Vol. 1 - No. 3
The “Them” of Acts 2:41
by R. L. "Bob" Craig
In looking back over old papers and works of pioneer preachers, often one comes across what seemingly is the product of denominational thinking that had not yet been completely dissolved. We need to remember that ever Alexander Campbell came up with some concepts that, as far as I am concerned, were altogether false. I will deal with some of them as time goes on, but not now.
In this research among old papers for items that would be enlightening to us of the present day, I ran across an article by an old gospel preacher concerning the title of this article. His conclusion was practically the same that some of my denominational friends arrive at and what some present day gospel preachers are presenting: that the word “them” of Acts 2:41 must have as its understood antecedent the word “church.” In fact, that is what this preacher says and that is what some of our opponents in debate have said also. The denominational reasoning is that the church was already in existence on Pentecost having begun in the days of John the Baptist or perhaps even back with Abraham or certainly in the days of Jesus. This old time preacher was not taking that position; he just needed something to attach these people of Pentecost to. The word church was handy and so he just added them to the already formed church. I do not believe that to be the case at all.
In the first place, the phrase “unto them” was added by the translators. You will notice that it is in Italics like this, “unto them.” So, since these words are not in the original language, no argument of any validity can be made on them. We need to learn that lesson not only in this case, but in all cases. Many arguments are advanced on these Italicized words, but they cannot be the basis for argument because, actually, they are not there except in the mind of whoever put them there. God is not responsible.
Alright, since the words “unto them” are not in the text, let's read it like it would be: “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized, and there was added in that day about three thousand souls.” I believe that he was just simply making a statement about the sum total of disciples on that occasion. He was not saying that he was adding them to anything at that time but that they were being added together. Is that deduction reasonable, allowable or logical? I think so.
Secondly, there was nothing to add them to at that time; there was no body of believers before Pentecost. How do we know that? Both Isaiah and Micah had pin pointed the beginning of the great event at Jerusalem and Joel was quoted by Peter as saying “this is that” which he was talking about. The opposition uses this verse with the “unto them” to make their argument for the church beginning before Pentecost. What they need is a verse or two that pin points the church at some time before Pentecost and then they might have a valid reason for saying “them” was the church before Pentecost and that is what people were being added to. Sometime they say that my argument is wrong because they had to be added to something. Please think! When we add one plus one what do we add them to? We add them to nothing. We add them together. Take as long a list of figures as you like; add them--to what? Add them to nothing--add them together and when you do you have the sum total of what has been added. A little child can see that.
Another objection is that the apostles constituted the first church because 1 Corinthians 12:28 says, “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, then….. “We must grant that that statement is true; that apostles were set in the church. But what is the church? The church is (are) people and until there were people there was no church. So God brought into existence a church, a body of people, through the extension of his grace by the gospel, and the apostles, etc., were set in it. Remember, the church is not some organic structure like a club or business but a group of people and without people there is no church.
Don't jump to an unwarranted assumption that I am saying the same thing the Sentinel of Truth did several years ago when they avowed that there was no local congregation until they assembled. That is an altogether different discussion. We are discussing the universal or general church‑the saved.
Thayer, in his comments on the Greek word used in this passage says this: “to add, i.e., join to, gather with any company, the number of one's followers or companions.” So, even the scholar grants that the phrase can mean the totality of a group. Another old‑time preacher, H. Leo Boles, in his commentary on Acts published by the Gospel Advocate, makes this observation: “Some think that these three thousand were added to the hundred and twenty, but since the phrase ‘unto them’ is in italics, or supplied, they were simply added together.” (A Commentary on Acts of the Apostles, pg. 50) I realize that what scholars say about such does not settle the question but they do add weight to what we are talking about. In other words, this is not a new idea of mine that no one ever thought about before. In fact, I believe Solomon made the observation that “there is nothing new under the sun,” in particular when it comes to Bible interpretation.
So verse 41 of Acts two would read: “They that gladly received his word were baptized and there was added together in that day about three thousand souls.” The 47th verse of Acts 2 in the King James Testament says, “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” Even on that verse the American Standard is somewhat at odds with the KJ. It reads, “And the Lord added to them day by day those that were saved.” Of course, that would be the church because the people of verse 41 at that time constituted the church, so more could be added “to them.” However, the footnote on verse 47 in the ASV says concerning the phrase “to them,” that the Greek equivalent should be “together.” Verse 47 would not necessarily teach a false idea by saying “added unto them” just because there was a “them” to be added to after Pentecost, so it makes little difference how that verse reads, but it is significant that the two basic words that are used in both verses are the same.
“Give diligence (in study) to show thyself approved unto God.”