Acts

4:32-37

1. The early church in Jerusalem, 1:1-5:42

xii] The life of the early Christians

Synopsis

Luke has already described the life of the Christian community in Jerusalem, 2:42-47, and does so again in the passage before us. He notes the communality practised in the church, their sharing, such that there was "no needy person among them" - God's grace was powerfully at work in them. To this he gives the example of Barnabas who sold a field and gave the money to the apostles. Luke also notes the word ministry of the apostles, with special reference to their testimony concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 
Teaching

The followers of the way are marked by love for their brothers and sisters in the Lord.

 
Issues

i] Context: See 4:1-22.

 

ii] Structure: The life of the early church:

A sharing community, v32;

A testifying community, v33;

A caring community, v34-35;

The example of Barnabas, v36-37.

 

iii] Interpretation:

Luke's first description of the Jerusalem church focused on their being Spirit-filled; they were alive with the Spirit. In the passage before us, Luke describes the continuation of congregational life, with particular reference to the church's experiment with communalism.

Dunn wonders whether Luke is looking at the past through rose-tinted glasses - the human tendency to view the past as the-good-old-days. This seems a little harsh, since Luke is probably intent on showing how the lives of the Spirit-filled members of the way are renewed. For the believers in Jerusalem, it is no longer all about self, but about using one's resources for the needs of their brothers and sisters. Of course, those Luke interviewed for his account of life in the Jerusalem fellowship may well be the ones wearing rose-tinted glasses!

It is also worth noting how Luke has offset this description of communal life with the following narrative on the sin of Ananias and Sapphira, 5:1-6. The comparison between the two narratives is not the sharing, and non-sharing, of resources, but integrity. Luke underlines an important principle with respect to the ownership of property when Peter says "While the property remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal?" The story of Ananias and Sapphira reminds us that the example set by Barnabas, although a worthy one, it is not obligatory.

Setting aside the degree to which the church in Jerusalem practised communalism, it is clear that they were a loving church, caring for each other's practical needs, and that they were a testifying church, proclaiming the good news of Christ's resurrection. So again, Luke sets a model before us on how to do church, but not a model that requires a literal imitation.

 

Communalism in the early church: It is unclear why there is a need to generate funds at this moment, although Jervell has argued that the increased numbers of disciples, who have come in from Galilee to reside in Jerusalem, has prompted the need to pool resources. It has been suggested that Paul's collection for the saints in Jerusalem is directly a result of church members selling productive assets and so becoming destitute, although it may be prompted by a more immediate need - around this time there was a famine in Palestine. A theological imperative, in fulfilment of prophecy, is more likely - Gentiles bearing gifts to Israel.

If history is any guide, the driving force to create heaven on earth is usually eschatological. This is a community washed with realised eschatology; the kingdom is no longer at hand, it is here. They have only just witnessed the fulfilment of the long-awaited covenant promises in the outpouring of the Spirit. What is the point in possessing the debris of human innovation when it is all about to be consumed in the full realisation of the heavenly kingdom. Even Paul gives the impression that Jesus' return is imminent in his early epistles, and certainly the author of John's gospel feels it is necessary to address the belief that Jesus would return before the death of the beloved disciple. So, this is a community yet to settle down with a view of inaugurated eschatology.

It seems that Christianity soon took on the form of a House-Church movement, rather than communes like the Essenes, with members going about their lives in much the same way as the wider society. So, up until the Roman emperor Constantine, secular life was the dominant life-style of the Christian community. This doesn't mean that the church wasn't a strong serving community. In truth, persecution had welded believers together. The fact that Christianity became an illegal religion, and at times persecuted, may well explain why communalism was never developed in the first centuries.

Once Christianity was adopted as the established church of the empire, the sense of community in the once struggling and persecuted Christian fellowships was lost. Monasticism was a response to the secularization of the church. St.Pachomius, a soldier under Constantine, was the founder of the Monastic movement. At his life's end, there were 7,000 believers living in communities. His order was based on prayer and work. The monasteries soon became self-sufficient and withdrew from society.

With the fall of the Roman Empire, monasteries became bastions for the preservation of society within a disintegrating civilization. They soon took on the role of converting and humanizing society.

 

iv] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

 
Text - 4:32

They held all things in common, v32-37: i] A sharing community, v32. "All the believers" (literally "the community of believers") were of a common mind and demonstrated this fact by putting their property, most likely their surplus property, at the disposal of fellow members.

