In years past I have written about what the Bible says about getting paid to pastor, and especially getting paid to preach the gospel (Look on this page, under the “Pastoral Pay” section). Recently, a reader sent in the following question:
I need help responding when someone quotes 1 Corinthians 9:14. Especially when they use the ESV & NKJV.
“In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”
Specifically, that getting one’s living from the gospel is a “commanded” practice.
I understand that it is also translated “directed,” however, once “commanded” is interjected into the debate, it’s tough to respond.
My thoughts are: If “commanded” is the correct translation, then did Paul blatantly disobey the Lord’s command? And why would Paul say he would rather “die” than to even give the perception that he materially benefited from preaching?
Any thoughts on the issue would be greatly appreciated.
I must admit that although I have finished a rough draft of a commentary on 1 Corinthians, I have never before considered this question Neil brought up. By one way of reading 1 Corinthians 9:14, Paul does appear to be saying that Jesus commanded that certain people should get paid to preach the gospel.
There are multiple ways of explaining and understanding this text, and I will present a few below, but would love for you opinion as well on what 1 Corinthians 9:14 means when Paul says that the Lord commanded that those who preach their gospel should get their living by the gospel.
Maybe the Command is not for the Preacher but for the Hearer
When Neil initially sent this question in to me, I responded this way:
First, I did some quick study of the Greek in the text, and decided that the various translations are fine. Though there are some verses in various translations that are horrid, this is not one of them.
So I then decided that maybe the command was not primarily for the one preaching the gospel, but for those who were receiving the benefit from the teacher. That is, the command is for the hearers. They were expected to provide for the one doing the teaching. If the one doing the teacher turned down the aid, that was fine, as Paul did. In the context, he says that although it was his right to receive financial help from the Corinthians believers, he turned it down so as not to hinder the gospel (1 Cor 9:12).
This is the answer I sent to Neil, and while I think there is truth to this idea (that the responsibility is on the hearer to offer support rather than on the teacher to demand it), I do not think that this is what Paul is saying. It does not seem that we can get my interpretation to fit the text. Note that the command is clearly to the one preaching the gospel, not to the ones hearing it. Although… the context is directed toward the hearers, so maybe my take is somewhat justified…
So what other options are there?
The Command is for Apostles who Preach the Gospel
Neil forwarded me an email that he got back from Alan Knox, who gave a much better (and more thorough) answer than I did. His answer actually considers the context and where Jesus might have given the command that Paul is referring to.
Hopefully Alan does not mind if I include here what he wrote…
My suggestion would be to consider the context… who is Paul writing about? As I see it, there are two options:
1) Paul is referring to anyone who “proclaims the gospel.” Of course, that would mean that he was referring to every believer who ever shares the gospel, and that all of them “should get their living by the gospel.”
2) Paul is referring to a specific group who “proclaim the gospel.” But which group. Again, I see two options: A) Paul specifies the group in the context of this passage, or B) We can choose the group. The B) option is not very palatable to me, which only leaves A). And, the first part of 1 Corinthians 9 tells us that Paul is talking about people who travel to proclaim the gospel, i.e., apostles.
So, by focusing on the “who,” you don’t even have to worry as much about what “commanded” means or what “should get their living by the gospel” means.
By the way, I think that Paul is talking about receiving hospitality, which Jesus “commanded” to apostles in Matthew 10 and Luke 10. So, the “command” was not to people giving the support, but to people receiving the support (that is, hospitality).
Neil followed up with some further comments of his own on how Paul reacted to that “commandment” in the second half of 1 Corinthians 9.
Reading only the first half of 1 Corinthians 9, it could be argued that Paul taught and endorsed that pastors have a right to receive a salary. But that would be taking Paul completely out of context on this issue. In reading the entire chapter in context, Paul went much further, by word and deed, as an example to clearly demonstrate that he believed one’s personal right to compensation for preaching the gospel ends where the gospel of Christ begins. Specifically, Paul explained in the second half of the chapter that exercising that right would not only “hinder” the gospel, but also be a financial “burden” on the Church.
So examining Paul’s words and actions on the issue in full context, it’s obvious that Paul wanted no part of anything, including the exercising of one’s personal rights that could possibly harm the gospel message and be a financial burden on the church. And for those who point to 1 Corinthians 9:14 and say, “the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel,” the word “commanded” is also translated, “directed” in many prominent translations. Not to mention that if the Lord did in fact command it, then the man He personally ordained as an Apostle and minister of the gospel decided to make the Lord’s command just an option. It couldn’t be sensibly argued that this is the case.
To be clear, in the second half of chapter 9, Paul puts the compensation issue from the first half of the chapter in context, focusing on pastors having to endure all things in complete submission to the gospel, not accommodating a pastor’s personal right to reap material benefits and make a living from the gospel.
I believe Neil is right on target when he says that “one’s personal right to compensation for preaching the gospel ends where the gospel of Christ begins.”
I have written previously about what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:9 where he says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain.” Among other things, I wrote this:
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.
In other words, there are a lot of critical cultural, historical, and biblical background material that must be considered to properly understand, interpret, and apply Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 9:14 that those who preach the gospel should get their living from the gospel. We need to understand the role of hospitality in the Hebrew and Roman culture and economy, we need to understand the law in Deuteronomy about borrowing a neighbors oxen, we need to understand the the role and purpose of apostles, and above all, we need to properly understand the full scope of the gospel.
The bottom line is this: If a pastor quotes 1 Corinthians 9:14 as a way to demand that the people he minister to should pay his salary, he is using 1 Corinthians 9:14 in exactly the opposite way that Paul was using it. Paul writes 1 Corinthians 9:14 in the context of explaining why he does not take money from the people he serves.
Don’t misunderstand. I am not saying it is a sin for pastors to take a salary. All I am saying is that 1 Corinthians 9:14 cannot be used to defend the practice. Taking a salary as a pastor is a choice, and deciding to not take a salary is also a choice. Each person must decide for themselves which way of living will be of most benefit to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to the people whom they seek to serve.
So what do you think about 1 Corinthians 9:14? Have you ever had a pastor tell you that it is God’s command that you support him to preach the gospel? Weigh in below, and if you have written about this on your own blog, include a link in the comment section.