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 practiced 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 Christ, the way, "the believers", are marked by love for their neighbors in community.

 
Issues

i] Context: See 1:1-11.

 

ii] Structure: This passage, The life of the early church, presents as follows:

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 that life, with particular reference to the church's continuing 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 have been renewed. For the believers in Jerusalem it no longer all about self, but about using one's resources for the needs of their brother's and sisters. On a more practical level, it is likely that Luke is using this account as a foil to the following narrative on the sin of Ananias and Sapphira, 5:1-6, but that doesn't mean he has over-egged his description. Of course, those Luke interviewed for his account of life in the Jerusalem fellowship may well have been wearing rose-tinted glasses! Setting aside the degree to which the church in Jerusalem practiced 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.

 

Communalism in the early church: It is unclear why there is a need to generate funds at this moment, although Jervell has argued that disciples coming 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 seems more likely that it was prompted by a more immediate need, a famine in Palestine at around the time of the collection, and a theological imperative, the fulfillment of prophecy - 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 realized eschatology; the kingdom is no longer at hand, it is here. They have only just witnessed the fulfillment of the long-awaited covenant promises in the outpouring of the Spirit. What is the point in possessing the debris of human society when it is all about to be consumed in a the new age 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 disciples. So, this is a community yet to settle down with inaugurated eschatology, yet to see any value in replacing the rotted church roof guttering with copper.

 

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.

de "-" - but, and. Coordinative; "And the multitude of them", AV.

tou ... plhqouV (oV) gen "all" - of the multitude. The genitive is probably 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 he may be making the point that the believing congregation is now "a multitude."

twn pisteusantwn (pisteuw) gen. aor. part. "[all] the believers" - those who believed, the believing ones. 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.

yuch (h) "mind" - [one in heart and soul]. Given that the "heart", for a Jew, equates with "the seat of reason / interlect / thinking", and the "soul" the "center 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.

ti acc. pro. "[no one]" - [not one] any. Accusative of respect, "not one with respect to any of them"; "there was not one among them", Cassirer.

einai (eimi) pres. inf. "[claimed] that [any of their possessions] was" - [were saying of the possessions to him] 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.

autw/ dat. pro. "their" - [of the possessions] to him. The dative is possessive, as NIV.

twn uJparcontwn (uJparcw) gen. pres. part.. "possessions" - of the possessions. The participle serves as a substantive, the genitive being adverbial, reference / respect. "Not one of them considered anything his personal property", Moffatt.

all (alla) "but" - Adversative, as NIV.

koina adj. "[they] shared [everything]" - common, shared. "Each member regarded his private estate as being at the community's disposal", Bruce.

autoiV dat. pro. "they had" - [everything common was] to him. Dative of possession.

 
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 favor ("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. "power" - strength, power / capability. The dative is probably adverbial, of manner. Probably in the sense of how their preaching affected the crowds; "with great effect", Weymouth.

apedidoun (apodidwmi) imperf. "continued" - were giving. The durative imperfect indicates ongoing testimony.

to marturion (on) "to testify to" - testimony. 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 gospel, the central statement of which concerns the resurrection of Christ; good news = given that he lives we may live also + 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" - The genitive is adverbial, reference / respect; "with respect to the resurrection."

tou kuriou Ihsou (oV) gen. "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, limiting "resurrection".

te "and" - Coordinative. This may imply that "grace" is upon the apostles rather than "the multitude."

cariV (iV ewV) "[much] grace / God's grace [was powerfully at work]"" - [great] grace. It is possible that the grace / favour toward the apostles comes from the crowd, "they were all accorded great respect", NJB, but divine favor 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" - Spacial.

pantaV outouV "them all" - 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 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 transcended any need to prepare for a materially secure future. 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. Here 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" - in need, needy. "None of their members was ever in want", NJB.

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

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

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

cwriwn (on) gen. "land" - of land. The genitive may be classified as verbal, objective, but it can also be treated as adjectival, attributive, limiting "owners"; "landowners." 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. "from time to time ........ sold them" - selling. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb uJphrcon, "were", 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 genitive is usually treated as verbal, subjective, as NIV.

 
v35

etiqoun (tiqhmi) imperf. "put it" - were placing [at the feet of the apostles]. The imperfect again expressing ongoing / durative action - iterative / repeated action, it is what they used to do. "Entrusting it to the apostles' care."

para + acc. "at" - Spacial.

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

diedidoto (diadidwmi) imperf. pas. "distributed" - they were distributing, offering here and there. "Then they would give the money to anyone who needed it", CEV.

ekastw/ dat. adj. "to anyone" - to each. The adjective serves as a substantive, dative of indirect object.

kaqoti "as" - in proportion as, according as. The surplice church funds were distributed to anyone "according as" they had need.

a[n "[who had need]" - [anyone having need]. This indefinite particle, when used with a verb expressing past repeated action, as here, the imperfect verb eicen, "was having", 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 special name was Barnabas, son of encouragement. He was a Cypriote Jew with relatives and land in Jerusalem. As a Levite he actually shouldn't have owned any land, but by this time the rule was ignored. Barnabas is given as an example of someone who acts with communal generosity.

LeuithV "a Levite" - By the first century Levites lived in the same manner as their fellow Jews, but some were employed to serve in the temple in a management capacity.

tw/ genei (oV) dat. "from [Cyprus]" - [a Cypriote] by nationality, race, kin. The dative is instrumental, expressing means. 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. The participle serves as a substantive.

apo + gen. "-" - from [the apostles Barnabas]. A rare use of this preposition to express agency; "called by the apostles Barnabas." His Christian name "Barnabas" is an apostolic nickname, a play on words.

estin meqermhneuomenon (meqermhneuw) pres. pas. part. "[which] means" - [which] being translated means. 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. "[son] of encouragement" - The genitive is adjectival, relational if "son of Nebo", so Conzelmann, although unlikely since "Nebo" is a Babylonian god, or "son of the prophet", but more likely attributive if "son of exhortation / refreshment / consolation / encouragement / comfort."

 
v37

pwlhsaV (pwlew) aor. part. "sold" - having sold. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the main verb "brought"; "made a sale and brought the proceeds ..", Berkeley. "Sold his farm", Phillips.

autw/ dat. pro. "he" - [belonging] to him. Dative of direct object after the uJpo prefix verb "to possess" / dative of possession.

uJparcontoV (uJparcw) gen. pres. part. "owned" - belonging, possessing [to him a field]. Genitive absolute participle, most likely causal; "because he owned a field."

agrou (oV) "field" - a piece of land. Interestingly, 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, "farm".

hnegken (ferw) aor. "he brought" - he carried, brought [the wealth, proceeds]. "He brought the proceeds to the apostles and entrusted it to their care."

proV + acc. "at [the apostles' feet]" - As in v35, here a spacial proV instead of para.

 

Acts Introduction.

Exposition

 

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