By Martin Pickup
Steve Gibson has affirmed that in Galatians 6:10 Paul is speaking about collective church action, and not about individual Christian duty when he says, “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.”(1) Brother Gibson argues that Paul is talking about the Jerusalem Collection, the contribution which Gentile churches made for the needy saints in Jerusalem. If so, Gibson says, this passage would indicate that these relief funds went not just to “the household of the faith,” but also to “all men” – i.e., to both believers and unbelievers. Therefore, church-sponsored benevolence institutions for non-Christians would be scriptural.(2)
In the previous article I discussed some of the problems involved in trying to connect the Jerusalem Collection with Galatians 6:10. Also, even if the connection were granted for the sake of argument, it is not necessary to think that Paul means the Jerusalem Collection was a way of rendering benevolence to the “all men” of this verse. Gibson fails to consider another, more reasonable interpretation: If Paul is thinking of the Collection in this passage, he is thinking of it only as one way for the Christians of Galatia to do good to “the household of the faith.” Paul would be urging the individual Christians of Galatia to render benevolence to all men, and especially to render benevolence to the household of the faith by participating in the relief effort which the Gentile churches were undertaking for the needy saints in Jerusalem. Clear New Testament passages repeatedly designate the recipients of the Jerusalem Collection as “saints”; this must govern how one interprets Galatians 6:10. It is an unwarranted assumption to say that in Galatians 6:10 Paul must be including “all men” among the recipients of the Jerusalem Collection (if he is even alluding to it at all).
The Commentators Cited
In support of this, I would refer the reader to the very commentators whom Gibson himself cites in his book. He appeals to various commentators who believe that the Jerusalem Collection is under discussion in Galatians 6:10.
But from the way Gibson cites them, a reader may easily get the impression that these men agree with his ultimate conclusion that the relief funds went to “all men.” But these scholars are not saying this at all. They are actually affirming the Jerusalem Collection-view of Galatians 6:10 which I have presented above.
Commentaries – like biblical passages – must be properly interpreted. If brother Gibson thinks these commentators are in full agreement with his position, he has misread them. Yes, they connect Galatians 6:10 with the Jerusalem Collection; but they do not assume, as Gibson does, that all of this verse must be speaking of those who would receive the Collection. They suggest only that Paul is thinking of the Collection as a special way for the Gentile brethren to do good “to the household of the faith.”
Gibson appeals to J.B. Lightfoot, one of the first to suggest that the Jerusalem Collection underlies Galatians 6. But Lightfoot never suggests that the recipients of this benevolence included non-Christians. He speaks only of Paul having solicited “alms for the suffering brethren of Judea.”(3)
Gibson quotes the following comment by C.K. Barrett to try to give support to his position:
Paul was at work in Galatia on his collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem. Perhaps the Galatians had not been as generous as he thought they ought to have been. It is verse 10, with its reference to members of the household of faith, that suggests this possibility.(4)
Notice that Barrett says it is Paul’s comment about “the household of faith” which suggests a reference to the Jerusalem Collection. He does not connect the phrase “to all men” with the Collection. Barrett identifies the recipients of the Collection only as “saints.” If Gibson had read Barrett’s commentary on 2 Corinthians it would have become even more evident whom Barrett thinks received the Collection. Commenting on the final phrase in 2 Corinthians 9:13 (“and with all”), Barrett writes, “that is, with all Christians; Paul is not here thinking of charity beyond the bounds of the Christian society, within which there is a special mutuality of love; cf. Gal vi. 10.”(5)
Gibson asserts that Larry Hurtado’s “landmark article . . . argues the very thesis set forth in this book.”(6) Gibson is reading something into Hurtado’s words. Though Hurtado thinks the Jerusalem Collection is under discussion in Galatians 6:10, a careful reading of his article will show that he is not saying recipients of the Collection included unbelievers. Hurtado merely suggests that since the Collection provided tangible proof of massive Gentile conversions, Paul hoped this fact could aid in persuading more Jews to accept the truth of Christianity.(7)Where does Hurtado say that the funds of the Jerusalem Collection were for both believing and unbelieving Jews?
I could make the same point regarding the other scholars whom Gibson cites to bolster his position. They connect the Jerusalem Collection with Galatians 6:10, but they do not say that its recipients included non-Christians. Lloyd Gaston says only that the Collection was “for the Jerusalem Church.”(8) Samuel Mikolaski describes this relief effort as “the collection for the afflicted Christians at Jerusalem.”(9) John Strelan only connects the words “especially for members of the household of faith” with the Jerusalem Collection.(10) In a very extensive discussion, Philip Hughes always speaks of the Collection being given to saints.(11) Frank Gaebelein, in a section of his work entitled “The Recipients” of the Jerusalem Collection, says, “The offering was destined for the Hebrew Christians at Jerusalem, who may have referred to themselves as ‘the poor.'”(12) He never mentions non-Christians as possible recipients of this relief fund.
