"Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I gave order to the churches of Galatia, so also do ye. Upon the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come. And when I arrive, whomsoever ye shall approve, them will I send with letters to carry your bounty unto Jerusalem."
-- I Corinthians 16:1-3
If you were one of the saints in Corinth and heard these instructions from Paul read, and you did not have years of twentieth century experience and tradition behind you, what would you understand the apostle to be saying? It is extremely difficult to attempt the understanding of scripture and not let our modern day prejudices get in the way. The above verses have been badly distorted to justify current "church" practices.
This passage is controversial. It has been used by the institutional Church mainly to lay responsibility upon their members to support financially the activities of the "Local Church." Most of the monies collected on "each first day of the week" go to pay a professional clergyman (hired to do essentially what no one else wants to do), and to finance facilities such as "church buildings," classrooms, social halls, parking lots, and other properties, which sometimes beg for extravagant sums of money. Members are made to feel guilty if they do not give to the Church more than 10 percent of what they earn. To justify this brow-beating, Jesus is quoted as authority for such an arrangement: "...except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:20). I may not understand all the ramifications of His statement, but one thing I know for sure, Jesus did not have in mind the financial support of an institutional Church when He said it. The institutional Church came from the imaginations of men, not from the wisdom of God. You can't read anything about it on the pages of Holy Writ.
In checking the commentaries that I have in my library, I have found a wide scope of belief about the meaning of the passage in First Corinthians. Positions taken range from (1) that Paul is simply instructing Christians "to lay alongside one's self at home," (2) that Paul is telling them to come to the assembly and put in their weekly contributions "on the first day of the week" and (3) that although the Greek is teaching number (1), it would be difficult to maintain the modern concept of the workings of the church without applying number (2). In other words, this group of commentators realize that the strength of the Greek favors one meaning, but they are willing to set it aside in favor of the traditional practice of the institutional Church. Some in this group finally conclude that they just don't know for sure. It is interesting that every one of the commentators of the Church of Christ and the Christian Church takes the position in number (2), that Christians must, by decree of God, assemble "every first day of the week" to contribute into a common treasury of the Church.
First, let me state that I do not have a problem with Christians taking up collections, even on a weekly basis, having a common treasury, and paying for various things the group agrees upon. However, I do not believe that the passage under consideration teaches, or even implies, that Christians in Corinth were doing that. One has to do a lot of assuming to conclude that they were.
I am not advocating the abolishment of a common treasury, if that is what the group desires. I do oppose the practice that this passage enjoins responsibility upon each Christian to make contributions "each first day of the week" to a corporate body known as "the local church." I Corinthians 16:1-2 is often used to teach that God has set up such an organization and holds all Christians responsible to support it financially. In my opinion, preachers have used this scripture unjustifiably to foster a system whereby monies are funneled into a common treasury to be used almost wholly (about 90%) in the support of properties and preachers. Is it not ironic that a passage of scripture like I Corinthians 16:1-3, which sets forth a collection for the "poor saints in Jerusalem," is used to force the brethren into supporting church buildings and professional teachers? The people of God are often made to feel guilty if they do not throw a "liberal contribution" into the basket "EVERY first day of the week." Preachers have invented the term "Lord's Treasury" in order to bring more pressure to bear upon the unsuspecting and unwary. The expression, "Lord's Treasury," is nowhere to be found in the Bible! We can't even find a hint of such, but preachers have used it because it carries more weight. After all, no one wants to deprive God of a little money when He has been so good to us. Hogwash! It all belongs to Him, and under the new covenant through Jesus Christ, He has not required that we assemble to "give a portion back to Him:' Look for it in your Bibles. It's not there! And yet, that is the prayer so often prayed before the baskets are passed: "Dear Lord, help us to be generous to return a portion back to you." Dear reader, everything you have is God's and He will hold you responsible as to how you spend every cent of it, not on how much you "give back" to Him at some formal gathering.
Check around to see how much of the "collection" is going to preachers' salaries and fringe benefits, and/or to the properties of the Church "where you attend," and how much is being spent to help the poor and the needy. You will be (or should be) shocked in how very little is collected for that purpose, and yet, that is the very thrust of I Corinthians 16:1-3. It was a special "bounty" for the "poor saints in Jerusalem.
As I have already stated, I do not have any objection to a group of Christians wanting to pool their resources in order to accomplish some worthwhile endeavor. There is nothing wrong with brethren having a budget. A budget is simply an agreement made by the participants to help defray certain expenses caused by the group. I doubt if any "church" in the first century had one. I know it was not customary for the saints to own properties in common, for Church history tells us that it was not until the third century that "Church buildings" began to appear. Also, there is no indication that "giving on the first day of the week" into a common treasury, secured by a God-given ordinance, was mandatory for the saints until the institutional Church concept was fully developed.
