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According to Acts 4:32-37, the early Christians pooled all their possessions and had no private ownership. Is there any record of how long this lasted, and why it ended?

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Good Question. I feel like we should do this too. :) –  Phonics The Hedgehog Aug 30 '11 at 5:13
@ChaosGamer as long as everyone is compliant. –  Cryst Aug 30 '11 at 6:26
@Cyst: Should we base our obedience on that of others? –  Flimzy Aug 30 '11 at 9:50
Jesus is the standard. Did he care about owning land or having houses and possessions? –  user4750 Jun 12 '13 at 22:30

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

There is an excellent written words in this page on "No one that lacked..." section.

Acts 4:34 says that “there was not a needy person among them” due to distribution of the proceeds of the sale of houses and land.

Now, as stated above, we don’t know how long this arrangement continued. However, by the end of the eleventh chapter, there were certainly many needy believers, many who lacked. In fact the church in Judea had become so impoverished due to a worldwide famine that the Christians in Antioch took a collection to help them.

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It continued probably so long as there was something to sell. This is the fate of all communist groups - they live off capital others have created, and when this is exhausted, they vanish. –  Ingo Jan 5 '12 at 16:20
@Ingo That is true –  Phonics The Hedgehog Jan 5 '12 at 19:59
Peter didn't confront Ananias and Saphira for selling or not selling their property, he confronted them for lying about what they had done. The sin was the lie, not whether or not they sold. Also, at that time they were anticipating the immediate return of Christ, most probably assuming it would be within a few weeks or months, maybe years at the most, and if that were the case selling your property would be a wise investment. Nowadays we see people doing this in response to end of the world predictions and we call them, rightly, "fools". –  music2myear Aug 7 '13 at 21:05
So does what does this mean, not all Christian ideas work out? –  Greg McNulty Aug 8 '13 at 1:49

It continues to this day. There are still Christians in various traditions who practice some form of communal ownership. Many members of the Jesus Army, for example, share all their income and salary with the church (although reclaims can be made if individuals decide to leave the Church).

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If you look at the larger context of that account in Acts, it seems that it is referring to a specific group of Christians, and not necessarily "all Christians, everywhere:"

31 When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness. 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. -- Acts 4 (NRSV)

At least in the NRSV translation, it seems that verse 31 (and earlier) sets the stage for which group of Christians is being discussed. Then verse 32 and 33 appear to be a continuation of this account, which is discussing the same group of Christians, and not Christians at large. John Darby's commentary on Acts 4 also suggests that these verses are all in reference to a single account.

If this is accurate, then we probably have no way of knowing when this specific group of Christians stopped sharing their possessions.

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This passage refers to the very early days of the church, when "the Christians in Jerusalem" that this passage is talking about would have been pretty much the entire church. It is certainly the centre of Christian belief, since it includes Pater and Joh among its leaders. There is no evidence that it was not talking about the main body of Christians. –  DJClayworth Aug 30 '11 at 21:28
It also explicitly says "the whole group of those who believed", and says they "of one heart and soul". So even if the group was geographically separated, they were in agreement, including presumably on this matter. –  DJClayworth Aug 30 '11 at 21:30
@DJCLayworth: It's unclear from that translation if "the whole group" means "everywhere," or "The whole group who[, as a result of the previous verses] believed". Although I'm sure it would be possible to discern exactly what was meant by studying the original language. –  Flimzy Aug 30 '11 at 21:38

The sect of the Nazarenes (later called Ebionites by people critical of their lifestyle) shared everything in common. The sect survived perhaps into the 2nd. cent.

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