Acts 20 – What is the Collection for the Saints?

Collection PlatePaul 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 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.

18 thoughts on “Acts 20 – What is the Collection for the Saints?

  1. I do not think that the church at Jerusalem necessarily rejected the collection. I do not see evidence of this in scripture. In fact, it says that when Paul arrives in Jerusalem “the brothers received us gladly” (21:17). Not only did they not reject Paul but they are glad to see him. Perhaps the reason for their joy in seeing Paul was the delivering of the much needed collection in Jerusalem. Having heard Paul’s testimony and giving glory to God, the elders address a problem that had come up and offered their idea for a solution to the problem. It is strange that the collection is not mentioned. However, I do not believe that this collection was necessarily rejected by the elders.

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    • Mary- I agree with you when you say that you do not think the church at Jerusalem rejected the Collection because I do not see evidence of it in Scripture either. Maybe the reason that the Collection was not mentioned by Luke was because he thought that if he brought it up it would take some of the humility out of the service. In Matthew 6:3, Jesus says that when you are giving to the poor, “do not let your left hand do what your right hand is doing.” So maybe Luke was remembering that at this time. I think that the reason why Paul held the Collection was because he wanted to encourage unity within the body between the Jewish and Gentile believers and he thought that if they supported each other financially then they would feel more connected with each other.

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  2. I had never realised how revolutionary the idea of a mass collection was. It brings the attitude of Ananias and Sapphira (and their downfall) into even sharper contrast.

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  3. The obvious answer makes me think that Paul is establishing the point that Gentiles are being included in the gospel and in some ways may be even more dedicated. The main reason there could have been rejection was out of a disagreement on Gentile inclusion. Considering it was a new occurrence for Paul to be collecting a large sum for the Jerusalem churches, it could have been that much more of a reason for the Jews to look with contempt on these Gentiles who were sacrificing so much for Paul’s ministry. In verse 24 Paul says, “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” This collection from Gentile churches for the Jewish Jerusalem churches would have been a clear testimony to the gospel of grace and its extent that Paul was called to.

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  4. As Mary points out they were welcomed fondly, that sounds like they did not reject this gift from the gentiles but took it and used it. It never says what happened, and I feel that this gift while a nice gift was simply money to meet the ends to do ministry. With this gift it sends a straight message that the gentiles and Jews are even in the church. This gift would be a clear message that the gentiles could pull their weight side by side with the Jewish believers giving like they did in acts 2:45 “They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”

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  5. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:34) may have been words that came to mind as this collection was bring gathered for the saints in Jerusalem. As many of the believers may already have been devout Jews, Jerusalem was indubitably a part of their daily thinking – and perhaps their concern. So when Paul exhorts them to give, they probably did so gladly, thinking of their treasure going to where their hearts and prayers were.
    It does come to mind, however, that perhaps the church at Jerusalem was also thinking of these words of treasure. They would not want to become a stumbling block to believers, and perhaps they thought their communal living would be put to the test if they were taken care of by others outside of Jerusalem. Of course, having also discussed the gentiles place in Christianity, it may have also been difficult for them to accept gifts from outsiders – if there was any dissension still in existence in Jerusalem (whether the gift came directly from gentiles, or just through those who worked to share the Gospel with gentiles)

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  6. If they had rejected the funds, one reason as to why they would have is because it was from gentile Christians. As you have stated before in your blog, the previous agreement in Jerusalem in Acts 15 might not have pleased all of both parties. There may have been some who did not agree and may have been sore about it for some time, for they believed the gentiles were not following under the customs of Moses. Therefore, they did not want to take the money from them.

    With that said, I do not think they rejected the funds. They needed it and as Mary and Victoria have stated, there is not indication in Scripture that they rejected the funds and instead received Paul gladly (21:17).

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  7. Paul was making the point of as a Hellenistic Jew, he would need to do as the Jews gave/received Alms. As a so called “missionary,” Paul creates a fund for the so-called poor; in order to do this, however, he goes to the churches to bring them into helping. Now, if the collection was rejected by the Jerusalem Christians, it’s probably because of the fact that they wanted nothing to do with Rome or the Empire. Romans were higher in status, considerably. The Jerusalem Christians wanted nothing of the Romans (or Gentiles, for the matter) and Rome only wants to rule over the land they had. Understandably, if the Jerusalem Christians hear this money came from the Roman Empire (closer to Rome, from Asia Minor), it would be “dirty money.” Such dirty money wouldn’t help Jerusalem Christians… it would only dirty up the church. Denominational much?

