Acts 2:42-47 is often used as a model for how to “do church” today. There is a perception that the present church ought to create a community which is as close to the community in Jerusalem as possible. But there is a reluctance to take all of the descriptions of church activity in Acts 2 seriously. Modern churches pick-and-choose which aspects they will promote (prayer and fellowship, for example), but omit things like communal living or selling property to support the church. I usually do not hear any reason for taking one aspect while ignoring the others. My guess is that these things are re-interpreted or somehow explained away.
Clint Arnold points out in his Acts commentary that they community in Acts Two was characterized by four types of activities. Acts 2:42 says that the believers were devoted to these four activities. The verb here (προσκαρτερέω) has the idea of being busy with something, or even “to persist” (BDAG). The word appears twice in this paragraph, in verse 46 the community is daily worshiping in the temple and sharing meals together.
First, they devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles (διδαχή). This instruction is for new converts who may not have heard Jesus teach. The apostles are witnesses passing along the things which they have seen and heard. It is entirely possible that the apostles had common set of instruction which they regularly passed along to new converts. If this is the case, then there was a basic body of tradition within months of the death of Jesus which could be called the “teaching of the apostles.”
Second, they devoted themselves to fellowship (κοινωνία). Since this word has the connotation of sharing common, this is likely an allusion to the communal life described in the next verses (Fitzmyer, Acts, 269). At the very least this includes alms and care for the poor.
Third, they devoted themselves to “breaking of bread.” While this phrase can be used of sharing a meal together, it is likely that Luke is describing the community as celebrating some form of communion. In Luke 21:19 the same words are used as Jesus takes bread and breaks it. In Luke 24:35 it is used for the resurrected Jesus breaking bread as two disciples realized who he was.
Fourth, they devoted themselves to prayers. Since the Greek is plural this is plausibly a reference to daily prayers in the Temple. It would not be unusual for Jewish men to go to the Temple several times a day to pray, so the community continues to worship at the Temple regularly. In fact, Acts 2:46 indicates that the disciples met in both private homes and in the Temple.
Since a major interest in this series of studies is how to “apply” the book of Acts, it is critical to ask if Luke is describing an ideal Christian community, or the specific community in Jerusalem. While it is easy to see these four elements as generic components of Christian community everywhere, there are other elements in this paragraph which do not seem to be found elsewhere. I will come back to this later, but notice for now that the community sold property, pooled resources, and distributed these funds to the poor. Giving to the poor is a standard description of Christian community, but “living in common” only appears here in Acts 2. There is nothing which makes me think the Antioch church was pooling resources, nor does Paul give any such instruction to his churches.
The fact that these earliest believers are devoted to these activities daily is also unique in the apostolic period. There is no other group of believers who appear to have left their jobs to devote themselves to spiritual activity. In 1-2 Thessalonians Paul seems to instruct the members of the church to not retire from daily life and be constantly devoted to ministry. 2 Thess 3:11-12 specifically tells people to go out and get jobs so that they are not a burden.
What is the reason Christians are quick to apply Acts 2:42 but not Acts 2:43 (miracles) or 2:44-45 (communal living)? What is the difference between what is happening in Acts 2 and 2 Thessalonians 3?