By Danny Petrillo
In some ways 1 Corinthians 16 is a relatively easy chapter, following the highly controversial sections in chapter 15. Nevertheless, Paul is not done addressing key issues with the brethren at Corinth. And, as we shall soon see, the collection mentioned in this chapter has received considerable attention among Bible commentators.
This section has generally been viewed in two ways: (1) as a transition to yet another question asked by the Corinthians, thus having no direct relevance to the previous chapter or the book as a whole; or (2) as a practical extension of chapter 15 and related to the whole book. It seems clear that the latter is the better choice, for the following reasons:
First, Paul concluded chapter 15 with an appeal, based on the coming resurrection, to be active in Christian living and service. This appeal for them to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord” (15:58 – ASV) is logically followed by a way they can do just that; by giving to those who have need.
Second, it is clear by the phrase “now concerning” (Περὶ δὲ) that Paul is going to address another question posed by the brethren at Corinth (see. 7:1, 25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:12). While these questions are unique in themselves, it is obvious that the overriding concern in this letter is found in the first four chapters, and is powerfully stated in 1:10. The brethren at Corinth needed to be united, and needed to see themselves as a part of the body of Christ and members of one another (12:12-31). They were faced with a number of issues that could divide: a party spirit in which they called themselves after various leaders in the early church (1:11-17; 3:1-9); a failure to properly discipline (5:1-8); lawsuits where brother is suing a brother (6:1-11); insensitive practices regarding food (chapters 8:1-10:33); divisions when the church assembled (11:17-34); jealousy over spiritual gifts (12-14); and divisive teachings regarding the second coming of Christ (15:12-19). With these issues plaguing the church, it is easy to see how one might become less interested in the plight of other brethren. Yet giving is fundamental to Christianity, and if they are going to be Christ-like, then they need to be generous givers. Giving promotes what Paul expects from a church of Christ: unity, selflessness and gratitude.
In view of these two points, it seems fair to see 16:1-4 as a continuation of the overall purpose of the Corinthian epistle, and having a direct link to chapter 15. Paul’s discussion of the resurrection should serve as motivation for the Corinthian Christians to become more proactive in assisting needy brethren. Jesus is coming, and it is imperative that Christians do whatever they can to help fellow saints to not become discouraged by financial pressures.
16:1 – Paul begins by saying now concerning, which is the formula he has used throughout the epistle to identify a question the Corinthian church asked him to answer. It seems this question needed further discussion, since Paul spends two chapters addressing it in 2 Corinthians (chapters 8 & 9). The phrase the collection (τῆς λογείας) has generated considerable attention. The word has a background that links it to various financial obligations one might face, both as a citizen (taxes) and as a Jew (temple taxes, customs). This has led some to suppose that Paul believed the contribution posed a moral/spiritual obligation to the Christian, like the Old Testament law commanded the Jew to tithe. While it is true that giving was commanded of all New Testament Christians, it is unlikely that Paul is appealing to a law of giving. Rather, he considers it a χάρις a “grace” (v. 3, translated as “bounty” in the ASV, and “liberality” in the KJV; cf. also 2 Cor. 8:7). In other places it is a part of ministry (διακονία – 2 Cor. 8:4; 9:1, 12, 13; Rom. 15:25, 31), a partnership (κοινωνία – Rom. 15:26), a blessing (εὐλογία – 2 Cor. 9:5); and an indication of spiritual service to God (λειτουργία – 2 Cor. 9:12). Some scholars believe the use of the term logia here indicates a second, or a special collection.1 If such is the case, then this passage does not speak directly to the weekly contribution to the church. Rather, it would serve as an illustration of the giving nature of the church, which was prepared to give above and beyond the normal for special needs. However, one would still ask the reason for this money to be laid aside on the first day of the week if it was not going to be collected by the church.
Paul mentions that it is a collection for the saints, and verse three shows that it is for the saints “in Jerusalem.” Paul frequently argued that those who provided spiritual blessings should reap physical blessings. The Jews had brought the gospel to the Gentiles, therefore the Gentiles should reciprocate with monetary gifts (Rom. 15:25-27). Equally, Paul had promised to “remember the poor,” at the Jerusalem Conference and wanted to keep that promise (Gal. 2:10). The term saints (τοὺς ἁγίους) is a frequent New Testament designation for Christians (Acts 9:13, 32, 41; Rom. 1:7 1 Cor. 1:2). Its strict meaning is “holy ones,” and represents how those who have obeyed the gospel have separated themselves from the world.
