Were the first Christians Socialists?

Now that Bernie Sanders has made socialism cool again, were the early church socialists?

We have to ask because of those famous passages in Acts 2.44-45 and 4.32-35 about the believers selling their property and depositing the proceeds in a general fund, and quite understandably, people have touted the first Christians as proto-socialists. On the one hand, this has some traction since the Lucan Jesus always sides with the ‘poor’ and frequently condemns the rich (e.g. Lk 16.19-31 on the Rich man and Lazarus). Plus Luke describes how in the church there was ‘no needy persons among them’ (Acts 4.34) which itself is a rehash of the Law of Moses which commanded that the covenant community be one where there were no persons in need (Dt 15.4). It helps as well if we remember that another Jewish sect, the Essenes, appear to have practiced pooling wealth and possessions (CD 14.13; Philo, Quod Omnis Probus, 76-77, 85-87; Hypothetica 11.4-13; Josephus, Ant. 18.20-22; War 2.122-27) and even Roman authors like Seneca idealized a past when ‘you could not find a single pauper’ (Ep. 90.38). So it makes sense that the early church, thinking of itself as the vanguard of a renewed Israel, believed that it was called to a particular form of covenant community justice where wealth was shared and no-one was left to fend for themselves (see also Gal 2.10; 2 Cor 8.13-15; Jas 1.26-2.7). What is more, this sort of thing was necessary if the church, made up mainly of Galileans, was to sustain itself in Jerusalem, it would need an economic support for its leaders and care for the vulnerable in its ranks.

As to whether this is ‘socialism,’ well, technically no. I don’t think Peter or John were interested in getting the state to regulate the means of production when it came to the amount of olives, wheat, and grapes that were harvested; with the state also controlling the distribution of these goods by selling them at a fixed price at specified times of the year. In addition there is no indication that disciples were expected to give up all private property. The donation of goods was voluntary (see Acts 5.4) and it seems that people kept some property, otherwise, they would have nowhere to live and nowhere to meet (see Acts 12.12-13)!

So, no, not socialists, but probably generous in a way that would put most of us to shame.

See further:

Hays, Christopher 2010. Luke’s Wealth Ethics: A Study in Their Coherence and Character. WUNT 2.275; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck.

Walton, Steve. 2008. ‘Primitive Communism in Acts? Does Acts Present the Community of Goods (2:44-45; 4:32-35) as Mistaken?’ EQ 80: 99-111.

Why Systematicians Really Need to Use the Old Testament

A week ago, Rick Brannan of Logos's LAB blog, did an analysis of all the scriptural texts used in systematic theologies, and he noticed there an absolute dearth of references to the Old Testament.Over at CT, Caleb Lindgren, has enlisted several scholars - including myself - to reflect on these statistics, in a piece called Sorry, Old Testament: Most Theologians Don't Use You.My response was: “I found it somewhere between interesting and alarming that the Old Testament features r … [Read More...]

Turning the World Upside Down, Down Under

Over at CT I have an article called "Turning the World Upside Down, Down Under," which is basically about how the Benedict Option is not really an option in Australia, and instead we need another approach, what I call the Thessalonian Strategy.I conclude:Remember, the center of gravity for secular progressives is the belief that they occupy the moral high ground. So our strategy needs to expose how this movement has come to represent silencing, threatening, humiliating, and penalizing … [Read More...]

Was Jesus Wrong about the End of the World?

Christopher M. Hays et al When the Son of Man Didn't Come: A Constructive Proposal on the Delay of the Parousia Minneapolis: Fortress, 2016. Available at Amazon.com … [Read More...]

Matthew 18:1-14 and the Abuse of Children

I just read an interesting article by Lorne Zelyck, "Matthew 18,1-14 and the Exposure and Sexual Abuse of Children in the Roman World,"Biblica 98.1  (2017): 37-54.Normally the "little ones" are taken to refer to new disciples, who should not be lead astray by mature believers. However, Zelyck a … [Read More...]

Paula Fredriksen’s New Book on Paul

Forthcoming from Paula Fredriksen, Paul: The Pagans' Apostle (Yale Uni Press) - available in late August.Often seen as the author of timeless Christian theology, Paul himself heatedly maintained that he lived and worked in history’s closing hours. His letters propel his readers into two an … [Read More...]

Josh Jipp Reviews John Gager on Paul and Judaism

There's a great review of John Gager, Who Made Early Christianity? The Jewish Lives of the Apostles Paul (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015) by Joshua W. Jipp, "Is the Apostle Paul the Father of Christian Anti-Judaism? Engaging John Gager's Who Made Early Christianity,"HBT 39 (2017): 83- … [Read More...]

New Edition of Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses

There is a second edition of Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017).There's a nice forward by Simon Gathercole noting the significance of Bauckham's book when it came out in 2006.The volume includes three … [Read More...]

The Fight for the Trinity: Second Video

Logos Mobile has released a second video I made with them about last year's Trinity debate.The next video includes:- My account on how the debate got started. - My take on how this was actually good for the complementarian movement. - Plus pictures of me dressed as a 17-year-old infantry … [Read More...]

Would You like to Read a Systematic Theology Written by a Nineteenth Century Ex-Slave and Pastor

I just heard the news that Lexham Press (Logos/Faithlife) will be releasing  Plain Theology for Plain People by Charles Octavius Boothe, who was ex-slave and founding pastor of a number of churches.According to Lexham Press: Boothe was born into slavery in 1845 in Mobile County, Alabama. … [Read More...]

Ben Myers Tweets the Trinity

Over at Faith and Theology, Ben Myers tweets the Trinity, it's a must read!Here's a few highlights#1. Start by abolishing Trinity Sunday, that fateful day on which preachers think they have to explain the Trinity.#10. How does Augustine differ? He takes just one principle of "Greek" … [Read More...]

Reflections on SBL Statement on Academic Freedom

I have just read the SBL statement on Academic Freedom, Critical Inquiry, and Participation in the Society of Biblical Literature.All in all, I think it is a healthy and sensible statement. I particularly liked the core paragraph: Members participating in meetings of the Society of Biblical … [Read More...]

A Little Book for New Bible Scholars by Randy Richards and Joey Dodson

E. Randolph Richards & Joseph R. Dodson A Little Book for New Bible Scholars: Why and How to Study the Bible Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2017. Available at Amazon.comThis really is a charming and helpful little book about how to be a biblical scholar. It is necessary reading for anyone … [Read More...]

The Fight for the Trinity: The New Logos Series

Over at the LAB, you can find a short promo video featuring myself about the Trinity War that took place among evangelicals about this time last year!This is part of Logos Mobile's mini-documentary/short course on the Trinity that explains what the debate what was about, what was at stake, and … [Read More...]

Great Review of What Christians Ought To Believe

Over at Ethics and Culture is a great review of What Christians Ought To Believe, here's my favourite part: Everything Bird writes is entertaining. His punchy prose springs from the page, even when he’s writing deep theology. He intentionally uses attention grabbing language and examples to make im … [Read More...]