What were the assemblies like immediately after Messiah’s Resurrection?
This study will discuss those early meetings.
The First Generation Assembly
There are two main areas to consider: 1) those living in or around Yerushalayim and 2) those living in the Diaspora (the nations).
1) Yerushalayim – consisting mainly of Jews with some Yah-fearers.
“Then they returned to Yerushalayim from the mountain called Olivet, which is near Yerushalayim, a Shabbat day’s journey away.” (Acts 1:12). The ascension of the Master took place on the Mount of Olives, between Beit-Anyah and Yerushalayim. The reference to a Sabbath days’ journey (approx. 2/3 of a mile) would be meaningless if the disciples were not Torah observant.
“All these with one accord continued steadfastly in prayer and supplication, along with the women, and Miryam the mother of Yehshuah, and with his brothers.” (Acts 1:14). It was not permitted for men and women to pray together publically. It was acceptable for a family to pray together but not in an assembly, no matter how close their association.
“Now when the day of Shavu`ot had come, they were all with one accord in one place.” (Acts 2:1). This Feast took place fifty days after Pesach. This probably took place in Solomon’s Colonnade in the Temple (Acts 5:12):
a) “Three times in a year shall all your males appear before יְהֹוָה your `Elohiym in the place which He shall choose: in the Feast of Matzah (Pesach), and in the Feast of Weeks (Shavu’ot), and in the Feast of Booths (Sukkoth); and they shall not appear before יְהֹוָה empty:” (Deut. 16:16). יְהֹוָה commands all men to present themselves to the יְהֹוָה in the Temple at Shav’uot. They already met daily in the Temple for prayer more so for a proscribed Feast.
b) “They were all filled with the Ruach HaKodesh, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them the ability to speak.” (Acts 2:4). The outpouring of the Spirit occurred at the morning prayer.
c) Any anticipated activity of the Spirit would be looked for in the Temple (Luke 2:25-38).
d) “Suddenly there came from the sky a sound like the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2:2). House #G3624 οἶκος oikos may be used to describe a domestic dwelling place. However, it could also be used to denote the Temple as this was commonly called The House.
e) “But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Yerushalayim, let this be known to you, and heed my words.” (Acts 2:14 NKJV). People from all nations heard Shim’on preach and they all recognised what he was saying. This gathering would most likely have taken place in the Temple precincts.
f) “Then those who gladly received his word were immersed. There were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:41). There would have been only the Temple mikv’ot (Ritual cleansing baths) large enough to take so many people.
g) “Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth ” (Acts 3:1 NKJV). Shim’on Kefa and Yochanan kept the prayer times at the Temple.
“They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and prayer.” (Acts 2:42).
a) Apostles’ doctrine is the teaching of Torah and its outworking in light of the Master’s teaching.
b) Fellowship was more than just companionship it was a day-to-day reliance upon one another.
c) Breaking of Bread was a common phrase to mean the practice of hospitality. It was the sharing of a meal that is meant here and not communion however, it is probable that this formed part of the meal.
d) Prayers should have the definite article ‘The’ meaning that this was a specific prayer for the time of day.
“By the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. They were all with one accord in Shlomo’s porch… They even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mattresses, so that as Shim`on Kefa came by, at the least his shadow might overshadow some of them. Multitudes also came together from the cities around Yerushalayim, bringing sick people, and those who were tormented by unclean spirits: and they were all healed.” (Acts 5:12-16). Although most people feared the authorities, many still joined the Believers because of the boldness that their faith produced in healing in the Temple. The Believers were held in high esteem by all who observed them. So many miracles were performed by the Believers that people constantly brought the sick, infirm and possessed and laid them in the street knowing that even the shadow of Shim’on Kefa could bring healing. Likewise Believers today must be bold in their witness and not be afraid (ashamed?).
2) Nations – consisting mainly of Gentiles
Hellenist Jews generally were Greek speaking and were predominately from the Diaspora. Greek was the common language (not Latin) and would be spoken throughout the former empire of Alexander the Great. Sha’ul of Tarsus and Josephus were two famous Hellenistic Jews. Although some like Sha’ul were Torah observant, most Hellenist Jews wanted a more liberal, relaxed, integrated Judaism. Hebrews were generally Aramaic speaking and found in Israel, Syria and large towns such as Babylon that retained a large number of Jews since the Exile. These could be considered more orthodox.
“They sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, according as anyone had need.” (Acts 2:45). It was not intended that all the Believers were to sell all their property and pool their resources in communal living. This would make no sense in light of Torah and the Master’s commandments of giving charity to the needy. Tithes, corners of fields, first fruits etc could only make sense if Believers own the farms and vineyards. Twelve years after Pentecost, Maryam, the mother of Yochanan Markus, still had her own home. The early Believers sold only what WAS NECESSARY TO MEET THE NEEDS OF OTHERS THAT COULD NOT BE MET OTHERWISE. This was the basis of the collection taken up by the Diaspora assemblies for their Yerushalayim brothers and sisters. This is not a call to Communism but rather to be mindful of the need of others.
“Be free from the love of money, content with such things as you have, for he has said, ‘I will in no way leave you, neither will I in any way forsake you.’” (Heb. 13:5). There is nothing wrong in having money nor in liking nice things. However, Believers are called to be satisfied with what they have as Father provides all needs.
