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. Despite this inconsistency, historically a number of Marxists have followed F. D. Maurice (1805–1872), a founder of Christian Socialism, not only in arguing for the biblical consistency of Marxism, but even its basis in biblical texts. 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. These passages describe the early church selling possessions and property and giving the money to the apostles, who distributed it among those believers who were in need. The same earlier essay which began laying the debunking foundation, 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 describing Christian charity to the poor. Two other essays introduced the ideal, temporary, sharing (common purse/community of goods), and stewardship views of the constellation of passages. The first of these last two essays explained that viewing the nature of the charity in Acts 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. The last essay argued that rather than the Greek, Roman, or Essene practice of sharing, also referred to as the “common purse”/“community of goods” (Pr 1:14; John 12:6), instead the charity practices in Acts better fit with the stewardship view, which involves the Jewish charity practices described in the Mishnah and the Talmud (m.Pe’a8:7 F-H; b. B. Bat.8B).
With the foundation of these previous essays in mind, this essay now turns to demonstrate that any resemblance between Marxism and Christianity is purely superficial by debunking Marxist biblical prooftexts. In When Critics Ask, Norman Geisler reduces the Marxist debate over this constellation of passages in Acts to four issues, to which we add a fifth, concerning whether the charity practices in Acts were: (1) prescriptive or descriptive, (2) permanent or temporary, (3) compulsory or voluntary, (4) communal sharing or stewardship, and (5) properly motivated. This essay will deal with the first point and subsequent essays will treat the remaining points.
Prescriptive or descriptive: Marxists believe that income inequality should be eliminated by compulsory government intervention such as wealth redistribution through mandatory taxation. Consequently, they appeal to the charity practices in the constellation of Acts passages as being prescriptive or what the church must do by divine mandate. For example, Miranda argues that the universality of the charity practices demonstrates “Luke’s normative intention” as indicated by the repetition of the word all—“all those believing,” “not even one…but all,” and “for all owners” (Acts 2:44; 4:32, 34). Miranda claims that since all the believers participated in the charity practices, then Luke is defining what it means to be a Christian or prescribing by definition, “if they wanted to be Christians the condition was communism.” Consequently, Miranda both equates Christianity/the church’s charity practices with communism and claims that the charity practices were mandatory because they define Christianity.
The two main responses deal with Miranda’s respective assumptions (1) that the practices were normative and (2) that the charity practices are equated with communism. First, some such as Geisler insist that there is nothing in the constellation of Acts passages which indicates prescription so that the charity practices are merely descriptive. For example, universal or complete participation is not the same as a normative or mandatory rule. The whole community may voluntarily agree to participate out of internal love (Matt 22:37–40) so that universality is not a mark of hierarchal, external compulsion from above. Further, a description of one local church’s (the Jerusalem church’s) complete participation (Acts 6:7) is not the same as Paul’s explicitly prescriptive statements about what every local church must do because universally “all the churches” are normatively required to follow that practice (1 Cor 4:17; 7:17; 11:16; 14:33). Finally, Luke only mentions these charity practices in two of his seven progress reports whereas if he had meant them to be normative, then Luke would have mentioned them in all or at least several more of his summary statements.
Second, there are those like Blomberg who agree that the constellation of passages are normative, but contrary to Miranda, he holds that the mandated charity practices are notto be equated with communism. For example, not only is there a scholarly consensus that Luke’s history is not mere narrative, but rather the genre of rhetoric with the intention to make certain points, but also Christian ethicists find that much of Luke’s material consists of the virtue ethics technique of presenting positive and negative moral examples through narratives which are to be normatively imitated and avoided. However, Christian virtue ethics while normative, is internally voluntary rather than externally compulsory as the divinely empowered decision to act virtuously (Phil 2:13) is a necessary part of the process of becoming virtuous or building character (Deut 15:10; 1 Cor 9:7; 2 Pet 1:5). Consequently, the church’s normative, but voluntary, individual, religious, and virtue building charity in Acts cannot be equated to the government’s compulsory, corporate, secular, and character eroding wealth redistribution through taxation in Marxism.
