By Martin Pickup
The Jerusalem Collection was an important aspect of Paul’s work during his third missionary journey. In 2 Corinthians 9:12-13 Paul explained to the church at Corinth what he hoped this gift from Gentile churches to the needy saints of Jerusalem would accomplish:
The ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. Because of the proof given by this ministry they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all.
When Paul speaks of the “contribution to them and to all” in v. 13, the word “them” obviously refers to the poor saints in Jerusalem. But to whom does the word “all” refer? Since Paul repeatedly identifies the Jerusalem Collection as a ministry to “saints,” the most reasonable interpretation is that “all” refers to all Christians. But Steve Gibson argues that “all” refers to all men – both believers and unbelievers.(1) Institutional brethren want to interpret the verse in this way because it would nullify one of the arguments made against church-sponsored benevolence institutions, viz., that New Testament churches never used their funds to relieve non-Christians.
Brother Gibson admits that he interprets 2 Corinthians 9:13 in light of Galatians 6:10, a verse which he claims is listing unbelievers as recipients of the Jerusalem Collection.(2) If Gibson’s view of Galatians 6:10 is not correct (and my previous articles have tried to show that it is not), then his argument for seeing unbelievers in 2 Corinthians 9:13 is greatly weakened. Still, in this final article I would like to respond to the specific assertions which Gibson makes about 2 Corinthians 9:13.
The Meaning of 2 Corinthians 9:13
The Jerusalem Collection was a work of benevolence, but it was also much more. As an offering from Gentile churches to Jerusalem saints, it demonstrated that Gentile believers now shared a common faith with Jewish believers. It manifested the Gentiles’ spiritual bond, not only with the Jewish saints at Jerusalem, but with all others (Jew or Gentile) who had accepted the gospel which had gone forth from Jerusalem. For this reason, Paul says that the recipients of this benevolence would glorify God for the “contribution to them and to all.” The contribution was sent to needy saints in Jerusalem, but it signified unity with every Christian.
Despite the fact that the New Testament repeatedly identifies the recipients of the Jerusalem Collection as “saints,” brother Gibson says that saints were only the main recipients. He says that the words “and to all” in 2 Corinthians 9:13 indicate that unbelievers also received these funds. This view creates several problems for anyone who holds it.
First of all, it must be admitted that from the beginning of Paul’s discussion of the Jerusalem Collection in 8:1 until the end of chapter 9, he never refers to anyone other than saints receiving these funds. If, at the close of the discussion, the words “and to all” mean that the funds were going to unbelievers also, then Paul has introduced a completely new idea which he had not previously mentioned. Not even in his first letter to Corinth had Paul said that unbelievers were included in the relief effort; 1 Corinthians spoke only of “the collection for the saints” (16:1). All Gibson can do is assume that on some prior occasion Paul had made it clear to the Corinthians that this was also a collection for non-saints. And yet, how strange that when Paul writes to the church at Rome and informs them of his mission to Jerusalem, he describes it only as follows: “Now I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem” (Rom. 15:25-26). If unbelievers were also receiving the Jerusalem Collection, why didn’t Paul say so when he informed the church at Rome about the Collection?
Another problem for Gibson’s view is the terminology Paul uses when referring to the Jerusalem Collection. The Greek word for “contribution” in 2 Corinthians 9:13 is koinonia, a word which means “sharing” or “fellowship.” Throughout the New Testament koinonia denotes the spiritual sharing-together of saints with God, with the things of God, or with other saints. Paul employs this word in 2 Corinthians 8:4 to refer to the Jerusalem relief effort, and again in 9:13 and Romans 15:26 to denote the contribution itself. Paul’s use of this term indicates that the contribution was a sign of Christian fellowship between those giving it and those receiving it. As Joseph Thayer says, it was “an embodiment and proof of fellowship.”(3) Persons outside the fellowship of Christ could not have been the intended beneficiaries of this contribution.
Gibson tries to circumvent this argument by pointing out that religious fellowship is not always implied in a monetary transaction between Christians and sinners. He says that if koinonia were used to designate a contribution to sinners, it would simply denote a sharing of funds with no suggestion of religious fellowship.(4) But throughout the New Testament koinonia is used to refer to religious sharing, not transactions between Christians and sinners. More specifically, the context of 2 Corinthians 8-9 makes it clear that Paul is using the word to refer to religious sharing. He speaks of the “koinonia of the ministry to the saints,” and says that “because of the proof given by this ministry they will glorify God for your obedience” (8:4; 9:13). There is no way around the fact that when Paul uses koinonia to refer to the Jerusalem Collection he means that the contribution signified religious fellowship. The word must bear this connotation in 9:13 when Paul speaks of the “koinonia to them and to all.”
