My previous essays argued that evangelicalism has succumbed to a biblically inconsistent unholy trinity of cultural ideologies consisting of: Marxism, multiculturalism, and genderism.[1] As introduced in previous essays,[2] historically Marxists have appealed to various biblical prooftexts including Acts 2:42–47; 4:32–37; 5:4; 6:1, which describe the church’s charity practices.[3] One essay argued that these practices are the Jewish stewardship custom of almsgiving rather than the “common purse”/“community of goods” (Prov 1:14; John 12:6).[4] Another essay began debunking these Marxist prooftexts by reducing the debate to five issues—whether these practices are: (1) prescriptive or descriptive, (2) permanent or temporary, (3) compulsory or voluntary, (4) communal sharing or stewardship, and (5) properly motivated.[5] This essay will argue that the charity customs in Acts have only a superficial resemblance to Marxism by dealing with the third issue of whether the charity practices are: (3) compulsory or voluntary.

Compulsory or voluntary: Since Marx held that his system required coercion, then Marxists claim that the charity practices in Acts are compulsory.[6] Opponents of Marxism instead claim the charity practices in Acts are voluntary. In assessing this debate, it is important to recognize that the compulsory versus voluntary debate is closely related to but distinct from the issue of whether the passages are prescriptive or descriptive. Consequently, there are at least four logical possibilities such that the passages: (1) describe a historically voluntary practice, (2) describe a historically compulsory practice, (3) prescribe a historically voluntary practice, or (4) prescribe a historically compulsory practice.

 

Table A1: Logical Possibilities for Interpretation

 

Voluntary Compulsory
Descriptive Describes a historically voluntary practice. Describes a historically compulsory practice.
Prescriptive Prescribes a historically voluntary practice. Prescribes a historically compulsory practice.

 

In order to understand the subtle, but important distinction involved in how these four logical possibilities apply to the issue of Marxism in Acts, consider two examples. In the first example, the Reformed use the concept of the tripartite division of the law and Dispensationalists rely on the idea of dispensation in their respective interpretations of the relation of the OT law to the NT with regard to the law’s compulsory force. In Reformed thought, “the tripartite division of the law may be understood as a view of the biblical law as [having] … civil, ceremonial, and moral aspects and in which … only the moral aspect continues to be in force for believers.”[7] Consequently, Reformed scholars hold that OT passages dealing with the moral law are prescribing historically compulsory practices for NT believers[8] and passages dealing with ceremonial and civil laws describe historically compulsory practices no longer binding on NT believers.[9]

In contrast, contemporary dispensationalists understand the term dispensation to refer to the “stewardship arrangement” in “a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God.”[10] Traditionally, dispensationalists have found seven (innocence, conscience, human government, promise, law, grace, and kingdom) and more recently four (patriarchal, Mosaic, ecclesial, and Zionic) dispensations which divide the Bible up into distinct sections or periods of divine administration.[11] Dispensationalists hold that the dispensations of law/Mosaic have “now been replaced or superseded by a new dispensation” of grace/ecclesial.[12] Consequently, dispensationalists view all OT passages dealing with the law as describing historically compulsory practices no longer binding on NT believers.[13] Table A2 summarizes these Reformed and dispensational examples.

 

Table A2: Reformed and Dispensational Compulsory Examples

 

Voluntary Compulsory
Descriptive Describes a historically voluntary practice.

N/A

Describes a historically compulsory practice.

Reformed view of ceremonial and civil laws.

Dispensational view of all OT law.

Prescriptive Prescribes a historically voluntary practice.

N/A

Prescribes a historically compulsory practice.

Reformed view of moral law.

