Community of Goods in the Book of Acts

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Puritan Board Freshman
I presume that everyone on PB would be in general agreement with Belgic Confession Art36:-

“Wherefore we detest the Anabaptists and other seditious people, and in general all those who reject the higher powers and magistrates, and would subvert justice, introduce community of goods, and confound that decency and good order, which God has established among men.”

If anyone is interested in the thought and actions of the radical Anabaptists try this article, which is an eye-opener :-

But just focussing on the issue of community of goods, the Anabaptists and other communist groups usual appeal to Acts 2:44-47 and Acts 4:32-35 which says, “Neither was there any among them that lacked; for as many as were possessors of land or houses sold them, and brought the piece of the things that were sold, And laid them at the apostles feet; and distribution was made unto every man according as he had needed.”

There seems to a a measure of tension between the statement in the Confession and the example of the apostles in the Book of Acts, and I notice that most commentators
treat the sharing of goods as a kind of spontaneous one-off situation, almost as if they were overzealous.

I have thought of another possible explanation but I lack commentary backup. My explanation is that the apostles were well aware from Jesus warning in Matt 24 and Luke 21 that when Jerusalem was surrounded by armies that would have to leave in a hurry with no opportunity to dispose of assets. The only date indication they had for this was “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place”, which meant some time within the next 30 or 40 years at the most, but it could be next year. What would a prudent Christian who owned a farm, a house or a business do in the light of such a future? The logical thing to do would be to sell everything in order to realise its value while it was still worth something. It looks as if there was a period of rapid growth in converts during this period and a need for money, so to put the money in the hands of the elders and deacons made sense, particularly because the time of flight was uncertain and the need for money at that time could be considerable.

I would like to know if anyone can point to commentators who have considered these issues, or whether there is a problem with my reasoning.


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
The question of substance is: whether the Anabaptist "community of goods" was an accurate reflection of the sharing of assets that is on display in the early church in particular, or in Christian churches down through the centuries since. The Christian church's counter-claim is that they've done no less in all ages since but continue--in different degrees, perhaps; but never in different kind--the same exhibits of generosity and mutual burden-bearing that was on display in the church from its earliest NT days.

It is entirely begging the question for the Anabaptist to "win" his argument (or for a non-Anabaptist analyst to presume the Anabaptist was the "consistent" Protestant) simply with the claim that their radical interpretation of particular texts is self-evidently correct, or true to some principle.

The Anabaptist claim was to have recovered the lost (for centuries) but the (one) true representation of Christian society. They were the arrival of the kingdom of God, unseen for nearly 1400yrs by the 1520s. And they believed that by certain outward manifestations (whether it was prophetic-utterance, tongue-speaking, miracle-working, or communism) the manners which characterized their apocalyptic groups were repristinating the NT experience in their generation.

John Gill has an opinion similar to yours, writing on Act.4:32, "They also knew, that in process of time, Jerusalem would be destroyed, and they could not tell how soon; and therefore judged it right to sell off their possessions, and throw the money into one common stock, for their mutual support, and for the carrying on the common cause of Christ."

Movement communism--religious or atheist--is inherently compulsory. Nothing is more "self-evident" that private property was still normal and unquestionably moral in the 1C Jerusalem church, see Act.5:4; but the voluntary is forced to give way to the demands of centralizers. Communistic leaders invariably impose austerity and other common sufferings on the rank-and-file, while justifying their unique privileges which belong to the anointed ones as compensation for their "extra burdens."

What is most (and sadly) astonishing is the apparent ease with which people are gulled by such charlatans. With each forward step into the dark, the cost to one's ego (self-respect) that turning back entails proves too much; and so they hang on to the prospect of Gnostic privilege when enlightenment proves they were on the "right side" all along.
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