2 Corinthians 11:8, ‘I robbed other churches, taking wages of them’ – is that a correct translation?

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 stonings (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?

Many bible-versions 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 rma052.htm contains a study 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 rma032.htm has more on that passage and matter.

It was the same in Ephesus. Acts 20 records how Paul reminded the elders from Ephesus that they knew that he had always supported himself through manual work, and that he told those elders to copy his example in that regard. The article rma023.htm has more on this, including the actual meaning of Acts 20:35 and 2 Corinthians 9:7.

So, what about 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.

The Greek text of 2 Corinthians 11:8.

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 other sources.

The Greek text of 2 Corinthians 11:8 shows that on some occasion when Paul came to Corinth, he had “plundered” other assemblies, by taking from them supplies as aid (diakonian) to the saints in Corinth. It appears that he had arranged an aid collection in other areas, to the benefit of poor saints in Corinth. Here is the wording in the Byzantine Greek text of that verse, 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])

In plain language:

I plundered other assemblies, taking supplies as aid to you.

(Verse 9 and its translation and meaning is considered later in this article.)

a “I plundered” – the Greek text has esulêsa, a form of the verb sulaô which was used in such meanings as “take from”, “strip of arms”, “plunder”, and so on.

b “Supplies” – the Greek text has opsônion which basically referred to supplies or 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”. In the case of 2 Corinthians 11:8, it is obvious that the word opsônion refers to supplies.

c “As aid to you” – the Greek text has pros tên humôn diakonian which indeed means “as aid to you”. 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)

How did the word ‘wages’ come to appear in 2 Corinthians 11:8?

Again, the Greek text of that verse shows that Paul had “plundered” other assemblies, by collecting aid to the saints in Corinth. But, many bible-versions have in that verse wordings which make it seem that Paul “took wages”. Where did that come from? Probably from a misinterpretation of a wording in the Latin text of the Vulgate version. Clarification:

Many bible-translators have to some degree based their work on the Latin text of the Catholic Vulgate version. It has in 2 Corinthians 11:8 the phrase alias ecclesias expoliavi accipiens stipendium ad ministerium vestrum. It appears that some of the early English translators interpreted that Latin wording as meaning that Paul “polished off” (expoliavi) some people by “taking wages” from them, in order to be a “minister” in Corinth (ministerium). But, it is obvious that the Vulgate’s translation accipiens stipendium refers to “collecting contributions”. Also: The actual meaning of the words ad ministerium vestrum is “to your aid” (“as aid to you”). Read on:

In the Middle Ages when the first English bible-translations were made, centuries of Catholicism had changed the meaning of the Latin noun ministerium, so that it had come to be used as if it referred to “being a priest”. But, the Vulgate version was not affected by that because it was produced a long time before the Middle Ages. In the NT, the makers of the Vulgate used the noun ministerium as a translation of 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 [Vulgate ministerio, Greek diakonia] (ACV, highlighting and comment added)

Acts 11:29 The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief [Vulgate ministerium, Greek diakonian] to the believers living in Judea (NRSV, highlighting and comment added)

Acts 6:1 refers to 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.

In short: It appears that the word “wages” was put into 2 Corinthians 11:8 by some early English bible-translator who used the Vulgate version as a basis, and misinterpreted the Vulgate’s Latin text in that verse.

Regarding 2 Corinthians 11:9, the mention of brothers from Macedonia who came with supplies.

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)

A casual reader might come to think that the words “in need” in that passage 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” referred to some period when Paul was disabled through sickness and was 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.

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 and made it seem that Paul and elders were paid. For more on this, see the “recommended reading” section at the end of this article. The matter of “tithes” and “offerings” is sorted out in the article rma012.htm. Regarding 2 Corinthians 9:7 and Acts 20:35, see the article rma023.htm.

More in 2 Corinthians 11.

Paul wrote the letter we call “2 Corinthians” some time 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.

In summary.

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. It is obvious that the supplies (opsônion) which 2 Corinthians 11:8 mentions, were 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 apparently 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 in 2 Corinthians 11:8 mentioned “plundering” of other assemblies obviously consisted of that Paul had made an aid-collection to the benefit of poor saints in Corinth.

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. → rsa092.htm

On the King James version. The story behind king James’ bible, including the men who were involved in producing it. → rsa032.htm

Some notes on 1 Corinthians 9:14–18. 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. → rma052.htm

On the example the apostle Paul set, for others to imitate. → rma032.htm

On Acts 20:35 and its meaning. The apostle Paul reminded the elders from Ephesus that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and he told them to follow his own example in that regard. → rma023.htm

What is the truth about tithing, the concept of giving “tithes” to a church? Also, what about “offerings”? → rma012.htm

For more on the matter of money in connection with religion, look under the heading “Money” on the page rkw431.htm.

Some notes on the word and concept “deacon”. → rea063.htm

Easy keys to deeper understanding of the Scriptures. → rga021.htm


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