The Collection – 2 Corinthians 8:1-24

What is the “Collection”?

Paul initiated the Collection as a part of his mission to the Gentiles (1 Cor 16:1-4). Before the first missionary journey in Acts 13, Paul had delivered funds to Jerusalem collected by the Antioch church. This famine relief 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” likely refers to the community in Jerusalem, the people the famine visit was intended to help. This “famine relief” visit indicates the Jewish Christian churches in the Diaspora were not living in common as Jerusalem was, but they also felt a responsibility to support the Jerusalem believers financially.

The Jerusalem community appears to be still living in a sort of shared community, supported by gifts when Paul returns to Jerusalem in Acts 21. It is possible Judea was suffering from another famine and possibly the effects of a Jubilee year. If this was the case, then the poor in Jerusalem were even more dependent on Antioch than ever. Paul uses the word “relief” (ESV, translating διακονία, service, assistance) in 2 Cor 8:4 and in 9:12 the same word describes the collection as an opportunity for service for the poor in Jerusalem.

When Paul spoke of the “collection” in 1 Cor 16:1, he used a word (λογεία) associated with an irregular tax or contribution of money for some charitable or sacred purpose (MM, BDAG). In 2 Maccabees 12:43 Judas Maccabees takes up a collection from his men to be sent to Jerusalem to pay for a sin offering on behalf of the soldiers who had been killed in battle. The word appears in a Theban ostraca of date 4 Aug. A.D. 63 with reference to a tax for the priests of Isis (Deissmann, LAE, 104).

The Greco-Roman world used a system of public benefaction to help the poor, but there was nothing like a modern “fund-raiser” where people solicit money to be distributed to the poor. In Judaism the poor received alms from individuals, but money was not collected by any organization to be re-distributed to the poor. The only exception appears to be Queen Abiabene, who brought relief to Jerusalem (Antiq. 20:51-51).

It is possible Paul picks up this word from the word from a letter from the Corinthians themselves. They may have considered this collection as a kind of tax (a millage?) like a Greek temple collecting funds to meet the need of the priests. But that is not Paul’s point at all: this is not a tax but rather a special way to share a gracious gift in order to meet a very serious need in Jerusalem.

Since this collection was unprecedented, it would have looked very suspicious to outsiders.  What is Paul doing with this money? Paul is careful to bring representatives of the Gentile churches to assure the churches he was not going to disappear with the funds. Since traveling with such a large amount of money was dangerous, a large group would be required to protect the collection. During Paul’s second stay in Corinth he arranged for the Collection to be brought to Jerusalem (Romans 15:22-29; Acts 20:1-6). Paul plans to travel from Corinth to Jerusalem with an entourage of representatives of the Gentile churches.  The list of travel companions in Acts 20:4 includes Greek names, representatives of the now successful Gentile mission.

Paul’s plan, therefore, is to collect a gift for the poor believers in Jerusalem who are suffering from famine and poverty. Based on Acts, it appears Paul wants to deliver the gift at Pentecost as a kind of “first fruits” from his harvest among the Gentiles. That is really the point of the collection, to show the church at Jerusalem that God has already done great things among the Gentiles. This is not a bribe to the apostles or a payment to them to remain an apostle, but a way to demonstrate the way God has been working among the Gentiles.

But according to 2 Corinthians 8, the church at Corinth was slow to participate in this collection. Paul describes the generosity of the poor churches in Macedonia (vv. 1-5) and compares this service to Jesus, who was rich yet he became poor (v. 9). This is a similar argument to Philippians 1 where Paul encourage the church to follow the example of Jesus who did not think equality with God was something to be grasped but took on the form of a human servant. If anyone in Corinth was thinking their social standing was too high to participate in this particular project, Jesus is the ultimate challenge!

To what extent is Paul trying to shame the Corinthians? Compared to the churches in Macedonia, they are wealthy and have not experienced any persecution which would have resulted in a similar kind of poverty. Paul himself was able to spend 18 months in their community, more time than he was able to spend in all of the other communities combined.