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  8. This whole corporate collection thing was uncommon to Judaism in the first century, so it does look a little suspicious of Paul. This may be why Luke doesn’t mention it. We’ve seen other instances in Acts in which Luke omits some details that don’t correspond with his overall goal in the historical account. In Acts 16, we assume that the charges against Paul and Silas at Philippi were disturbing the peace and introducing a foreign cult, but neither of these make sense at a closer look. They didn’t really disturb the peace at all and it was common for Romans to worship foreign gods daily in the first century. An article I read for my major paper by a guy by the name of DeVos suggests that the actual charge here was the use of magic, since exorcism was viewed as a sort of Jewish magic. This would not have meshed well with Luke’s purpose in the book of Acts, so he omits that detail. He very well may have done the same thing here regarding the Collection.

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  9. This is such a cool part of the passage, it really shows to me how we ought to be taking care of the people in our Churches today. I think that it’s important to mention that in some Churches they work differently in terms of money. so Churches are more mission focused and only give most to missionaries, and some give to different parts of the Church. I think that all members of the Church are important, and should be treated as such, by our time and resources. I also love Pauls mentality of money, and how he does not take any for himself. This is eventually what I want to do in my life. I want to be a youth pastor however I would also like to have my own business on the side like a home makeover business, that way I would not have to take a ton of money from Gods Church.

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  10. Paul’s concern for the Jerusalem Church is certainly appropriate and the collection for the church is justified for that reason. However, given the circumstances of there being differing opinions on the Law, and the Gentile’s acceptance of Jesus as Savior without said Law, there was undoubtedly some contention between the church of Jerusalem and that of the Gentile church of Antioch. This contention certainly affected the church in Antioch’s generosity towards those in Jerusalem; although it is not mentioned in Scripture. Paul’s goal in reminding the Christians in Antioch to “remember the poor” is possibly given to help them look past the differences in beliefs between the two churches. Furthermore, it was possible that the Gentile Christians took offense to the collection made by Paul; seeing as though it would go to a group that, at times, disagreed with their inclusion in God’s Kingdom. All this tension made the gift to the Jerusalem Church a difficult issue for Paul and the Church. This tension was amplified by the Jerusalem Church’s response to the collection. Whether or not it was accepted by the church, it would have been a humbling experience for those in church leadership. Here they believed that they were God’s chosen people but now they were at the mercy of Gentiles who seemingly took over their faith. To accept this gift could mean accepting the Gentiles not only as members of their faith but equal members! Therefore, we can view the collection made by Paul as meaning far more to the churches involved than the money given or received.

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  11. I find it interesting that the style by which Paul is collecting for the poor is so different then what was in existence at the time. Its important to note that the Romans believed in taking care of the poor and downtrodden to some extent but that what Paul was doing was still drastically not the same. The Jerusalem church was struggling and even though Paul certainly had differences with the church there he still knew it was important to help and preached in such a way. Its also interesting to see that he has a group with him from his gentile churches almost as an insurance policy I had never really looked at it that way but it does make some sense. The churches would want to know Paul was not pulling the wool over their eyes with such a strange way of trying to help the poor. Until it was mentioned here and in class I had never really thought to much on why Luke mentions the collection being taken but never mentions how it was received I think it might be accurate to say that James rejected it and Luke then chose not mention it. Or because a collection taken would obviously get where it needed to go and should be received well maybe Luke did not feel the need to include an obvious outcome.

