the weblog of Alan Knox


Posted by on Jul 17, 2009 in fellowship | 6 comments

(I originally published this post three years ago as a series. I’ve combined the series into one post here, with only slight editing.)

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 (koinōnia). In various passages of Scripture, this word is also translated as “association, communion, close relationship, generosity, contribution, partnership, sharing” (BDAG – a standard Greek lexicon). My questions in this article 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.

What is the source of κοινωνία?

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship (κοινωνία) with us; and indeed our fellowship (κοινωνία) is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3 ESV)

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation (κοινωνία) in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, . . . (Philippian 2:1 ESV)

God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship (κοινωνία) of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9 ESV)

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship (κοινωνία) of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14 ESV)

Κοινωνία is the common union between believers that is produced by God through the Holy Spirit. Our κοινωνία with other believers is a direct result of our κοινωνία with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As such, κοινωνία cannot be produced by believers through activities. Instead, all who are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, share a common connection with other believers: “There is one body and one Spirit…” (Ephesians 4:4 ESV) “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…” (1 Corinthians 12:13 ESV)

As God produces κοινωνία in the believer, the believer will naturally demonstrate that κοινωνία through various activities – specifically through sharing their life with others. This type of sharing may include meals, conversations, contributions, etc.

Therefore, the church should not attempt to create κοινωνία. Instead, it must teach believers how to “devote themselves to … κοινωνία” as described in Acts 2:42.

In his first epistle, John reminds us that our κοινωνία with one another is based on our κοινωνία with God: “… so that you too may have fellowship (κοινωνία) with us; and indeed our fellowship (κοινωνία) is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3 ESV). So, those who have κοινωνία with the Father and the Son through the Spirit should also have κοινωνία with one another.

In The Church Unfinished (New York: Paulist Press, 2004, p.83), Bernard P. Prusak discusses the κοινωνία (which he calls communion) in the church in Jerusalem in Acts 2:42-47:

That communion was understood primarily to be a participatory unity in which all the disciples of the risen Jesus mutually shared a relationship with God, given gratis in and through Jesus. The mutual reception of God’s gift of self in turn generated a spirit of community and generous sharing among the recipients themselves. Christians had a communion among themselves that flowed from their mutual communion with God.

What does it mean, then, that the believers in the church in Jerusalem “devoted themselves… to κοινωνία“? (Acts 2:42 ESV) If κοινωνία is created by God in the believers who make up the church, why did they have to devote themselves to it?

As we answer this question, consider the remainder of Acts 2:42. Luke also states that the believers also devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the breaking of bread, and prayers. (Note: I understand that there is much discussion concerning this list. Specifically, are there two, three, or four items listed. I personally believe there are four separate items. However, the four are interrelated; they are not completely separate items.)

What does “devoted” mean in this verses? In Acts 2:42, “devoted” translates the Greek verb προσκαρτερέω (proskartereō). According to BDAG, in this context this verb means “hold fast to, continue in, persevere in.” In other words, the believers “held fast to, continued in, or persevered in” the κοινωνία that God had already created in them.

The natural inclination of mankind is toward selfishness or self-centeredness. The supernatural inclination of a regenerated person is toward God and others (κοινωνία). The believers in the church in Jerusalem were persevering in this supernatural inclination while denying the natural inclination. They were not creating κοινωνία through various activities; instead they were deliberately living out the supernatural κοινωνία that God had created within and among them.

What are the implications of those for a person who does not live according to this God-given κοινωνία? As I see it, there are four possibilities: 1) The person is not regenerate; God has ever created κοινωνία within him or her. 2) The person is quenching the work of the Spirit in his or her life. 3) If a believer is isolated from other believers, κοινωνία may not be evident. However, even in this rare instance, the Spirit would be working through the believer to bring others to God and, thereby creating κοινωνία. 4) Someone may not demonstrate κοινωνία in his or her life because of a lack of discipleship. In other words, many people are taught that “fellowship” is when a church meets together in a certain building under the proper authority to share food. Other activities are simply social interaction, but they are not proper forms of “fellowship.”

