Acts, Lesson 3: A glimpse into the earliest New-Covenant Church

Peter preaching on Pentecost (610x351)In the last lesson, pastor taught that the “they” in Acts 2:1 referred to the entire Christian Church at the time: those before whom Peter spoke (Acts 1:15). And we find more confirmation that more than just the Apostles spoke in other languages.

Read Acts 2:5-13

  • What brought the Jews to where the Christians were staying?


  • Were more language groups mentioned than there were Apostles?


  • What does this mean about who was speaking “in tongues”?


  • Reconcile “each was hearing them speak in his own language” and “they are filled with new wine (that is, they’re drunk and sound like it).


The Irony of New Wine: When some mocked the Christians as being drunk because they didn’t understand someone speaking in another language, we find some divine irony in that mockery. In the Old Testament, new wine symbolized the joy and abundant blessings that God would give His people in the messianic age to come (see Joel 3:18 and Amos 9:13-14). Jesus hinted that He would give and be the “new wine” of divine life (Mark 2:22 and John 2:10). At Pentecost, although new wine was used in a derogatory way, the “new wine” was the Holy Spirit, the gift of God’s love poured into human hearts (Romans 5:5).


Peter’s Pentecost Sermon

Read Acts 2:14-21

  • What was the sermon text for Peter’s sermon?


  • After Peter said that Joel had foretold that God would pour out His Spirit on flesh, whom then does he mention as having received the Spirit?


  • What does this mean about who spoke other languages that day?


  • Discuss: All in the Church that day proclaimed the “mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11), but only one of the Apostles (Peter) preached? How does this show a proper pattern of what it means to be “church”?


  • When Joel wrote what Peter quoted as his sermon text, Joel was speaking about the saved remnant of Israel rescued from Jerusalem (Joel 2:32). What does this say about what the New-Covenant Church is?


On Pentecost, the first part of Joel’s prophecy (Acts 2:17-19) was fulfilled with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The second part (Acts 2:19–21) is yet to come; it will be fulfilled at the Second Coming of Christ.

Read Acts 2:22-40

  • In Luke 24:47, Jesus told His Apostles that “repentance into the forgiveness of sins is to be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” How did Peter’s sermon follow what Christ told them to preach?


  • In this section of Peter’s sermon, he quoted Psalm 16:8-11. King David sang these words. But, according to Peter, in whom does those words find their fulfillment? (Acts 2:29-32)


In Acts 2:30, Peter referred to God swearing an oath to David that He would set one of David’s descendants on his Throne. Peter referred to the covenant that God made with David to continue His dynastic line forever (Psalm 89:3-4, 132:11-12). Because it was an oath from God, it cannot be revoked. Jesus then fulfills that oath, who reigns forever from the throne of David in heaven (Luke 1:32-33).

  • In what way were the people to be brought into the forgiveness of sins? (Acts 2:38)


  • What else would take place during baptism? (Acts 2:38)


  • Whom does God want to be baptized? (Acts 2:40)


  • “Be saved” is a more-literal and more-accurate translation than “save yourselves.” Why does the passive voice matter in this case? (Acts 2:40, also Acts 2:47)


Read Acts 2:41

  • What happened after Peter’s sermon?


The early Church in worship

Read Acts 2:42

Excursus: Three understandings of Acts 2:42

1. We can understand this verse as consisting of four separate activities: 1) catechesis using the Apostles’ doctrine, 2) interpersonal fellowship and support, 3) the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (the breaking of bread), and 4) congregational praise and prayers. However, this understanding doesn’t make much sense, for what Luke mentions are too similar to each other to be unrelated. For example: In the Greek, the word for fellowship is the same word for communion (koinonia), and the breaking of the bread was also an expression that referred to communion, that is, the Lord’s Supper. So, more than likely, Luke wasn’t listing four separate activities of the early Church but linked those fours activities through some rhetorical device, such as an apposition or chiasm.

2. An apposition is an arrangement of words in which a noun is followed by another noun or noun phrase that refers back to the same thing. For example: I saw a dog, a four-legged creature with fur. “A four-legged creature with fur” further describes what a dog is, so the reader will have a better idea of what the writer is trying to convey.

