Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 15, 1955
NUMBER 32, PAGE 1,12b-13

A Review Of Brother J. W. Robert's Articles (I)

George P. Estes, Maplewood, Missouri

These articles deal with the meaning, the grammatical and exegetical construction that brother J. W. Roberts in a recent series of articles in the Gospel Advocate gives to certain Greek words in a vain attempt to prove the "sponsoring church" theory. But I also want to point out some of the doctrines which he sets forth.

In the June 23, 1955, Gospel Advocate, brother Roberts has this to say:

"Not only was this cooperation between Corinth and the Christians in Palestine, but the cooperation also included Macedonia and Palestine. Now we learn that the brethren in Macedonia were in deep poverty (kata bathous ptocheia). Their poverty was such that they had to beg (2 Cor. 8:2-4) Paul to take their gift. Abundance versus poverty, therefore, is not the sole basis of such cooperation. This destroys the contention that the cooperation must be between a large wealthy congregation and a poor one."

"If it were not out of abundance that Macedonia gave, what was their motive? Paul says that they gave (1) out of their "good pleasure," that is, they simply wanted to have fellowship in this matter, and (2) "their debtors they are." (Rom. 15:27.) That is, they had been made partakers of their spiritual things" and felt that they owed it "also to minister unto them carnal things" . . . . Thus Paul says himself that the want of the saints was not the only thing involved."

On kata bathous ptocheia (deep poverty) and the general condition of the Macedonian churches, the following comments from The Interpreters Bible are enlightening:

"This does not refer simply to their poverty, which was nothing rare among the early Christians, but rather to ill treatment from non-Christians. The "stripes" Paul had recently had to endure (2 Cor. 7:5) may well have been from the same sources (cf. 1 Thess. 2:14 on persecution endured at a slightly different time).

"The churches of Macedonia had come through a severe test of affliction. They had suffered persecution for their faith; in addition Rome had impoverished the country by exacting from it most of its natural wealth, notably its minerals and timber. In such circumstances liberality becomes a spiritual miracle. Through what they had endured they discovered the reality of God's love and power. It is when faith exacts hardship or sacrifice that it reveals its hidden treasure. This joy of fellowship had now expressed itself. It bad lifted the Macedonians to a level where they were released from the love of money.

"Their extreme poverty had also its part to play. It is a curious fact that those who have little to give, and may even have a struggle to make their ends meet, often surprise us most by their sacrificial giving, while those who have abundance are sometimes mean and grudging. Money tends to harden the heart." pg. 364.

The difference between the Macedonian Christians and those in Jerusalem is this: the former were poor, the latter were destitute, or putting it in Brother Robert's words, they lacked the necessities of life. Brother Robert's tells us in the September 15, 1955 Advocate that there were famines in Palestine during this time and a condition of extreme want. (From Josephus, Suetonius, Tacitus and Eusebius.) On the basis of this evidence, one must accept this fact: the giver has more than the receiver.

The way Brother Robert's inserts Romans 15:27, one gets the impression that the Jerusalem church is the "mother church" to which all others are obligated on account of her superiority. This is the traditional sectarian view. But Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, received the gospel by revelation not from the other apostles. (Gal. 1:12.) He stood on equality with all other apostles (2 Cor. 11:5); he had seen the Lord. (1 Cor. 15:8) The same gospel was intended for both Jew and Gentile. (Rom. 1:16.) The Gentile churches were not inferior nor subordinate to the Jerusalem church concerning reconciliation to God. In Romans 15:25-31, the apostle is pointing out the fact that it was through the Jewish nation that the Messiah came. (cp. Rom. 4:16.) The additional arguments of the apostle are ably summed up in The Interpreters Bible: "The scheme which now engages Paul's attention was not simply a benevolent effort intended to relieve the necessities of the poor Christians . . . . As the exegesis shows, was primarily a gesture designed to promote reconciliation between Jewish and Gentile Christians."

"The undertaking is essentially sound and sane. Since the Gentiles have received spiritual blessings through them it is right that Jewish Christians should receive material blessings from the Gentiles." (pg. 649.) The comments go on to say that the funds were unequally distributed and the idea of brotherhood as opposed to faction and division was the aim of the apostle. (pg. 649.)

Concerning 2 Corinthians 8:13, 14, Brother Roberts writes: "Paul does not say that the contribution is for the receiving church that it may make them equal to the sending church. The Greek words mean just the opposite of this. What Paul literally says is, 'For not in order that there may be relief (or benefit) to others and distress to you, but out of equality (eks isotetos).' The 'but' is the particle alla which expresses the adversitive or opposite idea to the first expressed. The meaning then is 'for giving is not that benefit may be to others and distress to you, but it is to provide benefit equally to others (who receive) and you (who give).' The idea that the receiving church is to get all the benefit is the very idea Paul is refuting. He is trying to show the Corinthians that they themselves stand to benefit from their gift."

This new interpretation by Brother Roberts is contrary to the text, to Greek Grammars and to Lexicons. The context refers to giving liberally: "For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according as a man hath, not according as he hath not" (vs. 12); and sharing: "He that gathered much had nothing over; and he that gathered little had no lack." (vs. 15.) In verse 13, "that others may be eased and ye distressed," the word, "that" is hina in Greek. "Its most common occurrence is in purpose or final clauses." (Dana and Mantey: Greek Grammar, pg. 248.) In this clause the verb is missing and must be supplied: "The telic hina often depends on a verb not expressed, but to be repeated or educed from the context; 2 Corinthians 8:13 sc. geneetai." (Thayer: Greek-English Lexicon, pg. 304.) Thayer would add geneetai (may be). The meaning of this clause is clear: The purpose of the giving must be shared by all, so that none be burdened. If "but by equality" is taken with vs. 13, it would then complete the thought and modify the words "eased and distressed" in reference to the ones giving. If taken with verse 14, then that verse will explain what it means.