The Corinthian church has already made a commitment to participating in Paul’s collection for Jerusalem, but because of the conflict between Paul and the church (and perhaps some suspicious thinking prompted by Paul’s opponents), they have been slow in following through on that commitment. Paul legitimately is shaming them for their dishonorable lack of commitment to the Collection. If the Macedonians can participate, and if the ultimately rich and power Jesus can set equality with God aside in order to become poor in order to serve us in his death, then the Corinthian church can make good on their commitment to offer a gift to support the Jerusalem church.

Honor and Shame were powerful motivations in the Greco-Roman world, and Paul has resorted to shaming the Corinthians several times in 1-2 Corinthians. But this is very difficult for a modern preacher to apply since a rhetorical “shaming” is likely to have the opposite effect on church member in America today. Paul’s collection is often used by preachers to encourage people to give regularly to the church or other ministries. “Giving a gift” should not be considered an obligation or tax, as it has been at various times in history. In America “pew rentals” helped churches to raise funds. If you wanted a good seat, you had to pay for it.

Is this passage an encouragement for regular giving to the local church?

Bibliography: D. J. Downs, “The Collection in 2 Corinthians” in Martin, 2 Corinthians (Second Edition); Witherington, Acts, 429; Bruce Winter, “Acts and Food Shortages” in The Book of Acts in its Greco-Roman Setting, 2: 59-78.

13 thoughts on “The Collection – 2 Corinthians 8:1-24

  1. This is really interesting to me and the giving in different ways, amounts, times and emotions is something I can relate to. This blog post is interesting to the fact that it sheds light on the emotion of Paul to Corinth. 2 Corinthians 9:7 “7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Is a verse that is said before offering is taken in the church I go to. There was a time in my life where I didn’t give anything to church, probably going to hell for that, but it changed after I started going to this church. The difference between the churches was similar to the case here. The church I didn’t donate at is a mega church that you were just another resident at. They did have any struggles which is totally fine, and they started other churches so cool right. The church I go to now, has been to the point where they were expanding to where they might have to close. The realness of the fact that they ask us to give cheerfully is something I wasn’t used to. Just like the parable of the widow giving tithe, Mark 12:41-44, Jesus told his disciples she gave everything compared to the rich giving what is asked rather than with a giving heart. Matthew 6:20, Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that we should store up our riches in heaven. Paul is a little upset as should anyone else should seeing that Corinth, you mentioned, did not have a lot if any persecution and struggles with money. They did give with pushing and prying, but did they really give it cheerfully and did they give what was put on their heart or just ‘enough’ that’s my question?

  2. One of Paul’s challenges that he faced was making sure that the members of Corinth were using their money for the glory of God. But as stated by Dr. Phillip Long, Paul encouraged the people in the Corinth church to participate in the tithing, by which he compares the type of Service to Jesus, who was rich and cared about the poor (Long, 2019). In other words, Paul is using the shaming of the Corinth church to help them understand how they were spending their money. It is clear that he wants the members of the Corinth church to be a better example, and know what is excepted of them. However, according to 2 Corinthians 8: 20-22, Paul states that he is confident that the members of the Corinth church will donate in the name of the Lord (NIV). When it comes down to it, Paul is making the point that all gifts given should be done for the right reasons, with the right condition of one’s heart. This pertains to the Church as a whole, because people in leadership positions at churches today should not pressure people into giving. Rather, like the message asserted by Paul, we should make sure what we are doing is done in the name of the Lord, and not done out of guilt.

