My previous essays argued that evangelicalism has failed to detect and reject the biblically inconsistent starting points of an unholy trinity of cultural ideologies: Marxism, multiculturalism, and genderism. The first essay demonstrated that since Marxism is based on materialism (only a physical world exists), then it is fundamentally incompatible with Christianity, which affirms both a material and a spiritual reality (Gen 1:1–2; John 4:24). The second essay compared the tenets of Marxism (class warfare, income inequality, wealth redistribution, social justice, etc.) to the Bible, thereby demonstrating that Marx’s faulty starting point leads to tenets that are inconsistent with Christianity. I also noted that despite Marxism’s total incompatibility with Christianity, some have argued for so-called Christian Marxist positions. This essay begins to demonstrate the thesis that any resemblance between Marxism and Christianity is purely superficial by laying a foundation to debunk Marxist biblical prooftexts. This debunking will occur in three steps. First, in this essay, the passage to which Marxists most commonly appeal is introduced (Acts 2:44–45), then the next two essays will provide an overview of the passage, and finally two essays will introduce and debunk Marxist claims regarding this passage.
In his Tracts on Christian Socialism, F. D. Maurice (1805–1872), a founder of Christian Socialism, claimed, “Christianity is the only foundation of Socialism, and that a true Socialism is the necessary result of a sound Christianity.”[i] Following Maurice, Marxists appeal to a number of verses, the most common being Acts 2:42–47. For example, Miranda contends, “no one has come up with a better definition of communism than Luke in Acts 2:44–45 and 4:32–35.”[ii] Similarly, liberation theologians González and Gutiérrez both appeal to these passages.[iii]
In regard to this most popular Marxist prooftext, it is important to understand that Acts 2:42–47 is part of a constellation of related passages involved in the Marxist biblical debate, which are connected both by literary structure and content.[iv] In Luke’s literary structure of Acts, Acts 2:42–47 is one of several progress reports or summary statements of the church’s growth following the pattern of growth in Acts 1:8 from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.[v] While the lists of these reports vary, Acts 4:32–37 is also included in some lists, thereby connecting the two passages as progress points in the series of reports.[vi]
This constellation of passages is also connected by their content of Christian charity to the poor.[vii] In 2:44–45, the believers “had everything in common” and were “selling and distributing their property and possessions to anyone to the degree that they had a need.”[viii] Similarly, in 4:32, the believers were “one in heart and soul” and “no one said the things at their disposal were their own, but they had everything in common” and in 4:34–45 “not anyone among them was needy, because all who were owners with fields or houses at their disposal, sold them” and the apostles “distributed the sales price to each one to the degree that they had a need.” Acts 4:36 and 5:1–11 are connected to each other and the preceding passages in that the former passage gives the specific positive example of Barnabas and the latter the negative example of Ananias and Sapphira of the selling and distributing of property to the needy by giving the sales price to the apostles for distribution as generally described in 2:44–45 and 4:32–35. In 5:4, Peter stresses that the property Ananias sold was his private property, “remained yours,” and that he had the “freedom of choice” (BDAG) over how to use the property and sales price “at his disposal.” Finally, Acts 6 describes the resolution of the conflict surrounding the neglect of the Hellenistic Jewish widows by the Hebraic Jews in the “daily distribution” (6:1) of charity.
Aside from Marxist concerns, there are at least four main views concerning this constellation of passages: ideal, temporary, sharing (common purse/community of goods), and stewardship. The next article will introduce these views as the foundation for understanding the Marxist claims and their rebuttal in later articles. For now, the reader may note that evangelical standard reference sources and respected scholars deny that Scripture supports Marxism. For example, according to the Encyclopedia of Christianity, “As Luke depicts it…The term ‘communism’ in describing the early church is not appropriate.”[ix] Marxism is incompatible with Christianity so that any resemblance between Marxism and Christianity is purely superficial.
[iii]Justo L. González, Faith and Wealth: A History of Early Christian Ideas on the Origin, Significance, and Use of Money, Google Books ed. (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1990), 79–91; Gustavo Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation, trans. Sister Caridad Inda and John Eagleson, Revised, Kindle ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1988), 150, 172–73.
[v]Acts 2:42-47; 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20 Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007) in Logos Library System[CD-ROM], vii–viii; F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, Revised ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1988) in Logos Library System[CD-ROM], 123; Stanley D. Toussaint, “Acts,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985) in Logos Library System[CD-ROM], 2:352.
[vi]David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2009) in Logos Library System[CD-ROM], 42; John B. Polhill, Acts, The New American Commentary, vol. 26 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995) in Logos Library System[CD-ROM], 48.