It appears that the church in Jerusalem frequently had members who were in financial need. There are a number of reasons why this was the case. First, the gospel often appealed to those who were less fortunate, and so it is probable that many of the first converts were poor. The early church was very active in assisting those in need (Acts 2:41-47; 4:33-37). Second, it is supposed that those converted on the day of Pentecost remained in Jerusalem in order to deepen their faith and to learn from the Apostles. Therefore, they were aliens and unemployed. The church assumed responsibility to care for them (at least for a time; 2 The. 3:10). Third, Israel was beset with natural calamities, such as a famine (Acts 11:27-30) that would have adversely impacted many.
As noted earlier, this section also contributes to the overall theme of unity. The Christians in Corinth were expected to unite with other churches in order to show their love and appreciation to Christians in Jerusalem. Such a gift can only serve as a blessing for the giver (Acts 20:25), but would make a powerful statement of love and appreciation to the recipients.
Paul is not placing the entire responsibility on their shoulders, as he also gave order (διατάσσω) to the churches of Galatia to do the same. This “order” certainly indicated apostolic authority (cf. 7:17). The “churches of Galatia” would comprise the entire province of Galatia, and would include Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. These were areas evangelized by Paul on his first missionary journey (Acts 12-14). This provides an example of several churches cooperating in a joint work and investing in the work of another church (in this case, the church in Jerusalem who would distribute the monies to the poor).
16:2 – Paul makes it clear that he wants each to lay by him in store (put aside some money) on the first day of the week (Sunday, literally the ‘first of seven’). The Greek has the preposition kata (κατὰ), which in this passage should be translated by the word “every,” i.e. “every first day of the week.” The fact that it is done on Sunday shows its connection with the day Jesus rose from the dead (Mat. 28:1) and the day the Christians gathered together for worship (Acts 20:7). Whether Paul has in mind that he keep the amount at home or contribute to the church treasury (cf. Acts 4:35, 37; 5:2) is subject to debate. The phrase lay by him (παρʼ ἑαυτῷ τιθέτω) has been presupposed to mean “to keep at home.” However, this terminology will allow for an alternative interpretation. There is evidence that Paul means for each to make his decision “within” or by his “own estimation, own initiative” (Thomas 8674).
There is a better way to understand the words. The phrase translated by him or “at home” in the original language is a preposition (para) with the reflexive pronoun heautou (himself) in the dative case. The apostle Paul uses para with the dative about 14 times in his letters. Only twice does it have the meaning of literal nearness. The other 12 times it has a figurative force. So the apostle seems to prefer the figurative usage of this phrase.
One of the figurative definitions is in the sight of, or, in the judgment of. Some translate the phrase: “in someone’s estimation,” or evaluation, or assessment (see Rom. 2:13; 11:25; 12:16; 1 Cor. 3:19; Gal. 3:11; 2 Thess. 1:6). (Conley 17)
So, does this phrase mean to store up the money “at home”? Grammar does not demand it, and logic works against it. The whole point seems to be a matter of expediency and convenience for Paul, who does not want to be subjected to the unpleasant task of asking for money when he arrives. However, if he needed to go “house to house” to get this saved money, it would still be inconvenient (and would still require another kind of “collection” – the very thing he wants to avoid).2 He goes on to say that no collections be made when I come. Granted, they might all bring in their savings the Sunday Paul arrives, but such is an assumption.3 In addition, what is the point of asking that it be laid by in store each Sunday? Certainly this is tied to the Christian day of worship when all the saints would be assembled in one place. What difference would it make, practically speaking, if the person laid the money aside on Friday? Why did it have to be Sunday? Logic would indicate that the contribution was actually collected, each Sunday by the church. She would then have the full amount contributed to give to the apostle when he arrives. This view is clearly expressed by Conley:
Paul does not want to go to Corinth and then over a period of time have to make process out of gathering up contributions from individuals. If each Corinthian Christian will make a contribution to the treasure every Sunday from that which he gains week by week then the process will be much more efficient. (Conley 18)
Regardless of whether one believes this will be a contribution to the church treasury or a contribution one does at home, the main point is this: when Paul arrives at Corinth this contribution should have been made ready well in advance. Paul wants this to be a well thought-out, planned and prepared-for gift of love.4
Paul goes on to explain that the amount each should lay aside would be determined as he may prosper (ὅ τι ἂν εὐοδῶται). The word “prosper” comes from a compound Greek word with the words “good” and “way.” The meaning is that as one has traveled along life’s road, the good that he has received should be shared with others. It does not mean that one should give “whatever is left” or “whatever can be afforded.” Rather, as one has received gain, a portion of that gain should be shared with others. This definition, then, would exclude those who have not prospered at all. However, all should have an attitude of generosity. This is clear when we compare this with Paul’s instructions in 2 Corinthians 8-9, especially in 2 Corinthians 9:7: “But this I say, He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.”
