Do not Muzzle the Ox

We are looking at several passages that are often used to defend the right of pastors to get paid. Frankly, I am not exactly against pastors getting paid. What I am against is the use of Scripture as a defense for the practice, especially when these passages are used to lay burdens of guilt on others if they don’t give more, tithe more, and “joyfully” sacrifice more.

Pastoral Pay

We have looked previously at the Levitical Priesthood and the statement in Acts 20:35 that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Today we are going to look at the statement in 1 Corinthians 9 where Paul quotes from Jewish law: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”

First Corinthians 9 is about Apostolic ministry

First Corinthians 9 contains Paul’s defense of his right as an apostle to receive money from the people he minister among, but his refusal to do so in spite of his rights. Paul compares that apostolic ministry to soldiers who go to war and workers who tend fields. They enjoy the fruits of their labors, argues Paul, and so also should an apostle.

Paul supports his case with a quotation from Deuteronomy 25:4 about not muzzling an ox while it treads out the grain (9:9-10), and also mentions the biblical precedent of the priests serving in the temple who get to partake of the offerings and sacrifices that are brought in (9:13-14). In such ways, Paul clearly defends his right to receive payment for his work as an apostle. He goes on, however, to explain why he has given up this right so as not to be a stumbling block to anyone (9:15-18).

Apostles are not the same as Pastors

So does this passage mean that pastors of a local church have the right to take a salary? Not quite.

Paul is only defending the right of apostles to receive income from the people among whom they labor. An apostle is someone who does not stay in one area, but travels from town to town, carrying the message of the Gospel with them to new and unreached areas. They plant the seeds of the Gospel, and encourage initial spiritual growth among those who believe, and then after a while—anywhere from a few days to a few years—move on to a new location to spread the Gospel elsewhere.

That Paul is clearly talking about traveling apostolic teachers is evidenced not only by his frequent references to “apostles” throughout the passage, but also the statements in verses 5 and 7 about taking a believing wife along with them, and going off to war. With such images, Paul shows he is talking about the teacher who travels away from his home and place of employment to go serve and teach in other cities and towns.

The Imagery of the Oxen

Do not muzzle the oxEven the image of a man who plants a vineyard and the oxen who treads out the grain support this perspective. Most often, we read these verses as talking about a vineyard owner and an oxen owner, and how the vineyard owner is the one who plants the vineyard and enjoys its harvest, and the oxen owner is the one who should not muzzle the ox, but let it eat some grain at the mill. This, however, does not reflect what actually happened in the culture, or what these images mean.

First, a vineyard owner rarely planted his own vineyard. Rather, he would hire people to plant and tend the vines for him. As part of their pay, these hired laborers were allowed to eat of the grapes while they pruned and harvested.

Similarly, no oxen owner would ever muzzle his own oxen while it was treading out the grain. This would be like a modern day farmer allowing his tractor to run out of gas.

So Deuteronomy 25:4 refers to the scenario of a man who borrows his neighbor’s oxen. In such a case, the man should not try to boost his own profits by muzzling his neighbor’s oxen so they cannot eat while treading out the grain. This is cruel to the oxen, and does not show appreciation to the man who owns the oxen.

Again, to use modern farming imagery, this would be like borrowing your neighbor’s tractor, using it all day, and then returning it with an empty gas tank. Such things should not happen.

Paul then is comparing himself (and all apostles) to a borrowed oxen, a traveling soldier, or someone who tends another man’s field.

To take the Gospel to other areas, an apostle must leave their house and job, and travel to other areas where they must usually depend on the hospitality and provision of others. Paul, however, as a tentmaker, had a profession which travelled with him, or at least allowed himself to get work with other tentmakers in the various cities he traveled to (cf. Acts 18:1-3). Not all apostles enjoyed such flexibility with their trade, and so they were dependent upon others to provide for their needs while they travelled away from home.

Nevertheless, when they returned home, to their families and to their jobs, they no longer depended on others, but labored with their own hands to provide for their needs. This, as we have seen, was Paul’s instructions to the Ephesian elders who stayed in Ephesus, and, we presume, the same instructions he gave to all church elders and leaders everywhere he went.

So 1 Corinthians 9 cannot be used by pastors to defend the practice of receiving a salary. It is talking about traveling missionaries and apostolic leaders who have left their home and jobs to teach and support other Christians in other towns. Since they will typically only be in a city or town for a few weeks or months, they are dependent upon the hospitality of the people in that city or town. Ideally, even these spiritual leaders should have “travelling professions” if possible, so like Paul, they do not have to depend on the financial aid of other people either.

Pastors, however, stay in one area, and Paul’s instruction to them is that they work hard with their hands, providing for themselves, their families, and the weaker members of the church with the income they receive from their trade.

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  1. says

    What do you think Jeremy – Has the church created a position, role or “office” titled pastor that bears only a faint resemblance to the elders mentioned in the New Testament? Perhaps the reason we have to stretch to come up with Scriptures that support paying a pastor is because the concept of pastor as we know it did not exist in the first century, and the concept of paying elders was absent.

