[José Porfirio Miranda was a Mexican Christian communist militant and theologian. According to Profiles in liberation: 36 portraits of third world theologians, Miranda “was born in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, in 1924. He did his graduate work in Europe, earning a licentiate in theology from the University of Frankfurt am Main, and a licentiate in biblical sciences from the Biblical Institute in Rome in 1967.” Miranda and his brothers, while at school, “became famous for using their fists in defense of their [religious] beliefs” due to the heavily anti-Catholic atmosphere in the 30s. Miranda wrote books such as Marx and the Bible: A Critique of the Philosophy of Oppression, Hegel was Right: The Myth of the Empirical Sciences José Porfirio Miranda, Communism in the Bible, Being and the Messiah, and Marx Against the Marxists: The Christian Humanism of Karl Marx.]
[The following text is from Chapter 1 of Communism in the Bible, published and translated by Orbis Books in 1982. The original text was published in 1981.]
[In line with the Biblical Commission’s statement on June 19, 1911 which condemns this viewpoint, the owners of this archive do not endorse Miranda’s claim regarding the authorship of the Gospel of Matthew.]
For a Christian to say he or she is anti-Marxist is understandable. There are numerous varieties of Marxism, and it is possible that our Christian is referring to one of the many materialistic philosophies which style themselves Marxist without having much at all to do with Marx.
For a Christian to claim to be not only anti-Marxist but anti-Marx as well, it is probably owing to not having read all of Marx, and the repugnance is a symptom of simple ignorance. But when all is said and done I do not really care. I am under no obligation to defend Marx.
But for a Christian to claim to be anticommunist is quite a different matter, and without doubt constitutes the greatest scandal of our century. It is not a good thing to weigh a book down with cries and shouts, but someone finally has to voice the most obvious and important truths, which no one mentions as if everyone knew them.
The notion of communism is in the New Testament, right down to the letter—and so well put that in the twenty centuries since it was written no one has come up with a better definition of communism than Luke in Acts 2:44-45 and 4:32-35. In fact, the definition Marx borrowed from Louis Blanc, “From each one according to his capacities, to each one according to his needs,” is inspired by, if not directly copied from, Luke’s formulation eighteen centuries earlier. There is no clearer demonstration of the brainwashing to which the establishment keeps us subjected than the officially promulgated conception of Christianity as anticommunist.
At this moment two-thirds of Latin America writhes under the yoke of atrocious anticommunist dictatorships. Nearly all the rest of Latin America suffers from a most ill-concealed anticommunist repression. The international politics of nearly all the countries of the world, and their consequent criminal armament ideology, rallies to this contradictory watchword: “Defend Christian civilization from communism!” At such a moment there are no words adequate to this other cry: But what if, in the history of the West, it is Christianity that started communism? What if, from the first century to the nineteenth, groups of Christians were never lacking who, in spite of repression by the established powers and by the church, vigorously advocated communism, Bible in hand! What manner of insanity has swooped down on the Western world that it combats the Christian project par excellence as if it were its greatest enemy?
1. Intentional Misunderstandings
Ultimately the Marxists have been doing us a favor by propagating the idea of communism in our absence—our culpable absence. But to identify communism with Marxism implies a crass ignorance of history. It is far from certain that the establishment is struggling against atheistic materialism, as the powerful tell themselves in order to tranquillize their consciences. This repressive struggle of theirs dates from much earlier. It existed for many centuries when no communist was a materialist and no communist was an atheist; it existed when materialism and atheism did not even exist. Marxism is a mere episode in the history of the communist project. The pope and the other powerful ones are not fighting atheism, but us, who are Christians, who believe in God and Jesus, and who only want to see the gospel become reality.
Surely there are different interpretations of the gospel, and the purpose of this book is to air them. But then the powerful are attacking an interpretation of the Bible different from their own. This onslaught of theirs is nothing but the continuation of what they were carrying on all through the Middle Ages and the first three centuries of the modern era. The denunciation of materialism is a mere pretext for anticommunist persecution. If these gentlemen did not have this pretext they would invent another— as in fact they did throughout the Middle Ages, with different pretexts in the sixteenth century, and still others in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. If materialism were the reason for the anticommunist persecution, how do you explain the fact that they persecuted communism long before materialism existed? No, what they persecute and repress is communism as such. But the communist project is explicitly defended in the Bible as proper to and characteristic of Christianity. It was invented neither by the Marxists nor by the medieval or modern Christian groups!
