41. Then they that gladly received his word] The oldest MSS. Omit gladly. The latter clause of the verse is more literally, And there were added on that day about three thousand souls, i.e. to the one hundred and twenty of whom the Church consisted when the day began.
They continued steadfastly (ēsan proskarturountes). Periphrastic active imperfect of proskartureō as in Act_1:14 (same participle in Act_2:46).
Fellowship (Koinōniāi). Old word from Koinōnos (partner, sharer in common interest) and this from Koinos what is common to all. This partnership involves participation in, as the blood of Christ (Phi_2:1) or co-operation in the work of the gospel (Phi_1:5) or contribution for those in need (2Co_8:4; 2Co_9:13). Hence there is wide diversity of opinion concerning the precise meaning of Koinōnia in this verse. It may refer to the distribution of funds in Act_2:44or to the oneness of spirit in the community of believers or to the Lord’s Supper (as in 1Co_10:16) in the sense of communion or to the fellowship in the common meals or agapae (love-feasts).
The breaking of bread (tēi klasei tou artou). The word klasis is an old word, but used only by Luke in the N.T. (Luk_24:35; Act_2:42), though the verb klaō occurs in other parts of the N.T. as in Act_2:46. The problem here is whether Luke refers to the ordinary meal as in Luk_24:35 or to the Lord’s Supper. The same verb klaō is used of breaking bread at the ordinary meal (Luk_24:30) or the Lord’s Supper (Luk_22:19). It is generally supposed that the early disciples attached so much significance to the breaking of bread at the ordinary meals, more than our saying grace, that they followed the meal with the Lord’s Supper at first, a combination called agapai or love-feasts. “There can be no doubt that the Eucharist at this period was preceded uniformly by a common repast, as was the case when the ordinance was instituted” (Hackett). This led to some abuses as in 1Co_11:20. Hence it is possible that what is referred to here is the Lord’s Supper following the ordinary meal. “To simply explain tēi klasei tou artou as=‘The Holy Communion’ is to pervert the plain meaning of words, and to mar the picture of family life, which the text places before us as the ideal of the early believers” (Page). But in Act_20:7 they seem to have come together especially for the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Perhaps there is no way to settle the point conclusively here.
The prayers (tais proseuchais). Services where they prayed as in Act_1:14, in the temple (Act_3:1), in their homes (Act_4:23).
And fear came – That is, there was great reverence or awe. The multitude had just before derided them Act_2:13; but so striking and manifest was the power of God on this occasion, that it silenced all clamors, and produced a general veneration and awe. The effect of a great work of God’s grace is commonly to produce an unusual seriousness and solemnity in a community, even among those who are not converted. It restrains, subdues, and silences opposition.
Every soul – Every person or individual; that is, upon the people generally; not only on those who became Christians, but upon the multitudes who witnessed these things. All things were suited to produce this fear: the recent crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth; the wonders that attended that event; the events of the day of Pentecost; and the miracles performed by the apostles, were all suited to diffuse solemnity, thought, anxiety through the community.
Many wonders and signs – See the notes on Act_2:22. This was promised by the Saviour, Mar_16:17. Some of the miracles which they performed are specified in the following chapters.
All that believed – That is, that believed that Jesus was the Messiah; for that was the distinguishing point by which they were known from others.
Were together – Were united; were joined in the same thing. It does not mean that they lived in the same house, but they were united in the same community, or engaged in the same thing. They were doubtless often together in the same place for prayer and praise. One of the best means for strengthening the faith of young converts is for them often to meet together for prayer, conversation, and praise.
Had all things common – That is, all their property or possessions. See Act_4:32-37; Act_5:1-10. The apostles, in the time of the Saviour, evidently had all their property in common stock, and Judas was made their treasurer. They regarded themselves as one family, having common needs, and there was no use or propriety in their possessing extensive property by themselves. Yet even then it is probable that some of them retained an interest in their property which was not supposed to be necessary to be devoted to the common use. It is evident that John thus possessed property which he retained, Joh_19:27. And it is clear that the Saviour did not command them to give up their property into a common stock, nor did the apostles enjoin it: Act_5:4, “While it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold was it not in thine own power?” It was, therefore, perfectly voluntary, and was as evidently adapted to the special circumstances of the early converts. Many of them came from abroad. They were from Parthia, and Media, and Arabia, and Rome, and Africa, etc. It is probable, also, that they now remained longer in Jerusalem than they had at first proposed; and it is not at all improbable that they would be denied now the usual hospitalities of the Jews, and excluded from their customary kindness, because they had embraced Jesus of Nazareth, who had been just put to death. In these circumstances, it was natural and proper that they should share their property while they remained together.
And sold – That is, they sold as much as was necessary in order to procure the means of providing for the needs of each other.
Possessions – Property, particularly real estate. This word, κτήματα ktēmata, refers properly to their fixed property, as lands, houses, vineyards, etc. The word rendered “goods,” ὑπάρξεις huparxeis, refers to their personal or movable “property.”
And parted them to all – They distributed them to supply the needs of their poorer brethren, according to their necessities.
