The next instance of “gathering language” in the Book of Acts is found in Acts 12:12 –
When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. (Acts 12:12 ESV)
In this case, the “gathering languages” is from the verb ÏƒÏ…Î½Î±Î¸ÏÎ¿Î¯Î¶Ï‰ (sÅ«nathroizÅ) which is usually translated “I gather or bring together.” Again, this verb in passive, perhaps indicating that the believers saw themselves as being gathered together by God, not necessarily of their own desire or work.
The context for this passage centers around Herod’s persecution of the church. James (the apostle and twin brother of John) had been killed previously. Now, Herod had imprisoned Peter and was planning to kill him. While he was in prison, the church was praying for him (Acts 12:5). God answered their prayer by sending an angel to release him.
When Peter goes to the home of Mary (the mother of John Mark), where some believers are gathered together to pray for him. However, when the servant tells the people that Peter is at the door, they do not believe her.
We can learn several things about the gathered church from this passage in context. First, we see that while Scripture says that the church was earnestly praying for Peter, it does not mean that the church had all gathered in the same place for the purpose of praying for him. In fact, in Acts 12:12 in particular, Luke says that Peter goes to Mary’s house “where many” were gathered and were praying for him. Again, it was possible for the church to act as one without everyone doing the exact same thing at the exact same time in the exact same place.
More than likely, the concept of the church praying for Peter included several different groups of believers around the city joining together in prayer whenever they were together. This is a similar scenario to Acts 2:41-47 where the believers were said to share meals together from house to house, but certainly could not all eat at the same house at the same time.
We also see that Luke does not always idealize his descriptions of the church. In this case in particular, we see believers asking God to rescue Peter, but when God responds the believers do not believe it.
If Luke wished to idealize this event, he could have easily skipped to Acts 12:12-16, and picked up the story in Acts 12:17. (The same could be said of the episode of Ananias and Sephira in Acts 5.) I, for one, am glad that Luke included this episode in Acts. It is encouraging to see that even these early Christians struggled with believing that God would answer their prayers.
Luke certainly did not shy away from painting some less flattering images of the church. Thus, it may not be correct to view the summaries of Acts 2:41-47 and Acts 4:32-35 as idealistic pictures of the early church.
Finally, the form of the verbs in Acts 12:12 (“were gathered together and were praying”) can help us understand even more about the early church meetings. The forms of these verbs can indicate ongoing meetings and prayer. This passage could indicate that some believers customarily gathered together in Mary’s house.