When the official doctrinal propaganda asserts that the communist idea is inseparable from materialist ideologies, it is denying facts as evident and inconcealable as daylight. In primitive Christianity, and for eighteen centuries after, the communist idea existed without materialism of any kind. And even today, what logical relationship can be pointed out between “having everything in common” (Acts 2:44) and denying the existence or efficacy of the spirit? The truth is precisely the reverse: communism cannot be actualized unless we recognize the infinite respect due God in each of our neighbors, including those who are economically unproductive by weakness or age or natural gifts. The failure of Russian communism is the evidence. (What you now have in the Soviet Union is state capitalism.)
Then why does official Christianity make war on an idea that is expressly sponsored in the fonts of Christianity, and which, logically, can only be brought to realization on the basis of authentic Christianity? The denial of the existence of the spirit is far more inseparable from each one’s selfishly seeking his or her own proper advantage and gain, as capitalism teaches us to do. The thesis that communism cannot be separated from materialism is one of those monstrous Hitler-style falsehoods that are proclaimed with all the greater aplomb the more false they are. Examined objectively, it is the diametrical inversion of the real facts.
Another deliberate misunderstanding is the allegation that we Christian communists are only being fashionable, or adapting to progressive currents, or zealously keeping up to date. In the name of my Latin American brothers and sisters I here formally declare that we are shameless conservatives. We are looking for the literal gospel. We detest that opportunist principle according to which Christianity ought constantly to adapt and accommodate to changing circumstances. As if Christianity had no content of its own to proclaim and actualize! We reject the feebleminded notion that Christianity must be Roman in Roman imperial times, feudal in the Middle Ages, absolutist during the monarchy, liberal for the French Revolution, and so on.
They can likewise lay aside the notion that, while not actually denying the existence of Spirit, we care more for the material than for the spiritual. But in the first place, the final criterion established and left us by Jesus as the only one is, ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink, was a stranger and you took me in, was stripped naked and you clothed me; sick and you visited me, imprisoned and you came to see me” (Matt. 25:35-36). If this is preoccupying oneself more with the material than with the spiritual, then the self-styled official spiritualism ought to stop beating about the bush and direct its accusations against Jesus himself. Here we see all over again that the confrontation is between two interpretations of the Bible, not between Christians and atheists. And the difference is that we take the message of Jesus literally and without gloss.
But in the second place, is unrestricted fidelity to Jesus Christ to be reproached as preoccupation with the material? How are we going to give food to all who are hungry if we leave the means of production in private hands, which necessarily destine these means to the augmentation of capital and not to the satisfaction of the needs of the population? Do the official theologians really think they can maintain that there is more spirituality in the escapist selfishness of people who tranquillize themselves by saying, “There have always been people who starved to death, we are not divine providence,” than in the decision of the people who want to be faithful to Jesus by undertaking all possible means to give food to the hungry, knowing that they are exposing themselves to repression, prison, and torture? Is there less spirituality in ruining one’s future and social prestige by taking Jesus seriously than in adapting to the sweet enchantment of a bourgeoisie singing “I am dedicated to spiritual things”?
Furthermore, they can lay aside the notion that, while not actually denying the existence of God, we care more about human beings than about God. We have dedicated our lives to Jesus. Don’t these theologians think Jesus is God? And this is where the antirevolutionary onslaught smites the essential point, the very essence of biblical revelation. Let it be clearly understood: the one thing the Christian revolutionaries advocate and defend is the adoration of the true God, in contrast with the adoration of idols, which for many centuries now has been inculcated by a theology radically ignorant of the Bible. This is not a theme that can simply be listed as item number so-and-so in a list of objections. It is not even just a theme. It is the one single motive of our rebellion, and the one single content of our theology. We have never pretended to do more than theology, in the strict and literal sense of the word.
The God of the Bible is not knowable directly. The idols are. And the mental idols are more important than the material ones. There are those who believe that the only thing they have to do is put the word “God” in their minds to be directed toward the true God. But this is what the Bible fights to the death. The god of these adorers is a concept within their minds. With this intramental act they fail to transcend their own subjectivity, their own psychism, their own I. Either the true God is transcendent or the true God does not exist. The otherness constituted by the oppressed neighbor, who calls on our aid seeking justice, bursts our solipsism asunder. This is the only way we transcend ourselves. The God of the Bible is knowable only in otherness, in the call for help of the poor, the orphan, the widow, the stranger. Our revolutionary message has this objective only: that all people may come to know the one true God, and knowing God be saved. Those who accuse us of preferring the human to the divine are not only committing calumny; they are above all committing ignorance—supine ignorance of the Bible itself.
