Read the Passage: Acts 2:40-47
Receiving the Word (2:40–41)
Some believers have suggested that the instance of voluntary communal sharing in the early church presents a model for all Christians to follow (cf. Acts 4:32–35). In support of this notion, we can observe that the results of the communal sharing in Acts reflect the biblical ideal of provision for believers (see Ps. 37:25–26). Additionally, the sharing practiced by these early Christians embodied the principle of lending or giving to those in need (see Deut. 15:7–8; Luke 6:34–35). Yet, the idea that the communal sharing example in the early church presents an enduring model for all Christians to follow is problematic for a number of reasons. We’ll cover some of these reasons below, as we seek to study this passage in more depth and understand the reasons for the voluntary communal sharing within the early church.
Note that the communal sharing in this passage, as well as at Acts 4:32–35, is an emergency aid-based event that was sparked by the large number of foreign converts in Jerusalem at the genesis of the church. It is not presented, in a prescriptive manner, as a normative model for everyday living. Luke records that on the Day of Pentecost “there were added that day about three thousand souls. . . . And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:41, 47). Such large numbers of converts is clearly a mark of God’s grace. In all likelihood, many of these new converts had not planned to lodge in Jerusalem longer than the few days of the Pentecost celebration. Consequently, there were many material needs among those in the early church who desired to stay in Jerusalem longer than they’d expected so as to be taught by the apostles.
Sharing Possessions (2:42–45)
Many Bible scholars have pointed out that the tense of the verbs used in the Acts communal sharing event is not the Greek tense that communicates permanent or completed action. Rather, the tense of the verbs in this narrative is the tense that indicates in-progress or uncompleted action. The New International Version of the Bible communicates this truth particularly well in its translation of Acts 4:34–35 which reads, “From time to time, those who owned land or houses sold them, brought money from the sale and put it at the apostles’ feet.” In other words, the early Christians did not all immediately liquidate their material resources and pool their money. Rather, as is often done in the modern context, when emergency type needs arose within the early church, those with material resources met these needs “from time to time.”
We’ve already seen two reasons why the communal sharing of the early church is best viewed as not being a timeless example for all Christians. Additionally, we must remember that there are other biblical economic teachings that differ from voluntary communal sharing. For instance, in His Parable of the Talents Jesus assigns to each individual a different number of talents (cf. Matt. 25:14–30); rather than accept material support from fellow believers, Paul freely labored among the churches in order to meet his own material needs (cf. 2 Thess. 3:7–9); Paul instructed the church to give freely to the poor, which would be nonsensical if all believers’ assets were liquidated and held in common (cf. 2 Cor. 9:7); and in his confrontation of Ananias about his land and money, Peter taught that there was no burden upon Christians to sell their assets (cf. Acts 5:4).
Continuing Worship (2:46–47)
In summary, it seems best to concluded that the Acts voluntary communal sharing event is not a mandate for all Christians to liquidate their material possessions and to pursue complete economic equality. Acts 4:32 says, “No one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own.” It does not say, “Everyone said that whatever belonged to anyone belonged to everyone.” In fact, the notion that individuals are to be completely economically equal rests upon a faulty view of material resources that overlooks the Christian duty to work and the productivity of labor (see Gen. 1:28; 2:15). Variation in material possessions ought to be expected in a world where God creates individuals different, with various gifts, talents, and abilities. So, while the practice of the early believers was not economic equality, the communal sharing of the church is a great example of showing neighbor love in an emergency context as the needs of the poor were met.
- Should we treat poverty caused by a natural disaster, or by oppression, differently than we treat poverty caused by personal sin? Why or why not?
- How should we react toward the wealthy in our communities? Should those who are wealthy feel guilty that they have more material resources than others?
- How can we meet the material needs of the poor without making the error of instigating dependency and thus unintentionally hurting them in the long run?
- Upon whom should Christians focus their material care: family members, those in their church, or those in their community (cf. Gal. 6:10; 1 Tim. 5:8)?
- What is social justice? Is society inherently unjust if there are material differences among its members? What is a biblical definition of justice?