 

A second illustration regarding the OT freewill offering will help to interpret Acts by filling in the voluntary examples in Table A3. Baruch A. Levin introduced the now standard distinction between descriptive and prescriptive ritual texts.[14] For example, and with regard to texts mentioning the freewill offering (Exod 35:29; 36:3; Lev 7:16), he claimed Exod 35–39 is descriptive and Lev 7 is prescriptive.[15] Additionally and according to Mark Rooker, the sacrifices which are presented in OT texts may be “divided into two broad categories: voluntary and involuntary offerings,” such that the offerings may be classified as “voluntary offerings—the burnt, cereal, and fellowship offerings…mandatory offerings—the sin and guilt offerings.”[16] In Lev 7:11–36, the voluntary fellowship/peace offering (Lev 7:5) has three subcategories: thank offering (vs. 12), votive offering (vs. 16), and freewill offering (vs. 16).[17] Consequently, the voluntary freewill offering is an example of a passage which describes a historically voluntary practice (Exod 35:29; 36:3) and a passage which prescribes a historically voluntary practice (Lev 7:16). Table A3 adds the voluntary examples to the summary.

 

Table A3: The Freewill Offering Voluntary Example

 

Voluntary Compulsory
Descriptive Describes a historically voluntary practice.

Freewill offering (Exod 35:29; 36:3).

Describes a historically compulsory practice.

Reformed view of ceremonial and civil laws.

Dispensational view of all OT law.

Prescriptive Prescribes a historically voluntary practice.

Freewill offering (Lev 7:16).

Prescribes a historically compulsory practice.

Reformed view of moral law.

 

With these examples in mind, the four logical possibilities may be applied to the issue of Marxism in Acts. Marxists understand the charity practices in Acts to be compulsory customs comparable to their government-enforced wealth redistribution. For example, the Marxist scholar Rolland Wolfe claims, “communism is the most ideal economic system. The trouble is that it is too idealistic and can be maintained only by force, as Ananias and Sapphira found out too late in Acts 5” presumably as illustrated by God’s execution of the death penalty on them through Peter for failing to fulfill their governmentally imposed duty (Acts 5:5–10) and the “rule by fear” (Acts 5:11).[18] Consequently and with regard to the four logical categories, Marxists view Acts as prescribing a historically compulsory practice.

In contrast, evangelicals see the Acts practices as voluntary. In Acts 5:4 since the land “remained” or belonged to Ananias before it was sold and after “having been sold, the proceeds were under his control,” a large consensus holds that the verse indicates the practices are the voluntary giving of private property.[19] Even Marxists such as González and Gordon admit that Acts 5:4 demonstrates the voluntary nature of the charity practice.[20] Further and in Acts 5:2–4, 8, God’s judgment through Peter on Ananias and Sapphira is not for failing to fulfill a governmentally imposed obligation to give to the poor, but rather explicitly for “lying” (vs. 3–4) about the sale “price” (vs. 8) or the amount “kept back” (vs. 2) from the sum voluntarily given.[21] In contrast to Marxists, all evangelicals, find the charity practice in Acts to be voluntary, but some find the Acts passages are prescriptive and others descriptive.[22] Consequently, evangelicals claim that Acts either describes a historically voluntary practice or prescribes a historically voluntary practice as summarized in Table A4.

 

Table A4: Interpretation of Acts

 

Voluntary Compulsory
Descriptive Describes a historically voluntary practice.

Some evangelicals.

Describes a historically compulsory practice.

N/A

Prescriptive Prescribes a historically voluntary practice.

Some evangelicals.

Prescribes a historically compulsory practice.

Marxists.

 

Therefore, based on the biblical evidence, the charity customs in Acts have only a superficial resemblance to Marxism. For example and in the Evangelical Affirmations (1990), Kenneth S. Kantzer claims, “communism is a Christian heresy.”[23] Subsequent essays will deal with the remaining two points of whether the charity practices in Acts are: (4) communal sharing or stewardship and (5) properly motivated.

[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.The point of Villegardelle and others is notthat Marxism anachronistically existed in the NT and patristic eras prior to Marx, but rather that practices comparable to contemporary Marxism existed and that in the opinion of Villegardelle and others, the church fathers interpreted the Scriptures as teaching practices that are precursors to or consistent with contemporary Marxism. 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. According to Finger, anti-Marxist interpretation of Acts has roots in Calvin, possibly Luther, and going as far back as the church 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. Pe8:7 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. The last two essays dealt with the second point by demonstrating that objections to Marxism based on its alleged temporary duration in Acts are not valid and the biblical evidence is best explained by understanding the church as having one continuous or permanent charity practice that is not consistent with Marxism. https://epecarticles.com/2019/06/15/fundamental-shift-part-3-5-debunking-marxist-prooftexts-ron-rothenberg-ph-d/;https://epecarticles.com/2019/07/29/fundamental-shift-part-3-6-debunking-marxist-prooftexts-ron-rothenberg-ph-d/.

