In our previous two posts from this study we have been looking at the Pauline Principle of a self-supported ministry based on hard work, which he commended as an example for other believers to emulate. First, we established the principle based on Acts 20:33-35, then how Paul’s first letter to Corinth supported this in 1 Corinthians 4:9-12, as well as his letters to Thessalonica in 1 Thessalonians 2:9 and 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12. Next, in the second post we focused almost exclusively on one of the chief proof texts for the paid professional from 1 Corinthians 9:1-18. In this post we will begin with a related, yet also common proof text, from 1 Timothy 5:17-18. As we wrap up this series, we will move to Galatians 6:6, and conclude with the cases where Paul actually did receive support.
17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”In our passage cited above we ought to note that the context flows from Paul’s instructions to Timothy primarily regarding order within the gatherings of God’s people, though some would debate this. For example, the ESV Study Bible notes the following:
1 Timothy 5:17-18
The theme of 1 Timothy is that the gosepl leads to practical, visible change in the lives of those who believe it. It is often thought that the theme is church order, but the discussion of church offices is simply a piece of the larger argument that the true gospel, in contrast to false teaching, will always lead to godliness in its adherents. ESV Study Bible, pg 2322While their observation regarding the application of the gospel may be somewhat true (it’s generally true of nearly every book of Scripture), it misses the ‘forest for the trees’ by assuming that church order, as they put it, revolves around church offices. As the letter begins, it becomes apparent that teaching is of central importance, though in the negative as attention is brought to false teachers. One might ask where this teaching would take place in order for it to be important to Paul. Then, the opening directions to Timothy, beginning in 2:1 on prayer, and specifically 2:8, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray…” indicates clearly that we are within the context of believer’s gatherings, regardless of their locations. Chapter 3 moves to the aforementioned offices, grounded again in a discussion on teaching, though in reality the word office does not appear in the passages. In chapter 4, Paul blends the themes of end times with the false teaching that will accompany it before moving into an encouragement and final instructions for Timothy, in 1 Timothy 4:6. Within this section, a sub-section is introduced in 1 Timothy 5:1-2 addressing how Timothy is to respectfully interact, not by way of rebuke but encouragement, with those of varying ages.
Here, the age categories are simplified and broken down into older men (presbutero) who are to be encouraged as a father, younger men as brothers, older women (presbuteras) as mothers, and finally younger women as sisters. We ought to note the familial dynamic which is represented within the body of believers. At their heart, these instructions establish the respect that is due to older men, who should be held in high regard as a father, and older women, who should be held in high regard as a mother, while likewise establishing the parity with those who are younger. This naturally leads into the subsection dealing more specifically with honor.
The first category under this heading relates to the honor due to widows, which of course would be a sub-category of ‘older women’ (Note: 5:9; 5:11-15). This section extends from 1 Timothy 5:3 to 5:16 and outlines in detail how Timothy is to direct the Ephesian believers to care for their widows. Of specific interest for us is that Paul directs Timothy to honor widows. The word God uses in this passage for honor is the verb tima (timao) and it is a somewhat familiar word. Most notably, it is the same word used in the passage from Ephesians 6:2, “Honor your father and mother,” which of course would fit our context here also as we see Paul using the familial language in reference to believers in the body (see also Matt. 15:4; 19:19). Tima simply means to set a price on, in this case to value the widows, and/or it can also mean to revere. In all of it’s 21/22 uses it carries the same basic meaning, to honor or place a value on. Though we have lost the meaning and certainly the obligation in our day and age, the verse here means to show respect to your widows (those of course who meet the requirements of the passage).
The second category, beginning in 1 Timothy 5:17, likewise deals with honor as we saw in its citation from above. In this context we see honor, the noun time, is to be given doubly to elders who rule well, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. The first thing for us to observe is that the term elder has already been used in 1 Timothy, specifically within our context here (5:1, 2), but also earlier in reference to the council of elders that laid hands on Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:14. The question before us might be, “Is there anything in our context that would indicate that either the meaning or use of this word has changed here in chapter 5?” This of course can happen as words with broad semantic ranges can be used near one another and shift meanings, but context always leads and dictates these changes. Our question is, does it here?
In the opening of our section, it would have been read like the following:
5:1 Do not rebuke presbutero
5:2 Presbuteras as mothers
5:17 Let the presbuteroi
Contextually, we are still dealing with the same terms. The only difference here, as with the widows, is a subcategory so to speak, namely those elders who rule well, further qualified by those who labor in the word and teach. In other words, we’ve already been introduced to the term elders, here we are specifically talking about honoring those elders that “rule well”, especially those who labor in the word and teach.
Next this leads us to determining the meaning of “those who rule well”. Interestingly, this word has already been used 3 times by Paul in this letter to Timothy, each time the ESV chose to translate it as manage (1 Timothy 3:4, 5, 12) and each time the managing is in reference to a household. Our word, proistemi, could mean to rule – though it’s never translated that way by the ESV in any other passage, but it could also mean to lead or manage (Note especially Romans 12:8). If we allow ourselves to step back into the context of familial language, as with older men = father, older women = mothers, perhaps the implication here would be those who “manage their spiritual households well”. The passage of course does not stop with good management but goes on to indicate that those who do so and that labor in the word and teaching are worthy of double honor.
