January 30, 2006

Galatians: God's Aid for Jerusalem via Gentiles

“The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah 29:19

Paul Goes up to Jerusalem

In my study of Galatians one simple line of Paul’s letter stuck a cord, in comes when Paul relates a visit to Jerusalem where he meets with the leaders of the church there.

“Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation ... and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.”

Galatians 2:1-2, 9-10

There is some debate [1] over the actual occasion of this visit , some scholars contend this is the trip in Acts 15:4-5 the so called “Jerusalem Counsel” visit, while others maintain is it the “famine-relief” visit of Acts 11:30.

Acts does not record any visits in which Paul bought along Titus, but it seems most likely this is the “famine-relief” visit. The fact that Paul states he went up by ‘revelation’ would fit the circumstances of Acts 11 where a prophet named Agabus “stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world ...” Further, Paul relates that after meeting with the leader in private that: “only, they asked us to the remember the poor”, while in the visit of Acts 15 seems to have been a public matter, and a more extensive list of requirements for Gentiles was given in letter form.

There is of course the possibility that Luke, when composing his concise history in Acts, left out some visits by Paul which lay outside the scope of his narrative. It could also be the case that Paul didn’t feel the visit of Acts 11 was worth mentioning, however as Cole [2] points out this would weaken Paul’s argument and the Judaizers would quickly point out this inconsistency.

Who Exactly, are ‘the poor’?

Further debate focuses on whether ‘the poor’ represent God’s ‘poor’ (so not necessarily economically so) or simply the poor and disadvantaged of Jerusalem (which would lend support the assumption of the Acts 11 visitation.)

In either respect what struck me is that God was now using Paul’s Gentile churches to bless His poor. Paul speaks a number of times of collections he has gathered for the ‘saints of Jerusalem’ [3] and indeed says “For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings.” Again, as Cole describes it Jerusalem was a “bloated religious capitol, crammed with hungry, unproductive mouths which seems to have had little true economic basis for its existence.” Coupled with the fact that the Gospel was readily embraced by the ‘poor’ not the rich, it is likely the Jerusalem church was very poor indeed. While there was, early on, a sort of ‘social experiment’ in common living, and the occasional local aided the poor of the church, the noted giving [4] was by “Barnabas ... a native of Cyprus.” The wealth of the Gentile cities was surly greater then that of Jerusalem, and even more so compared with the Jerusalem church.

Closing Thoughts

This does bring forth an interesting question --- could the decision(s) of the Jerusalem counsel have been influenced in any way by the ‘pouring out’ of aid upon the Jerusalem church? Could in fact, have they relaxed their conditions (namely circumcision) on Gentiles based in some part on a fear of losing, or lessening this aid?

In any respect the ‘pillars’ of the Jerusalem church (even the stickler James) endorsed Paul’s Gospel as genuine, and seemingly they would not have done so based solely on perceived loss of income. Ironically, the money that originally these Gentile converts may have meant for ‘evil’ --- God is now using for ‘good’ and the relief of His poor.

[1] See William M. Ramsy, Historical Commentary on Galatians, Chapter 18 “The Second Visit to Jerusalem”, for a lenghtly (if dated) discussion.

[2] R. Alan Cole, Galatians The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Second Edition (Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1989)

[3] See Romans 15:24-27, 1 Corinthians 16, 2 Corinthians 9:1

[4] It is of interest that the giving which is singled out was by a ‘over-seas’ Jew as Cole notes. This doesn’t necessarily mean there wasn’t great giving by native sons, and this may have been merely a contrast with Ananias & Sapphira’s deceitful giving in Acts 5. However, in either case it is conspicuously missing from the text, coupled with the events in Acts 5 and the statement in verse 6 “And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” It is unlikely that if the church members were truly giving ‘all they had’ that a great fear (and perhaps guilt) would come upon them. See Acts 4:32-37


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