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“A Polite Bribe?”: Paul and the Jerusalem Collection

August 13, 2013

One of the most important projects of the Apostle Paul has often been neglected in scholarly treatments of him and his mission:  Paul spent several years and considerable effort in organizing a financial collection to offer to the Jerusalem church.  Indeed, in a surprising number of scholarly studies one can’t even find a single reference to this project.  The Jerusalem collection is referred to in several of Paul’s letters:  Galatians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; the entirety of 2 Corinthians 8–9; and, in the final days before setting off to carry the collection to Jerusalem, in Romans 15:25-33.  This surely indicates that it was not a passing thought for him, but occupied him quite seriously.

In a recently produced movie written and directed by Rob Orlando, “A Polite Bribe,” the Jerusalem collection is the focus and receives a deliberately provocative interpretation.  Drawing upon observations of a number of scholars, but forging his own particular “spin” on the topic, Orlando offers the intriguing suggestion that Paul sought literally to purchase the approval of the Jerusalem church authorities for his gentile mission and converts.

The movie combines professional-quality animation, music, narration, and numerous snippets of comments from a galaxy of scholars.  A disclaimer at the opening absolves any of them from the particular view promoted in the movie, but, to judge from their comments, several of the scholars filmed wouldn’t be too unhappy with Orlando’s “take”.  I was one of those interviewed, and personally I regard the film as “sexing up” the matter a bit, the term “bribe” more sensationalist than fairly reflecting how Paul likely saw the matter.  But “A Polite Bribe” is a stimulating, thought-provoking film that is definitely worth viewing.  You can learn more about it, including viewing some trailers, here.

The film has been shown in various university and college settings, and Orlando is gearing up for many more showings, both in such venues and (he hopes) in cinemas in North America and Europe.  I presume that the web site will give more information about future showings in due course.

Recent scholarly publications on the Jerusalem collection include these:

David Downs, , The Offering of the Gentiles:  Paul’s Collection for Jerusalem in Its Chronological, Cultural and Cultic Contexts, WUNT, no. 2/248 (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2008).

Stephan Joubert, , Paul As Benefactor:  Reciprocity, Strategy and Theological Reflection in Paul’s Collection, WUNT, no. 2/124 (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebck, 2000).

A. J. M. Wedderburn, “Paul’s Collection:  Chronology and History,” New Testament Studies 48 (2002): 95-110.

Scot McKnight, “Collection for the Saints,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin and Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1993), 143-47.

(And to include my own piece from a few decades ago),

Larry W. Hurtado, “The Jerusalem Collection and the Book of Galatians,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, no. 5 (1979):  46-62.


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  1. To Richard Fellows point. This investigation became the plot or “detective story” aspect to my film and what, I think, makes it entertaining, while also being based on real history. It’s quite intriguing that Luke tells a tale about Paul’s return to Jerusalem, that would only make sense IF Paul was returning with the collection; yet, he does not mention the collection. Secondly, so many of the pieces of Paul’s life and journey come together when seen through this lens of support and keeping the Jerusalem church onboard, which at times were one and the same. How, can Paul preach to the Western World of a Messiah (embracing Gentile salvation) that the original followers in Jerusalem don’t agree with? The collection becomes the glue, not just fiscally, but symbolically of one church. Fascination tale and worthy of a film, no?

  2. Paul refers to a collection from Galatia in 1 Cor 16:1-3 and (perhaps) in Gal 2:10. Why does almost everyone assume that this collection occurred at the same time as the collection from Achaia and Macedonia? There are some difficulties with this assumption:
    1) In Gal 2:10 Paul says that he responded eagerly, which suggests that he gave to the poor within months, not after 7 years, or even after 4 years (sorry, Knox). The poor cannot wait years for aid.
    2) The Galatians are not mentioned among the donor provinces (Rom 15:26), and this suggests that the Galatian collection was much earlier.
    3) In 1 Cor 16:1-3 Paul reassures the Corinthians that his instructions on how to collect money were tried and tested: they had worked in Galatia. This might imply that the collection from Galatia was already complete by the time of 1 Corinthians.

    • Richard: YOu mis-read the texts. In Gal 2:10 Paul says that he was already eager to do the collection, which tells us nothing about the nature/size of the collection or how long it took. In 1 Cor 16:1, Paul says only that he had already given instructions to the Galatians, and says nothing about whether it had or had not been sent.
      Read the studies on the matter. We don’t have to thrash out the matters here. It’s pretty clear to most at least that Paul spent as much as 5-7 yrs organizing this collection, and because it meant so much.

