Gleanings From The Text
In this brief passage, Luke uses the ancient rhetorical device known as “chiasmus”, which is used to order the details of a story into an inverted parallelism. It usually follows the pattern of ABCB`A` with C as the vertex in the middle as a focal point.
A. Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, an no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. (4:32)
B. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. (4:33a)
C. And great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them. (4:33b-34a)
B`. For as many as owned land or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the feet of the apostles. (4:34b-35a)
A`. And it was distributed to each as any had need. (4:35b)
In this case, the renunciation of private ownership and sharing of goods is A (4:32), the redistribution of goods according to need is A` (4:35b), the great power of the apostles is B (4:33a), and apostles’ authority as seen by the laying of proceeds of what was sold at their feet is B` (4:34b-35a). The focal point (C) in this chiasmus is Luke’s emphasis on the need for God’s grace when we seek to be in community and share the gifts of God with one another.
Food For Thought
At first glance this passage appears to advance an impossible standard. How many of us would willingly give all of our possessions for the common good? When reading this passage recently with my youth group, some heard a call to communism. But, based on further reflection on this passage, it is more about grace than a vow of poverty. Luke places the grace of God at the center of this passage. This grace implores those in this group to act with one heart and soul; it drives them to respond to the needs of others before tending to their own wants and desires. If we focus only on the actions of the group without understanding its motivations, we miss Luke’s point that all needs are met in responding to grace granted to us by God through Jesus Christ. If the group did not act with one heart and soul, the sharing of goods would be an empty gesture and one destined to failure. Since this group acts with one heart and soul, it is uplifted and held as an example to the growing community of believers.
Sink Your Teeth Into This!
When reading this pericope, I was reminded of my childhood. When I was in elementary school, I had a group of friends that in some ways acted with one heart and soul. I hesitate to claim that the grace of God was overtly upon a group of young, energetic, and sometimes rambunctious boys, but I think the similarity holds. We could be found together at all hours of the day and night and in all parts of the neighborhood. We would spend hours at each other’s houses for sleepovers, video games, and whatever else we could dream up.
Different people had different things to offer: one had a video game system, one had a big back yard, one had a basketball goal, and one had the best action figures. But the beauty of this group was that we all treated them as if they were held in common. When the group was at my house, we ate the food provided there; if we were at another’s house, we ate there. We shared everything, from clothes and toys to meals and games, so it was like we were all living in abundance. We shared, not out of duty or a sense of rule, but out of a sense of community and grace. It is that type of community that can only come when the members are acting with one heart and soul. Maybe in the long run we should listen to the call from Christ that we should have faith like a child.
The New Interpreter’s Bible: Acts, Introduction to Epistolary Literature, Romans, 1 Corinthians Volume X, Abingdon Press Nashville, TN 1995.