Last, they can abandon the notion that we care more for the transformation of structures than for the transformation of persons, that we care more for the social than for the personal. The contrary is the truth. Our revolution is directed toward the creation of the new human being. But unlike the attackers, we seek to posit the necessary means for the formation of this new human being. And the indispensable means is a new social structure. Is it not perfectly obvious that an existing social system has more efficacy for education or miseducation than the exhortations of classroom or temple? How far can you get with the idea that a person should not place his or her heart in money and material things (the central idea of the Sermon on the Mount) if the existing social system inculcates just the contrary under pain of blows and death? Perhaps an insignificant minority can heroically resist the peremptory mandates of such a system. But Christianity cares about all human beings. It cannot content itself with saving a tiny minority. The majority cannot even assign a sense of realism to the Christian message of brotherhood and solidarity with neighbor, when the social structure imposes upon it, under pain of annihilation, the task of seeking its proper interest and letting the chips fall where they may, without preoccupying itself with other people. Structural change will be a mere means for personal change—but a means so obviously necessary, that those who fail to give it first priority demonstrate by that very fact that their vaunted desire to transform persons is just empty rhetoric.
To return to where we began, the five establishment pretexts for their unscrupulous crusade against communism are mere diversionary maneuvers: identifying communism with materialism and atheism, accusing us of chasing mode and fashion, imputing to us a lack of spirituality, alleging we care more for human beings than for God, and attributing to us a greater preoccupation with structures than with persons. It is time to drop all these side issues and concentrate on the fundamental fact: the Bible teaches communism.
2. Original Christianity
All the believers together had everything in common; they sold their possessions and their goods, and distributed among all in accordance with each one’s need.[Acts 2:44-45]
The heart of the multitude of believers was one and their soul was one, and not a single one said anything of what he had was his, but all things were in common. . . . There was no poor person among them, since whoever possessed fields or houses sold them, bore the proceeds of the sale and placed them at the feet of the apostles; and a distribution was made to each one in accordance with his need[Acts 4:32, 34-35]
Luke’s normative intention stands out. There is no question of a special lifestyle that could be considered peculiar to some Christians in contrast with the general mass of Christians. His insistence on the universality of communism from a literary point of view is even a little affected—pántes hoi pisteúsantes (2:44), all the believers, all who had believed in Jesus Christ, all Christians; oudé heîs (4:32), not a single one said anything was his; hósoi ktétores (4:34), whoever possessed fields or houses, whoever had anything. If they wanted to be Christians the condition was com munism.
The anticommunist commentators allege that this is Luke’s personal point of view, and that the other New Testament writers fail to corroborate it. The argument is invalid, because none of the other writers describes the life of original Christianity, and hence there is no document upon which one could base an attempt to give Luke the lie. But let us suppose (not concede) that some other New Testament author were to differ with Luke; how would this justify the persecution (styling itself “Christian”) of a social project that is explicitly and repeatedly promoted by one of the principal authors of the New Testament?
We shall see that the hypothesis is false, for Jesus himself was a communist. But let us place ourselves hypothetically in the worst possible position: that only Luke teaches communism. With what right, indeed with what elemental logic, is it thereupon asserted that communism is incompatible with Christianity? Does not the very fact that they make this assertion demonstrate that the anticommunists who call themselves Christians are alienated and are merely claiming Christianity when in reality they are being moved by an anti-Christian motivation of which they are unaware? If at least the Lucan part of the New Testament teaches communism, how is it possible to maintain that communism is at odds with Christianity?
Let us suppose (not concede) that there are parts of the New Testament which lend footing to the projection of social systems different from Luke’s. Well and good. That some Christians today may prefer these other parts of the Bible to Luke’s is their affair. But with what right do they deny the name Christian to what the Lucan part of the Bible teaches emphatically and repeatedly? The origin of the communist idea in the history of the West is the New Testament, not Jamblichus or Plato. The banner the communist groups and movements marched under—from the first century through the Middle Ages all the way to Wilhelm Weitling (1808-1871), in whose procommunist organization Marx and Engels were active in their youth (cf. MEW 17:485)—was the New Testament, not The Republic or the Vita Pythagorae. The ruthless repression of the communists in the name of Christianity for the last seventeen centuries is a farce, and the most grotesque falsification that can be imagined.
A second anticommunist allegation against the texts we have cited from Luke is: The communism of the first Christians failed. It is flabbergasting that sermons, documents of the magisterium, books, and bourgeois public opinion should brook the notion that this is an argument. The Sermon on the Mount failed too, but this does not deprive it of its normative character. In the clear intention of the original report, communism is obligatory for Christians. This is not modified, not in the slightest, by the fact of a failure of the original communist intent. What should concern us is to find out why it broke down, and bring communism to realization without committing whatever error caused the first Christians to break down. This would be the only logical conclusion if our objectors had the flimsiest desire to be guided by the Bible. But what our objectors have done is make an antecedent and irreformable decision to disagree with the Bible, and to this purpose they bring forward every pretext, even if it tramples upon the most elemental logic.