It should be evident from the above discussion that just because a scholar suggests that the Jerusalem Collection is in view in Galatians 6:10 does not mean that he thinks these funds went beyond “the household of the faith.” It bothers me greatly that in his writings on this subject brother Gibson leaves the impression that scholars fully agree with him, when in reality they do not. It is fine to cite scholars who say that Galatians 6 is discussing the Jerusalem Collection, but I wish Gibson would make it clear to his readers that these men do not agree that these funds went to unbelievers.(13)
Now why is it that these scholars do not believe the Jerusalem Collection went to unbelievers? Surely the reason why is because of the many explicit passages in the New Testament which speak only of the Jerusalem Collection going to saints. Neither the evidence nor the scholars ‘support Gibson’s position.
The “Opportunity” in Galatians 6:10
Perhaps why Gibson thinks that all of Galatians 6:10 must be talking about those who would receive the Jerusalem Collection is because of how he has interpreted the clause “as we have opportunity” at the beginning of the verse. Gibson makes much of the fact that the text says “opportunity” (singular), and not “opportunities.” He concludes that it must be referring to the opportunity of contributing to the Jerusalem Collection. He suggests this interpretive paraphrase: “Since we have an opportunity, right now at this present time, to supply the want of those in Jerusalem, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”(14) But is this what Paul means by the word “opportunity”?
Gibson quotes Hans Betz to help support his interpretation of “opportunity” and, once again, the casual reader will probably get the impression that Betz agrees with Gibson.(15) Betz does believe that the Jerusalem Collection is underway as Paul writes Galatians, but he does not believe that the clause “as we have opportunity” means the opportunity of the Jerusalem Collection. Betz specifically says, “The clause means that the Christian’s ethical responsibility is limited to the time in which he lives en sarki” (“in the flesh”).(16) Betz understands the “opportunity” under discussion to be a Christian’s earthly life.
Of all the commentators Gibson cites who believe that the Jerusalem Collection underlies Galatians 6:10, I have not seen any of them take the word “opportunity” to mean the Jerusalem Collection. Paul is saying that our earthly life is our opportunity to render service to others. There is no warrant, therefore, for Gibson to conclude that the entirety of Galatians 6:10 must be indicating those who would receive the Jerusalem Collection.
Some Other Collection for Jerusalem?
Throughout his ministry Paul seems to have encouraged Gentile churches to relieve the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.(17) If Paul is not alluding to the Jerusalem Collection of his 3rd Journey in Galatians 6:10, one might ask if he could be alluding to some earlier relief effort carried out by the churches of Galatia? Gibson suggests this possibility if a Late Date for Galatians is not adopted.(18)
If this theory is true, there is still no reason to think that non-Christians would have been among the recipients of this earlier relief effort. The recipients of other contributions from Gentile churches did not include non-Christians. The Jerusalem Collection is said only to have been sent to “saints”; and the contribution from the church at Antioch, spoken of in Acts 11:29-30, is said to have been for “the brethren living in Judea.” There is no reason to think that benevolence from the churches of Galatia sent to Jerusalem on another occasion would have involved other (i.e., nonChristian) recipients. There is certainly no warrant for taking Galatians 6:10 to indicate that it did, anymore than if the Jerusalem Collection of the 3rd Journey were being referred to.
Alan Cole is a commentator who believes that a relief effort earlier than Paul’s 3rd Journey is under discussion in Galatians 6. Gibson cites Cole as one of those scholars who supports his view. But again, this is only partially true. Gibson’s readers need to understand that Cole doesn’t take Galatians 6:10 to be indicating that unbelievers were among the recipients of these funds. Cole only employs terms like “fellow-Christians,” “the brothers,” and “poor saints” to designate the ones who received the contribution.(19)
The main purpose of this second article has been to point out that even the scholars whom brother Gibson uses to lend support to his position do not agree that Galatians 6:10 is speaking of non-Christians receiving benevolence from the Galatian churches. Gibson’s conclusion that this is what the passage teaches is totally unfounded and, as far as I can see, completely unsupported by any of the scholars whom he tries to “place in his corner.” The final article of this series will examine Gibson’s assertions regarding 2 Corinthians 9:13 and the phrase “to all men.”
2. 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.
13. Gibson says in his introduction, “While the ‘saints only’ view was hammered out as a refuge amid heated controversy and bitter division, the present proposal has actually had the widespread support of detached scholars for generations.” He then gives a list of the major scholars who alledgedly support his proposal (Galatians 6.-10. . ., p. vii). I refer to each of these scholars in this series of articles – and show what they really say – with the exception of John Gligh and Stephen Neill, whose works I have not yet had access to. I suspect, however, that they are not fully agreeing with Gibson any more than the others are.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 17, pp. 528-530
September 5, 1991