This post features a timeline that assesses how giving looked and progressed in the New Testament church. I hope you found it as helpful as I did.
• A.D. 44 — The Coming Famine
Prophets from the Jerusalem church pay Antioch a visit. One of them named Agabus prophesies of a great famine that will encompass the entire Roman world. The Jerusalem church is in poverty and will be devastated by the coming famine.
Upon hearing this, the believers in Antioch begin laying up a collection of money to relieve their brethren in Jerusalem. Each person gives according to his ability, in proportion to his prosperity. The church selects Barnabas and Saul to bring the money to the elders in Jerusalem. Acts 11:27-30
• A.D. 45-48 — Judea Suffers Famine
Historically, Judea suffered famine at this time.
• A.D. 46-47 — Jerusalem Gets Relief from Antioch
Saul, Barnabas, and Titus graciously hand the collection over to the Jerusalem elders. (Titus was with them as a representative of the Antioch church.) Acts 11:30; Galatians 2:1
The three Jerusalem apostles request of Saul and Barnabas that they continue to remember the poor saints in Jerusalem. Galatians 2:9-10
• A.D. 51 — A Church Planted in Corinth
Paul plants the Corinthian church. He works among them and evangelizes the city for a total of eighteen months.
• A.D. 53 Summer — Paul Departs Corinth for Ephesus
He sets sail across the Aegean Sea, taking Priscilla and Aquila with him. On their way, they stop at a little town seven miles east of Corinth called Cenchrea. Cenchrea is the seaport of Corinth. After reaching Ephesus, Paul sails to Caesarea and from there he visits the church in Jerusalem. He greets the Jerusalem church and returns to his home base in Antioch of Syria where he rests.
• A.D. 54 Spring — The Jerusalem Relief Fund Begins
While in Antioch, Syria, Paul decides to begin the Jerusalem relief fund. This is a collection campaign taken from among all the Gentile churches that Paul planted to relieve the chronic poverty of the Jerusalem Christians. Paul does this to mend the riff between the Hebrew and Gentile believers. He sends a letter to the churches in Galatia, telling about the relief fund and gives specific instructions to them on how to begin collecting for it. We do not have this letter, nor do we know exactly when Paul told the Galatians about the relief fund. 1 Corinthians 16:1; Romans 15:25-27
• A.D. 54 — Paul Writes a Letter to Corinth (from Ephesus)
This letter is lost to us. Paul explains to the Corinthians his desire to have a Jerusalem relief fund and tells them he will visit them after he leaves Ephesus. He will then visit the churches in Macedonia and return again to Corinth, after which he will take the relief fund to Jerusalem in Judea. He sends this letter with Titus. While in Corinth, Titus helps the Corinthian believers to begin collecting money for the Jerusalem relief fund. Titus leaves and returns to Ephesus. 2 Corinthians 1:15-16; 8:6
• A.D. 55 Spring — Paul Writes 1 Corinthians (from Ephesus)
In chapter 16, he goes over his instructions for collecting the Jerusalem relief fund. He then gives the church his new travel plans, which had changed from before. Instead of traveling from Ephesus to Corinth, then to Macedonia, and then back to Corinth as he first planned, he will travel from Ephesus to Macedonia and then make one long visit to Corinth. 1 Corinthians 16:1-18
• A.D. 57 June — Paul’s Trip to Macedonia
Paul is plotting his next move. He plans to leave Ephesus and visit the churches in Macedonia (Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea) and Corinth. He then plans to bring the relief fund from these churches to Jerusalem, after which he plans to visit Rome. Paul sends Timothy and Erastus ahead of him to prepare for his arrival in Macedonia. Acts 19:21-22
Paul leaves Ephesus and heads for Troas and then to Macedonia. Once in Macedonia, he encourages the three Macedonian churches (Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea), exhorts each of the churches to continue collecting for the Jerusalem relief fund, and boasts in the example set by the church in Corinth…for they have been zealous in laying up for their collection for the past year. 2 Corinthians 9:2
Paul finds Titus in Macedonia with good news from Corinth but Titus also informs him that they have slacked off in collecting money for the relief fund. 2 Corinthians 8:6-11
• A.D. 57 Between June and Winter — Paul Discredited in Corinth, Writes 2 Corinthians (from Macedonia)
The Jewish “super apostles” try to discredit Paul in the eyes of the Corinthians by telling them Paul is exploiting them by means of a supposed relief fund. Mirror-reading the second letter to the Corinthians. (Select “literary” at the link to read it as an actual letter, sans verse numbers.)
Paul writes 2 Corinthians (from Macedonia) and encourages the church to resume their collections for the Jerusalem relief fund. He urges Titus to visit the church along with another brother “whose fame in the gospel has spread to all the churches” (probably Luke) to help the Corinthians complete the collection. Titus and this brother willingly accept Paul’s appeal. 2 Corinthians chapters 8-9
• A.D. 57 Winter — Paul Visits Corinth
Paul leaves Macedonia and visits the church in Corinth for the third time. He spends three winter months with the church. Paul is pleased to learn that the Corinthians have received his last letter, and they have completed their collection for the relief fund.2 Corinthians 8:6ff
Paul’s eight coworkers join Paul in Corinth and bring him the collection for the Jerusalem relief fund from their respective churches. The men make plans to accompany Paul to Jerusalem to deliver the relief fund. Acts 20:1-6
Paul writes Romans (from Corinth). He intends to go to Jerusalem—before he travels to Rome and then to Spain in the west—in order to deliver the relief fund. Romans 15:22-25
• A.D. 58 Spring — Paul Arrives in Jerusalem
Paul and his company arrive in Jerusalem. The church receives them gladly. They appear before James (the Lord’s half-brother) and the Jerusalem elders. Paul greets them and testifies about what God has done among the Gentiles through his ministry. He then hands the relief fund to the elders. The elders rejoice and give glory to God. Acts 24:17
Since Luke never mentions the relief fund in Acts and Paul does not mention its effect in his “Captivity Letters” (the epistles he wrote after he was imprisoned in Rome), it is possible, but not certain, that the fund did not have the kind of effect that Paul wanted it to have—namely, the uniting of Jewish and Gentile churches. These details are left out, but the import and principle of the timeline is clear.
Thanks to Adam Akola for spurring this post on. Related to this, please also see, Is Giving on Sunday Commanded of Christians?