September 10, 2009

The Apostles' Teaching

I'd never looked at Acts 2:42 in the greek until recently. In English, I had always assumed the word for "teaching" was a verb form. It sure gets preached that way. Day by day the apostles were teaching and the people were devoted to being there, during the teaching. You know, just like sunday morning. Let us now rise for the dismissal.

As a house churcher since 1996, trying to follow Paul's model more closely, I always supposed Jerusalem was different, or at least different in its beginning. Reading Acts 2, it sure did look to me like hundreds or thousands of new believers were sitting at the apostles' feet each day hearing lectures. But the greek word for "teaching" is a noun. Being devoted to someone's teaching as a system of thought and attitudes is a BIG difference from being devoted to someone's teaching activity on their particular schedule.

This was brought out to me recently during an e-conversation with Alan Knox, who I'm thrilled to say has just posted on the topic with more great greeky insights to suggest Acts 2:42 should make us "picture the early believers attempting to live their lives in accordance with the message that the apostles taught" (Emphasis mine). I recommend Alan's entire post but here's my favorite bit:

This passage demonstrates how those early believers lived according to the gospel (the apostles’ teaching), and how they shared their lives and their meals with one another. On the day of Pentecost, God did not create individuals who loved to sit and listen to teaching.

By the way, if you haven't heard about Alan Knox yet, he's a student at Southeastern doing his Ph.D on the purpose of the church meeting being for mutual edification. And when I asked Alan about co-existing at SEBTS with such a stance, he said he finds a lot of people saying they agree with him in theory, but not in practice. Well, isn't that special? ;-)


Greg said...

I agree with and appreciate the difference you bring out with the use of the noun in this passage as opposed to the use of the verb. However, if I am going to devote myself to the teaching (noun) of another, at some point I have to listen to him teach (verb). In the end, I see very little difference except in a devotional sense. Am I missing something?

Bill Heroman said...

Hey, CD. Good question. This was a bit of a brain shift for me, too. Here's the difference:

As an individual, you could hear the teaching(N) being passed on by somebody else who heard it from the apostles. As a church, you could remember it and repeat it to one another. The Apostles don't have to be the only ones teaching(V) their teaching(N).

The earliest church in Jerusalem had over 3,000 people. It's very unlikely they all went up to the Temple each day. So you might say this is partly just a question of human logistics.

Alan Knox said...

CD (and Bill),

I was asked the same question on my blog. I believe that the apostles did teach (the verb). The point that Luke is bringing out in Acts 2:42 relates to what the believers were devoting themselves to. They were not devoting themselves to listening to the apostles teach. They were devoting themselves to living according to what the apostles' teaching (regardless of who actually taught them).

Unfortunately, this passage is usually used to exhort people to attend lectures or other types of teaching. Teaching is good. Teaching is necessary. But, teaching is not the goal. Living according to the apostles' teaching is the goal.


Bill Heroman said...

Well said, once again, Alan. :-)

Recent Posts
Recent Posts Widget
"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient observation than to any other reason."

-- Isaac Newton