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Paul's Final Trip to Jerusalem:
The Rejection of the Collection

Despite opposition from the Jerusalem church Paul could not afford to alienate them. In what turned out to be his last trip to Jerusalem, Paul decided to make a final attempt at some reconciliation. We will analyze the primary documents to see if we can find out what exactly happened. This relates to the Paul's last visit to Jerusalem.

  • We start with a preliminary analysis of the sources.
    • Paul last trip is narrated only in Acts 21 and nowhere else. Here we give the summary of Paul's arrival until his arrest here.
    • A close analysis of the account in Acts 21 betrays the fact that here Luke was relying on a reliable continuous source.
    • The collection for the Jerusalem Church was a very important part of Paul's attempt to reconcile himself to the church and indeed was given in his epistles as the reason why Paul made that final, fateful, trip to Jerusalem..

  • An analysis of these facts show that:
    • The collection was rejected by James and the Jerusalem Church
    • The Jerusalem Church was very probably somehow responsible for Paul's arrest and certainly did nothing to help him.

In conclusion, the evidence shows us that, consistent with their opposition to his mission, the Jerusalem Church rejected Paul's collection and very probably had a hand in Paul's arrest!

Paul's Final Visit to Jerusalem

Paul's final visit to Jerusalem in narrated in Acts 21:17-40. After the arrival of Paul and his entourage we are told that the brothers in Jerusalem "received them gladly" (Acts 21:17-20) On the next day in his meeting with James, the latter noted to Paul the vast number of converts who are "all zealous for the law." These people, Paul was told, have heard that Paul have been teaching the Jews of the diaspora to forsake the Mosaic laws, including circumcision. (Acts 21:20-21). To put a stop to such rumors, it is suggested that Paul take four men who are "under a vow" and pay for their expenses. (Acts 21:22-26) Paul agreed. At the end of the seven day period of the purification ceremony of the four men, some "Jews from Asia" recognized Paul in the temple and accused him of transgressing the law with his teachings. A commotion followed which led to Paul's arrest by the Romans. (Acts 21:27-40)

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Historical Reliability of the Lukan Source for Acts 21

Gerd Lüdemann has shown that, although there are obvious traces of Lukan redaction (i.e. tempering) with the account, there seems to be a continuous, traditional and historical source which underlies the account from Acts 21:1-40. The account can be summarized thus: [1]

1. Acts 21:1-9Journey to Miletus from Caesarea
2. Acts 21:10-14Agabus's Prophecy & Paul's Reaction
3. Acts 21:15-16Journey to Jerusalem; Staying at Mnason's House
4. Acts 21:17-20aPaul's Reception by the Brethren
5. Acts 21:21:20b-21Christian Zealots and The Rumors About Paul
6. Acts 21:22-26Advice Given to Paul
7. Acts 21:27-40Uproar in Temple and Arrest of Paul

Although these seven segments (of which four are given in full above) show traces of Lukan redaction, there are details which do not really play an important part in the story and in some cases actually conflict with the general Lukan portrayal of Paul amd of his relationship with the Jerusalem church. And it is these details that suggest traditional source(s). The details we can find are: [2]

  1. Staying at the house of Philip and his four prophetic daughters.
  2. The name Agabus and his prophetic activity.
  3. The lodging with Mnason on his arrival in Jerusalem.
  4. Acts 21:17 does not square with Acts 21:22. In the former verse the whole congregation (the "brethren") gladly greet Paul. Yet we are told in Acts 21:22 that the Christian zealots will hear that Paul has arrived. The latter is very like historical since it is in tension with the Acts 21:17. Acts 21:17, by the way, as we have seen is consistent with the Lukan tendency to portray a good relationship between Paul and the Jerusalem apostles.
  5. The presence of a large number of Jewish Christians who were zealous for the law in Jerusalem. The rumors about Paul is also incomprehensible on reading Acts alone, which as we have also seen, presents Paul as a loyal and practicing Jew. These are very likely historical elements.
  6. The advise from James seems to indicate Paul undertaking the vow together with the four Nazirites, which is impossible since one needs thirty days for this and not seven (Acts 21:27). What Paul was asked to do was simply to pay for their expenses. This was a traditional Jewish act of piety. That Luke misunderstood the reason points to the account being based on a tradition available to him.
  7. The name Trophimus, and the charges against Paul that were brought up in relation to the Ephesian.

