More on a Polite Bribe— the Article in the Lexington Paper

Here is a link to an article that just appeared in the Lexington-Herald Leader by Rich Copley.

Two things about this article: 1) I don’t teach at Asbury University (my wife does); 2) It is the view of Robert Orlando that “To put it literally, it was Paul saying, if you’re Jewish, you can follow Jesus because you’re a Jew. You have a birthright to do it. But if you were a Gentile, you had to pay a fee, an entrance fee, to be allowed the same treatment as the Jewish faith.” My view would be that this IS totally incorrect. Paul is making a collection to help the poor in Jerusalem and he hopes it will bind his congregations to the mother church. He never suggests that Gentiles have to pay a fee to follow Jesus. Indeed, Paul would completely repudiate such a notion because in his view salvation and following Jesus comes through believing, not through some fee or even through a direct and cordial connection with the Jerusalem Church.


  • Robert Orlando


    Just read your comment on the blog. First let me say what an honor it is to have you in my film. You are for certain a leading voice in the choir of scholars that appear, and some one I greatly respect. As for the comment in the Herald, perhaps I was not clear enough. I was not saying that the collection (bribe), across the board, from the beginning, was needed to pay for the right for a Gentile to become a Christian. But, I was saying that once the tension between the extreme parties heated up – with James caught in the middle – as we witness in the Jerusalem Council, the collection was a way to appease those you call the “hard right edge” of the movement. They wanted all Gentiles circumcised and Paul wanted the Gentiles to have complete freedom in Christ (by faith). I don’t believe they ever fully ironed out the details of their agreement. Troels Engberg-Pedersen, during our interview, offered that this unresolved issue was why it later blew up on Paul when he returned with the collection. James did not have consensus, or at least lost the consensus somewhere along the way. (And yes, other scholars and I are challenging Luke’s version of the story.) From the perspective of the film, instead of Paul’s compromise being that of circumcision or adherence to the law – as his opposition demanded – I believe, as do a lot of scholars, the collection, or “bribe” became a substitute. In other words, it served as another way to show tribute or honor, and it allowed the Gentiles the right to participate in the Jewish Christian side of the faith. That’s where the “Polite” part comes in. It had a persuasively “indirect” value in helping to reach an agreement. I try to show in the film’s narrative, how this progression or digression takes place, and support my findings with scholars. As you witnessed, there were a lot in there!

    Thursday Night, Oct 11th, 7pm! We look forward to a great turn out.
    A Polite Bribe

    Rob O

  • Patrick

    I’d like Orlando to explain how on earth he could read Paul and think paying cash helped Gentiles become “God’s People”. My goodness. What an interpretation. I agree the collection was to demonstrate love towards their persecuted Jewish brothers in Jerusalem, Josephus documented that James was martyred there.

  • Robert Orlando


    Thanks for your comment. The best response I can give to your question is to suggest that you come watch the film, but I think a few points should be made.

    1) The Term “The Poor” has two meanings, one, simply the poor, those in need, and two, the Poor as the group, in Jerusalem, that dates back to the time of the Maccabean revolt (see Ebionites or Nazarenes, in relation to James) that serve the Temple, who were also in need of outside support.
    2) If the collection was only for the purpose of “love,” why would Paul ask the Romans to pray for him that his collection would be accepted? And according to the Roman commentators, from the Greek, Paul’s pleas are not only in light of fear of acceptance, but in fear of his own safety.
    3) The role of collections in the 1st century world was a lot different than a Sunday collection in our understanding. Those to whom you gave money were also those to whom you gave tribute and honor. It was sign of acceptance by the group. It would have meant approval of Paul’s mission.

    In light of these comments, I think Paul’s words say a lot.

    “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there,” Romans 15:30-31 (NIV)

    Hope to see you Thursday Night, Oct 11th, 7pm!

    A Polite Bribe

    Rob O

  • Richard Bauckham

    (1) There is actually no evidence that anyone in the Jerusalem church, after the resolution reached in Acts 15, expected Gentile Christians to be circumcised. (2) The Ebionites as a group who called themselves ‘the Poor’ and had distinctive doctrines date from the second century, after the Bar Kokhba war. They have no connection with James. A series of scholars (most recently Bruce Longenecker) have demonstrated that ‘the poor’ in the New Testament references refers merely to the economically poor. Paul refers to ‘the poor among the saints in Jerusalem’ (Rom 15), which plainly means ‘those among the saints in Jerusalem who are in need of material assistance.’ (3) But there was a bit more than economic aid involved in the collection. Paul did not make such a fuss about collecting for the poor in other congregations. It is Paul’s acknowledgement of the special status of the Jerusalem church as the mother church of the Christian movement, to which all the other churches are spiritually indebted.

  • Ben Witherington

    I entirely agree with you Richard, Troels Engberg-Pedersen is way off the mark. There is really no good historical evidence from the first century to support his theory. BW3

  • Patrick


    First off, I apologize for how I phrased my question, it was not respectful and I regret that.

    To answer your reply best I can:

    1) Paul probably was afraid he might be murdered in Jerusalem by the same crew that wanted Jesus murdered, IMO. The fear of the sanhedrin was palpable back then. That’s why he asked the Romans to pray for his safety, IMO. Paul had a price on his head.
    He wasn’t physically afraid of the Jerusalem church, they were believers and also being persecuted, remember, Josephus documented James was murdered by the sanhedrin.

    I think it likely that Paul recognized what Professor Bauchkham points out, the church universal owed something to the Jerusalem origins of it and showing solidarity with that crew probably was more important than others at that time because they were the living eyewitnesses to the cross and the resurrection, not Gentiles.

    The conclusion it’s a polite bribe isn’t what I found odd , that’s not an unreasonable conclusion based on Paul’s past and the 12′s. I think it was more virtue love personally, but, your conclusion there isn’t unreasonable.

