Exegetical Matters: The Book of Acts, ‘Having Favour With All the People’

8 Apr

Is there any example in Scripture where the church is distinguished by its practical, loving concern for its unbelieving neighbors?

Very early in the book of Acts, Luke begins telling us about the life and ministry of the early church.  In Acts 2:44ff, we begin to see their sacrificial concern for one another.  It is possible we also may get a hint of their sacrificial and loving concern for the people of the city in which they lived. 

We read,

“And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

The phrase to focus on here is where Luke says they were ‘having favor with all the people.’  What does he mean by that exactly?

In his book, Exemplary Life, Andy Chambers comments on this passage, 

“The Greek word for ‘favor’ (charin) can be translated ‘grace,’ ‘kindness,’ or ‘good will.’ Translating the phrase ‘having favor with all the people’…raises the following question: Who was showing favor to whom – the church to the city of Jerusalem or the city to the church? Most English translations and commentators see the church experiencing the good will of the city of Jerusalem, although a few recognize both possibilities. The preposition with (pros) can also be translated ‘toward,’ making it difficult to state with certainty what Luke means beyond what the context suggests.

Two clues in the context can be put forward as evidence for seeing the church as the recipient of Jerusalem’s good will. First, several statements in surrounding narratives indicate the positive disposition of the people of Jerusalem towards the church (Acts 4:21; 5:13-16, 26). Second, Luke’s next statement that people were being saved daily fits with the positive attitude of the people toward the church. However, neither of these clues requires ‘pros’ to be translated with. One could just as easily argue that the surrounding notes about Jerusalem’s good will call for seeing Acts 2:47 as an affirmation by Luke that the reverse was true too. Favor flowed from the church towards Jerusalem, and the church’s concern for others was used by God to bring salvation to the people of Jerusalem.

Rhetorical and linguistic reasons suggest that the phrase should be understood as the church having good will towards the city of Jerusalem. All of the preceding statements are part of Luke’s strategy of using the rhetorical exemplum in his portrait of the Jerusalem church, which focuses on the exemplary behavior of believers. They gave generously. They met daily. They ate together with glad and sincere hearts. They praised God. And they had good will toward all the people. It makes sense to see Luke’s emphasis on the positive behavior of the church continuing, rather than shift toward the attitude in Jerusalem, which he waits until Acts 5:13-16 to describe.

Additionally, there are strong linguistic grounds for translating ‘pros’ as ‘toward’ rather than ‘with.’ The word charis appears with the preposition pros only here in the New Testament, but the pair occurs six times in Josephus and three times in Philo. In each occurrence the object of the preposition pros is in the accusative case and is always the person towards whom the good will is directed. In Acts 2:47 the object of pros in the accusative case is ‘all the people.’ Thus, the people of Jerusalem are the ones toward whom the good will of the church is directed.

Luke’s exemplary portrait makes clear that not only did the believers love one another, they also loved their neighbors (Lev. 19:18, Luke 10:27), the people of Jerusalem. God’s grace changed their lives, and it caused them to love the city where they lived and to practice hospitality toward her people.”

Andy Chambers, Exemplary Life: A Theology of Church Life in Acts, p. 79,80

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