Was the apostle Paul paid for his proclaiming work?
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The New Testament shows that sometimes when the apostle Paul was imprisoned, he received aid from others. It may also be that he received aid on some occasions when he was either sick or for instance recovering from beatings or stoning (see 2 Corinthians 11:24–25) so that he was not able to work. But, what about other times, when he was a free man and in health?
Some translations have in 2 Corinthians 11:8 such wordings as “I robbed other churches, taking wages of them” or “I took money from other churches as payment for my work”. Is that correct? Was Paul paid for his proclaiming work?
Acts 18:1–3 states that when Paul was in Corinth, he worked, as a tent-maker. 1 Corinthians 9 makes it clear that while he was in that town, he did not live at the cost of others, and that he did not intend to do that, either. In regard to that matter, he noted that “it were better for me to die than [that] any man should take this rejoicing from me” (verse 15, TRC). The article nma050.htm has some notes on 1 Corinthians 9:14–18.
Also in Thessalonica, Paul supported himself, and so did his companions. 2 Thessalonians 3:8, “nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you” (ESV01). The article nma030.htm has more on that passage and matter.
It was the same in Ephesus. Acts 20 records an event when Paul spoke to the elders from Ephesus and reminded them that they knew that he had always supported himself through manual work. The article nma020.htm has more on this, including the actual meaning of Acts 20:35 and 2 Corinthians 9:7.
So, what should one think of 2 Corinthians 11:8? For, the “taking wages” translation does not agree with the multiple New Testament passages which show that Paul supported himself, in Corinth as well as elsewhere. Let us take a closer look at this matter.
A note: If one looks up Greek words in “biblical” lexicons, one can easily be misled. Those lexicons are limited and biased and often quite misleading. What is said below, is based on better sources.
Here is the wording in the Byzantine Greek text of 2 Corinthians 11:8, with phrase translations:
2 Corinthians 11:8 allas ekklêsias (other assemblies) esulêsa (I plundered [a]), labôn opsônion (taking supplies [b]) pros tên humôn diakonian (as aid to you [c])
a “I plundered” – the word esulêsa in the Greek text is a form of the verb sulaô which was used in such meanings as “take from”, “strip of arms”, “plunder”, and so on. Later in this article there is more on the nature of the “plundering” which the apostle was talking about.
b “Taking supplies” – the Greek text has opsônion which basically referred to supplies, provisions, but could even refer to supplies for an army, including pay for the soldiers. The word opsônion was derived from opson which referred to prepared food. Related words in old Greek: The noun opsônês, “purchaser of supplies”, the verb opsôneô, “to buy victuals”, “to cater”.
Here the question is, what does the word opsônion refer to, in the case of 2 Corinthians 11:8?
Again, other NT passages show that Paul supported himself in such places as Corinth, Ephesus and Thessalonica. Thus, it is likely that he was talking about supplies and not about “wages”. But who were the recipients of those supplies? And, who were the “plundered” ones? Those questions are considered a bit later in this article. First, some notes on the word diakonian in the Greek text of that verse.
c “As aid to you” – the Greek text has pros tên humôn diakonian which indeed means “as aid to you”. And so, here is a suggested translation of that verse:
2 Corinthians 11:8 I plundered other assemblies, taking supplies as aid to you.
Again, the Greek text has diakonian, “aid”. What kind of aid was that? Consider this passage where the same word diakonia refers to aid which saints in other areas sent to those in Judea:
Acts 11:29 And the disciples, as any man prospered, determined, each of them regarding aid [Greek diakonia], to send to the brothers who dwell in Judea, 30 which also they did, having sent it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. (ACV, comment added)
So, regarding 2 Corinthians 11:8 – it appears that on that occasion, Paul transported relief aid from other areas to Corinth, just as he and Barnabas did when they transported aid to poor saints in Judea.
Then, there is verse 9. Some might be puzzled by it, for the way it is “traditionally” translated makes it seem that the saints in Macedonia paid some part of Paul’s normal daily needs when he was in Corinth. There is more on that verse later in this article, but first, let us consider something in the context.
Paul wrote that letter after he had left Corinth. His letters to that town indicate that something had gone seriously wrong, after his departure. Those who study those epistles with care, will find several indications that there had come forth deceivers, false apostles who had managed to make themselves “leaders”, and it appears that they had even made the disciples pay them for that.
It is obvious that Paul wrote some of the things in that letter (2 Corinthians), in order to show the difference between his own manner and way of life, and the manners of those false apostles. He wrote some pretty acid words in regard to those deceivers. He sarcastically called them “extra-special messengers” as PH72 has it (2 Corinthians 11:5 and 12:11), or “super-apostles” as the HCSB phrases it. (Those are fitting translations of Paul’s ironic Greek-language phrase tôn huper lian apostolôn.) Here are some of Paul’s comments regarding those deceivers:
2 Corinthians 11:13 God’s messengers? They are counterfeits of the real thing, dishonest practitioners masquerading as the messengers of Christ. 14 Nor do their tactics surprise me when I consider how Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is only to be expected that his agents shall have the appearance of ministers of righteousness—but they will get what they deserve in the end. 16 Once more, let me advise you not to look upon me as a fool. Yet if you do, then listen to what this “fool” has to make his little boast about. 17 I am not now speaking as the Lord commands me but as a fool in this business of boasting. 18 Since all the others are so proud of themselves, let me do a little boasting as well. 19 From your heights of wisdom I am sure you can smile tolerantly on a fool. 20 Oh, you’re tolerant all right! You don’t mind, do you, if a man takes away your liberty, spends your money, takes advantage of you, puts on airs or even smacks your face? 21 I am almost ashamed to say that I never did brave strong things like that to you. […] (PH72)
As you can see in the above-quoted passage, Paul was mocking the disciples in Corinth, because they had allowed themselves to be deceived and used. He wrote to them, verse 20, “Oh, you’re tolerant all right! You don’t mind, do you, if a man takes away your liberty, spends your money, takes advantage of you, puts on airs or even smacks your face?”