The Greek is somewhat awkward, given that the sentence begins with a package of genitives. The subject is "heart and soul", modified / limited by the genitive noun "multitude", which itself is limited / modified by the genitive participle "believers"; "the heart and soul of the multitude of believers was one."

de "-" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step in the narrative; "And the multitude of them", AV.

tou ... plhqouV (oV) gen "all" - [the heart and soul] of the multitude. The genitive is probably adjectival, possessive, "belonging to", but possibly adverbial, reference / respect; "and with respect to the multitude of believers, they were one in heart and soul." As the word is sometimes used of a civic or religious gathering, Luke may mean "congregation", even "assembly (church)", or better, "community", but then, he may be making the point that the believing congregation is now "a multitude." As for "heart and soul", given that the "heart", for a Jew, equates with "the seat of reason / intellect / thinking", and the "soul" the "centre of will / decision making", we may be better to go with "all felt the same way about everything", CEV. Van der Horst suggests that "one soul" = "one spirit", expressing a real friendship - "they are committed to each other in terms of resources", Bock.

twn pisteusantwn (pisteuw) gen. aor. part. "the believers" - of the ones having believed [were one]. The participle serves as a substantive, the genitive being adjectival, partitive / wholative; "the whole group of those who believed", NRSV. "The whole body of those who had placed their faith in Jesus", Barclay.

ti acc. pro. "[no one]" - [and not one was saying that] certain = any. Accusative of respect, "no one was saying with respect to any of their possessions"; "there was not one among them who claimed anything he possessed as his own property", Cassirer.

twn uJparcontwn (uJparcw) gen. pres. part.. "of [their] possessions" - of the possessions [belonging to him]. The participle serves as a substantive, the genitive being adjectival, partitive. As for the dative pronoun autw/, "to him", it serves as a dative of possession, as NIV.

einai (eimi) pres. inf. "was [their own]" - to be [his own]. Introducing a dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what they were saying, namely, that with respect to their possessions, they are not their own; "no one claimed their belongings just for themselves", Berkeley.

all (alla) "but" - but. Strong adversative standing in a counterpoint construction, "not ......, but ......"

autoiV dat. pro. "they had" - [everything common was] to him. Dative of possession. "Each member regarded his private estate as being at the community's disposal", Bruce.

 
v33

ii] A testifying community, v33. The apostles continued their preaching ministry. Again, the focus of the apostolic preaching is on the "resurrection of the Lord Jesus" rather than the cross of Christ. The focus of the gospel is an empty tomb, such that in Christ's life we find life. God's favour ("grace") continues to support the ministry of the apostles. The power of the message, at times expressed visibly in miraculous signs, is probably what is meant by "much grace was upon them."

dunamei (iV ewV) dat. "with [great] power" - [and] in [great] strength, power / capability. The dative is probably adverbial, of manner, as NIV. Probably in the sense of how their preaching affected the crowds; "with great effect", Weymouth.

apedidoun (apodidwmi) imperf. "continued" - [the apostles] were giving. The durative imperfect possibility indicates ongoing testimony.

to marturion (on) "to testify to" - testimony. Accusative direct object of the verb "to give." The witness / testimony may be specific to the resurrection, a witness of God's vindication of Jesus as the Christ; "the apostles powerfully asserted their personal knowledge of the fact of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus", Barclay. Yet, it does seem more likely that this is a witness to the gospel, the central statement of which concerns the resurrection of Christ. This is good news in that, given that he lives, we may live also. Of course, with the good news comes the bad news; "He has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him for the dead", Acts 17:31.

thV anastasewV (iV ewV) gen. "the resurrection" - of the resurrection. The genitive is adverbial, reference / respect; "with respect to the resurrection."

tou kuriou (oV) gen. "of the Lord" - of the lord [jesus]. The genitive is usually treated as verbal, objective or subjective, depending on whether we view the verbal noun "resurrection" acting on Jesus (ie., the Father is the agent of Jesus' resurrection), or enacted by Jesus. Possibly just easier to classify the genitive as adjectival, possessive, identifying a derivative characteristic, "pertaining to the Lord." "Jesus" stands in apposition to "Lord".

cariV (iV ewV) "[much] grace / God's grace [was powerfully at work]"" - [and great] grace. Nominative subject of the verb to-be. It is possible that the grace / favour toward the apostles comes from the crowd, "they were all accorded great respect", NJB, but divine favour is more likely; "God poured rich blessings on them all", TEV, or in a more general sense, "a wonderful spirit of generosity pervaded the whole fellowship", Phillips.

epi + acc. "upon / in" - [was] upon [them all]. Spatial. At first glance, the "all of them" seems to refer to the apostles, but, given v32, the apostles and the multitude is more likely.

 
v34

iii] A caring community, v34-35. The free-will offerings of community members, gained by the sale of (excess??) assets, was given to the apostles to distribute to church members in need. The distribution of offerings was later delegated to "the seven" - the deacons, cf., chapter 6. This allowed the apostles to get on with their preaching ministry. This was a church driven by a fervent belief in the coming one and so immediate needs transcend the desire to build up a property portfolio for retirement. As it turned out, God's judgement upon Jerusalem, with the sacking of the city in 70AD by the Romans, devastated property assets in and around the city.

gar "that" - for. More reason than cause, explanatory, providing the evidence that God's grace was upon them; "that was seen in the fact that there was not anyone in need among them", Culy.

endenhV adj. "needy" - [not certain = any] in need, needy. Predicate adjective; "None of their members was ever in want", NJB.

en + dat. "among [them]" - in [them]. Local, expressing space, as NIV.

