Pass the plateIf there is any thing that all religious denominations seem to be able to agree upon, it is that money is to be collected on a regular basis from the congregants. Of course, there are differences about the specifics of how, when, why and where the collection is to be made and what the money can be spent on. However, all seem to agree that the Bible not only authorizes a regularly recurring collection, but even commands it. The passage where such authority is believed to be derived from is 1 Corinthians 16:1-3.

1 Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye.  2 Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.  3 And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem. KJV

1 Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also:  2 On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.  3 And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem. NKJV

1 Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do.  2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.  3 Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. NIV

1 Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also.  2 On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come.  3 When I arrive, whomever you may approve, I will send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem. NASB

1 Now, concerning the collection for the Pure Ones, just as I advocated to the groups of Called Ones in Galatia, this is how you must also do!  2 On the first day after every Sabbath Day each of you must be continually laying something aside at home from whatever each prospers, and must be continually storing it up, so that there is no need for each to be making collections when I come!  3 Now when I come along, I will send those whom you approve with letters to carry away your favor to Jerusalem. CB

1 Now, about the collection of money for God’s people: Do the same as I told the Galatian churches to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each of you should take some of your money and put it in a special place. Save up as much as you can from what you are blessed with. Then you will not have to gather it all after I come. 3 When I arrive, I will send some men to take your gift to Jerusalem. These will be the ones you all agree should go. I will send them with letters of introduction. ERV

I have quoted the passage from several different translations as I believe it will aid our study. Lets examine this passage and learn if it does indeed command a regularly repeating collection of money when Christians assemble together every Sunday.

The purpose for giving

Verse one tells us that the topic under discussion is a "collection for the saints". We learn in verse three, that the collection is for the saints in Jerusalem. Why did the Christians in Jerusalem need a collection to be taken up for them? In Acts 11:28 the prophet Agabus predicted a great famine that would take place during the reign of Claudius. Apparently this famine was more severe in Judea than most places since Christians from a number of different areas sent aid to them. Simply put, the collection that Paul was coordinating amongst various congregations was a relief effort for Christians in Jerusalem who were impacted by the famine.

Verse two gives some specific instructions for individual Christians at Corinth (which, by the way, were the same instructions Paul had given other congregations). The instructions were simple; on the first day of every week Christians in Corinth were to set aside a sum of money in proportion to their income saving it up until Paul's arrival. Verse three states that when he arrives, the money would be sent to Jerusalem by whomever the Corinthians selected to transport it.

If you were one of the Christians in Corinth during the first century and read these instructions from Paul, and you did not have years of modern practices behind you, what would you understand the passage to be saying? It can be extremely difficult to understand the original intent of the Bible when our modern day prejudices, practices and traditions get in the way. I contend that this passage does NOT command Christians to give money to their local congregation every Sunday. Instead, our traditions have led us to "interpret" this passage in light of our modern practice and then read into the passage something that is not there. Most of us think we are doing every Sunday exactly what the Corinthians were doing and for the very same purpose, but this most certainly is not the case. Let me explain why I think our practice today differs.

Giving today differs from the way giving was done in the early church

Please notice that the collection was for a very specific purpose; it was for sending aid and relief to the saints who were famine victims in Jerusalem. Everyone in Corinth who shared their money for this cause knew exactly what the money was for and who it was going to. As a matter of fact, there is not one passage in the New Testament that would indicate that Christians contributed into a general fund. Whether it was for evangelism or benevolence every time there is a record of Christians giving they knew what their money was going to be used for, where it was going, and who was taking it there. What about today? When we take up a collection each Sunday, is it for a specific purpose? Do we know exactly how the money will be spent or who it will go to? Oh, we may know generalities about how it will be spent (building maintenance, preacher's salary, Bible class curriculum, etc) but we don't know specifics. No, our collections are not for a specific purpose but they are general in nature. This is one way that our modern practice differs from what the Corinthians were doing.

Modern tradition dictates that we take up a collection of money every Sunday when Christians assemble together. However, if you read the passage very carefully you will notice that nothing whatsoever is said about the assembly! 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 never once mentions an assembly of the saints! Granted, Paul mentions other churches that he had given instruction to, but his instructions in this passage doesn't actually say anything about Christians pooling their money into a church treasury every week when they assemble. He doesn't refer to their "assembling" at all. Instead what he actually says is that each person is to set aside his money while awaiting Paul's arrival. Please note the wording in the passage:

  • ...let every one of you lay by him in store...   KJV
  • ...let each one of you lay something aside, storing up...  NKJV
  • ...each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up...  NIV
  • ...each one of you is to put aside and save...  NASB
  • ...each of you must be continually laying something aside at home from whatever each prospers, and must be continually storing it up...  CB
  • ...each of you should take some of your money and put it in a special place. Save up as much as you can...  ERV

The text says that each one is to set aside some money and save it. If you heard someone say they were putting aside a little money each week so that they could save up, would you automatically conclude that they meant they were giving it away each week into some common treasury? Of course not! We know what people mean when they say they are saving up money. It means that they are saving up for something that they want to spend their money on. Look closely at the text; it doesn't say to set aside some money and then give it up, it says to set aside money and save it up. Just as there is no mention of a collection during an assembly in this passage, there is no mention or hint of a church treasury in the passage either. The Corinthians reading this letter, free of our modern biases, would have understood that they were to set aside money at home saving it up until Paul arrived to take it to Jerusalem. To get the assembly, a weekly on-going repeating collection or a church treasury into this passage, we have to assume it. While the interpretation of this passage has been a matter of debate for a long time, the weight of scholarship (both commentators and Greek experts) comes down on the side that the Corinthians were saving up their money at home. That we take up a collection every Sunday is another way that our modern practice differs from what the Corinthians were doing.