To cite that initial failure is pure pretext. It is as if we told ourselves we were eliminating the Ten Commandments because they failed in history. The establishment theologians confound the normative with the factual—and they confound them deliberately, in order to be able to disagree with any biblical teaching for which they have no taste. This is anti-Christianity, disguised as “Christian civilization” for the purpose of rejecting the gospel.
According to Marx (MEW 18:160) the cause of the failure was that the first Christians neglected the political struggle. We shall speak of the political order in another chapter. Personally I think that a communist island in an economic sea characterized by the exploitation of some persons by others cannot be maintained, and that this is why the first Christian communism failed. That is, as we have said above, the surrounding, involving social system has far more power than exhortations have. The communism of the first Christians failed because the first Christians were very few. But today we Christians are the majority in the West and the principal force in the world.
There is a third charge made against the communism of the first Christians. But the reader has already perceived that this whole cascade of objections, one replacing another as each turns out absurd, is only a series of emotional symptoms proceeding from the objectants’ instinctive repugnance to the message of the Bible. The third objection runs as follows: the communism of the first Christians was optional as can be seen from Peter’s words to Ananias, “Was it not still yours if you kept it, and once you sold it was it not yours to dispose of?” (Acts 5:4). One would love to know what cohesion there is among these objections. First they were saying that Luke is lying; then that he is not lying, but that the project collapsed; and finally, not only is he not lying, but his report is so reliable that they are going to use Acts 5:4 to beat communism. It is plain to see that the so-called objections are just irrational reactions, the spasms of an uncontrollable visceral revulsion.
Still, let us examine the convulsion as if it were an objection. It is astonishing that there was ever considered to be any validity in this third charge. Let us take, hypothetically, the worst possible position. Let us suppose (falsely, as we shall see) that according to Luke, communism was optional. I answer: But you combat it as if it were evil! According to yourselves, the Bible (merely) recommends it; so you prohibit it!
“Optional” ought to mean that we Christians may opt for it. Nevertheless you persecute, as seditious, criminal, and antiChristian, whoever opts for communism. I have never seen anything more distracted and demented. To forbid communism they bend all their efforts to prove the Bible recommends it.
But the hypothesis is false. According to Luke, what is optional is not communism, but Christianity. Peter does not tell Ananias that he could have come into the Christian community without renouncing the private ownership of his goods. Nor could he say such a thing after it was explicitly emphasized that of the Christians “not a single one said anything was his” (Acts 4:32). Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit by pretending to become a Christian via a simulated renunciation.
The objection belongs to the type of reader who thinks a work can be understood without understanding the thought of the author. Luke would have to have been a very slow-witted writer if he claimed to assert, in the Ananias episode (Acts 5:1-11), the optional character of communism, when four verses earlier (4:34) he has insisted that “whoever possessed fields or houses sold them,” and so on, and two verses above that, “and not a single one said anything was his” (4:32), and still earlier, “all the faithful together had everything in common” (2:44). This is the Luke who had placed these words on the lips of Jesus: “Every one of you who does not renounce all he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33); and now the rightists would have it that according to Luke one can be a disciple of Christ without renouncing all one has. What they ought to be doing is rejecting Luke as a jabbering cheat. But to assert that according to Luke one can be a Christian without renouncing private property is an insolent rejection of the documentation which all of us have right before our eyes.
Let it be well noted that the last verse cited is concerned with the simple fact of being disciples of Christ, and not of some “special vocation” or other. See the beginning of the pericope: “Many crowds accompanied him, and he, turning, said to them: . . .” (Luke 14:25). He is not addressing the Twelve, but the crowd. It is a simple matter of the conditions for being a Christian, exactly as in the texts we cited from Acts. What is optional is to be a Christian, to be a disciple of Christ. Those who wrest the Ananias episode from its context are trying to read it as if it had no author, as if no one had written it. As Hinkelammert has said, this episode means: pain of death for whoever betrays communism, Christianity’s indispensable condition.
But the most curious and paradoxical thing about the objection we have just been considering is that it supposes that our communism is not optional, or that the communism of Marx is not optional. With supreme fury it attacks a nonexistent enemy. Never have we thought that communism can be realized except by free decision of the workers, rural people, and unemployed, who together form the immense majority of the population. And Marx thought the same.