As every man had need – This expression limits and fixes the meaning of what is said before. The passage does not mean that they sold all their possessions, or that they relinquished their title to all their property, but that they so far regarded all as common as to be willing to part with it if it was needful to supply the needs of the others. Hence, the property was laid at the disposal of the apostles, and they were desired to distribute it freely to meet the needs of the poor, Act_4:34-35.
This was an important incident in the early propagation of religion, and it may suggest many useful reflections:
1. We see the effect of religion. The love of property is one of the strongest affections which people have. There is nothing that will overcome it but religion. That will; and one of the first effects of the gospel was to loosen the hold of Christians on property.
2. It is the duty of the church to provide for the needs of its poor and needy members. There can be no doubt that property should now be regarded as so far common as that the needs of the poor should be supplied by those who are rich. Compare Mat_26:11.
3. If it be asked why the early disciples evinced this readiness to part with their property in this manner, it may be replied:
(1) That the apostles had done it before them. The family of the Saviour had all things common.
(2) It was the nature of religion to do it.
(3) The circumstances of the persons assembled on this occasion were such as to require it. They were many of them from distant regions, and probably many of them of the poorer class of the people in Jerusalem. In this they evinced what should be done in behalf of the poor in the church at all times.
4. If it be asked whether this was done commonly among the early Christians, it may be replied that there is no evidence that it was. It is mentioned here, and in Act_4:32-37, and Act_5:1-7. It does not appear that it was done even by all who were afterward converted in Judea; and there is no evidence that it was done in Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, Philippi, Rome, etc. That the effect of religion was to make people liberal and willing to provide for the poor there can be no doubt. See 2Co_8:19; 2Co_9:2; 1Co_16:2; Gal_2:10. But there is no proof that it was common to part with their possessions and to lay them at the feet of the apostles. Religion does not contemplate, evidently, that people should break up all the arrangements in society, but it contemplates that those who have property should be ready and willing to part with it for the help of the poor and needy.
5. If it be asked, then, whether all the arrangements of property should be broken up now, and believers have all things in common, we are prepared to answer “No.”
(1) This was an extraordinary case.
(2) It was not even enjoined by the apostles on them.
(3) It was practiced nowhere else.
(4) It would be impracticable. No community where all things were held in common has long prospered. It has been attempted often, by pagans, by infidels, and by fanatical sects of Christians. It ends soon in anarchy, licentiousness, idleness, and profligacy; or the more cunning secure the mass of the property, and control the whole. Until all people are made alike, there could be no hope of such a community; and if there could be, it would not be desirable. God evidently intended that people should be excited to industry by the hope of gain; and then he demands that their gains shall be devoted to his service. Still, this was a noble instance of Christian generosity, and evinced the power of religion in loosing the hold which people commonly have on the world. It rebukes also those professors of religion, of whom, alas, there are many, who give nothing to benefit either the souls or bodies of their fellow-men.
With one accord – Compare Act_1:14; Act_2:1.
In the temple – This was the public place of worship; and the disciples were not disposed to leave the place where their fathers had so long worshipped God. This does not mean that they were constantly in the temple, but only at the customary hours of prayer – at nine o’clock in the morning, and at three o’clock in the afternoon.
And breaking bread – See the notes on Act_2:42.
From house to house – In the margin, “at home.” So the Syriac and Arabic. The common interpretation, however, is, that they did it in their various houses, now in this and now in that, as might be convenient. If it refers to their ordinary meals, then it means that they partook in common of what they possessed, and the expression “did eat their meat” seems to imply that this refers to their common meals, and not to the Lord’s Supper.
Did eat their meat – Did partake of their food. The word “meat” with us is applied to “flesh.” In the Bible, and in Old English authors, it is applied to “provisions” of any kind. Here it means all kinds of sustenance; what nourished them – τροφῆς trophēs – and the use of this word proves that it does not refer to the Lord’s Supper; for that ordinance is nowhere represented as designed for an ordinary meal, or to nourish the body. Compare 1Co_11:33-34.
With gladness – With rejoicing. This is one of the effects of religion. It is far from gloom; it diffuses happiness over the mind; it bestows additional joy in the participation of even our ordinary pleasures.
Singleness of heart – This means with a sincere and pure heart. They were satisfied and thankful. They were not perplexed or anxious; nor were they solicitous for the luxurious living, or aspiring after the vain objects of the people of the world. Compare Rom_12:8; 2Co_1:12; Col_3:22; Eph_6:5.
praising God] because their hearts were full of thankfulness for the knowledge of Jesus as His Christ.
having favour with all the people] As it was said of Christ, “the common people heard Him gladly” (Mar_12:37), so it seems to have been with His Apostles. The first attack made on them is (Act_4:1) by the priests, the captain of the Temple and the Sadducees.
And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved] The oldest MSS. agree in omitting to the church, and the literal rendering of the most authoritative text is, And the Lord added day by day together such as were in the way of salvation, i.e. brought into the communion “such as” (literally) “were being saved,” the work of whose salvation was begun but needed perseverance; who had set foot on the way and were heirs through hope of ultimate salvation. By this rendering the Greek words ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό = to the same place, together, which in the Rec. Text are at the beginning of chapter 3, are taken into this verse in accordance with the authority of the oldest MSS.