Vol. 2 - No. 7
A Study of 1 Corinthians 16:1-3
by Tom Baker, Jr.
Sometimes the plainest scriptures can be made most difficult and confusing simply by reading something into them that is not there or by ignoring what is actually said. 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 is a passage which has been subjected to these and other forms of abuse.
Hopefully, we can come to a better understanding of this important passage as we refute some of the false ideas some have connected with it. To see what a passage does not teach is sometimes helpful in determining its true meaning.
In 1961 a preacher in Phoenix, Arizona, argued in a debate that 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 authorized the use of money from the church treasury to be used to aid alien sinners, and this in spite of the fact that Paul plainly said, Now concerning the collection for the saints ..." The way he found this authority was by arguing that when Paul said, "as I gave order to the churches of Galatia," that meant that we must go to the Galatian letter to learn that the "churches" were to do good unto all men, and he cited Galatians 6:10.
Of course, Galatians 6:10 is misapplied in such reasoning because that context clearly indicates that Paul was speaking of individual responsibility rather than church or congregational activity. Also, something is read into 1 Corinthians 16 that is not there at all. And not only that, but such a position completely ignores the fact that Paul tells us in the next verse just what he "gave order to the churches of Galatia" to do. Verse 2 eliminates the need for going to Galatians to find this out. Why would anyone ignore this and go completely out of context and topic of discussion to make Paul say something that is totally missing from and contrary to the teaching of the Bible? You be the judge.
Another erroneous explanation of these verses is the one given by some Seventh Day Adventists, and that is that the laying by in store on the first day of the week is merely the gathering of fruit from a crop that was later to be sent to Jerusalem to feed the hungry. In the Porter-Dugger Debate, published in the 1940's by the Firm Foundation, W. Curtis Porter made the point that the statement of Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 indicated that the churches assembled on the first day of the week. J. N. Dugger of the Church of God (Seventh Day) replied that Paul's statement in Romans 15:28, "When therefore I have performed this and have sealed to them this fruit I will come by you…" shows that it was literally fruit that was to be collected by the churches and that the first day of the week was therefore a day of labor and not a day of assembly. Dugger's statement was: "In these parts they raised figs, raisins, dates, etc., and this was the fruit Paul mentioned, that embraced this collection, for the poor saints at Jerusalem...It is a command to labor on the first day of the week at home, and not a command to assemble at the church" (pg. 130). Brother Porter's reply is too good to pass up: "The word 'fruit,' he thinks, indicates it was figs, raisins and dates. My! My! What an argument! I suppose, then, when he 'sealed this fruit' to them, that he canned it for them when he got there. Certainly it was their 'fruit,' for it was the product, or effect, of their love and liberality. I wonder if Dugger never heard of such use of the word 'fruit.' Otherwise, when John told the Jews to 'bring forth fruits meet for repentance' (Matthew 3:8), he meant for them to bring a basket of grapes. And when Paul wished to 'have some fruit among' the Romans (Romans 1:13), he wished to raise a fig tree" (pgs. 148-149). At least Dugger saw that the contribution was for "saints," and that is more than many brethren have been able to see!
Another matter that seems to have bothered a number of brethren is whether or not 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 is a command or just apostolic advice. Several years ago one brother wrote: "Did Paul, by his statement, command all Christians of all generations to lay by in store on the first day of the week? We affirm he did not…How can this be a command to us when it was not even a commandment to the Corinthians? Paul said himself that he did not command them to give towards the needs of Jerusalem. Read 2 Corinthians 8:8." (The Persuader, August 27, 1972).