It must be taken into account that a system is a system. Let it not be thought that we in capitalism are outside all systems, although this is the absurdity which, at bottom, the objection assumes. It is impossible that, within one and the same country, the criteria for the destination of its resources be the satisfaction of the needs of the population, and at the same time be to make profit for capital. Either the system is capitalist or the system is communist. Those who wish that communism be optional for the capitalists are preventing it from being an option for the vast majority of the population. So where does that leave us? They wanted it to be optional, did they not?
It is preposterous to suppose that the proletariat are in capitalism by free decision—or that capitalism is a kind of point zero, the “natural” situation imposed on no one, and that only if you want to move from this point does the dilemma arise of doing so either by free option or by a constraint that violates your freedom.
The real dilemma is this one: either practically the whole population imposes communism upon an insignificant minority, or a handful of persons imposes capitalism on practically the whole population. Those who love freedom must choose between these alternatives. There is no third way. In one country there cannot be more than one system, precisely because it is a system. The illusory “mixed economy” is capitalism; the state firms have to obey the rules of capitalism and become the pawn of the private firms.
Where would the capitalists get the human resources to run their factories if the workers of the country were to opt for a communist system? Let us suppose that a communist revolution leaves the capitalists in freedom of option. To whom will they sell their products if the population wishes to have nothing to do with capitalist production? The theoreticians who seek freedom of option even for the insignificant minority are closing their eyes to the fact that this freedom of option cannot exist without eliminating freedom of option for the vast majority. Here it can be seen how much they really love freedom. They want the freedom to deprive everyone else of freedom.
It is what the objectants suppose that is most false in all of this—that the proletariat are in capitalism by free decision. But in order to have freedom there must be a knowledge of the alternatives. If all ideological sources, including the church, television, and films, characterize the communist idea as satanic, criminal, and. anti-Christian, what freedom of option do the proletariat have?
3. The Kingdom Is on Earth
Now let us investigate whether the first Christians invented their communism, or based it upon the teachings of Jesus and the whole biblical tradition. In other words, our task is to extend our vision beyond the book called The Acts of the Apostles. And here we begin to specify the moral and obligatory reason for communism. But as we are going to base our discussion primarily upon three authentic logia of Jesus concerning the kingdom of God, and inasmuch as the supposition that the kingdom is in the other world has prevented so many from understanding these statements, we must prefix an explanation—of paramount importance of itself, but, from the viewpoint of the logical thread of this book, having the character of a prenote.
To begin, let us compare Matthew 13:11 (“To you has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of the Heavens”) on the one hand, with Mark 4:11 (“To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God”) and Luke 8:10 (“To you has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God”) on the other.
Also, compare Matthew 3:2 (“The kingdom of the Heavens has come”) on one hand, with Mark 1:15 (“The kingdom of God has come”) and Luke 10:9 (“The kingdom of God has come to you”) on the other.
This is a sample. We could lengthen the list of comparisons between the text of Matthew and the texts of Mark and Luke. Scholars agree that Matthew systematically substitutes “kingdom of the heavens” for the original “kingdom of God,” and have inquired into the reason for this systematic editorial modification.
They also agree on the answer. This is important to emphasize. All the exegetes who broach the subject, be they conservatives or liberals, those of an otherworldly penchant or those of an earthly, explain the editorial phenomenon by the late Judaic custom of avoiding all explicit use of the name “God.” People said “the heavens,” or even “the Name,” instead of saying “God.” It was believed that this constituted obedience to the commandment of the decalogue forbidding taking the name of God in vain. Today this respect seems excessive to us, and even Christ did not observe it. But the literary fact cannot be denied. It is superabundantly documented in the rabbinical writings of the first century B.C. and the first century of the Christian era. Even today in our Western languages there are vestiges, as when we say “Heaven help us” when what we really mean is “God help us.”
And so there is no question of Matthew’s placing the kingdom in the other world. He simply uses the habitual circumlocution of late Judaism to avoid as much as possible mentioning the name of God. The editor we call Matthew (who is surely not the apostle) either introduced this circumlocution himself or found it in the writings he utilized in redacting his Gospel. And where there is special motive, the motive warrants the exception.
As to where the kingdom is to be realized, Matthew has no doubts. In the parable of the weeds (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43), which is a parable about the kingdom, he says expressly that “the field is the world” (v. 38), and at the end of the story he does not say that the kingdom will be transferred to some other place but that “the Son of Man will send his angels, who will remove from his kingdom all scandals and all workers of iniquity” (v. 41), and that then “the just will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (v. 43).
