By John McCort
In the last 25 years there has been quite a bit of discussion over whether the church can render benevolent assistance to non-Christians out of the church treasury. Our institutional brethren have long defended the practice of general, unlimited benevolence. They use such passages as Gal. 6:10, Jas. 1:27, Matt. 25:36 to defend their practice. Such passages, though, apply only to what the individual can do in benevolence and not the church.
There is only one passage in the New Testament that is obviously speaking of church action which could possibly be referring to the practice of unlimited benevolence. That passage is 2 Cor. 9:13. It reads, “While by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto all men.”
Their main argument centers around the phrase “all men.” The distribution (benevolence) was made unto them (saints) and unto all men. Their argument is that the church sent benevolence not only to the saints but also unto all men. This passage is the pivotal point around which the wheel of unlimited benevolence turns. The whole question stands or falls on this passage.
The key phrase in this passage is “all men.” One very significant point is that the word “men” is in italics in the King James Version. The word “men” is omitted in all major translations. For example the American Standard Version reads, “and for the liberality of your contribution unto them and unto all.” Any word in italics is a word which has been supplied by the translators. All major translations after the KJV left out the “men” and thus the translators must have felt that the “men” was not implied in the text.
The Greek word for “all” is pantas. Pantas, defined, means, “all of a like kind, everything.” It has no inherent reference to humans. It just means all. Sometimes it can be referring to all mankind but at other times it does not. Context must determine its usage.
The following are some passages in which pantas (or its derivatives) obviously refer only to saints. “And he gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, unto the work of ministering, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all (pantes) come in unity of the faith” (Eph. 4:11-13). The “we all” obviously is the church or saints. “But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all (pantes) . . .” (Gal. 2:14). Paul rebuked Peter before other saints; not the whole world. “Them that sin rebuke before all (panton)” (1 Tim. 5:20). Again, we are to rebuke sinful Christians in the presence of other Christians that they might be in fear.
Literally 2 Cor. 9:13 means that the benevolence being given by the brethren at Corinth was unto them (the saints in Jerusalem) and unto all other saints who were in like circumstances. If the “them” of 1 Tim. 5:20 is saints and the “all” are other saints then why can not the “them” of 2 Cor. 9:13 be saints and the “all” be other saints in like circumstance?
Context must determine the usage of any Scripture. Look very closely at the context of 2 Cor. 9:13. “. . . and take upon us the fellowship of ministering to the saints” (2 Cor. 8:4). “But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want that their abundance may be a supply for your want; that there may be equality” (2 Cor. 8:14). It would be impossible for there to be economic equality among all alien sinners in Jerusalem. Thus it becomes apparent that 2 Cor. 8:14 could not be referring to a benevolent contribution to all alien sinners in Jerusalem but only to the saints. Since 2 Cor. 8:14 and 2 Cor. 9:13 are referring to the same contribution it is obvious that 2 Cor. 9:13 could not be referring to a benevolent contribution to all mankind in Jerusalem and elsewhere. “For as touching the ministering to the saints . . .” (2 Cor. 9:1). “For the administration of this service not only supplieth the want of saints . . .” (2 Cor. 9:12).
The Bible says that the benevolence was raised for the saints (1 Cor. 16:1-3), was sent to the saints (Rom. 15:25), was received by saints (Rom. 15:26), and supplied the wants of the saints (2 Cor. 9:12). If this benevolence was given also to non-saints then Paul misapplied those funds because they were intended to relieve the needs of the saints.
Rom. 15:25-31 is discussing the same benevolent contribution sent to the saints in Jerusalem as was discussed in 2 Cor. 9:13 (cf. 2 Cor. 9:1-2; 1 Cor. 16:1-6; Rom. 15:26). Rom. 15:25-31 acts as a divine commentary on 2 Cor. 9:13. The apostle Paul wrote, “But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints” (15:25). Nothing was said about going to minister to non-saints as well. He said further, “For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem” (15:26). Again, nothing is said about non-saints.
“It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things” (15:27). Those sending the contribution (Gentiles) were made partakers of spiritual things with those receiving the contribution (Jerusalem saints). Paul argued that if they shared in spiritual things they also ought to share in carnal things such as money. Here is the key point. The sending brethren and those receiving the benevolence shared in spiritual things. Non-Christians do not share spiritual blessings with Christians (Eph. 1:3). Since all spiritual blessings are in Christ that means that those sending and those receiving must all be in Christ. The word for “partakers” in 15:27 is the Greek word ekoinonasan. This is the Greek word for fellowship. In the New Testament fellowship never refers to a relationship a Christian sustains with a non-Christian (2 Cor. 6:14; Eph. 5:10).
