Acts 4:32
And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(32) And the multitude of them that believed.—Literally, And the heart and the soul of the multitude of those that believed were one. Of the two words used to describe the unity of the Church, “heart” represented, as in Hebrew usage, rather the intellectual side of character (Mark 2:6; Mark 2:8; Mark 11:23; Luke 2:35; Luke 3:15; Luke 6:45, et al.), and “soul,” the emotional (Luke 2:35; Luke 12:22; John 12:27, et al.). As with most like words, however, they often overlap each other, and are used together to express the totality of character without minute analysis. The description stands parallel with that of Acts 2:42-47, as though the historian delighted to dwell on the continuance, as long as it lasted, of that ideal of a common life of equality and fraternity after which philosophers had yearned, in which the rights of property, though not abolished, were, by the spontaneous action of its owners, made subservient to the law of love, and benevolence was free and full, without the “nicely calculated less or more” of a later and less happy time. The very form of expression implies that the community of goods was not compulsory. The goods still belonged to men, but they did not speak of them as their own. They had learned, as from our Lord’s teaching (Luke 16:10-14), to think of themselves, not as possessors, but as stewards.

Acts

THE WHEAT AND THE TARES

Acts 4:32
. - Acts 5:11.

Once more Luke pauses and gives a general survey of the Church’s condition. It comes in appropriately at the end of the account of the triumph over the first assault of civil authority, which assault was itself not only baffled, but turned to good. Just because persecution had driven them closer to God and to one another, were the disciples so full of brotherly love and of grace as Luke delights to paint them.

I. We note the fair picture of what the Church once was.

The recent large accessions to it might have weakened the first feelings of brotherhood, so that it is by no means superfluous to repeat substantially the features of the earlier description {Acts 2:44 - Acts 2:45}. ‘The multitude’ is used with great meaning, for it was a triumph of the Spirit’s influence that the warm stream of brotherly love ran through so many hearts, knit together only by common submission to Jesus. That oneness of thought and feeling was the direct issue of the influx of the Spirit mentioned as the blessed result of the disciples’ dauntless devotion {Acts 4:31}. If our Churches were ‘filled with the Holy Ghost,’ we too should be fused into oneness of heart and mind, though our organisations as separate communities continued, just as all the little pools below high-water mark are made one when the tide comes up.

The first result and marvellous proof of that oneness was the so-called ‘community of goods,’ the account of which is remarkable both because it all but fills this picture, and because it is broken into two by Acts 4:33, rapidly summarising other characteristics. The two halves may be considered together, and it may be noted that the former presents the sharing of property as the result of brotherly unity, while the latter traces it {‘for,’ Acts 4:34} to the abundant divine grace resting on the whole community. The terms of the description should be noted, as completely negativing the notion that the fact in question was anything like compulsory abolition of the right of individual ownership. ‘Not one of them said that aught of the things which he possessed was his own.’ That implies that the right of possession was not abolished. It implies, too, that the common feeling of brotherhood was stronger than the self-centred regard which looks on possessions as to be used for self. Thus they possessed as though they possessed not, and each held his property as a trust from God for his brethren.

We must observe, further, that the act of selling was the owners’, as was the act of handing the proceeds to the Apostles. The community had nothing to do with the money till it had been given to them. Further, the distribution was not determined by the rule of equality, but by the ‘need’ of the recipients; and its result was not that all had share and share alike, but that ‘none lacked.’

There is nothing of modern communism in all this, but there is a lesson to the modern Church as to the obligations of wealth and the claims of brotherhood, which is all but universally disregarded. The spectre of communism is troubling every nation, and it will become more and more formidable, unless the Church learns that the only way to lay it is to live by the precepts of Jesus and to repeat in new forms the spirit of the primitive Church. The Christian sense of stewardship, not the abolition of the right of property, is the cure for the hideous facts which drive men to shriek ‘Property is theft.’