These are all, very likely, traditional sources. Furthermore the whole account from Paul's travel to Miletus up to his arrest "proceed in a straight line with no internal tensions or gaps". [3] This strongly suggests a continuous source.

That the traditional source used by Luke is also historically reliable is extremely likely. This is shown by (as we have seen above) the presence of elements which actually contradict what Luke tries very hard to portray in Acts:

  • Rumors about Paul's negative views[a] about the law (which can be ,rightly or wrongly, interpreted from his epistles but not Acts),
  • The continued presence of opposition to Paul among a large number of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem (anyone reading only Acts would have assumed all were settled in the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15)
  • James' Jewishness, which was downplayed by Acts but can be discerned from other historical sources

Thus we can safely conclude that Luke used a continuous, traditional and historical source when he wrote Acts 21. We will have occasion below to pose a very important question about this.

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The Collection for Jerusalem

We know come to the last section in our analysis of the background behind Acts 21. We have seen earlier that the so-called Jerusalem council was by no means a smooth affair. The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were probably skeptical about Paul from the beginning. It was probably Paul's generous gesture to initiate a collection from his Gentile congregations for the Jerusalem church that won them over (at least initially). Indeed as Rudolf Bultman commented "Therefore the most important resolution was the least apparent: the collection for the Jerusalem community; and Paul's further efforts for this collection were among the most important of his activity." [4]

Galatians 2:9-10
[A]nd when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.

With this agreement Paul initiated a process of collection that was to last for the next five to six years until his final trip to Jerusalem. [b] We find references to this collection spread throughout his later epistles:

I Corinthians 16:1-4
Now concerning the contribution for the saints; as I have directed the Churches in Galatia, so you are also to do...And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.

II Corinthians 8:1-4
We want you to know, brethren, about the grace of God which has been shown in the Churches in Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints...

II Corinthians 9:1-2
Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the offering for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year, and your zeal has stirred up most of them.

Romans 15:25-26
At present however, I am going to Jerusalem with aid for the saints. For Macedonia and Archaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem.

We know from these epistles that Paul initiated his collection in Galatia, Macedonia (Philippi and Thessalonica) and Achaia (Corinth). And as the epistle to the Romans show, presenting the collection was the reason Paul was going to Jerusalem. [5]

If we recap all that we have seen in the Pauline epistles we can conclude that Paul took the agreement at Jerusalem very seriously. He spent the next five to six years initiating and gathering the collection in the various churches he founded. Although he initially did not have firm plans to go to Jerusalem with the collection (I Corinthians 16:4), in the end he decided to go (Romans 15:27). We can conclude therefore that the collection was, for some reason, very important to Paul.

The next question is: why did Paul changed his mind from initially not accompanying the collection to finally deciding he had to go himself to Jerusalem with it? The verses immediately following Romans 15:27 give us a clue:

Romans 15:30-31
I appeal to you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints..

For some reason Paul feared that his collection may be rejected by the Jerusalem church. Thus he felt he had to go there personally to present it. [6] [c]

From this section we have uncovered three major points about the collection:

  • It was very important to Paul, probably his one hope of reconciling himself with the Jerusalem Church.
  • It was the reason why he decided to go to Jerusalem instead of simply sending emissaries from the various churches.
  • He was worried it may be rejected by James and the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.
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The Rejection of the Collection

What did Acts say about the collection? Nothing.

