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Closing Months (3)

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The Collection at Corinth

The story of the ups and downs of the Jerusalem collection at Corinth may be summarized as follows:
     

   • Not long after the Jerusalem conference, and probably soon after Paul had set up shop in Ephesus, he sent Titus to Corinth to get the collection project there under way.
     
     

2 Corinthians 8:6.

   • The Corinthians subsequently asked Paul for advice on how to administer the offering, and he responded with a proposal which he had already made for Galatia, namely, weekly contributions.
     
1 Corinthians 16:1-2.
   • But when the controversy with Corinth began to heat up, work on the collection appears (not surprisingly)to have lapsed .
     
   • When the storm had subsided, Paul judged that it was time to revive the collection work in Corinth. 2 Corinthians 1 - 9 concludes, in chapters 8 and 9, with some upbeat encouragement to get on with the good work. Titus and the two brothers were sent back to Corinth, with the letter, to bring the project to completion.
     
 

We cannot settle the question here of whether chapter 9 is a follow-up collection letter subsequent to chapters 1 - 8.
     

   • By the time Paul wrote Romans, these efforts had achieved their purpose, and the Achaia/Corinth collection was ready, along with the Macedonian collection.
     

Romans 15:26.

It is plain that during the Ephesus years the collection was a major concern for Paul, along with the supervision of his churches.

1 Corinthians 16:1-4   1Now concerning the collection for the saints: you should follow the directions I gave to the churches of Galatia. 2On the first day of the week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come. 3And when I arrive, I will send any whom you approve with letters to take your gift to Jerusalem. 4If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.
2 Corinthians 8:1-6, 10, 14   3[The churches of Macedonia] voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, 4begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints . . . . 6[We have urged Titus] that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. . . . 10[It is best for you now to complete what a year ago you began (RSV)]. . . . 14[It is a question of a fair balance between] your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.
     

   

2 Corinthians 8

Once again, as earlier in the Philemon letter, we see here an example of the fine art of persuasion:
     

   • The generous example of the Macedonians, giving beyond their means, and quite spontaneously;
2 Corinthians 8:1-5.
   • Flattery of the Corinthians;
     
2 Corinthians 8:7.
   • Theological motivation, i.e. the generosity of Christ: “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich;” this is the pastoral application of an important Christological affirmation, the pre-existence and incarnation of Christ;
     
2 Corinthians 8:9.
   • A plea for deed and intention to match, and an argument based upon the principle of reciprocity between the Jews of Jerusalem and the gentiles; and
     
2 Corinthians 8:10-12, 13-15.
   • Scrupulous protection of the people’s offerings from fraud, by provision for the “auditing committee” of  the two brothers to accompany Titus.

     

 
2 Corinthians 8:16-23.  

    

2 Corinthians 9

This chapter takes a somewhat different approach from the line of persuasion followed in chapter 8. Instead of boasting to the Corinthians about the generous example of the Macedonians (8:1-5), Paul says that he has been boasting to the Macedonians about the Corinthians (9:1-5), to the effect that the latter have been ready “since last year,” surely an overstatement; if the Macedonians, some of whom will be traveling with Paul to Corinth, discover that the Corinthians are not ready, Paul will be humiliated, and by implication perhaps the Corinthians, too. So Paul says he is sending “the brethren” (9:3), to communicate this sense of urgency.
     

 

It is important that we not foreclose the possibility that 2 Corinthians 9 is the fragment of a separate, “Follow-up Letter,” which we might label Letter F. In this case we would have to provide a slightly different scenario from the present one. To avoid complicating the present discussion any further, however, we shall assume that chapter 9 is a part of Letter R.   
      

Beyond this, 

   • Paul appeals to the self-interest of the Corinthians—a bountiful return is promised (2 Corinthians 9:6, 8-11); 

   • He reminds them that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7); and 

   • He gives thanks to God for his inexpressible gift, Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 9:15).
     

Thus what survives of Letter R (2 Corinthians 1 - 9) draws to a close. Titus was then sent off to Corinth a third time, to complete work on the collection, with this letter in hand.
   

Corinth Re-visited:  Looking East, Looking West

At an earlier stage of the Corinthian correspondence, Paul had expressed the hope of spending the winter in Corinth, but several things, which we have earlier discussed, conspired to delay that final visit. There had been several changes of plans since then. He had spent a period of time in prison, and he had been obliged to make the painful visit to Corinth, with the successive changes in plans which that entailed. 

On the basis of the available evidence, it is doubtful whether he wintered in Corinth. He may have spent that winter, not in Corinth, but in Macedonia—or even in prison, in Ephesus, if it was a quite extended imprisonment.

 

   

   
     

 

1 Corinthians 16:6.

See 2 Corinthians 1:15-18.

