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.[1] Despite this inconsistency, and as introduced in previous essays,[2] historically a number of Marxists have appealed to various biblical prooftexts in support of their systems, the most popular being a constellation of passages in Acts (Acts 2:42–47; 4:32–37; 5:4; 6:1), which describe the church’s charity practices.[3] Another previous essay argued that rather than the practice of sharing wealth or the “common purse”/“community of goods” (Prov 1:14; John 12:6), instead the charity practices in Acts better fit with the Jewish stewardship custom of almsgiving.[4] The last essay began debunking these Marxist biblical prooftexts by reducing the debate over this constellation of passages in Acts to five issues, which ask whether these texts are: (1) prescriptive or descriptive, (2) permanent or temporary, (3) compulsory or voluntary, (4) communal sharing or stewardship, and (5) properly motivated?[5] That essay also dealt with the first point, “prescriptive or descriptive,” and this essay deals with the second point.

Permanent or temporary: Proponents and opponents of Marxism have argued for either a temporary and permanent duration of the charity practices in the constellation of Acts passages to support their relative positions, often using the same evidence and arguments to come to contradictory conclusions. The permutations of these arguments may be summarized as four positions: (1) Marxist-temporary, (2) anti-Marxist-temporary, (3) Marxist-permanent, and (4) anti-Marxist-permanent (see Table A1).

Table A1: Summary of Views on the Duration of Acts Charity Practices[6]

 

  Marxist Temporary Anti-Marxist Temporary Marxist Permanent Anti-Marxist Permanent
Nature of the Charity Practices in Acts The charity practices in Acts are a form of wealth sharing such as the common purse or community of goods and are similar to or identical with some form of Marxism (i.e. communism, socialism, etc.). The charity practices in Acts are a form of wealth sharing such as the common purse or community of goods. Some find this practice to be similar to or identical with and others completely incompatible with some form of Marxism (i.e. communism, socialism, etc.) and others do not. The charity practices in Acts are a form of wealth sharing such as the common purse or community of goods and are similar to or identical with some form of Marxism (i.e. communism, socialism, etc.). The charity practices in Acts are a notform of wealth sharing such as the common purse or community of goods, but rather are similar a form of stewardship or almsgiving which is completely incompatible with any form of Marxism (i.e. communism, socialism, etc.).
Relationship between Acts and the Pauline Corpus Inconsistent: The charity practices in Acts are of a temporary duration and were superseded by Pauline stewardship-almsgiving. Inconsistent: The charity practices in Acts are of a temporary duration and were superseded by Pauline stewardship-almsgiving. Consistent: The charity practices in Acts are consistent with the customs in the Pauline epistles. Consistent: The charity practices in Acts are consistent with the customs in the Pauline epistles.
Meaning of the Duration for Marxism Improper Implementation: The temporary duration shows these practices failed, but this failure was due to circumstantial and/or historical factors and not an inherent problem with the Marxist system, which is sound when properly implemented. Inherently  Flawed: Some hold that the temporary duration shows these practices failed due to a problem with Marxism itself, which demonstrates the system is inherently flawed and utterly incompatible with Christianity.

Incompatible: Others hold that both the Acts sharing practice and Pauline stewardship custom are incompatible with Marxism.

Universally Normative: The charity practices in Acts are of a permanent duration and their continuation in the Pauline churches demonstrates the universality and normativity of Marxism for Christianity. Incompatible: The charity practices in Acts are of a permanent duration and their continuation in the Pauline churches demonstrates the utter incompatibility of Marxism with Christianity.
Proponents Barry J. Gordon José Porfirio Miranda Rolland E. Wolfe Inherently  Flawed:

Geroge Arthur Buttrick (IB) Jesse Lyman Hurlbut Gerhard Krodel (ACNT)

Incompatible:

Craig L. Blomberg Darrel Bock (BECNT)           F. F. Bruce (NICNT) Norman Geisler & Howe Luke T. Johnson I. H. Marshall (TNTC)        John R. Richardson Trevor John Saxby     Stanley D. Toussaint (BKC)

