by Robert Brow   February 1999


The Christian -ekklesia- (Acts 2:47-5:11) is marked off by baptism with water as the Jewish -ekklesia -(7:38) was marked off by baptism with water when they crossed the Red Sea (see 1 Cor. 10:1,2). The early Christians did not see themselves as leaving Judaism, but neither did the Jewish slaves who crossed the Red Sea stop being Jews. What changed was that they were no longer under Egyptian taskmasters. As Paul wrote to the Galatians (a letter Luke must have known) -eis Christon ebaptisthyte- and that freed them from -astheny kai ptoka stoicheia- (Galatians 3:27 & 4:9).

In the Arndt & Gingrich Lexicon the verb -baptizo- is given the meaning of dipping or immersing.. Based on that the Jews were NOT baptised in the Red Sea, since they didn't go into the sea by immersion. But in 1 Cor. 10:1-2 Paul says that the baptism was into the person of Moses and "upo tyn nephelyn ysan kai pantes dia tys thalassys diylthon." That explains, as in Exodus, that the people were not immersed (it was the pursuing Egyptians who were immersed !) but rather sprinkled by the cloud of spray from the water on both sides.

Luke would know as well as we do that the logistics of baptizing 4000 menand women by total immersion in -to uperoon- (Acts 1:13) or in the temple -epi ty stoa ty kaloumeny Solomontos- (Acts 1:11) would be totally impossible.

Even if that much water was available in deep tanks, and each baptism took three minutes it would require 200 hours, i.e. four days of non stop day and night baptisms. Even if we imagine eleven apostles were immediately organized to doing immersions simultaneously, they would still need eighteen hours into early morning the next day.

This again illustrates the fact that the lexical meaning of Greek words may not at all mean what the New Testament author may have had in mind when he wrote.

The -ekklesia- was added to as women as well as men -prosetesthysan- (2:41, 47, 5:14, 6:1) by baptism. And those added were called -mathytai- (people learning with a teacher, 6:1, 2, 7), which continued Jesus ' revolutionary practice of teaching God's law to women (forbidden by the Rabbis).

All baptisms were apparently immediate without any examination or probation (see Acts 16:33). It was after baptism that women and men joined in -didache, koinonia, klasei tou artou, kai proseuchais- (2:42). This suggests that what is important about baptism is not the penitence of the new learners before baptism but what would be imparted to them by - agion pneuma-.

Luke's language game for -metanoysate- (3:19) therefore seems to be similar to the OT shubh, which is not a repentance meaning sufficient contrition, but rather a turning to God to be changed. If this is correct then the forty days of Lenten contrition and probation before baptism (the legalistic model invented in the second century) deny what Luke described as happening among the first disciples. Baptism gave them the right to be part of a community of the Spirit, where the Holy Spirit would not only teach them but fill them again and again for every situation at hand (2:4, 38, 4:8, 31, 5:32, 6:3,5, 7:55).

In our day Christians work with various models such as:  water baptism imparts the Spirit (the unbaptized go to hell), water baptism is only appropriate for those who are already born again, baptism is followed by a second blessing of fullness of the Spirit or speaking in tongues. These are all individualistic explanations.

The explanatory model that Luke seems to have in mind is that people are baptized as individuals to begin learning as -mathytai- and they are then incorporated into a community constituted by the -epiklesis- of the Holy Spirit (8:17). This might link with John's explanation that Nicodemus needed to begin again as a learner by baptism and join the community of the Spirit around Jesus (John 3:5-6). Luke uses six illustrations from the Samaritans, the Ethiopian, the Damascus area, the coastal plain, the first Roman converts, and the Antioch area.

As a result of Philip's preaching Samaritans turned from the teaching of Simon -mageuon- (a nice term for controlling people by magic, 8:9), and -ebaptizonto andres te kai gunaikes- (the imperfect suggests a continual stream of new disciples being baptized) to learn from -ton Christon- (8:5).

But not one of them had yet experienced the power of the Spirit -oudepo gar yn ep oudeni peptokos- (8:16). That could only begin to happen when two -apostoloi- (as opposed to a mere elder who also shared in goodnewsing, 6:3-5) could come and form them into an -ekklesia- by - epiklesis- of the Spirit (8:17). That moved them from being individual disciples into a functioning community of the Spirit in which all the gifts of the Spirit were poured out  (which Paul called a body of Christ animated by the Spirit, 1 Cor 12:13).

What is interesting about the Ethiopian is that Philip recognized he was wanting to learn -aneginosken ton prophytyn Ysaian- (8:28, 34). So he enrolled him formally by baptism, and Luke is careful to make clear that Philip was moved by the Spirit, but not the Eunuch who went on his way back to Ethiopia to await the coming of an apostolic team who would in due course organize a community of the Spirit among them. This is a very common sequence in tribal missionary situations. Codex Alexandrinus in the fifth century added -pneuma agion epepesen epi ton eunouchon- (8:39) which introduced the novelty that it is the water of baptism that imparts the Spirit).

