Paying the Preacher

When seeking to apply a Biblical principle to modern society it is important not just to ensure that the principle is still applicable today but also that the act of applying it does not subtly alter the intent. An example is the use of 1 Co 9:14 to justify the existence of a paid ministry. We certainly do have to ask if the Corinthian verse is still applicable today; but we also need to ask if the paid ministry envisaged by Paul is the same as the one that this verse would be used to support in the modern church. In addition we need to ensure that the teaching of a particular verse is correctly weighed against the context in which the verse was found.

The aim of this brief paper is to examine 1 Co 9:14 to see if it is still applicable today. Having done so it will look at the enclosing chapter to see what principle Paul was actually attempting to enunciate. Then we will look at the application of the verse today and especially seek to delineate what the verse can directly support and those things which are at best a 'stretch'.

1Co 9:14 Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.

Obviously the first step in examining any verse should be to examine the verse itself for any clues as to its applicability. The briefest of glances at the verse we are considering immediately draws out that the latter part of the verse is a direct command of the Lord Himself. Therefore we cannot look for particular apostolic cultural opinions. The God of Heaven made the statement it therefore carries weight. Next we can look at the scope of the applicability: it refers to those that preach the Gospel. Whilst Paul applies this to himself the command refers to all that preach the Gospel. Finally the verse has an almost reciprocal phrase stating that they should live by the Gospel. At the most literal level this appears generally applicable too. We all have a requirement to live and this verse is essentially stating that preaching the Gospel is a legitimate method by which people might live.

Looking slightly further a field within the same chapter it also becomes clear that the correct interpretation of this verse certainly involves the notion of finances. Whilst some translations, notably Darby and Young's Literal could imply that Gospel preachers are to live the Gospel, there can be no doubt that the application of this verse is definitely physical and practical[1]. The context also tells us that the issue is whether a preacher may refrain from working[2] and whether he ought to be able to support a wife[3].

Another particular feature of the argument is the examples that are used to support Paul's contention. He argues that soldiers are provided for by those they fight for, that those that grow food are supported by the food they grow and that those that tend flocks are supported from the flock they tend. All three of these points are true today and thus Paul's argument is still valid.

More interestingly however Paul then goes all the way back to the law of Moses[4] written some fifteen hundred years before its application. Here we are told that an ox should not be muzzled as it treads the grain. Further Paul explicitly argues[5] that it is still valid in the first century. This is important as it shows that the principle has already transcended time, dispensation, race, culture and even species!

I believe we can therefore state unequivocally that a preacher of the Gospel today has the right to support himself, his wife and his direct offspring from the Gospel that he preaches. Specifically I believe that preaching counts as 'work' and that therefore the imprecation of 2Th 3:10 does not apply to a person that is not engaged in secular employment because they are preaching the gospel. Whilst it cannot be gleaned from the Corinthian verse; 1 Ti 5:17 extends this coverage from Gospel preachers to those that teach and tend the flock of God.

However before applying this verse it is worth reading further into 1 Corinthians 9. In that whilst Paul defends his right to support Paul then proceeds to say that he had chosen to do without it in order to further the gospel. In fact he claims he has a compulsion to preach the Gospel and that therefore payment would be inappropriate[6]. He even goes as far as to suggest that his aim is to present Christ without charge and that for him to charge was be an abuse of his position.

Now in these later verses we certainly do run into some applicability issues. Things applicable to Paul may well not be applicable to us today. However the principle appears to remain intact that the Gospel itself is prospered by presenting it without charge. We may also note that Paul's pattern when receiving gifts at all was to receive them from established churches to further a work in an un-established church. These verses suggest that the presentation of the Gospel alongside a collecting plate is not wrong but it is not the best way things can be done.

The final point I wish to note however is that the proof text we have considered here deals with the support of a preacher and his immediate family. It does not cover a larger entourage of secretaries and assistants. It doesn't even cover pension plans, educational fees and a nice car. It does not guarantee that the 'religious professional' attains the same level of income as others with similar levels of education in the government sector. It doesn't state that the income is regular, guaranteed by the church and subject to annual review. It certainly doesn't mention the validity of fund raising drives to support a person's ministry. Of course it doesn't explicitly preclude any of the foregoing either.

I believe that a correct understanding of the precise scope of 1 Co 9:14 is sufficient to render its' interpretation uncontroversial. Even in those denominations that object to a 'paid ministry' still fully support the notion that full time workers may receive financial 'gifts' from those they minister to. In fact many of them will even take the language a little further and describe themselves as supporting the full time workers. Taken as written this is all that 1 Co 9:14 is really stating. If you take the converse of 1 Co 9:14 'those that preach the gospel should not eat and thus die of starvation' then there are very few would deny that the Corinthian verse is still applicable. The controversy typically arises when the verse is used to support a concept that is a significant extension of that which Paul meant when he penned the words.

In summary we have seen that the text of 1 Co 9:14 is devoid of any particular cultural specificity and carries the direct weight of a pronouncement from God. The context of the verse makes clear that the correct exegesis of it involves the material support of the preacher and his direct dependants and the necessity of him working. The points supporting Paul's arguments are based upon secular logic that is still applicable today and divine law that had already transcended culture, race, species and dispensation to be applied by Paul. The teaching that this verse produces is also the direct application of other sections of scripture. The caution however is that Paul uses the verse to stress that living off the Gospel is a right but is not always the best choice. Finally I have suggested that the verse has to be applied directly to the support of a man and his family and has nothing to say about support for a wider ministry or the method by which the support is raised.


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