Sharing in the Christian churches of Paul's day
by Dr. Helmut Koester
|Christian caring||Christian love||Wealth and poverty||Sharing in early in Christianity|
Excerpts from Dr. Helmut Koester's September 13, 1997 address entitled, "St. Paul: His Mission to the Greek Cities & His Competitors," which he delivered at The Foundation for Biblical Research, Charlestown, NH, USA. These excerpts were transcribed by Robert Nguyen Cramer from an audio recording and used here by permission of The Foundation for Biblical Research, by whom all rights and copyrights are reserved.
Dr. Koester is a world renowned New Testament scholar. He has published extensively, has taken part in many archeological digs, and in 1998 retired as John H. Morrison Professor of New Testament Studies and Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Harvard Divinity School. You can explore more documentation on the role of women in New Testament churches by referring to Dr. Koester's two-volume Introduction to the New Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982, and revised in 1995), which is part of the Hermeneia series.
Please keep in mind that Dr. Koester's address included many extemporaneous remarks, so the flow of thoughts is not as tight and carefully constructed as written prose, such as that found in his many published books. His intimate familiarity with the Greek texts, with the archeology, with the history, with the cultural contexts, and with the many scholarly issues and views -- both the more traditional views and the more controversial views -- makes his extemporaneity especially valuable.
HELMUT KOESTER: ...[Paul] says that other churches have come to his aid. The Philippians sent him money. We have this from the Epistle to the Philippians, while he was in Corinth in his ministry, because he did not want the Corinthians to ask for money.
So the Corinthians then probably said, "Well, it's wonderful to have an apostle we don't have to pay -- like a pastor you don't have to pay.
But then he came and said, "I don't want your money, because we're doing this collection for Jerusalem. Remember? For the poor in Jerusalem.
And he is writing letters to Corinth and letters to the other Christians in Greece, which we have in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, in which he says, "Now your thanks offering must be great, because of God's generosity to include you Gentiles into Israel. You have to pay for it. Not because you buy your entrance into Israel, but now it means that you are one with those Christians in Jerusalem. They're poor. And you cannot be one with Christian brothers and sisters who are poor without giving them something -- and giving them a lot. And this will be the new bond for the churches. Forget about Jew and Gentile. Forget about different rights and rituals. Forget about circumcision and dietary laws. We are different. Those people in Jerusalem are different. We are different. But there is still one bond that can keep all Christians together, and that is love and generosity.
One always wonders about churches talking about uniting and recognizing each other's pastors and so on and each other's Eucharist and so on. But one of the more important questions would really be whether Christians of this country are willing to support Christians somewhere else who are poor. And churches know that. I know many churches. This is why we have all those things. Bread for the World, and Lutherans are doing a lot, and other churches do a lot. I think that has stayed with us -- that the only bond, the only lasting bond, among Christian communities is that those who have more money help those who have less and who are poor. And that's a principle that Paul has established.
"We're going to have personal trouble with Corinth, because ... you see, these foreign apostles that came to Corinth, they want to be paid." And the Corinthians said, "But Paul has written we should collect money for Jerusalem. Well, Paul said -- would he take any money for himself? He said, 'No.' But now he's coming afterwards."
So Paul had to defend himself at the same time for the collection, which was the last great move of his mission to the Gentile world. And we underestimate it.
We don't read the right chapters in our services. You know you read the wonderful chapters about justification by faith in Romans 5 and so on. And these are preaching texts. If you look through lectionary texts, say all the theological texts, no lectionary that we are using in our churches about Pauline epistles would reveal to you that Paul talks about money more often than any other from antiquity. There is no other writer in antiquity who talks about money as much as Paul does. Isn't that strange? Did you know that? Read those: chapter 16 of 1 Corinthians; read chapter 8 and 9 of 2 Corinthians; read chapter 4 of Philippians, which talks about money. They are long chapters, which have to do with nothing else but with money -- and with big money. As I talked before, this was a delegation of quite a few people who brought the money to Jerusalem that was quite a substantial amount.
And this talk about money is very important to Paul, because it sets different standards for a money economy. It does set new standards in which gain is no longer the primary principle, but in which giving is the primary principle that governs the handling of money. And -- those who have money are primarily givers of money than people who gather money -- comes through. 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 are two chapters you must reread. And you read a lot of chapters when you go home, but read those chapters, because they show that there is a relationship. And in a monetary economy -- and there's this heavy monetary economy -- huge differences between rich and poor. Huge differences, probably more so than today in our society. If you think that the average income for a day worker was one dracma a day -- one dracma a day -- and that the entrance fee to become a member of the Roman senate was several million dracmas. You have huge differences in income of people. In a monetary economy, the only way in which people can live in dignity is if they consider money as something they have to give away, rather that money as something primarily to gather for themselves. And there is a blessing of God that is connected with money, and that's a blessing that come to those who give. And that's spelled out in this principle.
Copyright 1996-2003 Robert Nguyen Cramer