In the Damascus area there was already a functioning community of the Spirit in the city (9:2, 19). As a result of meeting with Jesus as -kurios- (9:4-5), Paul want to learn more and he is told -lalythysetai soi o ti se dei poiein- (9:6). Ananias' task is first -epithenta auto cheiras, opos anablepsy- (9:12). On one model Paul would be -plysthys pneumatos agiou- (9:17) by Ananias' laying on of hands, and then baptized as a sign of being born again. As opposed to that individualistic model, I prefer to think Luke wanted us to know that Ananias baptized him immediately as a disciple and then introduced him to the community of the Spirit already functioning in Damascus.

The growth of an -ekklesia- in the coastal plain 40 miles to the west of Jerusalem was what is described in Church Growth literature as a group movement. -pantes oi katoikountes Ludda kai ton Sarona, oitines epestrepsan epi ton kurion- (9:35). Based on the model I think Luke is using, I assume that these very large numbers were baptized in large groups, and then by -epiklesis- of the Spirit by Peter (and no doubt other apostles) formed them into body of Christian communities of the Spirit.

Luke is careful to note that Peter had gone on a missionary journey to Joppa 18 miles beyond Lydda (now the airport), and seems to have had no fruit there till the Group movement had begun, and Luke notes that, instead of everyone in the Lydda being baptized, in the Joppa district - episteusan polloi epi ton kurion- (9:42). Peter then made his base there with a lowly -burseus- (9:43, in India several of the big group movements began among the very low caste tanners) for the church planting work in the whole coastal plain.

In the case of the first Roman converts, there was as yet no functioning - ekklesia- in Caesarea 40 miles to the north of his base in Jopppa. The establishing of a church among the Roman soldiers of that city took a lot of explaining. In their case the Spirit formed the Romans into a body of Christ -ekklesia- before any of them were baptized (10:45-48). Peter's explanation fits the logic of the model exactly -ei oun isyn dorean edoken autois a theos os kai ymin- there was no way he could -kolusai ton theon- (11:17).

The sixth example Luke gives is of the -ekklesia- in the Antioch area. As in Samaria, many turn and are baptized (11:21). Barnabas -plyrys pneumatos agiou- is sent down to form them into a community of the Spirit (11:26) in which prophets can function, gifts of mercy can be expressed (11:27-28), and from which missionaries can be sent out with the encouragement of prophets and teachers (13:1-4).

The word sunagogy (sun ago = gather together a group of people) comes a dozen times in Acts 13-20. Luke is always referring to a group of people (as opposed to a building in Luke 7:5). But there is nothing exclusively Jewish about the word. To remind myself of this I will coin the term synagogue-congregation.

There could be many synagogue-congregations in a big city like Jerusalem (6:9). As there were in Damascus (Acts 9:2). Presumably these were organized for the needs of different ethnic groupings (as in Acts 2:8-11).

It is not clear that the Jews viewed all the synagogues in one city as belonging to one ekklesia (as used perhaps in Acts 7:38). But for Luke there is only one Christian ecclesia in each city (Jerusalem, Acts 2:47, 8:3, , 11:22, 18:22, Antioch 13:1).

In Acts 9:31 the NRSV carelessly rejected the plural found in seven major Codices to adopt the singular of one church, probably based on our modern usage of The Church. The same translation mistake was made in Acts 17:1 where Paul sent to Ephesus called -tous presbuterous tys ekklesias - referring to the several city churches in Asia such as (20:16, 15:41, see Colossians 1:2, and seven churches in Asia, Revelation 1:4). In his epistles Paul also writes to the one ecclesia in each city (Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, Rome, but the province of Galatia had several city churches (Galatians 1:2, as described in Acts 14:6, 23).

Luke makes clear that the new Christian synagogue-congregations were established in the same way as the Jewish ones. Once there were sufficient persons meeting, -presbuteroi- were appointed (Acts 14:23, see Titus 1:5).

Among the Jews one of the elders could become - archisunagogos- (Luke 8:49, 13:14) or there could be several - archisynagogoi- (Acts 13:14).

Above the local synagogue level the Jews had their Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, and it also had elders who sat together with priests, and scribal theologians(Acts 4:5, 8, 23, 24:1) Similarly, in addition to elders of Christian synagogue-congregations in Jerusalem (Acts 6:1-6), a governing council of Christian elders functioned as a kind of sanhedrin for the Christian synagogue-congregations in the Roman Empire. Luke describes how these were consulted in important matters (15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23, 16:4, 21:18).

Luke describes the work of what Ephesians listed as -tous men apostolous, tous de prophytas, tous de euaggelistas, tous de poimenas (elders) kai didaskalous (rabbis)- who are needed in various ways -eis oikodomyn tou somatos tou Christou- (Ephesian 4:11-12).