We need to first look at the question: "Was this a command to the Corinthians?" The word translated "gave order" in verse 1 is the Greek word, DIETAXSA. According to Thayer, it means: "to arrange, appoint, ordain, prescribe, give order" (p. 142). W. E. Vine says it "signifies to set in order, appoint, command…gave order" (Vol. 1, p. 209). Here are some passages where it appears, with the American Standard translation: Matthew 11:1 (commanding); Luke 3:13 (appointed; 8:55 (commanded); 17:9-10 (commanded); Acts 7:44 (appointed); 18:2 (commanded); 23:31 (commanded); 24:23 (gave order); 1 Corinthians 7:17 (ordain); 9:14 (ordain); Galatians 3:19 (ordained); Titus 1:5 (gave charge). In not one of these passages is the meaning merely advice. The word means "command." What could be plainer? Not only does the word mean command, but the accompanying clause "so do ye" is imperative. "Do" is translated from POIESATE, first aorist, imperative, of the verb POIEO. Also, the word translated "lay" in verse 2 is translated from TITHETO, present, active, imperative, third person singular, and "the imperative mood is used in commands" (J. Gresham Machen, New Testament Greek for Beginmers, p. 180). Notice also, "the difference in meaning between the present imperative and the aorist imperative is the kind of action, -- durative action in the present, and punctiliar action in the aorist. The present, imperative, then, has to do with action in progress" (W. H. Davis, Beginner's Greek Grammar, p. 168). What we have is two imperatives and a word meaning "command," and someone cannot see a command in the passage! What would it take?
But, someone asks, "What about 2 Corinthians 8:8 -- where Paul, speaking of this same collection, says, 'I speak not by way of commandment, but as proving the sincerity also of your love'?" This is an ellipsis in which the emphasis is on the second part of the sentence introduced by the word "but." It would be better understood, "I speak not by way of commandment only, but especially as proving the sincerity also of your love." A classic example of the ellipsis is John 6:27: "Work not for the food which perisheth, but for the food which abideth unto eternal life." Jesus was not prohibiting the working for "food which perisheth," but was stressing the greater importance of working for food which "abideth unto eternal life." Other examples are 1 Corinthians 1:17 (Did Paul do something he was not supposed to do, vs. 14?) and I Peter 3:3-4. One who does not understand and recognize this common form of emphasizing a point in the New Testament will not understand these passages. Paul not only commanded the Corinthians, but he appealed to their love as well.
In addition to this elliptical statement in 2 Corinthians 8:8, we have two more verses in this context that are in the imperative mood. In verse 7, "See that ye abound in this grace also," the word translated "abound" is PERISSEUETE, the present, active, imperative, second person, plural of PERISSEUO. And in verse 11, "But now complete the doing also," the word "complete" is from the Greek word EPITELESATE which is the first aorist, active, imperative, second person plural of EPITELEO. With this in mind, read the context and see if Paul was merely giving advice!
Now, going back to 1 Corinthians 16, we see that verse 2 answers another question often raised: "How often was this to be done?" The Greek phrase "KATA MIAN SABBATON" literally means "every first (day) of the week." (See Berry's Interlinear Literal Translation of the Greek New Testament, p. 467). James Macknight translates it, "On the first day of every week " This is exactly the same as the New American Standard Bible and several other later translations have it. How often? Every first day of the week. Where is authority for the church taking a collection on any other day?
Many believe that Paul was ordering that the collection be taken at home rather than in the assembly on the Lord's day. J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton in their "Standard Bible Commentary" give the only sensible explanation I know of: "The word, 'thesaurizoon,' translated 'in store,' means, literally, 'put into the treasury;' and the phrase 'par heauto,' translated °by him,' may be taken as the neuter reflexive pronoun, and may be rendered with equal correctness °by itself.' Macknight thus renders these two words, and this rendering is to be preferred. If each man had laid by in his own house, all these scattered collections would have had to be gathered after Paul's arrival, which is the very thing he forbade It was put in the public treasury of the church, but kept by itself as a separate fund." For further study of this question see James Macknight's commentary on the epistles.
The Living Oracles version of the New Testament, translated by "Doctors George Campbell, James Macknight and Philip Doddridge," renders these verses: "Now, concerning the collection, which is for the saints; as I ordered the congregations of Galatia, so also do you. On the first day of every week, let each one of you lay somewhat by itself, according as he may have prospered, putting it into the treasury; that when I come, there may be no collections." If the money was simply set aside at home, then when Paul arrived there would have to be at least ONE collection, but Paul ordered that there be NO collections when he arrived. Surely, the only way to eliminate the collections when Paul arrived was to have already collected the funds and held them until Paul arrived. Other passages imply the same (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-5:4; 2 Corinthians 11:8; Philippians 4:15, et al.).
We have not exhausted all the lessons to be learned from this passage, but perhaps we have eliminated some of the errors that have hindered the understanding of it on the part of some.