Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

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?

share|improve this question
Did it really end? Monastic communities have preserved this lifestyle and spirit in full force for 2000 years (the good ones anyways). Also, that verse says "neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own" (NKJV) This doesn't have to mean the establishment of a commune. A good parish, where regular folk have acquired the gift of generosity and hold what they own with an open hand could fit this description as well. Perhaps the Acts 4 spirit has only ceased in parts of Christianity (those that lean towards prosperity gospel?) – Ian May 27 at 17:06
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.

share|improve this answer
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
@Ingo, Lets not conflate modern communist idealism with Christian communalism. Many Christian monastic communes have been very successful and self-sustaining. Although modern political communes and Christian communalism may share superficial similarities, the ideals that drive them couldn't be more different. One adopts community to fully experience the spiritual life, the other adopts community because it rejects spirituality and is attempting to idealize the material. And Christian communalism is never compulsory like communism is. – Ian May 27 at 17:12

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).

share|improve this answer

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.

share|improve this answer
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.

share|improve this answer

All the believers, thousands by then, held their possessions in common, and distributed them according to need. (Acts Chap 2:41 and 44-45, Chap 4:32) Then some people started complaining about not getting their correct shares. So the 12 disciples requested that seven men be chosen who would attend to the distributing. This was so that the 12 would not have to spend their time attending to the distributions, and could instead spend their time spreading the word. The group of believers then chose Stephen and six others. Then certain groups that were connected to the synagogue started to complain about Stephen, accusing him falsely, and Stephen ended up being stoned to death. (Acts, all of Chap 6 and Chap 7:59-60, Chap 8:1-2) And the believers were scattered abroad after the tribulation that came after Stephen. (Acts 11:19) There is no further mention of possessions being held in common. Therefore, one can only speculate how long that lasted.

share|improve this answer
"There is no further mention of possessions being held in common." That's true of the biblical text, sure, but are you sure that the practice is never mentioned in any writings of the early church? Most of what we know about the practices of the early church comes from the writings of church fathers in the first several centuries, and your answer does not give me any confidence that you have considered that evidence. – Nathaniel May 16 at 15:21
To Nathaniel, you are correct. My statement only took into account what is in the biblical text. – Lana May 18 at 20:54

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.