders of the congregations in that city to come to him (20:17). This serves as the narrative introduction to Paul’s speech in vv. 28-35. I will be discussing the speech itself in detail in an upcoming study (in the series “The Speeches of Acts”), and I have already discussed it in relation to the references to the Holy Spirit in vv. 22-23). As it happens, there is a subsequent reference to the Spirit in v. 28, which is worth mentioning here:

“Hold (your mind) toward yourselves, and (toward) all the herd [i.e. flock] in which the holy Spirit set you as overseers, to herd the called-out (community) of God, which He made (to be) around (Him) through His own blood.”
[Note: the last phrase could also be read as “…through the blood of His own (Son)”]

Even though Paul and his fellow missionaries had worked to appoint these elders, it is properly the Spirit (of God and Christ) who placed them in their positions of leadership, to oversee (noun e)pi/skopo$, “looking over, [one who] looks [things] over”) a particular congregation. Thus, there is here an implicit connection, again, between the Holy Spirit and prayer.

The prayer-aspect comes into view more clearly at the conclusion of Paul’s speech. The elders realize that they will likely never see Paul again, which makes his impending departure all the more heart-felt and moving (vv. 37-38). The import of the moment is introduced and narrated with the utmost simplicity:

“And, (hav)ing said these (thing)s, (and) setting down his knees, together with them all he spoke out toward (God).” (v. 36)

The theme of unity is expressed clearly, and beautifully, by the closing phrase, “together with them all [su\n pa=sin au)toi=$] he spoke out toward (God) [proshu/cato]”.

A similar scene of farewell is recorded in 21:5-6, after Paul had spent seven days with a group of believers in Tyre. It is emphasized again how Paul was determined to continue on to Jerusalem, even though suffering and arrest awaited him there, and how the other believers were troubled by this and urged him not to complete the journey (cf. my recent note discussing v. 4). The description of the moment of farewell, though briefer, closely resembles that of 20:36:

“…and, (hav)ing set our knees (down) upon the sea-shore, (and hav)ing spoken out toward (God), we took leave of each other…” (vv. 5-6)

This is one of the very last references to prayer in the book of Acts. Only three others remain, which will be discussed briefly in our next study, with the focus being on the reference in 22:17.

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.