Acts 2:37-47


Peter used Joel 2:28-32 as his text. Joel had prophesied that God would pour out His Spirit upon all flesh. This would cause people of all ages to speak God's Word. God Himself would show signs and wonders. And He promised that everyone who would call on the name of the Lord would be saved. Peter preached on this text.

Jesus Christ was central to his sermon. This Jesus, whom the Jews had rejected and crucified, God raised from the dead. He ascended to the Father's right hand and sent the Spirit. Peter's last sentence had been: "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."

These Jews who were listening to Peter's words had been no friends of Jesus. If they weren't actively participating with the mobs they at least were consenting to what they were doing. At bottom they had been indifferent to what happened to Jesus. Their reaction to Peter's words was staggering as we see in the text for this day.

Acts 2:37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"

They had heard the Law preached by Peter. The preaching of the crucifixion by Peter was Law for them because Peter said that they were responsible for Jesus' death. The translations of what follows are interesting. RSV, NIV, and NKJV read: "they were cut to the heart." AAT has: "They felt crushed." TEV reads: "They were deeply troubled."

"Heart" denotes the very center of the personality. The Law had its intended results as is clear from what follows.

Their question denotes distress and anguish. Note that they call the Apostles "fellow Jews," as AAT translates it.

Bengel: Not thus had they spoken before.

What a miracle! The Law of God had crushed their incorrigible hearts. Look at Galatians 3:24. Only God can cause such a miracle. Thank God when He crushes your hard heart!

Acts 2:38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In his commentary on Acts F.F. Bruce grieves over the fact that this verse contains weighty problems. He says that because he denies the efficacy and purpose of holy baptism. This verse is no mystery for the commentator who takes God at His Word.

Peter says "repent." Note that this verb is in the aorist tense. Both the Baptist and Jesus came saying: "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." See Matthew 3:1; 4:17. But in both cases "repent" is the present imperative. From these verses Luther rightly observed that the whole life of the Christian must be one of repentance. However, here in Acts 2:38 the aorist imperative evidently zeros in on their one sin of rejecting and crucifying Christ.

Kretzmann: The first thing Peter urges them to do is to repent truly and sincerely, to admit all guilt before the face of God without reserve and equivocation.

We agree.

Marshall: The first was a call to repent. This echoed the preaching of John the Baptist with his baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, Luke 3:3, and of Jesus himself, Mark 1:15; Luke 13:3,5; 24:47. Repentance is a gift of God, 5:31; 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25.

Next we come to the words: "Let each of you be baptized in (on 'on') the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins." As mentioned above, F.F. Bruce has difficulty here. He says:

Bruce: It would, of course, be a mistake to link the words 'unto the remission of your sins' with the command 'be baptized' to the exclusion of the prior command 'Repent ye.' It is against the whole genius of Biblical religion to suppose that the outward rite had any value except insofar as it was accompanied by true repentance within.

Most non-Lutheran Protestants emphatically deny what Scripture plainly says about baptism. The imperative "be baptized" is qualified by two adverbial prepositional phrases. The first is "on the basis of the revelation of Jesus Christ." This is the first time in the New Testament that such a phrase occurs. The Baptist baptized people telling them that they should believe in Jesus who was to come. See Acts 19:4. That baptism forgave sins. Beginning with Pentecost (see Acts 19:5 for another example) people were baptized on the basis of Jesus Christ who had now been revealed.

By the way, this phrase is not in conflict with the Trinitarian formula for baptism. It emphasized that the Christ has come, has been revealed, has accomplished His saving work.

And now for the next phrase "for the forgiveness of your sins." This denotes not only the purpose but also actual result. That their sins were forgiven is obvious from what follow in the succeeding verses.

Incidentally these Jews had evidently rejected the baptism of John or surely they would not have been baptized again. They had rejected the preaching of both the Baptist and Jesus.

And now for the final clause: "And you will receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." "And" is not strictly conjunctive, it is either "and thereby" or "and as a result." Nothing is said about speaking in tongues. Nothing is said about a particular charismatic gift. Furthermore, "the gift, the Holy Spirit" is evidently appositional genitive. The Holy Spirit was the gift. Baptism brought the recipients the forgiveness of their sins which resulted in the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit.

Kretzmann: Where repentance and faith are found in the heart, there the gift of the Holy Ghost is assured, there God freely, out of pure mercy, sheds forth the Holy Ghost. The Spirit lives in the hearts of those that are baptized and believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and His constant work is to sanctify the believers. Through the indwelling of the Spirit we are enabled to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit.
Lenski: In Peter's sermon the Spirit came to work upon the hearers from without, but by bringing them to repentance and to baptism he would actually enter their hearts, be their heavenly gift, and thus put them into actual communion with God.

