Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 1, 1955
NUMBER 30, PAGE 2-3a

Famines In The Days Of Claudius Caesar

Luther W. Martin, St. James, Missouri

The name Caesar was either assumed or conferred upon all of the emperors of the Roman Empire after Julius Caesar. In this sense, it was a title somewhat of the same order as the use of the name Pharaoh, among the Egyptians, and is found some twenty-six times in the New Testament.

Claudius Caesar was the fifth Roman emperor, and ascended to the throne in the year 41 A.D. His reign covered a period of thirteen years (41-54 A.D.) and was brought to a rather spectacular conclusion when one of his wives, Agrippina, poisoned him in order that her son could take the throne.

During the reign of Claudius, several different famines are known to have occurred. The first famine during this period was centered around the city of Rome in the years 41 and 42 A.D. The second famine known to have occurred during the reign of Claudius was in the fourth year of his office (45 A.D.), and was particularly centered in Judea. It is this famine to which Luke makes reference in Acts 11:28, and to which we hope to give further attention in this discussion. The third famine during the time of Claudius was centered in Greece in about A.D. 50. The fourth famine took place in 52 A.D. and once again, plagued the city of Rome.

Josephus, the Jewish historian, supplies further information concerning the intensity of this famine, with its great distress and many deaths. In a footnote, it is indicated that it may have lasted for a three year period.

Why Study This Particular Famine?

The reason for considering this particular famine is due to the fact that it served as an occasion for many of the New Testament congregations to co-operate in the giving of material aid to the "brethren which dwelt in Judea." (Acts 11:29.)

Just before this famine, prophets had journeyed from Jerusalem to Antioch, and one by the name of Agabus, inspired by the Holy Spirit, proclaimed that there would be a "great dearth throughout all the world," and then Luke says. . . "which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar." (Acts 11:28.)

The next verse informs us that the disciples in Antioch, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea. Each man, according to his ability would make a donation, which, in turn, was sent to the "elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul." (Acts 11:30.)

Jerusalem Elders? Or Elders Of Judean Churches?

The question of "To which elders was it sent?" now becomes a pivotal point in the minds of some brethren today, and here's why:

(1) IF Paul and Barnabas brought the donations from Antioch to Jerusalem, and there turned said gifts over to the Jerusalem elders exclusively, and then, in turn, these Jerusalem elders further distributed the assistance to the other Judean churches; IF, (we repeat) all of this took place, then the current form of congregational cooperation through one church's elders would have a scriptural precedent.

(2) IF Paul and Barnabas brought the donations from Antioch of Syria, which was located some 300 miles north of Jerusalem, and IF Paul and Barnabas themselves made the distribution of these gifts to the elders of EACH of the Judean churches, including Jerusalem; If, (we repeat) this disposition was made, then the current form of congregational cooperation has NO scriptural precedent in this instance.

What About The Evidence Of Acts 12:25?

"And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark." (Acts 12:25, King James Version.)

Brethren today, who believe and practice the "centralized-oversight" method of doing benevolent and 'mission' work, find that the above verse assists in the supposed method used by Paul and Barnabas during the famine. It is asserted that Paul and Barnabas went only to Jerusalem and that the Jerusalem elders took over from that point on in the distribution of the gifts from Antioch.

Another stone in this foundation is also taken from Paul's letter to the Galatian churches, when he says . . "Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia: and was unknown by face unto the churches of Judea which were in Christ.. ." (Gal. 1:21-23.) The reasoning in this respect is that obviously Paul and Barnabas had NOT gone to the individual churches in Judea, distributing the gifts, otherwise Paul would HAVE BEEN KNOWN by face in Judea. Hence the Jerusalem elders exercised the oversight of giving the donations from Antioch to each of the Judean churches.

In any event, it IS KNOWN that John Mark lived in Jerusalem, and that Paul and Barnabas added Mark to their number for the return trip from Jerusalem to Antioch. Acts 13:13 also records that he later left their company and went back to Jerusalem.

There's Always Two Sides To Any Controversy.

Now, we wish to present the thinking of brethren who believe that Paul and Barnabas delivered the donations to the elders of EACH of the Judean churches.

Although the prophets, including Agabus, came to Antioch from Jerusalem, the prophecy concerning the famine mentioned a "death throughout all the world." Thus, a region was specified in the prophecy, and not merely a town.

The relief was sent "unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea." Here, again, we have a region referred to .. . although, of course, Jerusalem is in Judea. Obviously, any. relief sent to Judea would INCLUDE Jerusalem, while relief labeled 'Jerusalem' would go only to that part of Judea, known as Jerusalem.

It is the contention of brethren today, who oppose the 'centralized-oversight' method of doing benevolent and 'mission' work, that Paul and Barnabas delivered the gifts to the elders of each of the churches in Judea, and then, before heading back for Antioch, they met John Mark in Jerusalem, and he went back with them to Antioch.

But ... What About Acts 12:25?

"When Barnabas and Saul had carried out their mission, they returned TO (Emphasis mine. L.W.M.) Jerusalem, and took with them John, who was also known as Mark." (Acts 12:25, Twentieth Century New Testament.) The American Standard Version and also the Revised Standard Version each give a footnote indicating that "Many ancient authorities render this 'TO'." Thus, their mission is indicated as having been in 'out-state' Judea, and when it was completed, they returned TO Jerusalem, picked up John Mark, and journeyed on to Antioch.

Commenting upon Acts 12:25, F. J. Foakes-Jackson, writes: "Verse 25 either belongs to Chapter xi, 30, or should commence Chapter xiii. The best-supported reading is 'Barnabas and Saul returned to Jerusalem,' which is fatal to the sense of the passage." (Page 108 Commentary on Acts.)

Perhaps Mr. Jackson would have done well to have stated that "The best-supported reading is 'Barnabas and Saul returned to Jerusalem,' which is fatal to the traditionally accepted sense of the passage."

Thus, brethren who oppose the practice of one set of elders overseeing the work of a plurality of churches, or who oppose the practice of hundreds of churches sending their funds to one set of elders who in turn 'oversee' a work to which all the congregations are equally related, maintain that by no means does Acts 12:25 establish any precedent of 'centralized-oversight'.

Then, What About Gal. 1:21-22?

When Paul wrote to the Galatians that he was unknown by face unto the churches of Judea, did that not prove that he and Barnabas did NOT personally deliver the donations to the Judean churches ? We reply . . . Not Necessarily!

The time element must be considered. There is no question but what Paul was ultimately known by face unto the Judean churches. Exactly when he became known is not known.


We do not think Acts 12:25 and Acts 11:27-30, can be safely used to establish any 'centralized-oversight or centralized-cooperation' precedent. To do so, is to "walk by assumption", rather than by faith.

Also, in closing, may we point out that the famine of Acts 11:27-30, is NOT the same famine of Romans 15:26.