Study our passage again. Paul is not addressing any of the matters above except a "collection for the saints." He had in mind a group of poor saints in Judea, primarily in Jerusalem, who were starving and needing help. It must have been a major concern to Paul for him to make such a wide appeal for so long a time (over a year), and to collect monies all over Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Achaia (Rom. 15:25-26).
If I Corinthians 16 "authorizes" anything, it "authorizes" taking up "collections" among the saints in one part of the world, and sending them to take care of "poor saints" in another part of the world. Those that insist there is a "pattern" for everything ignore this fact. There is nothing in the text that would indicate that Paul's statement was given to set up some kind of on-going, money-making system by which the Church takes care of all operating expenses. There is nothing in the New Testament that shows God is concerned with such matters. He could care less if we met in our own homes or acquired a building mutually (by the way, if the group owns a building, it is not "sacred, holy, and owned by God!"), or gathered together occasionally under a tree. But, I have had preachers tell me that the ONLY way it can work today is for the people of God to have a "Church building." Some have made an "expedient'' into law!
It is easy for us to fall into the trap of reading our Bible using twentieth century, American culture, eye-glasses, and seeing Christians in Corinth functioning as many do today. We see them coming together at the Main Street Church of Christ (or Christian Church), on the first day of the week, bringing their money to be placed in collection, which is certain to be taken because God would be angry if they did not do it. We see a basket circulating with people making their contributions right after the Lord's Supper, of course, with the proper, qualifying statement, "This is not part of the Lord's Supper, it is a separate act of worship." We read all of that into I Corinthians 16:1-3, don't we? We look at that passage and we see them doing that. We see them coming together in some kind of a "Church building" when, in fact, they were in somebody's house. Today, why do we have so many expenses? What necessitates our bringing money to put into a basket every week? It is because we have properties to pay for, utilities, taxes, air conditioning, landscaping, maintenance, staff salaries, etc. And not a bit of it necessary for the saving of souls.
Now, to justify our practice, we take a passage such as this and MAKE it into "law." Then, we have the audacity to say that it came from God and is the expression of God's will! How presumptuous! Next, we send the brethren on a guilt-trip if they do not support our own machination with their funds.
Suppose we were to meet in someone's home instead of at our elaborate, expensive building. If the group were too large, we would meet in two or three houses, or whatever it would take. We might even move around and meet in different places. How much would it cost to run an operation like that? What need would there be for a common treasury? What need would there be to insist on a weekly contribution from each saint? Without the need to support the great expenses of "Church property" each saint would be able to spend money personally for taking care of the needy, preaching the word, and teaching others as he saw fit! Heresy, you say! Find the passage that shows the corporate, institutional Church is ordained by God and must be financially supported by His people. Prove from the scriptures that God is pleased with the process whereby millions of dollars are collected from the saints each year and over 90 percent is spent on expensive properties and extravagant preacher salaries, paying men to preach to the same people year after year instead of taking the gospel to lost sinners and taking care of the needy.
Now we need to look carefully at the text to see exactly what Paul did say to the Corinthians.
"Now concerning the collection for the saints" - He states clearly the purpose for the instructions which follow. It is for "the collection." The article "the" in the Greek indicates that there was "one collection" that was so well known the saints knew immediately of what Paul spoke. It was THE collection for the saints, the one that would result in "bounty" for the "poor saints at Jerusalem."
"As I gave order to the churches of Galatia, so also do ye." - There is always much ado about the word, "order." It is a military term, but is not to be understood to mean "law." We must not conclude that God was setting up a law that must be observed forever more. Of course not - if it is a law from God indeed, an order from headquarters, then we all violate this "law" when we do not send contributions to "the poor saints at Jerusalem." No, it is not a law of God. However, it does teach us in principle to take care of needy saints, even if they reside in other parts of the world.
"Upon the first day of the week" - This is an interesting statement. Literally, it says "the first of the Sabbath'' which is an Hebraic expression. The Jews marked the days of the week from the Sabbath, or seventh day. Hence, Sunday was "the first of the Sabbath, Monday was the second of the Sabbath, etc. They often called the whole week a Sabbath. The translators took the liberty of translating ton sabbatwn, "first day of the week."