16:3 – Paul seems to be anticipating a considerable sum contributed by the Corinthian church. Thus, in order to avert any possible charge of wrongdoing, he wants the church there to personally select men to carry their bounty to Jerusalem. These are going to be men that ye shall approve. The word for “approve” (δοκιμάσητε) includes the idea of having been tested first and found worthy. These are not going to be men carelessly selected by the church at Corinth. They are men who have been given responsibilities in the past, responsibilities that they have faithfully discharged. In all likelihood this money would be reduced to gold (the smallest commodity, but also the most valuable) and Paul is concerned about both security and accountability. Along with carrying the contribution, these men are also going to have letters from Paul. These letters are thought to be those of commendation, authorization, accreditation or letters of introduction (Thiselton 1325). It is curious that Acts 20:4 mentions no one from Corinth. This may be because the Corinthians did not feel it necessary that any one of them accompanies Paul to Jerusalem, or simply that those men are not mentioned in the Acts account. This contribution is referred to as the Corinthian’s bounty. The rendering of this word, charis, may mean nothing more than “a gift” (as translated in the NRSV, NIV, NJB and NAS). However, it could also mean a “generous, bountiful” gift. It is significant that this is the same word used in 15:57. There Paul notes that “thanks” belongs to God for supplying us a victory in Christ. Here, Paul offers an opportunity to genuinely express that thanks in a tangible way: through a generous contribution.
16:4 – Paul does not feel it necessary that he accompany the men from Corinth. However, if the Corinthian church believes it would be beneficial (if it be meet for me to go also) Paul is certainly willing to go. 2 Corinthian 1:15-16 indicates that Paul had determined to accompany the selected men from Corinth.5 Romans 15:26-27 shows that this gift was faithfully delivered.
Special Study: The Collection (1 Corinthians 16:1-4)
God’s plan for the church is for her people to give; to give liberally and without complaint (2 Cor. 9:7). Giving is such a key part in the New Testament. Paul himself devotes considerable attention to this topic (1 Cor. 16:1-4; Rom. 15:25-29; 2 Cor. 8-9; Gal. 2:10; 6:6-10). In 1 Corinthians 16 1-4, Paul notes six features of the contribution.
First, the collection is for the saints. From this we see two points: (a) Reaching out to fellow Christians was a fundamental element of first century Christianity. The early church exhibited such a sacrificial, giving spirit that they considered their possessions to be community property (Acts 4:32-37). Frequently the inspired writers urged the church to be giving, especially for their own (Gal. 6:10; Rom. 12:13; 15:25); (b) People are not asked to give for no purpose. Paul let the brethren know of specific needs. Leaders today need to follow this principle. People will give, and give generously, when they can see that the monies are needed and will be devoted to a good purpose.
Second, the collection is from apostolic direction. Paul’s authority as an inspired apostle is clearly seen in this text. As a spokesman for God, he offers a clear directive. Equally, we see that giving remains a part of God’s revelation. The church today is instructed to give. Giving is how God intends for His work to be financed (2 Cor. 8-9). It is also noteworthy that the writers who lived immediately following the time of the New Testament mentioned the Sunday contribution and the collecting of funds. Lucian of Samosta discusses the “common fund” that the congregations in Asia had to support the defenders of the faith (The Death of Peregrinus 12-13). Ignatius also discussed “the common treasury” (To Polycarp 4). Tertullian discusses the Sunday contributions which were put into the church’s treasury, saying they “are the trust funds of piety” (Apology 39:5-11)
Third, the collection is for the first day of the week. Paul instructs here that the collection is to be done “on the first day of the week.” This has an obvious connection with the day of worship. Giving is itself an act of worship (Phil. 4:15-16; Heb. 13:16). In just a few verses earlier (15:57), Paul notes that each should give “thanks” (charis) to God for the victory found in Christ. Now Paul says that each should contribute to a gift (charis) for the saints in Jerusalem (16:3). A key element in worship is thanksgiving, and giving is a logical way to express that thanks.6
Fourth, the collection is for every Christian. Paul notes that “each one” should participate in the weekly contribution. It is God’s plan that as each has received, so also should each give. It is not God’s plan, nor is it right in and of itself, for the majority of the work of the church to be financed by a few. If all give, and give liberally, the church will be able to complete great works for the cause of Christ.
