By Steven Charles Ger

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.

~ Acts 1:7-8 ~

Every so often, a commentary comes to the attention of the student of Scripture that strikes him or her as being head and shoulders above the crowd. Steven Charles Ger's Acts: Witnesses to the World has struck this editor and AMC's board secretary Mottel Baleston in just such a way. In fact, as I carefully read through the text for editing purposes - which includes no change in the text - I find myself engaged and absorbed not merely as an editor, but as a student. For these reasons Mottel and I have decided to present Acts in its entirety - not just for the wealth of information that may be gained from its study, but, as Mottel stated, as a model for how a Bible study ought to be done; so be on the lookout for an Acts segment in each Shofar for many editions to come.

Links to previous increments of Acts: Witnesses to the World may be found in our Library. To gain the most from this study, it is suggested that the Scripture portions whose references are provided in the headings be read prior to considering Steven's comments on them. ~ editor.






Response: Jewish salvation! (2:37-42)
The First Church (2:42-47)


Response: Jewish salvation! (2:37-42)

The response to Peter’s passionate message was unprecedented. Luke reports that the Temple crowd was pierced to the heart; that they were experiencing the throws of severe emotional turmoil. Their turmoil had been precipitated by their having heard this, the immediately preceding referent, Peter’s accusation that they had crucified the Messiah, God’s anointed One. The crowd earnestly implored Peter to tell them what they should do, how they might atone for this devastating error in judgment.

Peter responded with a forceful exhortation, telling the crowd that there were two things that they must do, two actions that they must perform in sequence, first one and then the other. First, it was necessary for the Jewish people to repent.

The Greek word that is translated as repentance is metanoia, which means “to change one’s mind.” Peter, however, was most likely not speaking Greek that morning in the Temple, but Hebrew. The Hebrew word for repentance is shuv, which, although similar to the Greek, metanoia, indicates an even more dramatic image, that of completely turning oneself around. Whether drawn from Hebrew or Greek Scripture, Biblical repentance calls for a vivid change, a complete reorientation of one’s perspective. In the case of Peter’s exhortation to his Jewish audience that morning, that change of perspective, that reorientation, was to be about Jesus.

Despite the crowd’s being pierced to the heart, the repentance that Peter called for was not merely an emotional response. Repentance in Acts is not simply feeling sorrow for sins or experiencing pangs of regret for past thought or action. This is particularly relevant in this passage. After all, Luke specified that these men were notably devout Jews, not sinners with dubious past histories chock full of indiscretion. These were pious Jews who desperately needed to change their minds about whether or not Jesus was the Messiah. Their prior attitude concerning Jesus was incorrect, indeed, dead wrong. Now Peter was telling them that they must adjust their entire belief system to embrace Jesus as the central facet of God’s plan and program for His people.

Repentance in Acts is the possession of utter confidence that Jesus is the Messiah. It is only that basic, uncomplicated belief which results in the forgiveness of sin. This is the sole New Testament requirement for the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 3:19; 5:31; 8:22; 10:43-44; 11:19; 13:24; 17:30; 19:4; 20:21; 26:18-20; John 3:16, 36; Rom. 11:6; Eph. 2:8-9). That Jesus is God’s exalted representative, the One authorized to forgive sin, the Messiah, is a simple, although not simplistic, belief. It is an uncomplicated, liberating truth that is perceivable to all and receivable by all.

The second required action that Peter enumerated was baptism. Repentance must immediately be followed by water baptism in the name of Jesus. Although this water baptism would resemble the customary Jewish ritual, this was not to be just another basic
repeatable washing as per Jewish custom. Neither was this baptism to be identified with John’s baptism of repentance, although they shared certain characteristics.

