1 Corinthians 9:1-7

Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

1 Corinthians 9:1-7

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?


The focus here shifts to Paul and pastoral pay. Perhaps that came up as a complaint within the letter Paul received from the Corinthians. We’ll start this topic examination in Ellicott’s Bible Commentary at verse 1:

(1) Am I not an apostle?—Better, Am I not free? am I not an Apostle? such being the order of the words in the better MSS. Thus the thought grows more naturally out of the previous chapter than it seems to do in the English version. He had mentioned his solemn resolve to give up a freedom to which he had a right in regard to eating meat. He had on another occasion, in regard to his right of maintenance by the Church, also voluntarily sacrificed his freedom, and the Jewish party had in consequence denied the existence of the rights, and questioned his apostolic dignity. He asks, with abrupt emphasis, “Was it because I am not free to demand such support? My freedom in this case is as real as in that other case when you questioned it, and to which I shall now refer. Was it because I am not an Apostle?”

Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?To have seen Christ was a necessary qualification for the Apostolate (Acts 1:21). From the manner in which the Apostle here asks the question, and does not answer it, it would seem that although some small minority might, for some party purpose, have at some time questioned it, yet that the fact was generally admitted and universally known that St. Paul did actually see the Lord at the time of his conversion (Acts 9:4), and on other occasions (Acts 18:9Acts 22:17).

Are not ye my work in the Lord?—This is a further proof of his Apostleship, and therefore of his right or freedom to have demanded support from the Church. (See 1 Corinthians 4:15.)

The note here explains that in Greek, Paul’s thought is a more natural progression from the previous chapter than it seems to be in some English translations. The ESV, though, provides the “am I not free?” question first, so the note is less applicable with our text above.

The note helps us to understand that Paul is explaining that he is free, and that as a free person, he can give up rights voluntarily. The freedom to act does not mean that the action should be taken. Continuing on with The Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 9:2

Unto others. If the emissaries from Jerusalem or the Petrine party do not choose to regard me as their apostle or an apostle at all, yet at any rate I am yours. Doubtless; rather, at least, at any rate. The seal of mine apostleship. Your conversion attests the genuineness of my claim, as a seal attests a document. Thus baptism is the seal of conversion (Ephesians 4:30; comp. Romans 4:11John 3:33).

1 Corinthians 9:3

Mine answer; literally, my defence; the word “examine” is the word used for a legal inquiry. The Corinthians had as it were placed him on his defence at the bar of their criticism. Is this. That I was the cause of your conversion. In 2 Corinthians 12:12 he refers to other proofs of his apostolic power.

Paul here begins to address concerns or comments that he is not an actual Apostle. No doubt, that controversy played some role in the faction-forming that occurred in Corinth. He makes the case that at the very least, the Church in Corinth should view him as an Apostle and he argues they themselves are the evidence of his apostleship.

After he establishes his position as an Apostle, he returns the conversation back to whether he has a right to be paid. Continuing into verse 4 with Ellicott:

(4) Have we not power . . .?—This follows 1 Corinthians 6:0 after the parenthetical argument contained in 1 Corinthians 9:2-3. Having established his right to be called an Apostle by the fact that he had seen the Lord, and had been instrumental in their conversion, he now in the same interrogative style asserts his rights as an Apostle. The use of the plural “we” carries on the thought that he is claiming this right as being one of the Apostles—all of whom have, as Apostles, such a right. The form in which the question is asked implies, Surely we have this right. This verse, taken in connection with 1 Corinthians 8:9, where the same word in the Greek, “liberty,” occurs in connection with eating, shows how this line of thought has grown out of the preceding subject. The question there, however, was that of eating meat offered to idols; the question here is the right to eat and drink (i.e., live) at the expense of the Church (Luke 10:7).

(5) To lead about a sister, a wifei.e., to take with us on our journeys a Christian woman as a wife. Roman divines have interpreted this as referring to “the custom of Christian matrons attending as sisters upon the Apostles.” But as the Apostle illustrates his meaning by a reference to Peter, who we know had a wife, such an interpretation is inadmissible. St. Paul, in this verse, carries his statement of apostolic right to support one step further. Not only had he a right to be supported himself, but the support of the married Apostles and their wives by the Church implied the same right on the part of all. A practice which grew out of a misapprehension of the real meaning of this passage, led to grave scandal, and was finally condemned by the first Council of Nicæa (A.D. 325).