Jesus had promised the Church this wonderful gift in His discourse in John chapters 14 to 16. Here was the first example of God's promise through Joel: "I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh."

Acts 2:39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off -- for all whom the Lord our God will call."

"The promise" is placed emphatically forward. It is followed by two more datives of indirect object: "To your children and to all who are far away." These are the people who had rejected Jesus or at least had been indifferent toward Him. But once they admitted their guilt Peter had nothing but words of kindness and grace toward them. "The promise" is the one mentioned in Acts 1:4-5. God had promised them the gift of sins forgiven and the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Those who deny that baptism truly forgives sins, also deny that infants should be baptized. They deny that the words "to your children" include infants. But had not Joel promised: "I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh"? No restriction is made in the Old Testament promise. And no restriction is made here in Acts 2:39.

The words "all who are far off" surely include the Gentiles. Peter is simply commenting on the words "all flesh," found at the beginning of his text. The commentators point out that Peter is here alluding to Isaiah 57:19: "Peace, peace to him who is far off and to him who is near." Bengel makes the interesting observation that Peter is speaking about something which he did not yet fully understand but which corresponded with the Old Testament, in this case Isaiah 57:19. Not until the vision in Acts 10 did Peter fully understand that the Gospel was also for the Gentiles. But already here in Acts 2:39 he speaks about it.

Thus far in this verse Peter has mentioned three groups: the hearers, their children, and people still at a distance. He summarizes all three groups with the words: "as many as the Lord our God will call." It could be translated: "As many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself."

The last verse of Peter's text, Joel 2:32, reads: "Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." Combining that thought with that of Acts 2:39 Bruce remarks: "Those who call upon the name of the Lord are those whom the Lord Himself has called -- and called effectually."

Lenski: "As many as the Lord, our God shall call unto Himself" in no way limits the universality. These are not persons who are chosen by a mysterious decree of election but those who are called by the Gospel. Others, too, are called but reject the call in permanent obduracy; these are won by the call and its grace.

Jesus wept over Jerusalem. He wanted all to be saved. But not all were saved. Many were of "this crooked generation," to quote verse 40. But from among these obdurate people God called some to Himself.

God is the God of promise and fulfillment. By the way, our text thus far has spoken of the three members of the Trinity. Scripture always presents the Triune God as the saving God.

Acts 2:40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation."

The commentators agree that we do not have the whole sermon of Peter. This verse brings that out. The two verbs "warned and pleaded" are strong words which denote the urgency with which Peter spoke to the people. "Be saved from this perverse generation" is a good translation.

Marshall: "Perverse generation" is an Old Testament phrase for the people of Israel who rebelled against God in the wilderness , Deuteronomy 32:5, and is applied in the New Testament to those who reject Jesus, Philippians 2:15; Luke 9:41; 11:29; Hebrews 3:10.

On "corrupt" Lenski says: "It refers to a warped piece of timber which the carpenters must throw out as being useless." What Peter says in these verses is applicable in any generation in the New Testament. The preacher today should speak this way.

Acts 2:41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Law and Gospel had their intended effect. It is remarkable that the message is called "his." Obviously the message was the very Word which God gave him to speak. It should be obvious that in and with this baptism the recipients received both the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Bruce: Their numbers amounted to three thousand -- a much larger company won in a single day than Jesus had secured to His allegiance in two or three years of public ministry. No wonder that He told His disciples that, as a result of His returning to His Father, they would perform greater works than they had ever seen Him do, John 14:12.
Lenski: Jesus labored for three years and at last had only some 500 disciples, 1 Corinthians 15:6; here 3000 were added at one stroke, fulfilling John 4:37, 38.

Note that both verbs are in the passive voice. The Apostles were the agents of the first verb. God Himself was the agent of the second verb. That becomes clear in verse 47 where we read "The Lord was adding, etc."

Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

This is a new paragraph. Now follows a description of the first Christian congregation in the New Testament. Before we begin our study of these verses, meditate for a moment on the conditions in Jerusalem before this day of Pentecost. The Jews who were sympathetic to Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin hated Jesus and His disciples. On the other hand, the disciples likely avoided these Jews and kept to themselves. They had no common ground. But look what happened!

Our verse begins with a periphrastic construction which is variously rendered: "They continued steadfastly -- they devoted themselves -- they were loyal to what the Apostles taught."

Four items are mentioned. The teaching of the Apostles is obviously that which the Lord taught the Apostles. "Fellowship" is the very opposite of what pertained before. It obviously denotes a fellowship in church, in the home, on the street, everywhere. In this context the breaking of bread must mean the Lord's Supper. And "prayer" is likely a broad term for "divine services," which, of course, include prayer.