This baptism would publicize their repentance, their change of mind and orientation, in the sight of all Israel. Baptism would publicly identify the penitent with Jesus and all his followers. Baptism would also serve to publicly disassociate them from the Jewish
leadership that had rejected Jesus. This was the opportunity for new believers to make their “official pledge of allegiance to Jesus.” (19) Peter was not calling for a simple, “every-head-bowed-every-eye-closed-raise-your-hand” type of response. Rather, he called for the most public of identifications with the Messiah imaginable. Conveniently, there were multiple public mikvah pools just outside the Temple where the baptisms could be performed, that very day!

The grammatical construction of Acts 2:38 is complicated and has led to differences of opinion as to the connection between water baptism and the forgiveness of sin. The specific question is which of Peter’s two exhortations, to repent or to be baptized, is
linked to the forgiveness of sin. (20) The issue relates to whether Peter is affirming that water baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sins.

There are some who would link the forgiveness of sin to the exhortation to be baptized. In this view, the Greek word eis, translated as for, would indicate that forgiveness of sin was the result of baptism. However, this would make salvation the result of works. This position is theologically supported nowhere else in the New Testament and is contradicted in the numerous passages listed above concerning the sole New Testament requirement of faith for the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles. (21)

A second view is that while the exhortation to be baptized is linked with the forgiveness of sins, the eis should be interpreted to mean that one is to be baptized because of, or as a result of, sin having been forgiven. In contrast to the first view, which places forgiveness of sin as a result of baptism, this interpretation affirms the reverse, that baptism is a result of forgiveness. This interpretation is popular in evangelical circles (22) and is in theological agreement with the passages that teach salvation by faith alone, not by the “one-two punch” of faith plus baptism. However, there is scant grammatical evidence for an interpretation of eis meaning “because of.” (23)

A third view is simply that Acts 2:38 connects baptism with repentance so intimately as to make the former a reflection of the latter. In other words, water baptism is a physical action that reflects and corresponds to the spiritual reality of repentance. (24) The term eis indicates that forgiveness of sin is the sole result of repentance. Repentance, however, would necessarily be reflected in the act of water baptism. Peter, then, was not saying that the physical act of baptism results in forgiveness of sin, but rather, that baptism is the closely related physical sign of the spiritual reality of repentance, which results in forgiveness. Thus, Peter’s teaching parallels John the Baptist’s marked correlation of baptism with repentance (Matt. 3:11). Although an appealing interpretation, it is one that is difficult to articulate.

A final, and tentatively superior view, is one which is based upon the grammatical construction of the verse as well as the theological testimony of the New Testament concerning salvation by faith alone. In this interpretation, repentance is linked with the forgiveness of sin based upon grammatical agreement in both gender and number (both are second person plural). The eis indicates that forgiveness of sin is the result of repentance. This makes the command to be baptized (third person singular) a parenthetical idea. The verse could then be paraphrased as follows, “Repent for the forgiveness of your sins, and be baptized.”

In this analysis, the forgiveness of sin, engendered by repentance, provides the foundational basis for baptism. This avoids both making forgiveness the result of baptism and the unconventional use of eis. This view appreciates that, throughout the remainder of Acts, Peter only associates repentance or belief with the forgiveness of sin, making no mention of baptism as a condition of forgiveness (3:19; 5:31; 10:43)

While this is an attractive and theologically sound position, it must be recognized that a rather convoluted grammatical dance with the Greek text must be performed to safely arrive at this destination. (25) The linguistic intricacies of this position, however, do not
disqualify it from serious consideration and acceptance.

Peter’s invitation asserts that repentance would not only result in God’s forgiveness of sin but the divine gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is freely offered by God and liberally granted to all believers in the Messiah. Note that Peter does not say “gifts” of the Spirit, for the Spirit Himself is the gift!

This invitation of forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit in exchange for acceptance of the Messiah extends to many other Jews, not just those present in the Temple at that moment. He includes generations of Jews and their children as yet unborn. When Peter refers to all who are far off, he could not have been referring to Gentiles; he had not yet arrived at that conviction (Acts 10:34). Gentile inclusion in the church at this point is still a good seven years away. Peter’s reference is to the vast numbers of Jews scattered abroad in the diaspora.

