The Book of Acts Day 2

Sunday, September 03, 2006

I had wanted to just post what I had felt over the 2 days of lecture, something that meant a lot me but upon reading Codepoke's comment, I must do both because the discussion over Ananias & Saphirra and communal sharing of property is certainly too good to keep quiet about. After class, the lecturer only had one word, "Fun!"

Firstly, what I felt. It has to do with the lecturer. He is a very, very learned person, whose wife is from Greece. Ironically, she teaches English and he teaches Greek. I am not sure what he teaches other than Acts and Greek but I heard him mention Mark, Luke and Revelations as well. He also has a penchant for history and the inter-testmental period literature. And when he lectured over the past 2 days, he does it with a fervour and we can seriously hear it in his voice. He speaks in a normal tone but sometime I thought I hear his voice break, as if one is going to break down and cry. I attributed it at first to his voice, which maybe breaks after prolonged speaking. But at one point, when he was talking about how churches have broken in disunity, his voice broke, we saw his eyes were red and then we saw tears. Oh boy, I thought.

Later, as I thought about it, I was touched. Here, I have a teacher who teaches from his heart. What he is doing is certainly not academic and certainly not just facts and doctrines or dogma, but truth and life. It became so much clearer to me when I brought some Sunday School kids through the topic of the Bread of Life (following our trip to the bread factory recently). When I told them Jesus said, "This is my body, which is broken for you," one of the boys, being boisterous as they all were during the lesson, laughed and said, "Broken?" I asked them, "Who among us have watched the Passion?" A few hands went up. "Do you not know that what had happened to Jesus then could even be worse that what we see in this movie?" At this point of time, I nearly broke down and it was also at this time I remembered our lecturer.

It is a reminder to me that in whatever I do, whether I teach or I sing or I lead or I help, it is the heart that counts. Why did God choose David over all his brothers? His heart what all that matters. It is our heart that matters.

Now onto the interesting parts of the lecture!

He touches just on 2 sections today which took us a long time, with some rather interesting class discussion and disagreements as well as bewilderment as to whether the act of communal property sharing a prescription or a description.

Ananias and Sapphira
Acts 5:1-11

The death of Ananias Sapphira can be regarded a miracle in the negative sense. Its parallel in the OT is Achan in Joshua 7. Both happened in the start of a new era in the life of the Jewish community or church. It shows a consistency of God's character in the OT and NT - he is the same God operating in both. Peter's case against Ananias was that he lied, it was deliberate, there is collusion and it was not a honest mistake.

The question of discussion that he got us into group to ponder upon are these:

1. What is hypocrisy and why is it so dangerous?
Hypocrisy is a behaviour in which a person pretends to have higher standards or beliefs than is the case. Our thoughts on why it is dangerous include the following points:
- there is a deceiving of self and self- justification
- it is work of the human and not the Holy Spirit; it will not cause the spreading of the gospel, and thus putting a halt to mission
- it will cause distrust in the community
- it will cause a precedent or a bad example that others in the community might just as well pick it up
- there is deceit in the community causing the foundation of the community to break
- it will cause more sinning

2. How should we interpret the death of Ananias and Sapphira?
God is still very serious about sin.

3. How should we deal with sin in the Church?
There are several models in the Scriptures that can be use including the counsel of the leaders and the church to the sinful party. But several points were also brought up:
- there will be a tension between different parties in the Church, one group will demand for judgement and ex-communication while another group will call for forgiveness instead, calling on the love of brothers and sisters in the community. It is the handling of these 2 tensions that also need to be worked upon other than the sinful person, who nevertheless needs to be dealt with but until and unless there is an agreement, the matter would stay unresolved
- there will be known sin and unknown ones: sins of people who comes out in light or those that remain hidden e.g. adultery, theft, lies, pornography, etc. that both needs to be dealt differently

The Fellowship of Believers
Acts 2:42-47

The lecturer uses the work of Capper (Reciprocity and the Ethics of Acts) to explain this section. The main concern of this passage is whether what Luke has so enthusiastically and emphatically presented in Acts a description or prescription.

The practice of communal living and the sharing of property is not radical back in that time as it is a practice that is present among some communities - among some of the Jewish and the Essenes. The Greek do not practice but they think it is ideal. So why did Luke include it then? What does he want to communicate to his audience, in this case, the Gentiles and the Diaspora Jews? What does Acts teach us about property?

The communal sharing of property is only mentioned in Acts 2 and 4, and in a modified form in Acts 6, after which there is no more mention but the practice of almsgiving takes place. Much were discussed but here is what I have in conclusion, as according to Capper, which the lecturer felt is the best explanation so far as to why he thinks that this section of Acts is not a prescription but a description:

The act of communal sharing of property were practiced by the Jews at one time, which Luke has picked up and noted it in Acts for his audience in the Gentile world. The Greek of that time has this concept of The Golden Age, very much like our concept of paradise and utopia. Therefore, in that background of the Graeco Roman world, Luke tells them something that is being practiced among the Jews, not expecting them to take it into practice but nevertheless as something important to teach them a heart of sharing and caring for the poor and needy. The people need to share their life and wealth with friends rather than having a patron-client relationship i.e. the rich giving to the poor making the poor in debt.

Certainly not an easy passage to do an exegesis, to understand and explain why we are not called to sell ALL our property and live communally.

Picture by Marinka van Holten

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2 comment(s)

  1. You're just doing this to make me jealous. ;-)

    Your professor sounds like a treasure. I think I'd try to follow him for a couple more classes.

    On your subject of community, I agree that we should not have all things in common. It offers too large an opportunity for sin to creep in .

    But then you never really mention community again?

    There is community without sharing of property, and it is beautiful. It was practiced frequently by Christians all around the Mediterranean, I believe. All the Christians would congregate in one ghetto.

    Our lives would be 100% better if we practiced community now. Don't let the subject fade away so quickly!

    But at one point, when he was talking about how churches have broken in disunity, his voice broke, we saw his eyes were red and then we saw tears.


    What if we dissolved our denominations, and reorganized our churches based on locality? Into communities? I bet that idea won't make him weep.

  2. You're just doing this to make me jealous.

    LOL ... of course not.

    Your professor sounds like a treasure.

    He certainly is!

    But then you never really mention community again?

    I do not mean that it is not important, by not mentioning it. Just being faithful to the book of Acts, in that it is only mentioned in 2,4 and 6 in a different form. We are called to live in a close and loving community of which Luke himself would have already stressed time and again in the gospel.

    I bet that idea won't make him weep.

    I bet that it would :) but with joy.