[6]Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Das Kommunistische Manifest (London: Demokratie Direkt, 1848), Kindle ed. s.v. “CM 1; 3.2; 4.”

[7]In the Reformed view, since “the ceremonial law was fulfilled in Christ [Col 2:16; Heb 7:12], [and] the civil law expired with the state of national Israel, … [then] only the moral aspect continues to be in force for believers [Deut 5:22; Matt 5:17].” Ronald M. Rothenberg, “The Public/Private Distinction: An Indispensable Heuristic Tool for Evangelicals,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 60, no. 4 (2017): 809. Cp. Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms, Revised and Enlarged ed. (Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International, 2002), 254–55; Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, Revised and Expanded ed. (Chicago: Moody, 2014), 751; Joe M. Sprinkle, “Law,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell of Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 469.

[8]Philip S. Ross, From the Finger of God: The Biblical and Theological Basis for the Threefold Division of the Law (Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2010), 2; Willem A. VanGemeren, “The Non-Theonomic Reformed View,” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Stanley N. Gundry of Zondervan Counterpoints Collection (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 18, 30, 38, 41, 43, 55–57.

[9]Greg L. Bahnsen, “Response to Wayne G. Strickland,” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Stanley N. Gundry. Zondervan Counterpoints Collection (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 297, 299; Ross, Finger of God, 2; VanGemeren, “Non-Theonomic Reformed View,” 30, 37, 44.

[10]Emphasis modified. Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Revised and Expanded ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 28; C. I. Scofield, ed. The Scofield Reference Bible: The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments, Reprint ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1917), 5. Dispensationalists emphasize that the “word dispensation is the anglicized form of dispensatio, the Latin Vulgate rendering of” the Greek translated as “administration” (NASB 95; Eph 1:10) or “stewardship” (NASB 95; Eph 3:2). Emphasis modified. Bateman Herbert W., IV, “Dispensationalism Yesterday and Today,” in Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism: A Comparison of Traditional and Progressive Views, ed. IV Bateman Herbert W. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1999), 47. Cp. Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Revised and Expanded ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 25–27.

[11]Emphasis modified. Richard P. Belcher, A Comparison of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology, (Fort Mill, SC: Richbarry, 1986), Kindle ed. ch. 1; Craig A. Blaising, “The Extent and Varieties of Dispensationalism,” in Progressive Dispensationalism, ed. Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 116–23; Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Revised and Expanded ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 54; Scofield, ed. Scofield Reference Bible, 5.

[12]Emphasis modified. Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 113.

[13]Blaising and Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism, 194–95; Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Reprint ed. (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1993), 4:242–43; Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 351; Scofield, ed. Scofield Reference Bible, 1000;

Wayne G. Strickland, “Response to Greg L. Bahnsen,” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Stanley N. Gundry of Zondervan Counterpoints Collection (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 164, 276, 279; Idem, “Response to Willem A. Vangemeren,” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Stanley N. Gundry of Zondervan Counterpoints Collection (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 79.

[14]ISBE4:272; Baruch A. Levine, “The Descriptive Tabernacle Texts of the Pentateuch,” JAOS85, no. 3 (July–Sept, 1965), 312–13, note #24; A. F. Rainey, “The Order of Sacrifices in Old Testament Ritual Texts,” Bib 51, no. 4 (1970): 485. According to Levin, prescriptive ritual texts are distinguishable from descriptive ritual texts not only in content (“the manner in which rites were to be performed”), but also through the grammar of command (“the jussive or subjunctive,” i.e., translations of “shall,” “must,” or “should”) as opposed to mere explanations of “what transpired.” Levin further subdivided the categories of prescriptive and descriptive and Rainey adapted Levin’s taxonomy into an even more complicated classification system, but the basic dichotomy is sufficient for our purposes. Baruch A. Levine, “Ugaritic Descriptive Rituals,” JCS 17, no. 4 (1963): 105. Other textual features are often important for determining the descriptive or prescriptive nature of texts, but content and grammar are the starting point. For instance, Plummer and Walton respectively point out the importance of rhetorical function and repetition. Robert L. Plummer, 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible, ed. Benjamin L. Merkle, 40 Questions (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2010), 169–170; Steve Walton, “Acts, Book Of,” in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer et al. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 30.