And so for Matthew too, just as for all the other known sacred authors, in the Old Testament as in the New, the kingdom is on earth. Now, the Matthean expression “the kingdom of the heavens” was the only one serving the escapist theologians as pretext for maintaining that the kingdom was to be realized in the other world. Not even texts about glory or entering into glory provided them any support, for the Psalms explicitly teach, “Salvation surrounds those who fear him, so that the glory will dwell in our land” (Ps. 85:10).
Of course the Matthean circumlocution “of the heavens” was only a pretext. If they had not been blinded by the scorn their escapist theology holds for our world, they could have seen where the kingdom is right from the Psalter. For instance, Psalm 74, wholly dedicated to “Yahweh my king from olden time” (v. 12), whose rule consists in saving “the poor and the needy” (v. 21), ends by begging Yahweh to attack all oppressors (vv. 22-23), since he must “make salvation real in the midst of the earth” (v. 12). And Psalm 10 proclaims, looking into the future, “Yahweh is king eternally and for ever, the gentiles have been swept from their land” (v. 16). They could have found the same thing throughout Chapter 32 of Isaiah, in Psalm 146, and in hundreds of other Old Testament texts.
But there is no demonstration of this blindness to equal the fact that the theologians are not even impressed by the prayer which Christ taught us and which they pray every day—”Thy kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10, Luke 11:2). He does not say, “Take us to your kingdom,” but “your kingdom come.” Where is it to come if not to the earth, which is where we are when we say “come”? That the escapists do not read the Psalter carefully is a frequent fault of theirs, though it ought not to be; but that they pay no attention even to the Lord’s Prayer is really the height of blindness.
Furthermore, not just a part of the content, but the content of the “good news” Jesus proclaimed, that is, the content of the gospel in the strict sense, is, “the kingdom has come” (Mark 1:15 and parallels). Where can it have come if not to earth? Besides, Jesus says “the kingdom of God has come to you” (Luke 11:20, Matt. 12:28); the only possible meaning is that it has come to the earth on which those to whom Jesus says “has come to you” are standing. Accordingly, to maintain that the kingdom is in the other world is equivalent to denying the very content of the gospel. And to say in escapist desperation that the kingdom is “partly in this world and partly in the other” is to launch a thesis totally without support in Jesus’ teaching.
Even the Book of Revelation, which talks of nothing but the heavenly Jerusalem, finally tells us: “And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from heaven from God” (Rev. 21:2); “and I was shown the holy city, Jerusalem, descending from the sky, from God” (Rev. 21:10). The kingdom is made ready in heaven, or resides temporarily in heaven, but its final destination is earth. Hence the visionary says he “saw it coming down,” since it is on earth that it is to be established. He had already told us, “And he made them to be a kingdom, and priests for our God, and they will reign over all the earth” (Rev. 5:10), and at the end of the book he adds, “And they shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 22:5). If he expressly says that the kingdom or reign will be over the earth, it becomes idle to inquire where the new Jerusalem descends to as it “comes down from heaven.”
Our reference to the Book of Revelation in this context is important, since in 2:7 this book mentions the word “paradise.” And this, erroneously, has been seen as the ace in the hole for the escapists. First, though, let us note once more that the kingdom of God is on earth, as is demonstrated by the texts we have cited, and that on this point there is not the least wavering on the part of the sacred authors. Hence what paradise might be, or being with Christ, or Abraham’s bosom, or the heavenly treasure, is a question we could well leave aside, because what matters to us is the definitive kingdom, which constitutes the central content of the message of Jesus. The escapists can have paradise. But the passages cited from Revelation give the same key as the most competent researchers (Strack-Billerweck and Joachim Jeremias) have found in the copious Judaic documentation.
Without using the term paradise, in Revelation the garden of God appears as a summation of the glory and of the fullness: Revelation describes the final Jerusalem as paradise when it speaks of the trees of life and the water of life (22:1; cf. 22:14,19), the destruction of the serpent of old (20:2; cf. 20:10), the elimination of suffering, of need, and of death (21:4). The place of residence of the definitive paradise is, according to 21:2,10, the Jerusalem of the renewed earth.[J. Jeremias, TWNT 5:768]
Paradise is Jerusalem, provisionally heavenly, which will at last descend from heaven and be installed on our earth for ever and ever. According to the Bible, situations outside our world are transitory and temporary, whether they are known as paradise, or the bosom of Abraham, or heavenly treasure, or being with Christ, or third heaven. As the New Testament employs the terminology of contemporary Judaism, and as the latter offers abundant documentation, scholars have not entertained the least doubt in the matter.