 

 

Now, with his work in Macedonia coming to an end, the stage is set for the closing scene of the last act of Paul’s story, as he tells it, a time dominated by a difficult dilemma. His third and final visit to Corinth, about which the letters say nothing directly, was probably the occasion for a cordial reunion, after the heated exchanges during his intermediate visit and the strong language of Letter H (2 Corinthians 10–13). At Corinth the collection gathered from Macedonia and Achaia had been successfully completed, and Paul was making preparations for its delivery to Jerusalem.
   

But as much as he felt an obligation to deliver the collection, in fulfillment of the terms of the Jerusalem agreement, Paul’s missionary vision was to push westward, beyond Illyricum, to establish an advance based in Rome, and to preach the gospel in  Spain. Reluctantly turning back eastward, he devoted his last weeks in Corinth to the preparation of a letter to Roman Christians which would pave the way for the visit he had been eagerly anticipating. 
     

     
Romans 15:25-28.

Romans 15:19.

Romans 15:23-29.

Though likely the last of his surviving letters to be written, Romans stands appropriately in our Bibles at the head of the Pauline corpus; monumental in conception and realization, ever renewing the life of the Christian community through an Augustine, a Luther, a Wesley, or a Barth.

     

Paul to the Romans

In Romans Paul introduces himself and his gospel to a church which he had neither founded nor visited. Paul implicitly acknowledges the awkwardness in his laboring in Rome, since it was not one of his foundations, and since it was his policy not to work where the gospel had already been preached. 

The origins of Christianity in Rome are obscure. Had believers from Judea or Syria visited or migrated to Rome? or had residents of Rome returned from Judea or Syria with some knowledge of the gospel, having traveled in the imperial administration, or the legions, or in commerce? We may suppose that from such chance encounters Christians gathered to form a church, or churches, in Rome. 
   

   

   

   

   

Romans 15:20.

   

We may also suppose that the earliest Christian community in Rome would have reached out to make converts of Jews who were resident there, as well as from the immense gentile population.
     
The archeological evidence from first century Rome documents a substantial Jewish population, assembling in a number of different synagogues.
     

“To the Jew first, and also to the Greek . . .”

The debate continues over whether the Roman church (or churches) was Jewish Christian or Gentile Christian. The letter itself seems to reflect an audience which is at least in part Jewish Christian, with an occasional nod toward non-Christian Jews. But other parts of the letter seem to presuppose a gentile audience. Lacking any other evidence, we may reasonably conclude that the Roman church was an inclusive congregation (or congregations) of both Jews and gentiles, and/or that there were congregations which were all or mostly Jewish, and some which were all or mostly gentile.
     

     

     

     
Jewish readers (whether Christian or non-Christian) seem to be implied in Romans 2:17-29; 3:1-6; 7:1; 9:1-5; 10:1-2; and 11:1.

A gentile audience is implied in 1:13-15; 11:13; 15:15-16.

     

The extended discussion of food, days, and clean and unclean in Romans 14:1 - 15:6 gives further support to the existence of an inclusive church, not unlike the Antioch church before the rigorists arrived from James. Paul may have gotten wind of some problems in the Roman church between Jewish and gentile Christians, and these problems may have prompted his pastoral suggestions. He may have offered this advice in order to forestall the possible influence of such rigorists in Rome.

Romans 7:1   Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only during that person’s lifetime?
Romans 11:13-14   13Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry 14in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them.
Romans 14:1-2   1Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.
   

   
     

Galatians 2:11-14.

“The Righteousness that comes from God . . . ” (Romans 10:3)

In Romans Paul provides a comprehensive theological undergirding for his gospel, beginning with a statement of the letter’s theme, and following with discussions of reason in theology, sin, atonement, Christology, the Holy Spirit, Israel past and future, and moral advice.

Romans 1:16-17   16For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”

 

   

   

   

     
     

    

     

Romans 1:16-17.   

Reason in Theology

“Natural theology,” as it is often called, seeks to establish certain beliefs about God and his demands, apart from “special revelation” through prophets and scriptures and Jesus Christ. Whether Paul would feel at home with this terminology, he does argue that certain things can be deduced from the existence of the created world, especially God’s invisible nature, and his eternal power and deity. Because human beings can know these things about God, they are accountable to God for their actions. Their idolatry and immorality are therefore inexcusable, and they are liable to the divine judgment. It would not be surprising if this line of reasoning was representative of Paul’s customary message to intellectuals in the gentile world.

Romans 1:19-25   19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him . . . . 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. . . . 25They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

     

   

   

     

     
See Romans 1:18-32.

   

We need not quibble if this God allegedly known by reason alone turns out for Paul to be indistinguishable from the God of Israel, revealed to Moses and prophets and psalmists!

Revised December 17, 2004
     
Click Next button below for continuation of Romans, in Closing Months (4).

 

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