the weblog of Alan Knox

The Christians support not only their own poor, but ours as well

Posted by on Jan 5, 2011 in church history, love, missional, service | 7 comments

The Christians support not only their own poor, but ours as well

While I was doing some research, I ran across this quote from Julian (the Apostate). (I’ve published the quote before, but decided to do so again.) History (primarily Christian history) has given Julian the name “the Apostate” because he attempted to move the Roman Empire back toward paganism after Constantine.

What alot of people may not know is that the Roman emperors following Constantine fluctuated between Christianity (of differing forms) and paganism. Julian was one of those who wanted the empire to return to the pagan religions of Rome’s past and thus remove the curses of the gods and return to their favor.

Anyway, at one point, Julian complained about the Christians (“Galileans”). I thought you might like to read his complaint:

Why do we not observe that it is their [the Christians’] benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead, and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism [unbelief of the pagan gods]?… For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galileans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us. Teach those of the Hellenic faith to contribute to public service of this sort.

It is too bad that most Christians have since given up caring for their own poor, much less caring for poor unbelievers. Perhaps more would have this same complaint if we turned back to “the Way” taught by Jesus.

But, hey, at least we have better doctrine now.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 1-5-2011

    It is hard to support the poor and also pay for the machinery of a local church at the same time. Pastors and parking ltos and overhead projectors ain’t free you know!

    Besides, caring for the poor IS better doctrine.

  2. 1-5-2011

    The most telling part of Julian’s complaint is this: “Teach those of the Hellenic faith to contribute to public service of this sort.” I’ve sat through plenty of services where the response to deficient Christian living among the congregation was … more sermons on the topic.

    The Galileans had the proper convictions on how to treat the poor, and I doubt they were developed by extensive teaching.

  3. 1-5-2011


    I agree. Caring for the poor is better doctrine. Failure to care for others (regardless of what beliefs are stated) demonstrate bad doctrine.


    I think they WERE developed by extensive teaching, but the kind of teaching done through our lives, not our words. :)


  4. 1-5-2011


    I’ve spent seven years as a musician now, and one with no particular aptitude for music–my son is the gifted one. If anyone would benefit from teaching, it would be me. Yet I would say that over those seven years less than 5% of my time has been spent learning about music, whether through words or example. The rest has been spent playing music.

    It just doesn’t take that long to learn everything you need to know, whether you are a musician or a disciple. What takes time is the practice.

    In his book Outliers Malcolm Gladwell cites studies that indicate it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something piano playing or computer programming or writing or teaching or auto repair–not study, but practice. Coaching can help, and learning has its place, but it is the steady, concerted application of what you know to what you do that makes the difference.

    I laughed when I read a Facebook status where a friend raved about a recent conference he had attended, and how he was coming home newly inspired by its message. What had he learned? “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the church.”

    What? He didn’t know that already? Well, of course he did, all too well, having read it over and over again in his Bible, and having sat through far too many sermons on the subject. But he wasn’t living it. And he somehow thought that hearing it again, this time, this way, would make the difference.

    Nobody needs to have such a thing explained to them. They just need to go do it. And after 10,000 hours of trying, I think they will be able to do it well and effectively.

  5. 1-6-2011


    Exactly. Thanks!


  6. 3-7-2012

    You are supposing, quite reasonably, from that quote that Julian means that the Christians are supporting the poor from their own local resources. It is much more likely that they are distributing central government funds, at least partially. There are surviving documents from the reigns just preceding those of Julian detailing grants to particular bishops that specify how much was to be used for poor relief. That passage suggests that there may have been genuine local charity as well, but as far as I know it is the only evidence of it. In my opinion the Church was used as a welfare distribution channel primarily, and Julian was actually proposing switching distributor to the pagans. It is fascinating to consider how things might have played out if he had lived long enough to do so.

  7. 3-7-2012

    History Scientist,

    Thanks for the comment. The source of the money was not the point of this post. Instead, I was focusing on how the money was being used. As Julian writes, “[T]he impious Galileans support not only their own poor but ours as well.”