THE CONCEPT OF “BELIEVERS” IN THE BOOK OF ACTS

In the book of Acts, the word “faith” is used fourteen times in the English Bible. At times, something is said about “the faith” (Acts 6:7), a reference to the gospel/system of faith. In other cases, “faith” points to an individual personally believing in Jesus or the gospel message (such as Acts 26:18).

In addition, in the English Bible some form of the word “believe” appears about thirty-five times in the book of Acts. Only once do we find the specific word “believers” in this book, but we do read elsewhere of “those who believed” (Acts 4:32). Who were they?

Let us focus first on the expression “all who believed,” found in Acts 2:44. What does the Bible tell us about the activities of those folks? They were together, they sold their goods, and distributed material things to those who had need (2:44,45). Who were they? The words “all who believed” does not refer to the entire group of devout Jews who assembled on Pentecost (2:5). True, it is the same chapter of the Bible, but they were different groups.

“All who believed” (2:44) were the same individuals who “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (2:42). “All who believed” points back to those who had been baptized for the remission of sins on the Day of Pentecost (2:38-41) or during the days which followed. In short, they were saved people. What was the Lord doing with saved people? Adding them to the church (2:47).

What have we observed? In Acts 2, “all who believed” is not a broad term referring to people of various religious affiliations, nor does it point to people who simply agreed to the fact that Jesus was the Son of God. In Acts 2:44, the term “all who believed” describes those who were members of the Lord’s church, having submitted to the gospel message in faith, repentance, and baptism for the remission of sins.

In Acts 4:32, we see a similar scenario. The Holy Spirit says “the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul . . .” The context makes it clear: these were genuine disciples of the Lord Jesus.

Let us go back to an earlier statement in Acts 4. In Acts 4:4, it is written, “However, many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.” In this case, the verb “believed” is used as a synecdoche, a figure of speech which puts a part for the whole. In this instance, one condition of salvation (believing) is used to stand for all that is required for a lost person to do in order to be saved. We see the same thing in Acts 18:8, where we are informed that Crispus “believed on the Lord,” while many others in Corinth heard, believed, and were baptized. Because God does not show partiality, whatever He required of all others in Corinth (to hear, believe, and be baptized), he also required of Crispus. Thus, in the text of Acts 18:8, to say that Crispus “believed” was equivalent to saying that he heard the gospel, believed, and was baptized. That is, his “believing” included those other matters as well.

What about Acts 5:14? There it is written, “And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” The Lord adds saved people to the church (Acts 2:47), so if these “believers” were added to Him, should we conclude that they were saved? Absolutely. What kind of believers would they have been? Those who submitted to the divine doctrine to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins (2:38).

In Samaria, men and women believed and were baptized, and the Bible says they “received the word of God” (Acts 8:12,14). In Joppa, many “believed on the Lord” (Acts 9:42). Did they “get off easier” than the ones in Samaria who were required to be baptized in addition to believing? In truth, the conditions of receiving the forgiveness of sins are the same for all people. Therefore, in the case of those noted in Joppa, to say that they “believed on the Lord” meant they obeyed the faith like priests in Jerusalem had (6:7).

In Acts 10:45, we read about “those of the circumcision who believed.” That is a reference to Jewish disciples of Jesus. We later read of “the Gentiles who believe” (Acts 21:25) — they would be Gentile Christians.

In Acts 11:21, we learn that in Antioch “a great number believed and turned to the Lord.” In the same context, such people are described as “disciples” and “Christians” (11:26). Again, those identified as believers were actual Christians — folks who had been added to the Lord’s church by the Lord Himself.

If we are going to speak as the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11), when we use the word “believer” today, we need to use it in the way it is used in the book of Acts. Our conclusion is that “believers/those who believed” refers to members of the blood-purchased church of the Christ. We see the same truth set forth in letters written to Christians (1 Timothy 4:12; 2 Corinthians 6:15; Romans 10:16). Think about it.

— Roger D. Campbell

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