Monday, April 7, 2014

Early Christian Communism?

Libertarianism and conservative/fundamentalist Christianity make strange bedfellows.

Why? Let us look at a passage in The Acts of the Apostles which purports to be a history of the earliest Christian community. First, the New Testament Greek (the Koine text) and then an English translation:
Τοῦ δὲ πλήθους τῶν πιστευσάντων ἦν καρδία καὶ ψυχὴ μία, καὶ οὐδὲ εἷς τι τῶν ὑπαρχόντων αὐτῷ ἔλεγεν ἴδιον εἶναι, ἀλλ᾽ ἦν αὐτοῖς πάντα κοινά. ….

οὐδὲ γὰρ ἐνδεής τις ἦν ἐν αὐτοῖς• ὅσοι γὰρ κτήτορες χωρίων ἢ οἰκιῶν ὑπῆρχον, πωλοῦντες ἔφερον τὰς τιμὰς τῶν πιπρασκομένων καὶ ἐτίθουν παρὰ τοὺς πόδας τῶν ἀποστόλων• διεδίδετο δὲ ἑκάστῳ καθότι ἄν τις χρείαν εἶχεν. Ἰωσὴφ δὲ ὁ ἐπικληθεὶς Βαρναβᾶς ἀπὸ τῶν ἀποστόλων, ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον υἱὸς παρακλήσεως, Λευίτης, Κύπριος τῷ γένει, ὑπάρχοντος αὐτῷ ἀγροῦ πωλήσας ἤνεγκεν τὸ χρῆμα καὶ ἔθηκεν παρὰ τοὺς πόδας τῶν ἀποστόλων.

Ἀνὴρ δέ τις Ἁνανίας ὀνόματι σὺν Σαπφείρῃ τῇ γυναικὶ αὐτοῦ ἐπώλησεν κτῆμα καὶ ἐνοσφίσατο ἀπὸ τῆς τιμῆς, συνειδυίης καὶ τῆς γυναικός, καὶ ἐνέγκας μέρος τι παρὰ τοὺς πόδας τῶν ἀποστόλων ἔθηκεν. εἶπεν δὲ ὁ Πέτρος, Ἁνανία, διὰ τί ἐπλήρωσεν ὁ Σατανᾶς τὴν καρδίαν σου ψεύσασθαί σε τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον καὶ νοσφίσασθαι ἀπὸ τῆς τιμῆς τοῦ χωρίου; 5.4 οὐχὶ μένον σοὶ ἔμενεν καὶ πραθὲν ἐν τῇ σῇ ἐξουσίᾳ ὑπῆρχεν; τί ὅτι ἔθου ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ σου τὸ πρᾶγμα τοῦτο; οὐκ ἐψεύσω ἀνθρώποις ἀλλὰ τῷ θεῷ. ἀκούων δὲ ὁ Ἁνανίας τοὺς λόγους τούτους πεσὼν ἐξέψυξεν• καὶ ἐγένετο φόβος μέγας ἐπὶ πάντας τοὺς ἀκούοντας. ἀναστάντες δὲ οἱ νεώτεροι συνέστειλαν αὐτὸν καὶ ἐξενέγκαντες ἔθαψαν.

Ἐγένετο δὲ ὡς ὡρῶν τριῶν διάστημα καὶ ἡ γυνὴ αὐτοῦ μὴ εἰδυῖα τὸ γεγονὸς εἰσῆλθεν. ἀπεκρίθη δὲ πρὸς αὐτὴν Πέτρος, Εἰπέ μοι, εἰ τοσούτου τὸ χωρίον ἀπέδοσθε; ἡ δὲ εἶπεν, Ναί, τοσούτου. ὁ δὲ Πέτρος πρὸς αὐτήν, Τί ὅτι συνεφωνήθη ὑμῖν πειράσαι τὸ πνεῦμα κυρίου; ἰδοὺ οἱ πόδες τῶν θαψάντων τὸν ἄνδρα σου ἐπὶ τῇ θύρᾳ καὶ ἐξοίσουσίν σε. ἔπεσεν δὲ παραχρῆμα πρὸς τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐξέψυξεν• εἰσελθόντες δὲ οἱ νεανίσκοι εὗρον αὐτὴν νεκράν, καὶ ἐξενέγκαντες ἔθαψαν πρὸς τὸν ἄνδρα αὐτῆς. καὶ ἐγένετο φόβος μέγας ἐφ᾽ ὅλην τὴν ἐκκλησίαν καὶ ἐπὶ πάντας τοὺς ἀκούοντας ταῦτα.

“Now the group of those who believed was of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. ….

No person among them was needy, for as many as the owners of lands or houses were who sold them, they in turn brought the proceeds of what was sold and placed them at the apostles’ feet, and they distributed to each as anyone had need.

And there was the Levite Joseph, the one named Barnabas by the apostles (which means “son of encouragement”), a Cypriote by nationality, who owned a field and sold it and brought the money and laid it at the feet of the apostles.

But a certain man called Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold some property and withheld some of the money, with his wife aware of this. He brought a certain part of the money to the feet of the apostles and laid it there.

But Peter said to him: “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart so that you lie to the Holy Spirit and withheld a part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!”

Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. The young men came and wrapped up his body, then carried him out and buried him.

After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things. (Acts 4.32–37 to 5.1–11).
Now being secular myself, I place no value in the passage as having anything to teach us about modern social or economic organisation.

But this story if taken seriously – and any conservative or fundamentalist Christian who believes in Biblical inerrancy or inspiration is forced to do so – attests to an early Christian communism and collectivism: common ownership or pooling of resources and redistribution of wealth.

In fact, the principle that the apostles “distributed to each one just as anyone had need” (in Greek διεδίδετο δὲ ἑκάστῳ καθότι ἄν τις χρείαν εἶχεν) reads like something out of Karl Marx: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

Not only this, but a selfish individualism in which Ananias and his wife withhold some portion of their wealth from the community leads to them being struck dead!

Paradoxically, it is the liberal Christian who can easily evade the communist implications of this passage by dismissing it as something not divinely inspired and not to be taken seriously.

But conservative or fundamentalist Christians who support libertarianism have some real explaining to do, and
this is just another instance of why libertarian Conservative Christians are a contradiction in terms.


  1. Speaking of ...
    Haven't seen you over at The John C Calhoun Memorial Blog, aka Murphy's, in a while. It's conspiracy week again.

    1. Yeah, I did some of this, but it's so stupid, I can't even be bothered wasting my time commenting to be honest.