Three years ago, I wrote a post called “And they devoted themselves.” The post is an examination of that phrase (the title of the post) in Acts 2:42. What did Luke mean when he wrote, “They devoted themselves…” and specifically what did it mean for those early Christians to devote themselves to “the apostles’ teaching”? By studying this important passage (Acts 2:42-47), I think we can learn alot about the life of the church immediately after Pentecost.
Acts 2:42 is often called a summary verse concerning the early followers of Jesus Christ. Luke records:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42 ESV)
I think the ESV missed something in the translation here. The phrase “they devoted themselves” is a translation of the Greek verb phrase “ἠσαν προσκαρτεροῦντες” (esan proskarterountes). For those who are familiar with Greek grammar, this is a periphrastic participial construction – a verb of being along with a participle. According to several Greek grammars, the periphrastic participle is the most marked verb form when it comes to verbal aspect. Thus, this verb phrase focuses on the continuous aspect of the verb. The NASB translation tries to bring out this continuous aspect by translating the phrase as “They were continually devoting themselves…”
Lexically, the verb προσκαρτερέω (proskartereo) can mean “devoted to” which we see in both the ESV and NASB translations. According to BDAG (the standard Greek lexicon), in Acts 2:42 it carries a meaning of “hold fast to, continue or persevere in”. The context should help us understand what Luke is communicating to us about these early followers of Jesus Christ.
Luke says that the believers were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers. This does not mean that they were “devoted” to listening to what the apostles were teaching. Instead, it means that these early Christians were continually persevering in living according to the message that the apostles taught, as well as continuing to fellowship (share life) break bread (eat together), and pray.
Think about it this way: If the phrase “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” conjures up an image of people sitting around listening to the apostles teach, then the translation is NOT communicating the image to you properly.
On the other hand, if you read that phrase and picture the early believers attempting to live their lives in accordance with the message that the apostles taught, then you’re understanding what Luke wrote.
We see that Luke helps us understand what he means in the following verses:
And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:43-47 ESV)
This passage demonstrates how those early believers lived according to the gospel (the apostles’ teaching), and how they shared their lives and their meals with one another. On the day of Pentecost, God did not create individuals who loved to sit and listen to teaching. Instead, God created a new community who now lived new lives – lives that were not lived for themselves any longer. Instead, they lived their lives for God by sharing their lives with one another and with the world around them.
The world noticed… and the world found favor on this new community and new way of life. (2:47)