Even so, although God’s promise extends to many Jews, Peter also indicates that it does not extend to every Jew, specifying only those Jews whom God has sovereignly chosen, as many as our God will call to Himself (Acts 2:39).

Peter’s sermon was not yet finished. He continued on to “round two.” Unfortunately, Luke only summarized the remainder of the message. The apostle’s concluding exhortation was a call to separation from the perverse, or “crooked” generation. The word Peter used to describe that particular generation of Israel was skolios, from which we derive the medical condition scoliosis, the curvature of the spine. It means to be “twisted,” “crooked,” or “perverse.” This is the sole use of this word in Acts, but Peter applies it in his first epistle to certain unsavory employers (1 Peter 2:18), and in his gospel, Luke quotes John the Baptist as promising that the crooked will become straight and the rough roads smooth (Luke 3:5; Is. 40:4). Paul echoes Peter’s usage in Acts 2:40, contrasting the church with the “twisted generation” in which they lived (Phil. 2:15).

Peter’s point was for his audience to save themselves, not primarily from the fires of hell and eternal damnation (although that is implied), but from the excruciating and cataclysmic judgment coming upon this particular generation of the nation of Israel which had rejected the Messiah. This divine judgment had been central to the witness of John the Baptist, who repeatedly warned his audience of the wrath to come, which would imminently descend upon Israel (Matt. 3:7). Jesus further clarified that the coming judgment was to be inflicted upon the specific generation of Israel which had rejected Him (Luke 11:50-51: Matt 23:35-36) and would result, in part, in the destruction of the Temple (Matt 24:2).

The Biblical record indicates that a generation had a duration of forty years. This was the length of time it took for the torch of the Egyptian Exodus generation to be passed to their children, the generation raised in the wilderness (Num. 32:13). Approximately forty
years after John’s initial warnings and the commencement of Jesus’ public ministry, the Romans decimated Jerusalem and completely demolished the Temple.

It is abundantly apparent that Peter’s message got through to the crowd. On the day of Pentecost, three thousand Jews responded in repentance. They were then baptized in the numerous mikvah pools located at the southern end of the Temple. There are archaeological estimates of possibly two hundred of these baptismal pools at the foot of the Temple Mount, of which dozens have already been uncovered. (26)

What this indicates is that from approximately 10 AM through the remainder of the day the apostles were engaged in three thousand baptisms! Although this prolonged exposure to water assuredly resulted in a great deal of “pruny” flesh, it would not have been as daunting a task as one might suspect based upon the volume of new believers. If the twelve apostles divided up the ministry evenly, then each would have been responsible for two hundred fifty baptisms. However, if the entire company of one hundred twenty shared in the ministry, this only leaves a mere twenty-five baptisms per baptizer!

At this point in church history, this newly revitalized Jesus movement had experienced an evolutionary breakthrough. Following Peter’s thirty-minute message, more Jews had responded to Christ than had throughout the entire duration of Jesus’ own three-year ministry.

The First Church (2:42-47)

In this section, Luke reports that in the early church, the spectacular results of Peter’s evangelism were followed through with exemplary discipleship and fellowship. Following their Pentecost experience, these believers were “enthusiastic” in the original, truest sense of the word, that of “having god within” or being “possessed by god,” from the Greek entheos.

Luke is not as concerned with providing specific details (what was taught, what they prayed, how they ate together, etc.), as he is in communicating the atmosphere of love and mutual devotion which characterized the early church. He simply reports that they
continually devoted themselves to the apostolic teaching and fellowship, koinonia, as characterized by sharing common meals and praying together.

The content of the apostolic teaching to which they were devoting themselves was what Jesus had taught the apostles during His time with them. There was a vast repository of Jesus’ teaching which the apostles would have shared, called forth from memory with the Holy Spirit’s enablement.