      • Larry, I actually agree with you that Paul was eager before he was asked to remember the poor, and that 1 Cor 16:1 proves nothing about whether the collection from Galatia had already been sent (That’s my point). I did not mis-read the texts, but I oversimplified for the sake of brevity, as others do. I also agree with you that aid for Jerusalem meant a lot to Paul, which is why he may have got the south Galatians to deliver funds before he went to Europe.

        Very little has been published on the timing of the collection from Galatia. I get the impression that the theory that the collection from Galatia was simultaneous with the collection from the Aegean provinces is an unexamined assumption for most commentators. The arguments that have been put forward are based on premises that most scholars would not accept, I think.

        Yes, we don’t have to thrash out the matters here, but they do need to be thrashed out somewhere because scholars, including yourself, build a lot on the conventional view. It is important that we question assumptions that seem “pretty clear to most”.

      • Sure, Richard. In the field, everything is up for questioning, provided you can pose cogent questions with adequate reasons/evidence. So, have a go at it, e.g., by preparing an article for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

  3. Ross Macdonald permalink

    Dr. Hurtado,

    I’m only loosely familiar with some of the sources you listed, namely the chunks of Down’s WUNT monograph that I could salvage from googlebooks. I was wondering if you’re familiar with and/or have interacted with Dieter Georgi’s “Remembering the Poor: The History of Paul’s Collection for Jerusalem” (Abingdon, 1992)? His focus on some of the economic dynamics of the Hellenistic world made for an interesting context- though perhaps making the typical theological motivations more implicit than I’d prefer… for instance, couldn’t one suppose Paul was taking pains to enact the great promises of Gentile inclusion (e.g. Isa. 2:2; 66:12ff) as manifest through the ‘offering of the Gentiles’?
    Speaking of economic dynamics, I am trying to remember where I read a trenchant analysis of J. J. Meggitt’s “Paul, Poverty, and Survival” in the context of assessing poverty in antiquity. The author was discarding Meggitt’s reconstruction of just how pervasive destitution was in the early Christian world. Perhaps a more recent book to consult is that of B. Longenecker, which (I believe) shares Georgi’s title. It seems that there is more to Paul’s efforts in the concerted collection than mere charity to the poor, but a quasi-political bribe to the ‘pillars’ does seem awkwardly cumbersome… then again, nothing like conspiracy to sell a script!

    • Yes, I did consult Georgi’s piece and others of that vintage back when I prepared the article I published on the Jerusalem collection & Galatians. I too think that Paul likely had multiple interpretations of the collection, and that these included a belief/hope that it represented and perhaps fulfilled OT images of gentiles coming to the God of Israel and bringing offerings. Also, I too think the “polite bribe” image a bit “sexed up” or sensationalist. It degrades Paul’s motives unfairly, but it does get an audience!

  4. Byron permalink

    Why is it the only time the media ever focus on Christianity is when there’s something/someone controversial or what they think is controversial?
    A Polite Bribe, the Jesus Seminar, Crossan, Erhman, Harris and Hitchens, Dawkins, the Davinci Code, the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, Tapilyot (sp?), Aslan Reza etc etc. The public know all of these people/issues, but don’t know scholars who are pro-Christian.

    Where are all our NT scholars giving a viewpoint that actually supports Christianity? I know you’re out there. Can’t one of you make a splash in the media in some way???

    I feel that you scholars are too cutoff from the rest of the world, when that’s exactly where you’re needed most.

    • Well, it isn’t just “pro-Christian” scholars who don’t get featured much, it’s really also quite a large number of the guild who just work soberly, observing proper method, and so don’t often come up with sensationalist ideas to proffer. And the news media and TV reeeeeally like sensationalist ideas, ’cause they get readers/viewers, and that means better advertising rates.
      I do get asked to take part in such things as TV programmes, and some of them are fairly soundly conceived, and so don’t cause too much frustration. But some approach you with some hare-brained story-line already formed and want you to speak to it. And I find that frustrating. Hey, you TV guys: Why not confer with actual working scholars in a subject, form a storyline from their advice, and proceed on that basis? And there is plenty of striking, even startling stuff to talk/film about without indulging in the crazo-stuff.

    • Byron, I could not agree with you more. Hopefully (and I hope Larry agrees) when you see the film you will agree that although the theme of the collection serves as a through-line (plot), it exists in the larger narrative of this amazing Apostle Paul and his incredible effort to bring a message of hope to the world!; all that he loved and hated, and all he lived and died for! There’s no one quite like him!