The brethren of the Lord, and Cephas.—These are mentioned specially, not as distinct from the Apostles (for Cephas, of course, was one), but as examples which would have great weight with the particular Jewish faction to whom this argument was adduced. James was Bishop of Jerusalem (Acts 15:13Acts 21:18). The other brethren of our Lord were Joses, Simon, and Judas (Matthew 13:55). They were not of the twelve Apostles, even after their conversion being mentioned as distinct from the Twelve (Acts 1:14), although James subsequently occupied an apostolic position (Galatians 2:9). Various and ingenious suggestions have been made as to who these “brethren of the Lord” were; amongst others, that they were cousins, or that they were children of Joseph by a former marriage. These views grew out of a desire to establish the perpetual virginity of Mary. The natural conclusion from a study of the mention of their names in the Gospels, without preconceived prejudice, would be that Joseph and Mary lived together after the miraculous birth of Christ, and that these were their children. This, too, is supported by the use of the word “first-born” in reference to our Lord (Matthew 1:25Luke 2:7), and the word “till” (Matthew 1:25), and “before they came together” (Matthew 1:18), and the repeated mention of them as brethren in connection with His mother Mary. (See Note on Matthew 12:46.)

The verse here discusses Apostolic marriage, again, and notes that Peter was married, as were brothers of Jesus. The verse itself leaves open the idea that perhaps other Apostles were also married, though Paul does not name them.

The note points toward the controversy regarding Mother Mary and her perpetual virginity, giving the argument against Mary’s literal perpetual virginity. The note is a commonly held Protestant point of view, though it should be noted that not only is this a minority view, the “perpetual virginity” doctrine finds its roots as early as the second century – within one hundred years roughly from the beginning of the Church. From wiki:

The virgin birth of Jesus is found in the Gospel of Matthew and possibly in Luke, but it seems to have little theological importance before the middle of the 2nd century. The 2nd century Church fathers Irenaeus and Justin Martyr, though mentioning the virgin birth, nowhere affirmed the view that Mary was a perpetual virgin. The idea is first raised in an apocryphal text called the Protoevangelium of James, composed in the second half of the 2nd century: here Mary remains a life-long virgin, Joseph is an old man who marries her without physical desire, and the brothers of Jesus mentioned in the canonical gospels are explained as Joseph’s sons by an earlier marriage. The Protoevangelium seems to have been used to create the stories of Mary which are found in the Quran, but while Muslims agree with Christians that Mary was a virgin at the moment of the conception of Jesus, the idea of her perpetual virginity thereafter is contrary to the Islamic ideal of women as wives and mothers.

The enshrinement, officially, of the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary occurred in 553 A.D.

The Second Council of Constantinople recognized Mary as Aeiparthenos, meaning “ever-virgin”. It remains axiomatic for the Eastern Orthodox Church that she remained virginal throughout her Earthly life, and Orthodoxy therefore understands the New Testament references to the brothers and sisters of Jesus as signifying his kin, but not the biological children of his mother.

The Latin Church, known more commonly today as the Catholic Church, shared the Council of Constantinople with the theologians of the Greek or Orthodox communion, and therefore shares with them the title Aeiparthenos as accorded to Mary. The Catholic Church has gone further than the Orthodox in making the Perpetual Virginity one of the four Marian dogmas, meaning that it is held to be a truth divinely revealed, the denial of which is heresy. It declares her virginity before, during and after the birth of Jesus, or in the definition formulated by Pope Martin I at the Lateran Council of 649:

The blessed ever-virginal and immaculate Mary conceived, without seed, by the Holy Spirit, and without loss of integrity brought him forth, and after his birth preserved her virginity inviolate.

Thomas Aquinas admitted that reason could not prove this, but argued that it must be accepted because it was “fitting”, for as Jesus was the only-begotten son of God, so he should also be the only-begotten son of Mary, as a second and purely human conception would disrespect the sacred state of her holy womb. Symbolically, the perpetual virginity of Mary signifies a new creation and a fresh start in salvation history. It has been stated and argued repeatedly, most recently by the Second Vatican Council:

This union of the mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ’s virginal conception … then also at the birth of Our Lord, who did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it… (Lumen Gentium, No.57)

The notion of Mary’s perpetual virginity goes back quite far into early Church history. More from wiki:

By the early 4th century the spread of monasticism had promoted celibacy as the ideal state, and a moral hierarchy was established with marriage occupying the third rank below life-long virginity and widowhood Eastern theologians generally accepted Mary as Aeiparthenos, but many in the Western church were less convinced. The theologian Helvidius objected to the devaluation of marriage inherent in this view and argued that the two states, of virginity and marriage, were equal. His contemporary Jerome, realising that this would lead to the Mother of God occupying a lower place in heaven than virgins and widows, defended her perpetual virginity in his immensely influential Against Helvidius, issued c.383.

