Acts 4:32-37 and Leviticus 27:14-25

Discussion in 'The Gospels & Acts' started by a mere housewife, Nov 23, 2012.

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  1. a mere housewife

    a mere housewife Not your cup of tea

    I read these two in conjunction the other day and couldn't help wondering about the theological significance of what is taking place in Acts 4 after these Jews are converted to Christ. I have always heard the passage referenced especially with regard to charity; and of course their unity and compassion are highlighted. But the background, and even the means, of that unity and compassion seems to be this silent but completely radical shift in their view about the promised land.

    In Leviticus 27, one could devote houses and lands to the service of God that were not part of one's inheritance, and this all took place in transactions involving the priests and the ceremonial system of temple worship. But one could not devote a house or land that was part of one's inheritance.

    Yet there is no mention of anyone preserving their inheritance anymore in Acts. And there is this silent but utterly sweeping recognition that the priests are no longer involved in these transactions, in their simply selling it all off and bringing the money not to the temple but to the feet of the apostles. In accepting Christ, something seems to have happened in their understanding of the promised land. For surely it is not simply a statement about how we all ought to be charitable, but is loaded with theological implications, that one of the first things that characterised the early Jewish converts was their selling off of their lands and houses? Can anyone point me to further resources on this?
  2. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    If they understood and took our Lord's words seriously about the imminent destruction of Jerusalem and dispersal of the Jews, this may also have been a factor in their understanding that they and their children couldn't cling to the then Holy Land for long.

    We, with them also of the Israel of God, must also remember that we cannot cling to this present world for long.

  3. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    Richard, I think what you mention is true; but a comparison with Jeremiah might serve to show that there is more than that going on. Jeremiah buys a property and seals up the proof of it as an act of faith that God's promise of restoration to the land will be fulfilled; invading armies will pass away to the point where the legalities of land transactions again have meaning. There is no similar exercise of faith recorded of the early Christians, because the meaning the promised land pointed towards has been fulfilled. The genuine jubilee has come with the universal proclamation of forgiveness of sins, and the petty jubilees don't have the importance they once did.
  4. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    VG. I'd never noticed what you and your wife are pointing out. Very relevant to dispensationalism and the Q being discussed at another thread about the Jews and the land today.

    Spiritual and material gifts from the whole Earth shall be offered to Him
    Calvin says this on the New Testament Israel's inheritance of the world in his comment on Romans 4:13:
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2012
  5. a mere housewife

    a mere housewife Not your cup of tea

    Thank you Richard and Ruben. I hope it isn't too novel a concept -- I had hoped someone would know of some sort of further exposition.

    For while I don't trust my own judgment I can't help thinking that it has to be that their view of the promised land had to have been changed, that their beautiful charity was driven by something more than merely what we see in 'end times cults', but by some sort of fullness that the land used to signify, that had been found in Christ? Certainly it seems clear that they counted their brothers and sisters in the Lord as dearer possessions than the promised land; and that does seem to involve some sort of rather major theological shift.

    Richard, those quotes by Calvin are beautiful, and very wonderful to think of. Thank you.
  6. J. Dean

    J. Dean Puritan Board Junior

    Read MacArthur's book Ashamed of the Gospel, in which he deals with this in historical context. John MacArthur pointed out that, just after Pentecost, a great many of the new converts stayed and needed places to live, food, etc., which is part of the reason for the immense generosity we see, so it wasn't a "Hey, now that I'm a Christian I have to give everything up" mentality. So we need to be careful that we're not putting a legalistic burden on people to give up everything willy-nilly (Not saying that's the point being presented here, but it has been used in the past by people who think that Christians should go join a commune).

    That being said, I do see your point overall: that we are to remember that what we have cannot be taken with us when we pass from this world into the next.
  7. a mere housewife

    a mere housewife Not your cup of tea

    Thank you for those cautions, Mr. Dean. I ought to clarify that that isn't my point overall. I am asking more about the significance specifically of the promised land to the Jews, and what this passage reflects about that.
  8. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I appreciate the insight.