Clodovis Boff Leonardo Boff Ludwig Friedländer Ajith Fernando (NIVAC)      Justo L. González Gustavo Gutiérrez     Karl Kautsky François Villegardelle    J. A. Zeisler John Calvin Sanford H. Cobb         David G. Peterson (PNTC)        John B. Pohill (NAC)       Ronald J. Sider

 

 

Each of the views has a purpose in arguing for either the temporary or permanent duration of the customs in Acts. In general, the Marxist-temporary view seeks to justify the validity and normativity of the charity practices in Acts that it equates with Marxism despite their temporary duration. Similarly, some in the anti-Marxist-temporary view seek to discredit Marxism by claiming that the practices in Acts are a form of Marxism and by arguing that the short duration these customs indicates the system’s inherent failure. However, other anti-Marxist-temporary proponents find the practices in Acts to be incompatible with Marxism regardless of their temporary duration. The Marxist-permanent view is mainly concerned to show the permanent and widespread nature of the charity practices in the constellation of Acts passages. Their purpose in identifying these permanent practices with some form of Marxism is to demonstrate both the success of their system as well as toprovide another evidence of its normativity. Finally, the anti-Marxist-permanent view is generally concerned to demonstrate that the charity practices in Acts are consistent with other customs in the NT, none of which are identifiable with Marxism. Sifting through this maze of positions results in the conclusion that the Acts passages depict a permanent rather than a temporary practice. The duration of the custom does not resolve whether its nature is Marxist or something completely unrelated, such as Jewish charity practices. However, deciding against a temporary duration and in favor of a permanent practice is important for eliminating false objections against Marxism as a system and shifting the focus to valid protests regarding the inadequacies of that system.

Those arguing for a temporary duration of the charity practices in the constellation of Acts passages generally find a discontinuity within Acts itself and between Acts and the Pauline corpus. Adherents of the temporary view also offer a reason as to why the charity practices in Acts were temporary and assume that these practices were either sharing or stewardship. Two evidences for discontinuity include: (1) the Lukan-common purse/community of goods phrases “have/held everything in common” (Acts 2:42, 44; 4:32) and the descriptions “sold their property” (Acts 2:45; 4:34–5:1) and “daily ministration” (Acts 6:1) do not reappear in the remainder of Acts and the NT (“alms”; Acts 24:17, cp. 11:29–30) and (2) the Pauline corpus seems to use the stewardship/almsgiving language of “collection,” (1 Cor 16:1–2) and “gift” (2 Cor 8:20; 9:5) rather than the Acts sharing phrases.[7] Based on this linguistic discontinuity, both the Marxist-temporary and anti-Marxist-temporary views conclude that the sharing or common purse/community of goods was a temporary practice which was superseded by the custom of Pauline stewardship or almsgiving.[8]

Proponents of the Marxist-temporary view offer reasons for the temporary duration of the practices in Acts that seek to justify the validity of their system, which they find in the passages. For example, Miranda claims that “the communism of the first Christians failed,” but it was not due to the system itself.[9] Rather than an inherent problem with Marxism, “the cause of the failure was that the first Christians neglected the political struggle” or the “revolutionary struggle” to overthrow the existing, oppressive political economy by force.[10] Similarly, there is a justification which goes back at least to Friedrich Engels’ secretary, Karl Kautsky’s claim that the communism in Acts was one “of consumption only” and not production.[11] Wolfe uses this “consumption only” argument when he blames the failure on faulty implementation, “this economic system was doomed to failure since it was wholly unproductive.[12]

Proponents of the anti-Marxist-temporary view offer a number of reasons for the temporary duration, some of which attempt to discredit Marxism as a system. For example, Hurlbut exploits the temporary duration of the practice to invalidate the system itself by the now famous description of the “socialism” in Acts as a“failed experiment”—“as a financial experiment it was a failure, soon abandoned, and leaving the church at Jerusalem so poor.”[13] Others offer more neutral, historical, and plausible causes for the temporary duration such as: (1) waning initial religious enthusiasm (Matt 24:12; Rev 2:4–5), (2) belief in an imminent Parousia (1 Cor 7:29–31; 2 Thess 2:1–2), (3) internal conflicts (Acts 6:1), (4) external persecution (Acts 8:1), (5) natural disasters such as famine (Acts 11:28), and (6) other socio-historic factors.[14] On the whole, and even if hypothetically associating Marxism with the customs in the text, the temporary duration view of the charity practices in Acts leaves Marxists in the unfavorable position of having to justify the validity of their system in light of its historic demise. The next essay will demonstrate that while the permanent duration view does not support Marxist claims for biblical prooftexts it is a stronger position than the temporary view.

