Freethought Archives > Jeremy Bentham > Not Paul, But Jesus

CHAPTER V.

Paul disbelieved continued.—Jerusalem Visit II. Money-bringing Visit.Barnabas accompanying him from Antioch.


SECTION 1.

AT ANTIOCH, AGABUS HAVING PREDICTED A DEARTH, MONEY IS COLLECTED FOR THE JERUSALEM SAINTS.

At his own house it was, that we last left our self-declared Apostle: at his own birthplace—Tarsus: what we have next to see is—what drew him from thence.

All this while there were other disciples that had not been idle. To the new religion, already was Antioch, Antioch in Syria, become a new Jerusalem.

Upon the dispersion of the Jerusalem Christians, occasioned by the judicial murder of the sainted trustee of the poor's fund—Stephen,—some of them, among whom were some natives of Cyprus,—in which island was situated the property of the son of consolation, Barnabas,—had betaken themselves to that same island, others to that same city of Antioch in Syria.

ACTS xi. 19-24.

19. Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen, travelled as far as Phenice and Cyprus,[Pg 204] and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.—And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus.—And the hand of the Lord was with them; and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.—Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.—Who, when he came and had seen the grace of God, was glad; and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.—For he was a good man, full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.

Of these, some addressed themselves exclusively to the Jews: others ventured so far, as to make an experiment upon the Grecians. Unfortunately, these terms are, neither of them, wholly free from ambiguity. By the word Jews, may have been meant either Jews by birth and abode, or Jews by religion: by the word Grecians, either Jews who, born or dwelling within the field of quondam Grecian dominion, used the Greek as their native language,—or Greeks, who were such, not only by language, but by religion. In this latter case, their lot was among the Gentiles, and much more extraordinary and conspicuous was the importance of the success.

"They which preach the Gospel, should live of the Gospel." Such, in his own words, 1 Cor. 9:14, is the maxim laid down by Paul, for the edification of his Corinthian disciples. To save doubts and disputation, he prefaces it with the assurance—"even so hath the Lord ordained." No great need of support from revelation, seems to attach upon a maxim so natural, and so reasonable: from the time of the first planting of the Gospel, it appears to have been, as indeed it could not fail to be, universally acted upon; saving such few exceptions as a happy union of zeal, with sufficient pecuniary means, might render possible.

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How, under the Apostolical aristocracy, it had been acted upon in Jerusalem, has been seen already. The time was now come,—for its being established, and acted upon in Antioch.

At Jerusalem, under the spiritual dominion of the Apostles, lived a man of the name of Agabus. Among the endowments,—of which, in the character of qualifications, a demand was by some understood to be created, by the business of propagating the new religion,—qualifications, a list of which, according to his conception of it, Paul, 1 Cor. 12:10, has given us,—was one, which, among these endowments, was called the "gift of prophecy":—a gift, under which, as under that of speech in general, particularly when applied to occasions of importance, the faculty of prediction—of forming correct judgments respecting future contingencies—would, if not necessarily, very frequently at least, come to be included.

In the instance of the prophecy here in question, this same prospective faculty, it should seem, was actually included.

The fact, for the purpose of predicting, or giving information of which, this useful emissary was, on the present occasion, sent from Jerusalem to Antioch,—was—that of signifying, that there should be a great dearth: an inference deduced from it, was—that, at this same Antioch, for the relief of the brethren at Jerusalem, contributions should be collected, and sent to Jerusalem.

ACTS xi. 27-30.

27. And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch.—And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the spirit that there should be a great dearth throughout all the world; which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.—Then[Pg 206] the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea:—Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.

In the calamity of dearth may be seen one of those events, of which—especially if the time of it be not predesignated with too rigid an exactness—a prediction may be hazarded,—and even by any man,—without much risk of falling under the disgrace attached to the appellation of a false prophet. Of this observation, an exemplification seems to have been afforded, in the present instance. With not unaccustomed prudence,—"the spirit," by which, on this occasion, the calamity was "signified," forbore, as we see, from the fixation of any particular year—either for the prophecy, or for the accomplishment of it. "The days of Claudius Caesar" are mentioned as the time of the accomplishment. By agreement of all chronologists,—the duration of his reign is stated as occupying not less than thirteen years. Whether this same reign had then already commenced,—is not, on this occasion, mentioned: from the manner in which it is mentioned, the negative seems not improbable; if so, then to find the time which the prophecy had for finding its accomplishment to the definite term of thirteen years, we must add another, and that an indefinite one.

