This page is a verse by verse study of Acts 2:37-47. These verses describe the establishment of the very first church of Christ. This happened in Jerusalem on the Pentecost following our Lord’s ascension.
Beginning of the church of Christ - Seven attributes
¶ "Now when they heard Peter’s words, they were cut to the heart, and asked Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?' "(Acts 2:37).
The church began with two convictions —a conviction that the message preached about Jesus was true, and a conviction of sin needing forgiveness.
The Holy Spirit empowered and inspired the apostles to preach the gospel. "The Spirit was giving them utterance"(Acts 2:4). By blessing all Jerusalem with that attested message, the Holy Spirit caused conviction in the hearts of many hearers.
Be saved. Peter had quoted Joel, "Whoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved"(Acts 2:21). Now those who have heeded Peter’s message are most anxious to know how they should do this. The question, “What must I do to be saved?” is the most important question anyone can ask (cf Acts 16:30).
¶ "Peter answered them, 'Repent and be immersed every one of you. Do this in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is made to you, to your children, and to all who are far away; yes, as many as the Lord our God will call.' With many other words he testified, and exhorted them, to tell them, 'Save yourselves from this twisted generation!' "(Acts 2:38-40).
The church also began with two promises —the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Commandments. These promises were attached to two commandments —repentance and baptism. In other words the promises of the gospel were conditional upon obedience to the gospel.
Save Yourselves When Peter told the people to save themselves, he did not mean they could do it all on their own without God’s help. God, after all, was providing the salvation. The only way you can save yourself is to trust God completely and co-operate with Him without question or compromise.
Holy Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39); the renewing and outpouring of the Spirit (Titus 3:4-7); the indwelling of the Spirit (Romans 8:9,11); and seal of the Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14); are best understood as all being one and the same blessing. Otherwise things become very complicated and confused.
The small word “for”. Some argue that baptism was not "for" forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38) in the sense of so as to receive forgiveness, but rather in the sense of because of having received. It is easy, in three simple steps, to discover which meaning is right...
What was the question? "What must we do?"(Acts 2:37).
What was the answer? "Repent and be baptized"(Acts 2:38).
What was to be the outcome? "Shall be saved"(Acts 2:21).
Without depending upon any argument about the word "for" we can clearly see that the import of the question was to inquire what one must do to be saved. The purpose of the answer was to inform what one must do to be saved.
¶ "Then those who were pleased to welcome Peter’s message were immersed. There were added that day about three thousand souls."(Acts 2:41).
The two commandments Peter issued were to repent and to be baptized. Peter expected everyone who wanted to be saved to obey these commandments. There was, on the day the church of Christ began, no such thing as “salvation by faith alone”.
Baptism in water. What the obeyers were immersed in is not explained in Acts 2, but elsewhere in Acts we find it was water(Acts 8:36,Acts 10:47-48).
Was immersion impossible? Some say there wasn't enough water in Jerusalem, or time left in the day, to immerse 3000 persons in water. Jerusalem had several pools — the Pool of Siloam for example (John 9:7). Even if only the apostles did the baptizing (an unwarranted assumption) twelve men could each immerse 250 people inside three hours.
Basis and Purpose of baptism. Back in Acts 2:38 we see that the immersion was performed "in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins".
Three thousand. The number who immediately responded to the message preached was "about 3000 souls". This is a small number compared to the population crowding Jerusalem at that season. We are reminded of Jesus’s remark that few find the Way (Matthew 7:14).
Gladly received Luke states that the converts received the word gladly. This language is suggestive of a voluntary receiving of God’s word.
Greek References on repentance:metanoia 3341 (Strong) cf 3326 meta (change), 3539 noeo 3563 nous (mind).
Greek References on baptism:baptisma (baptism), baptizo (baptize), 907,908 (Strong) cf 909,910. [from 911 bapto, to dip, to immerse]
¶ "They made a strong continuing commitment to the apostles’ teaching; and to fellowship; and to the breaking of bread; and to prayer."(Acts 2:42).
After first obedience to the gospel, there must be ongoing commitment: a devotion to the study of Christ’s teaching; to fellowship with his congregation; to the weekly observance of his memorial supper; and of course to prayer.
¶ "And on every soul there came fear; and through the apostles many wonders and signs occurred."(Acts 2:43).
This fear was not of fright or dread, but of wonder and awe. It was the fear caused by the amazing message of Christ, a message confirmed by miracles done by the apostles and by those to whom the apostles gave miraculous power (Mark 16:15-18,Acts 8:18).
We are encouraged to live in fear of God, a fear that makes no contradiction against living in the love of God (Philippians 2:12-13,1Peter 1:17-22).
¶ "All who believed kept company in all-inclusive fellowship. They sold things that they owned, and shared the proceeds out to everyone who was needy. Day by day they continued to be strongly united. They worshiped in the temple. In their homes they enjoyed breaking bread, sharing their meals with happy and simple hearts"(Acts 2:44-46).
Worldly possessions. The fellowship of the first church of Christ included the sharing of worldly possessions. This was not communism, because on being added to the church people did not relinquish their ownership of property or control of their own money. The selling of personal property, and giving of the proceeds for support of the needy, was a voluntary act. It was encouraged but not compulsory (Acts 4:34-36,Acts 5:1-4).
Nature of benevolence. This benevolence consisted of the rich helping the poor to live decently, contrary to the social system in which the rich live in luxury by making other people poor. However this benevolence does not reduce everyone’s duty to work for a living where possible (2Thessalonians 3:7-13,Acts 18:1-3,Ephesians 4:28,1Thessalonians 4:11-12).
Breaking bread. The "breaking of bread" at home (Acts 2:46), and the "breaking of bread" in the temple (Acts 2:42), were two different things. The people shared daily meals in their private houses, and they ate the Lord’s Supper in the worship assembly. The two breakings of bread mustn't be confused (1Corinthians 11:18-33). The first church of Christ did not partake of common meals in association with their worship.
Enjoyment. The first church enjoyed itself. It was characterized by "gladness and singleness of heart"(Acts 2:46). It was in later centuries that the church became po-faced.
¶ "They were praising God, and had approval in their whole community. The Lord kept adding to the church every day those who were being saved."(Acts 2:47).
Imitating Jesus The first church of Christ was, in its infancy, imitating its founder: in his youth, Jesus "kept growing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man"(Luke 2:52).
Favor with community. The three thousand who obeyed on the day of Pentecost were followed by more believers, and the church grew. This was no doubt helped by the favourable attitude of the wider community to the church at that time. Such favour is not always granted the Lord’s church.
Praising God One reason for their growth was that "they were praising God"(Acts 2:47). Many churches praise and promote themselves far too much and give too little glory to God. God is the One who "gives the increase"(Colossians 2:19,1Corinthians 3:6), and he is worthy of praise and thanksgiving (Revelation 5:13).
Saved added to the church. This verse shows that all the saved in Jerusalem were members of the church in Jerusalem. Every member of the church in Jerusalem was a saved person. It was the Lord who saved each one, and the Lord who added each one to the church. The roll of church members is "written in heaven" by the Lord (Luke 10:20,Philippians 4:3,Revelation 13:8). This does not mean we cannot know who is saved and therefore rightfully a church member. All who believe and follow "the apostles’ teaching" are such (Acts 2:42). Nor should we think that the church is an invisible body. The church was visible in Jerusalem. When other churches were established, it was to those visible churches to which God added the saved, just as in Jerusalem. The Pacific Ocean is not "invisible". You might not see it all at once, but you certainly can see it. So it is with the church.