  3. The Macedonian church had first-hand experience with struggle, lack of resources, and persecution. The condition of the Macedonian church could be thought of as extreme poverty. Paul emphasizes their “poorness” as a way to shame the “richer” Corinthians but also as a way to boast about what the Macedonians are doing (2 Cor 8:2-5,8,10-12;9:2-4). It seemed that those who had less were more willing to give because they connected with the cause, and those who had more were unable to empathize with the cause so they needed to connect with the messenger. This church was a great example of James’ counsel as he asks his reader to consider it all pure joy whenever they face trials (James 1:2). Even though they experience horrendous things, they did not let this take away their joy and found a way to find their identity in Christ. Due to this, they were able, even though they were in not so favorable conditions, to help others.
    The United States is often known to be very giving to the rest of the world. Many individuals give generously to a cause that they support. Back home, people were often giving every day. People gave because they could empathize with their situation. They knew what it was like to suffer and wanted to relieve some of that pain by giving some of what they had. Granted, not everyone is like that and not everyone has something to give. The relationship Paul had with the Corinthians affected their willingness to give to Paul’s cause, the poor in Jerusalem. Before this chapter, Paul speaks on his reconciliation with the Corinthians. Their relationship was rocky and the Corinthians had become skeptical of what Paul asked of them, (Longenecker & Todd, 2014, p. 157). Most of the time, we give because it makes us feel good and because we support the people who are desiring to help others. Rarely do we get to connect with the people being served meaning that if the deliverer of the message messes it up, those who are struggling will not get support. Paul had to fix that relationship before reminding them of their commitment (Long 2019, 2 Cor 9:13). At the same time, this was necessary because the Corinthians were able to support more than the other church was (Longenecker & Todd, 2014, p. 157).
    For example, many big churches in the US support organizations in third-world countries. If their relationship with the missionaries in those countries deteriorate, they take away their support completely. Something else that often happens with supporting the mission field is that our giving has conditions. We want to know what they are doing with the money (asking for newsletters), and we restrict what they can do with the money (only for food, only for education, only for building). I appreciate the accountability that this creates, but as Christians, should there exist some form of flexibility when it comes to helping the poor? Or is this just part of our pride and need to know that we are making a difference?

  4. I was very intrigued by this blog post because of the importance it brought up on giving to the poor. Not depending on the amount just being able to give when you have the opportunity. Also the importance of not just giving money but in different ways because sometimes we aren’t able to give financially but there are plenty of other ways to give for example giving your time to others in need just volunteering is a good way to help out. Just like 2 Corinthians, 8:9 says For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: though he was rich, for your sake he became poor so that by his poverty you might become rich. The importance I got out of this post is always willing to help others because tere may be times where you might need that help in return.

  5. I do think that this passage could be used as an encouragement for modern churches to give. In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul emphasizes the importance of those who have excess to give to those in need (vs. 13-14). That is the same basic message of helping those in poverty that Jesus preaches in the gospels (Luke 12:33-34). Paul wants to be clear with the church in Corinth that giving is important to the nature of Christian character and ethics. While I believe that this passage (2 Cor. 8) is still applicable to read as an encouragement to giving and shows that giving is important, the way that Paul gets the Corinthian churches to give would not be effective with modern churches.
    Many members of the Corinthian church lived with a significant level of financial security and most likely made a large contribution to Paul’s mission (Longenecker, 157). With them neglecting to give to his collection, I believe that Paul was slightly desperate to gain those funds back in order to continue his work. With shame and status being so important to their culture, it was an effective way to get the Corinthians to give. They weren’t giving because they wanted to honor God and lovingly help those in need, they were giving to not be shamed by generous Macedonians and have a positive self-image. Rather than promoting selfless giving, Paul was promoting self-promotion.We can agree that giving is important, but I think that the motives behind giving that Paul was instilling on the Corinthians may have been wrong. This strategy that Paul uses would be much less effective today because people would see it as shallow and as having the wrong motives. We can argue that it’s an encouragement to regular giving, but the reasons that Paul gives the Corinthian church would be much less effective for getting a congregation to tithe today.

  6. It is interesting to me that much commentary seeks to apply issues pertaining to “the collection” to the giving within modern era churches. Yes, there are within Paul’s letters models for the generous poor, the recalcitrant rich, encouragement to give, etc. But, to me, the most striking fact about the collection is that ultimately it was rejected by the apostles and church in Jerusalem. Indicating to me that even in desperate straits the Jesus cult was not at all willing to go along with Paul’s dismissal of (attacks against) the requirements of the Torah. I also wonder, whatever did happen to the funds delivered under guard to Jerusalem?

