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. A previous essay began laying the foundation to debunk Marxist biblical prooftexts by introducing the most popular constellation of passages in Acts (Acts 2:42–47; 4:32–37; 5:4; 6:1) to which so-called Christian Marxists such as González, Gutiérrez, andMiranda appeal for support.[i] That essay noted that these passages are connected both by Luke’s literary structure in which some are progress reports and all are connected by their content of Christian charity to the poor.Another previous essay introduced the ideal, temporary, sharing (common purse/community of goods), and stewardship views of the constellation of passages. That essay explained that the nature of the charity as expressing an a-historical Greek ideal or as a temporary practice based on historically conditioned circumstances respectively violate the doctrine of inerrancy and fail to resolve whether the charity was sharing or stewardship. This essay picks up by explaining the sharing and stewardship views of the charity practice in the passages.
A third view holds that these passages indicate that the church practiced the communal sharing of the “common purse” or “community of goods” paralleled by either Jesus’ common purse (John 12:6),[ii] the common purse of Greek and Roman “religious, funerary, and trade associations,”[iii] or the community of goods of the Jewish Essenes/Qumran Dead Sea Scroll community.[iv] The idea of a “common purse” first occurs in Proverbs 1:14, is mentioned by Aristophanes, and in the NT was a container “used for storing money…held in common by the disciples…replenished by the friends of Jesus (Lk. 8:3), the necessities of life were supplied for the group (cf. Mk. 6:37; Jn. 4:8; 6:5; 13:29) and for the poor (Jn. 13:29).”[v] The phrase “community of goods” was used as early as Aquinas to describe the custom in Acts and among the Essenes, the community of goods involved the practice that “when a new member joined the Essenes, he turned over all property to the community. The individual members were without goods, property, or homes…They dwelt in brotherhoods, ate together, held property in common, had a common purse and a common store of clothing.”[vi] Although the common purse might fit most of the Acts passages, the community of goods as practiced by the Essenes does not fit with the voluntary nature of the sales of property and the existence of private property in Acts 5:4. Further, since the latter Rabbinic commentary of the Mishnah rejects the community of goods (m. Pirqe Abot 5) and since the Rabbis were heirs of the Pharisees, the main Jewish sect at the time of the NT, and the Essenes were a minority, then it is more likely that the church followed Pharisaic rather than Essene practices.[vii]
Finally, in Acts 6:1, the “daily distribution,” is similar to the Jewish charity practices of the Mishnah and the Talmud (m. Pe’a 8:7 F-H; b. B. Bat. 8B) whereby there was a daily distribution of food for everyone and a weekly distribution of charity for the residents of a town.[viii] The Acts passages as a whole best match this Rabbinic charity custom in which there was a stewardship or voluntary giving of private property according to the need rather than a sharing such as the common purse or community of goods.[ix]
Despite the misguided attempts by so-called Christian Marxists to appropriate these passages in Acts and the Bible generally for their cause, the next two articles will demonstrate that their specific claims are unfounded. For now, the reader may note that evangelical standard reference sources and respected scholars deny that Scripture supports Marxism. For example, well-known systematic theologian Wayne Grudem claims, “the Bible’s teaching on the role of government gives support to the idea of a free market rather than socialism or communism.”[x] Marxism is incompatible with Christianity so that any resemblance between Marxism and Christianity is purely superficial.
[i]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; José Porfirio Miranda, Communism in the Bible, trans. Robert R. Barr, Reprint ed. (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2004), 1–2.
[vi]Aquinas, STh., II-II q.66 a.2 ad 1; Barry J. Beitzel, “Essenes,” in Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988) in Logos Library System [CD-ROM], 1:719.
[vii]B. D. Chilton, “Rabbinic Traditions and Writings,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel B. Green and Scot McKnight (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1992) in Logos Library System [CD-ROM], 653–54; Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, 2nd ed. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003) in Logos Library System [CD-ROM], 57–59; Joseph Barber Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, 8th ed., Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament (New York: Macmillan, 1886) in Logos Library System [CD-ROM], 356–57.
[viii]Richard S. Ascough, “Community of Goods,” in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, ed. David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers, and Astrid B. Beck (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans, 2000) in Logos Library System [CD-ROM], 272.Cp. Bock, Acts, 258; Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus: An Investigation into Economic and Social Conditions During the New Testament Period, trans. F. H. Cave and C. H. Cave (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969), 131; Craig S. Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Kindle ed., vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), s.v. “Acts 6:1”; Polhill, Acts, 180. Contra Brian Capper, “The Palestinian Cultural Context of Earliest Christian Community of Goods,” in The Book of Acts in Its Palestinian Setting, ed. Richard Bauckham, vol. 4 of The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans 1995), 350–53.