    My question is how did you arrive at the view Paul was motivating Gentile believers to “ante up cash” to become “God’s People”? That’s just hard for me to figure out, not the polite bribe view.

    I appreciate your kind reply though and look forward to seeing the film.

  • Mark

    Well done gentlemen! All of the various parties in this discussion provide a compelling model for how to debate a divisive subject, while remaining thoughtful, polite and scholarly.

  • Ben Witherington


    Thank you all for joining in. I hope we all get to discuss these matters further on Thursday night, Oct 11th, 7pm – sorry for the plug. I also have a book coming out

    “A Polite Bribe” that goes more in depth on these issues and offers the sources for the building blocks to the narrative.

    A Polite Bribe’s narrative does – as a starting point – part ways with the traditional view of Acts (though it does not dismiss it as non-historical as many scholars do) and even questions its accuracy, whether from a point of Luke’s intent to cover up something and/or from a point that Luke did not have the sources and was ignorant of the Pauline facts. Frankly, I don’t think it is possible to completely square the circle between how Luke presents the early church, in relation to James, and how Paul presents the conflicts in his autobiography from Galatians.

    For me, even that partial disparity, at least opens the door for debate about the two perspectives and some of the key themes involved such as: the role of James in relationship to Paul, the role the collection played as a persuasive tool in finding (or not) reconciliation with the Jerusalem church, and ultimately the tensions involving Jewish-Christian and Gentile relations.

    For any of this discussion to be fruitful, we must admit that we are ignorant of some facts that we would need for a crystal clear narrative or at least give credence to the fluid situation with Paul and James “on the ground” and how it might or might not be evolving.

    To Mr Bauckham’s points, (I used some of his work as sources in my book)

    1) Stating that Acts 15 is the be all-end all of this conflict is an argument from silence, as is mine, or other scholarly arguments, that suggest the conflict was never resolved. If we do not have primary evidence, then we are forced to explore circumstantial evidence or to contextualize these questions inside a larger crater of considerations. I think the strongest argument for that claims that circumcision was not resolved and ultimately blew up on Paul is when we consider the possible outcomes in light of how things ended in Jerusalem (Romans 15:31, Acts 21).

    [And it is important to remember that, to the perspective of this film, circumcision, or dietary law, is not the issue in and of themselves, but rather they are part of a larger ethnic issue that determines the question of who can or who cannot share the Lord's Supper(fellowship). A crucial point, because it did not only mean a religious or theological technicality but meant the extent to which both groups could or could not worship Jesus together.]

    When Paul takes his final walk to the Temple, where he is accused of bringing a Gentile into the courtyard, saved for only Jews, AND teaching Jews that the Law of Moses was no longer necessary, it is then that he is attacked. My question is, if James, Peter, and the others had already sanctioned this (Acts 15) why was it still an issue? And how was James, Peter, and John able to live in close proximity to or even worship at the Temple? It says in much of the literature that James was well-known and was a man of status and power. Did Paul and James not believe in the same Messiah? And, if Paul was being singled out, why didn’t James, and Peter stand up for Paul, and explain that they had reached an agreement?

    Finally, why would Paul need prayer for acceptance. And for the danger haunting his prayers, which might include his brethren, I would suggest starting with Rom 15:30-32. Many commentators are strong on the point that Paul saw serious danger in going back to Jerusalem. See for example, (Barrett, 1991 [1957], 255-56); (Keck, 2005, 367-368); (Dunn, , 1990, pp 109-128); (Käsemann, 1980), 406-408); and especially (Lüdemann, 2002, 42-43.

    2) I am familiar with the Longenecker’s book (he was interviewed in depth for my film) and the position you have mentioned. There are many scholars that attest to the film’s perspective of “the Poor” as a specific group at the Temple. Just for one example, as Dieter Georgi points out in his “Remembering the Poor”… “Since The Maccabean wars of denomination, “the Poor” had been used as a self-designation by a variety of Jewish Groups, all of whom meant to express that they alone were the true devotees, the true Israel, the Holy Remnant.”

    Another point to be made is that with Paul already having a collection mission from the beginning with Antioch and Barnabas, why would a new one need to be mentioned again? Paul was already helping to feed the poor (8yrs?) and most of his missions had this component that involved the collection for poor to be returned to Antioch if not Jerusalem. Here it is introduced by the other Apostles in the context of a compromise that Paul is trying to reach for his Gentile mission.

    Without citing numerous sources for James, for further speculation as to his possible Ebionite roots or not (Just James, John Painter, 82-102), we need only consider James and the Nazarenes, in light of our narrative, which includes the Nazarite Vows that do play out in Acts. I found on line John Tabor’s blog that has an article, as a starting place,

    3) Paul was having all kinds of trouble with his collections, which is the way the Pseudo Apostles (carrying commendations, Hebrew of Hebrews) undermined him in 2 Corinthians, and even try to stop him. One of their arguments was that Paul was trying to buy his approval from the Jerusalem Apostles! So representatives from just outside (some argue inside) the Apostolic circle, realizes characterize the collection as a “bribe” between Paul and Jerusalem.

    I apologize but material like this is a hard to cover in short spurts, and there is a lot more to cover. After one of my film interviews, one scholar confessed, “You would probably need 26 lectures, to get through all of this.” Which is why I thought the creation of a narrative, would be the best way to express the new critical evidence. To see, not only if it works, as a series of debates, but to provide a fine tuned or alternative story, one that also explores the human foibles behind early Christian history.

    We shall see if I have succeeded Thursday night, Oct 11th, 7pm. Please come down. The film itself is only 82 minutes, but we can do some Q & A with Ben Witherington.


    Rob O