Luke adds two more points to his survey,-the power of the Apostolic testimony, and the great grace which lay like a bright cloud on the whole Church. The Apostles’ special office was to bear witness to the Resurrection. They held a position of prominence in the Church by virtue of having been chosen by Jesus and having been His companions, but the Book of Acts is silent about any of the other mysterious powers which later ages have ascribed to them. The only Apostles who appear in it are Peter, John, and James, the last only in a parenthesis recording His martyrdom. Their peculiar work was to say, ‘Behold! we saw, and know that He died and rose again.’

II. The general description is followed by one example of the surrender of wealth, which is noteworthy as being done by one afterwards to play a great part in the book, and also as leading on to an example of hypocritical pretence. Side by side stand Barnabas and the wretched couple, Ananias and Sapphira.

Luke introduces the new personage with some particularity, and, as He does not go into detail without good reason, we must note his description. First, the man’s character is given, as expressed in the name bestowed by the Apostles, in imitation of Christ’s frequent custom. He must have been for some time a disciple, in order that his special gift should have been recognised. He was a ‘son of exhortation’; that is, he had the power of rousing and encouraging the faith and stirring the believing energy of the brethren. An example of this was given in Antioch, where he ‘exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.’ So much the more beautiful was his self-effacement when with Paul, for it was the latter who was ‘the chief speaker.’ Barnabas felt that his gift was less than his brother’s, and so, without jealousy, took the second place. He, being silent, yet speaketh, and bids us learn our limits, and be content to be surpassed.

We are next told his rank. He was a Levite. The tribe to which a disciple belongs is seldom mentioned, but probably the reason for specifying Barnabas’ was the same as led Luke, in another place, to record that ‘a great company of the priests was obedient to the faith.’ The connection of the tribe of Levi with the Temple worship made accessions from it significant, as showing how surely the new faith was creeping into the very heart of the old system, and winning converts from the very classes most interested in opposing it. Barnabas’ significance is further indicated by the notice that he was ‘a man of Cyprus,’ and as such, the earliest mentioned of the Hellenists or foreign-born and Greek-speaking Jews, who were to play so important a part in the expansion of the Church.

His first appearance witnessed to the depth and simple genuineness of his character and faith. The old law forbidding Levites to hold land had gradually become inoperative, and perhaps Barnabas’ estate was in Cyprus, though more probably it was, like that of his relative Mary, the mother of Mark, in Jerusalem. He did as many others were doing, and brought the proceeds to the assembly of the brethren, and there publicly laid them at the Apostles’ feet, in token of their authority to administer them as they thought well.

III. Why was Barnabas’ act singled out for mention, since there was nothing peculiar about it?

Most likely because it stimulated Ananias and his wife to imitation. Wherever there are signal instances of Christian self-sacrifice, there will spring up a crop of base copies. Ananias follows Barnabas as surely as the shadow the substance. It was very likely a pure impulse which led him and his wife to agree to sell their land; and it was only when they had the money in their hands, and had to take the decisive step of parting with it, and reducing themselves to pennilessness, that they found the surrender harder than they could carry out. Satan spoils many a well-begun work, and we often break down half-way through a piece of Christian unselfishness. Well begun is half-but only half-ended.

Be that as it may, Peter’s stern words to Ananias put all the stress of the sin on its being an acted lie. The motives of the trick are not disclosed. They may have been avarice, want of faith, greed of applause, reluctance to hang back when others were doing like Barnabas. It is hard to read the mingled motives which lead ourselves wrong, and harder to separate them in the case of another. How much Ananias kept back is of no moment; indeed, the less he retained the greater the sin; for it is baser, as well as more foolish, to do wrong for a little advantage than for a great one.