Fifth, the collection is a reflection of planning and forethought. It is not God’s plan that we give flippantly or haphazardly. Rather, our giving should be that which reflects careful planning and calculating. Paul notes here that they should give according to the level of their prosperity. While reflecting on his physical blessings, the Christian will then translate that into the portion that he wishes to return to God. How often does one forget about the contribution, then quickly pulls a few bills from his billfold before the plate arrives? This is a far cry from God’s plan of prepared, sacrificial giving. No act of worship, including the contribution, should be one that is entered without proper preparation and forethought.
Sixth, the collection is to be handled honestly and with integrity. Paul encouraged the Corinthians to choose men whom they knew were honest and trustworthy; they needed to be “approved” (v. 3). Today it is imperative that honest men are assigned to handle the collection. Far too many stories of pilfering have been seen, both in the Bible (John 12:6) as well as in modern times. Paul went to extra lengths to keep anyone from wrongly charging him with mishandling funds (2 Cor. 8:20-21). This group of men, chosen by the Corinthians themselves, would ensure safe delivery of the full amount given (cf. 2 Cor. 8:16-24).
There have been some who suggested that the Sunday contribution is not a required part of our Christian assemblies. This study has shown that such is not the case. Not only is it a necessary part, it is also an act of worship. We already noted passages like Philippians 4:15-16 and Hebrews 13:16. Both of these passages draw a parallel with Old Testament sacrifices. The Israelites came to God to offer to him the fruit of their labors. It was one of the ways they worshipped Him. Equally we give to God out of our prosperity, as we’ve been instructed. But this weekly gift is a “sacrifice” to Him; that is, an act of worship. So, would it be acceptable to omit the Lord’s Supper during our weekly assembly? Would it be permissible to leave out the worship in song? Of course not! Neither would it be acceptable to omit another prescribed act of worship: the offering.
Far too often the contribution does not receive its due attention. Frequently we hear statements like: “out of convenience we will now take up a contribution.” This has nothing to do with “convenience,” and everything to do with offering to God what He has directed. It is time that we give serious thought to what we are giving back to God, lest we be guilty of the same sin as those in Malachi’s day: “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me!” (3:8).
Barclay, William. The Letters to the Corinthians. The Daily Study Bible Series, Rev. ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975.
Conley, Frazier. “Lay by Him in Store.” Firm Foundation (March 2000).
Hays, R.B. First Corinthians. Louisville: Knox Press, 1997.
Murphy-O’Conner, J. Paul: A Critical Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997..
Thiselton, Anthony C. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000.
Thomas, Robert L. New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition. Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998.
Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1996, c1989. Electronic copy.
1 “Here he calls it a logia; the word means an extra collection. A logia was something which was the opposite of a tax which a man had to pay; it was an extra piece of giving. A man never satisfies his Christian duty by discharging the obligations which he can legally be compelled to fulfil. The question of Jesus was, ‘What more are you doing than others?’” (Matthew 5:47).” (Barclay 163).
2 “Paul is seeking to avoid the unpleasant necessity of launching a fund drive when he arrives in Corinth….The money is not for him” (Hays 285).
3 If the correct understanding is “at home,” what might be the purpose of this command? Several possibilities can be offered: (1) It was to keep the church from having a competitive spirit; i.e. “who can give the most?” (2) It was to provide a level of sensitivity to the poorer in the church, who will not be able to match the gifts of the rich; (3) It was to help this special contribution be a quiet, humble act on the part of the churches.
4 “The last clause clinches the specific purpose of the arrangement. There is to be no last-minute, superficial scraping around for funds as an unplanned off-the-cuff gesture” (Thiselton 1324).
5 “Paul could have decided not to return to Jerusalem. His participation in the delegation was not imperative….His decision to persevere, despite mortal danger…underlines how deeply he felt about the relationship between Jewish and Gentile churches” (Murphy-O’Conner 343).
6 “It is interesting that Paul mentioned the offering just after his discussion about the resurrection. There were no “chapter breaks” in the original manuscripts, so the readers would go right from Paul’s hymn of victory into his discussion about money. Doctrine and duty go together; so do worship and works. Our giving is “not in vain” because our Lord is alive. It is His resurrection power that motivates us to give and to serve” (Wiersbe, electronic copy: notes on 1 Cor. 16:1).