Apostolic preaching “in every house” must have referred to house to house evangelism,[i] not to holding church meetings in the houses of the already converted. The context of Acts chapter five involves the apostles preaching the gospel to “the people” (from the Hebrew ha’am), that is, lost Israelites, and v. 42 is a continuation of this action; v. 42 involves the type of evangelistic preaching that had just taken place in Acts 5:30-33. In 5:20, the preaching in the “temple” was evangelism, preaching “the words of this life.” Every residence in Jerusalem obviously did not have believers in it, so preaching in “every house” supports bringing the gospel to the residences of the unconverted. The fact that this evangelistic preaching (euangelidzo) took place every single day (pasan te hemeran) and it was continuing to be so (note the imperfect tense of epausanto) also is more suitable to reaching the lost than it is to church meetings every single day of the year for a long period of time. Furthermore, the same sort of preaching and teaching took place in the temple and in the houses; since the temple preaching, contextually, was almost surely evangelistic to reach the lost, the house to house proclamation would have been the same. Finally, “preach” in v. 42 is not kerusso, but euangelidzo, which indicates that specific evangelizing or preaching of the gospel, rather than the simple proclamation of Biblical truths, is in view in this text; they were evangelizing in the temple and in every house.
Acts 20:20-21 also refers to house to house evangelistic preaching of repentance toward God and faith toward Christ to unconverted Jew and Gentile. “Publickly” refers to preaching in the temple, synagogues, and wherever else a crowd can be gathered; it is mass evangelism of large groups at one time, similar to modern street preaching and tract distribution in public areas. The same word in Acts 18:28 refers to “showing by the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ . . . in the synagogue” (v. 28, 26). “House to house” refers to systematically reaching every residence in an area with the gospel. The Greek structure[ii] in the verse is never used for church meetings in Scripture. Verse twenty-one refers to “testifying”[iii] to Jews and Greeks “the gospel of the grace of God” (v. 24). The overwhelmingly majority usage of the Greek word “testify” in Luke-Acts speaks of evangelism (Luke 16:28; Acts 2:40; 8:25; 10:42; 18:5; 20:24; 23:11; 28:23), and Luke never uses the word to refer to preaching in church assemblies. Acts 20:20-21 indicate that Paul taught the elders at Ephesus to practice house to house soulwinning. To attempt to interpret the text otherwise would require it to refer simply to the teaching of Jew and Gentile elder within the Ephesian church the necessity of daily repentance and every-increasing faith in Christ. It would also make this sort of testifying about repentance and faith in the Christian life the essence of Paul’s ministry (v. 24). It would ignore the fact that the “Jew . . . Greek” distinction is contrasted with the church (1 Corinthians 10:32). It would make Paul’s action in the verse be the preaching of repentance and faith, not to lost people who came to church meetings, nor to normal church members, even, but specifically to the leadership, which, one would trust, would have a very high percentage of genuine converts[iv] and would need evangelistic preaching the least, and which is contrary to the emphasis in his letters to pastoral leadership (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus). Paul was “pure from the blood of all men” (Acts 20:26) because he sought to reach all of them, not just the tiny minority that would want to visit Christian church services. He carefully and clearly presented to the lost the counsel of God concerning their souls,[v] house to house, and he taught others to do the same. Going house to house is God’s will (v. 27).
[i] This is not to say that every reference to preaching in houses involved soulwinners getting the gospel out “door to door” in the pattern of Acts 5:42 and 20:20-21. The churches also met in houses at times. However, this is often assumed for a particular text, rather than demonstrated. For example, in Acts 2:46, when the disciples were “continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,” the temple activity was likely church assembly (or could it be evangelism?), while the breaking bread (cf. Luke 24:30; Acts 27:35) and eating their food from house to house was “regular meals at home” (Robertson’s Word Pictures), not the Lord’s supper in house churches. The simple fact that over three thousand would have been in attendance requires that the houses here were not for church meetings, but for meals, unless there were many exeedingly large mansions owned by these early Christians for them to go “from house to house” in for worship. In addition to the problem of size, there is no self-evident reason why they would not want to simply meet for church in one house regularly, instead of skipping around. Furthermore, the word meat (Greek trophes) in Acts 2:46 is never used in Scripture of the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 3:4; 6:25; 10:10; 24:45; Luke 12:23; John 4:8; Acts 2:46; 9:19; 14:17; 27:33-34, 36, 38; Hebrews 5:12, 14; James 2:15). Nor is the verb eat (metalambano) ever used of the Supper (Acts 2:46; 24:25; 27:33; 2 Tim 2:6; Hebrews 6:7; 12:10). Both words are normal meal words. The view that this verse refers to believers breaking up to eat in various houses is far superior to the notion that the Christians were travelling around having church meetings and celebrating communion in many houses. The church of Jerusalem appears to have assembled regularly in the portion of the temple precents known as “Solomon’s porch” (Acts 5:12; cf. the Zondervan Pictoral Bible Encyclopedia, “Solomon’s Porch . . . [it] was here that Christ walked and talked (John 10:23) and that His disciples seem later regularly to have gathered.”), an area large enough to fit “all the people” (Acts 3:11). This explanation is far more reasonable than to think that, with many multiplied thousands of members, the entire church somehow tried to travel “house to house” to meet in the homes of members that could not possibly fit anywhere close to the entire congregation.
[ii] However, the same Greek phrase, kata + oikos, occurs here in 20:20 as in 5:42, indicating their common theme of house to house evangelism.
[iii] (Diamarturomenon, from diamarturomai, a verb primarily used for evangelistic preaching to the lost in Luke-Acts. Note the connection of diamarturomai with evangelism in v. 24: Paul was constantly to “testify (diamarturomai) the gospel (euangelion) of the grace of God.”
[iv] Of course, not all pastors are truly saved, even as Judas was not, but is it not straining all credulity to affirm that Paul was not taking the Ephesian elders with him house to house and teaching them to preach the gospel in this manner to the lost, so that they could teach their people likewise, but that he was, both “publically” and “from house to house,” evangelizing the elders?
[v] The notion that apologetics and the work involved in learning how to deal particularly with the varieties of unbelief, false doctrines, and religions one runs into because all we need to do is give out a one-size-fits-all sort of presentation of the gospel is not Biblical. Biblical soulwinners sought to “persuade” those they evangelized to be Christians (Acts 18:4; 19:8, 26:28; 28:23), “reasoned” with the lost (Acts 17:2; 18:4, 19; 24:25), and “mightily convinced” (Acts 18:28) them of their errors. Cf. 1 Peter 3:15. The “word of God” which is the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17) must be wielded in a way appropriate to the sort of lost person the Christian speaks to; the specific verses that deal with that individual’s spiritual barriers to receiving Christ must be broken down (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:5). A study of the soulwinning methods of the Lord Jesus and the apostles in the gospels and Acts also clearly demonstrates this truth (cf. Matthew 19:16-21; John 3:1-21; 4:4-29; Acts 2:14-41; 3:12-26; 7:1-60; 17:16-31; 22:1-21—note there Scriptural use of testimony of one’s personal conversion in the evangelism of others; etc.)