Acts 20:1-5 – The “Collection for the Saints”

Paul leaves Ephesus with the intention of returning to Jerusalem for the purpose of delivering the collection to the Jerusalem church at Pentecost. The collection was a gift from the Gentile churches to the Jerusalem believers.  Romans 15:26 states that “Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem,” a text written from Corinth in the three-month period after Paul’s Ephesian ministry.

Paul has does this sort collection for Jerusalem before.  Before the first missionary journey in Acts 13, Paul delivered funds to Jerusalem collected by the Antioch church.  This visit is the subject of Gal 2:1-10.  In Gal 2:10 Paul said that the James had only encouraged him to “remember the poor.”  The “poor” in mind here are the members of the Jerusalem church, the very people the famine visit was intended to help.

The Jerusalem appears to be still living in a sort of shared community, supported by gifts.  Given a famine (and possibly a Jubilee year), the poor believers in Jerusalem were even more dependent on Antioch than ever.  Ben Witherington wonders if the handshake was an agreement to continue the financial arrangements between the Antioch church and the Jerusalem church (Acts, 429). This is possible since the same sort of language appears in Acts 15 as well, although the collection is not mentioned.

The Collection was unique in the ancient world.  The Greco-Roman world has a system of public benefaction, but nothing like a modern “fund-raiser” where people are solicited for money which is then distributed to the poor.  Likewise, in Judaism the poor received Alms from individuals, but money was not collected in mass for re-distribution to the poor.  Which the exception of Queen Abiabene, who brought relief to Jerusalem (Antiq. 20:51-51), there are no other examples of this sort of collection of funds.

Since Paul is collecting this money in the Greek world, it would have been unprecedented and would have looked very suspicious. Likely as not, the inclusion of representatives of the churches was meant to give confidence to the churches that Paul was not going to steal the funds and disappear.  Notice that in Acts 20:4 there is a list of names traveling with Paull, all likely representatives of Paul’s churches in Macedonia (Thessalonica, Berea) Asia Minor (Derbe)Paul was careful to separate his own ministry from the Collection for th Saints.  While he did not require churches to give to support him, he is adamant that churches “give what they can” to the Collection.

What is unusual is that Luke does not mention the collection at all, although that seems to be the point of the large part traveling back to Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost. Why Luke would omit this collection is a mystery – some have speculated that the collection was not well-received by the Jerusalem church, perhaps even rejected.  The scene is rather tense in Jerusalem when Paul arrives with a large contingent of Gentiles to deliver the gift.

Bibliography: Dunn, Beginning from Jerusalem, 932-947.  S. McKnight, “The Collection for the Saints” in DPL, 143-147. The collection is mentioned in 1 Cor 16:1-4, 2 Cor 8-9 and Rom 15:25-32.

22 thoughts on “Acts 20:1-5 – The “Collection for the Saints”

  1. When reading Acts 20:1-5, it is interesting that it is talking about collecting funds for the churches in Jerusalem. When you read the passage you notice that Paul is traveling visiting people, and that some of them are starting to go with them on a journey. It is interesting these churches collect money and then they having a (conference). I wonder if the money was not received well because of the fact that the money came from Gentiles, Christians too.

    • I love the scriptural basis,you ve given!ty I can definitely pray’the Father for their relief,but cannot give financially at this time.God bless

    • pardon my skepticism here but where do you find ‘collection of money’ in these 5 verses?

      • I’m not sure if you’re responding to me or this rather old comment. In the original post I said “The collection is mentioned in 1 Cor 16:1-4, 2 Cor 8-9 and Rom 15:25-32” and “What is unusual is that Luke does not mention the collection at all.” Most people who work in the book of acts think that Paul’s return to Jerusalem at this point is to deliver the collection of money that he mentions in the previous passages I listed. It’s an inference, but it seems of fair reading of the evidence.

  2. I’m not sure what the point is. Is the point that the Jerusalem church was prideful and did not want to accept a gift because it may make them look incapable of taking care of themselves? Or, was a cultural thing, like when Abraham refused to accept the field for a burial site, and insisted on buying it and therefore owing nothing to anyone? Or, was it a problem because the people delivering the gift were Gentiles? Either way, if pride was involved, and people were in need, there was a problem with the church…which would not be surprising since the Jewish Christian converts seemed to struggle with pride.

  3. I can agree that seems to be prideful of the Jews to not accept the gift. It could have also been just a cultural, “we are doing alright, so don’t worry”. It is odd to find that it is not in this section of Acts, either it was forgotten about, unnecessary, or they decided it was an unneeded section of the book. It’s hard to tell.

