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.

7 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?

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  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.

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  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?

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  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.

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  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.

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  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?

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    • 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.

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