Was Jerusalem A "Sponsoring Church" For Second Judean Relief?
Recently I reviewed an article by Bro. J. W. Roberts, published in the Gospel Advocate, in which he endeavored to prove that Jerusalem was a "sponsoring church" for the relief for Judea that is mentioned in Acts 11:27-30. In the same journal, in the issue of September 15, 1955, Bro. Roberts makes another long and labored effort to prove that Jerusalem was also a "sponsoring church" for the relief mentioned in Rom. 15:25-27; 1 Cor. 16:1, 2; 2 Cor. 8th and 9th chapters. Bro. Roberts' idea is, as it was concerning Antioch and Jerusalem in the other case, that the churches of Galatia, of Macedonia and of Corinth sent a contribution to the church in Jerusalem, which, in turn, as a sponsoring church, distributed it over a very wide region to many other churches. I wish to take up his proof and show, just as I did with the other article that his proof is very weak and his "sponsoring church" idea remains in the same unscriptural realm where it was before he started.
He offers the following points as his line of proof :
- The occasion of the contribution.
- It was not an emergency but a long-range, planned program of relief.
- The contribution was not limited to Jerusalem.
- His proof from other considerations.
- His conclusion.
Bro. Roberts, we are told by the editor of the GOSPEL ADVOCATE, has a Ph. D. degree with a major in Greek and teaches in Abilene Christian College. I suppose such a notice will produce the effect of silence on the part of Advocate- readers. Or at least, it was probably intended to silence any who might be tempted to answer Bro. Roberts and for all others to swallow his opinions without any question. What else could be hoped for by the announcement of any such matters? But I shall say at the outset that any theory that requires as much wading around in the Greek in search of some "particular shade" of meaning to sustain it as Bro. Roberts has been doing in his series of articles is in dire need of a kind of proof that the average reader would never be able to discover. But let us investigate the proof he offers.
1. The Occasion Of The Contribution.
The following quotation is taken from Bro. Roberts' article:
"The famine listed in Palestine, according to Josephus through the governships of Cuspius Fadus and his successor, Tiberious Alexander. The reign of the governors was two years each. Now we know that Fadus was appointed governor in A D. 45. following the death of Herod Agrippa T. The famine lasted four years, if it lasted as Josephus said it did during the rule of these two men. Thus the dates of this famine were A. D. 45-48. We are certainly to understand that the preparation of Antioch in Arts 11:27ff. was carried out in anticipation of the famine and that money was taken to Jerusalem about the death of Herod, thus forestalling the rising of an emergency situation."
It is generally conceded that there were a number of famines in Palestine during the first century of the church. It appears, from what Bro. Roberts says about it, that he is of the opinion that the contribution sent by Antioch in Acts 11 and the contribution of the churches of Macedonia, Galatia and Corinth (2 Cor. 8 and 9) were sent during the same famine — or at least the first one just before and in anticipation of it. However, if the famine lasted only from A. D. 45-48, as Bro. Roberts suggests, then the second contribution could not have been sent during that famine. This contribution was sent after the writing of the book of Romans and the books of First and Second Corinthians, but the generally accepted date of the writing of these books is about A. D. 57 or 58. So these books were written about ten years after the famine mentioned by Bro. Roberts was over, if it ended in A. D. 48. And since the contribution was sent after the writing of these books it was too late for that famine. But it makes no material difference, as far as the issue goes, what famine was on at the time of the contributions.
But this line of reasoning was followed in an effort to show that it was not a matter of emergency. The first contribution that went from Antioch "was spontaneous", Bro. Roberts tells us, but the second was suggested by the Jews to Paul in the conference of Acts 15 as intimated in Gal. 2. Hence, he ordered the church at Corinth, as he had done the churches of Galatia, to make a contribution for the relief of those in want. And the contribution sent from Corinth, Macedonia and Galatia, as mentioned in the eighth and ninth chapters of Second Corinthians was the result. But let us not forget that it was sent to those who received because they were in need.
2. It Was Not An Emergency But A Long-Range, Planned Program Of Relief.
This is the claim that is made by Bro. Roberts. He desires to eliminate any emergency in the matter so he may have some shadow of proof, even though it be nothing but speculative inferences, for his type of cooperation that he wishes to justify. You will notice in the quotation already made from his article that he claims the contribution of Antioch in Acts 11:27-29 was sent in advance of the famine, and in anticipation of it, "thus forestalling the rising of an emergency situation." This statement causes me to wonder just how wild a man can get when he starts to speculating. Some fifteen years or so intervened between the Antioch contribution and the Corinthian contribution. The Antioch contribution was sent for the brethren dwelling in Judea, not merely for Jerusalem, and thus was distributed over rather a wide area. Yet this contribution from the one church in Antioch was sufficient, when distributed to the various churches of Judea, to "forestall" any "emergency situation" for a period of fifteen years, according to Bro. Roberts. Talk about a wealthy church sending to poor ones, this contribution must have been from a very wealthy church if it was enough to "forestall" an "emergency" in any of the churches of Judea for a period of fifteen years in a time of famine. That is a much stronger claim than I have ever heard any of the brethren make who oppose the "sponsoring church" plan. Give Bro. Roberts enough room to speculate, and he will present a colossal program of one type or another.