    • This is a difficult problem, and one that does not have a certain answer. It is always possible James accepted the money even if Luke did not tell us (since he does not tell us anything about where it went!) Robert Orlando argued the money was a “polite bribe” to obtain or maintain Paul’s status as apostles see my review here:

      https://readingacts.com/2016/03/29/book-review-robert-orlando-apostle-paul-a-polite-bribe/

      Two other more common (and more possible) suggestions. First, the money was used to sponsor the Nazarite vows (there were expenses involved, but I would think the money was far more than the cost of the vows. Second, it was rejected and Paul used it to support himself in Caesarea for two years while under house arrest.

  7. In 2 Corinthians chapter 8 Paul encourages the Corinthians to give towards a collection for poor Jesus-followers in Jerusalem. Paul was insistent that they contribute as the resources that some of them provided for a significant portion of what he would collect (TTP p.157). At the time in the Greco Roman world there was no similar practice of collecting funds to deliver to the poor elsewhere so what Paul was asking made the Corinthians call his motives into question especially because of the rifts in their relationship with him (Long). Paul used several strong motivators to convince the Corinthians that them must give. He appealed to their sense of self-importance noting that they excel in everything and giving must be included. Paul also mentioned that their giving would be a demonstration of their obedience to God and a service to those in need (TTP p.158). Other less affluent churches such as those in Macedonia had already given generously so the Corinthians must give as well. Paul emphasized that whatever they gave it would be an act of grace just as Jesus became poor for the sake of their salvation (2 Corinthians 8:9). For Paul, the collection was a demonstration of the gospel he preached in which Christians would follow the example of the self-giving God and imitate him with their lives (TTP p.159).

  8. It’s no surprise that Paul faced challenges when making sure the church of Corinth were doing what the Lord had called them to do. But even more so he wanted to make sure that a city as wealthy as Corinth was using their finances to give glory to God. As mentioned above P. Long said that Paul had told the people in Corinth to give some of what they have over to the poor. Though this might have been a shock to those who were present at the time due to their lack of understanding. Paul was trying to shame the church in to an understanding that giving to the poor is essentially helping the Lord by taking care of the poor. As time goes on we read that Paul eventually takes faith in the people of Corinth to give faithfully and give unto the Lord without being asked. Paul didn’t pressure these people into giving their money rather he gave an example of how donating to the poor is taking care of God’s people. Churches today don’t pressure or shame others into tithing into the ministry, though it is highly encouraged if one wants to see growth spiritually in the church it isn’t forced upon. Though I agree it shouldn’t be enforced but in modern day churches it should be talked about more, because some don’t give out of their own foolishness and lack of understanding. Yes God loves a cheerful giver but don’t take that out of context, when you have more than enough to bless the ministry 10x fold.

  9. Paul does something unusual and unique in the ancient world’s society: he takes up a collection to aid those struggling with the effects of a famine in Jerusalem. Giving to the poor was not like it is today: the poor would receive alms, but no one ever gathered money like a charity organization to distribute it among the poor. This would be seen as very suspicious and out of line in the Greco-Roman and even Jewish culture. And how would those who donated know if Paul actually gave that money to the cause he claimed? This was a legitimate concern especially being that communication across various towns, cities, and regions is nothing like today. What I find interesting is that when Paul talked about the “collection” he used the Greek word “λоγεία” which essentially referred to the collection being an “irregular tax or contribution of money for some charitable or sacred purpose” (Long, 104). I always find the original Greek word and its meaning/definition fascinating to compare to the English translation. This irregular tax would not have even been that big of a deal as it would have been more like a millage rather than a huge expense (Long, 105). When Paul brought up this collection to the Corinthians, he wasn’t just merely asking, he was strongly encouraging that they participate, especially being that they were not overly struggling for funds. On top of this, the believers in Macedonia were more than happy to aid in the collection and gave a significant chunk of money even though they were not a very well-off group of people, unlike the Corinthian believers (Long, 106). From today’s perspective, we can often get caught up in focusing on ourselves, our wants, our needs, neglecting the fact we are called to help the poor and those in need. Proverbs 3:27 says “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.” There is not excuse for not helping those in need; it doesn’t have to be financially; it can be through service or even just words of encouragement.

