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Some have taken certain verses in 1 Corinthians 9 out of their context, and claimed them to mean that people should give money to preachers. Often, they have failed to mention that the context shows that the apostle Paul made a special point of the fact that he had not lived at the cost of others and that he was not about to do that either.
This article takes a closer look at 1 Corinthians 9:14–18 and considers what the apostle was actually talking about. Even other, related scriptures will be considered here.
First, let us consider verse 14. After all, it may be the most quoted one in that chapter. (Verse 15 is perhaps not quoted quite as often.)
As we in verse 14 read the words “even so did the Lord ordain that they which proclaim the gospel should live of the gospel” (EngRV), we must ask the question, what does that phrase actually mean and refer to?
It is generally assumed that Paul must have referred to the occasion when Jesus sent out the twelve and the seventy, to prepare the way for him in the towns of Israel, before he himself visited those towns. In other words, it is assumed that 1 Corinthians 9:14 must refer to what is recorded in Matthew 10 and Luke 9–10. Here is a synopsis of the instructions Jesus gave those men, when he sent them out on the mission which those passages refer to:
That was all. Point: Those men did not get money for their proclaiming. It was only that if someone provided them a bed for the night, or a meal, they did not have to pay for those things.
Let us also note that the apostle Paul made it clear that he had not made use of that, and that he would not do that in the continuation either. We read:
1 Corinthians 9:14 Even so also did the Lord ordain, that they which preach the gospel, should live of the gospel: 15 But I have used none of these things. Neither wrote I these things that it should be so done unto me. It were better for me to die than [that] any man should take this rejoicing from me. (TRC)
In addition to what is stated in the above-quoted verse 15, we have Acts 18:1–3 which records that when Paul was in that town (Corinth), he worked, as a tentmaker. That was his occupation. Even other New Testament passages show how Paul and his companions acted. 1 Thessalonians 2:9 and 2 Thessalonians 3:8 make it clear that in Thessalonica, they supported themselves. 2 Thessalonians 3:8, “nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it” (ESV01). Acts 20 records how Paul reminded the elders from Ephesus that they knew that he had always supported himself, through manual work. (He told those elders to copy his example in that regard.)
Summarising this part: 1 Corinthians 9:14 does not refer to monetary payment. And also: Paul and his companions supported themselves and did not live at the cost of others.
Further: In the first century, Jesus sent the twelve and the seventy, and then even Paul and some others. But, what connection is there between them, and present-day preachers who ask for money?
In verse 17, many bible-versions do not make the reader much wiser, in regard to what Paul was saying. Here are some examples of how they render the last part of that verse:
The last of those translations appears to be correct. (The Greek text has oikonomia. See how for instance the NKJV translates the word oikonomia in Luke 16:2–3 and oikonomos in 1 Corinthians 4:2.)
Paul was the Lord’s steward. Stewards are to be faithful and must not use anything within their stewardship for their own profit. – It appears that Paul felt that had the proclaiming of the Good Tidings been his own business, in that case he could have taken money out of it – but, it was not his own business. He was merely a steward of the Lord.
Again, there are many kinds of translations of 1 Corinthians 9:17. Most of them are not clear or logical. But, consider these ones (here, along with verse 16):
1 Corinthians 9:16 I have no right to boast just because I preach the gospel. After all, I am under orders to do so. And how terrible it would be for me if I did not preach the gospel! 17 If I did my work as a matter of free choice, then I could expect to be paid; but I do it as a matter of duty, because God has entrusted me with this task. (GNT)
1 Corinthians 9:16 For if I proclaim the Good Tidings, that is nothing to boast about. After all, I must do that, and woe on me, if I do not proclaim the Good Tidings! 17 If this was my own enterprise, then I would have a right to wages. But, since this is not my own enterprise, the duty which I have been entrusted with is only a stewardship given to a slave. (Translation of the Swedish 1917 version.) [a]
So, it appears that Paul was simply saying that had the proclaiming of the Good Tidings would have been his own business, then he could have taken money out of that business. But, it was not so. He was only a steward of the Lord. Stewards are to be faithful and must not use anything within their stewardship for their own profit.