Therefore, the charity customs in Acts have only a superficial resemblance to Marxism. For example, esteemed NT scholar I. H. Marshall claims, “we have avoided the use of the term ‘communism’ in describing this [charity] practice, since modern communism is a description of a political and economic system of such a different character that it is anachronistic and misleading to use the term in the present context.”[15] Subsequent essays will deal with the permanent duration view and then the remaining three of the five points of interpretation regarding these passages.

[1]https://epecarticles.com/2018/08/18/a-fundamental-shift-in-evangelicalism-part-1-introduction-by-ronald-m-rothenberg-ph-d/;https://epecarticles.com/2018/10/08/a-fundamental-shift-in-evangelicalism-part-2-marxism/

[2]https://epecarticles.com/2018/12/07/fundamental-shift-part-3-1-marxism-prooftexts-ron-m-rothenberg-ph-d/; https://epecarticles.com/2018/12/07/fundamental-shift-part-3-1-marxism-prooftexts-ron-m-rothenberg-ph-d/; https://epecarticles.com/2019/01/26/fundamental-shift-part-3-2-marxism-prooftexts-ron-m-rothenberg/.

[3]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. Marxist interpretation of Acts generally goes back at least to the socialist utopian and publicist François Villegardelle (1810-1856), who claims that such interpretation has roots, among other church fathers, Chrysostom.Villegardelle himself refers to an earlier scholar, M. Chaigne, for socialist interpretation of the fathers. Among others, a similar interpretation to Chrysostom isfound in Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian.François Villegardelle, Histoire des idées sociales avant la Révolution française: ou Les socialistes modernes, devancés et dépassés par les anciens penseurs et philosophes, avec textes à l’appui (Paris: Guarin, 1846), 18–19, 61–64, 69.Cp. Chrysostom, Hom. 11 Acts. 4:23 (PG 60:94); Clement of Alexandria, Paed. 12 (PG 8:541, 544); Tertullian, Apol. 39 (PL 1:472–73); Karl Kautsky, Die Vorläufer des neueren Sozialismus, vol. 1.1, Die Geschichte des Sozialismus in Einzeldarstellungen(Stuttgart: I. H. W. Dietz, 1895), 25–29; Ludwig Friedländer, Roman Life and Manners under the Early Empire, trans. John Henry Freese, vol. 3 (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1913, [orig. 3 vols., 1862–1871]), 205. Anti-Marxist interpretation of Acts has roots in Calvin, according to Finger possibly Luther, and going as far back as thechurch father, Lactantius. Calvin, Com. Acts 2:44; 4:34; 6:1 Com. 2 Cor 8:13; Inst. 4.1.3 (CR 30:747–48; 76:59–60, 96–97, 118; 78:100–01); Lactantius, Inst. 3.21 (PL 6:117–18); Luther, “Against the Robbing and Murdering Mobs of Peasants” 1525 (LW46:51); idem, “The German Mass and Order of Service” 1526 (LW53:63–64); idem, “Ordinance of a Common Chest” (LW45:172); idem, “Predigt am Mittwoch nach Pfingsten” 1538 (WA 46:428–32); Reta Halteman Finger, “Cultural Attitudes in Western Christianity toward the Community of Goods in Acts 2 and 4,” MQR  (Oct, 2004): 238–40. Finger’s study is probably the best history of interpretation of Marxism in relation to the constellation of Acts passages.

[4]https://epecarticles.com/2019/03/27/fundamental-shift-part-3-3-the-question-of-marxist-prooftexts-ron-rothenberg-ph-d/; (m. Pea8:7 F-H; b. B. Bat.8B).