On "eks isotetos" (by equality) one might consider the following: "Isotetos": The sense of "fairness," "fair dealing" into which the word passes in Colossians 4:1. And from the verb form in its literal sense, cf. Papyrus Oxy. 1647.7 (3 cent. A.D.), "and let the whole of the bank be levelled." (Moulton and Milligan: Vocabulary of the N.T. pg. 307.) "Ek is used especially of the standard, hence: eks isostetos — according to equality. (Winer: Greek Grammar, pg. 424.) If we take "by equality" with verse 13, we must understand it in the sense of equity or fairness, i.e. all must bear the burden according to ability and let none be burdened while others are eased. If it goes with verse 14, it is either in the sense of quantity or quality. Since the whole context pertains to giving and sharing material things one can only take the quantity sense and not quality as Brother Roberts takes it. Certainly one must understand "equality" as quantity in verse 14.

Brother Roberts writes further: "But what does Paul mean by there being a deficiency and an abundance at both places? We must judge by the context. Corinth has material prosperity, but has a deficiency in spiritual blessings due to their lagging in the contribution . . . . Jerusalem has an abundance of spiritual strength, but lacks necessities of life. Their abundance is of the same type which would accrue to Corinth, if they carried out their pledge." This is very close to the Roman Catholic doctrine of works of supererogation. In this doctrine they claim that the merits of Christ's death along with the meritorious works of those they claim to be saints are more than enough for salvation and are therefore put by God in a deposit. The efficacy of these superabundant works can be reached by those inferior in spiritual status by doing some benevolent deed or making a sacrifice. Concerning the church of the second century, W. Walker has this to say: "A Christian can do more than God demands — works of supererogation — and will receive corresponding reward. Great generosity was exercised toward the poor, widows and orphans." (Church History, pg. 43.) And about the Middle Age Roman Church: "He can not merely fit himself for heaven; he can add his mite to the treasury of the superabundant merits of Christ and the saints." "ibid. pg. 272.)

Their want (hustereema) is defined by Thayer this way: "In reference to property and resources, poverty, want, destitution (2 Cor. 8:13, 14)" (Lexicon, pg. 646.) "Your abundance" is exactly the opposite. (ibid. pg. 505.)

It is difficult to understand why Brother Roberts would make the following statement unless he has a theory to prove: "To connect at the present time with the Corinthians giving and make it say that their gift was temporary is wrong."

"En too nun kairoo" (at this present time) is "en" with the locative case. While at Abilene studying under Charles H. Roberson, I wrote the following note in the margin of my Machen's Greek Grammar: "En with the locative means time when; extent of time is expressed by the accusative case." Note the following: "There is no case in Greek more clearly marked in its use than the locative . . . . It indicates a point within limits... . The limits indicated by the locative may be temporal." (Dana and Mantey, pp. 86-7.) "Nun, adverb of time, now, i.e. at the present. Joined to substantives, 2 Corinthians :13-4." (Thayer, pg. 430.) " fixed and definite time, 2 Corinthians 8:13-4" (ibid, pg. 318.) Kairos (appointed time); chronos (period of time)." (Machen: Greek Grammar, pg. 276.)

"Equality" understood with lack and abundance simply means a sharing in 2 Corinthians 8:14 to help the deficiency.

To bring all the thoughts together, reference is again made to The Interpreter's Bible: "Again Paul seeks to remove any idea that too heavy a load is being placed on the Corinthians. He does not mean that others should have relief (anesis lit. "rest") from or be eased of, the strain of heavy giving and you Corinthians be burdened (lit. have the "affliction" of) large financial obligations. The next words may complete the statement of vs. 13: "but" that you should give "as a matter of equality." However, they may be taken with verse 14 . . . In either case vs. 14 explains what is meant by equality. Christians should share their resources, those who have MORE sharing with those who have LESS. It has been suggested that as in Romans 15:27, this verse means the Gentile Christians — Corinthian church should give financial help to the Jerusalem Christians. But the return the Jewish Christians are to make is mentioned as something that will follow the giving of the Corinthians. So the meaning seems to be, that you now, at the present time, are to meet their NEED, and at some future time, if you have need, the Jewish Christians (or other Christians) will share with you. No church can tell when the time of hardship and need may come. The reference to your abundance makes clear that the Corinthian Christians, though mainly from the lower classes of society (1 Cor. 1:26), are financially much better off than most Christians; it is implied in the entire passage (cf. vs. 2) that they are more prosperous than the Macedonian Christians, who have had to endure persecutions with its inevitable financial losses.

Many of the problems which natural calamities create for faith would be solved if love had its way. And there is a further truth. Unshared abundance can dry up the springs of plenty for those who try to keep it for themselves. The Corinthians at the moment had a surplus and the saints in Jerusalem a deficiency. Should positions later be reversed, their present generosity would no doubt be balanced by a like generosity to them. Love is never a one-way traffic." Pg. 370.