Peter’s two questions bring out very strikingly the double source of the sin. ‘Why hath Satan filled thy heart?’-an awful antithesis to being filled with the Spirit. Then there is a real, malign Tempter, who can pour evil affections and purposes into men’s hearts. But he cannot do it unless the man opens his heart, as that ‘why?’ implies. The same thought of our co-operation and concurrence, so that, however Satan suggests, it is we who are guilty, comes out in the second question, ‘How is it that thou hast conceived this thing in thy heart?’ Reverently we may venture to say that not only Christ stands at the door and knocks, but that the enemy of Him and His stands there too, and he too enters ‘if any man opens the door.’ Neither heaven nor hell can come in unless we will.

The death of Ananias was not inflicted by Peter, ‘Hearing these words’ he ‘fell down and’ died. Surely that expression suggests that the stern words had struck at his life, and that his death was the result of the agitation of shame and guilt which they excited. That does not at all conflict with regarding his death as a punitive divine act.

One can fancy the awed silence that fell on the congregation, and the restrained, mournful movement that ran through it when Sapphira entered. Why the two had not come in company can only be conjectured. Perhaps the husband had gone straight to the Apostles after completing the sale, and had left the wife to follow at her convenience. Perhaps she had not intended to come at all, but had grown alarmed at the delay in Ananias’ return. She may have come in fear that something had gone wrong, and that fear would be increased by her not seeing her husband in her quick glance round the company.

If she came expecting to receive applause, the silence and constraint that hung over the assembly must have stirred a fear that something terrible had happened, which would be increased by Peter’s question. It was a merciful opportunity given her to separate herself from the sin and the punishment; but her lie was glib, and indicated determination to stick to the fraud. That moment was heavy with her fate, and she knew it not; but she knew that she had the opportunity of telling the truth, and she did not take it. She had to make the hard choice which we have sometimes to make, to be true to some sinful bargain or be true to God, and she chose the worse part. Which of the two was tempter and which was tempted matters little. Like many a wife, she thought that it was better to be loyal to her husband than to God, and so her honour was ‘rooted in dishonour,’ and she was falsely true and truly false.

The judgment on Sapphira was not inflicted by Peter. He foretold it by his prophetic power, but it was the hand of God which vindicated the purity of the infant Church. The terrible severity of the punishment can only be understood by remembering the importance of preserving the young community from corruption at the very beginning. Unless the vermin are cleared from the springing plant, it will not grow. As Achan’s death warned Israel at the beginning of their entrance into the promised land, so Ananias and Sapphira perished, that all generations of the Church might fear to pretend to self-surrender while cherishing its opposite, and might feel that they have to give account to One who knows the secrets of the heart, and counts nothing as given if anything is surreptitiously kept back.Acts 4:32-35. And the multitude of them that believed — All the individuals, male and female, that, having believed on Jesus, had joined themselves to the Christian Church, numerous as they were; were of one heart and one soul — Were perfectly united in love to God and one another, according to the full meaning of Christ’s prayer, John 17:20-23. Their desires and designs, their hopes and joys, were the same; neither said any of them Ουδεεις ελεγεν, not so much as one of them, in so great a multitude, said, that aught of the things which he possessed was his own — A natural consequence this of that union of heart which they had with each other; but they had all things in common — Each was as welcome to participate of them as the original proprietor could be, being, in those new bonds of Christian fellowship, as dear to him as himself. And with great power — That is, with a divine force of eloquence and of miracles; gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus — That main pillar and chief corner-stone of Christianity, supporting and connecting the whole fabric of it in all its parts. And great grace was upon them all — A large measure of the inward power of the Holy Ghost, directing and influencing all their tempers, words, and works. Neither was there any among them that lacked — Though many of them were far from their habitations, and many others in low circumstances of life. We may observe, this is added as a proof that great grace was upon them all; and it was the immediate, necessary consequence of it; yea, and must be to the end of the world. In all ages and nations the same cause, the same degree of grace, could not but, in like circumstances, produce the same effect. For as many as were possessors of lands, &c., sold them — Not that there was any particular command for this; but there was great grace and great love, of which this was the natural fruit. And brought the prices, and laid them at the apostles’ feet — To be disposed of as they should direct; and distribution was made — First by the apostles themselves; afterward by them whom they appointed, with the strictest fidelity; unto every man according as he had need — For his present relief; the apostles deeming themselves sufficiently happy, while living in the same plain manner with their brethren, in the opportunity which the divine goodness gave them, of being so helpful to others, both in things temporal and spiritual.4:32-37 The disciples loved one another. This was the blessed fruit of Christ's dying precept to his disciples, and his dying prayer for them. Thus it was then, and it will be so again, when the Spirit shall be poured upon us from on high. The doctrine preached was the resurrection of Christ; a matter of fact, which being duly explained, was a summary of all the duties, privileges, and comforts of Christians. There were evident fruits of Christ's grace in all they said and did. They were dead to this world. This was a great evidence of the grace of God in them. They did not take away others' property, but they were indifferent to it. They did not call it their own; because they had, in affection, forsaken all for Christ, and were expecting to be stripped of all for cleaving to him. No marvel that they were of one heart and soul, when they sat so loose to the wealth of this world. In effect, they had all things common; for there was not any among them who lacked, care was taken for their supply. The money was laid at the apostles' feet. Great care ought to be taken in the distribution of public charity, that it be given to such as have need, such as are not able to procure a maintenance for themselves; those who are reduced to want for well-doing, and for the testimony of a good conscience, ought to be provided for. Here is one in particular mentioned, remarkable for this generous charity; it was Barnabas. As one designed to be a preacher of the gospel, he disentangled himself from the affairs of this life. When such dispositions prevail, and are exercised according to the circumstances of the times, the testimony will have very great power upon others.And the multitude - The number of believers at this time had become large. In Acts 4:4, it is said that it was five thousand, and the number was constantly increasing.

