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Apostle Paul: “A Polite Bribe” – Q & A with producer Robert Orlando

March 17, 2015

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Robert, isn’t it pretty radical to suggest that Paul’s arrangement with James and the Jerusalem Church leaders to gather a large collection for the support of believers in Jerusalem might be construed as a sort of bribe?

[Note: Robert Orlando is the screenwriter and producer of the unique-style documentary, “A Polite Bribe: An Apostle’s Final Bid”.  It has gotten critical acclaim from a broad range of biblical scholars and interest from lay people as well….  It has a scholarly foundation but tells the fascinating human story of St. Paul, his mission and his conflicts with fellow Apostles as well as the broader Jewish community of his day.  Information and copies are available here.]

Yes, simply because the nature of the collection, in part, was to persuade the Jewish-Christian Apostles in Jerusalem, namely James (Jesus’ brother) that Paul’s mission to the Gentiles was worthy of their acceptance, based on the revelation Paul received in his vision from Jesus, and more importantly in the fact that Paul, late in his mission (Rom 15:30.31) was still trying to win their approval, and against the warnings of others.

 

Weren’t Paul and the others on the same page as to what the gospel was?

 

Absolutely not!  Though there “supposedly” was temporary agreement, as Luke attempts to convey in Acts 15 (49AD), it was clear by the time of Paul’s letter to the Romans (58 AD?), that he no longer believed, (and suffered serious anxiety), as to whether the collection would be received by James and his fellow Apostles.

 
If the collection, whether our idea of a bribe or not, was something more than a benevolent gift of support, what was it designed to accomplish?

 

Paul was faced with three possible outcomes in his meeting with James, 1) all Gentiles would need to be Jews first before they could become Christians, and that meant circumcision for adult males, 2) the Jewish leadership would NOT allow Gentiles to be circumcised, or follow Jewish Law, which would split the movement and uproot the Gentiles from Jerusalem, or 3) Paul would need to offer a third way, which meant a middle ground. And what was this middle ground? A collection, a gathering of funds from the Gentile churches to support Jerusalem that would both support the Temple and offer a way for Gentiles to participate with the mother church in Jerusalem.  

 

But didn’t the “Jerusalem Council” decision after that meeting come to a sort of middle ground in only asking Gentile believers to abstain from eating meat from animals not killed in a “kosher” way or that had been offered to idols, and from sexual immorality, thus allowing them to join observant Jews in the Jesus movement?

 

Yes, but later, this middle ground was lost as evidenced in Paul’s letters. Though Acts 15 describes the agreement in 49 AD, in the later letters like 2 Corinthians Paul is accused by fellow Apostles of embezzling the funds or trying to buy favor with the Jerusalem Apostles. In Romans 15:30, 31 (58 AD), Paul clearly faces anxiety and fear of death upon his return with collection. Finally, there is the account of Acts 21 (90-120 AD?) itself, where James does not embrace the collection or defend Paul at the Temple. Many scholars have also written on the fact that this was an historical period when ethnic tensions were coming to a boil in Jerusalem and the Temple was no longer accepting foreign offerings. My position in the book and film is that James did attempt an agreement with Paul, as Acts 15 describes, but over time, with the delays and difficulties, they eventually ended the experiment of Gentile mission.


The film and book suggest that Paul’s massive investment in collecting the gift over many years and delivering it in person at great peril was likely NOT received by James and the Apostles, at least not fully or unconditionally.  What leads you to this conclusion?

 

Because:

a) in Acts James does not outrightly accept the collection, but rather suggests that Paul use the collection money to pay for the Nazarite vows for seven other Jewish men and

b) because James does nothing to warn Paul of the predictable outcome that will occur at the Temple, and c) because though Paul, after the assassination attempt on his life, and transfer by Roman army to Caesarea (57 miles away) does not hear from his Jewish brethren in the 2-3 years that followed.
What are the implications of Paul’s collection not being accepted, as he himself feared it might not be?  Apparently he felt something major was at stake.  Can you explain?

 

Paul had done all he could through his missionary work and the writing of his letters to persuade his Jewish Christian brethren that his vision for Gentiles was from Jesus (God). His collection was the ultimate symbol of a new world when Gentile money could support Jewish causes, namely the new Messiah Jesus, and the Kingdom soon to come. The rejection of the collection was the rejection of this vision. 

***

We’d love to hear what this exchange brings to mind for you. Is it “news” to realize that Paul’s several-year collection and his determination to deliver it in person, not through representatives, occupied so much of his attention, was a known “gamble” on his part, and could be said to have even lead to his death?

You can also hear an interview with Robert via the blog of Ronald Way here, where he has been posting about the film and book, along with other fascinating interviews and discussions.

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