For example the Lucan parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) typically places the rich man in hádes (v. 23), which is the technical name for the place of torment after the death of the unjust, in contrast with géenna, the definitive place of torment after the final judgment (cf. Strack-Billerbeck, 2:228 and 4:1040—the same terminology as in Testamentum Abrahae 20 A and 4 Esd. 7:85,93). “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22), used in conjunction and contrast with hádes, is equally provisional, until such time as the kingdom is realized, including the resurrection of the dead.
In like fashion, Matthew 5:12 does not say, You shall receive much recompense in the heavens, but “Your recompense is great in heaven,” which is the place where it is provisorily kept. Theodor Zahn comments: “After the beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-10, it is obvious that the reward (mentioned in 5:12) will be given to the disciples only in the kingdom which is to be established on earth” (Das Evangelium des Matthaus, p. 197). And indeed there cannot be the shadow of a doubt in this respect, as Matthew has just said of the generous that “they shall inherit the earth” (5:5). The idea in Matthew 5:12 is the same as in Acts 10:4: “Your prayers and your alms have arisen as a reminder before the presence of God.” This same idea is found in Tobit 12:12-15.
Likewise the conversation of the crucified Christ with the good thief demonstrates precisely the contrary of what escapist theology would like it to. “When you come to your kingdom” is in deliberate contrast with “This very day… in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43). Jesus does not deny that it is only later that he will come into his kingdom—but he wishes to have the good thief in his company right from today. Evidently, paradise, as in all the literature of that time, is a provisional place, pending the arrival of the moment in which the Messiah comes to his kingdom— which is surely on the earth, since the good thief is on the earth when he says “when you come.”
Well and good, but it is not to be thought that an interpretation of the Bible is a conceptual construct, which each scholar invents according to his or her mentality, and which is presented alongside other interpretations for the public to choose the one it finds most suitable. To speak of a kingdom of God in the other world is not only to found a new religion without any relationship with the teaching of Christ (for none of the texts wielded by escapist theology mentions the kingdom); it is to assert exactly the contrary of what Christ teaches: “The kingdom has come to you,” and “Your kingdom come.” The fact that tradition has taught for centuries that the kingdom is in the other world only demonstrates that that tradition betrayed Jesus and founded another religion completely different.
This concludes the explanation of our third point. It was a necessary pre-note for what is about to follow. But consider the importance it has in itself: the conservatives’ resistance to the elimination of private property in the kingdom of God depends on where you situate the kingdom. This is truly prodigious inconsistency. If the kingdom is in heaven, they accept the texts abolishing private property in the kingdom. If the kingdom is on earth, they deny that these same texts abolish private property. Evidently, they cannot maintain that private property persists in heaven. But according to Jesus, what they think is in heaven is really on earth. To doubt this they have to deny the Lord’s Prayer and the central and single content of the good news, of the gospel. We leave it to the reader to judge how they can conscientiously switch interpretations of the very same texts, depending on whether the texts are about heaven or earth.
4. A Classless Society
Now that we have proposed our explanation concerning the kingdom, let us resume the thread of our argumentation in this chapter. The teachings of Christ upon which the first Christians were able to base their establishment of communism are, among others, Mark 10:25, Luke 6:20, 24, Matthew 6:24 (= Luke 16:13), and Luke 16:19-31. The first three refer to the kingdom, hence the above digression was necessary.
Of course, the first Christians were also influenced by Jesus’ example and personal conduct. For Jesus, whether the conservatives like it or not, was in fact a communist—as can be seen in John 12:6, 13:29, and Luke 8:1-3. Judas “carried the purse,” so they had everything in common and each received according to his need.
The doctrinal betrayal of later centuries, as we have seen, has sought to interpret this communism as a “way of perfection,” not to be identified with the simple fact of being a Christian. But such an interpretation is dashed to smithereens when it impinges on the fact that Jesus made the renunciation of property a condition for simply “entering into the kingdom” (cf. Mark 10:21,25). There is no room for a third way, when the dilemma is to enter into the kingdom or not to enter into the kingdom.
Besides, hypothetically, if being communist is more perfect than simply being Christian, I should like to know why they forbid it—why they teach that what according to Jesus is more perfect is evil. It is easy to see that the famous “way of perfection” is a mere escape route invented when the church became rich and began to constitute an essential part of the establishment. If it is decreed that communism is more perfect, the logical conclusion would have been to betake oneself to promote its realization in the world. Instead the conclusion has been to devote oneself to combating it, and to persecute to the death whoever promoted it. It is difficult to imagine anything that would demonstrate more clearly that the “way of perfection” doctrine is just an escape route, just a doctrinal subterfuge.