In Ephesus for example Luke describes how Paul as travelling apostle began his church planting work in the existing Jewish synagogue (Acts 18:19, 26).

When further teaching in that synagogue became impossible, he formed a new synagogue-congregation (Acts 19:9). He also established a Bible School where as rabbi-teacher he was -kath' ymeran dialegomenos (discuss, speak, converse, not argued) -en ty scholy Turannou- The result was that over a period of two years -tous pantas tous katoikountas tyn Asia akousai ton logon tou kuriou- (19:10). That does not mean that everyone in the area became a Christian, but the whole area knew about the Lord, and city church -ekklesiai- no doubt with a variety of synagogue-congregations were established in the main cities inland from Ephesus. These were later called the seven churches of Asia (Revelation 1:11). A similar massive work of church planting occured out of Thessalonica into other parts of Macedonia and Greece (1 Thessalonians 1:8). And this is why Paul could say he had fully evangelized the whole Mediterranean area in the fifteen hundred miles from Jerusalem to present day Croatia (Romans 15:19).

If we used Luke's terminology we would speak of only one church in my city of Kingston. It meets in many synagogue-congregations with quaint names such as St. James, Union Street Gospel Hall, the Kingston Gospel Temple, Alliance, First Baptist. Each of these are governed by elders, a parish council or whatever. These congregations are mostly franchised by a denomination that calls itself pompously The Anglican Church, or The Presbyterian Church, or even worse The United Church.

It is possible that Luke wanted us to know that the Jewish synagogues-congregations were also franchised (e.g. Hellenist and Hebrew groupings in Acts 6:1) across the Mediterranean world. There is nothing wrong with the good news of services that a franchise can offer, but the bad news is that it is very expensive. In the congregation of St. Paul's where I worship at present our Anglican franchise creams off an assessment of over 25% for its services before we begin to pay our own bills. Eventually the franchise tail can wag the poor dog into the grave. In our day millions of Christian hours are wasted every year in discussing Church Union. Luke would have found this huge effort totally mindless.

There is only one church in each city, so that church can never be divided or reunited. There is often a problem of division within a synagogue-congregation, and also of wrong people breaking off into forming new synagogue-congregations for their own purpose, and Paul says this is bound to occur (Acts 20:29-30). But there seems to be nothing wrong in principle with forming new synagogue-congregations as part of our organic church growth. Luke also records several cases where Paul has to divide off a new congregation that can make known the good news, as opposed to opposing it (Acts 19:9). A happier outcome was when the whole synagogue-congregation of Beroea got it right (Acts 17:10-11).

An interesting case was in Philippi, where there was no Jewish synagogue, so Paul and Silas established an -ecclesia- consisting of one synagogue-congregation around the family of the jailor (Acts 16:33-34) and another across the city that met at the home of Lydia (Acts 16:15, 40). Did she preside at the eucharist in her home (Acts 16:20), and why is no Anglican church in Canada ever called St. Lydia ? If we assume that Paul as an apostle presided on that occasion, who would have done so at the next Sunday gathering? There is no record of one or more priests being ordained to do that.

In the earlier parts of Acts I concluded that Luke wanted to explain the principles of apostolic church planting used by Peter and Paul. I now wonder why from 20:18 Luke made a sudden change of content to a series of long speeches. Perhaps Luke's intention is to give us an insight into Paul's heart motivation.

Luke carefully indicates his very intimate knowledge of this by a discrete shift to the plural : "He saw the vision, and we tried to go out of Turkey into Europe because God had called us to goodnews them" (16:10). Luke then humorously describes how Paul's Male Chauvinist model had made him see a MAN of Macedonia, but to Paul's astonishment it turned out to be a WOMAN (16:14). To add to the trauma "she immediately persuaded us forcibly -parebiasato- to stay at her home. I view this as the turning point in Paul's model shift from rabbinic patriarchy to the tenfold mutuality model of 1 Corinthians 7:1-16.

In 20:26 to the end Luke transcribes the long speeches which he evidently heard (or possibly had repeated to him by Paul verbatim) in Assos, Jerusalem, Caesarea and Rome). To prove that he was an eyewitness I counted 17 plural "we" verbs (27:2, 4, 7, 37, 28:1,2, 10, 11, 12, 12, 13, 13, 14, 14, 15, 16, 21) which Luke inserted at each point.

This makes me wonder if Luke wasn't already an eye witness of the speeches by Peter on the Day of Pentecost and in Caesarea. If he was, he decided not to reveal himself till he wanted to clarify his very personal knowledge of the heart of Paul. I will leave you as reader to engage in the exciting task of noting the nature of Paul's apostolic heart from the speeches form 20:26 to the end.

Romans .....