One heart - This expression denotes "tender union." They felt alike, or were attached to the same things, and this preserved them from jars and dissensions.

One soul - This phrase also denotes "close and tender union." No expression could denote it more strikingly than to say of friends they have one soul. Plutarch cites an ancient verse in his life of Cato of Utica with this very expression - "Two friends, one soul" (Grotius). Thus, Diogenes Laertius also (5, Acts 1:11) says respecting Aristotle, that "being asked what was a friend, answered that it was one soul dwelling in two bodies" (Kuinoel). The Hebrews spake of two friends as being "one man." There can be no more striking demonstration of union and love than to say of more than five thousand suddenly drawn together that they had one soul! And this union they evinced in every way possible - in their conduct, in their prayers, and in their property. How different would have been the aspect of the church if the union had continued to the present time!

Neither said ... - That is, I they did not regard it as their own, but to be used for the benefit of the whole society. See the notes on Acts 2:44.

31-37. place was shaken—glorious token of the commotion which the Gospel was to make (Ac 17:6; compare Ac 16:26), and the overthrow of all opposing powers in which this was to issue.

they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and spake, &c.—The Spirit rested upon the entire community, first, in the very way they had asked, so that they "spake the word with boldness" (Ac 4:29, 31); next, in melting down all selfishness, and absorbing even the feeling of individuality in an intense and glowing realization of Christian unity. The community of goods was but an outward expression of this, and natural in such circumstances.

Were of one heart and of one soul; as if one heart and one soul had moved that multitude; to be sure there was one Spirit in them all, that is, the Spirit of God, by whose grace they agreed in all truths, and in hearty affections towards one another; insomuch, that they were as willing that what they had might be enjoyed by their necessitous brethren as by themselves. The community of goods was not commanded, but left at liberty, and was chosen as most expedient at such a time in that place; that it was not even then commanded, we may see, Acts 5:4; neither was it practised any where but at Jerusalem; and it was the rather practised there, that believers might show what credit they gave to our Saviour’s prediction concerning the destruction of that place, in which they did not care to have or retain any thing. There might be something too to command this practice of the church in that season: the whole church, upon the matter, being in Jerusalem, and consisting of such as lived afar off, and were by persecution to be driven suddenly farther, had not such a means been yielded to it must have perished, without a miracle. And the multitude of them that believed,.... The Gospel, and in Christ, the substance of it; and a multitude they were, for they were now about eight thousand persons. And though their number was so great, they