There is a question as to whether the breaking of bread refers to the eucharist or the eating together of actual meals. It is probable that both are in view. The agape feasts of the early church were real meals that also included the regular celebration of the eucharist. Then, as now, Jewish people exhibit fellowship through their eating together. Indeed, in this particular Jewish Christian home, Bible study is often characterized by such “fellowship.” As the Mishnah teaches, “without food, there is no Torah study and without Torah study there is no food" (Avot 3:17)!

Apparently, the believers still attended formal worship services in the Temple and synagogue. The definite article precedes the plural form of the Greek word for prayer, proseuche, which should be translated, the prayers, indicating not just the practice of occasional prayer, or a prayerful state, but rather, their continued participation in the formal, corporate times of prayer practiced within Judaism. This will be illustrated in Acts 3:1.

Luke’s report notes that the believers continued experiencing a sense of awe, most probably motivated by the many wonders and signs which were taking place through the apostles. It is of extreme importance to note that Luke specifies that the miracles that
characterized the early church were exclusively taking place only through and by means of the apostles (2:43). Miracles, signs and wonders were an essential component of apostleship and served as one means to authenticate their authority. Every one of the
miracles recorded in Acts, without exception, was carried out by an apostle or a close apostolic associate. This fact should significantly inform the contemporary church’s expectations (see Table 9).

Table 9. Signs of an apostle: Miracles in Acts exclusive to apostles
and apostolic associates (Acts 2:22; 2 Cor 12:12; Rom 15:19)

Luke then related that the early Jerusalem church was characterized by the sharing of possessions. This was a display of Biblical “common-ism,” not communism. Members of the church sold and distributed property from time to time as other members experienced
need. The early Jerusalem church clearly valued people over possessions and, at least for a time, modeled the ideal community as envisaged in the Mosaic command, there shall be no poor among you (Deut. 15:4). Their behavior must have been motivated in part by their expectation of the imminent return of Christ and the establishment of His kingdom. This was a reasonable way to live for a community of faith that believed they were living in the last days and that the current age was drawing to a close.

This behavior was not meant as prescriptive for every church, but merely as descriptive behavior of the earliest church. Luke’s use of the imperfect tense of the verb piprasko, “to sell” (Acts 2:45) indicates that what he had described was the previous and not the current Jerusalem church practice. Such “common-ism” was apparently a short- lived, localized practice. The remainder of the Acts narrative fails to record any other local church structured in this way except that of Jerusalem, and only then within the early years. Sooner or later, perhaps after a famine or two, the members of the Jerusalem church ran out of property and possessions to distribute and became an especially impoverished community (Acts 11:28-29; 24:17; Rom. 15:26; Gal. 2:10).

Luke concludes his description with strong confirmation of the Jewish character of the early church. First, He made reference to their faithful Temple attendance. Indeed, as resident Jews of Jerusalem, it would seem obvious that they would have frequented the Temple. The Jewish believers attended the Temple for times of corporate teaching (2:46; 5:12), customary daily prayer (3:1), and national worship (2:1; 20:16; 21:26).

Second, He reiterated that they habitually ate together, enjoying each other’s company and carrying on a joyous, ongoing, perpetual progressive dinner from one home to another. Even today in Israel, as in other ethnic cultures set around the Mediterranean, very little happens apart from food. As we say, where you have two Jews you have at least four plates of food!

Finally, Luke reports that the early church experienced no problems with the surrounding community. The Jewish community did not yet feel threatened by the presence of the church in their midst. In fact, the community responded favorably and added to the membership of the church. The believers’ zeal for the word of God and love for one another must have been positively contagious.

No amount of private house meetings and personal evangelism could account for the level of growth the early church generated. That level of growth must have been stimulated through public assemblies of believers. The one place where the church could be publicly and visibly gathered was at the Temple. Jesus regularly taught in the area of the Temple called Solomon’s Portico. The early church evidently carried on that tradition. These informal, open-air teaching sessions were where many eventual members would have first heard the apostles’ teaching.

This concludes the first of seven progress reports on the church that Luke has strewn throughout the narrative (2:47; 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:30-31).


