Acts 2:37-47

A Bible Study led by Dr. Larry Reynolds

Denton, Tx

February 12, 2009


(Acts 2:37-47)


For the past several sessions we have been focusing on Acts 2 which tells the story of the infusion of the Holy Spirit into the lives of the followers of Jesus.  This will be our third and final session on this chapter.  While we cannot deal with every chapter in Acts n such detail (it would take 81 sessions or about a year and one-half to get through the book at that pace!), we have spent so much time dealing with this one event because it is the key event in the book of Acts.  The coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was the fulfillment of the words of Jesus in Acts 1:5 – “..for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”  It was the Spirit baptism which empowered the disciples to carry out the commission Jesus gave them in Acts 1:8.


We have seen that in telling the story in Acts 2 of what happened on the Day of Pentecost, Luke divides the account into three main movements:

1.      The coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-13)

2.      The preaching of Peter (Acts 2:14-36)

3.      The response to Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:37-42)

The chapter ends with a paragraph in Acts 2:43-47 which tells of the afterglow of Pentecost.  In this session we will focus on the response to Peter’s sermon (vv.37-42) and the state of the church in the days immediately following the coming of the Holy Spirit (vv.43-47)


The Response to Peter’s Sermon (Acts 2:37-42)

We left off in our last session with the strong concluding words to Peter’s sermon hanging in the air – “…this Jesus whom you crucified.” (v.36)   With those words ringing in their ears, many in the crowd that day responded positively to Peter’s sermon.  Essentially, they responded in three progressive steps:

1.      They felt something (v.37a)

2.      They asked something (v.37b-40)

3.      They did something (vv.41-42)

What the people felt in response to Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:37a)

Verse 37a“Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart…”

“Now when they heard this…” – The word “this” is not in the Greek text and is added for clarity.  It is not clear whether this phrase is referring to the sermon in its entirety or the conclusion which focuses on their role in the crucifixion.  Perhaps both are intended.

“…pierced to the heart…” – The word translated “pierced” is katanusso from the verb nusso which means “to pierce” and the preposition kata which means “against.”  Adding the preposition to the verb strengthens the action.  It carries the idea of violent piercing.  This is the only place in the New Testament this word is used.  Homer used the word to describe the pounding of the hooves of horses upon the earth.  The word translated “heart” is kardia and it is used here to represent much more than just the organ which pumps blood through our body.  It is the deepest inward being.  In the Scripture, the heart represents more the seat of intellect than the seat of emotions.  Putting those two words together, it is clear that the people felt a deep, visceral response to the words of Peter.  This phrase has been paraphrased as:

·         “broken in heart”

·         “conscience smitten”

·         “kicked in the gut”

·         “stunned by the enormity of their sin”

This intensity of feeling moved them to action.


What the people asked in response to Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:37b-40)

Verse 37b“Brethern, what shall we do?” – Notice there is no attempt to deny or even minimize their guilt.  Through the words of Peter the Holy Spirit had done His convicting work in them, and they were completely, utterly convinced that something needed to be done.


Verses 38-40 contain Peter’s response to their question.  These verses are so often misunderstood, it is important that we go through them phrase by phrase.

·         “repent” (v.38) – This is the first thing Peter tells the people to do.  The word is metanoeo from meta (a preposition meaning “after”) and noeo (a verb meaning “to think”).  Literally, the word means “to think after” or “to rethink.”  It means to have a complete change of mind.  The word is used thirty-four (34) times in the New Testament and ten (10) times in the writings of Luke.  It was the heart of the preaching of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2) and the preaching of Jesus (Matthew 4:17).  The tense of the verb is second person imperative expressing a sense of urgency – You repent now!” 

·         “…and let each of you be baptized…” – Baptism is the outward expression of the inward repentance.  There is a slight, but significant, change in verb tense from the word repent.  The verb “be baptized” is in the third person imperative.  The idea is “You repent!  The one who repents, he or she should be baptized.”  The primary command is to repent.  Baptism follows repentance.  It is not an act of repentance but an expression of repentance.

