Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary
Religion, New Testament PhD
Luke, in the book of Acts, depicts the sharing of possessions as a practice in the Jerusalem community of the first century. Several pericopes, occurring primarily in the first part of the book of Acts, embody the idea of shared property and seem to have important parallels to other sources of the time, including the Jewish author Philo’s work De vita contemplativa, where he describes a group he calls, “Therapeutae,” and in the Jewish Christian document Didache. This study seeks to identify beliefs correlated with the material sharing practices in the community of Acts and compare them with De vita contemplativa and the Didache with the goal of better understanding the motivations for material sharing in the early Jerusalem community as described by Luke in the book of Acts.
Chapter 1 introduces the three documents to be examined. It also outlines the reasons for the selection of these three different sources. In addition, it describes the literary methodology that is used as the basis for the study.
Chapter 2 analyzes various passages in Acts related to sharing of material possessions. The descriptor “everything in common,” is first found in Acts 2:41–47 where it describes the life of the first Christians where κοινωνία functions as a pivotal term used to describe the practice of material sharing by the Jerusalem community. This is further illustrated in Acts 4:32 where “no one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” The story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1–12 narrates a negative experience of material sharing. However, this passage clarifies that the sharing practices in Acts did not lead to a loss of private property rights. In Acts 6:1–7 the administrative structure for sharing is altered in response to a disagreement within the community. While exponential growth in membership takes place in the context of material sharing, the growth contributes to changes in administrative structures. Acts 6 is the last time in the book where the community-wide daily sharing is described. In Acts 11:27–30 the need for the church in Antioch to share with the believers in Jerusalem brings into question the effectiveness of the earlier models described in Acts 2, 4, and 6. A key motivation for sharing in the Acts community is their belief in the “last days” as indicated by Peter’s quotation of Joel 2 and its connection to the Spirit in Acts 2:17 and also in 2:38 which provides the setting for the κοινωνία described in 2:42–44. This belief in the parousia is not contrary to the belief in the Spirit but works along with it. The miraculous sharing of possessions happens under the transformative influence of the Holy Spirit as highlighted in the promise for the last days found in Acts 2:17.
Chapter 3 analyzes the description of the Therapeutae in Philo’s De vita contemplativa. Among this community, κοινωνία is also significant. However, the term is used differently than in Acts. For Philo, κοινωνία is an important philosophical concept related to humanity’s search for the ultimate experience of seeing and knowing God through the life of the soul. Material sharing happens primarily in the context of joining the Therapeutae when the initiate gives away all of their belongings. While an underlying practice of common things in relationship to weekly meals and celebrations exists, the goal of spiritual self-realization among the community of the Therapeutae distinguishes their material sharing from the practice described in Acts.
Chapter 4 studies the Christian community who were the recipients of the anonymous document, the Didache. While the Didache has some descriptive elements, it mostly gives instructions on the life of the community. In this document, the community is instructed to practice material sharing. It appears here in a different form than in the early chapters of Acts, being a form of personal alms giving rather than a daily, community-wide practice of having “all things in common.” In the Didache, the κοινωνοί are those who are fellow believers in the community rather than those sharing material possessions.
In the concluding chapter 5, the three different communities are compared and contrasted as to their practice of material sharing. The unique outpouring of the Holy Spirit for the last-days led the community described in Acts to radically reorient their approach to material possessions. This organic ministry model stands in contrast to that of the inner-life focus of the Therapeutae and the instructional exhortations to material sharing found in the Didache.
Bible. Acts 5--Criticism, interpretation, etc.; Sharing--Religious aspects--Christianity; Philo, of Alexandria. De vita comtemplativa--Criticism, interpretation, etc.; Didache
Toews, Lena V., "Motivation for the Sharing of Material Possessions in Acts, Philo's De Vita Contemplativa and the Didache: A Comparative Study" (2019). Dissertations. 1692.
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