Does the Book of Acts teach Socialism?

There seems to be a belief going around among non-Christians (and even some Christians) that the book of Acts teaches that the early Church promoted a form of socialism or communism. Some use this information to teach that big government is a good or holy thing. Others will use it to convince others that Jesus and his followers were evil. Does the book of Acts teach socialism or communism? Let’s take a look.

There are two passages in question when discussing this topic. The first is Acts 2:42-47. These verses say:

“They [the early Christians] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (emphasis mine)

The second passage can be found in Acts 5:1-11. In these verses, we are told about a believer named Ananias and his wife, Sapphira. They sold a piece of property and, instead of giving all of the profit to the Church; they kept some of it for themselves. Ananias then brought the rest of the money to the apostles. However, Peter told Ananias that Satan had filled his heart so that he lied to Holy Spirit and kept some of the money for himself. After saying this, Peter continued:

“Didn’t it [the property] belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.”

Ananias died immediately after hearing these words. About three hours later, his wife Sapphira came in to see Peter. Peter asked her if the money presented to the apostles was the exact amount that the land sold for. She said yes, and Peter asked her “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord?” She then immediately died.

This episode is thought by some to be proof that the early Church was practicing some form of socialism/communism. The believers “had everything in common.” They sold everything that they owned and gave it to others. This is clearly socialism according to some. Also, God killed Ananias and Sapphira because they dared to keep some of the money and make a profit. They are clearly evil capitalists!

Are these passages teaching socialism or communism?

The answer to this question is a big no(!) if one takes the time to study the verses in question. First, it needs to be pointed out the book of Acts portrays the early Christians as selling their property and giving to others freely. They are not being forced to give away their property to others by a central authority.

Second, socialism and communism directly contradict key teachings of Christianity in the form of the Ten Commandments. The eighth and tenth commandments teach not to steal and covet the possessions of others. These economic systems give the government authority to take from others forcibly thus breaking these commandments. The early Church community was selling their property and giving to others out of the goodness of their hearts. The Gospel frees us from our selfishness so that we will willingly help others and even put ourselves below the needs of others (Philippians 2:3-4).

Third, the book of Acts teaches that Christians continued to own private property (Acts 21:8), thus showing that the Church never commanded that they had to sell their possessions. It was voluntary. This model that the Jerusalem church is practicing during this time is never forced upon all Christians by an authoritarian church leadership.

Fourth, it must also be noticed that the community of believers gave to those who had need. They didn’t just sell everything and start randomly giving things out to people.

Fifth, concerning the issue with Ananias and Sapphira, it is also clear that they were not killed by God because they kept some of the money. Peter says that they are in trouble because they lied to God. They apparently told Peter that the money they were giving to the Church was all the money they had made from the selling of their property. Judging from the way Sapphira spoke it seems obvious that she and her husband had planned the lie.

Sixth, Marxism is based upon an atheistic view of the world, (thus breaking the first two commandments).[1]  It is also based upon class warfare which is never taught in Scripture. The Gospel is the key to removing different classes in society. How can the rich look down on the poor if they love their neighbor as themselves or follow the golden rule? They can’t. A society that truly follows the Gospel of Jesus Christ will resemble a utopia much more than a communist state.

What do you think? Do you agree with this article?

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[1] It is true that not every socialist or communist has to be an atheist. However, if one follows these economic models they are not following the teachings of the God of the Bible. They are still disobeying the first two commandments. If a Christian is a socialist they are being inconsistent by mixing biblical and non-biblical teachings.

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