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Downs, David J.
The Offering of the Gentiles. Paul’s Collection for Jerusalem in Its Chronological, Cultural, and Cultic Contexts. Foreword by B. Gaventa.
Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2008; Grand Rapids u. a.: Wm. B. Eerdmans 2016. XV, 204 S. = Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament. 2. Reihe, 248. Kart. EUR 59,00; US$ 35,00. ISBN 978-3-16-149607-3 (Mohr Siebeck); 978-0-8028-7313-2 (Eerdmans).
David J. Downs’ Offering of the Gentiles examines Paul’s peculiar mention of the collection in Romans 15:16 to show that church fundraising is more than a human charitable obligation. While it may not be immediately eschatological, the economic considera-tion of the faithful poor adds to the common worship of God and replicates God’s act of grace in the lives of his followers.
This relatively short, well written and well-structured 165-page study is based on D.’ PhD thesis at Princeton Theological Seminary. It is divided into three explanatory chapters which work towards a conclusion entitled »The Collection as an Act of Worship«. D. shows that »the offering of the Gentiles« is not a genitive of apposition (i. e. that the Gentiles are Paul’s offering to God), rather the phrase is a subjective genitive, i. e. the Gentiles have assembled a gift for the poor in Jerusalem so that God is worshipped by all.
The book takes forward a subject which often rides on the coat-tails of more prominent topics. Previous contributions have identified four categories of collection: 1. As an eschatological event, along the lines of Munck’s Salvation of Mankind; 2. as an obligation imposed on Paul by the Jerusalem apostles (Gal 2:10); 3. as an ecumenical offering, for the sake of unity; and 4. as material relief for the »poor« because of their »honourable piety«. D. evaluates these perspectives, stating that none fully appreciates crucial biblical texts and some lack adequate comparison with sociological voluntary association models in the ancient world, especially their monetary aspect. Jewish and Christian groups belong to the same sociological frame and should be expected to reflect those models and »reframe« them. D.’ main contribution is the methodology used to determine why and how reframing happens. He suggests that it happens through metaphors used or introduced.
To see Paul’s metaphors and the meanings they convey, D. first had to clear some ground. He dismisses Acts as a chronology of Paul’s mission and concentrates only on the letters. Exegesis points to two collections: one in Gal 2:10 (an Antioch church effort which reflects Paul’s obedience to the Jerusalem apostles »to always remember the poor«), and the second is the collection in Macedonia and Achaia mentioned in 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, and Romans, organised by Paul after the separation from Antioch and Jerusalem. D. seeks his own way through the »morass of guesses, inferences, and speculations« (30). When convenient, he turns to Acts as well. It may be problematic, although not as evident at the time of D.’ research at the beginning of the century, that he cuts off Acts, but works from its alleged framework of Paul, the independent Hellenist. He says even the Galatians abandon Paul’s collec-tion because of the strong Jewish ties. This whole line of reasoning, heavily dependent on the pre-New Perspective interpretation of Paul, must be revisited. It seems to undermine the purpose of D.’ study. Why would an autonomous Hellenist who had broken off with the Jews insist on a collection for Jerusalem?
Otherwise, D.’ main exegesis of 1 Cor 16:1–2; 2 Cor 8:6, 11–12, 9:12; and Rom 15:16, 27–28 is convincing. Paul’s constant struggle to win the Corinthians to his cause, not just theologically, reveals the multi-faceted importance of the collection. But is this because of its eschatological significance, as the presentation of his Gentiles in Jerusalem, or is there a different purpose?
D. must consider Paul’s speech before Festus to deconstruct the eschatological view of the Gentiles as Paul’s first fruits, since the whole setting of Acts is about his personal piety (67–68). So chronologically, the last mention of Paul’s collection is in Romans 15, and in the context of the Corinthians’ dispute, is the only rightful base for research into the purpose of the collection.
By researching these texts, and paying close attention to metaphors in the language describing the collection, D. concludes that Paul’s »seemingly mundane task of fundraising was […] a deeply theological endeavour, one which demanded his total commitment and perseverance through intense struggle« (73). Paul works from two metaphors: »giving is an act of worship« and »giving is harvest«. With this, D. sufficiently demonstrates that the purpose of the collection is far more than the monetary and cultic requests of associations. The praise it generates is directed to God, who first showed mercy as the prime benefactor. The »giving is harvest« metaphor displays God’s mercy, come to fruition in the lives of his followers through the collection. I think D. could have concentrat-ed even more on the contribution of this metaphor, as it opens up a whole new connection to Paul’s theology of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, and the renewing work of God in Romans 8.
Reading D.’ book has been an inspiring enterprise, especially in the current context of migratory crises, globalized economies and human trafficking, and the Christian quest for an appropriate, biblical response. Paul’s theological framework can be projected onto a much broader picture in today’s world: Christians need the metaphors of »giving as harvest« and »giving as worship« to be able to »reframe« their view of global »new reality« (122).