But Let Us Get Another Quotation From Him:
"This contribution has more the aspect of a long-range, planned program of effective aid which could be used to rehabilitate the Christians of Judea than it does of an emergency. There was no hurry about it, for the collections were spread out over more than a year's time in one section. (2 Cor. 8:10.) Not only this but Paul even hints that he had doubts that some of the Jews would even take the money. (Rom. 15:31.) This all does not sound like a sudden, unforeseen difficulty which inheres in the meaning of our word emergency."
I wonder if Bro. Roberts did not know that an emergency, "a sudden unforeseen difficulty," as he calls it, could arise and then continue for a long period of time after it appeared. Suppose that all rain in Arkansas and Texas should suddenly stop, followed immediately by withering, blasting winds, as the sun bore down with such intense heat that all growing crops and pasture were completely destroyed throughout the states. Would this be an emergency? Suppose it continued for more than a year, or even for two years, would it still be an emergency? Then the fact that Corinth was more than a year from the time they started their collections till they were finished does not prove that the situation in Jerusalem was not an emergency. At any rate, they were in need, and if they had not been, the contribution would never have been made. Even Bro. Roberts says that Paul ordered the Corinthian contribution because he "remembered the poor."
Paul asked the Roman brethren to pray for him, that, among other things, "my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints." Rom. 15:31. Bro. Roberts says that "Paul even hints that he had doubts that some of the Jews would even take the money." Since he had concluded "there was no hurry about it," and there was "no emergency," Bro. Roberts "hints" that Paul feared the money would not be accepted because it wasn't needed. Who can believe that Paul and the messengers who went with him would travel all the way from Achaia, Macedonia and Galatia to Jerusalem with a contribution for people who did not need it? If there were Jewish Christians there who did not need it, it was not intended for them anyway, for Paul said it was "for the poor among the saints that are at Jerusalem." Rom. 15:26 — Revised Version. What is there in the record that gave Bro. Roberts the idea that Paul feared the money would not he accepted because it wasn't needed? I have seen nothing in the record to indicate such. But there is in the record something that would be a much more reasonable solution for the cause of Paul's fear. There were thousands of believing Jews who had heard that Paul taught all the Jews among the Gentiles "to forsake Moses," while they themselves were very "zealous" in walking "after the customs," as we are told in the divine record upon Paul's arrival at Jerusalem with the money. Acts 21:20. 21. How does Bro. Roberts know that this prejudice these believing Jews had against Paul and his teaching among the Gentiles was not the ground of his fear? At least it would be a much better solution than the one "hinted" by Bro. Roberts.
3. The Contribution Was Not Limited To Jerusalem.
In Rom. 15:25, 26 Paul said: "But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem." It is here that Bro. Roberts uses his "majoring in Greek" to prove that Paul did not mean what he said. He tells us the contribution was to be made "unto (eis) the poor saints which were at Jerusalem." Rom. 15:26. Also that the service was "unto (eis) Jerusalem." Rom. 15:31. But this does not mean, he tells us, that it was "for" Jerusalem, for "Paul never uses the dative of indirect object to describe" this gift as was used in Acts 11:29. "When the dative is used," we are told, "it is always unmodified 'for the saints,' never 'for the dwelling in Jerusalem saints' like Acts 11:29." Since Acts 11:29 says the relief there was "for the dwelling-in-Judea brethren," it is admitted that the relief was for brethren who dwelt in Judea. But since Rom. 15:25-31 does not say that this relief is "for the dwelling-in-Jerusalem saints," but simply "for the saints" — an unmodified dative — then the relief was for others than the saints at Jerusalem. The "unmodified dative" is used in verse 25, but in verses 26 and 31 it is the "accusative" following the preposition "eis." But what is the significance of all of this? Bro. Roberts says:
"The significance of this is that it throws a question on the idea that the contribution under discussion is actually limited in use to Jerusalem."