Marshall: It is much more likely that Luke is simply using an early Palestinian name for the Lord's Supper in the proper sense.
Bruce: The apostolic teaching was authoritative because it was the teaching of the Lord communicated through the Apostles. In due course this apostolic teaching took written shape in the New Testament scriptures. The 'breaking of bread' here denotes something more than the ordinary partaking of food together: the regular observance of the Lord's Supper is no doubt indicated.
Lenski: Here we have a brief description of the religious life of the first Christian congregation.
Kretzmann: A wonderful blessed intimacy, by which they were attached more closely to one another, than brother and sisters according to the flesh. If this expression does not refer exclusively to the celebration of Holy Communion, it certainly does not exclude the Sacrament. Look at 1 Corinthians 10:16.

AAT has a thought provoking translation: "They were loyal to what the apostles taught in their fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in praying." In other words, according to this translation, the substance of the teaching of the Apostles and the three spheres are fellowship, the Lord's Supper, and prayer.

Acts 2:43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.

TEV reverses the two clauses in this verse: "Many miracles and wonders were done through the apostles, and this caused everyone to be filled with awe." Very likely that is the correct understanding of this verse. Who is meant by "every soul" in this verse? Since verse 44 goes on to speak about the believers it is likely that "every soul" in verse 43 speaks primarily of the unregenerate but we hesitate to limit it to them.

And how do we translate "awe"? Five of our version render it as "awe." KJV, NKJV, and RSV render it "fear." JB translates: "The many miracles and signs worked through the apostles made a deep impression on everyone."

By the way, these are very likely the very signs and wonders mentioned in verse 19 of Peter's sermon, They had been foretold by the prophet Joel. Furthermore, in the first verse of Peter's sermon, verse 22, we read of the mighty works, wonders, and sign with which Jesus was accredited by God Himself. The miracles and signs in the Gospels gave testimony to the divinity of Jesus. In the Acts of the Apostles the miracles and signs corroborate the universal Gospel. See Hebrews 2:4.

Kretzmann: The Christians' mode of living was continual confession and admonition to all the inhabitants of the city. The solemn awe which the miracles and signs of the apostles inspired was augmented by the reverence demanded by their blameless living. And this awe served the spread of the Gospel as well; it acted as a curb upon the hatred of the Jews, hindering them from showing any open manifestations of their enmity.

Note that the Apostles were only the agents of the wonders and signs, whereas Jesus performed such wonders and signs on His own authority.

Acts 2:44 All the believers were together and had everything in common.

From here to the end of verse 47 Luke describes almost every aspect of the life of this first Christian congregation. Note that all of the verbs are in the imperfect tense denoting continuous, customary, or repeated action. These verses are filled with joy and a carefree attitude.

Kretzmann: It was God's intention that the young plant of His Church was to enjoy a peaceful growth for a season. They did not practice communism, they did not abrogate the right of private property. Not the possession, but the use and benefit of the good was common.
Lenski: "In common" is predicative. This states the main idea, namely, how they considered and treated their possessions, not as belonging to the owner only, but as something in which the rest were to share as need arose. This was not communism but the product of something that communism does not understand.
Marshall: We have avoided the use of the term 'communism' in describing this practice, since modern communism is a description of a political and economic system of such a different character that it is anachronistic and misleading to use the term in the present context.
Acts 2:45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.

Most versions translate the two nouns with "possessions and goods." The tense of the verbs indicates that what happened, happened again and again.

Kretzmann: The well-to-do Christians were willing and eager to make these sacrifices when it was evident that this was the only way in which the needs of the brethren could be supplied.
Lenski: It is a fair conclusion that most of these Jews who had moved to Jerusalem from distant lands and were now believers were well off and were living on their wealth. Yet they had changed their entire attitude toward their wealth and were now using it in fine Christian charity. What Luke describes is a fine display of Christian charity.

Acts 2:46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,

There are a few minor problems in this verse and the next, but the central point is clear: this first Jerusalem Christian congregation enjoyed a remarkable fellowship both in the Temple and in private homes, free from temporal cares and worries, enjoying the favor of outsiders and growing constantly. These facts should not be lost midst the little problems.

The problems have to do with "day to day," and "from house to house," "in their homes," or "by households." Does this talk about ordinary meals or the Lord's Supper, or both? As to the so-called problems we make the following comments. Verse 46 informs us that these Christians used the Temple, without hindrance, for worship but that they celebrated the Lord's Supper in their homes. The final clause seems to indicate that they invited each other for meals and that they ate with joy, free from earthly cares and worries.

Acts 2:47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

The first part of this verse clearly tells us what kind of relationship these Christians had with God, with each other, and with people on the outside. The second part of the verse gives all glory to the monergism of the God who was causing the Church to grow daily. God in His grace was bringing people to saving faith.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Epistle Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1985, pp. 1-5. Used with permission.

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