By Martin Pickup
During the debate over institutionalism in the 1950’s and ’60’s, a question arose concerning the proper objects of church benevolence. Was a local church to be thought of as a general benevolence society, providing church funds to anyone regardless of whether or not they were a Christian? Or was general humanitarian benevolence an individual Christian’s responsibility, with church benevolence limited to needy saints? Institutional brethren pointed to Galatians 6:10 and argued that it was speaking of church benevolence to non-Christians as well as Christians: “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”
The problem with this, of course, was that the language throughout Galatians 6:1-10 is markedly individual. Paul is speaking about a Christian’s personal obligations. There seems to be nothing in the context to indicate that what Paul says would necessarily apply to congregational action. There is nothing to suggest that he is advocating collective church benevolence to non-Christians.
Steve Gibson is now arguing that there is something in the context to suggest that Galatians 6:10 is speaking of collective church benevolence – church benevolence, in fact, which was directed to non-Christians. In his recent book, Galatians 6:10 and the Great Collection,(1) brother Gibson affirms that the language Paul uses in Galatians 6:2-10 suggests that he is referring to the Jerusalem Collection, the relief effort which Gentile churches undertook for the needy saints in Jerusalem. Paul discusses this work of the churches in 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, 2 Corinthians 8-9, and Romans 15:25-28. Gibson maintains that if Galatians 6:10 is also discussing the Jerusalem Collection, then this means that unbelievers must have been among the recipients of these church funds.
The thrust of Gibson’s argumentation is that the language Paul uses in Galatians 6:7-10 is similar to the language he uses in 2 Corinthians 9:6-13 when he urges the Corinthians to participate in the Jerusalem Collection. In both places Paul uses the metaphor of “sowing” and “reaping,” speaks of doing what is “good,” and refers to “all men.” Since these expressions in 2 Corinthians are used to speak of church contributions in the Jerusalem relief effort, Gibson argues that Galatians 6 refers to the same thing. On a previous occasion Paul must have broached the subject of the Jerusalem Collection to the churches of Galatia, and now in his letter he urges them to carry through with the contribution. On the basis of this construction of the historical background, Gibson understands the entirety of Galatians 6:10 to be speaking of those who would receive the Jerusalem Collection. Paul is saying that these funds would go to “all men” and “especially to the household of faith.”
Brother Gibson feels that if his interpretation of Galatians 6:10 is accepted then this would solve the division that has occurred over church-sponsored orphanages and institutions for the elderly.(2) This overlooks, of course, the fact that the issue of church-sponsored benevolence institutions involves more than the question of whether churches may relieve non-Christians. It also involves whether churches may create and support organizations to do work which God assigned to each local church. Gibson never addresses the latter question. Nevertheless, he has addressed one important aspect of the issue, and a response is warranted.
I think brother Gibson does a good job in pointing out the linguistic parallels between Galatians 6:7-10 and 2 Corinthians 9:6-13. One can make a case that Paul is speaking of benevolence in Galatians 6 when he talks about “sowing” and “reaping.” Still, this does not have to be so. Paul uses the same language when he speaks about his preaching relationship with the Corinthians: “If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you?” (1 Cor. 9:11) Paul may have commonly used such imagery when talking about any kind of giving.(3) But even if we assume that Galatians 6:7-10 is speaking of benevolence, this still does not mean Paul’s individual language must be applicable to church activity. Nor does it demand that the Jerusalem Collection in particular is under discussion. As we shall see, there are good reasons for denying that this is so.
The Date of Galatians
For the book of Galatians to refer to the Jersualem Collection it must have been written about the time of Paul’s third missionary journey, the time when these relief funds were collected. This requires a late date for Galatians. Gibson affirms a late date as well as the northern audience view (i.e., that the epistle was written to churches in the Territory of Galatia). But there are problems with the Late Date/ Northern View which Gibson does not address. For example, it is not certain that Paul ever evangelized in the Territory of Galatia. Acts 16:6 and 18:23 are the only passages which might suggest that he did, yet it seems more likely that in these passages the Greek phrase Galatiken choran (“Galatian region”) is referring to the area in the southern portion of the Province of Galatia (the location of the churches of lconium and Antioch-Pisidia). Even if Acts is referring to the Territory of Galatia to the north, the text does not say that Paul established any churches there; it only says that he passed through that region.
One could avoid this difficulty by adopting the Southern Audience View (i.e., written to churches in the southern portion of the Province of Galatia), but there are still problems with a Late Date. For example, it seems strange that Paul would make no mention in Galatians of the decrees of the Jerusalem Conference which by that time he had already delivered to these churches (Acts 15:22-29; 16:4). These decrees had addressed the Judaizing heresy, the very issue which Paul is discussing in Galatians. The Southern View makes more sense with an Early Date (i.e., written at least before Paul’s second missionary journey).