[5]https://epecarticles.com/2019/04/30/fundamental-shift-part-3-4-debunking-marxist-prooftexts-ronald-rothenberg-ph-d/; Norman L. Geisler and Thomas A. Howe, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1992), 429–30.

[6]In order to avoid a lengthy footnote which overlaps with other citations, readers may consult the other notes in this essay for the sources referenced in Table A1. However, two exceptions are liberation theologians and brothers, Clodovis and Leonardo Boff, whose views are inferred from their brief statements, which may be found in the following sources: Clodovis Boff, Feet-on-the-Ground Theology: A Brazilian Journey, trans. Phillip Berryman (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1987), 59, 85–86, 129, 154–55; Idem, Theology and Praxis: Epistemological Foundations, trans. Robert R. Barr (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1987), 203–04, note #44; Leonardo Boff, Faith on the Edge: Religion and Marginalized Existence, trans. Robert R. Barr (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989), 15, 199; Leonardo Boff and Clodovis Boff, Salvation and Liberation: In Search of a Balance between Faith and Politics, trans. Robert R. Barr (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1984), 8.

[7]Barry J. Gordon, The Economic Problem in Biblical and Patristic Thought, Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae: Texts and Studies of Early Christian Life and Language, vol. 9 (New York: E. J. Brill, 1989), ix–x, 59–76; Luke T. Johnson, Sharing Possessions: What Faith Demands, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), Kindle ed., ch. 1; Trevor John Saxby, Pilgrims of a Common Life: Christian Community of Goods through the Centuries, Google Books ed. (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1987), 21, 52–64. On Gordon’s affinity for Marxism see:  Gordon, Economic Problem, 109–14; S. Todd Lowry, “Preface,” in Ancient and Medieval Economic Ideas and Concepts of Social Justice, ed. S. Todd Lowry and Barry Gordon (New York: Brill, 1998), ix.

[8]Ibid.

[9]José Porfirio Miranda, Communism in the Bible, trans. Robert R. Barr, Reprint ed. (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2004), 8–9.

[10]Ibid, 8–9, 69.

[11]Karl Kautsky, Foundations of Christianity: A Study in Christian Origins, Reprint ed., Routledge Revivals (New York: Routledge, 2014), 410–11, cp. 310 on the Essenes.

[12]Rolland E. Wolfe, Studies in the Life of Jesus: A Liberal Approach (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1990), 92. Cp. Gordon, Economic Problem,70; On the communism of Wolfe see: U. S. House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities, Report on the Communist “Peace” Offensive: A Campaign to Disarm and Defeat the United States (Washington, D. C.: Committee on Un-American Activities, U. S. House of Representatives, 82ndCong. § 1 (1951)), 117, 138.

[13]Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, Hurlbut’s Story of the Christian Church (Philadelphia: John C. Winston, 1918), 25–26.Cp. Geroge Arthur Buttrick, IB, vol. 9 (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1951), 73; Gerhard Krodel, Acts, ACNT (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1986), 118. Cp. J. A. Zeisler, Christian Asceticism, Paperback ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1973), 110.

[14]Darrell L. Bock, Acts, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 152–53, 215; F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, Revised ed., NICNT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1988), 100–01; Geroge Arthur Buttrick, IB, vol. 9 (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1951), 73; Gerhard Krodel, Acts, ACNT (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1986), 118; I. Howard Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles: An Introduction and Commentary, Reprint ed., TNTC, vol. 5 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1989), 89–90; John R. Richardson, Christian Economics: Studies in the Christian Message to the Market Place (Houston: St. Thomas, 1966), 60; Stanley D. Toussaint, “Acts,” in BKC, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 2:365. For extrabiblical evidence regading the famine see: Josephus, Ant. 20.5; Suetonius, Claud. 18; Tacitus, Ann. 12.43. While not an adherent of the anti-Marxist temporary view, Sider has a good discussion of several other causes for the economic difficulty in Jerusalem that prompted the Pauline almsgiving: Ronald J. Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity, 6th ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015), 86–87.

[15]Emphasis added. Marshall, Acts, 5:90.

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