The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father MacEvily’s Commentary on Acts 4:32-37

Posted by Dim Bulb on April 9, 2012

Acts of the Apostles, 1 John and the Gospel of John, are used extensively in the Liturgy of the Easter Season. Here you can find a list of resources (books, podcasts, etc) to help you become better acquainted with these writings.

Note: This post includes commentary on verses 36-37. Verses 32-37 will form the first reading for Tuesday’s Mass. A few brief passages in red text represent my additions.

Act 4:32  And the multitude of believers had but one heart and one soul. Neither did any one say that aught of the things which he possessed was his own: but all things were common unto them.

The multitude of believers," five thousand (see Acts 4:4). One heart and one soul, indicating the closest and tenderest union. Plutarch, in his life of Cato, quotes a saying, “two friends, one soul.” This tender union was evidenced in their relations with one another. They showed this in act, in the distribution of their property and their unselfishly giving up what they possessed to relieve the distressed members of their body.

Act 4:33  And with great power did the Apostles give testimony of the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord: and great grace was in them all.

Their prayer in regard to the power of working miracles having been heard, they accordingly perform miracles in corroboration of their zealous preaching of the Gospel, especially the Resurrection of Christ, the foundation of all Christian faith. Some interpret great power to mean the zealous preaching of the Gospel, as in the case of St. Paul (1 Cor 2:4).

Great grace, &c. By this some understand grace properly so called, which, undoubtedly, was accorded them in an extraordinary degree, and was manifested among the faithful, as shown by their disinterestedness, as in next verse. Others understand it of favour with the people, a sense in which the Greek word, χαρις (grace), is sometimes taken (see Acts 2:47). It was very important for them that it should be so, considering what occurred at the meeting of the Sanhedrim. Their union and charity towards the poor caused them to be held in great esteem among the people.

Some commentators hold that this vs. 33 is misplaced owing to the negligence of copyists, that vs. 34 should immediately follow vs. 32, or that vs. 33 should be read parenthetically.

Act 4:34  For neither was there any one needy among them. For as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the price of the things they sold,

The account of the demeanour and qualities of the faithful commencing at vs. 32 was interrupted in vs. 33, and is here resumed sgain.

For. The corresponding Greek word is understood by Beelen to signify “therefore”, expressing a conclusion from vs. 32.  No one needy, i.e., allowed to suffer want. The reason of this is given in a general way in vs. 32 which says all things common unto them. It is explained here more particularly how this was done.

For as many, &c. The words here used indefinitely by no means convey that all the Christian converts sold their entire property and possessions, giving up their title to them; but only parted with whatever portion was necessary to relieve the pressing wants of their indigent brethren with whom all things were common as to use, so far as was necessary. This, however, was not obligatory, but rather quite voluntary, as appears from the case of Ananias (Acts 5:4); and the singling out of Joseph (Acts 5:36) as a singular instance of generosity would indicate the same. Doubtless, he had many imitators who sold so much of their property as was necessary for the relief of the poor.

This edifying economy practised in the early Christian Church, of Jerusalem was neither general nor permanent. The Apostles, in their intercourse with their Gentile converts, did not deem it wise to establish it. Hence, their appeals to the churches they founded on behalf of the poor. It is not likely that even in the Church of Jerusalem men sold all they possessed St. John had retained some property (John 19:27), nor is there any evidence that in Jerusalem they sold all their property, save as far as was necessary to relieve their distressed brethren.

Act 4:35  And laid it down before the feet of the apostles. And distribution was made to every one, according as he had need.

And laid it down, conveys that it was left for disposal before the feet, &c., in token of respect and reverence. The Apostles finding the duty of distributing their alms becoming to burdensome and distracting, as it interfered with prayer and preaching the word, appointed others for this special duty (Acts 6:1-6).

To place oneself or property at the feet of another implies that one recognizes and submits to the other’s authority, as king Jehu of Israel, in a famous relief, is portrayed as placing himself at the feet of the king of Assyria. Concerning the practice see Josh 10:24; 1 Sam 25:24; 2 Sam 22:39; Ps 8:7; Ps 46:4. etc. The image appears a number of times in Luke/Acts, (e.g., Luke 7:38-46; Luke 8:35, 41; Luke 17:16; Acts 10:25; Acts 22:3). For further details see Luke Timothy Johnson’s Commentary on Acts in the Sacra Pagina Series, especially his notes on Acts 4:35 and Acts 7:58.

Act 4:36  And Joseph, who, by the apostles, was surnamed Barnabas (which is, by interpretation, The son of consolation), a Levite, a Cyprian born,

Joseph, which is sometimes read with a Greek termination, Joses. However, the Vulgate reading is the more probable. He is different from the Joseph mentioned (1:23), “by the Apostles was surnamed Barnabas.” St. Luke explains the meaning of Barnabas to be “the son of consolation.”   The strict etymology of the Hebrew word means “son of Prophecy.” But, St. Luke interprets “son of consolation,”  or exhortation, because one of the chief ends of prophecy was to exhort, console; and it would seem that Barnabas afterwards displayed this gift in an eminent degree. Barnabas is most probably singled out because of his exemplary liberality, and of his being afterwards distinguished as a zealous preacher of the Gospel. He is frequently referred to in the Acts as the companion of St. Paul Acts 11:22-30; Acts 12:25; Acts 13:1-50.

A Levite, i.e., descended from Levi. The Levites were employed in the lower services of the temple and assisting the priests in the discharge of their office.

A Cyprian born. After the captivity the Jewish race were dispersed all over the earth. There were many Jews in the Island of Cyprus (Dion. Lib. 68, 69).

Act 4:37  Having land, sold it and brought the price and laid it at the feet of the Apostles.

Having land, sold it. By Divine arrangement (Numbers 28:20, 23) the Levites, as a tribe, were prohibited from holding lands in Judea, except pasture lands in the immediate vicinity of their cities (Numbers 30:3-4). This prohibition did not comprise individuals even in Judea nor the countries outside Judea. This prohibitory law in regard to the Levites had fallen  into disuse (Jeremiah 32:7). Moreover, the property of Barnabas may have been in Cyprus.  Levites could purchase land and have a title to it in right of their wives.

Barnabas’ actions here provide a contrast with an event Luke immediately goes on to narrate in chapter 6; the chilling story of Ananias and Saphira.

3 Responses to “Father MacEvily’s Commentary on Acts 4:32-37”

  1. […] Bishop MacEvilly’s Commentary on the First Reading (Acts 4:32-35). […]

  2. […] SundayFather Callan's Commentary on Acts 4:32-35 for Divine Mercy Sunday (Second Sunday of Easter)Bishop MacEvily's Commentary on Acts 4:32-35 for the Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday)Sunday, April 15, 2012~Papal Magisterium on Acts 4:32-35Catholic Scripture ForumThis Week's Posts: […]

  3. […] Bishop MacEvily’s Commentary on Today’s First Reading (Acts 4:32-37). Originally posted for Divine Mercy Sunday which used verses 32-35. […]

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