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Near the end of Romans there are details about financial relationships between churches. It's never really occurred to me to read it as anything but the face value in English:

Romans 15:25-26 (ESV)
25  At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. 26  For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem.

However today I was studying the passage in another language and ran into an issue with the way the translation of the phrase "poor among the saints" (highlighted above) tied in with this and other passages. I was offline, but the one commentary I had access to at the time surprised me by taking this a different direction than just a reference to a subset of the believers in Jerusalem that were hard up financially.

My question is, is there anything going on in the original language at this point that makes it less obvious than perhaps the English rendition shows? Is there any reason to connect the idea of "the poor" here with other passages that do not directly relate to financial standing?

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The NET Bible has no translation note indicating any difficulty. –  Jack Douglas Sep 22 '12 at 13:59
@JackDouglas: The answer to this question may very well be that there is not anything going on here other than the obvious and the translations and commentators I ran across were pulling things out of their sleeve. That's what I am trying to determine. –  Caleb Sep 24 '12 at 7:04

2 Answers 2

The phrase 'poor of the Saints' (πτωχους των αγιων) is just what it means from the most reliable sources I have looked up.

Kittel notes that this 'collection for the poor' without indicating there was any debate about its meaning in the original Greek:

The accent is to be placed on the fact, not that they are poor saints at Jerusalem, but that they are poor saints at Jerusalem. Paul saw here an obligation. He did not act merely out of caritas, though this is undeniable. Nor are we to speak merely of his diplomacy or tact. The point is that he is conscious of an obligation to those at Jerusalem who represented the first assembly of God in Christ. (TDNT, Kittel, Volume 3.508)

In addition, as the church in Jerusalem seems to have suffered first and foremost by the authorities, it only makes sense that they would be the first group needed such a collection and it would be surprising not to see a collection being made in accordance with Christian love. (Ref Acts 8:1,12:1, etc.)

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Good answer, Mike. I'm going to edit it a bit but you're right - there's nothing in the text that would indicate any sort of difficulty. –  swasheck Sep 28 '12 at 15:00

It seems to me that there could scarcely be much question about the meaning once we take into account the multiple references to the Jerusalem collection project throughout both Acts and Paul's letters (see e.g. Acts 11:27–30; 24:17; 1 Cor 16:1ff; 2 Cor 9 etc; cf Gal 2:10).

In the immediate context, Paul makes a parallel between how the Gentiles have received the "spiritual things" of (τοῖς πνευματικοῖς) of the Jerusalem saints, and the "flesh-things" (τοῖς σαρκικοῖς) with which they correspondingly can serve the Jerusalem saints. Paul uses the language of participation, koinoneo, which has the idea of partnership and along with the related (and familiar) noun koinonia carries the idea of material/financial partnership in many places throughout the NT (e.g. Rom 12:13; 2 Cor 8:4; 9:13; Gal 6:6; Phi 4:15; probably also Acts 2:42; Heb 13:16).

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