|COMMUNITY OF GOODS |
The Jerusalem church's practice of holding “all things in common” (Acts 2:41-47;
Acts 4:32-37) had contemporary parallels: the Greek utopian ideal of common property among friends; the compulsory communalism of the Jewish sect at Qumran; and even the precedent of Jesus and the twelve (Luke 8:3;
John 13:29). The immediate context of both references in Acts (Acts 2:1-40;
Acts 4:31) indicates that the community of goods was not an ideal to which the church aspired, but was itself evidence of the community's nature: that the entire range of their life together was shaped and directed by the Holy Spirit.
“Common” (koina) in
Acts 2:44 and
Acts 4:32 has the same root as koinonia (“fellowship” in
Acts 2:42); thus the issue was not economic theory but the common life together (“daily” in
Acts 2:46) with no separation between physical and spiritual needs. (See
Acts 6:1. which depicts the investment in care for the needy.) The parallel between
Acts 4:34 and
Deuteronomy 15:4 indicates that the early church fulfilled God's intention for Israel to be generous.
The Jerusalem church chose to practice the selfless generosity in a form which closely resembled the life-style of Jesus and the twelve. Other early churches practiced sacrificial generosity in different forms (Acts 11:27-30;
1 Corinthians 16:1-4;
1 John 3:17), for Jesus' call to set aside possessions took more than one form. Compare
Matthew 19:16-22 with
Luke 19:1-10. What these incidents have in common is an emphasis on sacrificial giving (Luke 21:1-4), requiring a complete change of heart so that God, not possessions, is served (Matthew 6:24) with a clear recognition of riches' dangers (Mark 10:23-31;
This danger of riches manifested itself in the context of the community of goods (Acts 4:36-5:11). In contrast to Barnabas who sold some land and gave the proceeds to the apostles, Ananias and Sapphira held back some of the proceeds from their sale. Their subsequent deaths testified to the severity of abandoning the common life for selfish interest. Possessiveness led to lying to the Spirit (Acts 5:3,Acts 5:9) and therefore rejecting the bond (“one heart and of one soul” in
Acts 4:32) created by the Spirit. The voluntary nature of this community of goods was therefore not a matter of individuals independently choosing when and if to give, but the ongoing spontaneous generosity of a community unified and directed by the Spirit. (See TEV translation of
Acts 2:45 and
Acts 4:34 (“would sell”) which identifies the ongoing nature of the generosity. See Holy Spirit; Jerusalem Church; Koinonia; Fellowship; Qumran; Essenes; Riches; Gifts; Possessions; Borrow; Generosity; Mammon; Ananias and Sapphira; Teachings of Jesus.
David Nelson Duke