Tag Archives: book of Acts

Was the Early Church Communist?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In the most recent edition of the Christian Research Journal, Jay W. Richards addressed this topic.  The verses that have led some to make the claim that the early church was communist are Acts 4:32-35.  But is that the correct interpretation of these verses?  If so, is communism the ideal for the church?

Richards argues against this view, giving several reasons.  First, Richards notes that modern communism, based on the writings of Marx, is about class warfare and the evil of private property.  According to Richards, “There’s none of this class warfare stuff in the early church in Jerusalem, nor is private property treated as immoral.  These Christians are selling their possessions and sharing freely and spontaneously.”

Second, communism is associated with state control of resources, but the state is not involved in the early church.  “No Roman centurions are showing up with soldiers.  No government is confiscating property and collectivizing industry.  No one is being coerced.”  Again, the early church was sharing their property voluntarily, with no state involvement at all.

Third, the communal life described in Acts 4:32-35 is never prescribed for all churches everywhere.  Richards explains, “What Acts is describing is an unusual moment in the life of the early church, when the church was still very small.  Remember this is the beginning of the church in Jerusalem.”  In addition, we know that other early churches had different arrangements.  Take, for example, the Thessalonians.  Paul addresses the situation in their local church when he warns them, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”  Paul’s words hardly exemplify the ideals of communism.

Richards concludes, “The take-home lesson should be clear: neither the book of Acts nor historical experience commends communism.  In fact, full-bodied communism is alien to the Christian worldview and had little to do with the arrangement of early Christians in Jerusalem.”

To read the complete article, you need to be a subscriber to the Christian Research Journal, which happens to be one of my favorite magazines.  If you are interested at all in Christian apologetics, it is a must-read.

Did the New Testament Writers Record Fact or Fiction? Part 7

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Continuing from part 6, we will examine more evidence for the trustworthiness of the NT writers.

A fourth question about the NT writers’  integrity: are any of the historical facts they mention corroborated by other sources?  Here the NT writers really shine.  During the first and second centuries, there were many historians who were writing books and letters.

We still have many manuscript copies of these writings.  Not only do we have copies of ancient documents, we also have archaeological finds from this time period.  Since some of the NT writers described people, cities, languages, landmarks, and topography, we could check these things out to see if the NT writers were accurate.

First, the book of Acts contains numerous historical facts that can be checked out.  One researcher, Colin Hemer, found that at least 84 historical facts found in Acts can be confirmed by independent evidence.  84 facts!

According to modern-day Roman historian A. N. Sherwin-White: “For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming. . . . Any attempt to reject its basic historicity must now appear absurd.  Roman historians have long taken it for granted.”  In other words, the book of Acts is used by professional historians to study Roman history.

In that same book of Acts that contains rock-solid history, Luke also records 35 miracles.  We need to give Luke the benefit of the doubt, don’t we?  Using other sources to check his facts, Luke has been proven a first-rate historian, so it is eminently reasonable to believe the miraculous accounts he recorded in the days of the early church.

Luke’s reputation as an historian carries over in the Gospel of Luke.  Just read Luke 3:1-2  and tell me Luke didn’t care about getting the facts right.  He practically begs his readers to check his facts.  World-famous historian William Ramsay studied Luke’s historical accuracy for 20 years and concluded: “Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness.  Luke is an historian of first rank.  [He] should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”

Now pay close attention.  Luke’s account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection contain all the same general facts as Mark, Matthew, and John.  Therefore, they should also be trusted.  In fact, the Gospel of John has also been dissected for historical accuracy and was found to have at least 60 independently corroborated historical facts correct.

There’s more.  We have copies of manuscripts from 17 ancient non-Christian writers who corroborate many of the basic historical facts mentioned in the NT.  These include people who were hostile to Christianity.

Additionally, archaeologists have discovered the ruins of virtually every major biblical city and we actually have the ossuary (bone box) that contained Joseph Caiaphas’ bones!  He was the high priest who sentenced Jesus to death.  Volumes have been written which chronicle the archaeological evidence matching the names of people and places recorded in the Bible, but we don’t have space to discuss it all.

The bottom line: wherever we can check the historical facts written into the books of the NT, they show themselves trustworthy.  Does this prove everything the NT authors’ claim?  Of course not.  But it is still strong evidence that they were reliable recorders of what they saw.

In this series of posts, we have shown that the NT writers claimed to be eyewitnesses or associates of eyewitnesses; we have shown that we have multiple witnesses, and we have shown that the eyewitnesses were trustworthy.  How?  They included embarrassing details about themselves  and difficult details about their subject of worship, Jesus; their accounts contain divergent details, just as we would expect from independent witnesses; and they wrote about historical facts that have been thoroughly corroborated by ancient non-Christian writers and modern archaeology.

There is one final line of evidence that will conclude this series of posts.  You won’t want to miss it.

Did the New Testament Writers Record Fact or Fiction? Part 3

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In the previous post, we started arguing for early dates for several NT books, but we didn’t finish the discussion.  So this post picks up where we left off!

It is generally agreed upon by scholars that the gospel of Luke was written before the book of Acts.  Dr. Luke wrote both of them and most historians believe that Acts was the sequel to Luke’s gospel (read the beginnings of Luke and Acts to see this).  If this is true, then the gospel of Luke was written before A.D. 62, just as Acts was, but probably a couple years earlier.