If Acts 2:42 is an apposition, then the verse is to be understood in this way. The first Christians devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles and to fellowship. “The breaking of the bread and the Prayers” is an apposition that further describes what that fellowship, that coming together for worship, consisted of for the first Christians. Worship then consisted of two main parts: The breaking of the bread, that is the Lord’s Supper, and the Prayers.

“The Prayers”: The term, “the Prayers” did not refer to prayer in general. The direct article preceding the word “prayers” changes the meaning to refer specifically to formal worship. For Jews, “the Prayers” was an expression referring to the synagogue service, which became the “Service of the Word” in New-Covenant, Christian worship.[1]

3. This sequence of four activities that Luke mentions may also be a chiasm. A chiasm is a literary device where items are mentioned and then re-mentioned in reverse order using different words or expressions. Thus, in a simple chiasm you will find an A B B’ A’ pattern. A larger chiasm has a more-complex structure, for example: A B C D D’ C’ B’ A’. In a chiasm, the central point being made is in the center of the chiasm.

If Acts 2:42 is a chiasm, then we have an A B B’ A’ structure.

Lesson 3, Acts 2.42

So, whether Luke was using a chiasm or an apposition, we find what constitutes the two main activities of the earliest Christian congregation: The Service of the Word and the Lord’s Supper.

If Acts 2:42 is a chiasm, the first part (A and A’) is the “teaching of the Apostles” and “the Prayers.” Teaching would then refer to the exposition of Scripture, which was a hallmark of the synagogue service (which became incorporated into the early Church as the “Service of the Word”). “The Prayers” would also refer to the same part of the worship service.

The “Fellowship” would then refer specifically to communion (koinonia), with the meaning repeated by the expression, “the Breaking of Bread.” The description then reveals the second main part of New-Covenant worship: The Lord’s Supper.

If Acts 2:42 is a chiasm, then the Lord’s Supper being in the center of the chiasm shows that the Lord’s Supper is the climax and center of worship, not the service of the Word. In the same way, in Old-Covenant worship, the synagogue (the predecessor to the Service of the Word) supported Temple worship (the predecessor to the Service of the Sacrament), not the other way around.

Again, whether an apposition or a chiasm, Luke shows us the two parts that constituted Christian worship: The Service of the Word and the Lord’s Supper.


God’s Use of the Apostles

Read Acts 2:43

  • What reaction does this verse describe about happened to the people? (Note: the Greek word is phobos)


  • Why did the people react that way?


Excursus: Signs and Wonders

Luke specifically mentions that many signs and wonders were being done through the Apostles. Notice Luke’s use of the passive voice. That means that God is doing the doing through the Apostles. That could imply that God would choose not to use those whom Jesus did not directly call as Apostles to do such signs and wonders. Yet, could it also be otherwise?

Almost all such the signs and wonders in the book of Acts were done through the Apostles. But Luke credits some signs and wonders to both Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:3, which Acts 15:12 later recounts). It could be that Barnabas’ close association with Paul enabled him to participate in such signs and wonders. For in Acts 19, we find that Paul’s handkerchiefs and aprons brought healing to people (Acts 19:11-12), just because they were earlier touched by Paul. Thus, being someone or something associated to one of the Apostles may have been God’s way of affirming the work the Apostles were doing.

But what then of Stephen (Acts 6:8) and Philip (Acts 8:13)? They were both deacons, not Apostles, and yet they also did some signs and wonders (Acts 6:8, 8:13). Could it be that they could do such wonders because they also were closely associated with the Apostles? If so, Luke doesn’t explicitly state that connection. Thus, we cannot say for sure. We can only say that God did use them to perform some signs and wonders.

Also, we know this: After Acts 15, Luke no more mentions signs and wonders, although Paul continued to work some miracles.


[1] See Timothy Thorton’s article, “Continuing Steadfast in Prayer–New Light on a New Testament Phrase,” in Expository Times, Volume 83 (1971), pgs. 23-24. A Jewish inscription from a synagogue at Kerch, near the Black Sea, from the first century AD, recorded the freeing of a slave. It declared that no heir of the slave owner had any claim on the freed slave in the future. The only condition imposed on the freed slave was that he attend synagogue worship, which was referred to as “the Prayers.” We find two such examples of this in differing inscriptions.


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