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.

Collection PlatePaul 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 Paul, 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 the 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.

What was the “point” Paul was trying to make with this collection?  If the collection was rejected, why would James (or the Jerusalem Christians)  reject the generosity of the Gentile churches?

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.

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

  1. Paul attaining money for the Jerusalem church reminds me of what some denominations do. The planted churches send money back to the mother church. Also how the catholic church pays money to the Vatican. This act of giving to the Jerusalem church is interesting in the fact that they seem to be living off of the gifts of others when Paul is pretty clear in the fact that he believes a person of faith should be able to support themselves. This giving what they can could be a representation of the way the modern church is supposed to tithe. Perhaps the Jerusalem church rejected the collection because they felt that Paul was trying to give them a handout and they were offended.

  2. If the collection had been rejected my guess that it would again extend back to the tension between the Jews and the Gentiles. It seems very plausible that the Jews did not want to accept help from the Gentiles that they still viewed as below them. On a different note I think this sets a good model of church for us today and a reminder that everyone who is in Christ is one body and that churches, even of different denominations should be assisting one another.

  3. Like Levi said, it’s very possible “This giving what they can could be a representation of the way the modern church is supposed to tithe”. Maybe it’s a result of what Paul has been teaching his churches. It seems like it’s something that these churches desired to do, whether it be from Paul’s guidance or not. “They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings” (Romans 15:27). Evidently, the Gentiles felt like it was their responsibility to do something for the church in Jerusalem. “In Gal 2:10 Paul said that the James had only encouraged him to “remember the poor.” (P. Long). In this passage James receives an offering and encourages Paul to remember the poor. It seems bizarre that now he and the church would reject it, especially is they were in need. Having said that Romans 15 pottially shows light on this area. In verse 28 Paul mentions he needs to “make sure” that this offering is received in Jerusalem before going to Spain. Also, in verse 31 he is asking that his service may be accepted by the saints in Jerusalem. Maybe that is reading to much into the text. But there is potential that Paul even thought they might reject his offering or that something might go wrong.

  4. According to the text in Romans 15:26 they were pleased to make the contribution for the poor. I appreciate the communal lifestyle that it appears the early church was living in. Today it is not as though I truly know my neighbors, or even those at church who are struggling. I appreciate that Paul wants the churches give to the Collection, even if they do not give to support him. It reinforces how much he believes in giving even if it does not involve him.
    I think the Paul was trying to unify the Jews and Gentiles by having the Jews receive from the Gentiles. The Jews never needed the Gentiles for things regarding church or supporting the poor, but now Paul is trying to bring appreciation for the Gentiles from the Jews. If James and the Jews would reject the Collection, I think this would demonstrate how segregated the Gentles and Jews still were. I think that Paul wants to being about some community between the two groups.
    I think that we can apply this text today. There are so many homeless people with signs standing outside our car windows on the streets. To me, it is always difficult to know whether people really need the money or if it is just a scam; I have encountered both. However, I have come to believe that it is a heart issue for me. The money I have is not really mine; I am a steward of it for God. It is important to make sure that our hearts remain in right standing with God. We need to be sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and “remember the poor” (Gal 2:10).

  5. I think that Paul was trying to show Luke and the others that the Gentiles can do amazing things to impact the Kingdom and one way would be to live out the command to take care of one another. I don’t think Paul would raise this money just to show Luke what he can do but rather to show Luke how committed he was to the outreach to the Gentiles and the bringing together of both groups. Like the others have stated, the fact that Luke himself didn’t say anything to this collection or whether or not they accepted it was most likely due to the tension between Luke and his idea of the early church and Paul and his idea. It would only be logical that Luke would omit such a thing because, to him, the Gentiles did not belong to the Kingdom that Jesus had come to start. If they did or did not accept this offering of support is a mystery and it is a very interesting one at that. Why wouldn’t Luke just be grateful for them and their generosity? This is something we may never know, but I think that from the context of both of their views it is evident as to why he would omit such a story as this.

  6. Phillip, have you not answered the mystery yourself when you point out that the collection looked suspicious? Perhaps the “plot of the Jews” in Acts 20:3 was to tip off the Romans about Paul’s suspicious collection. This would explain why he had to take a circuitous route. In any case the questionable legality of the collection can explain why Luke does not mention it. Luke’s readers were probably around the Aegean and he did not want to get them into trouble by putting down in writing that they had made such a collection. If his readers already knew about the collection then he could honor Sopater, Aristarchus and the others by mentioning their names, but he did not want to be responsible for getting them arrested or giving them a bad reputation among the Romans, so he kept silent about the collection. Luke’s silence about the collection is a protective silence, isn’t it?

    If Jerusalem had rejected the collection Luke could have kept silent about the rejection by still have mentioned the collection itself.

    • Luke does tend to remain silent on discontent (the Antioch Incident from Galatians, the undercurrent of anti-Paulinism in James’ church in Jerusalem, maybe Jewish-Christian congregations in Ephesus, etc). He wants to highlight the ‘tranquility” of the early Christian church, to point out the rejection of the Collection is a sign of discord among the earliest followers of Jesus.

      Protective silence, indeed, but a very loud silence from this end of history.

      • Phillip, I am not convinced by your assertion that Luke has a tendency to remain silent about discontent in the church. Luke reports conflicts in the church at Acts 5:1-10; 6:1; 8:18-24; 11:2-3; 15:1-2; 15:5; 15:37-38; 15:39-40; 19:13-16; and 21:20-21.

        You mention “the Antioch Incident from Galatians, the undercurrent of anti-Paulinism in James’ church in Jerusalem”. I think you are mis-reading Gal 2:11-14 here. Luke DOES mention the men from James. He does so at Acts 15:1, 24. Also, you may know that on my interpretation of Gal 1-2 the Antioch incident was mentioned by Paul precisely because he and Peter were in agreement on the Gentile question, not because they disagreed. I’m not sure what you have in mind by “Jewish-Christian congregations in Ephesus”.

        You did not engage with my suggestion that Luke was silent about the collection because the Romans would have found it too suspicious. I think I am following Nickle here, if I remember rightly.

  7. Well, lets say that the Jerusalem Church did reject Paul’s gift. I would say that they rejected it because it was offered to them by Gentiles. The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem still held some resentment toward the Gentile Church and I imagine that many of them were angry at Paul for opening up the Church to the Gentiles. With this is mind you can imagine that it was easy for them to reject paul’s gift.

    I think the more interesting question is what Paul did with that large of a sum of money if it was rejected. Did he keep it and use it for his ministry? Maybe he sent it all back to the churches? I would like to think that he used it to help other poor people in Jerusalem. How funny it would have been if Paul used it to help start a Gentile Church in Jerusalem!! Whatever he did with it, I’m sure it was the correct decision!

  8. If the Jerusalem church did reject Paul’s gift, it just shows thee separation of the Jews and Gentiles at this time. While teaching about tithing and acting as a model, it also shows the still divided churches.
    This teaches us tithing in the sense of how to give despite issues that may come after the money is given but to give with a heart to give and receive nothing in return.
    The generosity of the gentile churches shows the desire to become one church and live communally not just within a church but as the eklesia. Being together under one God and fully believing that joins the people together and unites the church. I think this was a major reason for the generosity of the gentile churches.

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