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Did Early Christians Preach Door-to-Door?



The Claim

The Problem: An Identity Crisis

How the Witnesses have justified door-to-door evangelism

Watchtower admissions in the 1970s

What about Acts 5:42?

Acts 2:46 -- Why is the Watchtower not consistent?

Does Acts 20 indicate Paul went door-to-door?

The Evidence of Paul's Epistles


What about Acts 5:42?

Acts 5:42 And daily in the temple and from house to house [kat' oikon, Gk.], they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
This sentence is one of the two outstanding prooftexts for Jehovah's Witnesses door-to-door evangelism. What manner of home visitation were those early disciples engaged in?

But before we examine the how, let us think about the who. Just who "kept right on teaching and preaching"? Check back in the previous verse and you quickly discern there is a problem with using this verse to justify the JW understanding that ALL Jehovah's Witnesses must preach door-to-door. The ones preaching, according to v.41, are the same ones who had appeared before the Sanhedrin, under arrest for preaching in the temple area (v.21). According to the previous account, those arrested for this public preaching were the apostles only (see verses 18-29).

If you go back further in chapter 5, you also see that, rather than evangelizing house-to-house, the apostles were doing their preaching and healing in Solomon's portico (vv.12-16), a precinct of the temple. People from the whole city and beyond were bringing their loved ones to that location to be healed. They were NOT waiting for the apostles to arrive at their doors. THIS "public witnessing", not a canvassing campaign, antagonized the religious establishment (vv.17-18).

The chapter 5 arrest followed a previous arrest in chapter 4 (the narrative actually begins in chapter 3). Here it was simply Peter and John who were under arrest for preaching, again in Solomon's colonnade (3:1,11; 4:1). Although at this point in Acts there is no record that the apostles had preached anywhere but in the temple area, the Jewish council is rightly afraid their work is "apparent to all who live in Jerusalem" (4:16). The leaders fear that their work will spread among all the people (v.17). And with justification -- there were now about 5000 disciples, and without the apostles getting beyond the temple (4:4)! After their release, we read that "with great power the apostles were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus". (4:33, NASB). This "great power" was sufficient to accomplish the Lord's work in Jerusalem. It was also the Lord's way of answering the prayer of v.29:

And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence, while Thou dost extend Thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Thy Holy Servant Jesus. (4:29,30, NASB)

The book of Hebrews confirms that it was the apostles who both performed signs and also preached the message which established the divine source of the gospel:

This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Heb.2:3,4; NIV)

This is the pattern established in Acts 1. The apostles, "those who had heard him [Jesus]", allow none to join their rank but others who meet the same qualifications:

Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection. (1:21,22; NIV)

Thus the qualification of a WITNESS was that he must have SEEN the Lord, and seen Him from the beginning of His ministry to its end, the resurrection and ascension (Acts 1:8 -- "YOU will be my witnesses"; see also Luke 24:33-53). They, and they only, would qualify to witness. This was in accord with Jewish legal precedent (Deut.17:6). A witness, for his testimony to be valid and legally acceptable, must have seen -- experienced personally -- the event about which he testified.

Thousands had seen Jesus, but very few among those witnesses had also witnessed the resurrection and ascension. No more than a few hundred had seen the risen Christ, and these only, according to Peter, were qualified to testify publicly:

Him God raised up the third day, and granted that He should become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us, who ate and drank with him after He arose from the dead. And He ordered US to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. (Acts 10:40-42; NASB, emphasis added)

Therefore it is beyond dispute that those who preached the word in Acts 5 were the apostles. Where did they preach? "... in the temple and from house to house". But from the reports in Acts 3 and 4 we see that there is no support for a work such as Jehovah's Witnesses do. Rather, as F.F. Bruce understands this verse, kat' oikon should in context be rendered "in their own homes" [Eng p.126]. Ernst Haenchen renders kat' oikon "in home gatherings" [p.254], Richard Rackham "at home, i.e. in their own meetings" [p.75]. A.T. Robertson, in his famous Word Pictures in the New Testament (Vol.3, p.70), acknowledges that the Greek may be rendered "from house to house", but understands it to have the force of "at home". I. Howard Marshall suggests why the reference to homes is coupled with another reference to the temple activity:

The Sanhedrin could probably do little to stop them evangelizing in their homes. [p.124]

William Jacobson is specific as to the verse's intent:

In the temple. To casual listeners; in every house, to avowed believers. The same marginal rendering, at home, might have been given here, as in 2:46. [The Bible Commentary, ed. F.C. Cook, John-Acts p. 391]

Jacobson's reference to Acts 2:46 is telling, as that is the only other place in Acts where the exact phrase kat' oikon occurs.

Were the Apostles Really 'Jehovah's Witnesses'?

As outlandish as that question may seem, Jehovah's Witnesses take pride in the claim that they -- and they only – are imitators of the method of evangelism practised by the early church. But did 1st century believers -- even the apostles -- go door-to-door, or does the book of Acts present a different picture of preaching work of the early church?