[15]Levine, “Descriptive Tabernacle Texts,” 307, 312.

[16]Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus, NAC 3A (Nashville: B&H, 2000), 49–50.

[17]ISBE4:268; Baruch A. Levine, In the Presence of the Lord: A Study of Cult and Some Cultic Terms in Ancient Israel, Sjla 5 (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1974), 43.

[18]Emphasis added. Rolland E. Wolfe, Studies in the Life of Jesus: A Liberal Approach (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1990), 93. For an argument with completely different logic, but a similar point regarding the use of coercion see: Miranda, Communism in the Bible, 7–10, esp. 9.

[19]This consensus is remarkable because it covers such a large span of church history, even before the emergence of Marxism, and entails scholars from across the spectrum of evangelicalism (Lutherans, Reformed, Baptists, and Dispensationalists). Emphasis added. Aquinas, STh., II-II q.186 a.3 resp.; STh., II-II q.188 a.4 ad 4; Calvin, Com. Acts 5:4 (CR 76:99); Chrysostom, Hom. 12 Acts 4:36–37 (PG 60:101); Craig L. Blomberg, Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions, ed. D. A. Carson, New Testament Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2000),163, 166–67; Darrell L. Bock, Acts, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007),222–23; F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, Revised ed., NICNT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1988), 105–06; Luke T. Johnson, Sharing Possessions: What Faith Demands, 2nded. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011) Kindle ed. ch. 1; Gerhard Krodel, Acts, ACNT (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1986), 120; David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, PNTC (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2009), 210–11; John B. Polhill, Acts, NAC 26 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995), 158; Trevor John Saxby, Pilgrims of a Common Life: Christian Community of Goods through the Centuries (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1987), 56; Ronald J. Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity, 6thed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015), 85; Stanley D. Toussaint, “Acts,” in BKC, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 2:360.

[20]Justo L. González, Faith and Wealth: A History of Early Christian Ideas on the Origin, Significance, and Use of Money (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1990), 82; 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), 77.

[21]Calvin, Chrysostom, and others such as Aquinas in the previous note are “anti-Marxist” in the sense that their interpretations given before the historical advent of Marxism are opposed to the ideas of that system. Calvin, Com. Acts 5:4 (CR 76:99); Chrysostom, Hom. 12 Acts 4:36–37 (PG 60:101); I. Howard Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles: An Introduction and Commentary, Reprint ed., TNTC 5 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1989), 118–19; Derek W. H. Thomas, Acts, ed. Philip Graham Ryken Richard D. Phillips, and Daniel M. Doriani, REC (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2011), 123. Additionally, even if the charitable giving was compulsory, since Peter is a representative of the church rather than the state, then divine coercion through him would hardly support governmental enforcement, but rather ecclesial compulsion.

[22]https://epecarticles.com/2019/04/30/fundamental-shift-part-3-4-debunking-marxist-prooftexts-ronald-rothenberg-ph-d/

[23]Kenneth S. Kantzer, “Christian Personal Ethics,” in Evangelical Affirmations, ed. Kenneth S. Kantzer and Carl F. H. Henry (Grand Rapids: Academie, 1990), 221. It is notable that the explicit intent of the Evangelical Affirmations is to state evangelical “essentials” or orthodoxy and that Kenneth S. Kantzer is a former president of the Evangelical Theological Society (1968). On the document’s explicit intent to define evangelical orthodoxy see: Carl F. H. Henry, “Foreword,” ed. Kenneth S. Kantzer and Carl F. H. Henry (Grand Rapids: Academie, 1990), 17; Kenneth S. Kantzer and Carl F. H. Henry, “Preface,” in Evangelical Affirmations, ed. Kenneth S. Kantzer and Carl F. H. Henry (Grand Rapids: Academie, 1990), 13.

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