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AM, 2016 11:May

A POLITE BRIBE: Sensationalized Hype or Expert Opinion?

For those who are speaking or writing about our film A Polite Bribe without having viewed it, and who are looking to dismiss the film by assigning “bad or radical motives” to its creator (me), I suggest you please take a moment and read some of the quotes below. Not every Pauline scholar agrees on the validity of my narrative featuring the collection and the conflict between Paul and James, but generally speaking, a consensus of NT scholars does.

Some even go beyond the film! I have written a book to explore these issues in more depth, to be released after the film in the fall, with an E-Book outline available now (, but, I still felt compelled to invite some experts (and believers) into the conversation. Here is a small sample of quotes from main stream scholars on the collection (bribe?), the factionalism between Paul and James in early Christianity, and Paul’s final journey to Jerusalem.


Raymond Brown writes, “Was there also a personal issue…? Did Paul’s opponents at Galatia pass on his sarcastic comments about the so-called Jerusalem pillars of the church, who were of no importance to him (Gal 2:6,9), and his description of the present Jerusalem as in slavery (to the Law) with her children (4:25); and, if so, is Paul hoping that the collection will heal any hard feelings between him and the Jerusalem authorities? Certainly in Rom 15:30-31, Paul seems apprehensive about [whether] his service in Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Christians there…” “…Between the lines of Acts 21:17-25, one can detect tension between Paul and James when Paul does get to Jerusalem. Thus the collection may have played a spiritual, ecclesiological, and diplomatic function in Paul’s ministry–a sampling of the complicated roles that raising money has played in churches ever since.” (An Introduction to the New Testament, pp 553-554)

Luke Timothy Johnson in his The Acts of the Apostles suggests (Acts 21), “The scene between Paul and Jerusalem leaders (especially James) is even on its own terms somewhat odd. But when we read it against the backdrop of the information provided in Paul’s letters concerning his planned trip to Jerusalem, puzzlement deepens. Was Paul accepted by the Jerusalem community or not? Was his eventual arrest and imprisonment something entirely outside the community’s control and concerning which it was powerless to intervene? Or was Paul abandoned by the Jerusalem community? Was he, possibly, even set up? (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 377)

Roman Catholic Jerome Murphy-O’Connor (École Bibliotiche in Jerusalem) adds, “Paul must have lived in fear that he would be handed back to the Jewish authorities. This was incentive not to push too hard for a decision. At the same time he must have hoped desperately for some news from the outside, and in particular concerning the fate of the collection….What had happened to his companions? Had his and James’ plan been carried through when the situation in Jerusalem quieted down? To such questions Paul got no answers, and the weary days dragged on interminably under Porcius Felix.” (Paul: His Story, p. 216)

Mainstream Protestants

Highly regarded New Testament scholar James Dunn (University of Durham), points out,“When Paul was arrested and put on trial we hear nothing of any Jewish Christians standing by him, speaking in his defense–and this despite James’ apparent high standing among orthodox Jews…Where were the Jerusalem Christians? It looks very much as though they had washed their hands of Paul, left him to stew in his own juice. If so it implies a fundamental antipathy on the part of the Jewish Christians to Paul himself and what he stood for.” (Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, p. 277).

J. Louis Martyn (Princeton Theological Seminary) writes, “Paul’s plan to journey to Jerusalem thus brought to him the prospect of a renewed confrontation with a group that was both intensely hostile to him and greatly influential in Judea and beyond. This prospect created in Paul a considerable amount of anxiety.” (Romans: 15:30-33) (Theological Issues in the Letters of Paul, p. 41)

Yale Divinity School’s Leander Keck ends his book on Romans by saying, “What came of the money also remains unknown. What is evident is that the rationale for the offering stated in Romans 15:26-27 (ministering to the saints) does not account for Paul’s determination to take the offering to Jerusalem. Nor does it disclose what was actually at stake for him–and for the Jerusalem Church: the legitimacy of his apostolic standing and interpretation of the gospel. For him, by contributing to the needs of the poor Christian Jews, the Gentile churches acknowledge that they are part of one church, not, a “gentile Christianity,” a breakaway movement, or parallel option. Theologically, Paul was right, even though the offering that expressed his conviction failed historically. (Romans, pp 367-368)


Leading 20th-century evangelical Scholar F.F. Bruce, citing A.J. Merrill’s work, states that it has even been suggested that they (the Jerusalem Apostles) knowingly drew Paul “into an ambush by luring him into the Temple”–and that this suspicion dawned on Luke himself when Paul was riotously assaulted while carrying out their directions. (Acts, p. 408)

Ben Witherington, a lead scholar in the film, surmises, “Under such circumstances, it is very believable that the collection will have failed to accomplish what Paul intended. Marching into Jerusalem with Gentiles from various parts of the Empire at this xenophobic moment would hardly have produced a positive response from Jews in general, or from ardent Pharisaic Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. Zechariah 8:20-23 would not be fulfilled on this occasion, nor would Jews be made to follow the Christ. Rather, they would be made more zealous to stamp out any movement that seemed to threaten their survival as a distinct ethnic religious group.” (Acts of the Apostles, p. 644)

Modern conservative evangelical Ralph P. Martin (Fuller Seminary) admits that by the time of Paul’s final visit to Jerusalem, “his ministry was decisively rejected by James and the Jerusalem leadership.” The official acceptance of a collection gathered from Paul’s Gentile congregations would be seen as tacit approval of Paul’s teachings. (World Biblical Commentary #48, James, p. xxxvii)

More fascinating to me than the controversy over the film narrative itself is the question, how do the conclusions reached by NT Religious Studies scholars in academia become wanton sensationalism outside of that milieu? Why has it taken a filmmaker and student of Paul like me to put together the human drama that was always at the heart of early Christianity? Please do not dismiss something only because it is new, or assign motives where there were none. I think this film offers a challenge – yes–but also a rich exploration of a crucial time in divine (and human) history!

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