Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 6, 1955
NUMBER 22, PAGE 1,12-14

Was Jerusalem The "Sponsoring Church" For Judean Relief?

W. Curtis Porter, Monette, Arkansas

Relative to a famine that was extremely severe in Judea and relief sent to needy brethren in that area, we have this statement in the word of the Lord: "And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the spirit that there should be a great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea: which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul." Acts 11:27-30.

In recent years much discussion has been given to the subject of congregational cooperation, and especially in recent months an increasing amount of study had been devoted to the matter. This passage, in the book of Acts, all will agree, presents to us a type of congregational cooperation that was practiced in the days of the apostles. But there has been disagreement as to what type of cooperation is here revealed. The relief, there is no question, was for the brethren in Judea, but did the church at Antioch send that relief to the various churches of Judea ? Or did it send it to the church at Jerusalem to be distributed by that church, as a sponsoring church, to the various sections of Judea?

Bro. E. R. Harper, in the debate at Lufkin, Texas, said there is no example of the "sponsoring church" in the New Testament, but he endeavored to sustain the practice by "principle eternal" separate and apart from a specific commandment, an approved example and a necessary inference. However, Bro. J. W. Roberts, who also lives in Abilene, Texas, has been finding examples nearly everywhere he looks. So it may be that Bro. Harper, in the forthcoming debate at Abilene, will be able to profit by Bro. Roberts' discoveries and will present some examples of it in the New Testament, although he will have to deny the position he took at Lufkin.

In an article published in the GOSPEL ADVOCATE of August 18, 1955, Bro. Roberts discusses this case of cooperation and endeavors to prove that it was by the "sponsoring church" method. The record states definitely that the relief was sent to "the elders" by the hands of Barnabas and Saul. But who were "the elders"? Werethey "the elders" of the churches of Judea? Or were they "the elders" of the Jerusalem church? Bro. Roberts says:

"The accepted view of the trip of Barnabas and Paul on this relief mission has been that these preachers returned to Jerusalem and turned the money over to the elders of the Jerusalem church who in turn distributed it to the churches in need."

But this "accepted view" will have to be proven by the divine record. This Bro. Roberts undertakes to do by the following considerations:

1. The relation that existed between the Jerusalem church and Antioch.

2. In the surrounding chapters of Acts the expressions, "the apostles" and "the elders", are used at times, without any modifying phrase, to mean the apostles and the elders at Jerusalem.

3. Paul was unknown by face to the churches of Judea until his visit to Jerusalem in Acts 15.

4. After their mission was completed Barnabas and Paul returned from Jerusalem to Antioch.

5. The traditional interpretation of commentators. While this is not the exact order in which all of these points were arranged in his article, as some of the points of discussion were scattered throughout the article, yet this arrangement of it, I believe, covers all the major points of discussion and will enable us to take a careful look at the situation. I shall therefore take them up numerically, as I have arranged them, and see if Bro. Roberts has proven his case.