With this passage now unfolded, lets return again to the concept of honor, the noun time as we saw. Similar in meaning and application as its verbal counterpart, there are times when it is translated as “price”, which of course is another way of saying a value that is assigned. This perhaps opens up the possibility of seeing time as a reference to money. It is this ‘double honor’ that so many use as scriptural support for their understanding of providing a salary for a professional pastor. However, we again must note that this word, as with the related verb used in 5:3 concerning widows, most often means value, honor, or reverence. Could it mean to pay someone, in one case widows, then in the other case double payment for elders who rule well and labor in the word? Before reaching our conclusion, let’s turn our attention to the second half of the passage and supporting references that Paul uses from the Mosaic Law regarding oxen treading grain, which was used in our previous post discussing 1 Corinthians 9:9, as well as an additional support from our Lord in the gospels.
For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 1 Timothy 5:18The Scriptural reference here is found in Deuteronomy 25:4 and even in it’s Old Testament context, it stands alone in a list of laws given by Moses to Israel. The application is straightforward enough, while the ox is treading the grain, it has earned the right to eat. In other words, it is deserving of something to sustain its efforts. In our passage from 1 Corinthians, we saw how use of this verse in that context was an appeal to natural law from God’s Word, a principle from nature alongside the other examples of soldier, farmer, and shepherd. Here, however, there is another example from God’s Word that is used for support, this time concerning laborers and wages. The way that these two verses are used would seem to indicate they are parallels, a way of making the same point from two different angles. Concerning the laborer, Paul draws on two similar passages from the gospels, they are cited below in their context:
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 or silver or copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. Matthew 10:5-15; bold text is my own highlight
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. 2 And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ 6 And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. 7 And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. 9 Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.Luke 10:1-12; bold text is my own highlightThese passages, while separate commissions by our Lord, are nevertheless parallel in the instructions that He gives. In the first passage, Jesus is sending out the 12, while in the second passage He is sending out the 70/72. The commissions are very similar, both include our concept from 1 Timothy concerning the laborer and receiving his wage or food. Both passages hold a key to understanding the meaning of this little phrase.
In Matthew 10:8b Jesus states explicitly that His disciples, soon to be called apostles or sent ones, were not to receive pay for their ministry. His justification for this command was that they had received the message of His saving Gospel free of charge, they subsequently were to give it free of charge. This point simply cannot be overlooked. This is followed up with the statement, “the laborer deserves his food,” giving clear implication that on their journey they were allowed to be physically sustained by others, in fact this was commanded as an exercise of faith in the Lord.
In the parallel passage from Luke, the context of, “the laborer deserves his wages,” is immediately preceded by “remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide” defining wages as receiving housing, food, and drink, logical and necessary provisions given the traveling nature of their ministry. It is clear that our Lord’s instructions in both cases were not for His apostles to receive monetary gain, rather it was the allowance for sustenance, what we might simply summarize as daily bread. The question before us is, does Paul’s use of oxen and the laborer support the concept of an annual, yearly salary, or does it support the concept of receiving something earned or deserved. If the latter is the case, then honor – doubly so, is what is earned by ruling well while laboring in the word and teaching.
We turn now to the last category dealing with honor, this time seemingly unrelated to the previous age categories. In 1 Timothy 6:1-2 we read the following:
Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. 2 Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved.Again, the link between the passage above and our previous two passages is the command for one group to honor another, in this case slaves giving all honor to their slavemasters. Once again we find our word time, forming the final use in a progression of honor; from honor to widows, double honor to well-ruling elders, and all honor to slavemasters. While each of the three are certainly an application of the gospel in the lives of each group, it is certainly moreso in this last group. For the unbelieving slavemaster, all honor is due to him so that the name of God and the teaching (about Him) would not be reviled, literally the slave is to give all honor to the unbelieving slavemaster so that reproach would not be brought to the name of God and the doctrinal teaching about Him. For the believing slavemaster, all honor is due on the basis of brotherly love and indeed better service is to be given because both parties are believers.
1 Timothy 6:1-2
To conclude, does 1 Timothy 5:17-18 contradict Paul’s previous principle of a self-supporting ministry? The answer, based on the extended look of this passage in its context has to be a resounding no. If one is to use this verse to demand payment of a professional pastor, then they must also pay a salary to widows and slaves must pay a salary to their masters, but no one argues for either of those views. In our final post from this excursus we will look at the last proof text, Galatians 6:6, and then the cases where Paul did accept ministerial support. *This has not proven to be a controversially free passage. In addition to a proof text for professional salaries, this passage has also been a historical proof for multiple offices of elder, i.e. those who rule and those who teach or those who rule and those do not. There have even been those who find a basis for lay elder vs. professional elder here. For a good summary of this issue throughout history, see THE PROBLEM OF THE ELDERSHIP AND ITS WIDER IMPLICATIONS by Ian Murray.