    Rather than a purely speculative, "If I were a first century Jew, what would I feel...?", the question is different: "If under a former rubric, all the faithful must believe certain pious truths and behave in particular pious ways; what does a noteworthy, wholesale reorientation of devout practice reveal about changes/adjustments in the content of the Faith, both doctrine and life?" I'm supportive of the notion that the (presumably permanent) sale of the unalienable inheritance could be expressive of a radical shift in attitude with regard to what had up to then been thought of as "the Promised Land."

    By bringing the proceeds, and laying them at the Apostles' feet, the offerers were making a tangible expression of laying what had been their former inheritance and stewardship (under the Old Covenant) at Jesus' feet, that is through his legates. Let him repurpose that former grant now, for whatever his new administration wills. For me, this insight also limns my impression of the sin of Ananias and Saphira.

    Thanks Heidi. I'll file it away for further reflection
  9. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    I thought it was interesting that Calvin speaks about God's people inheriting the Earth in (small) measure now, as well as fully, later. Other comments that I've come accross on this subject, often launch the whole subject into the future Heavenly Eschatalogical Kingdom.
  10. SolaScriptura

    SolaScriptura Puritan Board Doctor

    I hear too many preachers and teachers saying things like "People in the OT thought/believed/worshipped/lived... this way..." based upon the Law. If anything, what we read in the Historical books and the Prophets reveals that by and large they didn't follow the Law very much at all. So the most accurate thing would simply be to say "Based upon the Law, the people of the OT should have thought/believed/worshipped/lived this way..."

    Regarding the sale of land and how land ownership was understood... the nature of the post-exilic return changed all that. The exile and the rise of rabbinic tradition and all that changed everything. It really isn't an exaggeration to say that the Judaism of the 1st Century AD - of the time of Christ - bore little resemblance to the system instituted by Moses.

    If one looks at 1st Century land ownership practices - with tenant farmers and a sort of pre-fuedal system - and how land ownership was incredibly limited at that time - gone were the divisions of the land by tribe, cities of refuge, etc. Land was bought and sold in Israel like in any other place.

    Anyway, I wouldn't put too much stock in the apparent change you noted Heidi. Unless it gives you a spiritual warm and fuzzy.
  11. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    Well its true that things had got somewhat "mixed-up" by the first century. Sources would have to be cited to show just how much or how little mixed-up.

    But the Jews who lived in, and owned parts of, Palestina - as the Romans called it - would maybe still have had some sense that this particular piece of the earth, was God's Holy Land, especially if some modern Jews have still - mistakenly - got that sense.

    I'm sure Heidi is thick-skinned enough to repel your cavils. ;)
  12. a mere housewife

    a mere housewife Not your cup of tea

    Richard, there is a lot to think about in what you said of inheriting the earth even now in Christ.

    Ben, I think Chapter VII of 'The Life and Times of the Jesus the Messiah' by Alfred Edersheim gives a very good overview of how a Jew would have viewed the land of Israel in Christ's day, taken from writings and practices of the time. I'll just quote one section below.

    But if it gives you warm fuzzies to think they had lost all regard for the land by the time of Christ . . . :p (That's only an irrepressible giggle and not meant at all nastily, I hope you know. Thank you for pointing out that angle.)

    And thank you Rev. Buchanan for filling in some of those thoughts better than I could.
  13. SolaScriptura

    SolaScriptura Puritan Board Doctor

    I didn't say they'd lost all regard for the land.

    What I said - or at least what I was trying to say - was any division of it (as done by Joshua after the conquest) was lost. Additionally, the practice of how personal property was handled was not according to Mosaic precept. Indeed, most of faith and practice of first century Jews was not. Given that most didn't own land, and that land was owned by non-Jews (hint, Herod and his family... weren't Jewish), and that land was bought and sold in the same manner as any other place... I wouldn't suggest that it reflects a change in "thinking" that they didn't go through a priest or rabbi or whatever. Of course, the mere fact that as a property owner they would sell land and give it to someone else - in this case the Apostles - itself reflects a change of thinking in which Kingdom priorities are more important than personal financial interest. THAT is the astonishing thing.

    Remember, most Jews did not return to the "promised land" after the exile. Ever since Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem, most Jews have never lived within the bounds of the "holy land." That is important to remember and it must factor into any articulation of the alleged place of the land - and the connection of the Jews with the land - in the faith and practice of the Jews.

