29 June, 2022

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Owen Crouch’s ‘Study of Acts 2:44, 45’ (1953)

by | 23 June, 2022 | 1 comment

In an article we posted early this week, Jake Sutherlin interviewed Del Harris, Milligan Class of 1959, who will be enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in September.

Harris, now 85, went to Milligan College (as it was then known) to study for a career in ministry and to play basketball. During his junior and senior years, Harris worked as Milligan faculty member Dr. Owen Crouch’s assistant at a local church. Harris recalled taking Crouch’s 6 a.m. Greek class during his junior year. He also remembered Crouch only ever preached from a literal Greek New Testament.

Today we share a short article by Crouch from 1953, only months before he joined the Milligan faculty. As you’ll see, the article relies heavily on Crouch’s Greek scholarship.  

Also, it is helpful to keep in mind that the Cold War between the United States (and its allies) and the Soviet Union (a communist nation) was at its height during the time this was written.

_ _ _

A Study of Acts 2:44, 45

By Owen L. Crouch, Angola, Ind.
April 25, 1953; p. 6

“And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” The King James Version and the American Standard Version of 1901 translate this verse practically the same way. The Revised Standard Version of 1952 uses the word “distributed” in verse 45 instead of “parted,” and thus the three versions remain in substantial agreement. If our aim is to secure the mind of the author as he reflected the practice of the early church, these translations can be improved upon.

There have been some who have asserted that the early Christian church made an attempt to practice communism but failed. Both commentators and novelists have advocated such a fallacy and have cited this passage as proof-text. This view grows out of a misunderstanding of the nature of Christianity and springs from a failure to apply the laws of Greek grammar to the verses under consideration.

Back of every outward practice is a foundation of faith. Back of every deed is a philosophy or a viewpoint. But we must read aright the description of the outward practice if we would grasp properly the doctrine that lies behind it. For example, there is a Greek proverb which says: “Common are the possessions of friends.” We do not accuse the Greeks of political communism as we know it today and yet this proverb reflects a viewpoint of friendship that no doubt found innumerable expressions in the outward life of the ancient Greeks.

So the practice of the early Christians as described in Acts 2:44, 45 reflects an outward expression of an inward basic faith. The faith or philosophy is that, under God in Christ, what any man has does not belong to him for personal glory, but is only his to use for redemptive purposes. What I possess—whether it be talents, personality qualities, or material possessions—is mine to use for the redemption of man, not for personal ends. This is the Christian philosophy of life. In the actual practice of this Christian faith the early church reflected a unity of possessions, without destroying the freedom of each individual will and without taking from each individual his own personal initiative in the use of his possessions. Our modern English translations obscure this basic Christian viewpoint and practice in Acts 2.

Take note of the phrase in verse 44, “had all things in common.” In verse 45 note the verbs translated “sold,” “parted,” and “had need.” In our English translations these verbs appear to be simple past tenses, as if the author were merely stating a fact rather than describing a practice. Each of these verbs in the Greek text represents an imperfect tense. And when we recall that the Greek imperfect represents action as either in progress (————————), or habitually repeated ( – – – – – – – – ), then we can realize how our modern English translations fail at this point. Luke is doing more than just stating what the church did; he is describing not only the fact of what they did, but also how they did it. He describes this by the choice of the imperfect tense.

Let us translate the iterative imperfect eichon (“had”) of verse 44 by the phrase, “was having” all things common; and the verbs of verse 45, “sold,” “parted,” and “had need” should be also translated “were selling,” “were distributing,” and “was having need.” Thus our translation of these two verses would be as follows: “All those who believed kept together; and they were having all things as common, and were selling their possessions and goods, and were distributing them to all just as any one was having a need.”

An obedient faith in Jesus as God’s Son and Savior was the common bond that made all these many believers one body. They neither lived together nor emptied their private treasuries into a common treasury, once and for all. The word translated “common” in verse 44 is a predicate substantive in apposition with the word “things.” The Christians were having all things “as common.” In other works growing out of the basic Christian philosophy of life, these Christians considered and treated their possessions as something in their trust, to be held and administered by them. God respected their individual judgment and depended upon their own personal love and faith to use these possessions in alleviating their brother’s need if and when that need arose.

The Christian viewpoint of our relationship to all we possess—whether personality traits or material possessions—is that we hold them as common. That which determines when we shall release these possessions to others is the need of the others as these needs repeatedly arise from time to time.

This is far from political communism as it is known today. Rather than a failure as communism, this is an example of successful Christianity.

Anyone who has a clear grasp of the Christian’s relationship to God and to his own possessions, and who has any kind of appreciation for the true genius of the Greek iterative imperfect tense, will not fail to see in these two verses a description of the outward practice of the inward faith that all that we are and have are God’s—all His to be shared in service as human needs arise. This is Christianity at its best.

[END OF ARTICLE]

_ _ _

Here’s a clipping from 1953 that announced Dr. Crouch’s move to Milligan College.

Dr. Crouch taught at Milligan for 18 years.

An obituary for Dr. Crouch that appeared in Christian Standard on Nov. 5, 2000, said that he died on Aug. 24, 2000, at Appalachian Christian Village in Johnson City, Tenn., at age 89. In addition to Lincoln and Milligan, he also taught at Winston-Salem Bible College (now called Mid-Atlantic Christian University in Elizabeth City, N.C.) At the time of his death he had been married to Lucille for 68 years; they met at Cincinnati Bible Seminary.  

His obituary also stated: “He was the author of 10 books, many of which contained diagrams and expositions of the Greek New Testament. . . . Many remembered Dr. Crouch as a friend, minister, scholar, lecturer, and especially a teacher.”

—Jim Nieman, managing editor

Christian Standard

Contact us at cs@christianstandardmedia.com

1 Comment

  1. Lorna Crouch

    “Thanks for the Memories” both of Del Harris who was my youth minister at Poplar Ridge Christian Church in Piney Flats, TN, when I was in Junior High and of my father, Owen Crouch, who wanted to live to be 100 so he could finish diagramming the Greek New Testament. He did not finish that task, but his article which you published showed how he thought and how he taught the students who followed him into preaching and teaching — some at Milligan.
    –Lorna Jeanne Crouch

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