One must agree with Luke’s assessment that Pentecost was indeed prophetically fulfilled by these events (Acts 2:1). The response to the spiritual manifestations of the morning of Pentecost and Peter’s powerful message was that three thousand Jewish people came to
faith in their Messiah. While it would be imprudent to suggest that God employs a “holy calculator,” this account would suggest that through Pentecost, He had balanced His “Book of Life.” Fifteen hundred years following God’s capital judgment at Sinai of three
thousand rebellious Israelites, He graciously restored another three thousand Israelites to eternal life. The Law kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor. 3:6).

This Temple Mount sequel to the Mount Sinai experience was necessary because the account recorded in Exodus leaves no doubt that external experiences - even the most awesome ones such as the miraculous escape from Egypt and the thunderous voice of God himself shaking Mt Sinai - ultimately do not change lives. Lives can only be transformed from the inside out.

Ultimate life change that results in obedience can only be accomplished by the Lord taking up permanent residence in His temple. Not the Temple in Jerusalem, which no longer stands, but that temple which is each one of us frail, imperfect men, women and children. Individual Jews and Gentiles alike are transformed into a community of saints by the receipt of a gift – the indwelling Torah.

Pentecost reminds us that God has personally engraved His righteous standards on our hearts (Jer. 31:31) by His Spirit. He has given His Spirit to permanently indwell us, enabling immediate and direct access to the Father. He has provided the perfect Intercessor: a great high priest, Jesus, the incarnation of Torah (John 1:1). Unlike Moses or the Levitical priests, this intermediary is no mere “middleman”; He is the “God-man!” God’s presence was manifest on Sinai within an ominous and distant cloud. On Pentecost, God gave us His Spirit so that His presence can be more intimate than the very air we breathe. We now have the eternal, abiding presence of Immanuel, God with us.

Finally, mention was made earlier in this chapter of the two leavened loaves which were customarily presented on Pentecost. These leavened loaves prophetically prefigured the church, a church that is composed of two groups, Jews and Gentiles, both of whom are leavened, sinful and desperately in need of the indwelling Torah, the Holy Spirit. God dealt with the first loaf in this chapter. It will take several more chapters before this Jewish loaf will be ready to accept its counterpart.


All scriptures are in the New American Standard translation unless otherwise noted.



8. What did Peter mean by repentance?


19. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997), 514.
20. A thorough discussion of the grammatical interpretive options is laid out in Lanny Thomas Tanton, “The Gospel and Water Baptism: A Study of Acts 2:38,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society (Grace Evangelical Society, 3:1, Spring 1990), 27-52. See also Luther B. McIntyre, Jr., “Baptism and Forgiveness in Acts 2:38,” Bibliotheca Sacra (Dallas Theological Seminary, 153:609, Jan. 1996), 53-62.
21. F.F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, revised edition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 70.
22. For example, this is the position tentatively set forth by Charles Ryrie in his Ryrie Study Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1978).
23. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 370.
24. F.F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, revised edition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 69-70.
25. Stanley D. Toussaint, “Acts” in John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, eds., The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament (Wheaton: Victor: 1986), 359.
26. Brad H. Young, Paul the Jewish Theologian (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1997), 55.

Steven Charles Ger, Th.M., is a fourth generation Jewish believer. In addition to Acts: Witnesses to the World, his body of work includes a biblical commentary on Hebrews and co-authorship of The Popular Bible Prophecy Commentary. He is also a contributing author to The Gathering Storm and the Zondervan KJV Commentary: Old Testament. He is the former host of the weekly radio show, "The Jewish Heart of Christianity," and has appeared as a guest expert on both radio and television. Steven's main work is directing Sojourner Ministries, an organization dedicated to exploring the Jewish heart of Christianity.

Steven has led 11 tours to Israel and has done on-site research in the actual locations found in the Book of Acts. Autographed copies of Acts: Witnesses to the World may be purchased from the Sojourner Ministries website at

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