Seditious Households: How Holy Kisses, Tables, and House(hold) Church Habitus Subverted Oppression and Slavery (Part 2c)
Believing households and baptisms. The how seems irrelevant to Luke’s accounting, but the fact that believing households and baptisms are embedded into the story of the gospel spreading geo-demographically into the Gentile world should carry some hermeneutical and interpretive impact on our understanding of “church.” In Acts 2:41, Luke tells us that those who had received Peter’s explanation were baptized, indicating that “3,000 souls” were “added.” Most translations attempt a specific period of time. However, the en (in) might very well lend the phrase (lit., in the day that) a figure of speech rather than a duration of time (i.e., 24 hours). Plus, “3,000” might be a cryptic reference to God’s judgment under Moses when 3,000 Israelites were struck down for their calf-idolatry (Exod 32:28). Three thousand would have been a “riot,” an unlawful assembly; and, all “3,000” hearing Peter, literally on one day (“on that day”) would have been near impossible. Luke is most likely summarizing and compacting the time and numbers. It would not, however, be a stretch to recognize Luke’s “added souls” (i.e., converts) and the reference to “baptism” over time (i.e., at the time of the Pentecost feast) rather than all at once (i.e., in that very day following Peter’s Pentecost sermon). It is not unreasonable to assume multiple baptisms, then, took place within the household-venues of those “added,” for Luke’s narrative summarily and specifically put “conversions” and “baptism” in household venues (house to house, et al.).
The “households” we are to imagine are not the modern, nuclear definition of family—a couple and dependent children within a home. Households of NT times were composed of far more than a simple, nuclear family. The household of the NT world we are to imagine was composed of a head of household male, his wife, grand-parents, children and later their spouses, children of household’s children (i.e., grand-children), other close relatives, slaves (indentured, bound, and free), as well as the wives and children of the slaves. So, the narrative imagery of a household believing and/or baptism had a far reaching, cultural impact, and thus, for our understanding of “church.”
Conversion stories abound in Acts, interestingly, most chosen by Luke are of societal outliers, those on the margins, foreigners, those deemed less than human (i.e., less than a male Roman citizen), Gentile military, or among the Jewish diaspora. Luke’s narrative choices are instructive and suggest an appropriate trajectory application of Acts 2. His choice for the first individual to believe is an Ethiopian Eunuch (8:26–39), a foreigner and unclean outsider. The first European convert is a lady, Lydia, where Luke indicates that she and her household had been baptized (16:15a); next a Roman jailer who was baptized, he and all his household (16:33; cf. 16:31); and, then as the gospel penetrated beyond Athens and into Corinth, we find Crispus, the leader of a diaspora synagogue that believed in the Lord with all his household (18:8). Finally, Paul references his missionary/church-planting activities from house to house (20:20).
Luke’s narrative choices and continual references to household “believing” and “baptisms” are a remarkable story-line that informs and forms how the gospel was “applied” as it spread into the Gentile world—and how we are to read “church.” It was primarily through households, of which some became the gathered-church venue for fellowship (the deipnon), worship, and instruction (the symposium), which very early on, as will be discussed below, was composed of believing households and baptisms that included women, children (both male and female), slaves, and, of course, men—of all ages and social status. The gathered-church in these households would have hosted the deipnon (i.e., common meal and Lord’s Supper) and the symposium that followed and, thus, contrary to the nature of Greco-Roman banquet-meal, unequals in society and culture would have been welcome, reclining, and cared for participants. This formed the nature of the gathered-church and its habitus.
 E.g., that day, NASB, RSV; that same day, KJV; et al.
 Though Luke certainly means “added to the number of believers,” what the “added” were added to is left unstated. We’d expect “added to the church” (and we tend to take it that way). However, the ambiguity is worth noting in that the concept of “church universal” has yet to develop and is actually absent in Luke’s accounting; what is present is church “in” a place with the emphasis on “house” as where believers met and instruction to place. This, then, would lend for the imagination to see the "added" being baptized within the “house to house” of gathered-believers.
 Slaves had no legal means for marriage, so “wives” were female slaves attached or pledged to a male slave.
 The Greek in v. 33 is simply “he and all his,” household being implied by Luke based on 16:31.
 Baptism is assumed; cf. 18:8c
This is a thread consisting of parts of a a recent paper presented at the 2017 Evangelical Theological Society's annual meeting in Providence, RI. The goal is to develop an anthology of essays (by various authors) on the subject, Christian Responses to Tyranny.
Part 1 | Part 2a | Part 2b | Part 2c | Part 3 | Part 3a | Part 3b | Part 4a | Part 4b | Part 5
For the entire thread (remember to scroll backwards for previous posts) << Gathered-church >>
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.