It is significant that Bro. Roberts does not hope to prove anything for his sponsoring church idea, but he hopes to make the very obvious meaning of the passage seem questionable. But let us see just how questionable he has made it look. In Rom. 15:25 we are told by Paul: "But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints." Verse 26 tells us the contribution was made "for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem." And while it does not say "the dwelling-in-Jerusalem saints," it does say "for the saints" which "are in (en) Jerusalem." So what is the difference between "the dwelling-in-Jerusalem saints" and "the saints which are in Jerusalem"? Then verse 31 gives this language from Paul: "My service which I have for Jerusalem." Can any one read these statements, if he has no contrary theory to prove, and decide that this service was not limited to Jerusalem? After Paul arrived at Jerusalem with the contribution, he said: "I came to bring alms to my nation." Acts 24:17. Bro. Roberts, later in his article, argues that this proves the alms were limited to the Jews, and even to Christians among the Jews. Well, if "to (eis) my nation" limits the use of the contribution to that nation, then why does not "for (eis) the poor saints which are at Jerusalem" limit it to the Jerusalem saints? In Acts 24:17 we do not have "the dative of indirect object" but the "accusative" following the preposition "eis" just as we do in Rom. 15:26. Thus we see that Bro. Roberts' argument blows up from within.
In a further effort to prove this contribution was not limited to Jerusalem, Bro. Roberts endeavors to give us some parallels. Here they are:
"An American Point-Four administrator might say that he was going to Ammon in Jordan to distribute to the poor. No one would probably think that the relief would be limited to those in the capital. To say that one is sending a sum of money to Austin, Texas. to some people is not exactly like saving that this money is 'for the people of Austin, Texas'."
But this does not complete the parallel. Suppose the "Point-Four Administrator" should say that "it pleased the people of America to make a certain contribution for the poor people which are at Ammon," and that the "service" which "I have" is "for Ammon." What would people probably think about it? Would they probably think the contribution was for the people of Ammon? Or if one would say that it "pleased people elsewhere to send a contribution for the poor people which are at Austin," what would people "probably think" about it?
But again read a quotation from Bro. Roberts as follows:
"Eis in these passages could mean 'for'; this I do not deny, but I honestly think it is questionable when judged in the light of the New Testament uses of the preposition."
The King James Version translates the Greek word "eis" into the English word "for" 91 times. And Bro. Roberts says the word could mean "for." Not only so, but the King James Version, the American Revised Version and the Revised Standard Version, embracing approximately 160 scholars of the Greek language, have all, in these very passages questioned by Bro. Roberts, translated the Greek "eis" into the English "for". And Bro. Roberts says that "eis in these passages could mean 'for'" but he doubts it. Thus he has arrayed his knowledge of Greek against that of the greatest Greek scholars the world has ever produced.
4. His Proof From "Other Considerations."
The feeling of uncertainty that Bro. Roberts has concerning his line of argument is everywhere evident, for its whole structure rests, not upon necessary inferences but upon the type of inferences that Methodist preachers use to prove sprinkling for baptism and the baptism of infants. Just take a look at a sample from Bro. Roberts:
"There are other and independent considerations which might cause us to think that the contribution was meant for a wider area than simply the Christians living in Jerusalem."
Is that not something for a gospel preacher to offer as proof? "Other considerations which might cause us to think." He is evidently conscious of the fact that his line of arguments proves nothing for his position — it just "might cause us to think" there was a sponsoring church involved. But on the other hand, of course, his "other considerations might not cause us to think" any such thing.
But I shall take up his "other considerations" in the order in which he gives them.
(1) The distress was not localized in Jerusalem. He calls attention to the facts mentioned in the beginning of his article — that churches existed in Judea, Samaria and Galilee. Acts 9:31. Distress, therefore, reached to churches in other regions beyond Jerusalem. But still this would prove nothing. There might be distress in many states of the south, but if Washington sent relief to Texas, this would not prove that other states received it too, even though they might be in distress, if nothing is said about any relief being sent to them. But Bro. Roberts says:
"Since the first contribution was wider in scope than Jerusalem, there is presumptive evidence that the second was also. Especially is this true when we discover that the Greek does not specifically state 'for' Jerusalem alone."
"Presumptive evidence" is merely what one presumes to be true; it is merely taking something for granted on the basis of a mere probability. The evidence that the first contribution was "wider in scope than Jerusalem" is not "presumptive evidence," but it is definitely stated in the record that the relief was sent "unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea." Acts 11:29. We don't have to "presume" anything about it. We have a "Thus saith the Lord." But the second contribution, the record says, was "for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem." Rom. 15:26. And Bro. Roberts "presumes" it was "wider in scope" and reached all the churches in Judea, Samaria and Galilee. But there is not a word of evidence in the divine record that it was so. It is "presumptive evidence." But that is the kind of proof Bro. Roberts expects us to swallow. No, it is not "specifically stated" that it was "for Jerusalem alone." But it is stated that it was "for Jerusalem." And since there is no other statement that says it was "for anybody else," we would have to conclude that it was for Jerusalem alone. To illustrate, in Eph. 5:19 Paul enjoins Christians to sing. But the passage does not say that Christians should "sing only." And since there is no New Testament statement that tells Christians to make any other kind of music, we must conclude that it was "sing only."