    Again, "the land" is special to Jews - even in the first century. But gone is the idea of a person's "inheritance" being in the Holy Land... Much less is there a perceived obligation to keep a parcel of ground "in the family."
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2012
  14. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    This, I think is a good and accurate statement.

    And I do think that we have to take the Return into account, as far as recognizing that the conditions most characteristic of Jesus' day were a far cry from the situation as it obtained under the amphictonic state, the judges, and the kings. The people were never again in a self-governing position, that would allow them to reinstitute the Law in a complete manner. Though, one can see early attempts at correcting errors by looking at the attempts recorded in Ezra, Nehemiah, and the post-exilic prophets.

    But it is those very efforts at application--the efforts of the devout to live as nearly as possible to the dictates of the covenant, though being under alien domination--that ought to inform an interpretation of NT-Jewish data, no less than they inform the reading of Nehemiah. The fact that the connections are explicit in Nehemiah doesn't mean they have to be explicit in all instances pointing us toward that kind of sympathetic reading.

    We don't do ourselves much hermenetical service when we thoroughly subordinate our reliance on the inherent inter-textual nature of Scripture to supply us with interpretive insight, to whatever cultural-study supplements to Scripture are available in a given time and place. We ought to use the latter as clarifying tools, rather than as establishing a kind of social-bedrock for understanding the foreign (to us) mores of an ancient population.

    This statement:
    it seems to me is begging for qualification, if we are speaking about devout people. Even if it were demonstrable that much real-estate commerce was conducted in Palestine with indifference, it doesn't follow that devout or religious types went along with the cultural tide without reference to Mosaic maxims. Surely, those kinds of people were deeply concerned with even more than "general equity" of the Law even in those days.

    Example: would a devout Jew, absent some extremity, sell his property (that must have seemed like a piece of the divine inheritance) to a pagan Greek, just because his was the highest price offered? Are we to assume that he would have had no thought of how such a sale might be a kind of "betrayal" of trust in Religion? Given what we know about the attitudes of the religious toward Gentiles, from both the Bible and outside sources, I think it reasonable to expect such a purely fiduciary-driven sale would have offended most people who thought of themselves as devout. "Sell it to a Jew, and at a loss, before you sell it to a Gentile!"

    The fact that such sales might have been socially commonplace is no argument against the impropriety of them, if a strong argument from Scripture proves their impropriety. Just think of the Jews' hatred of the Roman taxes, and the general despite for the publicans as "enemies of the people." There was more to this resentment than simple hostility to government expropriation in general. We also know the occasion when Jesus' disciples were asked if their Master paid the Temple tax (not a foreign imposition/extraction). Peter says at first, "of course," and then Jesus implies back to him that as King, he has no obligation to pay the tax, but receive it. Nevertheless, for the sake of peace he has Peter go fishing, and pay the tax for both of them with the coin he finds in his catch's gullet. So Jewish people were keenly aware that certain possessions of theirs were theologically inalienable, even if the historic conditions gave powers and rights to those who did not "deserve" them.

    It doesn't seem like nothing but a "warm-and-fuzzy" to recognize that for the Christian Jews to lay their stewardship at King Jesus' feet (by the Apostles), they were taking a new attitude to their former relation to the real-estate around them, even post-Exile. It was Jesus' land, as the proper King and the only faithful Israelite; and their religiously motivated sales-and-devotion seems like an honest recognition of that fact. And, it seems to me that we might expect Luke (and Holy Spirit) to insert intertextual cues into the inspired text, designed to make the biblically literate (including aural familiarity with the text) sit up and take note.

  15. Jerusalem Blade

    Jerusalem Blade Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I had not thought about this, Heidi, but now, after your OP, it does seem to reflect the young church's view that an epochal change had come upon them, upon Israel. Peter had not long before declared to the people of Jerusalem, reiterating Deut 18:15,18,19, "For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people" (Acts 3:22,23). The long-promised Messiah had come, established His new covenant, taken the kingdom of God from the Theocracy of priests and rulers (Matt 21:43), and reconstituted the kingdom around – and within – Himself.

