the weblog of Alan Knox

Κοινωνία 1

Posted by on Jul 28, 2006 in fellowship | 2 comments

I’m hoping that this blog becomes a series on the topic of κοινωνία (koinōnia). I’ve never written a series of blogs before, so this will be an experiment.

Acts 2:42 states that the early believers in Jerusalem “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship” (ESV). In this verse, “fellowship” translates the Greek noun κοινωνία. In various passages of Scripture, this word is also translated as “association, communion, close relationship, generosity, contribution, partnership, sharing” (BDAG). My questions in this series of articles include:

  • What is κοινωνία?
  • What is the source of κοινωνία?
  • How does the church ‘devote themselves’ to it?

The noun κοινωνία is never used in the Gospels, and Acts 2:42 contains the only use of the word in Acts. However, the author balances κοινωνία in Acts 2:42 by using the noun κοινός in 2:44. Luke uses κοινός four other times, but only one (4:32) carries the same meaning as in 2:44. In these two instances, κοινός means “being of mutual interest or shared collectively.”

Witherington comments on Luke’s use of κοινωνία in 2:42 in The Acts of the Apostles – A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998, p.160):

The term itself means a participation or sharing in common of something with someone else, in this case eating and praying. Thus, fellowship is not a very helpful translation, for fellowship is the result of κοινωνία, of sharing in common; it is not the κοινωνία itself. Κοινωνία is an activity which can result in fellowship of some sort, and it can entail things like sharing not just spiritual activities such as prayer but also physical food or other goods in common (v. 45, cf. 4:32-37).

If Witherington is correct, then κοινωνία is not fellowship. Instead, fellowship is the product of having κοινωνία. According to Acts 2:42-47, the believers had all things in common and shared with others. They prayed and shared meals together. However, this did not produce κοινωνία. Instead, κοινωνία resulted in these activities. These activities flowed naturally from their devotion to (persistence in) κοινωνία.

This is important for the church today. Our fellowship with one another cannot be manufactured artificially through planned meals or activities. Instead, our fellowship/sharing/communion with one another will flow naturally as we devote ourselves to κοινωνία.


2 Comments

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  1. 7-28-2006

    I had never thought of it, but I think Witherington has a very valid point. I tend to equate koinonia with fellowship, but this post helps me see it at a better angle.

    steve :)

  2. 7-29-2006

    “Being of mutual interest or shared collectively”–this would define what all Christians have in common–our salvation and our love for the Lord. This explains why as a Christian I can meet a complete stranger and, upon finding out that he or she is a Christian, feel a bond with them instantly. The Spirit in me testifies that they also have Him…and we have a launching pad for an acquaintance and perhaps a friendship. There is nothing like this for the unsaved. They must try to find things in common that they like, enjoy, or have experienced: sports, food, travels, ethnic background, and so forth. But as Christians we have a bond already in place. The shared experience of having been recued from being dead in our trangressions then leads us to WANT to fellowship together as the body of Christ.