1. The Relation That Existed Between The Jerusalem Church And Antioch.

In reading Bro. Roberts' discussion of this point one would almost get the idea that Jerusalem was the "mother church" exercising "oversight" of churches in the surrounding area. He does not say so in so many words, but he almost leads you to the conclusion that such is his belief. He tells that "Jerusalem kept a watchful and helpful eye on the spread of the church" after the disciples were scattered by persecution. And that when Samaria received the gospel the apostles sent Peter and John over there, as recorded in Acts 8:14, and when they heard that Antioch had received the word, the church sent Barnabas to Antioch. Acts 11:22. And here Bro. Roberts reminds us that in both passages "sent" is from the Greek apostello and means to send "on an official mission." Then he tells us that Barnabas was "the special envoy of the Jerusalem church", that the prophets who foretold the famine came from Jerusalem, and that the gift was sent to the Jerusalem church "as a tribute to their leadership." This sort of reasoning gets dangerously close to a diocesan eldership for the church at Jerusalem. And actually that is where the "sponsoring church" idea tends to lead men. When you start putting the work of a number of churches under the eldership of one church you are well on your way toward the development of a district or diocese for those elders, instead of limiting them to the oversight of the congregation for which they were appointed, and it was this sort of thing that eventually led to the development of the Papacy in the first great apostasy of the church. Certainly, the Jerusalem church was interested in the spread of the truth following the persecution that scattered disciples abroad, but to indicate that they had a "watchful eye" that could "oversee' churches in outlying districts is contrary to New Testament teaching. After all, it was the apostles, not the elders at Jerusalem, that sent Peter and John to Samaria. And they were not sent to exercise some sort of control or oversight, but to do what no one else could do but apostles — to lay their hands on the believers of Samaria and give them the Holy Spirit. Acts 8:17, 18. And the purpose for which Barnabas was sent to Antioch is easily determined by learning what he did after he got there. The work in which he engaged was that of "exhortation" and "teaching," (Acts 11:23, 26) — not exercising some kind of authority and control vested in him by the Jerusalem church. I am not sure just what Bro. Roberts means by Barnabas being "the special envoy" of the Jerusalem church. It appears that he has the idea that he was given some special authority by the Jerusalem church that he could exercise in Antioch, as this seems to be indicated by his reference to the Greek apostello — to be sent on "an official mission." It is true that "apostello" sometimes means to be officially or authoritatively sent, but it certainly does not mean that the one sent is always vested with the power of an envoy or ambassador. Many uses of it in the New Testament upset that idea completely. A few examples will suffice. In Mark 5:10 the unclean spirit, whose name was Legion, who had been ordered by the Lord to come out of the man that dwelt among the tombs, besought the Lord "that he would not send (apostello) them away out of the country." Were the devils begging the Lord not to send them as envoys or ambassadors to some other country? In Mark 12 Jesus spoke a parable of a vineyard. He told of the husbandmen to whom the vineyard had been let. And at the proper season the owner sent a servant to receive the fruit of the vineyard. But "they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty." Verse 3. The word "sent" here is from the Greek apostello. Did the husbandmen clothe him with authority and send him out on official business? Or was he sent away empty? In Luke 1:46-55 we have recorded the praise and honor that Mary gave to the Lord for choosing her to be the mother of Jesus, and in her expressions of praise she said: "He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent (apostello) empty away." Luke 1:53. Did the Lord clothe them with authority when he sent them out? And the mere fact that the prophets who foretold the famine came from Jerusalem is no indication that the relief was all to be sent to Jerusalem. If the Governor of Arkansas should send word from Little Rock to the President at Washington that much of Arkansas had been devastated by some sort of catastrophe and was in need of immediate relief, would that indicate that all relief was to be sent to Little Rock?

2. In The Surrounding Chapters Of Acts "The Elders", Without Any Modifying Phrase, Often Mean "The Elders" Of The Jerusalem Church.

The passages referred to, though not quoted, are Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4, and 21:18. Bro. Roberts says:

"In all these passages where the term 'the elders' is mentioned, the reference is to the Jerusalem elders. Even when the context shows the events were in Jerusalem, 'the elders' are never called 'the elders of the Jerusalem church."

Well, certainly not. If the context shows the events were in Jerusalem, it would be unnecessary to call them "the elders of the Jerusalem church." In such case, everyone would know that "the elders" would mean the Jerusalem elders. Then when the context shows that the relief was for Judea — not just Jerusalem — why would not the same hold true? Would it be necessary to say "the elders of the Judean churches"? If no qualifying term is required in one case, why would it be required in the other? It would not be necessary, therefore, from Bro. Roberts' argument, to say "the elders of Judea." Since the relief was for Judea, then "the elders" would logically mean "the elders of Judea" without using the qualifying phrase.

Every passage given by Bro. Roberts in the "surrounding chapters" of Acts definitely states it was at Jerusalem. Take the first reference — Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23 — for notice. Verse 2 tells us they determined to "go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question." And verse 4 says: "When they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders." And the remainder of the verses cited in this chapter have these two verses as the background. Would it be necessary to call them "the elders of the Jerusalem church"? Absolutely not, for the record tells us they went to Jerusalem, the meeting was held in Jerusalem and they were received by the church and the apostles and elders there. But there is no such information given in Acts 11:29, but the relief there was for "the brethren which dwelt in Judea," His reference in Acts 16:4 actually says the decrees were ordained by "the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem." Surely it would not be necessary to say "by the elders of the Jerusalem church which were at Jerusalem." Such would be superfluous. But Acts 11:29 does not say the relief was sent to "the elders" which were at Jerusalem. His final reference of Acts 21:18 gives his cause no better support. It says: "And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present." Did it say "the elders of the Jerusalem church"? There was no need to say such, for the verse right before it — verse 17 says: "And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly." Thus we are clearly shown that 'it was the Jerusalem elders. Bro. Roberts tells us that the Gentile churches to whom the letter was sent about the matter of circumcision (Acts 15:23) would "have no definite statement that it was from Jerusalem", as it was simply headed "The apostles and elders," unless someone conveyed the information "by word of mouth." Did not Bro. Roberts ever read in verses 1-3 that the church at Antioch determined that Paul and Barnabas and others should go to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question? Not only so, but they actually helped them "on their way" to Jerusalem. Then when they returned with letters "about this question" from the apostles and elders, do you think they would not know where it came from?