Based upon Paul's instruction, there is no reason to believe that money would continue to be set aside after he arrived. Once the money was sent on its way to Jerusalem, the purpose for Paul's instruction was fulfilled and the saving would end until another need arose. Today, we engage in the very thing that you can't read about in the New Testament; a continual, perpetual, on-going collection. This is another way that our modern practice differs from what the Corinthians were doing.

Objections

If the assembly is not under consideration why would Paul specify the first day of the week to set aside the money? Many, if not most, people would conclude that since the first day of the week was to be the day of setting aside the money and since it is assumed that they also assembled on the first day of the week, then a collection during the meeting is necessarily inferred. However, an inference can be necessary only if there is no other possible explanation.

What other possible significance could there have been to setting aside their money on Sunday? Since most workers were paid daily in those times, it would be reasonable that a person would want to assess his prosperity weekly. Since Sunday has a special meaning to disciples of Jesus (the day of Christ's resurrection), their thoughts should be inclined toward spiritual things on this day so it would be a good time to decide how much of their income to set aside to aid the suffering of the Judean Christians.  Additionally, secular history records that it was the custom of early Christians to meet together on Sunday. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the Corinthians did assemble on Sunday.  Mind you that it cannot be proven for this passage doesn't mention an assembly.  But if they did,  what better day to reflect upon how God had blessed them than when they were in a spiritual frame of mind?  While pondering spiritual things, and considering their own prosperity along side the needs of suffering Christians in Jerusalem,  this would be a good day for a decision about how much to set aside for their brethren.  Is this conclusion based upon an assumption?  Yes, but so is the traditional conclusion. The important thing to recognize here is that both conclusions are based upon assumptions.  This explanation is plausible and cannot be dismissed especially since an assembly is not specifically mentioned in the passage. Therefore, there is more than one explanation as to why Paul selected Sunday as the day of setting aside the relief money. Since there is more than one possible explanation, it cannot be necessarily inferred that the setting aside of the money on Sunday was accomplished by means of a collection during an assembly.

Traditionalists insists that the phrase "that there be no collections when I come" implies that there was only one common fund (i.e. the church treasury). They conclude that if all the Corinthians kept their savings at home, then when Paul arrived, he would have to do the very thing that he is saying he didn't want to do when he got there; i.e. run around and collect their money. They see in this passage an emphasis on an efficient method of money collection that would not slow Paul down on his way to Jerusalem. It would be inefficient for him to run around and collect money from individuals upon his arrival. Is there no other possible explanation? I think there is and it comes from a different perspective of Paul's instruction.

Paul's instruction was for them to be saving their money prior to his arrival. He is telling them that the setting aside of money is to commence now, and is to continue until he comes to Corinth. The emphasis is upon saving now while waiting for Paul's arrival so that a larger sum could be collected for the suffering saints. To do otherwise meant making a last minute gathering after he arrives. If they follow his instructions, there will be a bountiful gift ready when he arrives. If they fail to follow his instructions, gatherings would have to be made after his arrival and would result in whatever pitiful sum they could scrape together on short notice. Paul's emphasis is upon gathering the most bounty that the Corinthians can muster. The emphasis is not on how it was to be gathered. In order for the traditionalist to see the plausibility of this alternate explanation a paradigm shift will probably have to occur. This is often a subtle and difficult thing to do.

The meanings of  "the first day of the week" and "that there be no gatherings when I come" hinge upon the meaning of "set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up". The traditional interpretation of this passage is understandable if it is given only a surface examination. However, when one recognizes that Paul's instructions for setting aside and saving were not given with a church treasury in mind then we must interpret the other statements in the passage in light of this in order to remain consistent.

Conclusion

1 Corinthians 16:1-3 is frequently used by traditionalists to "prove" that Christians today should (1) assemble upon the first day of the week and (2) collect money into a common treasury for non-specific purposes. In fact, we go so far as to say that sin is committed when these points are not adhered to. There is insufficient evidence in this passage to prove these concepts. No mention is made of an assembly - it must be assumed. It must also be assumed that a common treasury is under discussion for it most certainly cannot be proven. Also, as was noted earlier, this passage does not indicate that Christians gave for non-specific purposes. If this passage is teaching Christians today anything it is teaching us that we have authority to send relief to suffering saints in other parts of the world.

Am I saying that there is no scriptural authority for a group of God's people to take up a collection for purposes other than evangelism or benevolence? Not at all, I think the Bible does indeed authorize a collection to pay for the expenses that are incurred when Christians assemble together. I just don't think that the authority for taking up such a collection is to be found in this passage (1 Cor 16:1-3). This passage is the cornerstone upon which all other doctrines of a financial nature in the Churches of Christ are built. If our traditional conclusions about this passage cannot be proven, then we are left with several significant implications.  Must a congregation take up a collection?  Must a congregation have a common treasury?  What may (or may not) the money be spent on?