Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 5, 1956
NUMBER 34, PAGE 1,2b-3

A Review Of J. W. Roberts' Articles -- (III.)

George P. Estes, Maplewood, Missouri

Brother Roberts sees the sponsoring church system in all the New Testament passages which deal with the cooperation of churches. In the Gospel Advocate, August 18, 1955, he appeals to the traditional view and to his interpretation of Acts 11:27-30; 12:25. Let us hear him:

"It has been almost unanimously believed by commentators, church historians, and students of the New Testament in general that 'the elders' in this passage mean the Jerusalem elders, who had only recently helped the church at Antioch by sending them spiritual help in the form of Barnabas. 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, and this accomplished Barnabas and Paul returned from Jerusalem to Antioch, as is stated by what is certainly the correct text in Acts 12:26. This traditional interpretation is now doubted in some quarters."

The Restoration Movement was begun and continued by those who defied and rejected the "traditional" views and accepted the New Testament as the absolute authority. The state church of Scotland was the traditional view which John Glas rejected: The Presbyterian church with its doctrine of foreordination and predestination was the traditional view for the Campbells and Stone. Not a one of the Restorers can be named who did not reject the traditional view in favor of the New Testament. The traditional view is that James was bishop and head of the Jerusalem church. One wonders if Brother Roberts accepts this. He quotes it in his article from Cadbury as follows: "the church which is in Jerusalem — (J.W.R.) It is possible that the twelve were away, and that the elders with James at their head were the heads of the local church." (The Beginnings of Christianity, Vol. IV.) The traditional view was justification by faith alone until Walter Scott came to the knowledge of the truth concerning the plan of salvation by reading the Book of Acts in connection with the Great Commission (The Gospel Restored). If one accepted the traditional view on all doctrinal points, there would be no Restoration Movement.

On the word elders in Acts 11:30 Brother Roberts writes:

"The root meaning of elders is plain, but gives no light as to which elders are meant in the passage. The immediate context does not offer any help in learning who the elders were ... The larger context of the book of Acts offers more help The first consideration is based on the relation between the Jerusalem church and Antioch. Jerusalem seems to have kept a watchful and helpful eye on the spread of the church after the scattering of the disciples from Jerusalem Another interpretation which is a vital factor in this whole interpretation, is that in the surrounding chapters of Acts 'the apostles' and 'the elders' are used, at times without any qualifying modifying phrase, to signify the apostles and the elders at Jerusalem."

The fallacy in such an argument is saying: "The immediate context does not offer any help in learning who the elders were." True exegesis considers first, the immediate context, second, the places where the word is used elsewhere. Therefore, "the elders" is to be taken with "the brethren that dwelt in Judea," meaning the elders in each congregation in Judea. The larger context supports this. It is the divine order that each church have its own elders. (Acts 14:23; Phil. 1:1) If one finds a practice, a command, an example approved by an apostle for one church, isn't it to be taken to mean that it applies to all congregations? For example, the disciples in Troas assembled upon the first day of the week to break bread. Paul was there and approved this. Isn't it only correct to infer that all the congregations everywhere were practicing the same? How many times must God say a thing to make it true? Isn't once enough? If Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in each church they had started in Asia Minor; isn't it only right to infer that that was the God appointed order for every church? If not, the apostles were not in agreement on doctrine and Paul preached and practiced one thing, the other apostles something else. Who can believe this?

What Brother Roberts really intends to say is that the word "elders" in Acts 11:30 has before it the definite article "the." He infers that "the elders" means the Jerusalem elders. Consider also the following passages which show the phrase "the elders" was used by the inspired writers to refer to an eldership in another congregation or for any one church in the New Testament age: Acts 20:28 (of Ephesus) ; 1 Timothy 5:17 (that rule); James 5:17 (of the church); 1 Peter 5:1 (among you). His arguments really proves nothing.

Brother Roberts accepts the traditional view that Jerusalem was the mother church. She "kept a watchful and helpful eye on the spread of the church." If congregations are independent and administrate their own programs and carry on their own work, this statement is not true.

On the verb apostello' he says: "to send on an official mission." Brother Roberts here confuses the Classical meaning with the Koine or New Testament Greek. I refer to the Gospel Guardian, July 28, 1955 to the article entitled, "The Ones Sent." The meaning and usage of the word in the New Testament leaves only one conclusion: the emphasis is on the will of the sender. The root meaning of the word and its form is as follows: the verb 'steno' (send) is strengthened by prefixing the preposition 'apo' (from, away) to it. So apostello (send from or away). See Thayer's Lexicon, pg. 67 and Cremer: "to send away, to send forth upon a certain mission; thus, it is distinct from pempo (send)." The church at Antioch sent Barnabas and Saul with the relief to its destination, namely, to the brethren in Judea.