  4. I’m on the page that you are Joe. To be honest, I don’t know what the point is either. Anytime that pride is involved, it’s a bad thing. If the church was prideful, then it goes to show that there is really nothing new under the sun. Just like there are problems within the church today, there probably was problems in the church back then. It maybe possible that one of the reasons that there was pride in the church was because it was the start of the church. Whenever something new starts, there will more than likely have problems with it. Then again, if it is pride, then it has to do with the persons heart. Which is something that person needs to work out.

  5. This is important to think about because the early church was about love and being unified. It should be that way today, but this story seems to emphasize how the church, as Cary said, has always had problems. They also were just beginning to understand how to work as a unified “body”, even unified in connection to the other churches.

    But who’s to say it was a bad rejection of the collection? It could just be that they rejected it for the same reasons we reject help today: they thought they didn’t need it.

    • Keep that in mind when we get into the next chapter, since Luke drops the whole thing once Paul gets to Jerusalem. Did James refuse it? Maybe, or made it conditional on Paul’s sponsor of a vow in the temple.

  6. I thought the government was the one who distributed the wealth? I wonder if this was a bit of a slight by Paul toward James, he knows how the Jews would take it(because he is a Jew). If they didn’t want to accept help from the gentiles Paul would have known this, and maybe he just wanted to pay a back handed compliment to James for remembering the “poor”. Even though this is noble, I really don’t think it was high on Paul’s list of things to do. He seemed like salvation would have been more important to him. I don’t see Paul as being above doing something like this to really stir the pot.

    • Local governments might dole food to the poor (Rome, for example), but no real social welfare system existed.

  7. I feel, as it has been mentioned several times already, that maybe the churches felt they either did not need the help or it was difficult for them to admit they needed help. I think this is the case in many instances (and a hindrance to ministries), that people realize they cannot do it on their own, but it is very difficult for them to ask for or accept help. That is just part of our flesh nature–to assume that we can do it all on our own, even if we have to work twice as hard to accomplish it. Sometimes we have to take a step back and remember that it is not about us, and that by accepting that gift or service, it is blessing the giving person as well; it is allowing them to accomplish what God may have laid on their hearts.

  8. I too am kind of confused. I agree with Joe and Cary going off of what they said, any time that pride is brought into the picture it is almost always a bad thing. The church not accepting the the gift may be prideful or maybe it was embarrassment to admit they needed help. I know I can be that way sometimes, and I know there are many people today who are like this. Our society today makes asking for help look like weakness, when really its a sign of humility. At least I think it is.

  9. It is very interesting that this collection was so uncomon in the greco-roman world when it is common in todays world. I also find itstrange that the Jerusalem church would reject the funds when it is obvious that they are in need of money. If they did reject the money it is interesting that churches along the way between then and now have become more open to such acts of kindness.

  10. Well… We have school pride and national pride, why not have church pride? Okay, but seriously, I have to agree with what everyone else has said already. Church + Pride = no good. That said, it seems like this is a sketchy thing to speculate on because there seems to be almost no basis on which to draw any sort of conclusion. We say maybe James thought this, and maybe when Paul says this, it is just a satirical way to say something else. I feel like this is very unstable ground on which to draw a conclusion in this particular absence of circumstance in Acts. Anything attempted to be gleaned from such a conclusion would be so unstable as to be hardly worth maintaining. But otherwise, yes, like everyone else said, when pride interferes with the receiving of another person’s ministry, something is pretty wildly out of whack and it needs to be corrected pronto.

  11. I dont really understand why the Jerusalem church would have rejected the funds. I guess it could be a culture pride, but it just doesnt make sense to reject a mass amount of money that would help them so much .Yes, it was money from Gentiles, but when it comes down to it, it is provision from God and they need it.But it seems that they did not see it that way.

    I wonder what Paul did with that money afterwards…hmmm

  12. I am a bit confused here. The idea that the Jerusalem church rejected (or even reluctantly accepted) the funds seems to have no basis in scripture. The text simply indicates that the leaders welcomed Paul, with concerns about the Jews outside of the church (Acts 21:17-26). Luke might not have mentioned the collection (which could have been either money or grain- the latter more useful in time of famine) because it was not of interest to him.

    • I guess I’m engaged here in some speculation, obviously there is nothing in the text that says what happened to the collection. This is a well-known problem for people who study the book of acts in the Pauline letters.

  13. Acts, likely written by the Philippian leader, Epaphroditus, is writing in competition with Corinth, represented by Titus, who is never mentioned in Acts, and leaves him out of the collection taken to James, the communist dictator in Jerusalem. After the death of Paul, church leaders were just trying to survive. It is wise to side with Paul whenever Acts contradicts him.

    Woodrow Nichols

    • No, I’m pretty good with the truth. However, all comments are held in a spam filter until I approve the reply. Since it took me about a minute and a half in this case to approve your message, I’m not really dodging your rather odd assertion offered without any proof whatsoever.

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