(2) It was on a national scale. He thinks he finds proof of this in the statement Paul made in his defense before Festus when he said he "came to bring alms to my nation." Acts 24:17. He says, however, he "would not conclude from this, of course, that Paul means the whole nation of Jews, Christians and non-Christians" but it would be "on a national scale as far as the Christians among the Jews were concerned." Yet he concluded, as shown earlier in this review, that Rom. 15 which said the contribution was "for Jerusalem" meant much more than Jerusalem because Paul did not use the "dative of indirect object" in the Greek. Well, he didn't use it here either, and according to Bro. Roberts' argument "for my nation" would mean much more than the Jewish nation — it would reach out to all other nations around. The fact is, of course, if he took the contribution to his Jewish brethren in Jerusalem, it was "for his nation" for both he and they belonged to the same nation. In Acts 26:4 Paul said: "My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews." If Paul during his youth spent the time in Jerusalem, but yet he said it was "among mine own nation", would we have to conclude that he lived all over Judea, Samaria and Galilee? If he could spend the days of his youth "among his own nation" while living "in Jerusalem," then he could take a contribution "to his nation" when he took it to the Jewish brethren "in Jerusalem." If not, why not?
(3) The contribution was "to them" and "to all." He finds a "curious" and "incidental" reference to this contribution in 2 Cor. 9:13 when Paul said: "Whiles by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men." Concerning this "incidental curiosity" Bro. Roberts says:
"Now the word contribution is preceded by the definite article 'the' (tee) and it alternates in the first part of the verse with the demonstrative pronoun 'this' contribution (tautes). This certainly makes it a reference to the specific contribution under discussion and not to some other indefinite liberality of Corinth as some other time."
Since Paul refers to "this ministration" or "this (tautes) service" in the first part of the verse, and then refers to "the (tes) contribution", or distribution, in the latter part of the verse, Bro. Roberts concludes that this particular contribution was sent to the brethren in Jerusalem and to all others who were in need. But if this should be granted, there is still no proof of his "sponsoring church", for nothing is said about sending it all "to Jerusalem" and then "Jerusalem sending it on to others." Rather, it would indicate that some of it was "sent to Jerusalem" and some of it "to others." So he would still have to hunt for support for his position. But I wonder if Bro. Roberts had never learned, with all his studies in Greek, that "the contribution" may refer to any number of contributions even though they are sent in various directions. "The distribution" or "the contribution" is from the Greek "tes koinonias", the word "tes" being the definite article "the" in English, and "koinonias", meaning "fellowship" in English. So Jerusalem would glorify God for "the fellowship" rendered "to them" and "to all others" who had been recipients of such fellowship. In Acts 2:42 we are told early in the history of the church that the church in Jerusalem "continued steadfastly ... . in the fellowship (te koinonia)." Acts 2:42. So while we have the definite article "the" used — "the fellowship" — it is very evident that reference is made to many contributions. Also Paul referred to the help the Philippians' had given him in this way: "I thank God .... for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now." Phil. 1:3-5. The term "your fellowship" is "the fellowship of you" (te koinonia humon) in the Greek text. Thus we have the definite article "the" in this passage — "the fellowship." And whatever else it might mean, it certainly includes the "contributions" they sent to Paul more than once to support him in the work of preaching of the gospel. Phil. 4:14-16. And the conclusion Bro. Roberts reaches from this statement is not nearly as certain as he thought it was.
But we come now to the final point of his article:
5. His Conclusion.
Here it is: "If this money was for Christians in Jerusalem and beyond, as we think this article proves, then the money which was turned over to the Jerusalem brethren involves the very type of cooperation which some will not allow." Thus the climax is reached in his long article to prove that Jerusalem was a "sponsoring church" for the distribution of the second contribution throughout Judea, Samaria and Galilee. And the whole thing is based on an "if" and "we think" — "if this money was for people beyond Jerusalem" as "we think this article proves." Thus it becomes more evident that the very best of evidence he has to support his "sponsoring church" theory is "presumptive evidence." Upon such type of evidence there is not a denominational doctrine beneath the stars that could not be proven. A gospel preacher should have something better to offer his readers.