…and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
-Galatians 2:9-10 (ESV)
James, Peter, and John gave Saul and Barnabas “the right hand of fellowship.” They commissioned them to go to the Gentiles while they themselves continued to witness Messiah to the Jewish people. Saul says, “They only asked us to remember the poor – the very thing I also was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10). How should this single caveat be understood?
It does not mean the apostles laid upon the Gentile believers no greater obligation to Torah than the commandment of giving charity generously to the poor. Saul did not say, “Only they asked the Gentiles to give charity to the poor.” He said, “Only they asked us to remember the poor.” In this context, “us” must be Saul and Barnabas.
In his commentary on Galatians, Richard Longenecker identifies “the Poor” in Galatians 2:10 as a shorthand abbreviation for the longer title that Paul gives them in Romans 15:26, where he refers to them as “the poor among the saints at Jerusalem…” Saul and Barnabas were to remember the Poor Ones of the apostolic assembly of believers in Jerusalem: the pillars, the elders, the assembly of James and the apostles.
D. Thomas Lancaster
Torah Club, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)
Torah Portion Va’era (“and I appeared”) (pp 362-3)
Commentary on Galatians 2:1-18, Acts 12:25
I’ve talked about charity very recently. It was less than two months ago that I discovered that some folks at the church I attend believe that Christians have a special duty to support the poor of Israel based on the following:
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
-Matthew 25:37-40 (ESV)
I was trying to describe this to my (Jewish) wife just the other day, but I’m not sure she believed me. It’s not typical behavior from many churches. On the other hand, as we see from Lancaster’s teaching on Galatians 2, there is a rather clear Biblical precedent for the Gentile believers to “remember” the poor of Israel.
OK, I know that according to Lancaster, James and the Apostolic council was telling Saul (Paul) and Barnabas to remember the poor of Israel, but look at the context. On the very heels of the council validating Paul’s mission to the Gentiles to bring them to covenant relationship with God through Messiah without requiring that the Gentiles convert to Judaism, and sending Paul and Barnabas back to the Goyim with their good graces, James, Peter (Cephas), and John added the caveat to remember the poor. How could that message then not be transmitted by Paul from the Apostolic council to the Gentiles in the diaspora?
Still don’t believe me?
Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem.
-1 Corinthians 16:1-3 (ESV)
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints…
-2 Corinthians 8:1-4 (ESV)
Which “saints” do you think Paul was taking about?
It sure looks like Paul was imploring, directing, even commanding the Gentile churches in the diaspora to take up a collection to be used as a donation to the poor among the Apostolic community in Jerusalem, even from the poor among the Gentile churches.
I’m not trying to beat a dead horse, I’m trying to inspire some life in the one we have, but the one we often ignore, most likely through ignorance. I said just yesterday that we translate and interpret the Bible based on our traditions and theologies. The obligation of the Christian church to support the poor among Israel has fallen through the cracks of our creaky theology for nearly twenty centuries. It’s time to fix the floorboards, firm up the foundation, and take back the responsibility that we were given by the first Apostles and the men who walked with Christ.
This does not absolve us of our responsibility to the poor of the nations, the poor of our country, our city, within our neighborhoods and our own churches. But it opens the door in our lives and in our spirits to remember Jerusalem, to remember Israel, and God’s special covenant people, our mentors, and the root of our salvation.
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!
-Psalm 137:5-6 (ESV)