The Book of Acts Does Not Support Communism

The fact that certain passages of Scripture express forms of communalism certainly does not mean they were practicing the 19th-century militantly atheistic ideology known as communism. 

“This is not communism. It is pure Christianity.”

Even Pope Francis understands. He offered that succinct assessment at Holy Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday 2021, when speaking on the Book of Acts, specifically Acts 4:32, which states of the apostles that “no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.”

Francis paused to explain in the very next line, lest anyone had any misconceptions: “This is not communism. It is pure Christianity.”

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Francis, of course, is heavily criticized for being soft on communism. He has not been good on China, on Nicaragua, and on socialist basket cases like Venezuela. His China policy, as I noted here five years ago, has been awful. His Argentinian colleague, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of Francis’ Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, infamously gushed that communist China “best realizes the social doctrine of the Church.”

I watch Francis for statements condemning communism. One of the few I can point to is this, from December 2013: “The Marxist ideology is wrong.”

All of which is to say that when Francis—a pope accused of being a socialist, and who certainly speaks favorably of redistribution, of forms of collectivism, and is very critical and naïve about free markets and what he characterizes as “capitalism”—steps forward during a reading from Acts to point out emphatically that “this is not communism,” he has credibility.

I mention this now because the readings from the Lectionary from last weekend’s Divine Mercy Sunday Mass included one of the passages from Acts that Religious Left Christians often sloppily assume advocates for “communism.” The passage is Acts 2:42-47, which includes this line: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to their needs.” And the reading from this Tuesday is Acts 4:32-37.

Karl Marx, an atheist and evolutionary racist who hated religion and referred to Christianity as a “hypocritical” faith that preaches “cowardice, self-contempt, abasement, submission, humility,” pulled from that line to develop one of his most famous maxims: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

The other passage from Acts that is most frequently invoked by “social justice” warriors is Acts 4:32-35, which states: 

The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.

I’ve written about that passage here in articles with titles like “The Early Church Was Not Socialist” and in other writings. I can’t begin to convey how many times I’ve been asked about it over the years—and not always from opponents. Here’s the reality: The fact that certain passages of Scripture, or certain religious orders, express forms of communalism—look closely at that word, communalism not communism—or pooled together resources to help one another, certainly does not mean they were practicing the 19th-century militantly atheistic ideology known as communism. 

If you think there’s a comparison between the first century apostles or St. Francis and his followers to Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks, then you’re plainly out of your mind. If you think the teachings of Karl Marx are analogous to the teachings of Jesus Christ then, well, I’m frankly speechless.  If you think there’s a comparison between the first century apostles or St. Francis and his followers to Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks, then you’re plainly out of your mind. Tweet This

The likes of the early apostles and Franciscans were first and foremost forged on a Christian model; religion served as their rudder, their guiding, inspiring, animating force—the very spiritual force that communism seeks to abolish. Marx called religion “the opium of the masses.” Lenin called it “spiritual booze,” “Medieval mildew,” “a necrophilia,” and said, “there is nothing more abominable than religion.”

To take a single Marxist exhortation to share wealth and then, in turn, argue that communism is thus comparable to Christianity is the height of folly. Candidly, it’s unbelievable that any rational person could be that simplistic.

Individuals who opt for communal life in a religious order, which is a miniscule, rare portion of the population, do so voluntarily to serve God. Under atheistic communism, a totalitarian regime forces 100 percent of society to bend to its will. It confiscates their property, contrary to the Bible’s vigorous defenses of property rights, as rudimentary as the understanding implicit in the 10 Commandments: thou shalt not steal. In the New Testament, individuals like the Good Samaritan or the vineyard owner voluntarily give their own earnings as free-will acts of benevolence—not as forced responses to state fiat.

Let’s get back to the Book of Acts. Read further on in that section. An evangelical friend of mine often urges, “Never read a single Bible verse.” Context is crucial. The full section of Acts 4:32-37, plus the start of Acts 5, makes clear that these believers owned property. In most Bibles, the heading for that section states, “The Believers Share Their Possessions.” Look closely at those last two words: “Their Possessions.” 

To the contrary, possessions are not permitted under communism. Marx and Engels, in the Communist Manifesto, stated: “The entire communist theory may be summed up in the single sentence: abolition of private property.” Throughout Acts, these believers have private property. It has not been abolished.

Acts 4:36 notes that Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus whom the apostles called Barnabas, “sold a field he owned” and brought the proceeds to the apostles. Barnabas was permitted property. He sold not all of it, but a field. 

In Acts 5, the same is true of Ananias, who “also sold a piece of property.” Both Barnabas and Ananias owned property and chose to sell a portion to share.

The apostles willingly could choose to sell their property (or some of it) and share it. They were not compelled at knifepoint by a government regime to forcibly give up all possessions or be carted off to a labor camp.

Above all, this mere sharing of some property by these early apostles is light-years away from the teachings of Marx and Engels and Lenin and more. If you doubt me, then please, read. Educate yourself! The Manifesto talks about the abolition of not only property but of family, religion, “all morality,” “eternal truths,” capital, classes, states, societies, and much more. Almost hilariously, Marx and Engels, in the Manifesto, explain that communism seeks nothing less than to “abolish the present state of things.”

Gee, is that all?

Marx and Engels declared that communism represents “the most radical rupture in traditional relations.” They closed their Manifesto by stating that, “They [Communists] openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.” As for Marx, he had a favorite quote from Goethe’s Faust: “Everything that exists deserves to perish.” 

That was Karl Marx and his ideology. It is a radical transformation of human nature. Read the Communist Manifesto and then read the Book of Acts, and then try to argue that Acts is communism. Read the 10-point plan in the Communist Manifesto. Does it sound like a plan of the apostles? 

Beyond the Manifesto, read other communist classics, such as Marx’s “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right” (the “opiate of the masses” essay); Friedrich Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State; Marx’s literally devilish poetry and plays, such as “The Pale Maiden” and Oulanem; Lenin’s opus The State and Revolution and his elucidation of “communist ethics” vs. Christian ethics in his shocking 1920 Speech to the Russian Young Communist League; Nikolai Bukharin on “Communism and Religion” in his The ABC of Communism

Note how these men stated, repeatedly, that their communism is incompatible with your idiotic Christianity. To quote Bukharin: “Religion and communism are incompatible, both theoretically and practically…. Communism is incompatible with religious faith.” He urged communists everywhere: “A fight to the death must be declared upon religion, take on religion at the tip of the bayonet.” 

I could go on and on.

Above all, for a better idea of what communism is, read your own Church’s numerous encyclicals, such as Pope Pius IX’s Qui Pluribus (November 1846), Pope Pius XI’s Divini Redemptoris (March 1937), Leo XIII’s Quod Apostolici Muneris (December 1878), or John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus (May 1991), a beautiful critique of not only socialism but Western materialism. Read Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno, which states, “no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.”

In other words, get informed before spouting ridiculous things about your Christian faith, thoroughly embarrassing yourself by outrageously linking the glorious, redeeming teachings of Christ and His apostles to the deadliest ideology in human history.

No, folks, the Book of Acts is not communism. Anyone who makes such an assertion immediately conveys a profound ignorance, almost laughably silly if it were not so sad. They are showing you that they have no idea what communism is.

Communism is the antithesis and enemy of Christianity. The Book of Acts, as Pope Francis said, is Christianity, not communism. 


  • Paul Kengor

    Paul Kengor is Professor of Political Science at Grove City College, executive director of the Center for Vision and Values. He is the author, most recently, of The Devil and Karl Marx (TAN Books, 2020).

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