If we stick to the facts, things are quite clear. Several New Testament passages show that Paul and his companions were not paid. They supported themselves through manual work. [b]
a The 1917 Swedish wording is “Ty om jag förkunnar evangelium, så är detta ingen berömmelse för mig. Jag måste ju så göra; och ve mig, om jag icke förkunnade evangelium! Gör jag det av egen drift, så har jag rätt till lön; men då jag nu icke gör det av egen drift, så är den syssla som jag är betrodd med allenast en livegen förvaltares” (1 Korinterna 9:16–17).
b A number of bible-translators have “adjusted” certain NT passages so that it seems that Paul perhaps was paid or “took wages”, on some occasions. But, it was not so. For more on this, look under the heading “Money” on the page key42.htm.
Some bible-translators have put into 1 Corinthians 9:18 such wordings as “need not claim what is my rightful due as a preacher”, “so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel”, or something similar. – Wordings of that kind have then been used in connection with a claim that preachers have a “right to be paid”.
A number of early English bible-translations rendered that verse in a different way. The 1525 Tyndale version had this wording:
1 Corinthians 9:18 What is my rewarde then? Verely that whe I preache the gospell I make the gospell of Christ fre yt I misvse not myne auctorite in ye gospel (TYN)
The TRC version echoes that, but in slightly more modern language:
1 Corinthians 9:18 What is my reward then? Verily that when I preach the gospel, I make the gospel of Christ free, that I misuse not mine authority in the gospel. (TRC)
Regarding the word “misuse” in that verse – the Greek text has the verb katachraomai. Strong defined it as “misuse”, “abuse”. ‘Greek-English Lexicon’ by Liddell and Scott shows that that word had many different meanings, such as “apply”, “use up” (“consume”), “misuse”, “abuse”, “destroy”, “pretend”. Bible-translators have rendered it in different ways. Where the KJ version and many others have “that I abuse not my power in the gospel”, some have very different wordings – example: “and need not claim what is my rightful due as a preacher”. (That latter wording is quite far from the meaning of the Greek text, of course.)
So, how should we understand the last part of verse 18? Well, it appears that the apostle Paul was simply saying that had he received payment for his proclaiming, he would have been misusing his authority in the Gospel.
(Anyway, 1 Corinthians 9:18 is about the apostle Paul who had been sent by Jesus. That verse has nothing to do with preachers in our day. Also, let us keep in mind that the context shows that Paul made it clear that he had not lived at the cost of others, and that he did not intend to do that, either.)
Another question regarding verse 18: What kind of “authority” was Paul talking about? – The Greek text has exousia. Some might claim that Paul used that word in the meaning “power” or “right”, such as, “a right to be paid”. But, that is not logical, considering verses 14–15 which were discussed earlier. It appears that in the case of this verse, Paul used that many-faceted word in the meaning “authority”, just as the above-quoted Tyndale and TRC versions have it. (Also the 1560 Geneva Bible and the 1568 Bishops’ bible translated it that way, in this verse.)
Clarification: Paul was an envoy (representative, messenger) of Jesus the Son of God. Jesus had commissioned him, and sent him to proclaim the Good Tidings (Gospel). Through this, Paul certainly had “authority in the Gospel”.
When preachers quote 1 Corinthians 9:18 and claim that it means that people must give money to them, they tend to skip over the fact that Paul and his companions were not paid. And again, it is generally assumed that 1 Corinthians 9:14 must refer to what is recorded in Matthew 10 and the parallel passages in Mark and Luke. Jesus told the seventy (and perhaps even the twelve) that if someone gave them a free bed and a free meal, they did not have to pay for that. There is no mention that those men would have received monetary payment for their proclaiming.
And again: In the first century, Jesus sent the twelve and the seventy, and then even Paul and some others, but what connection is there between them, and present-day preachers who ask for money?
Again, it is generally assumed that 1 Corinthians 9:14 must refer to what is recorded in Matthew 10 and the parallel passages in Mark and Luke. Let us take a closer look at Matthew 10, especially the words “freely give” in verse 8. For, someone might quote that phrase out of its context and turn that passage upside down.
Matthew 10:5–10 records instructions Jesus gave to his twelve apostles when he sent them on a special mission.