·         “…in the name of Jesus…” – Names in biblical times were indicative of a person’s character.  To be baptized “…in the name of Jesus…” means to acknowledge Jesus as the One Peter identified in Acts 2:36 – “…Lord and Christ…” or God and Messiah.  This statement may be a reference to the tradition of to person being baptized making an oral confession that Jesus is Lord.

·         “…for the forgiveness of sins…” – This is the most misinterpreted phrase in this verse and one of the most misinterpreted in the Scripture.  The word translated “for” is the preposition eis.  It can be translated “as a result of.”  It is not that baptism produces the forgiveness of sin.  Baptism is the result of our sins being forgiven.  The statement can be paraphrase, “Repent and as a result of the forgiveness of sin that comes from repentance, be baptized.”  The highly respected Bible scholar, F.F. Bruce, writes: 

“…It is against the whole genius of biblical religion to suppose the outward rite [of baptism] had any value except in so far it was accompanied by true repentance within…” [Quoted in Acts: A Study Guide Commentary, Curtis Vaughn] 


Acts 3:19 links repentance directly with the forgiveness of sins which is certainly the intent of Acts 2:38 as well.

·         “…and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit...” – The gift of the Holy Spirit is the Spirit Himself.  The principle is that every believer, by definition, is indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  Apart from that indwelling there is no salvation.  It is the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin (John 16:8), performs the miracle of the new birth (regeneration) in our hearts (John 3:5-8), and matures us in the faith (John 14:26).  This statement reinforces the principle we explored earlier in Acts 2 (see vv.3-4) that every believer is baptized in the Holy Spirit.  Receiving “the gift of the Holy Spirit” is the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise in John 14:16-18.  The gift of the Holy Spirit is the means, the mechanism by which Jesus continues His ministry on earth through His disciples.

·         “For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off…” (v.40) – This promise of the Holy Spirit is not merely for those in the crowd that day.  It is for all future generations of believers.  The phrase “…all who are far off…” refers to future generations.  The same Spirit empowering the disciples in the 1st century is the same Spirit in the lives of believers today. 

·         “…as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself…” – This phrase is a reminder that two dynamics are always at work in the salvation process.  From the point of view of heaven, God is calling people to Himself.  From the point of view of earth, people are calling on God (see Acts 2:21).  It is a mistake to under-emphasize either part of the salvation process.

·         Verse 40 demonstrates that Peter took seriously the human initiative in the salvation process.  With a strong sense of urgency and passion Peter kept pleading with them to repent and be saved.


What the people did in response to Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:41-42)

Verse 41“So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”

·         “…received his word…” – The phrase means to take to one’s heart, to accept, or to value.  The idea is that his words were welcomed.

·         “…were baptized…” – The word is baptize which means “to dip or sink.”

·         “…were added that day about three thousand souls…” – This number no doubt included many Jewish pilgrims from all parts of the Roman Empire.  They would go back to their homes and tell the good news to others.  This is one reason Christianity spread so quickly from Jerusalem as far as North Africa and Rome.


Verse 42“And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” – Those who believed and were baptized did not immediately disperse to their homes.  They felt a need for:

·         Instruction – “the apostles’ teaching”

·         Community – “fellowship”

·         Worship – “the breaking of bread” – This may be a reference to the Lord’s Supper.

·         Prayer – “to prayer” – As the story of Acts develops, we will encounter many examples of the key role prayer had in the early Christian fellowship.


The state of the church in the days immediately following Pentecost (Acts 2:43-47) – Throughout the book of Acts, Luke pauses to provide us a summary account of the state of the church at various points in time.  This paragraph is the second of nine summary accounts of the state of the church in Acts.  Most are very brief consisting of just a sentence or two.  This is the longest and most detailed of the summary accounts. These summaries are located in Acts 1:14; 4:32-35; 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; and 28:30-31.  We are not told how long a time this summary account covers, but it was probably an extended period of time.  Some have speculated these verses at the end of Acts 2 may cover a period of many months. 