were of one heart and of one soul; there was an entire consent and agreement in doctrine, in matters of faith they were all of one mind and judgment, and there was a perfect harmony in their practice, they all performed the same duties, and observed the same commands and ordinances; and all pursued the same interest, and had the same ends and views; and there was a strict union of their affections to each other; their souls were knit to one another; so that there was, but as it were, one soul in this large body of Christians. Aristotle, being asked what a friend was, answered, one soul dwelling in two bodies (p): and so the Jews say, it is fit and proper that lovers or friends should be , "of one heart, as one man" (q); and such friends and hearty lovers were these.

Neither said any of them, that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; though he had a peculiar right unto them, yet he did not claim that right, nor insist on it, nor so much as speak of it, nor make use of his substance as if it was his own, reserving it for himself, or even disposing of it himself; but exposed it to the free use of the whole body, to enjoy it equally with himself:

but they had all things common; which was what they were not obliged to, but it was a free and voluntary action of their own, and so is not binding on others; nor indeed is their practice to be imitated, in the direct manner in which they did it, for their case was peculiar. They were not only every day liable to persecutions and to have their possessions seized, and their goods confiscated; but they also knew, that in process of time, Jerusalem would be destroyed, and they could not tell how soon; and therefore judged it right to sell off their possessions, and throw the money into one common stock, for their mutual support, and for the carrying on the common cause of Christ.

(p) Diog. Laert. in vit. Aristot. l, 5. 313. (q) Tzeror Hammor, fol. 21. 3. & 162. 4.

{12} And the multitude of them that believed were of {o} one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.

(12) An example of the true Church, in which there is equal consent both in doctrine and in charity toward one another: and the pastors deliver true doctrine both sincerely and constantly.

(o) They agreed in counsel, will, and all plans.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Acts 4:32. Connections: Thus beneficial in its effect was the whole occurrence for the apostles (Acts 4:31); bur (δέ) as regards the whole body of those that had become believers, etc. (Acts 4:32). As, namely, after the former great increase of the church (Acts 2:41), a characteristic description of the christian church-life is given (Acts 2:44 ff.); so here also, after a new great increase (Acts 4:4), and, moreover, so significant a victory over the Sanhedrim (Acts 4:5-31) had taken place, there is added a similar description, which of itself points back to the earlier one (in opposition to Schleiermacher), and indicates the pleasing state of things as unchanged in the church now so much enlarged.

τοῦ δὲ πλήθους] of the multitude, i.e. the mass of believers. These are designated as πιστεύσαντες, having become believers, in reference to Acts 4:4; but in such a way that it is not merely those πολλοί, Acts 4:4, that are meant, but they and at the same time all others, who had till now become believers. This is required by τὸ πλῆθος, which denotes the Christian people generally, as contrasted with the apostles. Comp. Acts 6:2. The believers’ heart and soul were one,—an expression betokening the complete harmony of the inner life as well in the thinking, willing, and feeling, whose centre is the heart (comp. Delitzsch, Psychol. p. 250), as in the activity of the affecttions and impulses, in which they were σύμψυχοι (Php 2:2) and ἰσόψυχοι (Php 2:20). Comp. 1 Chronicles 12:38; Php 1:27. See examples in Elsner, p. 317; Kypke, II. p. 31.

καὶ οὐδέ εἷς and not even a single one among so many. Comp. on John 1:3.

αὐτῷ] belongs to ὑπαρχ. Comp. Luke 8:3; Tob 4:8; Plat. Alc. I. p. 104 A.