gar "for" - for. Introducing a causal clause explaining why there were no needy among them, "because ......".

kthtoreV (wr oroV) "owned" - [as many as were] owners, possessors. Predicate nominative; a hapax legomenon, once only use in the NT. "All who possessed estates and houses", Barclay.

cwriwn (on) gen. "land" - of land [or houses]. The genitive may be classified as adjectival, verbal, objective, but it can also be treated as attributive, limiting "owners"; "landowners / homeowners." Most property was owned by either the rich, about 5% of the population, or the middle-class, about 10% of the population.

pwlounteV (pwlew) pres. part. "sold [them, brought]" - selling [them, were bringing]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb eferon, "to bring", but also possibly adverbial, temporal; "many who owned land or houses, when they sold them they brought the proceeds ...." The present tense indicates ongoing action, it is what they normally did.

twn pipraskomenwn (pipraskw) gen. pres. pas. part. "[the money] from the sales" - [the proceeds] of the things being sold. The participle serves as a substantive, with the genitive treated as ablative, source / origin, by the NIV.

 
v35

para + acc. "at" - [and they were placing the proceeds] beside. Spatial. "Entrusting it to the apostles' care."

twn apostolwn (oV) gen. "the apostles' [feet]" - [the feet] of the apostles. The genitive is adjectival, possessive. A literal "laid at the apostles' feet" is possible, although the language is deferential, serving to emphasise the power and authority of the apostles who stand at the centre of the Christian community.

ekastw/ dat. adj. "to anyone" - [and they were distributing] to each. The adjective serves as a substantive, dative of indirect object. Then they would give the money to anyone who needed it", CEV.

kaqoti a[n "as" - as, according as [certain = anyone was having need]. This construction is used adverbially, expressing repetition. The construction is usually formed with an imperfect verb, as here, and serves as the Koine Gk. construction for the classical optative used for iterative / repeated action, cf., Zerwick #358. Wherever and whenever there was a need, it was met.

 
v36

ii] The example of Barnabas, v36-37. Joseph's Christian name was Barnabas, son of encouragement. He was a Cypriote Jew with relatives and land in Jerusalem. As a Levite, he shouldn't have owned any land, but by this time the rule was ignored. By the first century, Levites lived in the same manner as their fellow Jews, and only some were employed to serve in the temple in a managerial capacity. Barnabas is given as an example of someone who acts with communal generosity.

tw/ genei (oV) dat. "from [Cyprus]" - [and joseph, a levite,] by nationality, race, kin [cyprian]. A dative reference / respect; "with respect to his race, Cyprian." There was a large Jewish population in Cyprus and obviously Joseph / Barnabas is an early convert. Being a native of Cyprus, Paul included him in his first missionary journey. Barnabas returned to Cyprus after falling out with Paul. Barnabas stands as an example for the church, being dedicated to mission and mutual care.

oJ epiklhqeiV (epikalew) aor. pas. part. "whom [the apostles] called" - the one having been named, called by a title or surname [barnabas]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "Joseph", as NIV.

apo + gen. "-" - from = by [the apostles]. A rare instrumental use of this preposition to express agency; "called by the apostles Barnabas." Of course, it may just take its usual sense of source / origin, in that the name comes from the apostles. His Christian name "Barnabas" is an apostolic nickname, a play on words from the Semitic "prophet".

estin meqermhneuomenon (meqermhneuw) pres. pas. part. "[which] means" - [which] being translated. A present paraphrastic construction.

uiJoV (oV) "son" - son. The word "son" is used here in the sense of inheriting a particular personal quality. So "son of encouragement" would mean that Barnabas possessed a gift of encouragement as if inheriting it from the father of encouragement.

paraklhsewV (iV ewV) gen. "of encouragement" - of encouragement. The genitive is adjectival, relational. Possibly "son of Nebo", so Conzelmann, although unlikely since "Nebo" is a Babylonian god, so more likely the Semitic "son of the prophet", so "son of exhortation / refreshment / consolation / encouragement / comfort."

 
v37

pwlhsaV (pwlew) aor. part. "sold" - [a field being to him] having sold [it, he carried = brought the wealth = proceeds]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the main verb "brought", the subject of which is "Joseph"; "because he owned a field, he sold it and brought the proceeds ......" "Sold his farm", Phillips.

uJparcontoV (uJparcw) gen. pres. part. "he owned" - [a field] being, having belonging, possessing [to him]. The genitive participle and its genitive subject "field", forms a genitive absolute construction, most likely causal; "because he owned a field." The uJpo prefix verb "to be, possess" will often take a dative of direct object, but best classified as a dative of possession. Note that Luke normally uses the word cwpion for a piece of land. It is possible that this uncommon word means not so much of a piece of land, but a property with a dwelling on it, a country estate, "a farm".

proV + acc. "at [the apostles' feet]" - [and laid it] toward [the feet of the apostles]. As in v35, here a spatial proV used instead of para. "He brought the proceeds to the apostles and entrusted it to their care."

 

Acts Introduction.

Exposition

Exegetical Commentaries

 

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