The Generosity of the Believers
The opening verse of the passage states that “everything was held in common (32)”NASB. This was not a political philosophy but rather the believer’s commitment to one another. Luke professes that no one in the community kept ownership of their property but had given it freely for the common good. The apostles “advocated voluntary sharing of possessions, not the abolition of ownership” (Kistemaker, 173). The Apostles encouraged but did not demand, the sharing of property. The notion that the early church promoted socialistic ideals is not a valid claim. To be socialistic the governing body would have to require that all individuals would receive the same compensation for different skills and the wealth or lack thereof, would be shared with all. This unification of the believers is due to the believer’s response to the Holy Spirit, not because of any man-made alliance. The church, and therefore believers are “an organism that is held together by life, that life comes thru the Holy Spirit” (Wiersbe, 420).
The church growth from 120 to over 5,000 in such a short time is very remarkable. The two contributing factors for this growth were the guidance of the Holy Spirit in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus and the physical or fleshly barriers to the mission were taken care of by the body of believers. In part, the success of the Apostles and disciples was the fact that they were of one mind and that they shared all things. What this sharing of property had done was helped eliminate poverty among the new believers. When then human mind is focused on its most basic physical needs, there comes a resistance to spiritual needs, because those needs of the physical body shout so loudly that the spiritual needs, calls, and desires are drowned out. With the physical needs of the Apostles and disciples taken care of there were no barriers to ministry, nothing to distract the Apostles from their God ordained Spirit-led mission. The basic needs of those who joined in fellowship were met so the new church appealed to all, those who had property and those who did not. We observe three aspects of the developing Christian Community they are “the selling of lands or houses only occurred when there was a need, the believers established a fund for the needy persons, and the apostles had the task of distributing the money” (Kistemaker, 174). There is very little stated in the scripture passage about the condition of the people in Jerusalem other than there were the poor and there were those with material wealth, therefore it would be impossible to draw a conclusion on what percentage of the new church were impoverished prior to joining the church, other than we know that there was individuals who were poor and those that were wealthy as well.
The individual that is highlighted as the example in this passage is Joseph – Barnabas. In verse 4:36 Joseph is also called by the name Barnabas. This is traditional of this age and time that Jews would have an alternate Greek name, it is implied that Joseph was Hebrew because had he been a roman citizen during this time he would have 3 names. This is the practice of the time and not an error in the text. (Gaebelein, 314).
Barnabas, a Levite sold property that he held on Cypress and gave the money to the apostles. Barnabas became a believer in Jerusalem and him, as many other property owners sold that property as the need arose and gave it to the young church to promote its mission and eliminate poverty. Barnabas would later become the traveling and evangelizing partner of Paul as well as his advocate. There is, however, an issue with the donation of Barnabas.
The issue with the donation of Barnabas has to do with the Old Testament property laws. Levites were not permitted to own property.
Numbers 18:20 Then the LORD said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land nor own any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel” (NASB).
Numbers 18:24 “For the tithe of the sons of Israel, which they offer as an offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance; therefore I have said concerning them, ‘They shall have no inheritance among the sons of Israel”(NASB).
Deuteronomy 10:9 “Therefore, Levi does not have a portion or inheritance with his brothers; the LORD is his inheritance, just as the LORD your God spoke to him” (NASB).
Because of these Mosaic laws is it difficult to understand how Barnabas came into possession of the property in which he sold. While it should be noted that the property was sold in what appears to be in response to the Spirit’s prompting and the need for the Christians, this does and should cause pause. There are a few different theories on this issue.
The first theory is that these particular laws only applied to Palestine and because the property was in Cypress the Mosaic Law does not apply to it (Wiersbe, 420). Another theory is that Barnabas’s wife held property in Israel and they sold the property in Israel together (Walvoord, 364). Barnabas could have also obtained the property thru marriage (Kistemaker, 176). One other possibility is that the laws surrounding possession of property were no longer enforced or observed as seen in Jeremiah.
Jeremiah 1:1 The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin,
Jer 32:6-15 And Jeremiah said, “The word of the LORD came to me, saying, (7) ‘Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle is coming to you, saying, “Buy for yourself my field which is at Anathoth, for you have the right of redemption to buy it.“‘ (8) “Then Hanamel my uncle’s son came to me in the court of the guard according to the word of the LORD and said to me, ‘Buy my field, please, that is at Anathoth, which is in the land of Benjamin; for you have the right of possession and the redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.’ Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD. (9) “I bought the field which was at Anathoth from Hanamel my uncle’s son, and I weighed out the silver for him, seventeen shekels of silver. (10) “I signed and sealed the deed, and called in witnesses, and weighed out the silver on the scales. (11) “Then I took the deeds of purchase, both the sealed copy containing the terms and conditions and the open copy; (12) and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the sight of Hanamel my uncle’s son and in the sight of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, before all the Jews who were sitting in the court of the guard. (13) “And I commanded Baruch in their presence, saying, (14) ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, “Take these deeds, this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, that they may last a long time.” (15) ‘For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, “Houses and fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.”‘
Regardless of how Barnabas actually acquired the property he gave the proceeds without being compelled by law, precedent, or rule (Gaebelein, 312).
Click on any link below to read the other parts of this blog entry:
The Beginning of the Christian Church – Part 1
The Beginning of the Christian Church – Part 2
The Beginning of the Christian Church – Part 3
The Beginning of the Christian Church – Part 4
The Beginning of the Christian Church – Part 5
The Beginning of the Christian Church – Part 6