The conclusion that "the elders" in the book of Acts always referred to the elders at Jerusalem is without Scriptural foundation. To say that Acts 11:29 must refer to the elders at Jerusalem because "there is no Scriptural statement that elders had been appointed in these other churches," is poor reasoning, for neither is there any Scriptural statement prior to this that elders had been appointed in the Jerusalem church. Remember the old adage: "It is a poor rule that won't work both ways." Inasmuch as in other sections elders were ordained in every church (Acts 14:23), there is no reason to decide that the same practice had not prevailed in Judea. Certainly the work of elders was needed in Judea as well as elsewhere, and if any church did not need elders, it would come nearer being the church at Jerusalem than the others, for there were a number of the apostles there. But even the Jerusalem church had elders. That Bro. Roberts felt very uncertain about his conclusion is seen in the following statement:

"Could it be that such a use of the term 'the elders' in these chapters of Acts was considered by Luke so specific that it removed the necessity of adding 'at Jerusalem' in 11:30? If so, Hwy this passage, far from teaching that the money was sent directly to all the churches using it, teaches the exact type of cooperation that some of our brethren are opposing."

"Could it be?" and "if so." No, it could not be that "the elders" was a term so specific that reference was made only to Jerusalem elders, and the decision that it teaches "the exact type of cooperation" that some brethren are now advocating is unwarranted.

3. Paul Was Unknown By Face To The Churches Of Judea Until His Visit To Jerusalem In Acts 15.

In Gal. 1:22 Paul said: "And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judea which were in Christ." Paul was pointing out the fact that he did not receive his gospel from man, not even from the other apostles, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. He proves it by the fact that he preached too long before having contact with the apostles for him to get his information from them. After his conversion at Damascus he did not go immediately to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles, but he went into Arabia for a period of time and then returned to Damascus. Gal. 1:11, 12, 17. During this time he was preaching the gospel. Acts 9:20-22. It was three years after his conversion before he returned to Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18) but then had only a short visit with Peter and saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother. Gal. 1:18, 19. Then "fourteen years after" he made another visit to Jerusalem (Gal. 2:1-9)with Barnabas and others, which, it is generally agreed, was the same visit recorded in Acts 15 to settle the question of circumcision for the Gentile Christians. But the contribution of Acts 11:29, 30 was taken to Judea by Paul and Barnabas prior to the visit of Acts 15. So if Paul, at the time of the visit in Acts 15, was still unknown by face to the churches of Judea, then it becomes evident, Bro. Roberts thinks, that Paul and Barnabas did not take the contribution to the various churches of Judea but to Jerusalem only, and the church at Jerusalem distributed the funds, as the sponsoring church, to the other churches of Judea. If Paul and Barnabas had gone to the various churches of Judea with the money, then he would have been known by face to all the churches of Judea. Paul was known to the church at Jerusalem, which was one of the churches of Judea, prior to this time. In fact, he was known to them before his conversion when he was persecuting the church. And on his first trip to Jerusalem three years after his conversion, when the Jerusalem church was afraid of him, Barnabas vouched for him and they received him as genuinely converted to the Lord. So they knew him by face then. (Acts 9:26-29). But he was not known by face to all of the churches of Judea. Bro. Roberts actually states this as the truth of the matter. But it is possible for all of this to be true and still the contribution be taken to the various churches of Judea, for Barnabas was also engaged in the delivery of the funds to them. Very easily Paul could have taken funds to some of them and Barnabas to others and still Paul would not have been known "by face" to "all the Judean churches." But even this possibility is not necessary to show the fallacy of the argument, for it is not said by Paul that he was unknown by face to them till his visit in Acts 15. Here is where Bro. Roberts assumes something that he cannot prove. Let us take a look at the incidents involved in the matter. (1) Paul was converted. Acts 9:17, 18. (2) Immediately he preached Christ in the synagogues of Damascus. Acts 9:19-22. (3) Then he went into Arabia. Gal. 1:17. (4) This embraced a period of "many days" (Acts 9:23) or "three years" (Gal. 1:18). (5) The Jews at Damascus took counsel to kill him. Acts 9:23, 24. (6) By the help of the disciples Paul escaped by being let down by the wall in a basket. Acts 9:25. (7) From there he went to Jerusalem and visited with Peter fifteen days, and upon the recommendation of Barnabas, allied himself with the disciples in Jerusalem. Acts 9:26-28; Gal. 1:18. (8) He preached Christ and disputed with the Grecians in Jerusalem. Acts 9:29. (9) Then they sought to kill him. Acts 9:29. (10) The Jerusalem brethren brought him to Caesarea and sent him to Tarsus in Cilicia. Acts 9:30. (11) Barnabas was sent by the Jerusalem church to Antioch. Acts 11:22. (12) He went from there to Tarsus in Cilicia and brought Paul to Antioch in Syria with him. Acts 11:25, 26. (13) They spent a whole year at Antioch and taught the people. Acts 11:26. (14) sometime during "these days" the prophets came to Jerusalem and the famine was foretold by Agabus. Acts 11:27, 28. (15) Then the Antioch brethren determined to send relief to the brethren in Judea. Acts 11:29. (16) And it was sent to the elders by Barnabas and Saul. Acts 11:30.