Gibson admits that koinonia indicates religious fellowship when it is used of a contribution from saints to other saints.(5) But this is exactly what we have in 9:13 with the words “koinonia to them” (which Gibson agrees is referring to Jerusalem saints). If “koinonia to them” suggests religious fellowship, then “koinonia . . . to all” must suggest the same thing. The phrases “to them” and “to all” are both connected syntactically to koinonia in this sentence. The contribution could not signify religious fellowship with some recipients, yet not signify it with other recipients.
Paul also uses another term which indicates that the Jerusalem Collection was a sign of religious fellowship. The word for “collection” in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 is logeia. Adolf Deissmann says that in the Greek world logeia was “used chiefly of religious collections for a god, a temple, etc.”(6) Paul obviously used this term because the funds of the Corinthian church were a religious collection for the saints of God. It does violence to Paul’s language to say that these funds were also intended for those who were not worshipers of Christ.
Some scholars believe that “and to all” in 2 Corinthians 9:13 is not referring to beneficiaries of the present relief effort, but to those who might receive benevolence from Corinth in the future. If this view is correct, then Gibson suggests that Paul is including unbelievers among the recipients of these future contributions.(7) Again, the stated purpose of the present contribution and Paul’s use of the words koinonia and logeia negate Gibson’s suggestion. Even the sources Gibson cites to support this view (J.W. McGarvey and The Interpreter’s Bible) do not claim that Paul is talking about unbelievers in this passage. McGarvey says that Paul “took no collection for [non-Christian Jews], and . . . they were in no manner in this thought in this connection.”(8)The Interpreter’s Bible specifically states that “and to all” refers to “other acts of helpfulness to ‘all’ other Christians as opportunities arise.”(9)
The Greek word for “all” in 2 Corinthians 9:13 is pantas. Gibson devotes a good deal of attention to this word as he seeks to prove that “and to all” refers to non-Christians. One argument Gibson makes is that pantas is used in Galatians 6:10 to refer to “all men” (both believers and unbelievers). Gibson says that it should be understood exactly the same way in 2 Corinthians 9:13. The King James version even translates pantas in 2 Corinthians 9:13 “all men.”
Several facts about this word and its usage need to be understood, however. First of all, pantas is an adjective.(10) A Greek adjective does not always modify a noun; it is often used as a substantive (i.e., as a substitute for a noun). When an adjective is used in this way, translators sometimes insert an English noun into the text to assist in bringing out the substantive idea to the English reader. The insertion is called an interpolation.(11) The important thing to realize is that context always determines what an adjectival substantive has reference to. In the words of grammarian Nigel Turner, “The absence of the noun . . . occurs in adjectival and other kinds of attributes . . . and the context supplies its lack.(12)
When the King James Version renders pantas in 2 Corinthians 9:13 “all men,” the word “men” is merely an interpolation; it is not in the Greek text. The context must determine whom “all” refers to. In Galatians 6:10 the context clearly indicates that pantas there means “all men.” The context of 2 Corinthians 9:13 is different. In this verse Paul is concluding a discussion of the ministry to the saints in Jerusalem, and the context indicates that pantas here refers to all other saints.
Gibson affirms, however, that pantas as used in 2 Corinthians 9:13 must mean “all men” because this is how Joseph Thayer defines the word. Thayer never refers specifically to 2 Corinthians 9:13 in his remarks, but Gibson appeals to Thayer’s general discussion of pantas when used “without any addition” (i.e., without another word grammatically connected to it).(13) Gibson makes this statement: “Thayer says that when such a plural form appears ‘without any addition, the meaning is all men. Therefore, Gibson says, “pantas, by definition, includes non-saints.”(14)
Gibson is misreading Thayer. Thayer is not saying that this use of pantas always means “all men.” He is saying that it sometimes means “all men,” and at other times it means a more limited group. Gibson overlooks the following passages which Thayer includes in his examples of pantas used without addition. Consider who is being referred to in these verses:
Matt. 21:26 – all the multitude in the temple.