In his narrative about what was Paul's last journey to Jerusalem we are simply told in Acts 19:21 that Paul "resolved in spirit" to go to Jerusalem. It gave no reason why Paul was going there in the first place. Yet in his speech to the Ephesian elders at Miletus (Acts 20:22) he clearly outlined his concern about what awaits him in Jerusalem. Similarly the prophecy of Agabus (Acts 21:10-13) forewarns of dangers in Jerusalem. All the while Paul simply asserted his resolute desire to go there. This is all extremely strange. Amidst all the uncertainty of the dangers facing Paul, no reason is ever given in Acts as to why he felt so compelled to go to Jerusalem. [8]

Similarly we find no mention of the collection of the account of Paul's arrival in Jerusalem and his meeting with the James and the brethren there (Acts 21:17-36).

Yet as we have seen above, we have every reason to believe that the traditional source used by Luke is continuous and historical. Thus it is extremely unlikely that there was no mention of the collection in that source.

That Luke knew about the collection we can be certain. Since he, finally, gave it as the reason for Paul's visit; but he place it in Acts 24:17 when Paul was being interrogated after his arrest. There Paul was made to say:

Acts 24:17
Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation...

This is an obvious reference to the collection for the poor in Jerusalem. Yet it was placed in a scene long after Paul's arrest when questions about what happened to the collection would not have arisen in the readers mind. Also by putting the reference here it made the collection seemed a lot less important that (as we have seen) it actually was.

Thus far we can conclude that Luke used a source that must have mentioned the collection and that he knew about the collection being Paul's reason for coming to Jerusalem.

So the obvious question is this: Why did Luke completely remove all references to the collection both as the reason for Paul coming to Jerusalem and what he did with it when he arrived there?

A step towards answering this is to remind ourselves about Luke's modus operandi. Note that in the accounts of the Jerusalem council and the Incident at Antioch Luke completely and consistently obliterated the most contentious issues: about Titus' being compelled to circumcise in the former and about Peter's argument with Paul in the latter. Luke tends to consistently omit issues which do not put the relationship of Paul and the Jerusalem Church in a good light and which could be somehow "swept under the rug".

These considerations lead us to right answer: Luke omitted all references to the collection prior to Paul's arrest because it was rejected by the Jerusalem Church. This is the only consistent explanation for Luke's silence. Had the collection been accepted by the James and his congregation, Luke would certainly have included the account since he was always anxious to portray the relationship of Paul and the Jerusalem apostles in a positive light. [9] [d]

The rejection of the collection meant that after Antioch, the split between Paul on the one hand and James, Peter and the Jerusalem Church on the other, was permanent. Paul was never reconciled with the people who knew the earthly Jesus and who disagreed with the self-proclaimed "Apostle to the Gentiles" and rejected his interpretation of what Jesus actually taught.

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Paul's Arrest

From consideration about the reliability of the Lukan source used in the account of Paul's visit as well as Luke's own modus operandi, we can extract some more historical facts about Paul's final encounter with James and the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. We can be quite certain that Paul did meet with James, that he somehow took part in some incident in the temple, caused a commotion and was arrested there. Keeping in mind Luke's tendency to put a positive spin on things we can analyze Acts 21:17-36 in more detail.

Let us start at the end. Note that although Luke mentioned there were many thousands Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, none came to Paul's aid during the commotion at the temple which led to his arrest. Similarly no one from the Jerusalem church came to Paul's defense during his trial. This has been noticed by many scholars. [10] Indeed the strange passivity of the whole Jerusalem Church is hard to explain. The only one who did anything to help Paul was his own nephew (Acts 23:16-22). [11]