Whichever view of destination one adopts, there are difficulties involved in identifying Paul’s Jerusalem visit of Galatians 2 with his visit recorded in Acts 15. For example, this would mean that in the survey Paul gives of his visits to Jerusalem (Galatians 1-2) he omits any reference to the visit of Acts 12:25 – a surprising omission since Paul’s Judaizing opponents might claim he was not being forthright about his Jerusalem contacts. This may pose a problem for any date which places Galatians after Acts 15.(4)
The date of Galatians is one of the most uncertain matters in the field of New Testament literary criticism. We just can’t be sure when it was written. Scholars are quite divided over the issue.(5) Yet Gibson’s view that the Jerusalem Collection is under discussion in Galatians 6: 10 demands a Late Date. If an Early Date is correct, then Gibson’s position on the verse crumbles.(6)
The Fundamental Flaw
For the sake of argument, however, I could grant Gibson’s contentions concerning all of the above matters. I could grant that a Late Date is correct and Galatians was written while Paul was on his third journey. I could grant that the Jerusalem Collection underlies Paul’s comments in Galatians 6 and that Paul is employing individual language to speak distributively of collective church action. I could even grant that Paul has the Jerusalem Collection in mind in v. 10 when he urges the Galatians to do good “to the household of the faith.” For the sake of argument, I could grant all of this.
But even if all of this were so, this still does not warrant our assuming that all of v. 10 must be speaking of the recipients of the Jerusalem Collection. In other words, there is no reason to think that Paul means that the Jerusalem Collection would provide funds to “all men” as well as to “the household of faith.” Brother Gibson does not seem to have considered another possibility: the Jerusalem Collection could simply be what Paul has in mind as the special means of doing good to the household of faith. Paul could be urging the individual Christians in Galatia to be sure to engage in general benevolence to all men, and especially to engage in benevolence to fellow Christians by having a part in the Jerusalem Collection which the Gentile churches were sending to needy Jerusalem saints. This is all that any parallel between 2 Corinthians 9 and Galatians 6 need call for. Gibson has assumed that all of v. 10 must be indicating the recipients of the Jerusalem collection funds, and has ignored another possible interpretation.(7) This is what I see as the fundamental flaw in Gibson’s argumentation.
I believe that other New Testament statements about the Jerusalem collection would compel the interpretation I am suggesting (that is, if it is so that the collection does underlie Galatians 6). We need to allow clear passages to help us understand any passage that is not so clear; it should not be the other way around. 1 and 2 Corinthians and Romans speak expressly about the Jerusalem Collection. We need to let Corinthians and Romans clarify what Paul could be meaning in Galatians 6:10 as to who might receive the funds of the Jerusalem Collection. The following explicit passages from Corinthians and Romans identify the recipients of the Collection only as saints:
1 Cor. 16:1 – “the collection for the saints.”
2 Cor. 18:4 – “the support of the saints.”
2 Cor. 9:1 – “this ministry to the saints.”
2 Cor. 9:12 -“supplying the needs of the saints.”
Rom. 15:25 – “serving the saints.”
Rom. 15:26 – “poor among the saints in Jerusalem.”
Rom. 15:31 – “to the saints.”
In addition, the other statements Paul makes about the nature and purpose of the collection do not reasonably fit a group of recipients which included non-Christian Jews: (1) Romans 15:27 – Paul says that Gentile Christians ought to participate in the Jerusalem Collection because they were obligated to minister in material things to those who had given them their spiritual things. It was the Jewish church, not unbelieving Jews, who had ministered spiritual things to the Gentile Christians. (2) 2 Corinthians 9:12-14; 8:14 — Paul says that those who received the funds would glorify God for the Gentiles’ obedience to the gospel and the liberality of their contribution, would pray and yearn for them, and would reciprocate the act of charity should the Gentile Christians ever become needy. Only Jews who were Christians would do such things.(8)
The abundance of this evidence cannot be ignored. Over and over again the Jerusalem collection is expressly designated for indigent saints. In light of this, it is absolutely unreasonable to choose to interpret Galatians 6:10 as saying that the collection went to “all men” when the verse need only be saying that these funds went to “the household of the faith.” The latter interpretation is the is the one which fits precisely with what the rest of the New Testament clearly states about the Collection.
I have tried to point out in this article some of the problems involved in trying to connect the Jerusalem Collection with Galatians 6: 10. Beyond this, I have tried to show that even if one were to grant the connection, this passage should still not be interpreted as indicating that New Testament churches were using their funds to render benevolence to non-Christians. In fact, the very scholars whom brother Gibson cites in his book do not understand Galatians 6:10 to be indicating this. A full discussion of this matter is forthcoming in the next article.
1. Steve Gibson, Galatians 6:10 and the Great Collection (Taylor, TX: published by the author, 1990). Gibson also gives a synopsis of his views in “The Meaning of Galatians 6:10,” The Restorer (August, 1990), pp. 11-13.
5. Gibson’s assertion (Ibid., pp. 14-15) that the arguments against the Late Date are really just the result of liberal criticism is incorrect. One will find liberal and conservative scholars on both sides of the question.
6. If a Late Date is not correct, Gibson suggests that an earlier relief effort involving the Galatian churches may be in view in 6:10. This suggestion will be discussed in the second article of this series.
7. The reason why Gibson assumes that the entirety of the verse must be speaking of the recipients of the Collection is apparently because he takes the word “opportunity” to refer specifically to the Collection. This will be discussed in the next article.
8. Gibson’s re-examination of 2 Corinthians 9:12-14, in which he tries to get around the force of this argument, is based upon the assumption that his position on Galatians 6:10 is true – thus begging the question (Ibid., pp. 76-81).
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 15, pp. 496-498
August 15, 1991