If the relief went to Jerusalem only, one must answer the question raised by F. F. Bruce in commenting on Acts 11:30: "Why are the apostles not mentioned?" (Acts, pg. 249) They were in Jerusalem even during the persecution. Brother Roberts should have quoted Lenski on this section. He did on the Philippians 4:15, 16 and II Corinthians 11:8, 9 passages. On Acts 11:29, 30, Lenski believes Barnabas and Saul went first of all to Jerusalem and then went throughout Judea distributing the relief. (pg. 465) Also Hackett: "Unto the elders either those at Jerusalem, who could easily forward the supplies to the destitute elsewhere, or those in Judea at large whom the messengers visited in person. The latter idea presents itself readily from 'Judea' just before, and has also this to commend it, that Paul would have an opportunity to preach now in the province, as mentioned in Acts 26:20." (Comm. pg. 149) That the Jerusalem elders received the relief and distributed it throughout Judea is only a theory inserted into the text.

To prove that they were the Jerusalem elders Brother Roberts says: "The fact remains that they came from Jerusalem, and this may supply a key in the very context as to who 'the elders' were . . FROM Jerusalem to Antioch, as is stated by what is certainly the correct text in Acts 12:25." In the September 1st article he says he had been asked if there was a variant reading on Philippians 4:15, 16 but he says, no. Thus he claims to know textual criticism. He should have checked on Acts 12:25, or did he? The variant reading, "to Jerusalem" has better Manuscript attestation and support than the reading, "from Jerusalem." Notice this: "But curiously enough the best manuscripts, including both codex Vaticanus and codex Sinaiticus, read 'returned to Jerusalem'; and on the accepted principles of textual criticism this ought to be preferred as the more difficult reading and the more likely to be changed to the easier, `from Jerusalem'." (Interpreters Bible, pg. 163) Also recognized by Foakes-Jackson: The Beginnings of Christianity, pg. 1411 and A. T. Robertson: Grammar, pg. 862. Foakes-Jackson say the "fulfilled" may express purpose but Robertson takes the aorist participle "pleerosantes" (fulfilled) as effective aorist and says: "The idea is that emphasis is laid on the end of the action." (Grammar, pp. 835, 839) Thus, when they had distributed the relief throughout Judea, they returned to Jerusalem.

Luke is intending to bring out the sending of the relief, not Barnabas and Saul's return to Antioch. This is what the text teaches: the church at Antioch sent them with the relief to the brethren of Judea. Will of the sender is stressed. The word "ministration" tells what Paul and Barnabas did: they fulfilled their service to others, the ministration, and took the relief to the brethren in Judea. The verb "return" infers a starting place, a return to a place left. Thus, Saul and Barnabas went first of all to Jerusalem, then turned and went throughout Judea doing that which the church at Antioch requested, and having distributed the relief, they returned to Jerusalem. Paul took the opportunity to preach as they went through Judea. (Acts 26:20) The Journey back to Antioch is not important, so Luke omits it. If the Jerusalem elders received and distributed the relief, why does not the word "ministration" or service, qualify the word "elders" instead of Barnabas and Saul?

Brother Roberts has repeatedly quoted commentaries as being in his favor without quoting what the man really says. This is especially true in the following:

"An additional note on Gal. 1:22, Gal. 2:1ff will strengthen the argument on that point. The tense of the verb 'I was unknown' is an imperfect periphrastic, a form of the tense which emphasizes the continuity of the action . . . . This along with the particle epeita, with which the second chapter begins, makes it certain that Paul means that he remained unknown to the churches of Judea until the events of Gal. 2. Burton (ICC on Gal. pg. 62f) translates, `I remain unknown'.""

Here is what Burton writes on the above verses:

"The motive of these statements of the apostle respecting his departure into Syria and Cilicia and the non-acquaintance of the Judean churches with him is doubtless to show that his work during this period was not in that region in which it would have been if he had placed himself under the Twelve, but that on the contrary, he began an independent mission. This, rather than, e.g., the intention to show that he was not under the influence or instruction of these churches, is what is required by the nature of the argument, which has to do NOT with his contact with Christians in general, but with his subjection to the influence of the leaders of primitive Christianity.

"In itself the phrase 'churches of Judea' of course includes that of Jerusalem. Nor is that church excluded by the fact of Paul's persecution of it, since this would not necessarily involve his face to face contact with those whom he had persecuted, and, moreover, some years elapsed between the events referred to in vs. 13 and those recorded here; nor by the visit of Paul recorded in vv. 18, 19, since the statement that he was unknown can hardly be taken so LITERALLY as to mean that no member of the church had ever seen him." (Gal. pp. 63, 68.)

On epeita in Galatians 2:1, Burton writes: "The nature of his argument requires him to mention not how long after his conversion he made this visit, but during how long a period he remained without personal communication with the other apostles, which period would be reckoned from his latest preceding visit." (ibid, pg. 68) Paul's right to apostleship had been questioned and attacked. In Galatians, he does not intend to chronologically list all his visits to Jerusalem but to show that he was not inferior to the other apostles.


Brother Roberts has accepted the traditional views. He has made a desperate effort to force the scriptures to support his sponsoring church theory but has failed. Many men in past generations have tried to interpret the Bible in the light of their theories; their efforts are in vain. The Bible stands as it is — immutable and unchangeable.