"Let each one of you lay by him in store" - This is the sentence that bears close scrutiny, for herein lies the controversy. Paul is charging each individual to "lay by him in store." The meaning in the Greek is that each one is to lay something alongside himself, storing it. The Greek words, par' heauto means "alongside himself," or "by him." Para is found in other English words, such as "parallel" and "parable." It carries the idea of being alongside something. In a parable a lesson is laid alongside a story. Parallel means that two things are side by side. The second part of the Greek word is the pronoun, "him." Therefore, something is being laid alongside one's self. Paul is instructing each disciple to lay something away at home, storing it, every "first day of the Sabbath." He is not telling Christians to bring their money to an assembly and drop it into the basket.
Right here, re-read the passage. There is not one word in it that would give us the idea of an assembly. One must assume that an assembly is under consideration before one can have a collection. Nowhere in the word of God do we have a command for, or an example of, a weekly collection taken up at some kind of assembly. This is the passage that preachers always use to obligate the people of God for something God never required in the first place! They want the money to flow into the coffers of the institutional Church so badly, to pay for their salaries and for all the beautiful buildings, that they are willing to base their teaching on an assumption. In order to have a weekly collection, "authorized by God," they must assume an "assembly" in the passage, and that the saints were required by God to support the "local church" financially. It is so easy to "read into" the passage that which they want desperately. It is as if we hear Paul saying to the early Christians, "Now, when you meet at 10:00 AM, Sunday, you be sure to drop enough money in the basket to cover the poor saints in Jerusalem, in addition to covering the expenses of the preacher's salary, the building fund and a recreational center. You know that God will hold you responsible if you do not 'give til it hurts.'" Brethren, we need to be careful not to read into a passage something that is not there.
''As he may prosper" - The Christians in Corinth were to measure what they intended to "store" by their weekly "prosoperity." Each "first of the Sabbath'' they were to take a portion of what they earned all week and "lay it alongside themselves," storing it at home. Later, when Paul arrived, it would be given to the messengers selected to transport the "bounty" to Jerusalem.
What significance is there to doing it on "the first of the Sabbath"? Two possible answers can be given: (1) Since most laborers were paid daily, it would make sense to evaluate one's "prosperity" once a week, at the end of the week; and (2) since the "first day" would have special meaning to the follower of Christ (i.e. the resurrection of our Lord), and while his thoughts would be more in tune with spiritual matters, it would be an excellent time to commit a portion of one's "prosperity" to alleviate the suffering of others.
"That no collections be made when I come" - Traditionalists insist that this statement has to mean that Christians were to bring their money to a weekly gathering and drop it into a common treasury, but does it? To insist upon this negates the force of the preceeding statement we have just examined. One has to ignore or twist Paul's plain instructions to "lay alongside himself, storing" in order to arrive at the tradionalist's position. "That no collections be made when I come" must be understood in light of the clear statement which precedes.
The traditionalist assumes far too much when he insists that "collections'' must mean a series of weekly contributions, much as is commonly practiced today, and that it could not mean anything else. Then, what does the expression mean? I think "that no collections be made when I come" gives reason to "Let each one of you lay by him in store." The apostle did not want the saints to spend all their "prosperity" every week and then have nothing to give toward the "bounty'' when Paul came to Corinth. Then, it would be too late for each one to scurry around, hoping to find some little gift to give to the cause. But, if they set aside a little each week, systematically, they would have their share ready when he came to collect. There is no reason to insist that these saints had to put into a common treasure in order to escape making one, last, sizeable contribution to the cause. Paul was concerned about there being enough in the "bounty" and instructed the saints to "lay up" a little each week from their "prosperity."
I have held this view for several years now, having come to this position by examining the text carefully and by doing a word study of the original language. Only recently did I even think about consulting commentaries to see what other men thought concerning this passage. In researching the subject, I found these men to be divided in their conclusions. Some tried to remain true to the Greek and others were deeply swayed by traditions passed down in the institutional Church. Anyway, for what it is worth, I include some of their remarks below so that you can see for yourself'. One further word. These are the opinions of men. I do not base my faith on their judgments but on the word of God. Still, you should find their conclusions interesting. The first four quotations are from highly recognized Greek language experts:
George R. Berry (Interlinear Greek-English New Testament) - "Every first (day) of the week each of you by him let put, treasuring up whatever he may be prospered in, that not when I may come then collections there should be."
A.T. Robertson (Word Pictures In The New Testament) - "Lay by him in store....By himself, in his home. Treasuring it."
Marvin R. Vincent (Word Studies In The New Testament) - "Put by himself treasuring. Put by at home."
W. Robertson Nicoll (The Expositor's Greek Testament) -"On every first (day) of the week let each of you by himself (= at home) lay up, making a store (of it), whatever he may be prospered in."