Many scholars believe that the gospel of Mark was written before the gospel of Luke because Luke seems to use the gospel of Mark as a source.  This fact would then place Mark even earlier, say, in the mid-50’s.  Keep in mind that both of these gospels record the miraculous life, and more importantly, the resurrection of Jesus.  These events are recorded as facts.

There’s more!  Not a single book in the NT mentions the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.  If, indeed, many of the books of the NT were written after A.D. 70 (as some liberal scholars claim), that would mean that nobody thought the destruction of the temple was important!  How could this be?  The temple was the single most important place in all Judaism.

When Jerusalem was sacked and the temple demolished, the Jews lost the geographical center of their religion.  Tens of thousands of Jews died in the war.  The books of the NT often refer to the temple and the on-going worship of God there (e.g., Heb. 5:1-3, Rev. 11:1-2), so it seems incredible that nobody would mention its demise, yet not one person does.

Can you imagine someone writing about the people of New York City and never mentioning the airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001?  Ridiculous, right?  The best explanation for the events of A.D. 70 never being mentioned in the NT is that most, if not all, of the NT was written prior to A.D. 70.

We now have evidence arguing powerfully for early dates for Mark, Luke, and Acts (before A.D. 62) and early dates for most, if not all the NT (before A.D. 70).  Remember the time it takes for legendary development: it takes more than 2 generations.  We aren’t even one generation removed from the events, so the possibility of legend creeping in is virtually zero.

Hang on, though.  There are parts of the NT that we can date even earlier.  One of the most interesting passages in the NT is 1 Cor. 15:3-7.  First, we should note that the First Corinthians letter is dated by most scholars to A.D. 55 or 56.  Now, in the verses mentioned above, scholars have noted some peculiarities that indicate Paul is repeating an oral creed about the resurrection of Jesus that had existed for some time.

In fact, many believe that Paul received the information in this creed from James and Peter in Jerusalem around A.D. 36-38 (Gal. 1:18-19).  This would mean that we have information about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus within just a few years of the events themselves.  Even scholars who are unfriendly to Christianity admit this could be true.  If so, there is no chance that this creed could be legendary.

Let’s sum all of these facts up.  Early dates are important to establishing the historical truth of a document.  If we can establish that the documents were written before 2 generations had passed, there is very little chance of legend or myth sneaking in.  The historical books contained in the NT more than meet this criterion.

We have good reason to believe that Mark, Luke, and Acts were written prior to A.D. 62, well within one generation; we have good reason to believe that First Corinthians contains an oral creed that dates to a few years after Jesus’ death; and we have good reason to believe that most, if not all, the NT was written prior to A.D. 70.

Even if we grant that some of the books of the NT were not written until the late 1st century, it is still too early for legend to corrupt the core facts.  Now that we know the documents of the NT are early, we need to ask whether the writers of the documents are trustworthy and reliable.  We will deal with that in the next post.

Did the New Testament Writers Record Fact or Fiction? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Continuing from part 1, let’s examine the evidence for dating the books of the NT, especially the books of the NT which contain substantial historical facts about Jesus and his followers.  First we should note that three leaders of the early church – Clement of Rome, Ignatius, and Polycarp – quoted passages from 25 of the 27 books of the NT right around A.D. 100.  They could not have quoted from the books if they hadn’t been written, so the latest the books of the NT could have been written is A.D. 100.  But there’s strong evidence that many of them were written much earlier.

Several well-attested historical events occurred between A.D. 60 and 70.  First, the Jewish temple, the temple where Jesus and his disciples worshipped along with the rest of the Jewish people, was completely and utterly destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Roman army.  The Romans were extinguishing a significant Jewish rebellion and when they finally entered Jerusalem, they left no stones standing from the temple because they wanted the gold used in the contruction of the temple.

Second, both the apostles Paul and Peter were executed in Rome by the emperor Nero between A.D. 66 and 68.  Their deaths are recorded by church historians – Clement of Rome, in particular, who was alive when their executions occurred.  Their tombs are major historical landmarks in Rome to this day.  Third, James, the brother of Jesus, was executed in Jerusalem by the Sanhedrin (Jewish High Council) in A.D. 62.  This event was first recorded by a Jewish historian named Flavius Josephus in the first century.

Why are these three events important?  They help prove that the books of Acts, Luke, and Mark were written before A.D. 62.  Follow the logic.  Acts was written by the historian and medical doctor, Luke.  Luke was a companion of Paul and recorded many of the events of Paul’s life.

One odd thing about Acts is that it ends abruptly with Paul imprisoned in Rome; Paul is still alive at the end of Acts.  Luke also frequently mentions James, the brother of Jesus, and Peter, the apostle, in the book of Acts.  At the end of Acts, Peter and James are also alive (there is no mention of their deaths).

Now, if I were writing a biography of an individual, it seems like one of the most important events that would take place in the biography would be the death of the person.  It’s especially important because it ends the biography!  Luke mentions the martyrdom of Stephen, so he clearly has no trouble writing about the deaths of Christians, but we are left with the fact that Luke never records the deaths of three of the major characters in Acts.

There is only one good explanation for this fact:  they were all alive when Acts was written.  If they were all alive, then Acts must have been written before A.D. 62!  That means Acts was written within 30 years of Jesus’ death and not even a single generation had passed.

In part 3, we will continue to argue for an early dating of several NT books.