In the 380s and 390s the monk Jovinian denied Mary’s virginity in partu (virgin during childbirth), writing that if Jesus did not undergo a normal human birth, then his body was something other than a truly human one. As reported by Augustine, Jovinian “denied that the virginity of Mary, which existed when she conceived, remained while she gave birth.” Augustine goes on to say that the reason for Jovinian’s denial of Mary’s virginity in partu was that the doctrine was too close to the Manichean view that Christ was simply a phantom. According to Ambrose, Jovinian maintained that Mary had conceived as a virgin, but she had not given birth as a virgin. Jerome wrote against Jovinian but failed to mention this aspect of his teaching, and most commentators believe that he did not find it offensive. Jovinian also found two monks in Milan, Sarmatio and Barbatian, who held similar views as Jovinian.

The only important Christian intellectual to defend Mary’s virginity in partu was Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan, who was the chief target of the charge of Manicheism. For Ambrose, both the physical birth of Jesus by Mary and the baptismal birthing of Christians by the church had to be totally virginal, even in partu, in order to cancel the stain of original sin, of which the pains of labor are the physical sign. It was due to Ambrose that virginitas in partu came to be included consistently in the thinking of subsequent theologians. Bonosus of Sardica also denied the perpetual virginity of Mary, for which he was declared a heretic. His followers would survive for many centuries, especially among the Goths. Additionally the perpetual virginity of Mary was denied by some Arians.

In the present, the following Christian groups maintain the teaching of Mary’s perpetual virginity: The Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, some Lutherans, Anglicans, Reformed, and other Protestants also hold to this teaching. Most modern nonconformist Protestants reject the doctrine. Nonconformist Protestants include Reformed Christians (Presbyterians and Congregationalists), plus the Baptists, Brethren, Methodists, and Quakers. Modern non-denominational churches in the United States generally are led by pastors educated in nonconformist seminaries, so they could likely and usually be classified with the nonconformist Protestants.

Returning to the text, after the long digression, at verse 6 in The Pulpit Commentaryes:

1 Corinthians 9:6

And Barnabas. Like St. Paul, Barnabas was in every respect a genuine apostle, by the Divine call (Acts 13:2Galatians 2:9), though not one of the twelve. He seems to have continued in his separate mission work the practice of independence which he had learnt from St. Paul. This allusion is interesting, because it is the last time that the name of Barnabas occurs, and it shows that, even after the quarrel and separation, Paul regarded him with love and esteem. To forbear working. To give up the manual labour by which we maintain ourselves without any expense to the Churches (Acts 18:32 Thessalonians 3:82 Thessalonians 3:9). If, then, St. Paul toiled at the dull, mechanical, despised, and ill paid work of tent making, he did so, not because it was, in the abstract, his duty to earn his own living, but because he chose to be nobly independent, that the absolute disinterestedness of his motives might be manifest to all the world. For this reason even when he was most in need he would never receive assistance from any Church except that of Philippi, where he had at least one wealthy convert, and where he was beloved with a peculiar warmth of affection.

The note here shares that Paul mentions Barnabas and that Barnabas was another, like himself, who was not one of the twelve. He asks rhetorically whether he and Barnabas are singled out for that reason, as two who are not permitted financial support from the Church, due to their status as not being of the twelve. Verse 7 describes the way that other professions expect compensation. From Ellicott:

(7) Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges?—Three illustrations from human life and business show that the principle which has been adopted in the Christian Church is not exceptional. A soldier receives his pay; the planter of a vineyard eats the fruit of it; and the owner of a flock is supported by selling the milk. The best MSS. omit the word “of” before “fruit.” It probably crept into later texts from the occurrence of that word with the “milk”; but a vineyard owner actually eats his fruit, whereas not only would it be strange to speak of “eating” milk, but the owner of flocks would really be sustained chiefly by the sale of the milk and the purchase of food with the money so obtained. He would eat “of” the milk. It is worth noticing that St. Paul never (with the one exception of Acts 20:28-29) takes up the image supplied by the Lord Himself of Christ being the Shepherd, and the Church His flock. Even here, where the occurrence of the word “flock” must have suggested it, it is not alluded to. On the other hand, St. Peter’s favourite image is that of “the flock.” The command, “Feed My flock,” would have made it touchingly familiar to him. St. Paul’s imagery from nature and country life are on the practical rather than the poetic side; whereas his images from military, political, and social life have the vivid reality which we should expect from one whose life was spent chiefly in towns. It has been observed that St. Paul’s vindication falls naturally into three divisions. (1) The argument from induction, 1 Corinthians 9:1-6; (2) that from analogy, 1 Corinthians 9:7; (3) that from authority, 1 Corinthians 9:8.

Paul continues the illustration as the chapter continues, noting that though he has the freedom to accept financial support, he chooses not to do so because accepting support might hinder his ministry. This explanation is designed to parallel and bolster his explanation for why, despite the freedom that exists to eat meat offered to idols, he chooses not to do so.

We continue on in the next section.