    Jesus had taught them many things: His kingdom was not of this world; God had cut off from Israel whoever would not cleave to His Christ, and His worshipping nation was now not centered around Jerusalem but could worship God anywhere in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:21-24). Jesus was now High Priest, as well as King, and His holy nation would extend "unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8; Matt 28:18-20).

    I looked in a number of Acts commentaries, but could not find any thoughts reflecting your take; I think I still have some of N.T. Wright's historical works (I had to get rid of so many books when we moved into a small apartment), I'll look there. But even if it is not confirmed elsewhere, their actions (per the OP) do reflect a new view of priesthood, property, devoted things, even the very land.

    Thank you for your thoughts!
  16. a mere housewife

    a mere housewife Not your cup of tea

    Thank you again, Ben and Rev. Buchanan.

    Would Jeremiah 32 not also be significant, as Ruben pointed out before, in light of Ben's points (which I sincerely appreciate: I was responding to the 'like every other place' remark with my irrepressible giggle)? Jeremiah bought a field that he had a right to redeem and sealed the deed against the return from captivity -- and so it seems such records would still be relevant to the returned community, as Edersheim also passingly references? It seems significant also that the promise given to Jeremiah is that land would again be bought in Israel -- this in the context of the covenant, as one of the precious symbols of it:

    Whereas what is happening here is that people who have accepted Christ as the fulfillment of the promises to the fathers are *selling* the land. Again, I don't know all that it means -- that is what I am asking about. But it involves a difference which seems quite notable.
  17. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

  18. a mere housewife

    a mere housewife Not your cup of tea

    & thank you also, Mr. Rafalsky, for those thoughts. They are very worth thinking about further.
  19. a mere housewife

    a mere housewife Not your cup of tea

    Not meaning to beat the question to death, but to expand on what seems quite notable about Jeremiah 32: aren't verses 37-41 in this chapter referring especially to the new Covenant in Christ?

    Would not even the 'one heart and one way' be reflected in the statement in Acts 4: 'And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul'? What immediately follows in Jeremiah -- indeed the whole context of this statement -- is a promise that land will again be bought in Israel, as Jeremiah was redeeming land. What immediately follows in Acts is that they are selling their land. That is very jarring.

    (& Ben, I probably ought to apologise if I came across as at all dismissive, which is certainly not my place and was not my intent. The way you phrased your comment to me made me laugh -- I imagined that was the intent for I don't think you would wish to be the least bit unchivalrous to any woman -- and I assumed that my own remark would then be taken in a spirit of fun.)
  20. a mere housewife

    a mere housewife Not your cup of tea

    Thinking about this further, I remembered something Paul & Rev. Winzer had pointed out about Matthew 24, and the way Peter applies the 'Day of the Lord' imagery of Joel to the judgment on the cross. I wonder if something similar is going on here: if the language of inheritance and possession in the land is not a sort of reverse (oh, Rev. Buchanan could say this so much better, and with words Richard would have to supply definitions for :) 'scale' of symbolism which gets played on in the language of redemption and of the eternal covenant in the work of Christ? If Peter could apply the prophecy of Joel to the cross, then perhaps he was applying Jeremiah and Leviticus in the same way -- and these Jews understood that the land was a deinvested symbol -- not a thing now to cling to now that the fulfillment of 'my people, their God', 'one heart, one way', was come? At least -- as was said above of Luke giving us textual clues -- we who read are to understand the land language as as part of that symbolic scale of 'redemption' language? That while all these notes had their literal place in the 'streams' of historical fulfillment that ran into the ocean of the work of Christ, as Calvin puts it, the work of Christ was the whole scale?
  21. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    The Land had been polluted by the crucifixion of Messiah, and was under God's impending judgment. Christian people would have been more or less aware of this, depending on their spiritual state and appreciation of God's Word.

    Apart from the fact that they were crucifying the Holy One, this command was violated to the letter in that darkness covered the Land during His crucifixion.

  22. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    There are some important insights coming into focus in this thread. I am very appreciative of them. The only issue that needs ironing out is whether inheritance laws applied after the return from exile and to what extent they could be applied where there was not a full settlement in the land.
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