As to the community of goods, see on Acts 2:44.Acts 4:32. δέ marks no contrast between the multitude and the Apostles; it introduces a general statement of the life of the whole Christian community, cf. Acts 15:12; Acts 15:30. On St. Luke’s frequent use of words expressing fulness, see Acts 4:32. Deissmann, Neue Bibelstudien, p. 59 (1897), points out that in the inscriptions πλῆθος with a genitive has a technical significance, not only in official political life, but also in that of religious communities, cf. Luke 1:10; Luke 19:37, Acts 2:6, but especially Acts 15:30; so too Acts 4:32, Acts 6:2; Acts 6:5, Acts 15:12, Acts 19:9, Acts 21:22, where the word = not Menge or Masse, but Gemeinde.—καρδία καὶ ψυχὴ μία: it is difficult to distinguish precisely between the two words, but they undoubtedly imply entire harmony in affection and thought according to a common Hebrew mode of expression; cf. passages in the LXX in which both ψυχή and καρδία occur as here with μία, 1 Chronicles 12:38, 2 Chronicles 30:12 (Wetstein); but in each passage the Hebrew word is the same, לב, and it would include not only affection and emotion, but also understanding, intelligence, thought; cf. Php 1:27; Php 2:2; Php 2:20. “Behold heart and soul are what make the together!” Chrys. δύο φίλοι, ψυχὴ μία, Plutarch, cf. instances in Blass, in loco, from Aristotle and Cicero. Grotius comments “erant ut Hebræi loquuntur כאיש אחד”.—καὶ οὐδὲ εἷς, “and not one of them said,” R.V., i.e., not one among so many; cf. John 1:3. οὐδὲ ἕν, “not even one thing”; cf. Romans 3:10; see above on Acts 2:45 and J. Lightfoot, Hor. Heb., in loco. On the difference between the classical and N.T. use of the infinitive after verbs of declaring, see Viteau, Le Grec du N. T., pp. 51, 52, 153, 155 (1896); except in Luke and Paul the infinitive tends to disappear, whilst these two writers retain the more literary usage.32–37. Unanimity and Love among the first Christians

32. of one heart and of one soul] A Hebrew form of expressing complete accord. Thus (1 Chronicles 12:38) “all the rest of Israel were of one heart to make David king,” and (Jeremiah 32:39) “I will give them one heart and one way.”

neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own] It is more emphatic in the Greek, and not one of them said, &c. Each felt that he held his possessions only as a trust, and if occasion called for it, they were to be given up. Such love towards one another, Christ had foretold, should be a mark of His disciples (John 13:35). All those who have sketched a perfect society, as Plato in his Republic, and Sir Thos. More in his Utopia, have placed among their regulations this kind of community of goods which was established by the first Christians. In theory it is the perfection of a commonwealth, but there is need of perfection in the citizens before it can be realized. There can be no question that an expectation of Christ’s immediate return from heaven, acting along with the unity of thoughts and feeling, made these men willing to part with their possessions and goods, there being, as we shall see from the case of Ananias, no constraint upon them to do so.Acts 4:32. Ἡ καρδία καὶ ἡ ψυχὴ μία, one heart and soul) in all matters of belief and of practice (credendis et agendis). A remarkable character given of them.—οὐδὲ εἷς) Not even one, in so great a multitude. The highest degree of concord.—ἔλεγεν, was saying) By this very expression it is taken for granted, that ownership of property was not altogether abolished.—κοινὰ, common) This was required by the Divine direction; as also by the number of believers, which was indeed great, but not so great as it was afterwards; as also by the change of the Jewish state which was impending. The magistrates did not at that time interfere to prevent the Church and individual Christians from disposing of their resources according as they themselves pleased: Acts 4:34-35; Acts 6:1-2; Acts 11:30; Acts 24:17; 1 Corinthians 16:1.Verse 32. - Soul for of one soul, A.V.; and not one of them said for neither said any of them, A.V. The great increase in the number of believers had been recorded in ver. 4. And the state of public feeling alluded to in ver. 21 makes it likely that yet more may have been converted to the faith. This was very important, no doubt; but it was scarcely less so that this great multitude were one in heart and soul, closely united in the bonds of Christian fellowship and love. Heart and soul

See on Mark 12:30.

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