Should believers sell all their possessions and property?

I’ve been chatting to some members of the Twelve Tribes community. It’s a global organisation with small self-sufficient communities around the globe. Each member gives up everything they own, leave families, and change their names to a Hebrew one when they join. They would consider any Christian outside the Twelve Tribes as not saved, because they haven’t fully committed to being part of the community. I’m looking into this again as I know someone who is now seriously considering joining them, having been persuaded by the Twelve Tribes’ reasoning, and I want to ensure she has considered scripture fully before she commits to something that looks very difficult to leave, that is also based on erroneous teachings and is what I would describe as a cult group.

They base their arguments on the following proof texts:

John 14:15 If you love me you will keep my commands.

Acts 2:45 They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need.

Acts 4:32-36 Now the entire group of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but instead they held everything in common. For there was not a needy person among them because all those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the proceeds of what was sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet. This was then distributed to each person as any had need.

They mesh these verses together and argue that by not selling our possessions and property, we’re not being obedient to Christ’s commands. I think the story of Ananias and Sapphira withholding some land and being judged for it is an affirmation in their eyes of this teaching that to be truly saved, you must sell everything. It’s not difficult to see the flaws in these lines of reasoning.

I’m preparing to continue my conversation with them and my friend who is interested in joining them, but I wanted to get other people’s thoughts on the wider context of the Acts passage in preparation.

For example, in verse 45, it says the new believers" sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need." Then in verse 46, it says "Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. "

This implies they hadn’t all sold their property and still had houses in which they’d meet. In addition, the study notes in The Apologetics Study Bible says that “this experiment did not last long due to contribution/distribution problems (see chapters 4-6)”. I’m finding it hard to see the direct example of distribution problems, unless the Ananias & Sapphira story illustrates a greater reticence amongst genuine believers to sell all their property and possessions.

I’m trying to build a more solid argument that these stories in Acts are merely descriptive of the early believers, and that even then this practice died out, but that it’s not prescriptive for all believers today, and that it’s certainly not what Jesus had in mind when he said that those who obey his commands are his true disciples. Does anyone else have any thoughts on this that they’d be willing to share, or commentaries referencing this discussion?


Hi @alison, I think that’s a great argument, right from their main text!

I think there are a few other ways to discern the integrity of this group.

First, does anyone in this group have “possession” of the group’s property? I wonder if perhaps the group leaders control the assets while the members are made to be dependent upon the leaders for whatever they need?

I would be suspicious of their requirement that members give up their possessions so that - functionally - leaders control those assets.

For instance, do the leaders live in a lower economic state than the members?

In general, anytime someone is leveraging religion to control others - a new name, a new home, an extreme level of control over finances - I am quite concerned!

In Acts 16:14-15, Paul meets Lydia. Dr. Craig Keener notes, “ More than likely Lydia is well-to-do as a seller of purple, a luxury good associated with wealth throughout Mediterranean culture for over a thousand years.”

However, Paul doesn’t criticize her for owning and selling luxury goods. Rather, he baptizes her (indicating she is a true Christian) and accepts her offer of hospitality in her home (which, apparently, she owns).

Also consider Philemon. Paul’s writes,

To Philemon our dear friend and coworker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church that meets in your home.

Importantly, there’s a distinction between the church and Philemon’s home.

Both of these examples demonstrate that their interpretation of Scripture goes beyond what makes sense - in light of Christian practice within Acts as well as what we see in the rest of the New Testament.

Most importantly, I am asking the question: does this practice reflect the golden rule?

For instance, would selling all my possessions help me love my kids as I would want my father to love me? No, it would do the opposite, jeopardizing their development and health.

I do think the Scriptures call us to a higher level of joyful generosity than most believers practice, and they do require honesty if we decide to disclose how much we give away, but that’s not at all the same as what this group practices.


Hi @alison,

You have some good arguments already and here are a few more thoughts for consideration.

When we look at the context of Acts 2, it seems there may be other practical reasons for believers coming together and selling their possessions. Acts 2:5-6 informs us that multitudes came together hearing the sound of people speaking in tongues. Initially, there were about 120 in the upper room ( Acts 1:15) but by the end of Peter’s message, the number of people swelled to 3000! ( Acts 2:41). Where would all of these visitors go? They would have needed food and places to stay to hear the Word a few more days. There may have been many poor among the 3000. The believers in the town may have come up with the most logical solution of selling their own possessions in order to provide for the visitors as there was need. But as you noticed and Carson shared from other texts, not everyone sold all their possessions as churches continued to meet in homes.

