What does the non-gospel portion of the New Testament have to say about wealth and abundance? In most ways it is consistent with what we have seen in the rest of scripture. But we need go no further than the Chapter 2 in Acts before we come across one of the more controversial passages concerning wealth. Following Pentecost we read:
44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
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.
It simply isn’t clear what this entailed. Acts chapter 5 speaks of Ananias and Sapphira who apparently were a part of the community and still owned land. They appear to have sold a portion (not all?) of their land and brought the money for distribution to the needy. Their sin was apparently dishonesty about how much they were giving, not that they had retained a portion of the money. “Holding things in common” appears to have meant that each retained control of their own property but as needs arose folks made their property available to address the needs of others.
This appears to have been a response to the large numbers of conversions. No doubt many were ostracized from their families and lost their livelihoods. The early chapters of Acts give a descriptive, not a prescriptive, presentation of how these problems were handled. What is instructive is that an economic response was seen as a natural outflow of becoming a Christian and the needs of the poor were addressed.
We find no teaching in the New Testament that prescribes radical society-wide redistribution or communal ownership. In fact, we find explicit instruction like:
1 Corinthians 16:1-2
1 Now concerning the collection for the saints: you should follow the directions I gave to the churches of Galatia. 2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come.
Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.
2 Thessalonians 3:10-13
10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
Passages such as these presume private ownership of goods. Furthermore, passages such a 1 Corinthians 11:17-22 chastise the wealthy for eating the Lord’s Supper before the poor have a chance to arrive. This presumes, as happens in several other places, that there are wealth differences among the believers. Private ownership has not been eliminated and if we refer back to the jubilee code we see that communal ownership of all property would directly contradict God’s decree that each Israelite have a private ownership stake in the land.
So what of the New Testament passages that speak specifically to wealth, abundance, and giving?