WHO ARE “THE POOR” IN GALATIANS 2:10?
by Shawn Brasseaux
We read the Apostle Paul’s words in Galatians 2:9-10: “ And when James, Cephas [Peter], and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.  Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.” Churches, charities, and other philanthropic organizations today commonly use verse 10 as their theme. Is this appropriate? Exactly who are these “poor?” Are they common, everyday underprivileged people as commonly assumed? If not, why are they “poor?”
A few quick introductory statements about Galatians chapter 2 must be made first. Approximately A.D. 50, some 20 years after Christ died on Calvary, Apostles/Prophets Barnabas and Saul/Paul met in Jerusalem to explain to the Apostles of the Little Flock (led by James, Peter, and John) what God the Holy Spirit was doing amongst the Gentiles through Paul’s special ministry and with his special message. Before parting, James, Peter, and John urged Paul and Barnabas to “remember the poor” (Galatians 2:10). Paul said that he was “forward”—diligent, eager, prompt, earnest—to do just that. As his epistles bear out, Paul was true to his word. He was hardworking in remembering these “poor.” Now, back to the original question. Who were they, and why were they poor?
THE POOR SAINTS… AT JERUSALEM
In two of Paul’s “Acts” epistles, we learn about some poor saints in Jerusalem. Notice these excerpts from Romans and 1 Corinthians. By the way, these were written after Galatians chapter 2 (in accordance with Paul’s promise to “remember the poor”).
Romans 15:25-28: “ But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints.  For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.  It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things.  When therefore I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain.”
First Corinthians 16:1-4: “ Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye.  Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.  And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem.  And if it be meet that I go also, they shall go with me.”
So, Romans 15:26 says, “the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.” First Corinthians 16:1-4 refers to “the collection for the saints” and the bringing of those goods to “Jerusalem.” The “poor” in Galatians 2:10 were not (as some suppose) ordinary poverty-stricken people. They were believers in Jesus Christ. More specifically, they were members of the Little Flock, the circumcision (Jewish) believers converted under Jesus’ earthly ministry, as well as under the ministry of Peter and the 11. But, what caused them to be poor?
WHY THE JERUSALEM SAINTS WERE POOR
Why were the saints in Jerusalem suffering financial hardships? Were they lazy, disabled, oppressed by the government, lacking an education, et cetera? Not at all, friends. They were following God’s Word by faith. Again, we let the Bible speak for itself.
The Lord Jesus instructed His followers in Luke 12:30-34: “ For all these [material] things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.  But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.  Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Notice verse 33—the Lord commanded His Jewish followers to sell their possessions.)
By faith, they did just that in Acts 2:42-47: “ And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.  And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.  And all that believed were together, and had all things common;  And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.  And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,  Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”
Also, Acts 4:31-37: “ And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.  And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.  And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.  Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,  And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.  And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus,  Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
Why did the Lord Jesus Christ want them to sell their possessions though? Remember, the Jewish kingdom saints during the Acts period were waiting for the Antichrist to arrive. They had no idea that it would be at least 2,000 years before he would come. Now, we understand that our Dispensation of Grace has to run its course before the Antichrist appears. In light of the coming Antichrist, the Lord Jesus warned His Jewish audience not to be attached to material riches. They were to seek “first” God’s kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 8:33)—the spiritual things (primarily, sins dealt with by them coming to Christ). Then and only then would material blessings come from God. (Those material blessings will ultimately come when Jesus Christ returns at His Second Coming, when He will set up God’s earthly kingdom of peace and prosperity.)
Retaining any material wealth would entice these Jewish kingdom saints to follow the Antichrist. After all, the Antichrist’s economic system precludes buying or selling until his blasphemous mark is taken and his image is worshipped. The Apostle John writes in Revelation 13:15-18: “ And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.  And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:  And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.  Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.”
To remove the temptation of holding on to material wealth, Jesus Christ instructed His Jewish believers to sell their material possessions. As we already saw in Acts chapters 2 and 4, the kingdom saints in Jerusalem lived off that one common fund of pooled wealth. They assumed that Jesus Christ would return within their lifetime and return to them all the prosperity they lost (a restoration of all they relinquished for Christ’s sake—see Matthew 19:29 and Mark 10:29-30). However, with no interest paid, and Jesus Christ’s Second Coming not occurring during the Acts period, the common fund in Jerusalem ran dry by the time of mid-Acts (certainly by chapter 15 / Galatians chapter 2). Their economic woes were exacerbated by the famine that occurred in the final verses of Acts chapter 11 (we will address this shortly).
During their hardships, God was true to His Word. Those Jerusalem saints had followed Jesus’ instructions, and had become poor in the process. There was no negligence on their part, so God honored their faithful obedience. Since they had sought God’s kingdom and His righteousness (converted to Christ by repentance and water baptism), material possessions were added unto them (just as Jesus said). Paul’s Gentile converts—members of the Church the Body of Christ—gave money and material goods to Paul and Barnabas for them to bring that aid to the poor saints at Jerusalem. The mystery program interrupted and delayed the prophetic program, so the Gentile saints of the mystery program blessed materially the Jewish saints of the prophetic program.
According to Acts chapter 11, there was a severe famine throughout the then-known world. That famine affected the Judaean (surrounding Jerusalem) saints during the mid-Acts period. Notice what Luke reports: “ And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.  Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea:  Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.”
The Bible says Barnabas and Saul (Paul) brought supplies from the Gentile church at Antioch over to help the Jewish kingdom brethren in Judaea (again, the area surrounding Jerusalem). It is unclear how long this famine lasted—perhaps its effects were still felt as late as Acts chapter 15 (many years later). James, Peter, and John no doubt remembered how Barnabas and Paul assisted the poor saints in Jerusalem in Acts chapter 11 all those years earlier. In Galatians chapter 2 (Acts chapter 15), they wanted Barnabas and Paul to continue remembering those poor Jewish kingdom saints in Jerusalem. As Romans and 1 Corinthians demonstrated later, Paul kept his word and did just that!