      • I concur, Robert. I will take a look at the movie.
        I will say, unfortunately, that the public believes more sensational stories rather than factual.
        Having said that, I love your last line:

        this amazing Apostle Paul and his incredible effort to bring a message of hope to the world!; all that he loved and hated, and all he lived and died for! There’s no one quite like him!

        Now if we could only get the media to bite!

  5. Do you think evidence indicates that the leaders of the church in Jerusalem were of the kind that their theology could be “politely” bought off by a “polite” bribe?

    • No. And the film suggest that it didn’t succeed. But, of course, that begs the prior question: Was Paul really trying to “buy off” Jerusalem? I think that skews the matter badly.

      • If we return to that Jerusalem meeting just before the acceptance of the collection by Paul to “remember the poor,” we find that there was little resolution to the pressing issues at hand. Paul’s options were 1) to allow the church to split into 2 factions, which would go against his vision for a unified body in Christ (no Jew or Greek) or 2) Agree with the more hardliners and have all His Gentile followers first become Jews (circumcised) before becoming Christians or 3) Find a new nexus for agreement, which he did using the new collection. The church would remain unified though the sharing in the collection, there would be no money “off limits,” which made them equals. Yet the funds would go from the Gentile churches to the Judean churches in honoring the Jerusalem leaders.

        As the question of whether Paul was trying to “buy off” Jerusalem, we can turn to his False accusers and the rhetoric they employ in 2nd Corinthians. In my APB book I write..

        “What sort of a leader was this? they asked. If Paul was the true Apostle, as he claimed, God would show him honor and wealth and make people respect him for his prophetic insights. Most important, these Apostles from Jerusalem accused Paul of being after his converts’ money, saying that his attempt to force an agreement through a collection was an attempt to earn him respect in Jerusalem. According to them, he was using the collection to line his own pockets and/or buy his Apostleship from Jerusalem. Not only was his collection a bribe so the Jerusalem church would have to accept Paul, they said, but also so the church would be forced to accept the Pauline gospel and his promised new world. Instead of its being a free-will offering, his accusers claimed the object of the collection was to force a response, and that Jerusalem would not reciprocate. There was just enough truth to these accusations to make them sting. And while some Gentile members of his congregation felt it was an honor to give to God’s chosen people in Jerusalem, his accusers probably gave fuel to the fire of other Gentile believers already wondering why they should give support to the center of Jewish worship, especially when the world was soon coming to an end.”

        Taken in part from the works of Victor Furnish, Robert Jewett, Gerd Ludemann, Ben Witherington, etc

      • Rob,
        Oh, yes, as in fact I proposed in my 1979 article on the collection and Galatians, Paul’s opponents used the collection against him, spinning it in unflattering directions. But what I question is the use of “bribe” to imply what Paul himself thought of it.

    • Bobby, read my above comment to Larry. The role of money, honor, and how groups were formed in ancient times was a lot different than it is today. Offering a collection did serve the purpose of entering the group. This is why Paul was hesitant to only preach to rich Roman Patrons because he understood, he would also need to make them his priority, becoming their client, not the poor. My understanding is also that the Jews were the only ones in the Empire allowed to send collections across borders, and if Paul did not have his collection linked to the Judean source, it would have been illegal.

      • Robert, you are probably right to suggest that the collection was of questionable legality. Nickle said the same. If this is the case, then we no longer have any reason to be surprised that Acts does not mention the collection directly. Luke would have had to remain silent about the collection to avoid getting the donor churches and the delegates into trouble with the Romans. If walls did not have ears, he could have written something like “20:3 The Jews told the Romans that Paul’s collection was not part of their legal temple tax 20:4ff so Paul took a circuitous route and split the party to avoid arrest. Thus we evaded the Roman authorities and made it to Jerusalem with the collection.” Luke’s actual account is plausibly a self-censored version of this that avoids giving ammunition to the opponents of the church. Given the possibility that Luke’s silence about the collection is protective in some way, we cannot infer from the silence that the collection failed. It would have to be shown that Luke would have mentioned the collection if it had succeeded, but this is doubtful, isn’t it?

  6. Thank You Larry! We will follow up with the exact dates and times for screenings ( For now, re: your point about using the word “bribe” to sensationalize, I just want to make 2 comments. 1. The term comes from Gerd Ludemann’s book Paul The Founder Of Christianity and has a history that dates back to Rudolf Bultmann. I will try to put on site the history in the next week or so. 2. As people will see when they watch the film, the “bribe” (collection) had a dual purpose. Yes, it was to persuade using needed finances, but also, and for the deeper purpose, to keep the church unified so that Paul’s gentile mission would remain tethered to the mother church. My book covers this in more depth ( Thanks again!

