Monday, March 27, 2017

How did the first Christians eat their food?

If you survey the English translations of Acts 2:46, there seems to be a great deal of confusion on this point:

  • They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude. (CHSB) 
  • Sharing their food with glad and humble hearts. (NET) 
  • They received their food with glad and generous hearts. (ESV) 
  • They ... shared their meals with great joy and generosity. (NLT) 
  • They partook of food with glad and generous hearts. (RSV) 
  • They were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart. (NASB) 
  • They ... ate together with glad and sincere hearts. (NIV) 
  • They ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart. (NKJ) 

So which is it? Did the early Christians eat their food with humbleness of heart, generosity of heart, sincerity of heart, or simplicity of heart?

The problem here is that translators are unsure how to render the rare word ἀφελότης. However, this word is attested in a few places in the extant Greek literature, and it always means “simplicity.” Furthermore, the ancient Latin and Syriac translations of the Greek render the term with words that mean "simplicity." Modern translators evidently don’t think “simplicity” makes much sense in context, but as I argue in a recent article, Luke was influenced in this passage by Greco-Roman conceptions of a primitive utopia which valued simplicity and sufficiency over extravagance and luxury. Thus the use of ἀφελότης as “simplicity” makes perfect sense in this context (see page 36-37 for a detailed discussion on the translation of ἀφελότης).

As I reflect on contemporary culture, it seems that much of our eating involves anxiety and expense. Affluent moderns in the West seem increasingly worried about how their food will impact their health, and they are willing to pay more and more to ease their minds. Of course, health is a valid concern, but let’s not forget that it’s OK to eat your food with “gladness and simplicity of heart.”

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Luke, Money, Socialism, and Equality

The Southeastern Theological Review recently published my article, “Sell Your Possessions: Luke 12:33 and the Greco-Roman Utopian Ideal.” The article can be downloaded here. (The entire journal can be downloaded here.)

The article explores Luke 12:33 and other passages in Luke-Acts concerning wealth in the context of first-century views on greed and equality. My conclusion is that Luke 12:33 does not require the renunciation of all possessions, but rather the renunciation of all superfluous possessions.

Since the article is focused exclusively on determining the original meaning of Luke 12:33, I don’t explore contemporary applications. Therefore, I thought I would use this opportunity to offer a few thoughts on that front:

1) The passages I discuss in Luke-Acts are often cited in support of socialism/communism over capitalism. I think this is a mistake. Certainly the ideal of equality presented in Luke-Acts is similar to the ideal of equality presented in socialism/communism. However, the critical difference concerns how this ideal is achieved. In Luke-Acts, the ideal of equality is achieved through the supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit transforming hearts. In socialism/communism, the ideal of equality is achieved through the violence of the state. In other words, the wealthy are forced to relinquish their money.

2) Luke-Acts gives us no hard and fast rules concerning how much money Christians are allowed to retain. How then can we tell what is necessary and what is superfluous? I have no simple answer to this question, but here is one important point to consider: the goal of equality among believers is not limited to the local community. While raising money in Corinth for destitute Christians in distant Jerusalem, Paul is clear that the goal of equality applies to the entire Church:
I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want, that there may be equality. (2 Cor 8:13-14) 
I am forced to conclude that Paul would be appalled by the disparity that currently exists in the Church. In the West, mega-churches meet in state-of-the-art buildings equipped with every luxury to enhance the worship experience, while churches in the global South struggle to provide for the most basic needs of those in their communities. As we seek to discern what is necessary and what is superfluous, we should not simply compare our lifestyle with the lifestyle of those in our community. We should also consider the lifestyle of our brothers and sisters around the globe.