However, κοινωνία expresses itself in many different activities, in many different locations – as long as believers are demonstrating their care for one another and common bond with one another prompted by the Spirit of God. This could be expressed in a common meal among a large number of believers, but it could also be expressed by two believers sharing common interest. In fact, it is possible that large, organized gatherings disrupt or hinder true expressions of κοινωνία. Believers should express their common bond with one another in intimate, spontaneous, Spirit-led encounters where the “one-anothers” of Scripture are practiced – not out of duty, but out of love and concern.

If this is correct, then neither the location nor the activity is most important. Instead, Spirit-induced conern for one another leads to these expressions of κοινωνία. Perhaps more importantly, while we can teach the importance of expressing our love and concern for one another, demonstrations of κοινωνία cannot be taught. Instead, they must be modelled.

As an example, a friend of mine is a great model of hospitality. She has demonstrated κοινωνία with brothers and sisters in Christ many times by opening her home spontaneously. I have learned much about hospitality from observing her actions. However, if I simply copy her actions out of duty, there is no expression of κοινωνία. If, instead, the Spirit prompts me to demonstrate κοινωνία through hospitality, her actions become examples for me and others. In other words, she has “stir[red] up love and good works” (Heb. 10:24) in myself and other believers by her encouraging expressions of κοινωνία.

If you have anything to add to this discussion of κοινωνία, please comment. I look forward to learning from others as we study this important concept together.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 7-17-2009

    It is not real fellowship unless the pastor prays before the meal.

  2. 7-17-2009

    My understanding of “Κοινωνία” is that it is a collective response to and responsibility for one another as believers. I think perhaps it is closely related to the unity for which Jesus prayed in John 17, As you pointed out, that might include interacting through both shared meals or shared interests–whether as a larger group or with only a few people.
    I’ve come to the point in my own life where “place” has become subservient to “purpose” in fellowship. And the institutional church just doesn’t seem to get it. “Κοινωνία” cannot be legislated by sermons or 12-step Bible studies or another night of social events. God’s Spirit is really not bound by man’s conventions.
    Thank you for another thought-provoking post.

  3. 7-17-2009

    I’m curious as to whether or not planning, however, is in any way contrary to true fellowship being birthed and sincerity. For if reading the post accurately, part of me wonders how it was the case that my family planned out meals/times to get together and do activities and we all bonded wonderfully—-or how in churches where large events were planned, people did not often feel as if it was “fake” since all wanted to do it and were in support prior to the gathering of what they wanted to see go down.

    On a side note, Perhaps it’s just me…but it occured to me recently that what is often advocated in circles such as what this blog favors is very similar to what occured with historical figures such as George Fox—one of the most forgotten figures in Church History.

    For he grew up Puritan and yet got into alot of trouble due to his dissenting views on the State Church and began the movement by the Quakers –as touring of Britain as a dissenting preacher and getting much persecution by the authorities who disapproved of his beliefs/those supporting him, especially in a time when what was held by the majority in concerns to the state church was rejected by him and others daring to disagree (especially in regards to the exaltation of rituals, the nature of conversion and other aspects).

    In general, what he’s for seems very similar to what occured with those in movements today such as the Organic/Simple Church movement. When it was the case that he used the Bible to support his views while also believing God was within the faithful and believers therefore could follow their own inner guide rather than rely on a strict reading of Scripture or the word of clerics, that’s very much what is said in much of the Organic/Simple Church Movement today—especially in regards to things such as education, seminary and not needing “teachers/clergy” for aid in study. The same goes for his views that Church is not a “building”—as seen in his views that the church is the people and his refusal to call buildings believers met in “steeple houses” rather than churches..

    Apologies if the latter part of the comment was a tangent…

  4. 7-17-2009


    Since I’m an elder, I guess its always fellowship when I pray. :)


    I agree that koinonia cannot be legislated or programmed. Its the corporate response of the work of the Spirit as he brings people together.


    Yes, planning can be helpful. But, again, I don’t think the planning or meals or anything like that is actually fellowship or produces fellowship. Instead, these things can result from fellowship. Of course, you can also have these things without fellowship (koinonia).


  5. 7-18-2009

    That’s exactly the intersections I see in I Pet 4:

    In the context of love

    8 And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.

    Be together sharing

    9 Use hospitality one to another without grudging.

    Your giftings emerge to meet the needs of others

    10 As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

    11 If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

  6. 7-18-2009


    Thanks for bringing up that passage in 1 Peter. As I see it, when the Spirit of Jesus lives through us, we can’t help but to love others, show hospitality, etc.