    • Thanks, Rob. Even if Luedemann and Bultmann can be invoked, I still think “bribe” a misleading term, which catches none of the likely intentions that Paul had. Paul tells us his motives in the several places where he refers to the collection, and this notion doesn’t surface at all. You can only ascribe it to him, and the man can’t defend himself.

      • Just for the record, this is the footnote in my book for Ludemann’s phrase ” A Polite Bribe.”

        “On p. 41 of Heretics footnote 184 is a quotation from Bultmann. It does
        not talk about the collection as a polite bribe, however, and is repeated
        in Paul, the Founder, p. 41f without giving the reference to Bultmann (mea
        culpa!). On p. 42 of Paul, the Founder, line 9 from the bottom, there is talk about
        the “polite bribe”, and footnote 17 gives a reference to my book
        “Opposition to Paul in Jewish Christianity”, pp. 58–62 along with
        reference to Morton Smith who had read the book and had allowed me to
        quote his remarks. I am sure, though, that the expresssion “a polite
        bribe” was coined during the process of writing “Paul the Founder” and is
        a common invention by my friend Tom Hall (see p. 12 of “Paul the Founder”
        and references to other books of mine) and me.”

        I gave the use of this word Bribe and the title serious consideration and have considered others. However, If there was a compromise or “bargain” struck between Paul’s faction and James’ faction and/or the False Brethren, and this bargain included the collection (giving of money), what other word makes the point, with the softening of the adverb “polite?” (Bid, perhaps, which I put in the tag line) Most of the scholars agreed that the collection was the needed dealmaker. Some scholars said it was like a “sweetener (Esler). Others suggested that the later passing of the collection through James at the Temple was like an ancient form of “money laundering(Jewett).” I am in no way suggesting that it was a “buy off” alone, but there’s no doubt that it helped smooth over the other irreconcilable positions.

      • Rob, I’m not picking on you alone, as I granted in my blog post that some of the scholars in your film appear to endorse “bribe” as not an invalid characterization of the collection and Paul’s motive. I just think that you and they are wrong in spinning it this way. It’s . . . simplistic and misleading. It ascribes a motive for which there is no direct basis. That’s fun, but not the best history.

  7. Longenecker, Bruce W. permalink

    Thanks Larry. Don’t forget my Remember the Poor, which seeks to problematize the view you’re suggesting here regarding Gal 2:10. I build on your 1979 article in that book when interpreting Galatians, even though Gal 2:10 isn’t about the collection, but simply about caring for the poor. So we’re in the same ballpark, but with different “balls” (or maybe I should say bats). Best, Bruce.

    From: Larry Hurtado’s Blog <> Reply-To: Larry Hurtado’s Blog <> Date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 10:57 AM To: Bruce Longenecker <> Subject: [New post] A Polite Bribe?: Paul and the Jerusalem Collection

    larryhurtado posted: “One of the most important projects of the Apostle Paul has often been neglected in scholarly treatments of him and his mission: Paul spent several years and considerable effort in organizing a financial collection to offer to the Jerusalem church. Indee”

    • Sorry, Bruce. Your book should have been mentioned. (But I remain persuaded of the argument I made in my 1979 article: (1) that Gal 2:10 is a reference to the collection, and (2) that his Galatian opponents were trying to use the collection against him as evidence of his inferiority to Jerusalem.

    • Bruce,

      It has been too long and I did not want to miss this opportunity to say hello and make a few comments. First things first, after 8 long years we are releasing my Paul film, Oct 31st, now titled A Polite Bribe, which as you can read is getting me in some trouble. More on that in the future.

      I did read your book and it was also reviewed by Mark Mattison at ThePaulPage. With my own studies on the collection and interpretation of “remember the poor,” I came to a different conclusion that plays out in the narrative in my film. One, I think Paul already had a collection, dating back to Antioch, otherwise, there would have been no need to mention the collection as a “persuasive” turning point at the Jerusalem conference. Two, I think the meaning of “the Poor” was at least two fold in that in addition to meaning those in need, it also meant The Nazarites like James and others, who were called “The Poor,” and wanted to be remembered as Paul went his separate ways to grow the Gentile church.

      I have written of this in my book and there is strong support for this in the historical record. As I offered to Larry, perhaps at some point you would like to watch the film and offer your own commentary. Are you still in Scotland? Thanks



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