1 Corinthians 9:8-14

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 9:8-14

 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?

Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.


Paul gives an argument for his right to receive reimbursement, for his work on behalf of the Church, then after making a good case he explains why he is not taking advantage of this right. This is a continuation of his argument for the freedom to eat meat offered to idols, but his decision not to do so (the argument he made in Chapter 8.) The point is that the freedom to do a thing does not make it the right thing to do in all circumstances. We’ll look at the note from The Pulpit Commentaries at verse 8:

1 Corinthians 9:8

Say I these things as a man? Am I relying exclusively on mere human analogies? The same phrase occurs in Romans 3:5Galatians 3:13Saith not the Law. The verbs used for “say” (λαλῶ) and “saith” (λέγει) are different: “Do I speak [general word] these things as a man? or saith [a more dignified word] not the Law,” etc.?

1 Corinthians 9:9

In the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 25:4). He uses the same argument again in 1 Timothy 5:19The mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn; rather, an ox while treading out the corn. The flail was not unknown, but a common mode of threshing was to let oxen tread the corn on the threshing floor. Doth God take care for oxen? Certainly he does; and St. Paul can hardly mean to imply that he does not, seeing that tenderness for the brute creation is a distinguishing characteristic of the Mosaic legislation (Exodus 23:1-33Exodus 23:12Exodus 23:19Deuteronomy 22:6Deuteronomy 22:7Deuteronomy 22:10, etc.). If St. Paul had failed to perceive this truth, he must have learnt it at least from Psalms 145:15Psalms 145:16John 4:11. Even the Greeks showed by their proverb that they could pity the hunger of the poor beasts of burden starving in the midst of plenty. It is, however, a tendency of all Semitic idiom verbally to exclude or negative the inferior alternative. St. Paul did not intend to say, “God has no care for oxen;” for he knew that “his tender mercies are over all his works:” he only meant in Semitic fashion to say that the precept was much more important in its human application; and herein he consciously or unconsciously adopts the tone of Philo’s comment on the same passage (‘De Victim Offerentibus,’ § 1), that, for present purposes, oxen might be left out of account. The rabbinic Midrash, which gave this turn to the passage, was happier and wiser than most specimens of their exegesis. St. Paul sets the typico allegorical interpretation above the literal in this instance, because he regards it as the more important. It is a specimen of the common Jewish exegetic method of a fortiori or minori ad magus. Luther’s curious comment is: “God cares for all things; but he does not care that anything should be written for oxen, because they cannot read”!

Paul here begins again by explaining the source of the right, and he ties it to the Law of Moses. This clarifies that he believes the right has the weight and authority of God behind it. Continuing with Ellicott’s Bible Commentary, next looking at verse 10:

(10) That he that ploweth should plow in hope.—There is considerable variation in the MSS. here. The best rendering of the text is, that the plougher is bound to plough in hope, and the thresher (to thresh) in the hope of having his share. It has been much discussed whether this passage is to be taken literally as referring to actual ploughing and threshing, or whether we are to give them a spiritual significance. I think it is, perhaps, best to take them literally, as expressing the sanction given by God in the legal provision previously mentioned to the divine principle which unites earthly labour and reward; and the argument, of course, is that this principle applies à fortiori to the higher work of a spiritual nature; and this application is brought out clearly in the next verse.

(11) If we have sown unto you spiritual things.—The two sentences in this verse contain a striking double antithesis, the “we” and “you” being emphatic, and “spiritual” being opposed to “carnal.” The spiritual things are, of course, the things of the Spirit of God, by which their spiritual natures are sustained; the carnal things those which the teachers might expect in return, the ordinary support of their physical nature. The force of the climax will be better realised if we notice that the previous argument proved the right of a labourer to receive a remuneration the same in kind as was the quality of his labour. A plougher or a sower would have his reward in a harvest of the same kind as he had sown. That being the principle recognised in civilised life, and sanctioned by the object which the Law of God had in view, the Apostle adds, with a slight touch of sarcasm—Such being an ordinary thing in life, is it a great thing for us to have a reward as inferior to our work as carnal things are to spiritual things?

