Having All Things in Common

15 Jan

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Immediately after Peter’s first sermon on Pentecost Day we are told in the Scriptures that the believers were in one accord and shared their wealth with those among them who had need (Acts 2:44-45). Although more may be implied in the text, what chapter two does not say outright is that the whole price of the sale was offered to the community of believers. We may be assured that no one lacked, but I don’t think the text actually means the total wealth of the new community was evenly disbursed among all. In fact, later testimony seems to show by the very fact that lands continued to be sold that a totally equal disbursement was never the intended meaning.

Peter’s interrogation of Ananias in chapter five of Acts shows us that the act of selling one’s property and giving the proceeds to the community for disbursement among the needy was a completely voluntary option. There is absolutely no evidence in the text that would cause us to conclude that one who did not sell his property for the good of the community was viewed with suspicion or treated with disdain. In fact, Peter told Ananias that his property was his own while he possessed it. Furthermore, after the sale, the entire amount of the transaction was still his own to do with as he pleased (Acts 5:4). The problem was he lied to God in that he claimed he gave the entire amount of the sale for the good of the community. He did not. He gave a portion, and therein lay his wrongdoing, not that he didn’t give it all, but that he lied, saying he did (Acts 5:3). The point is, in Acts chapter two nothing is said to indicate the entire proceeds of the sale were used for the well being of the community of believers. All the text literally says is those who had possessions, sold them and shared with those who were needy. The second chapter of Acts doesn’t even say the apostles were given the funds to act as emissaries to distribute to the needy. In fact, without input from chapter four, one would be led to believe those who sold the lands in chapter two distributed the proceeds themselves to whomever they knew were needy.

When we come to the fourth chapter of Acts, we see that the distribution is much more organized. The apostles are clearly entrusted with the sale proceeds to distribute as they thought was wise. Moreover, what Luke tells us in chapter four (Acts 4:33) may be understood to mean the great power given the apostles to witness of the resurrection of the Lord was the financial support they were given through the sale of the brethren’s properties. In other words, they were enabled to leave their mundane jobs, because of the willingness of those who sold their lands to support the apostles and their families. Moreover, chapter four adds the feature of the entire proceeds of the sale transactions being laid at the apostles’ feet. This was not necessarily so for the chapter two sales. In fact, the text implies that it was Barnabas who was the first to do this. Otherwise why would he be singled out among all who sold their lands? There is certainly no other reason for mentioning Barnabas at this point (Acts 4:36-37). All that is said concerning him is that he sold his land, presumably in Cyprus, and offered the entire amount to the apostles. Nothing more is said about Barnabas here, except that perhaps the reason for his surname is that he encouraged others to do likewise through his generous example. Therefore, since nothing else is mentioned about Barnabas’ labor in the ministry of the word etc., the logical reason of singling him out among all who had sold their properties before him would be that his act was the first of its kind, and by offering the whole amount of the sale encouraged others to do the same.

2.44 all that believed were together, and had all things common 4.32 the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.
4.33 And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
2.45a And sold their possessions and goods, 4.34 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,
4.35a And laid them down at the apostles’ feet
2.45b and parted them to all men, as every man had need 4.35b and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.

What difference does this make as it pertains to the chronology of the beginning of Acts? Well, if this is true, namely, that sale of properties in chapters two and four represent two different seasons of generosity on the part of believers, then we may logically conclude that these things were done over at least two or three years. And, this is my point concerning Stephen’s death and the ensuing persecution of the Hellenist Messianic believers in chapter eight. All these things were done before Stephen’s death and are important in showing that the persecution that followed took place some years after the Pentecost of Acts two.

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Posted by on January 15, 2011 in Christianity, New Testament History, Religion


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