Now, when did Paul say he was unknown by face to the Judean churches? Did he say he was unknown till he made the trip to Jerusalem in Acts 15? Read it: "Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; and was unknown by face unto the churches of Judea." Gal. 1:22, 22. Thus we are told that he was unknown at the time he was in Syria and Cilicia. But when was that? When he came to Tarsus, after leaving Jerusalem, three years after his conversion, he was "in the region of Cilicia." And when he went on to Antioch with Barnabas he was "in the region of Syria." So in Gal. 1:21, 22 he tells us he "was unknown by face to the churches of Judea" during the time he was 'in the regions of Syria and Cilicia." But it was following this that the trip was made to Judea with the funds for relief of the brethren there. Acts 11:29, 30. He could, therefore, at this time have visited every church in Judea without, in any way, nullifying the statement that he was "unknown to the churches of Judea" while he was "in the regions of Syria and Cilicia." Paul does not say he remained unknown thus to them till he made the visit in Acts 15. This was wishful thinking on the part of Bro. Roberts. Besides, when Paul made the visit to Jerusalem in Acts 15 he did not visit all the churches in Judea, but he went directly to Jerusalem for the meeting, and as soon as it was dismissed he, with his companions, went back to Antioch.

But we are told that the tense of the verb is "imperfect periphrastic" and that it emphasizes "continuity of action" and that Paul is saying that he "remained unknown." All of this can be readily granted without lending any support to the "sponsoring church" argument. The record does not say that he "remained unknown" till the time of his visit in Acts 15, but he "remained unknown" while he was in the "regions of Syria and Cilicia."." In some translations it appears: "I was still unknown." The time that he "remained unknown" was prior to the trip made by Barnabas and Paul with funds for Judean relief.

5. The Traditional Interpretation Of Commentators.

Brother Roberts tells us that most commentators think that Acts 11:29, 30 refers to the "Jerusalem elders," and he gives a list of some of them that so claim. But there are others, he admits, that think it refers to the elders of various Judean churches, and some of them are listed, including Brother McGarvey. But since more of them apply the passage to the Jerusalem elders, he refers to this as "the traditional interpretation." And he thinks this "traditional interpretation" is rather conclusive and cannot be very easily dismissed. So brethren are somewhat criticized if they do not go along with this "traditional interpretation." But I wonder if that is the way Bro. Roberts proves other points of doctrine. If he wants to determine if a doctrine is true, does he investigate commentaries to see how many are for it and how many are against it ? And then does he decide the truthis that position which is endorsed by the larger number of commentators? If not, then his argument on "traditional interpretation' 'is not worth anything. It is astonishing that a gospel preacher would insist that we must accept the "traditional interpretation" of denominational commentators. Will Bro. Roberts accept such "traditional interpretation" that the name "Christian" was given by the enemies of Christ? Will he accept such "traditional interpretation" on the design of baptism? Or concerning hereditary depravity? If not, then why insist that we accept such with respect to "the elders" in Acts 11:29, 30? To a person who is determined to have the truth, "traditional interpretation" of sectarian commentaries is not worth a dime.

But how did it happen that Bro. McGarvey took the position that "the elders" of Acts 11:29, 30 refers to the elders of various Judean churches? Here is Bro. Roberts' solution:

"I would say that he was overly anxious to find support for the scriptural position of a plurality of elders in every church and he read the doctrine into the passage."

And I am wondering if Bro. Roberts was not "overly anxious" to find support for the "unscriptural position" of "sponsoring churches" and that he "read the doctrine into the passage." At least Bro. McGarvey was dealing with a "scriptural position," as Bro. Roberts admits, for elsewhere in the Bible it is plainly stated that in other sections elders were ordained "in every church" (Acts 14:23) and Titus was told by Paul to "ordain elders in every city" if suitable men could be found. (Tit. 1:5-9)

So Bro. McGarvey would certainly be in harmony with Scriptural teaching and practice if he expected to find the same condition in Judea. But there is no clear statement in the Bible that "sponsoring churches" were used at other places, and when Bro. Roberts read such into Acts11:29, 30, he read a lot more into the passage than Bro. McGarvey did.

In looking over this article I find that I failed to discuss point No. 4. After their mission was completed Barnabas and Paul returned from Jerusalem.

But this gives no support to the position advocated. If much of Arkansas were devastated by some catastrophe and the president sent men from Washington to see about its needs, and when their mission was over, they returned to Washington from Little Rock, would that indicate they had been nowhere except to Little Rock? They could visit all sections of the state and still return from Little Rock to Washington when their work was completed. Just so Paul and Barnabas could have gone to all the churches of Judea and then return from Jerusalem to Antioch.