    What was the role of those elders? Compare that to the job duties laid out by most churches for their pastors. From whence came all the extra stuff? Are not our pastors heads of the organization/institution, much like a CEO is of a company? Has not the church created a new position and that is why we can find scant Scriptural support for paying the people who hold that position? For that matter, can we find much Scriptural backing for the current position of pastor?

    • says

      Yes, I do think we have “invented” the role of pastor, but it has been 1700 years in evolution. I do think it has some roots in the Jewish priesthood, and also in the priestly class of pagan religions, and then throw in some entrepreneur, politician, king, CEO, office manager, sports coach, and motivational speaker, and we have something close to the pastor of today.

      Truthfully, if a church thinks they need someone like that to help them be the church, and they want to pay them for it, I guess I’m fine with it. Just don’t call them “pastor.” Call them the Church Manager, or the Church President, or the Church Organizer, or whatever. And also make sure that everybody knows that he/she is not there to do the ministry for them, but to lead and organize them for ministry.

      • says

        We think alike on this. I should have qualified my statement about paying elders with the words “a salary”.

        For at least ten years I volunteered at least twenty hours a week at the church we attended. I accepted no payment. My main reason? The congregation viewed themselves as the employer and those being paid as their employees, employees who should do what they demanded.

        On several occasions church people “told” (a nice word for ordered) me to do something. I told them I didn’t think it was necessary or that I didn’t have time, to which they indignantly replied “we’re paying you to do that” (which meant they thought the church was paying me to do whatever they thought they wanted done). I assured them I was not paid and never had been and would be unable to do what they were telling me to do.

        Pastor friends tell me this happens to them all the time. Perhaps there is a very good reason Jesus did not set up churches as we know them, complete with paid pastors, pastors paid to take care of those paying their salaries.

        • says

          I was once scolded by a lady in my church when I was not doing what she wanted that I better do it, because I “worked for her.” Ironically, she later went on to say that she didn’t tithe to the church either…

          On one sense, of course, she is right. The leaders are to serve the people in their care. But I don’t think this means that they get to order the leaders around.

      • Gigi says

        Hi Sam,

        Just to add to your comment, Ephesians 4:11-And His gifts were [varied; He Himself appointed and gave men to us] some to be apostles (special messengers), some prophets (inspired preachers and expounders), some evangelists (preachers of the Gospel, traveling missionaries), some pastors (shepherds of His flock) and teachers.

        In a nut shell, Pastors are as significant as Apostles. Pastors are a part of the 5 fold ministry; Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers.

        We have not invented the Pastors, but God has put them in place. They are overseers of the church and they teach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now to what extent do you believe a Pastor should be paid, well the word of God says that the one who receives the word should share all good things to the one who teaches. Galatians 6:6-Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.

        God wants you to give from your heart not by compulsion or force. 2 Corinthians 9:7-Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

        I cannot speak for everyone but there are Pastors who travel and others who stay and teach in the community and throughout their locality. Please pray for all of God’s leaders for this is what he requires…Ministry is a job…a job from God.

        24Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, 25 To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen Jude 1:24-25

        God Bless

        • Pastor McGuire says

          It is a blessing to see that someone has chosen to look at the Word of God without adding their own spin!

    • Kimberly Taylor says

      Please explain the specific roles of an elder and a “pastor of today” and specifically explain how you think they differ. Yes there are pastors out there that are not operating as they should however I personally I feel as though you are using the negative feelings you have for certain pastors and applying them to how you see each and every one of them. I believe Pastor C had it correct in regardsto the pastor being synonymous to the elder.

  2. Keith Giles says

    Great article! Totally agree. Especially when you take into account that, historically, the NT church did not mandate a tithe until well into the 7th Century (around 770 AD under Charlemagne).

    The money the church received was primarily used to care for the poor among them, not to provide a salary to teachers/preachers.


  3. Mike says

    Are you Foolish? Do you not know scripture?
    1Ti 5:18 For the Scripture says, “YOU ARE NOT TO MUZZLE THE OX WHILE IT IS TREADING OUT THE GRAIN;” and the workman deserves his pay.
    Notice how theses two concepts are linked together??????
    or This
    1Co 9:9 For in the Law of Moses it is written, “THOU SHALT NOT MUZZLE AN OX WHILE IT IS TREADING OUT THE GRAIN.”
    1Co 9:10 Is God simply thinking about the oxen? Or is it really in our interest that He speaks? Of course, it was written in our interest, because it is His will that when a plough-man ploughs, and a thresher threshes, it should be in the hope of sharing that which comes as the result.
    1Co 9:11 If it is we who sowed the spiritual grain in you, is it a great thing that we should reap a temporal harvest from you?
    1Co 9:12 If other teachers possess that right over you, do not we possess it much more? Yet we have not availed ourselves of the right, but we patiently endure all things rather than hinder in the least degree the progress of the Good News of the Christ.
    1Co 9:13 Do you not know that those who perform the sacred rites have their food from the sacred place, and that those who serve at the altar all alike share with the altar?
    1Co 9:14 In the same way the Lord also directed those who proclaim the Good News to maintain themselves by the Good News.
    1Co 9:15 But I, for my part, have not used, and do not use, my full rights in any of these things. Nor do I now write with that object so far as I myself am concerned, for I would rather die than have anybody make this boast of mine an empty one.
    1Co 9:16 If I go on preaching the Good News, that is nothing for me to boast of; for the necessity is imposed upon me; and alas for me, if I fail to preach it!
    1Co 9:17 And if I preach willingly, I receive my wages; but if against my will, a stewardship has nevertheless been entrusted to me.
    1Co 9:18 What are my wages then? The very fact that the Good News which I preach will cost my hearers nothing, so that I cannot be charged with abuse of my privileges as a Christian preacher.