1 Cor. 8:1 – all the members of the church who had knowledge.
1 Cor. 8:7 – all the members of the church.
Jn. 3:26 – all the Jews who were coming to be baptized.
Matt. 14:20 – all the multitude at the feeding of the 5000.
The context of each of these passages limits the “all” under discussion to a particular group of people. Gibson errs greatly when he says Thayer supports the view that pantas in 2 Corinthians 9:13 must include unbelievers. In reality, Thayer’s comments only confirm the fact that context must determine whom this word is designating.
Do the Scholars Really Agree with Gibson?
Those brethren who see unbelievers in 2 Corinthians 9:13 are hard-pressed to find scholars who agree with them. Gibson lists several as endorsing his position,(15) but his construction of their statements is dubious at best. Because the translators of the New International Version render pantas “everyone else,” Gibson concludes that they understand it to include unbelievers. But “everyone else” can just as easily mean every other Christian. The same is true of the short explanatory notes by Albert Barnes (“all others whom you may have the opportunity of relieving”) and John Wesley (“who stand in need of it”).(16) These men may simply be talking about other Christians. How can Gibson confidently claim otherwise?
Matthew Henry says that the contribution was proof of the Corinthians’ “true love to all men.” Gibson says he means by this that the contribution was given to both believers and unbelievers. It is more likely, however, that Henry is referring to the matter of Jew-Gentile relations within the church. Whenever Henry speaks expressly about the recipients of the Jerusalem Collection, he identifies them only as saints.(17)
Commentator Hans Betz, in a footnote to 2 Corinthians 9:13, refers the reader to Galatians 6:10 and his commentary on that verse. Gibson concludes from this that Betz believes 2 Corinthians 9:13 speaks of unbelievers receiving the Jerusalem Collection. I fail to see how Gibson can draw this conclusion. Betz never even mentions the Collection in his comments on Galatians 6:10. Whenever Betz does speak about the Collection in his commentary, he says only that it was for the Jerusalem saints.(18)
Gibson is guilty of clear misrepresentation in several instances. I have already discussed how he misconstrues what Thayer says about pantas. He does the same thing with the comments of Alfred Plummer. Because Plummer paraphrases the last part of 2 Corinthians 9:13, “contribution to their need and to the general good,”(19) Gibson says that he must understand pantas to include unbelievers. But Plummer means the good of brethren generally; he is not talking about unbelievers. In a later commentary he specifically states that pantas means “a benefit conferred on the brethren at Jerusalem is a benefit to the whole body of Christians.”(20)
Gibson also misrepresents the view of Ralph Martin. Martin gives the following explanation of the phrase “and to all” in 2 Corinthians 9:13: “We must take the phrase to be a general one in praise of the generous spirit that moves the readers, and would move them wherever there may be a need.” Gibson assumes that “wherever there may be a need” means the needs of unbelievers. But Martin is talking about the needs of Christians. He specifically refers the reader to the commentary of R. V. G. Tasker which, he says, gives the same interpretation as the one he has presented.(21) Tasker’s commentary says this: “The Corinthians, contribution is for the poor saints at Jerusalem only; but the fellowship which was expressed in it was, the apostle assumes, felt for all other Christians.”(22)
Steve Gibson’s view that the Jerusalem Collection went to unbelievers is untenable. Neither Galatians 6:10 nor 2 Corinthians 9:13 teach it. I cannot help but be disturbed by Gibson’s misuse of scholarly writings to try to shore up his position. The scholars do not affirm what Gibson says they affirm; often they affirm just the opposite. The word of God deserves better treatment than this.
Institutional brethren need to accept the fact that there is no New Testament example of church funds being used in benevolence to non-Christians. There must have been many indigent persons in Jerusalem and elsewhere during the first century – both Christians and non-Christians. But New Testament churches relieved only needy Christians. Surely this should teach us something about the work of a local church. Individual Christians are to do good to all men, but through the local church Christians render a special good to the household of the faith.
22. R.V.G. Tasker, 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958), p. 129. The only commentators Gibson appeals to whom I have not addressed are the following, whose works have been unavailable to me: D.D. Wheddon, C.H. Zahniser, F. Carver, and G.R. Beasley-Murray.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 18, pp. 554-556
September 19, 1991