Furthermore, considering the fact that unfriendly rumors were circulating about Paul, having him go the temple to accompany four Nazirites would surely be tantamount to instigating a riot. Some scholars have suggested that James and his congregation actively plotted to have Paul arrested by this ploy. Since they knew that something like the commotion that Luke narrated would almost certainly had to take place. [12] Others have suggested that the proposal by James in Acts 21:22-24 was meant to put Paul in his place. Since the suggestion for Paul to participate in such a vow would show the Gentiles, who accompanied Paul with the collection to Jerusalem, that despite his protestations, the Tarsiot was subordinate to the Jerusalem Church. Secondly having him participate in a Jewish religious ceremony would certainly discredit Paul's teaching about the abrogation of the Torah and the sufficiency of Christ. The arrest was merely a "bonus" for James and his men. [13]

With the information available, all we can say with some probability is that, whether intentionally or otherwise, the Jerusalem Church "had a hand" in the arrest of Paul. By forcing Paul's hand to pay for the expenses of the four Nazirites, they either didn't care what would happen to him or perhaps may even had hoped that something untoward would happen. But clearly it was Paul's presence at the Temple in fulfillment of this request that led, almost certainly inevitably, to his arrest and final execution in Rome.

And surprisingly Luke only made one weak attempt at a positive spin, that the brethren "received him gladly" (Acts 21:17) upon his arrival in Jerusalem. We have seen that subsequent events show that this spin was the free composition of Luke with no historical basis.

Thus ends the story of Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, rejected by all the apostles who knew the earthly Jesus!

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Notes

a.Among other things, he called the law "so much dung" (Philippians 3:8), declared that "all who rely on the law are under a curse" (Galatians 3:10) and said that the Mosaic laws put "a veil over their eyes" (II Corinthians 3:14).
b.It is impossible to identify this collection with Paul's so-called famine relief visit to Jerusalem, given in Acts 11:27-29. We have seen earlier that this trip as recorded in Acts contradicts Paul's own accounts. Furthermore, the famine relief collection before the council whereas the collection was agreed upon at and initiated after the Jerusalem council.
c.From our previous analysis of the opposition to Paul by emissaries from Jerusalem we can understand why. Paul had already prevailed in the face-to-face confrontation with the Apostle before despite some initial problems. Doubtless he hoped that since he did not go "all out" in his attack on emissaries from Jerusalem, there is still a good possibility he could be reconciled to James and his congregation by the offering of the collection. According to SGF Brandon, the collection was Paul's desperate solution to save his mission to the Gentiles. [7]
d.The idea [and accompanying proof] that Paul's collection was rejected by the Jerusalem Church was first presented by Gerd Lüdemann, [then] Professor of New Testament in the University of Götingen, in his book Opposition to Paul in Jewish Christianity [p60-61]. [The original German edition was published in 1983] Since then his idea has been accepted by an increasing number of scholars. These scholars (and their works citing their agreement with the idea that Paul's collection was rejected by the Jerusalem church) include:

  • Michael Goulder, Paul and the Competing Mission in Corinth [2001]: p168
  • David Sim, The Gospel of Matthew and Christian Judaism [1998]: p168
  • Eric Franklin, Luke: Interpreter of Paul, Critic of Matthew [1994] : p117-118
  • S. Légase, Paul Apôtre: Essai de biographie critique [1991]: p203
  • James D.G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament [1990]: p257
  • Paul Achtemeier, Quest for Unity in the New Testament [1987] : p60

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References

1.Lüdemann, Opposition to Paul in Jewish Christianity: p52
2.Lüdemann, Early Christianity According to the Tradition in Acts: p230-235
Lüdemann, Opposition : p52-57
3.Lüdemann, Opposition : p58
4.quoted in Lüdemann, Heretics: p41
5.Lüdemann, Paul: Studies in Chronology: p80-88
6.Lüdemann, Opposition : p60
7.Brandon, The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church: p150
8.ibid: p150
9.Lüdemann, Opposition : p60-61
10.Brandon, op. cit: p151
Lüdemann, Opposition: p61
Painter, Just James: p57
11.ibid.: p56
12.Porter, Paul in Acts: p172-186
13.Brandon, op. cit: p151

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