I couldn't decide if this fit better in Hermeneutics or here, but anyways:

Acts 2:42 NIV - They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Acts 2:42 ESV - And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Acts 2:42 KJV - And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers

What would be an overview of Christian beliefs regarding whether Acts 2:42 is stating that they, that is the early church, committed themselves to generally praying together or to specific prayers?

  • 2
    "committed themselves to generally praying together or to specific prayers" - I don't see how this dichotomy follows from the differences in translation.
    – bradimus
    Sep 22, 2017 at 1:50

2 Answers 2


BibleHub.com has an interlinear translation (word-by-word translation of Greek to English) of this verse. The Greek reads:

ἦσαν δὲ προσκαρτεροῦντες τῇ διδαχῇ τῶν ἀποστόλων, καὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ, τῇ κλάσει τοῦ ἄρτου, καὶ ταῖς προσευχαῖς.

The word by word English translation reads

"they were moreover steadfastly continuing in the teaching of the apostles and - in fellowship the breaking of the bread and the prayers.

(emphasis added)

The word "the" in "the prayers" is the standard Greek article (in the appropriate gender, case, and number), ταῖς. One would think that the phrase should be translated "in the prayers", as the ESV has it.

On the other hand, the dash between and and in fellowship corresponds to a similar article that is not translated. A word-by-word translation of that phrase, καὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ, would be "and in the fellowship". Yet most translations (the ESV seems to be an exception) make that phrase "in fellowship". And indeed "in the fellowship" sounds a bit awkward to me.

The root of the problem is simply that Greek puts in definite articles before words in situations where English doesn't, and even the ESV seems to remove them sometimes. Acts 2:40, for example, contains the Greek phrase

Σώθητε ἀπὸ τῆς γενεᾶς τῆς σκολιᾶς ταύτης

A literal, word-by-word translation is

Be saved from the generation the perverse this

The ESV removes both articles in its translation,

Save yourselves from this crooked generation

Thus it appears that the phrasing "the prayers" in Acts 2:42 is simply a choice by the translators to translate the Greek literally in this instance, rather than a reference by the author to specific prayers.


Mark 14:26 (RSVCE) says:

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives."

That would mean that there were written forms of prayers, like the psalms , at the time of Jesus and after His ascension. Prayer also took the form of one-to-one communication with God the Father, as was done by Jesus at Gethsemane (Mk 14: 32-36).

Please note that the nuances of singular and plural usages, as in 'prayer' and 'prayers', might not have been as evident as is in English, in the case of ancient languages.

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    I don't think a text proving the existence of hymns (which we knew anyway) proves the existence of written prayers. Nor does it prove that they were used by the early church, which is usually taken to mean 'after the ascencion of Jesus'. Sep 22, 2017 at 16:03

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