“Yosi, who by the apostles was surnamed Bar-Nabba (which is, being interpreted, Son of Exhortation), a Levite, a man of Cyprus by race, having a field, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” (Acts 4:36, 37). Yosi bar Naba HaLevi sold his field in Cyprus in order to fund his move to the capital. All of the Apostles and their families were from Galilee and went to the Temple daily. Therefore they must have relocated to Yerushalayim, selling up most of their possessions to move to Yerushalayim. Yosi bar Naba showed that possessions were a means to an end and not the end itself and had no control over him.
“But a certain man named Hananyah, with Shappirah, his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” (Acts 5:1, 2). This couple were killed because of their deceit as the money was rightfully theirs and they were free to do with it as they pleased. Believers attitudes may be hidden from people, but there is no hiding from יְהֹוָה.
“I also tell you that you are Kefa, and on this rock I will build my assembly, and the gates of She’ol will not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18). This is the first time the Greek phrase #G1577 ἐκκλησία ekklēsia is used. This means an assembly and not church as frequently translated. This ecclesia/assembly/church was not in contrast to the Jewish synagogue #G4864 συναγωγή that is a transliteration of the Jewish word and is really the same thing.
“But Sha’ul ravaged the assembly, entering into every house, and dragged both men and women off to prison.” (Acts 8:3). After the stoning of Stephanos there followed a pogrom of savage persecution of Believers. This is where the network of Believers was called upon to help their spiritual brothers and sisters to escape. Not having this network would have severely hampered the dispersion of Believers and thus the propagation of the Good News. One of the main reasons for gathering together (physically or virtually) is having a network of support in times of need.
“At about the ninth hour of the day, he clearly saw in a vision an angel of יְהֹוָה coming to him, and saying to him, ‘Cornelius!’ He, fastening his eyes on him, and being frightened, said, ‘What is it, יְהֹוָה?’ He said to him, ‘Your prayers and your gifts to the needy have gone up for a memorial before יְהֹוָה.’” (Acts 10:3, 4). In this account of Cornelius, a God-fearer was following the ways of his Jewish friends. Many Gentiles wanted to follow Torah but did not want to commit fully to Judaism which involved circumcision. Alms and prayers were regarded as suitable alternatives to the Temple sacrifice especially for those not within travelling distance of the Temple.
Acts 15 – The Yerushalayim Council
Charge: that Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the whole Torah (Written and Oral) in order to be saved.
Rebuttal: Shim`on Kefa relates how Cornelius was saved without circumcision and full obedience to the whole Torah. Shim`on makes the point that the Torah could never save the Jews so why add this impossibility for Gentiles to be saved.
Decision: Torah observance/circumcision cannot save only faith.
“Therefore my judgment is that we do not trouble those from among the Gentiles who turn to יְהֹוָה, but that we write to them that they abstain from the pollution of idols, from sexual immorality, from what is strangled, and from blood.” (Acts 15:19, 20). There were, however, four requirements necessary for the Gentiles to observe. These were put in place so that the Gentiles and Jews may live in fellowship and harmony with one another. These were not the only commandments that the gentiles were expected to keep. At this time it was usual for all meetings to be held at the local synagogues (assemblies) where the Torah was preached weekly and it is assumed that on hearing the Gentiles would follow the practices of the Jews in Torah observance. It would not be likely that these four commandments were kept but others (such as honouring the father and mother, not to do murder, Shabbat observance and dietary laws) were no longer required to be kept. Only after Acts 18 do we find meetings taking place outside of the synagogues.
Diaspora (dispersion, scattering) – consisting originally of Jews but after the stoning of Stephanos both Jews and God-fearers with more and more Gentiles being added. In time the new assemblies would be predominantly made up of Gentiles. (www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org)
Sha’ul’s letters to the various assemblies are all a result of the assembly sending into Sha’ul questions relating to halakah – the walk. This is a teaching on how to live out Torah observance. The predominantly Gentile assemblies would be seeking a ruling on specific problems arising within the individual assemblies, either of a theological or practical nature. It would be ridiculous to think that there were no other assemblies with problems, but Sha’ul’s letters were probably as a result of common problems. Likewise, since some parts of Torah were quite clear and the Gentiles followed Jewish ways, little or no reference is found.
It is interesting to note that the Good News spread quicker eastwards than westwards. This was because the eastern assemblies were based upon a faith of listening and dialogue. The western ‘church’ was in contrast based and supported by the Roman (Catholic) military power.
Strong J. (1994) Strong’s New Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, World Bible Publishers Inc., Madison.
Strong J. (1996) The New Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words, Thomas Nelson, Nashville.
HNV The Hebrew Names Version is based off the World English Bible, an update of the American Standard Version of 1901. This version of the Bible is in the public domain.
King James Version (KJV) Outside of the United Kingdom, the KJV is in the public domain. Within the United Kingdom, the rights to the KJV are vested in the Crown. This Bible is printed and published by Cambridge University Press, the Queen’s royal printer, under royal letters patent. The text commonly available now is actually that of the 1769 revision, not that of 1611. The text used by BLB is the current 1769 edition.