Paul prayed that he “may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judea” (15:31). If Paul was giving money to non-believers why did he pray to be delivered from them? “. . . that my ministration which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints.” Paul prayed that the benevolence would be accepted by the saints. He never mentioned the fact that unbelievers might not accept the gift.
“. . . and for your liberal distribution (koinonia) unto them, and unto all men.” The word distribution is also translated contribution in the ASV. It is the Greek word koinonia which is the Greek word for fellowship. Thayer comments, “. . . used of the intimate bond which unites Christians” (Thayer, p. 352).
Fellowship never refers to a relationship that a Christian sustains with a non-Christian. “. . . for what fellowship (koinonia) hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?…Or what part hath he that believeth with the infidel?” (2 Cor. 6:14-15). In 2 Cor. 9:13, our institutional brethren have saints having fellowship with non-saints which is an unscriptural position .
“. . . that ye also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ . . . But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another . . .” (1 John 1:3, 7). Our fellowship with one another is based on us having prior fellowship with God. Since non-saints do not have fellowship with God then we can not have fellowship with them. Thayer further comments that the benevolence of 2 Cor. 9:13 was a proof of fellowship.
2 Cor. 9:14, “And by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you.” According to the institutional view the “all men” of 2 Cor. 9:13 was non-saints. In 2 Cor. 9:14 the “their prayer for you” refers back to the “all men” of 9:13. If the all men were non-saints, then non-saints were praying to God in behalf of the apostles which is not characteristic of nonChristians. Those praying for the apostles were also longing after the apostles. (9:14) Yet Paul prayed that he might be delivered from the unbelievers in Jerusalem (Rom. 15:31). Why would Paul pray to be delivered from unbelievers who were longing afterhim? That just does not make sense unless the “all” of vs. 13 is saints.
The liberals make a very complicated argument based upon some alleged parallel passages. They cite such passages as Gal. 6:10 where it reads, “As ye therefore have opportunity do good unto all men, especially those of the household of faith.” The all men of Gal. 6:10 is obviously non-Christians. They also cite 1 Thess. 3:12; 1 Thess. 5:15; and Acts 5:11 where “saints” and “all men” are mentioned in the same passage. Their basic argument is that in the passages where saints and all men are used in the same passage that the all men cannot refer to other saints (cf. 2 Cor. 9:13).
This argument does not hold true. For example 1 Tim. 5:20, “Them that sin (saints) rebuke in the presence of all (pantes, other saints) . . .” (compare the them and the all of both 1 Tim. 5:20 and 2 Cor. 9:13). Gal. 2:14, “But when I saw that they (Peter and other saints) walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter (saint) before them all (pantes; the church, other saints) . . .” (cf. 1 Cor. 16:16; 2 Cor. 13:2; 1 Cor. 15:7-8).
They make a very arbritrary argument that Gal. 6:10; 1 Thess. 3:12; Acts 5:11; and 1 Thess. 5:15 are the only passages in the New Testament which are parallel to 2 Cor. 9:13. This is not true. Acts 2:44-45 has more things in common with 2 Cor. 9:13 than those other passages. “And all that believed were together (saints) and had all things common (koina) and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men (pasin) as every man had need.” In this passage it is obvious that the all men were believers. Both passages contain the root derivative koina which is the Greek word for fellowship. In both passages church benevolence is the subject. Both passages contain both saints and all in the same passage. Since the all men of Acts 2:44-45 is saints, then why can not the all men of 2 Cor. 9:13 also be saints?
One thing that is obvious is that Gal. 6:10; Acts 5:11; 1 Thess. 3:12; and 1 Thess. 5:15 are all speaking of individual action. Not one of these passages speak of money. These passages do not speak of the treasury being used to aid non-Christians. Therefore, according to the rule of parallel passages Acts 2:44-45 is a truer parallel to 2 Cor. 9:13 than all these other passages.
A close examination of 2 Cor. 9:13 reveals that this passage does not authorize the church taking money out of its treasury to aid non-Christians and, thus, the general benevolence position is false.
Truth Magazine XXII: 34, pp. 555-556
August 31, 1978