In Acts 4, we see the same thing happening again. The numbers rose to over 5000. People sold everything and put the proceeds at apostle’s feet for them to distribute as there was need. The problem with Ananias and Sapphira was not that they held back some land for themselves but that they lied about the proceeds from their sale (Acts 5:1-2). God has always sought for us to give freely and willingly but they failed in this regard. Ananias and Sapphira wanted to appear generous in front of the church by pretending to give everything from the sale when in fact they held back some of the proceeds. As a result, they were punished for lying to the church and before God.

The selling of possessions in Acts 2 and 4 is unique to that context and instructions along those lines are not repeated elsewhere unlike the practices of teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer mentioned in Acts 2:42, which appear in many other bible passages ( example: Heb 10:25, 1 Tim 2:1, 1 Tim 4:13).

When it comes to meeting needs of others, 2 Cor 8: 12-14 may give some insight on whether we must all sell property and have things in common. Because if everyone sold everything for the community, there would definitely be some who will be burdened while others eased and as a result there would be no equality. You could also ask your friend as to why in 1 Cor 16:2 Paul instructs the church to only set aside a portion of their earnings, if a true believer is required to sell everything.


Hi @alison, I’m praying for you, this person you know, and for your conversations. Grateful to God that you have the opportunity to speak with her!

To add to @lakshmi’s response concerning Ananias and Sapphira, Peter’s response to Ananias in Acts 5:3-4 starts and ends with a lament and accusation of Ananias’s lying to God, stressing that it is primarily on account of his lies that he dies. The rhetorical questions, “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?” also imply that they were under no obligation to sell their goods and lay it at the apostles’ feet.

I believe this is referencing the complaint of the Helenists in Acts 6:1-2 that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. So, the claim would be that the daily distribution here is the same distribution referenced in Acts 2 and 4. However, the dispute was settled by the appointing of seven overseers, so I’m not sure why they make the claim that the distribution fell apart. The main reasoning I could see for this claim would be that this story is juxtaposed right next to the stoning of Stephen, who was one of the appointed seven. However, the ordering to me seems far more likely to be about the introduction of Paul and the beginning of the ministry to the Helenists, Samaritans, and Gentiles than about the death of one of the seven just introduced and the implied downfall of the distribution.

The New American Commentary by John B. Polhill on Acts has a fair amount of discussion on each passage as well as on some of the particular words, though I found it hard to pull out any key take aways that would be useful for the conversation. On Acts 2:45 though, he said that the verb sold is in the imperfect tense, which would stress the continuing and habitual nature of the selling. Thus, making it more likely that when needs came up, possessions would be sold rather than everyone just selling everything and to make a communal fund.

The Anchor Yale Bible Commentary on Acts by Joseph A Fitzmeyer also has some quality discussion if you want to get more in depth understanding of the words and phrases used and their possible meanings. Though I think I would pick Polhill’s of the two (at least from the small amount I have seen).

Both also say that Luke’s description of this lifestyle may be portraying it as similar to the Essenes or Pythagorean communities. I don’t know what either of those were like, but that could be something to look into to dive deeper.

The last book that could be helpful is Out of Context: How to Avoid Misinterpreting the Bible by Richard L. Schultz. I think you have it spot on, this passage is descriptive, not prescriptive. The arguments from the text you and others have shared are probably the most convincing, but Schultz’s book may give other helpful tips for arguing the case as well. At the very least it provides several examples of him doing so with various texts that could be a good model to follow.


This is something I’m going to find out when I next chat to them in a week. As far as I can tell, each community is autonomous in how it rules itself. I think it’s different from Jehovah’s Witnesses, who whilst all meeting in congregations around the world are governed centrally by the Watchtower’s Governing Body. I don’t think there’s the same centralised government in the Twelve Tribes.

Yes, hugely concerning. This is why I want to find out more so that I can not only speak to those already in it but also those considering it. I think the main draw is to be in a tight-knit community. From the testimonies I’ve heard so far, it has attracted people who desperately sought a sense of belonging and community that life had not offered them previously. The testimonies always focus on the community aspect, rather than the saving message of the gospel. For them, community is salvation.

@lakshmi and @Carson I appreciate the examples you’ve given from Acts and Philemon to show that true believers had their own homes. It’s very interesting that selling of possessions isn’t repeated like it is with teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. I will add some of the questions you’ve both raised to my list of things to discuss!

@blake I found your points on Acts 6 really interesting, thank you. I’m not sure I can make a strong case from this particular aspect of the discussion so will take time to think on it some more first. On the other hand, Polhill’s commentary on the imperfect tense of ‘sold’ is very interesting. I will spend time in the Greek to make sure I’ve got this clearly laid out. I appreciate the recommendations.

I will let you all know how things go over the next week!