    Sources:
    ESV Study Bible
    P. Long, Dr. “Bible 403: Pauline Literature and Theology” (class notes).

  10. Your question is hard to answer with regards to looking at the ancient church to the modern church. To my knowledge, ancient churches were often hosted within someone’s house, which also varies to modern dwellings. Modern churches are their own structure outside of someone’s house. Likewise, for the most part, pastors today make pastoral work their only form of income, whereas people like Paul worked as a tentmaker to make ends meet and pastoral work—or maybe apostleship work—was supported by his income as a tentmaker. Today, the offering, or tithe, we give is divided across more categories. Certainly, one category is set aside for the poor, but other categories go towards maintaining the building, and to pay the pastors. The offering is split for more than just supporting the poor members of our church or other churches. The collection that Paul made was to show God’s reformative work among the Gentiles, to show that the Gentiles were accepting Christ. As you put, “this is not a bribe to the apostles or a payment to them to remain an apostle, but a way to demonstrate the way God has been working among the Gentiles.” Offerings today help pay for a pastor’s paycheck, as society today has deemed it appropriate for one to make this their living. Whereas apostles in the ancient day did not want to burdened the new found church community, so they supported themselves through things like tent making and fishing. The collection was going towards other church communities how were struggling. I can’t say that this passage is an encouragement to local giving as the giving Paul was talking about is different to the giving that we do today. Paul was writing to new church communities who did not have to set aside funds for its building nor provide money for their leaders. The world has changed today, similarly to how honor and shame are not as valued a virtue. The church today still supports other churches. I can think of times when my home church has provided money and labor to other churches in countries that are poor or in need. Money can be—and has been—raised solely to support other churches. But the general offering that churches collect every Sunday goes towards many things besides a mission’s fund. If the pastor was using this passage to advocate the church members to donate money for another church then yes, this passage does fit. But if it is used to advocate for the generic offering then the passage is not used correctly, because that offering does not go solely to another needing church community, it is used for the own church’s community; upkeep, pastor’s income for their families, etc.

  11. This is pure speculation, but I wonder how Corinth’s economic status effected Paul’s collection. Because some of the head church members in Corinth were high-status and wealthy people (Longenecker gives the potential examples of Gaius, Stephanas, Crispus, and Erastus), perhaps they had heightened awareness and knowledge of the shady side of economics, and so perhaps were more suspicious of Paul, which spread to other members. On the other hand, perhaps a church comprised of mostly lower class citizens would be the more suspicious group, as they may have personal experience of financial oppression due to the greed of wealthy people. Just a thought.

    Some more speculation, perhaps the Corinthian church (if it did truly contain some number of wealthy and powerful citizens) was less willing to give because they were still turning from their greedy ways. In the same way that the rich young ruler was disheartened when Jesus told him that he must give up what he has to follow Christ, perhaps the Corinthian church found it difficult to part with the money that had gained them so much public honor.

    Either way, Paul’s defense of the collection is certainly important. It is (unfortunately) not uncommon for church splits to happen over money, and given that the Corinthian church was still in its infancy, it was crucial that Paul kept it together. Paul’s defense of the collection does remind me of ways that churches defend offerings today. I have heard many times that offerings are collected not because the church wants the money, but because it is necessary to spread the gospel and support the good works of the church and the good works of other organizations the church supports. I also often hear collections for missionaries being defended with something like, “this money let’s the people of (place) know that you are thinking and praying about them,” which is similar to how Paul’s collection was partially intended to show the Jerusalem church that the Gentile mission was thriving and was thinking honorably about them.

Leave a Reply