Matthew 10:1 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. 2 The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. 5 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. 9 Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. (ESV01)
Verse 8, “you received without paying; give without pay” (some translations have “freely you have received, freely give”) – please note that those words were spoken to the apostles. It was they who were to freely give to others what they had freely received from Jesus. And what had he given to them? Well, such things as these: The Good Tidings, and the ability to heal and even raise dead to life again, and the power to free people from wicked spirits.
In short: The last part of Matthew 10:8 does not refer to giving money to preachers. It refers to the things mentioned in the first part of that verse. The apostles were to do all those things gratis, in that way giving to others for free, what Jesus had given to them for free.
(But, it might be that Jesus had told them that on that mission they could, without paying for that, accept a free bed and a free meal in people’s homes, if someone provided them that. This is not clearly stated in Matthew 10, but is indicated by the record regarding the mission of the seventy, Luke 10:7. That verse contains the wording “eating and drinking such things as they give”, NKJV.)
The Old Covenant had its Levitical priesthood which received a part of its sustenance from the sacrifices (the Levites’ part of them), and also through a tithe-system. Here, it can be good to know that the tithe was only on the Promise Land’s agricultural produce. Also: It was the farmers who set aside the tithe, and not the consumers. Craftsmen and wage-workers did not tithe. The concept of exacting a tithe on wages was introduced by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. For more on the tithe matter, see the article nma010.htm.
Regarding Haggai 2:8–9 which preachers sometimes quote when they ask for money – the words “the silver is mine, and the gold is mine” – those who check up things in more depth, will find that Haggai 2 does not refer to money, or even to silver and gold in general, but only to the temple-items of silver and gold which Nebuchadnezzar’s army had taken to Babylon, 2 Kings 24:11–13, but which were then given back to the Jews, Ezra 1:1–11, so that they could take them to the new temple which they were to build in Jerusalem. In short: Haggai 2:8–9 has nothing to do with money.
The article nma020.htm has some notes on what the apostle Paul meant and referred to when he reminded the elders from Ephesus that Jesus had said that it is “more blessed to give than to receive”, Acts 20. The context shows that Paul reminded those elders of the fact that they knew that he (Paul) had always supported himself and been on the giving side. He told them to copy his example in that regard. That article considers even 2 Corinthians 9:7 and notes that the words “God loves a cheerful giver” in that verse refer to a collection of relief aid to poor saints in Jerusalem.
The English word “clergy” comes via the Old English cleric, clerc, from the old Greek word klêros which meant “inheritance”. This has to do with a wording in Deuteronomy 18:1–2 in the Greek Septuagint version (LXX). The article nsa070.htm explains this matter in more detail, but here is a short synopsis: Some preachers, “clergymen”, have claimed or let it be understood that they belong to a “new priesthood” that has somehow “inherited” the lot which the tribe of Levi had under the Old Covenant in the land of Israel. But, what those preachers have claimed and then caused people to believe, is not true or biblical.
Even the article nma010.htm which is about the “tithe question”, has some notes on the “clergy claim”.
Several New Testament passages make it clear that Paul and his companions did not live at the cost of others. As for the other apostles – the NT does not spell it out how they acted, but there is no mention or indication that they would have received monetary payment, not to mention “tithes” or “offerings”.
Regarding the words “God loves a cheerful giver”, 2 Corinthians 9:7 – that referred to a collection of aid to poor saints in Jerusalem. The article nma020.htm has more on this, as well as on Acts 20:35 with its context.
See also the “recommended reading” section, below.
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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → nsa090.htm
On 2 Corinthians 11:8, the translation “I robbed other churches, taking wages of them”. Was the apostle Paul paid for his proclaiming work? → nma090.htm
What is the truth about tithing, the concept of giving “tithes” to a church? → nma010.htm
Acts 20:35 – what the apostle Paul meant when he reminded the elders from Ephesus that it is more blessed to give than to receive. → nma020.htm
On the words and concepts “clergy” and “laity”. → nsa070.htm
On the example the apostle Paul set, for others to imitate. → nma030.htm
Regarding monetary things in connection with religion, look under the heading “Money” on the page key42.htm.
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