42 Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
43 Awe came upon everyone because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
The book called “The Acts of the Apostles” was written around 85 to 90 CE by the anonymous author of the Gospel According to Luke. The first 15 chapters of Acts are a didactic “history” of the early Jesus Follower Movement starting with a second account of the Ascension of Jesus (the first one is in Luke 24) and ending at the so-called Council of Jerusalem where it was agreed that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised and keep all the Kosher dietary laws in order to become Jesus Followers. From Chapter 15 to Chapter 28, Paul’s missionary activities are recounted, ending with his house arrest in Rome, not always in a manner consistent with the accounts in Paul’s epistles.
In Luke and Acts, everything that happened was said to be guided by the Holy Spirit and was part of “God’s Plan.”
Today’s reading is a description of the early Jesus Follower community (they were not called “Christians” until 85 CE or so). It followed the long speech given by Peter after the Pentecost Event and showed that Jesus Followers saw themselves and their religious practices as a part of Judaism. Verse 46 states: “They spent much time together in the temple.” The Temple was active until its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE in response to the Jewish/Zealot Revolt in 66.
The Jesus Followers’ devotion to “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (v. 42) was imported word for word into the Baptismal Covenant used by The Episcopal Church (BCP 304). In Acts, “the breaking of bread” referred to common meals, the event in the Road to Emmaus Story (Luke 24:30), and to the Lord’s Supper.
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary observes that the word translated in the NRSV as “devoted” is proskarterountes in Greek. Other translations include “devoted themselves steadfastly” and “devoted and unwavering.”
The “teachings” (v.42) are “didachē” in Greek. The Didache is a writing also known as The Lord’s Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations. It is an anonymous early Christian treatise that is dated by scholars to the late First or early Second Century CE. It was particularly important in developing the practices of the developing Jesus Follower movement.
In verse 42, the word translated in the NRSV as “awe” is the Greek word phobos (from which we get “phobia”). In other contexts (and in some translations of verse 42), it is translated as “fear.” A recent translation is “And the reverence came to every soul.”
Common ownership of goods (v.44) was understood by the Jesus Follower community as consistent with Jesus’ teachings, such as those found in Chapter 12 of the Gospel according to Luke. Common ownership was also practiced in the Essene community at Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found), a religious community that had many subtle (but discernable) influences on the Jesus Follower Movement in the First Century. The Jewish Annotated New Testament also notes that common ownership of property was highly valued in the philosophical teachings of Aristotle.
1 Peter 2:19-25
19 It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.
22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
23 When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
The First Letter of Peter was likely written by an anonymous author in the last quarter of the First Century, long after Peter’s death. It was written in sophisticated Greek (not a style a Galilean fisherman would use) and resembles the form of Paul’s letters. Its focus is not on the earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth, but on the Resurrection and the affirmation that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah.
Today’s reading is part of a longer reading (2:18 – 3:7) addressed to slaves, wives, and (to a lesser extent) husbands. It is not surprising the persons who prepared the Revised Common Lectionary omitted verse 18 from the reading: “Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh.” The verse following today’s reading (3:1) begins “Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands….” Husbands are exhorted to “show consideration for your wives” (3:7).
The Jewish Annotated New Testament observes that these understandings regarding slaves and wives were common in late First Century Greek and Roman culture. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary points out that similar language is found in Colossians 3:18-19, Ephesians 5:22-27, 1 Timothy 2:9-15, and Titus 2:2-10. Another translation of oiketai in verse 18 is “domestic servants” rather than “slaves.”
The reading itself holds up Jesus the Christ as the example to all Jesus Followers of one who endured unjust suffering, based largely on the model of the “Suffering Servant” described in Isaiah 52:13 to 53:12. Verse 22 is a paraphrase of Isaiah 53:9b (“although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth”).
In verse 25, The NJBC observes that in verse 25, the Suffering Servant, vindicated by God in the Resurrection, became the Good Shepherd and guardian. The word translated as “guardian” in verse 25 is episkopon and is sometimes translated as “overseer.” It is the origin of the word for bishops (“Episcopal”).
1 Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
The Fourth Gospel is different in many ways from the Synoptic Gospels. The “signs” (miracles) and many stories in the Fourth Gospel are unique to it, such as the Wedding at Cana, Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the Raising of Lazarus.
The chronology of events is also different in the Fourth Gospel. For example, the Temple Event (“Cleansing of the Temple”) occurred early in Jesus’ Ministry in the Fourth Gospel, rather than late as in the Synoptic Gospels. In the Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper was a Passover Seder, but in the Fourth Gospel, it occurred the day before the first day of Passover so that Jesus (who was described as “the Lamb of God” in the Fourth Gospel) died at the same time lambs were sacrificed at the Temple for the Passover Seder to be held the night he died.
Most scholars agree that the Gospel was written by an anonymous author around 95 CE, at a time when the “parting of the ways” between the Jesus Follower Movement and Rabbinic Judaism was accelerating.
Today’s reading is the opening part of an extended presentation of Jesus as the Good Shepherd (10:1-18). In the first portion of this passage, the author used images to describe Jesus of Nazareth and his enemies. Jesus is “the shepherd” – the one who enters the sheepfold by the gate (v.2) and for whom the gatekeeper opens the gate (v.3). Those who “climb in another way” (Jesus’ opponents – presumably, the religious hierarchy) are thieves and bandits (v.1).
Shifting metaphors, the author had Jesus say that “I am the gate for the sheep” (v.7), all who came before are thieves and bandits, and “all who enter by me will be saved” (v.9). Jesus said he came so that “they [the sheep] may have life and have it abundantly” (v.10). In describing Jesus as “the gate,” the author may have been anticipating the statement in John 14:6 “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary suggests that Psalm 118:19-20 may be the source of presenting a gate as a messianic symbol.
The image of the good shepherd was a familiar one and appeared in Psalm 23 (The LORD is my shepherd) and in Ezekiel 34:11-24. Jeremiah condemned the priests and kings (“shepherds”) in Jer. 23:1 for their bad deeds. Moses was a shepherd when he had his Burning Bush Experience (Ex. 3:1-2) and David was a shepherd whom Samuel anointed king (1 Sam. 16:13). The good shepherd was an image that clearly resonated in the agrarian and pastoral society of Israel.