Paul did not do any of those things, but those deceivers did.
Here is the verse in question:
2 Corinthians 11:9 And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself. (NKJV, highlighting added)
Someone might claim that the words “in need” in that verse referred to Paul’s normal daily needs. But, that does not agree with the multiple New Testament passages which show that as long as Paul was a free man and in health, he supported himself through manual work. So, let us assume that those words “in need” refer to some period when Paul was sick and not able to support himself. And, that some brothers who for some reason came from Macedonia, then helped Paul on that occasion. Or:
Another way to interpret the middle part of that verse would be that Paul had in Macedonia stored money or other resources, and that some saints from that area then transported that to Paul when he was in Corinth. But, it would seem that the above-mentioned interpretation is more likely.
The meaning of all details in the Greek text of 2 Corinthians 11 is not clear. What is clear, is that several passages in the Greek NT text show that as long as Paul was in health and a free man, he supported himself and did not live at the cost of others.
A note: Many bible-translators have put “adjusted” wordings into several New Testament passages which have a bearing on whether Paul and elders were paid, or not. For more on this, see the “recommended reading” section at the end of this article. – The “tithe question” is sorted out in the article nma010.htm.
The Greek text of that verse shows that on some occasion when Paul came to Corinth, he had “plundered” other assemblies, taking from them supplies as aid (diakonian) to the saints in Corinth. Apparently, he had arranged an aid collection in other areas, to the benefit of poor saints in Corinth.
But, a number of bible-versions have in that verse the word “wages”. Where did that come from? Probably from a misinterpretation of a wording in the Latin text of the Vulgate version. Clarification:
Many early English bible-translators took in things from the Latin text of the Catholic Vulgate version. That has then been copied by later translators. The Vulgate has in 2 Corinthians 11:8 the words alias ecclesias expoliavi accipiens stipendium ad ministerium vestrum. It appears that some of the early English translators felt that that Latin wording must mean that Paul “polished off” (expoliavi) some people and “took wages”, in order to be a “minister” in Corinth (ministerium). But, it is not so. – Read on.
By the Middle Ages, the meaning of the Latin noun ministerium had changed, within Catholicism, so that it was used as if it referred to “being a priest”. But, the Vulgate version was made much earlier. In the NT, its makers used that noun as a translation for the Greek diakonia. Here are two example passages:
Acts 6:1 Now in those days, the disciples being multiplied, there developed a murmuring of the Hellenists against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily assistance [Greek diakonia, Vulgate ministerio] (ACV, highlighting and comment added)
Acts 11:29 The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief [Greek diakonian, Vulgate ministerium] to the believers living in Judea (NRSV, highlighting and comment added)
Acts 6:1 refers to the daily distribution of aid to poor saints in Jerusalem (widows, and probably even others). Acts 11:29 refers to a collection of relief aid, to poor saints in Judea. It appears that in 2 Corinthians 11:8, the words opsônion pros tên humôn diakonian mean “supplies as aid to you”, referring to a collection of relief aid. Paul “plundered” or “polished off” other assemblies, not for “taking wages” but in order to take supplies as aid to the saints in Corinth.
Regarding the example which Paul set (that of supporting oneself and not living at the cost of others), see the articles nma020.htm and nma030.htm.
There are different ways to interpret certain details in the Greek text of 2 Corinthians 11:8 and its context. But, the main lines of this matter are clear. Again, multiple passages in the Greek text of the New Testament show that as long as Paul was a free man and in health, he supported himself through manual work. [d] Even his companions lived and acted that way. So, the supplies (opsônion) which 2 Corinthians 11:8 mentions, must have been aid-supplies which Paul transported from saints in other areas, to poor saints in Corinth.
d As was noted earlier, there were occasions when even Paul received aid. That happened when he was in prison, and eventually also on some occasions when he was sick or for instance recovering from beatings or stoning (see 2 Corinthians 11:24–25) so that he was not able to work.
The “plundering” of the other assemblies, 2 Corinthians 11:8, must have consisted of making an aid-collection to the benefit of poor saints in Corinth. This is the most likely and reasonable interpretation of that verse.
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
Some notes on 1 Corinthians 9:14–18. → nma050.htm
On the example the apostle Paul set, for others to imitate. → nma030.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
What is the truth about tithing, the concept of giving “tithes” to a church? → nma010.htm
For more on the matter of money in connection with religion, look under the heading “Money” on the page key42.htm.
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