    Notice How the Plowman and the Thresher have a share in the value of the Harvest???????

    Verse 9: 11,12,13 busts your argument wide open “If other teachers possess that right over you, do not we possess it much more?….”
    Other teachers? Pastors? Traveling Missionaries? they are all included here. Or do the Priests not partake of the offering????

    Pastors deserve to be Paid, but if they do not Work then Fire them and find one that will. How much the deserve is another question.

    • Sam says

      Mike, carefully reread the post and the comments above. You’re missing the point of what they’re saying. Paul was not their “pastor”, as that term is used today. It’s easy to read into these passages and try to make them say what we want them to say and what someone else has told us they say.

  4. Pastor C says

    Did you read1 Timothy 5:16-18 it is clearly referring to elders not apostles the question is not about paying a salary but rather honoring those who serve in the house of God. Apostles today are ministry gifts to the Body of Christ but elders are leaders in the church. Thus there is also a distinction between church governance which was initiated by the apostles. In acts 6 it is the apostles that established the function of elders and deacons because of the growth of the church. So these letters were written to the church leadership (Elders and believers) on how they were to conduct the affairs of the church and how they should compensate those leaders who taught and preached the Word of God.. By the way pastor and elder are somewhat synonymous because that is what elders do pastor the flock of God.

    • says

      I do read my Bible. Please do not write comments in ALL CAPS. It is considered yelling online. Unless… are you trying to yell at me?

      I fully believe in the spiritual gift of “pastor.” It is all the trappings and money and power that has been added to it by men that I have trouble with.

      • Martin says

        Sorry, i wasn’t yelling. didn’t realize that it was all CAPS. My apologies. I understand that some use that office for personal gains but there is the genuine office of a pastor, which is so vital to the body of Christ. One that has a true pastors heart does not shepherd the flock for material gains. If they do, they will stand before God and give account. The bible does instruct the sheep to support the pastor (not just apostles like someone commented) – 1 Tim 2:17, Gal 6:6. It;s not easy to be a pastor….. I know cos i am close to one

        • says

          Thanks. Yes, I believe I have the spiritual gift of “pastor-teacher” and I used to be a “full-time” paid pastor. It is a serious gifting with lots of responsibility!

  5. Kimberly Taylor says

    1 Timowas thy 5:17-18 HCSB

    The elders who are good leaders should be considered worthy of an ample honorarium, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says: Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain, and, the worker is worthy of his wages.

    If it was only concerning apostles, why is it in these scriptures that they extend this right to all elders that are good leadErs? Also these titles: apostle, pastor, bishop, etc. Are not what is important here. The meat of the scripture is the following:

    1 Corinthians 9

    In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should earn their living by the gospel (APOSTLE OR NOT)

  6. says

    Doing some studying this morning, came across this article. I find it interesting that you are against the use of scripture for the defense of the practice of pastors on salary. But Paul used scripture to support the practice of paying those that preach the gospel and the elders in the church. Not only that but if we aren’t to look to scripture and use scripture to justify the manner in which we operate our churches what would you like us to use? The New York Times? For a blogger who wants to bring doctrine to life, its confusing you don’t want us to use scripture to justify our means of survival and ministry. For it is the scriptures that have caused us in ministry to lay our lives down, and work for little, for the sake of the gospel. Strange and imbalanced article…

  7. apostle Sam says

    Sir, you need to review your theology about the ox, muzzle, pay idea. You might be doing application with a slightly tinted approach. There is no rule to determine that Paul’s discussion was strictly apostolic. FYI he functioned in several offices at different times and occasions.
    How does a non-bi-vocational pastor survive if he doesn’t get paid? If Paul used the scripture repeatedly to denote payment, why should pastor not use it to buttress his point. If the church janitor and secretary gets paid, how should the pastor live.
    Pastors should receive stuff for their survival.
    Could you please do a wider approach on this thought; the current one is too narrow

    • says

      So you think that the churches Paul was writing to had janitors and secretaries?

      I have widened my research quite a bit to come to the conclusion I have, and came to realize that the church the way it is today is not at all the way the church was in Paul’s day. You may want to widen your approach a bit, and not look only at the way “church” is done in buildings today.

      And be careful about calling yourself an apostle as well…

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