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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


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

[20:20] ... I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house [kat' oikous]. [NASB]

Was Paul here referring to a public work of preaching, i.e. house to house evangelism of non-believers, as the Watchtower encourages its devotees to believe? F.F. Bruce, in his renowned Greek commentary on Acts, renders kat' oikous "in your homes, privately as well as publicly." That is, the Ephesian elders were instructed both publicly and privately. But Bruce admits that the public ministry of Paul was not carried out by door-to-door method:

His discourses in the synagogue and in the lecture hall of Tyrannus constituted his public teaching." [Greek commentary, p.378].

Richard B. Rackham, another famous commentator on Acts, understands the phrase "house to house" to refer to "private gatherings of the Christians" [p.389]. I. Howard Marshall, in his Tyndale commentary, also understands that Luke is referring to Paul's "pastoral ministry". [p.330] Liberal commentator Ernst Haenchen renders kat' oikous "in the house churches" [p.591], which rendering helps us to understand the correspondence to the usage in chapters 2 and 5, where Peter and the other apostles are found preaching both publicly (in the temple, before the Sanhedrin) and in private homes (that is, they have at this point no buildings other than private homes wherein to worship and fellowship).

Are Haenchen, Bruce, Rackham and Marshall biased against the Watchtower understanding? Or is the Watchtower guilty of "twisting Scripture" to suit their peculiar understanding of the apostolic preaching method (2 Peter 3:16)?

Let Luke himself decide where the prejudice lies. Does Luke, who was present with Paul for the speech to the Ephesian elders, (Acts 20:15, 21:1), give any indication that Paul carried out a house-to-house visitation? Here are the verses in Luke's record which bear on the location of Paul's preaching work:

[19:1-7] Finding certain disciples ... [unspecified location]
[19:8] And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for the space of three months ...
[19:9] ... disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus. And this continued by the space of two years ...
No mention of house-to-house ministry. According to Watchtower reasoning there is no way that a thorough witness can be given without the door-to-door method. Yet Luke records

And this [daily disputing in the school of Tyrannus] continued for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. (19:10)

How can this be? ALL heard, yet apparently Paul -- for two years -- did his evangelism in a school. According to Witness logic, you cannot reach everyone except by thorough canvassing. Yet even Witnesses recognize there are many who will not be reached by that method. Here, the Watchtower tells them, we have to leave the how to God and his angels. Yet if we consistently apply this principle, leaving it up to God to locate those He wants, why is there ANY need to go door-to-door? About Paul's work in Corinth (Acts 18) Luke records that the Lord said to Paul, "I have many people in this city", whereupon Paul remained there 18 months. The Lord knew, apparently, whom He had in Corinth. We are NOT told precisely how Paul found these (future) disciples. We can be sure, however, that the Lord can -- and always will -- reach His elect. In Corinth, it appears the chief method was the local synagogue (18:4-6), and afterward the house of one Titius Justus (v.7). As with Ephesus, we are given no indication that Paul undertook any extensive canvassing. Rather, the work there seems to have been spurred on by the word of mouth generated when the leader of the synagogue, Crispus, was converted (v.8). As in Acts 2, where no fewer than 3000 were converted by a single sermon, the "Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (2:47, KJV). Wherever the Spirit is working, we can be sure God will have no trouble in locating (soon-to-be) saints. And without methodically mapping out every block in the Roman empire.

There is yet one more point to recognize. In all these circumstances, it is the apostles, more particularly Peter and Paul, who are credited with accomplishing the preaching work. In no case do we read of the local disciples -- the apostles' converts -- doing evangelism. This is not to say that early Christians did not talk about their faith. But Paul himself, in laying down his final instructions to the Ephesian elders, does not stress even public evangelism, let alone door-to-door canvassing, as their responsibility. The elders, rather, are instructed:

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (20:28, NASB)

This "feeding" of the flock (see KJV), Paul said, was what made him "innocent of the blood of all men" (v. 26). For he had not shrunk back from "declaring to you [the Ephesian elders] the whole purpose of God" (v.27). Among those elders, NOT the public, Paul says "I went about preaching the kingdom". At least that is the work Luke -- and presumably Paul -- choose to record.

If the house-to-house work is the method by which Jehovah's Witnesses must demonstrate THEY are "clean from the blood of all men", why has God not given a command to that effect? Why has the Lord not given even a single clear, indisputable indication that the apostles set the example for ALL Christians by witnessing door-to-door?

Bruce, F.F. The Book of the Acts (NICNT, Eerdmans, 1954)
Bruce, F.F. The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary (2nd. ed., Eerdmans, 1952)
Franz, Raymond Crisis of Conscience (Commentary Press, 3rd ed., 1999)
Franz, Raymond In Search of Christian Freedom (Commentary Press, 1991)
Haenchen, Ernst The Acts of the Apostles (Westminster, tr. 1971)
Jacobson, William The Bible Commentary: Acts (ed. F.C. Cook, n.d.)
Lenski, Richard The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (Augsburg, 1934)
Macmillan, A.H. Faith on the March (1952)
Marshall, I. Howard The Acts of the Apostles (TNTC, Eerdmans, 1980)
Rackham, Richard B. The Acts of the Apostles: An Exposition (Methuen, 11th ed., 1930)
Robertson, A.T. Word Pictures in the New Testament (Broadman, 1933)

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?