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THE COLLECTION FOR THE SAINTS: 2 CORINTHIANS 8-9



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Criswell Theological Review 4 1 1989 97 117 Copyright 1989 by The Criswell College Cited with permission THE COLLECTION FOR THE SAINTS 2 CORINTHIANS 8 9 RICHARD R MELICK JR Mid America Baptist Theological Seminary Memphis TN 38104 Christian stewardship occupies a major place in contemporary Christian thought Through the various media including the pulpit many Christian spokespersons call for Christians to give of material resources for the advancement of their ministries Often 2 Corinthians 8 9 forms the biblical basis for giving The Scriptures speak often of material possessions They warn about misuse of what God has provided about the acquiring of things as a life goal and about the necessity of using material things to produce spiritual blessings and eternal rewards The foundation for this occurs in the OT and Jesus himself taught that we should lay up treasures in heaven Matt 6 20 The irony of this teaching is that laying up treasures in heaven involves a wise spending of the treasures of earth This passage speaks indirectly to that issue At a deeper level however Paul speaks here of Christian brotherhood While ostensibly the relief offering occupies the prominent place the passage concerns the well being of Christian brothers and sisters It speaks to a Christian s world and life view the reality of a spiritual tie that transcends physical dimensions and the fulfilling of OT prophetic expectations The literature on this section of Scripture is extensive l and at least one major commentary concerns these two chapters alone 2 1 See for example the bibliographic entries in H D Betz 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 A Commentary on Two Administrative Letters of the Apostle Paul Hermeneia Philadelphia Fortress 1985 xix xxv and 146 53 and R Martin 2 Corinthians WBC 10 Waco TX Word 1986 248 286 87 These two commentaries are the most significant recent works on the subject 2 H D Betz 2 Corinthians 98 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW I The Occasion These two chapters focus on the grace of giving Written while Paul was on his third missionary journey they reflect one of his major concerns a collection for the saints at Jerusalem which Paul hoped to deliver at the Passover celebration This special offering helped provide for the financial needs of Christians from another ethnic and national background The monies were neither the tithe nor the gifts given for the functions of the church This was a truly benevolent offering The early church took seriously the social and economic conditions of fellow believers Many different Scriptures urge care for those who have endured difficulties These include widows and orphans Jas 1 27 natural disasters famines Acts 11 27 30 and persecution The most likely immediate concern was for the financial loss suffered in Jerusalem because of a famine which came in the mid 40s of the first century It left many including Christians in dire straits Before turning to the content of these chapters two introductory comments demand attention The first relates to the purpose of the collection for the saints Obviously Paul considered it a significant part of his ministry devoting a seemingly inordinate amount of time and energy to help those in need Many have suggested reasons for the offering most of which expand the significant work of D Georgi Die Geschichte der Kollekte des Paulus fur Jerusalem 3 R Martin reduces these to four 1 Paul was remembering the poor as he promised the pillar apostles of Jerusalem 2 he was conveying genuine concern by the Gentile congregations 3 he was seeking to unite the two diverse elements in the early Christian community and 4 he was cooperating in the eschatological fulfillment of Israel s conversion 4 No doubt each of these deserves legitimate discussion Beyond it all however the words of E Best serve as a good reminder They are based upon the character of the apostle himself Paul probably initially accepted the obligation to raise the money because he saw the need in Jerusalem and was inspired by the love of Jesus to respond Other reasons might have come to his mind as time went by 5 3 D Georgi Die Geschichte der Kollekte des Paulus fur Jerusalem TF 38 Hamburg Bergstedt H Reich 1965 Other works which detail and expand these arguments are K F Nickle The Collection A Study in Paul s Strategy SBT 48 London SCM 1966 B Holmberg Paul and Power The Structure of Authority in the Primitive Church as Reflected in the Pauline Epistles ConB New Testament Series 11 Philadelphia Fortress 1979 and R Martin The Worship of God Some Theological Pastoral and Practical Reflections Grand Rapids Eerdmans 1982 4 Martin 2 Corinthians 251 5 E Best Second Corinthians in Interpretation A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching ed James Luther Mays Atlanta John Knox 1987 76 Melick COLLECTION FOR THE SAINTS 99 The second introductory comment relates to the unity of the two chapters Many interpreters assume Paul wrote the two chapters at different times and perhaps to different churches see n 7 below Others have argued for their unity Recently C Talbert supported the unity of the section based on a perceptive literary and thematic analysis 6 The objections are not insuperable Concerning the relationship of chaps 8 and 9 C K Barrett concludes that the transition is not as sharp as is sometimes supposed It is therefore best to treat it as a continuation of chapter viii and as belonging to the same letter as chapters i viii 7 II Theological Foundations Typically Paul s Christian ethic emerges from theological conviction calling for a life lived reflectively and purposely There are many suggested theological underpinnings Some interpreters see ecclesiastical concerns in the forefront of the passage while others see a broader theological foundation Talbert sees a threefold theological significance a it would be a realization of Christian charity Gal 2 10 2 Cor 8 14 9 12 Rom 15 25 b it would be an expression of Christian unity 2 Cor 9 13 14 Rom 15 27 and c it would be an anticipation of Christian eschatology Romans 9 11 8 The ecclesiastical argument assumes that the collection is from churches to church For them the project demonstrates a strong ecclesiastical tie The passage however neither asserts nor assumes that Here at least two primary theological pillars support Paul s program of giving A Soteriological Concerns Perhaps the most impressive theological underpinning is soteriological emphasizing the outworkings of salvation The distinctive 6 See C H Talbert Reading


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