23069Re: [XTalk] How did Paul protect the collection from theft or confiscation?
- Feb 4, 2009To: Crosstalk
In Response To: Richard Fellows
On: Paul's Security Measures
I appreciate Richard's analysis. I admit I am always nervous on Paul's
behalf when I read that part of the story. How can he expect to get a
substantial sum safely across the ocean to Jerusalem?
But some of Richard's points seem to me to be open to other interpretations.
1. "Paul asked the Corinthians to put aside money for the collection at
home." I think this was a request to collect it in advance, so that it would
not have to be done when Paul arrived. This is the motive Paul states in the
end of 1 Cor 16:2. Speed, not security, seems to have been the chief
concern. I don't find this implausible, and thus don't feel that any
alternative explanation is unavoidably called for.
2. "Paul never identifies any of those who helped him with the collection.
Indeed, the two 'brothers' in 2 Cor 8:18-24 and the 'brother' in 2 Cor 12:18
are surprisingly anonymous. I believe Paul's silence about the identity of
the helpers is protective." How public a document was 2 Cor when first
written and received? Would mentioning these 'brothers' by name have tipped
anybody not already in the know, about Paul's travel plans? I would think
that silence as to Paul's own movements would be more to the point. Maybe it
would help, at this juncture, to review all persons mentioned but not named
in the genuine Epistles. Can anyone cite such a study?
3. " Now, Acts 20:3 tells us that, as Paul was about to sail for Syria, he
changed his plan and decided to travel first to Macedonia because Jews had
plotted against him. It seems to me that this information strongly suggests
that the plot was an attempt to intercept the collection." Acts I flatly
don't trust; Acts always has something of its own in mind. Knox and others
have shown (by correlating Acts and Epistles) how a Lukan agenda has been
superimposed over the probable course of events. Accepting Acts as actual,
we still have the possibility that what the Jews were after was Paul, not
the money. This reading seems to fit the many mentions of "Jews" in the
Epistles, no? [See further below].
4. "Luke's style was to use the first person plural whenever he travelled by
sea, but to use third person narrative when he was present on land." For
myself, I am not convinced that the problem of the "we" passages has been
that convincingly solved, which is to say that, for one thing, I am not sure
that Luke himself was along. Barnabas? It is at this point in the argument
that I feel a need to check up on the structure of Acts as a whole,
deferring the present more specific question meanwhile.
"This suggests that Paul and Luke went to Philippi by land (otherwise why is
there no first person in Acts 20:4?). In any case this journey from Corinth
to Philippi took Paul further from Jerusalem and consumed time, which he did
not have in abundance (see Acts 20:16)." Again Acts. Same comment. The
objection is not decisive, but I would still rather hear from Paul.
"However, Paul's very circuitous route makes sense if he was trying to
protect the collection from those who knew that it was destined for Judea."
Multiplying time in difficult country exposes the money longer to whatever
risk factors existed, including normal bandits, who I would consider to have
been the main risk. That is the basic gambler's calculation. If in fact Paul
went to Philippi despite the added risk, it may have been because he wanted
to see people there. And if this excursion had put him in time trouble, then
his wish to compensate by speeding up the subsequent part of the journey
("For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to
spend time in Asia, for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on
the day of Pentecost" - Acts 20:16) makes sense, without any additional
5. "The seven companions went ahead to Troas, but Paul and Luke sailed there
independently. This decision to split the party makes sense if we suppose
that the plot was against the collection and that the seven were not under
suspicion of involvement in the collection (so Gilchrist)." This supposes
that the main danger was an attempt by previously informed persons to waylay
Paul. I am not convinced that the security question can be reduced only to
that variable. I should think that the general hazards of carrying money
along any known commercial route, or indeed any route whatever, were the
chief problem. I should also think that if many were in the Collection
Party, a better plan would be to divide the money among them, so that they
would have a better chance of getting something through, rather than to use
the larger party solely as a decoy or distractant.
[Final query]: "Comments? What are the best alternative explanations for the
plot of Acts 20:3 and the anonymity of the brothers in 2 Corinthians?"
Acts 20:3. "There he spent three months, and when a plot was made against
him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he determined to
return through Macedonia." If the Jews were after Paul because they knew he
was carrying money, they certainly waited long enough to act on their
knowledge. From the text, and taking it (for the sake of argument) as
reportive or at least accurate, I would judge that Paul felt safer from the
Jews on the Asian than on the Asia Minor side of the sea. And well he might,
since Jews were probably more numerous on the Asia Minor side. We know (from
Paul) of many accusations made by Jews against Paul, and of many punishments
administered to Paul because of those accusations. They cannot all have been
because he was carrying money. I would suppose that the best first
hypothesis about the Acts 20:3 trouble is the one which best fits all the
other instances of similar trouble. (And I note that the same trouble also
awaited Paul in Jerusalem, and that he was elaborately warned not to go
there. The danger in Jerusalem was not theft, it was imprisonment and
So I'm not convinced by the present argument, but my own worries about
Paul's safety continue. Maybe some classically acquainted person can tell
us, How were large sums of money carried in those days? High denomination
coins? Letters of credit? And how safely? I feel I could use some more
background of this sort, before entering in detail on the security
probabilistics of Paul's travels.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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