Albert Barnes - "Let him lay up at home, treasuring up as he has been prospered. The Greek phrase, "by himself," means, probably, the same as at home. Let him set it apart; let him designate a certain portion, let him do this by himself, when he is at home, when he can calmly look at the evidence of his prosperity. Let him do it not under the influence of pathetic appeals, or for the sake of display when he is with others; but let him do it as a matter of principle, and when he is by himself. The phrase in Greek, "treasuring up" may mean that each one was to put the part which he had designated in the common treasury. This interpretation seems to be demanded by the latter part of the verse. They were to lay it by, and to put it into the common treasury, that there might be no trouble of collecting when he should come. Or it may, perhaps mean that they were individually to treasure it up, having designated in their own mind the sum which they could give, and have it in readiness when he should come. This was evidently to be done not on one Sabbath only, but was to be done on each Lord's day until he should come."
We can see that Albert Barnes, an official in the Presbyterian Church, had some difficulty staying with the meaning of the Greek and still remaining true to the institutional Church concept of which he was a part. I would classify Barnes as a "fence straddler" on this issue.
Matthew Henry - "The manner in which the collection was to be made: Every one was to lay by in store (v 2), have a treasury, or fund, with himself, for this purpose. The meaning is that he should lay by as he could spare from time to time, and by this means make up a sum for this charitable purpose. Note, it is a good thing to lay up in store for good uses. Those who are rich in this world should be rich in good works, I Tim. 6:17, 18. The best way to be so is to appropriate of their income, and have a treasury for this purpose, a stock for the poor as well as for themselves. By this means they will be ready to every good work as the opportunity offers; and many who labour with their own hands for a livelihood should so work that they may have to give to him that needeth, Eph. 4:28. Indeed their treasury for good works can never be very large (though, according to circumstances, it may considerably vary); but the best way in the world for them to get a treasury for this purpose is to lay by from time to time, as they can afford. Some of the Greek fathers rightly observe here that this advice was given for the sake of the poorer among them. They were to lay by from week to week, and not bring in to the common treasury, that by this means their contributions might be easy to themselves, and yet grow into a fund for the relief of their brethren."
I know that this is a lengthy quotation, but please read it very carefully, for it is my opinion that Matthew Henry has identified an acute problem among us that is peculiar to the institutionalized Church. Notice, he is interpreting this passage as meaning that each Christian was instructed by Paul to create a fund at home in order to aid the poor. He further states that the Greek fathers taught from this scripture that people should save money at home and "not bring (it) in to the common treasury" that they may relieve their poorer brethren. Today, there is such a heavy emphasis upon contributing to the common treasury of the institutional Church, so that materialistic goals may be met, that there is no feeling of responsibility to set aside money at home to be used for the poor. In fact, I am afraid that the feeling exists that all responsibilities along this line are discharged with the soft swish of the check into the weekly collection plate.
R.C.H. Lenski - "Each member is to deposit with himself each Sunday the amount of his gift for that week and preserve it as a store or treasure...Each member is keep the growing amount 'by him'..., in his own home, and is not to deposit it with the church at once. The probable reason for this advice is the fact that at this early date the churches supervised by Paul were not yet organized to the extent of having official treasurers who were duly appointed to take charge of congregational funds....Paul's purpose in ordering contributions from Sunday to Sunday is that, when he finally arrives in Corinth, the work may be entirely done. The plural logiai, "collections'' refers to the accumulations made by the individuals; each would have his logia made....The collections are not to proceed after Paul arrives. Then it will be necessary that each individual simply bring in his accumulation."
Lenski, a clergyman of the Lutheran Church, also struggles with the institutional Church concept, but does a fairly decent job of remaining true to scholarship and seeing in the original language the idea of each disciple storing up "in his own home." Notice how Lenski admits no organization "to the extent of having official treasurers" at the time, but does anticipate the development. Most denominations, including the Church of Christ and the Christian Church have accepted that organizational development. They insist on having "official treasurers" and weekly contributions from their members. They must have them if they are to survive, and they know it. If you take away the "official treasurers" and the treasuries they keep, the institutional Church crumbles into oblivion. That is why the clergymen fight for its right to exist, even if it means perverting such scriptures we are presently studying.
Next, we have a commentator that disagrees with most of the comments thus far, and would favor a stronger institutional Church interpretation. Such comments would be applauded by most of the preachers among us today.
James MacKnight - "The apostle's meaning is, that every first day of the week each of the Corinthians was to separate, from the gains of the preceding week, such a sum as he could spare, and put it into the treasury; that there might be no occasion to make collections when the apostle came. By this method the Corinthians, without inconveniency, might bestow a greater gift, than if they had given it all at once. The common translation of (Greek sentence), 'lay by him in store,' is inconsistent with the last part of the verse, 'that there may be no gatherings when I come;' for, according to that translation, the collections would still have been to make at the apostle's coming....Putting it into the treasury....The apostle means the treasury of the church, or some chest placed at the door of the church to receive their gifts. For although the Corinthians had separated a sum weekly for the saints, yet if they kept it in their own possession, the collections...must still have been to make when the apostle came, contrary to his intention."