Paul connects the carnal and worldly principle to spiritual things, making the case that the truth for things of the world must therefore by all the more true when the subject matter is spiritual. Returning to the Pulpit Commentaries, he concludes this point in verse 12:

1 Corinthians 9:12

If others. St. Paul felt a touch of natural indignation at the thought that these Corinthians submitted to the extremest and haughtiest exactions from other teachers who had been loud in the statement of their own pretensions, while his own claims were shamefully disparaged, and he was even left, with perfect indifference, to suffer real privation. We shall find the full expression of his wounded sensibilities in 2 Corinthians 11:1-15We have not used this power. This strong climax here asserts itself before the time. It anticipates 2 Corinthians 11:15Suffer. The same word, which also means “to contain without leaking,” is used in 1 Corinthians 13:7; 1Th 3:1, 1 Thessalonians 3:5All things. Any amount of privation and distress. Hinder the gospel of Christ. By giving any handle for malicious misrepresentations as to our being self interested. The word for “hindrance” means etymologically “cutting into,” i.e. an impediment on a path, etc.

The individual’s right is secondary to the Gospel, and as Paul notes, a “right” can become a stumbling block to the sharing of the Gospel. When that is the case, the right must not be exercised – even if the result is a significant hardship on the one not exercising the right. Paul is willing to endure significant hardship to avoid the potential stumbling block that might arise to his mission if it was known publicly that he was being paid.

Returning to Ellicott, for an examination of verse 13:

(13) Do ye not know.—The Apostle now turns to appeal to an argument which would have weight with them as Christians. The rights of the ministry to be supported by the Church have already been established by an appeal to ordinary life and to the Jewish law; and the statement has been made that the Apostle having that right, did not, for wise reasons, use it. There is one higher step in the argument. It was not only a principle of Jewish law which Christ might have abrogated, but it was a provision of the Jewish economy which Christ Himself formally perpetuated.

They which minister. . . .—Better, They which minister about the holy things eat from the temple, and they which serve at the altar have their share with the altar. The first part of this passage refers to the general principle that the priests who were engaged in the Temple services were supported from the various offerings which were brought there, and the second clause more definitely alludes to the particular fact that when a sacrifice was offered on the altar, the sacrificing priests, as well as the altar, had a share of the animal. (See Leviticus 6:16Leviticus 6:26Leviticus 7:6Numbers 5:0Numbers 18:0Deuteronomy 10:18) A suggestion that the allusion might be to the custom of the heathen priests is wholly inadmissible, for such would have no force for Christians, and would entirely destroy the sequence of the next verse.

The note illustrates that Paul’s appeal here is in accord with the Old Testament. As I’ve mentioned before, Paul constantly makes reference to the Old Testament in his writings. You should therefore be cautious with anyone who tries to interpret Paul without acknowledging his appeals to the Jewish Scripture. We’ll close this section at verse 14, again from Ellicott:

(14) Even so.—These words explain why the Apostle again referred to Jewish law, after having in 1 Corinthians 9:9 already made use of an appeal to the Law as an argument. It is now again referred to only to introduce the crowning argument that Christ Himself perpetuated this law in its application to the Christian ministry. (See Matthew 10:10Luke 10:7.)

They which preach the gospel.—The preaching of the gospel is in the Christian ministry the function which corresponds to the offering of sacrifice in the Jewish priesthood. Bengel well remarks, “If the Mass were a sacrifice, Paul would undoubtedly have accommodated to it the apodosis here.”

As the note states, Paul’s appeal to his right is rooted in Scripture. So, too, is his appeal not to insist too much upon that right.

Matthew 10:8-10 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. 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.

This discussion is interesting because Paul clearly wants his audience to understand that the right exists, lest that truth be named a lie at some point later, causing further confusion. Freedom in Christ is an important truth for Paul and all believers. However, he wants his audience to avoid insisting upon that right, if doing so becomes a stumbling block to their mission of sharing the Gospel. He sees no harm done in choosing not to exercise a right about eating food, or receiving a wage. Food and wages are not spirtual truths, they are ways to live.