Acts 4

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The Believers Share Their Things

Verse 32: Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. (NRSV)

  • Thousands of people had already been saved at Pentecost. Whether “whole group” means the leader or means everyone that was a believer is in question.
    • It seems to say in English everyone who was a believer but that would be incredible in size.
    • The Greek word used here “plethous” means “many” or “majority” and not necessarily “all” (IGEL 646).
  • ”One heart and soul” is another way of saying that they were on the same page in what they wanted and what they were thinking.
  • This is literally not that they didn't have individual possessions but that they didn't claim anything as just theirs. Instead all things were “common” or together. This is about sharing, not communal property.
    • So something was given if it was needed more by someone else.
    • It is important to remember that it is unlikely that anyone had anything that wasn't necessary for life.
    • Luxury items or even books would have been remarkable for most of these people, if not all.
    • This is about giving where needed, not having everything in one big pile.
  • Some translations have “held in common” or “held together” but that isn't in the text. Literally it reads “but to them everything was common.” This isn't the community holding title to everything, but everyone recognizing something bigger than themselves.
  • Greek thought believed that people once were part of an “ideal age” and Golden Age where everyone was sharing property and getting along. This seems to use a lot of that language (Polhill 151). Perhaps this indicates an attempt to show Christ as the ultimate of all cultures.
  • Greeks also thought that the ideal of friendship was to have everything in common and be of “one mind” (Polhill 151). This is definitely reflected in this passage.

Verse 33: With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. (NRSV)

  • This is a surprisingly ambiguous verse. There are several times when the exact meaning is a little vague.
  • Power here can be about the disciples speaking but also possibly about the results of that speaking. “Power” can also mean “force” or something similar to that, implying the strength of the statements as well as supernatural support of them.
  • It is their testimony that brings about grace. Our testimonies are powerful things even today.
  • Grace came upon everyone. But there are two possibilities of what this means.
    • Either God's grace came on all those there because of what was spoken.
    • Or the people loved the speakers and gave them grace/appreciation.
    • The first is definitely the most likely in my opinion, but either are possible.
  • The believers thought that they were living in the end times and were the fulfillment of the OT, like Deuteronomy 15:4 “there should be no poor among you…”

Verse 34: here was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. (NRSV)

  • This is an interesting verse. The question is whether people are selling what they had automatically, or doing it in response to others' needs.
  • The thing the prophets came down on people the hardest for was neglecting the poor and needy. So while earlier Christianity is presented as an ideal Greek community, this is the OT ideal community (Polhill 152).
  • Money is such a big deal in American culture, and extraneous things are commonplace among us. It is tempting to assume that this is American culture and either think everyone is getting a TV or try to undermine this passage so that it doesn't mean we really should take care of each other to such an extent.
  • The word here “gar” means “for” and can be used to explain another statement. Here it is being used to describe the reason why there weren't any people in need among them, it was because they sold property.
  • ”As many as” had property sold it, which seems to be fairly clearly saying that everyone was selling. Whether this is because of need or because it was expected is uncertain.
  • There doesn't seem to be a requirement of selling all in order to be a part or anything like that. This is indicated by the people not giving the properties to the leaders but the money from their decision to sell.
  • This is not a percentage thing given from the sale of the property/house here. It was the entire amount as far as I can tell.
  • The verbs in this verse are imperfect verbs in Greek, which is a past tense with a continuous aspect. That means this was not a one time thing, but that they did this regularly or always.
  • The optimism of this verse I love. They hadn't given up on the ideal of having no poor anymore. They were working on it.

Verse 35: They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (NRSV)

  • ”laying it at their feet” can be literally or metaphorical. It definitely implies that the apostles were in charge of passing out the money that was given.
  • By using this language, the author makes clear that money was not given to the apostles to keep, or like it was theirs, but that it was only a stepping stone as they gave it away.
  • It doesn't directly say, however, that only the disciples gave money away. That is hidden by a passive tense.

Verse 36: There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). (NRSV)

  • This mention of Barnabas is important. It is a direct example of what verse 35 just claimed.
    • It also works in opposition to the story of Ananias and Sapphira which immediately follows.
    • Without this example it would be tempting to assume that Ananias and Sapphira were the norm and not the exception.
    • Some part of mentioning Barnabas early can also come from wanting to introduce a major character early, the same as mentioning Saul holding people's cloaks at the first stoning.
  • It is unlikely that Barnabas gets his name from this one event. But “son of encouragement” basically means encourager because it was assumed then that the son takes on the characteristics of the father.
  • It is interesting that from here on, Joseph is not called anything but Barnabas. He was renamed, much like Simon being renamed Peter. There was a serious business in the early Church. You became someone new. That is still seen in people today having “Christian names” if they're from another culture, but that is more about western names than truly renamed Christian ones.
  • Barnabas is supposed to mean “son of encouragement” but no one really knows how. “Bar” does mean “son” but “nabas” no one knows what that means (Polhill 154).

Verse 37: He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet. (NRSV)

  • The word used here for “money” is “something you use”. It could be goods, money, whatever. It's more of a generic term for valuables. It is possible that he didn't even get money from the sale but something else and brings that. Either way, he brings it all.
  • As a Levite, Barnabas would not have been allowed to own land early in Israelite history, but by this point it didn't really matter anymore.

Message Ideas/Scripts/Liturgy That Use This Chapter

Selfishness and Pride32-37We are to live in radical selflessness, giving to each otherGrace
GeneralGeneralMessage Idea
Speaking Clearly1-15Our lives attract people to hear about God. That is our first witnessEvangelismGeneralGeneralMessage Idea