The two cannot be equated because since in Marxism the government forcibly redistributes wealth through corporate taxation, then individual citizens do not make repeated, voluntary, conscious, and personal character building decisions based on discernment (Lev 19:15; 1 Kgs 3:11), love (Matt 22:37–40), mercy (Prov 18:23), sacrifice (1 Chr 21:24; Mark 12:41–44; Luke 21:1–4) and other virtues to give intentionally possessions or money to individuals or organizations specifically for their well-being (Eph 4:28). Despite the fact that at some point in time a citizen or their ancestors consciously may have chosen to vote for governmental redistribution, the ongoing process of wealth redistribution over the generations erodes the character of citizens. The process is ethically corrosive for at least five reasons: (1) forcibly withholding funds from citizen’s paychecks becomes an unconscious practice divorced from ethical decision making (1 Cor 9:7), (2) governmental intervention makes individual citizens less likely to help those in need whom they personally encounter because of the “bystander effect” by which they expect others/the government to take care of the needy (Ex 23:5; Luke 10:29–37; Jas 4:19), (3) governmental social welfare makes and is often intentionally aimed at making recipients of the aid dependent upon the government rather than helping them through a temporary time of trouble so that they can later support themselves as they ought (Pr 22:7; 1 Tim 5:11–13), (4) similarly, redistribution “creates a disincentive to innovate and work,” both of which are creation order mandates (Gen 2:15; Gen 1:27 cp. Eph 5:1), and (5) while Christian charity aims at meeting human need (Eph 4:28; 1 Tim 5:3, 5, 16), both ideologically in Marx and historically in actual practice, wealth redistribution has been about controlling the citizenry, not meeting needs.
Therefore, while the charity customs in Acts may have some superficial resemblance to the wealth redistribution practices of communism in that both seek to help the poor through the use of material goods, they differ in method, motivation, and mark. Subsequent essays will deal with the remaining four of the five points of interpretation regarding these passages.
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.
For a similar judgment concerning the normative intent of Paul’s statements see: C. K. Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, BNTC (London: Continuum, 1968), 117, 168; Calvin, Com. 1 Cor.(CR 77:414, 479); Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, TNTC, vol. 7 (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1985), 111, 193; Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 375, 550, 848.
Acts 2:42-47; 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; Darrell L. Bock, Acts,BECNT(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), vii–viii; F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, Revised ed., NICNT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1988), 123; Stanley D. Toussaint, “Acts,” in BKC, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 2:352. Cp. Acts 4:32–37; David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, PNTC (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2009), 42; John B. Polhill, Acts, NAC, vol. 26 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995), 48.
Darrell L. Bock, Acts, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 11; D. Michael Cox and Brad J. Kallenberg, Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics, Joel B. Green, ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), s.v. “Character”; Mikeal C. Parsons, Acts, PCNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 4, 7–10; David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, PNTC (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2009), 21–22; Nikki Coffey Tousley and Brad J. Kallenberg, Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics, Joel B. Green, ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), s.v. “Virtue Ethics”; Ben Witherington, III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans, 1998), 43. On the Bible’s teaching of imitation of moral exemplars see: 2 Kgs 14:3; Eccl 9:13; John 13:34–35; 1 Cor 4:16; 10:6, 11; 11:1; Gal 4:12; Phil. 3:17; 4:9; 1 Thess 1:6; 2:14; Heb 6:12, 13:7; 1 Pet 2:21).
Following the murder of Kitty Genovese in New York (1964), the concept of the “bystander effect” was demonstrated and popularized by social psychologists John M. Darley and Bibb Latané in their 1968 article. The idea is that a bystander is less likely to offer aid when other witness are present due to their expectation that others will help. John M. Darley and Bibb Latané, “Bystander Intervention in Emergencies: Diffusion of Responsibility,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 8, no. 4.1 (Apr 1968): 377–78, 383; Jon E. Roeckelein, ed. Elsevier’s Dictionary of Psychological Theories (New York: Elsevier, 2006), 83.
Marx and Engels, Das Kommunistische Manifest, s.v. “2”. For similar judgments about the historical practice of wealth redistribution see: Especially: Charles A. Kupchan, No One’s World: The West, the Rising Rest, and the Coming Global Turn (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012) 111–14, 137–39. Cp. Bandow, Beyond Good Intentions, 206; Alessandro Bonanno, The Legitimation Crisis of Neoliberalism: The State, Will-Formation, and Resistance (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 83; Kel Kelly, Case for Legalizing Capitalism (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2010), 7. Contra. Chak Kwan Chan and Graham Bowpitt, Human Dignity and Welfare Systems (Bristol, UK: Policy, 2005), 95, 191–95.