I have the highest regard for James MacKnight; he is a brilliant scholar in so many ways, but here, I think he just fiat missed it. Notice, the assumption of the "treasury of the church," even a "chest placed at the door of the church." Here is a prime example of one interpreting a scripture to fit one's own experience, as well as the tradition of the Church of which one is a member.
Leon Morris (Tyndale Commentaries) - "The most natural meaning of 'lay by him in store' is, as many commentators from Chrysostom down have maintained, that each is to keep the money when he arrives (which would be necessary if they all had it laid by at home). It is perhaps better to think of it as being stored in the church treasury."
Again, we see the struggle between maintaining scholarship and upholding traditions of the Church. It is interesting that Morris admits that early commentators, "from Chrys-ostom down" understood Paul to have instructed the Corinthians "to keep the money" at home until he arrived. Morris succumbs to the plea of the professional clergy with "it is perhaps better to think of it as being stored in the church treasury." Many of the Church of Christ and Christian Church preachers go so far as to declare that "it is a law from God to give into the church treasury every first day of the week!"
H.A.W. Meyer - "...for par heauto titheto cannot refer to the laying down of money in the assembly....let him lay up in store at home whatever he succeeds in....The collection was to be then so far already made, that every one would only have to produce what he had already gathered together week by week out of his profits in trade. By this whole injunction Paul doubltless had in view both the enlargement and the acceleration in due season of the collection."
Meyer is a fine Greek scholar who does not cave in to the pressures of the institutionalized Church, at least, not in this passage.
We have saved for the last the best illustration of an interpretation being influenced by an institutionalized Church concept. You will see immediately by the language that it is institutional.
Adam Clarke - "He was then to bring it (a portion of his week's earnings) on the first day of the week, as is most likely, to the church or assembly, that it might be put in the common treasury....It appears from the whole that the first day of the week, which is the Christian Sabbath, was the day on which their principle religious meetings were held in Corinth and the Churches of Galatia; and, consequently, in all other places where Christianity had prevailed. This is a strong argument for the keeping of the Christian Sabbath. We may observe that the apostle follows here the rule of the synagogue; it was a regular custom among the Jews to make their collections for the poor on the Sabbath day, that they might not be without the necessaries of life, and might not be prevented from coming to the synagogue. For the purpose of making this provision, they had a purse, which was called..., 'The purse of the alms,' or what we would term, the poor's box. This is what the apostle seems to mean when he says, 'Let him lay by him in store' - let him put it in the alm's purse, or in the poor's box."
Do you read about all that in the passage? Does Paul's instruction say anything about keeping "the Christian Sabbath;' "the church assembly" "the common treasury;' "the alms' purse" "the poor's box"? Don't smile. There is just as much justification for all these things as for the requirement of a weekly contribution into a "common treasury." This is a good example of reading into the scriptures what you want in order to justify your religious practice. Clarke sees a "poor's box" in the passage and our preaching brethren see "the Lord's Treasury." Clarke sees a "Christian Sabbath" and our brethren see a law from God that says that every Christian must assemble at a "Local Church" and give financially to support it. If there is such from I Corinthians 16:1-3, my friend, you can justify everything and anything under the sun from this passage. The fact is that none of these things is in the passage.
It is not easy to admit that you were wrong in your interpretation of a scripture. I used to teach that this passage authorized "the common treasury" and demanded of every Christian his presence on the "first day of the week" in order to "make a contribution to the Lord's Treasury." I have even used expressions like "give back a portion to Him who has prospered you" "give till it hurts" and "give that the work might be carried out" etc. But, I no longer wrest the scripture to these conclusions. I believe it to be wrong to do so.
The scripture we have just studied together does not teach those concepts. It teaches simply that Christians have a responsibility to look after poor saints and to provide for their needs. In order to accomplish this, each one should lay something aside at home into a fund, that when opportunity presents itself, the money will be there. There is a grave danger in heaping wealth unto ourselves, selfishly, and disregarding our poorer brethren. God's wisdom teaches us through I Corinthians 16:1-3 that we should be setting aside funds every week for that time when we can spend it on helping our brethren in need. "But now complete the doing also; that as there was the readiness to will, so there may be the completion also out of your ability. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according as a man hath, not according as he hath not" (II Corinthians 8:11-12).