According to the situation, of the individuals by whom the word is employed,—worlds vary in their sizes. Of the dearth in question, the whole world, "all the world," is, by the author of the Acts, stated as having been the afflicted theatre: "great dearth throughout all the world." Acts 11:28. As to the rest of the world, we may leave it to itself. For the purpose then and now in question, it was and is sufficient—that two cities, Jerusalem and Antioch,[Pg 207] were included in it. The calamity being thus universal,—no reason of the ordinary kind is given, or seems discoverable—why, of any such contribution as should come to be raised, the course should be—from Antioch to Jerusalem, rather than from Jerusalem to Antioch. Inquired for, however, on religious ground,—a reason presents itself, without much difficulty. What Rome became afterwards, Jerusalem was then—the capital of that world, which now, for the first time, received the name of Christian. According to one of the sayings of Jesus—if Paul, his self-appointed Apostle, is to be trusted to—of them it was pronounced "more blessed to give than to receive":[28] but in the eyes of the successors of St. Peter at all times,—and at this time, as it should seem, in his own—it was more blessed to receive than give.

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SECTION 2.

BARNABAS AND PAUL DISPATCHED WITH THE MONEY TO JERUSALEM.

Of the amount of the eleemosynary harvest, no intimation is to be found. As to the consequence of it, Barnabas, we see, is the man stated as having, with obvious propriety, been chosen for the important trust: Barnabas—of whose opulence, trustworthiness, steadiness, and zeal, such ample proofs, not to speak of those subsequent ones, which will be seen in their place, had already manifested themselves. In consequence of the information, already received by the Mother Church in Jerusalem, of the prosperity of the Daughter Church, Acts 11:20, 21, planted, as above, in the capital of Syria,—this most active of all Christian citizens had been sent to give increase to it.

But, of the talents and activity of Paul, his indefatigable supporter and powerful patron had had full occasion to be apprized. Accordingly, without the aid of this his not less indefatigable helper, still was the strength of the rising church, in the eyes of the patron, incomplete. "A prophet," says a not ill-grounded proverb, "has no honor in his own country." In his native city, among the witnesses of his youth, Paul had indeed found safety: but, as the nature of the case manifests, in a circle, from which respect stood excluded by familiarity, safety had not been accompanied with influence: and, in eyes such as those of Paul, safety without influence was valueless. Under these circumstances,—the[Pg 209] patron, going to Tarsus in person in quest of his protegé, could not naturally find much difficulty in regaining possession of him, and bringing with him the so highly-valued prize, on his return to Antioch. "Then," says the Acts, 11:25, 26, "departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch."

At this place, with their united powers, they had been carrying on their operations for the space of a twelvemonth, when the petition for pecuniary assistance was received there.

As for Paul,—from the moment of his conversion, notwithstanding the ill success of his first attempt,—the prime object of his ambition—the situation of President of the Christian Commonwealth—had never quitted its hold on his concupiscence. Occasions, for renewing the enterprise, were still watched for with unabated anxiety:—a more favourable one than the one herein question, could not have presented itself to his fondest wishes. The entire produce, of the filial bounty of the Daughter Church, was now to be poured into the bosom of the necessitous Mother. For the self-destined head of that rising Church, two more acceptable occupations, than those which one and the same occasion brought to him, could not have been found:—First, the collection of the contributions;—and then the conveying of them, to the place of their destination. Of the labours of such agents, in such circumstances, the success, we are told, they found, was a natural result. "Then," says the Acts 11:29, 30, "Then the disciples, every one according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea:—Which also they did; and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul." Thus much as to the public purpose. Very different was the lot of[Pg 210] Paul's personal project. What the elders could not have any objection to the receipt of, was—the money. But, what they had an insuperable objection to, was—the receipt of the yoke of this their outwardly-converted, but once already rejected, persecutor. This second enterprise,—though still under the same powerful leader, and produced by such flattering prospects,—succeeded no better than the first. Five-and-twenty verses after, we are told of the termination of this their second Jerusalem visit; and this is all we hear of it: "And Barnabas and Saul," says the Acts 12:25, "returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark." This same John Mark they got by their expedition: and this, for anything that appears, was all they got by it.

Between the mention of their arrival at Jerusalem, and the mention of their departure from thence,—comes the episode about Peter:—his incarceration and liberation under Herod; and the extraordinary death of the royal prosecutor,—of which, in its place. As to the interval,—what the length of it was, and in what manner, by Paul, under the wing of the Son of Consolation, it was occupied,—are points, on which we are left altogether in the dark: as also, whether the time of these adventures of Peter, the mention of which stands inserted between the mention of the two occurrences in the history of Paul, was comprised in that same interval.


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FOOTNOTE:

[28] Acts 20:35. It is in the parting scene—when about to break from his dissuading disciples, and enter upon his invasion project—that Paul is represented as saying to them: "Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive." Whence this self-appointed and posthumous Apostle of Jesus got these words of Jesus—if such they were—must be left to conjecture. In the works of the four received biographers of Jesus, with Cruden and his Concordance for guides, all search for them has been fruitless.


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