This paragraph provides us a beautiful description of the church in its early days.  No doubt the people who were involved in that early fellowship looked back on those days with fond memories.  I believe these verses show us a picture of how the Lord intends for His church to be.  At this point in time, the church was characterized by five things.  It is these things (not buildings or programs) that make the church the church!

1.      The early church was characterized by a deep reverence for God“And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe…” (v.37) – The word translated “awe” is phobos from which our word phobia comes.  The basic meaning of the word is fear or reverence or respect.  At least five times in the Old Testament we are told that the fear or reverence of God is the beginning of wisdom or knowledge (see Job 28:28; Ps. 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10; 15:33).  One of the heresies of modern theology is an attitude that minimizes the transcendence of God and the majesty and power of God.  The early church did not make that mistake.

2.      The early church was characterized by miraculous power“…and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles…” (v.37) – We saw in a previous session that at least nine times a phrase similar to “wonders and signs” appears in Acts.  Things happened in the early fellowship that could not be explained in human terms alone.  Supernatural events took place, especially through the ministry of the apostles.  No doubt this increased the “sense of awe” they were all feeling.   The point of these miraculous deeds was to point people to Jesus.  The apostles consistently refused to accept credit for the deed performed through them.  They clearly understood that it was not their power but the Lord’s power that resulted in “wonders and signs.” (See Acts 3:12 & 4:8-10).

3.      The early church was characterized by unity and sharing“And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.” (v.38) – The unity of the early church is stressed over and over again in the first part of Acts.  We have seen it alluded to three times: Acts 1:14, 15; 2:1.  In this paragraph are two more references to the unity of the early fellowship.  Verse 38 says they “were together” and verse 46 describes them as being “with one mind.”  This sense of closeness caused them provide for each others needs as they were able.  Two things need to be said about their selling of property and giving the proceeds to those who had need:

·         There is no evidence this communal practice continued after the very early days of the church.  Apparently is was a response to a pressing need at the moment (after all, many of the people who made up the early fellowship and stayed in Jerusalem for further instruction were not permanent residents of Jerusalem).  I know of no place where the Scripture teaches this is God’s permanent plan for how His people should live.

·         The verb tenses of “selling” and “sharing” suggest not a one time act but continuing action over time.  The suggestion is that as needs arose, people who were able sold their property to help meet the specific need.  It is not that these new Christians just indiscriminately sold all they had and gave the money away.

4.      The early church was characterized by worship and joy“And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people.” (vv.46-47a) – Notice their worship was both public (“in the temple”) and private (“from house to house”).  The phrase “breaking bread” may refer to the Lord’s Supper (see note on Acts 2:42) and “taking their meals” may refer to ordinary meals.  The Lord’s Supper was traditionally eaten in relation to full meal.  Meals had much more of a sacred significance in the Jewish culture of the 1st century than they do in our culture today.  One writer says:

“We can safely say that every meal had a deep religious meaning for the Jewish Christians.  Whenever they ate their food together, surely they must have recalled that night when Jesus at His last supper with the disciples.”  [T.C. Smith, The Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol.10]


      These public and private acts of worship were not performed out of a sense of obligation or duty.  They were carried out “…with gladness and sincerity of heart…”  Their worship was characterized by a spirit of joy.  Worship was not done grudgingly but joyfully!

5.      The early church was characterized by continuous growth“And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (v.47b) – Notice there was no special evangelistic or mission emphasis.  The natural result of people living in awe of God, letting God’s power flow through them, loving each other, and worshiping with joy is that others were attracted to their fellowship.

Practical Application from Acts 2:37-47

1.      An awareness of sin is the beginning point of right relationship with God. (Acts 2:37)

2.      God does not force Himself on us; He waits for us to receive Him into our lives. Acts 2:41)

3.      The Christian life is a marathon not a sprint. (Acts 2:42)

4.      The Christian life must be lived on both the horizontal (person to person) and vertical planes (person to God). (Acts 2:43-47)

5.   Genuine Christians draw to them. (Acts 2:47)