It was not only Jesus’ example that taught communism to the first Christians; it was his word as well. Scientific exegesis recognizes that Mark 10:17-31, about the rich young man, is more reliable than its Matthean (Matt. 19:16-30) or Lucan (Luke 18: 18-30) transcriptions, which make obvious editorial changes. A simple comparison shows that Matthew and Luke had the text of Mark before them. And yet this is precisely where one can feel the difficulties and conflicts faced by the first missionaries when they wanted to proclaim to the world this authentic logion of Jesus: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25). Since Jesus had already said, “The kingdom of God has arrived” (Mark 1:15), the question is who can and who cannot form part of the kingdom which Jesus Christ is founding on earth. And what Jesus says is: The rich cannot.
In order to sidestep the conflict, but without betraying the words of Christ, the first missionaries added: “For men it is impossible, but not for God; since to God everything is possible” (Mark 10:27). They meant that by an act of God it is possible for a rich person to enter the kingdom—by ceasing to be rich, of course, since otherwise they would have been betraying the authentic logion of Jesus (Mark 10:25). Any minimizing interpretation of Mark 10:27 is incompatible with Mark 10:25, and incompatible with the declaration at the source of the pericope “Go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor” (Mark 10:21). If they come to us now and say that to enter into the kingdom a rich person need neither go nor sell everything he has nor give it to the poor, this is no longer interpretation but bold out-and-out tergiversation.
Verses 21 and 25 could have been invented neither by the missionaries nor by the communities nor by the editor Mark, since these verses raise insuperable difficulties for the proclamation of the gospel. They are the authentic words of Jesus. Everything else in the pericope is open to question.
Recall that the question is simply that of “entering the kingdom,” and that, as we saw in Section 3 above, the kingdom is on earth. Jesus goes about recruiting people for the kingdom, and says straight out: the rich cannot be part of it. People generally forget that ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ are correlative terms. We say that someone is rich in contrast with the rest of the population, or with a majority of the population, which is not. As we shall see at the beginning of our next chapter, Jesus is not against wealth in the absolute sense of the word, but in the relative sense, in the meaning of social contrast. When he says “Happy the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20), and adds “Woe to you the rich, because you have received your comfort” (Luke 6:24), he is saying exactly the same thing as in Mark 10:25: the rich cannot enter the kingdom. Only the poor can. (In passing, let us observe that this demonstrates that, as the vast majority of exegetes maintain, Luke 6:20 is the original version and Matthew 5:3 the later, since Luke 6:20 says the same as Mark 10:25, whose authenticity no one denies.) Now, what this teaching is saying, in concurrence with Mark 10:25 and Luke 6:20,24, is that in the kingdom there cannot be social differences—that the kingdom, whether or not it pleases the conservatives, is a classless society.
The anticommunist reaction has to abominate this, of course. But it is worth repeating that they themselves, in their eschatological conceptions, admit that according to the Bible there are no social differences in the kingdom. The only thing they are missing is the place, since if the kingdom is on earth they indignantly reject social equality. This is why we introduced our digression in Section 3 above. What they admit for heaven is, according to the gospel, on earth.
Marx did not invent the classless society. Except for the formulation, the idea is unequivocally in the most authentic and least disputed logia (Mark 10:21, 25) of Jesus Christ.*
* The Matthean version of Mark 10:21 is recognizably later: “If you wish to be perfect, go and sell what you have,” etc. (Matt. 19:21). Here there is question of a perfection which is indispensable for entry into the kingdom (cf. Matt. 19:24), clearly superior to the morality of the Jews (cf. Matt. 19:18-20), but not excluding any particular group of Christians, inasmuch as it is impossible to imagine a third alternative between entering the kingdom and not entering the kingdom. The same thing appears with the only other occurrence of the adjective “perfect” (Matt. 5:48). As the Catholic exegete Rudolf Schnackenburg recognizes, “perfection is demanded of all” (LTK 3:1246—emphasis his). Catholic J. Blinzler, as well, says: “The requirement of perfection is for all” (LTK 10:864). The alternative is not to enter the kingdom: “If your justice were to be no greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you would not enter the kingdom of the Heavens” (Matt. 5:20). And the contrast in Matt. 5:46-48 is not with Christians of lesser perfection, but with “publicans” (v. 46) and “pagans” (v. 47). What is not demanded of all Christians is celibacy (cf. Matt 19:10-12)—here there is a contrast between “not all have room for this word” on the one hand, and “but those to whom it has been given” on the other. It is the passage about eunuchs. There is no indication that one alternative is more perfect than the other. As Schnackenburg well says, “Jesus is only making an observation: ‘There are those who. . . .’ Doubtless his preaching of the kingdom had fired up some of his followers in such a way that they felt called to a virginal or celibate life” (LTK 3:1245).