Dan Popp
Leftist fairy tale #1: The Acts of the Communist Apostles
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By Dan Popp
December 2, 2009

When an unfortunate human being loses his grip on reality, he receives free care at what we used to call an asylum. When a lot of them crack up, they take over the asylum and demand free care for everyone.

Recently I wrote that many people live in a fantasy world where incentives do not influence human behavior. I had no idea. Some people, I discovered, are living inside not one, but multiple fairy tales. Here's a good one:

Anyone who knows anything about the Bible knows that all the disciples were Communists. It's right there in the Book of Acts.

Now that's helpful information. I might have wasted hours searching for Communist disciples in 2nd Imaginations, or scouring Paul's First Epistle to the Pomeranians. But seriously New Testament Marxists?

Questions arise for the storytellers: You want Americans to follow Jesus and become Communists? Aren't you the guys who worry that Christians may try to use government to impose their beliefs on others? Whatever the disciples may have done and taught, don't you want giant wall between that, and the State?

Nobody said fairy tales have to make sense.

Saint Marx

Let's take a look at those supposed Communists in Acts. "And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own; but all things were common property to them." (Acts 4:32 NASB)

Before we even get to the text, there's a definition problem. What's described here may be "communal," but it is not "Communist" or "Communistic." To make this Communism we'd need a totalitarian state banning private ownership of property. But the situation in Jerusalem had nothing to do with power politics. The disciples shared things because they wanted to; the arrangement was both spontaneous, and completely voluntary. There was no government civil or religious rescinding anyone's property rights. We can see even in this verse that the Christians had things that belonged to them! "Not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him...."

Let's keep reading.

    And with great power the apostles were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales, and lay them at the apostles' feet; and they would be distributed to each, as any had need. And Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means, Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet. (4:33-37)

I wonder whether utopians would be quite so enthusiastic about their mythical Christian Communism if it meant everyone giving his worldly goods to preachers.

That's the end of Chapter 4 but it's not the end of the story.

Truth, or Consequences

    But a certain man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife's full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God." And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came upon all who heard it. (5:1-5)

Greater minds than mine have observed that a lot of people are attracted to the radical love of Acts, but few want the radical holiness displayed there. If the price for a possession-free brotherhood of earthly equality is that anyone who tells a lie immediately falls down dead, how many are still in favor of it?

And tell the truth...

We find more contra-Marxism in the very passage that's supposed to persuade us that the disciples were Communists. Peter asks, "While [the land] remained unsold, did it not remain your own?" That's a rhetorical question expecting the answer, "Yes." Peter is upholding the right of private property indeed, God's judgment against Ananias depends on this point. You could have been a perfectly good Christian while doing whatever you wanted with the land. Nobody forced you to sell it, the apostle is saying.

"And after it was sold, was it not under your control?" Yes, it was. So not only did the original piece of land belong to this dishonest couple, but the fact that the land was exchanged for money did not lessen the owners' claim on it. This is Locke's property theory, not Marx' class-struggle tripe. The apostle's question puts an end to any notion of a marriage between socialism and Christianity. If you truly own your property, and if it remains yours no matter what form it's in acres or dollars or bubble gum then no one can take it from you without committing theft. I may not rob you myself, and I may not conspire with others to hire a third party (like the Government) to rob you.

In other words, "Thou shalt not steal" is still in effect.

Ananias and his bride were punished, not because they didn't give all the proceeds of the land, but because they said they had given all when they hadn't. Some have suggested that it was envy that motivated Mr. and Mrs. A. to misrepresent their gift. Barnabas had been lauded for giving all; it seems these two wanted the same applause without paying the price. Awarding things to people who haven't earned them is part-and-parcel of socialism.

It seems to me that the characters in Acts most resembling Marxists are the deceased deceivers not the disciples.

Postscript: Some time later Paul writes to the Romans, "But now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem." (Romans 15:25,26) Do you see the relevance? First, this is a voluntary contribution, like all distributions to the poor in the New Testament; but more poignantly, Christians in several other places are giving alms to the church in Jerusalem.

You know: the ones who had all things in common.

But through the devil's envy death entered the world,
And those who belong to his company experience it.

Wisdom of Solomon 2:24

© Dan Popp

 

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