Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Two Ways of Reading the Early Church


Acts 4:32-35

32Τοῦ δὲ πλήθους τῶν πιστευσάντων ἦν καρδία καὶ ψυχὴ μία, καὶ οὐδὲ εἷς τι τῶν ὑπαρχόντων αὐτῷ ἔλεγεν ἴδιον εἶναι, ἀλλ' ἦν αὐτοῖς ἅπαντα κοινά.
Yet the great crowd of those who believed were one heart and soul, and not one of those who came forth claimed anything to be for oneself, but all things were common to them.
Or …
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. (NRSV)
πιστευσάντων: AAPart, gpm, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in  1a) of the thing believed
ὑπαρχόντων, PAPart gpn, ὑπάρχω, 1) to begin below, to make a beginning  1a) to begin  2) to come forth, hence to be there, be ready, be at hand  3) to be
ἔλεγεν: IAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain
εἶναι: PAInf εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. I am going out on a limb here and in v.34 regarding the possible translation of the word ὑπάρχω. It literally means “to begin” (άρχω) “below” (ὑπ), but it is translated in a variety of ways (For the curious: Go to greattreasures.org,4:32 and click onto the word ὑπαρχόντων to see all of the possible meanings and uses throughout Luke-Acts).  One meaning is “to bring forth.” See my note in v.34 of why I am exploring this as the possible meaning here. As is often the case, I am probably alone in this notion. 

33καὶ δυνάμει μεγάλῃ ἀπεδίδουν τὸ μαρτύριον οἱ ἀπόστολοι τῆς ἀναστάσεως τοῦ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ, χάρις τε μεγάλη ἦν ἐπὶ πάντας αὐτούς.
And in great power the Apostles were giving the witness of the resurrection of the lord Jesus, and great grace was on all of them.
ἀπεδίδουν, IAI 3p, ἀποδίδωμι, 1) to deliver, to give away for one's own profit what is one's own, to sell
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. In “great power” … “great grace” was on all of them.  The word for “great” (μεγάλη) is used in Acts 33x and 28x in Luke. It describes things such as “He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Highest” (Lk.1:32) as well as the two hour chant, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19:34)

34οὐδὲ γὰρ ἐνδεής τις ἦν ἐν αὐτοῖς: ὅσοι γὰρ κτήτορες χωρίων ἢ οἰκιῶν ὑπῆρχον, πωλοῦντες ἔφερον τὰς τιμὰς τῶν πιπρασκομένων
For there was not an indigent person among them; for whoever possessed lands or houses came forth, those who sold were bringing the proceeds of what had been sold
Or:
There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.  (NRSV)
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ὑπῆρχον , IAI 3s of ὑπάρχω, 1) to begin below, to make a beginning  1a) to begin  2) to come forth, hence to be there, be ready, be at hand  3) to be
πωλοῦντες: PAPart npm, πωλέω, 1) to barter, to sell  2) sellers
ἔφερον: IAI 3p, φέρω, 1) to carry   1a) to carry some burden   1a1) to bear with one's self
πιπρασκομένων: PPPart gpn, πιπράσκω, 1) to sell  1a) of price, one into slavery
1. The word “for” (γὰρ) seems important here as a way of connecting vv. 33 and 34. This communal living was not a happenstance. It is how the Apostles gave witness to the resurrection with great power. 
2. Twice we have seen the verb/participle ὑπάρχω, (vv. 32 and 34). One possible translation is “coming forth.” I want to raise the question of whether this was a way of describing what believers do in worship, similar to the phrase “passing the plate” today (which will sound like an odd phrase to future generations when people don’t carry money with them). Was there a practice of “coming forth” in this early church that was a deliberate, perhaps even ceremonial act? Joseph Barnabas (ὑπάρχοντος 4:37) comes forth with his gift. Ananias had the opportunity to bring his gift (ὑπῆρχεν 5:4) when he sold his land. While ὑπάρχω is a very common word that has many meanings, I think one can make the case that in Acts 4:32 – 5:11 it may refer to an early church practice. Now the task would be to see if any other documents from that era might have this word used similarly – a step that is out of my reach. 

35καὶ ἐτίθουν παρὰ τοὺς πόδας τῶν ἀποστόλων: διεδίδετο δὲ ἑκάστῳ καθότι ἄν τις χρείαν εἶχεν.
and were laying [the proceeds] at the feet of the Apostles; then it was distributed to each according to whomever was having need.  
ἐτίθουν, IAI 3p τίθημι, 1) to set, put, place  1a) to place or lay  1b) to put down, lay down  [The object “proceeds” is retained from v.34.]
διεδίδετο: IPI 3s, διαδίδωμι  distribute; to give or deliver through, as through various hands, from one to another; deal out
εἶχεν: IAI ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold


TWO WAYS OF HEARING THIS TEXT
I see two possible ways of hearing this text.
1. As a sandwich:
And the great crowd of those who believed were one heart and soul, and not one of those who came forth claimed anything to be for himself, but all things were common to them.  And in great power the Apostles were giving the witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on all of them.   For there was not an indigent person among them; for whoever possessed lands or houses came forth, those who sold were bringing the proceeds of what they sold and were laying all at the feet of the Apostles; and it was distributed to each according to whomever had need.

In this hearing, the reference to ‘giving witness’ to the resurrection and experiencing ‘great grace’ is sandwiched between the descriptions of the Apostles’ liberality. In fact, if you took out the red text, the other text could be one seamless statement:

And the great crowd of those who believed were one heart and soul, and not one of those who came forth claimed anything to be for himself, but all things were common to them.   For there was not an indigent person among them; for whoever possessed lands or houses came forth, those who sold were bringing the proceeds of what they sold and were laying all at the feet of the Apostles; and it was distributed to each according to whomever had need.

That might suggest that what it means to give witness to the resurrection and experience great grace is to live without individual ownership and with communal sharing.

Or
2. We might read this text as a chiasm:
And the great crowd of those who believed were one heart and soul, and not one of those who came forth claimed anything to be for himself, but all things were common to them.  And in great power the Apostles were giving the witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on all of them.   For there was not an indigent person among them; for whoever possessed lands or houses came forth, those who sold were bringing the proceeds of what they sold and were laying all at the feet of the Apostles; and it was distributed to each according to whomever had need.  

This way, the red text would be the A and the black text the B sections.
A: Believers were one heart and soul
B. They didn’t claim ownership, but all things were common
A: They gave witness to the resurrection and experienced grace
B. No indigence because they sold belongings and gave to whomever had need

Reading this text as a chiasm may suggest that the “spiritual” qualities of the community (one heart and soul; witness to the resurrection; grace) leads to the “social” qualities of declaiming ownership, sharing, and liberality.

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