The Book of Acts describes the first-century Jewish Christ-followers in a way unexpected to most modern believers. They are described in terms reminiscent of Utopian society, where believers held all things in common and none had need (Acts 2:32-35). This was the ultimate expression of the Jewish concept of Ahavat Yisrael – the Love of Israel held among the Jewish followers of Jesus in the first century.
But how did this practice begin? In other words, based on what did they conduct this communal lifestyle in Christ Jesus? The Torah, with all its care for the poor and needy (Lev.23:22), does not ever talk about shared property. In fact it emphasizes God-given right to private property (Ex. 20:17)! Neither prophets nor Yeshua himself taught that all the faithful must abandon everything they ever owned. Yet these believers unapologetically lived the way they did.
Our best available reconstruction links this group of Christ-followers with Essene communities that – according to Josephus Flavius – practiced just this kind of lifestyle. In describing them, the Jewish historian writes: “…one cannot find a person among them who has more in terms of possessions… those coming into the community must yield up their funds to the order …assets of each one have been mixed in together, as if they were brothers, to create one fund for all.” (Wars, II, 8, 3)
If this was a community rooted in the Essene movement that now allied itself with the Messiah Jesus, then their continuation of this centuries-long communal practice would make perfect sense.
This article originally appeared on Israel Study Center, February 19, 2017, and reposted with permission.