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  12. It seems like this collection was an example of Paul’s struggles in ministry as well as an example of persecutions and divisions he warned the churches against. While he is raising up funds to alleviate poverty among Jerusalem believers, the controversies between Jew and Gentile believers and ways of living the Christian life would be enough of an issue to reject their gift. Among the Gentiles, Paul had to beware of how this collection might seem suspicious, and among the Jews, it could be perceived as an unclean gift or even an afront. Despite all odds, Paul goes against the grain not to get under people’s skin, but to provide an example that the church can stand out against the norms of culture and make steps towards being united. The Gentiles believers have a chance to show both generosity and trust, while the Jerusalem believers have a chance to live out humility and extend fellowship to Gentile believers. Paul advises the churches to beware of wolves within their midst, who only cause division and lead people astray (Acts 20:26-30, 2 Timothy 3:1-9). More often than not, these people were Jews. The Judaizers of Paul’s time were much like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time. It is sad to think of all the effort Paul put into teaching Gentile believers about a counter-cultural new way of life in Jesus as well as encouraging generosity, which aligned with the requests of the Jerusalem Council, and consider that the Jewish believers would simply dismiss that just because was not in line with the old ways of the Law. If the Jerusalem Christians, who are mostly Jews, indeed rejected the gift, it would have been probably because of this incongruency between the Jewish traditions and the life in Christ Gentiles were living. I believe we can still find remnants of the same kind of issue in the Church today, as well as much room for improvement in the area of unity.

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  13. This part in scripture seems like it should not be as of a big deal. Although, I need to remember that in today’s time we as church give to missionaries and other christians in need. It is something that has become a social norm for us of today but at this time I believe Paul was trying to teach the church an important lesson. Paul was trying to get the church to support each other as Christians. While doing this he was trying to point out that he was not stealing from the church. Since this practice of giving was not common Paul had to make it clear he was not keeping any of the silver and gold for himself for that is not what he does. Over all this collection was trying to help support the start and growth of other churches. If this collection was rejected then it would have tainted then it would have affected the way they see each other. Gentiles and Jews are still building a relationship at this point so the lack of support on either end could have been portrayed as discrimination between them.

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  14. In Acts 20:33-35, Paul reminds the Ephesian Elders of the hard work he did to sustain himself and his companions during their missionary journeys. This is confirmed in Acts 18:1-3 when Paul meets with Aquila and Priscilla and works alongside them, as they were all tentmakers. Paul’s hard work during his journeys enables him to prove that he is not collecting money selfishly, and is likely why most speeches given by non-Christians in Acts are in regard to religious issues rather than being accusatory toward Paul and his companions for collecting the money. It is also likely that the other members of his traveling team worked hard as well, proving that they did not need nor want to take money for any reason but to give to the poor. Though the collection was still unusual for the ancient world, there are a number of important reasons why it was included in the text (Long, 2019). First, it sets a precedent for the Church to collect money and distribute it amongst those who need it. Second, it proves the value of hard work, as Paul and his companions knew that it was important for them to earn their keep despite having the ability to live off of the Gentile’s money. Third, it displays the character of Paul and his companions (which builds the credibility of the text), as they even went so far as to give up the time they could have spent preaching in order to work so that their character could not be attacked and their motives could not be questioned.

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  15. A collection of funds may have been unusual at the time, but Paul’s message, and followers were unusual by their societies standards in other ways as well. Look at how the gospel was received in various regions in Acts and you can see that there must be something unusual about it for people to be so against it so often. When the hurdle of the gospel has been jumped, collecting a group gift as alms to the poor may be a far less unusual in comparison. As for the reception of the gift, that is likely to remain a mystery. It seems unlikely that the gift itself was rejected, especially if it was genuinely needed. And it seems to me that such a gift would indeed be genuinely needed to motivate the gathering of such funds as a gift if the practice itself was unusual. These things considered it doesn’t seem likely to me that the gift would be rejected, as the recipients would be unlikely to be in a position to reject such generosity. As for the incomplete account of the gift, this will also likely remain a mystery, but it seems reasonable to me to assume that it was not part of the key message that Luke was trying to write or didn’t seem important at the time, and thus was omitted. There are many reasons that a part of a story may not be included in a greater narrative and Luke may have been motivated to omit an account of this gift for any one of these reasons.

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  16. Reading this passage and looking at the scripture to come and find out that the collection was in deed happy to see Paul (21:17). so Therefore, I agree with you that the the church of Jerusalem did not reject the collection. I think that it could be a possibility that they thought the collection idea might have been weird to them because maybe some people didn’t know what his intention for the collection really was however, most people knew that he wanted to grow in his ministry.

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