Monday, October 18, 2010

Elders in I Corinthians 9:14

In I Corinthians 9:14 Paul writes, "In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel." (ESV)

Many times I have heard this verse used as justification for modern-day pastors earning salaries from their churches. This verse is applied directly to them because, they reason, they "proclaim the gospel."

However, the reality is that this passage does not apply whatsoever to pastors. Nowhere in this verse or the entire passage does Paul even mention elders, overseers, or pastors. Simply put, elders do not appear here (read I Corinthians 9 here).

Paul is discussing those who travel from location to location proclaiming the gospel. He seems to have apostolic workers and evangelists in mind. Since they travel around, they need financial support. Elders, however, since they come from local congregations where they live, do not need this support since they can have regular jobs.

We should also keep the broader context in mind when studying this passage. Paul is discussing the issue of Christian liberty. Paul is not willing to use this liberty, as it relates to receiving financial support from the Corinthians, because he does not want it to in any way hinder his proclamation of the gospel.

We do know that Paul received financial support from the Philippian church, thus showing that it was acceptable for apostolic workers to do so.

Back to the issue of elders. In the end we must come to the conclusion that when Paul wrote this passage, he did not have elders/overseers/pastors in mind. The context excludes them altogether. Therefore, this verse should not be used to justify modern pastors receiving any sort of financial support.

(There is another passage pertaining directly to elders which is used by many to support pastoral salaries. That passage is I Timothy 5:17-18. I'm going to address those verses in a later post.)


Alan Knox said...


I think you're right. There is no reason (in context) to associate "those who proclaim the gospel" specifically with elders. If it applies to elders, then it would also apply to anyone who proclaims the gospel... anyone. If it does not apply to just anyone who proclaims the gospel, then the boundaries must be given in the text, which you point out refers only to itinerant servants (apostles and evangelists).

By the way, you mentioned the church in Philippi sending support to Paul. Have you noticed that Paul NEVER (as far as I can tell) accepted support from the people in the city where he was currently serving?


Eric said...


That is very interesting that Paul did not accept support from the people in the city where he was serving. This makes sense, since he seems to have made a point of being a tent maker - in part as an example to all of the flock. This flies in the face of so much of what we see today. I amazed that it has taken me so long to see it. It shows how powerful tradition is.

As for pastors claiming this this particular verse, this clearly shows that those who would do so see themselves as more expert/more special proclaimers of the gospel than others.

Arthur Sido said...

What is espeically interesting is that not only does this passage not apply to pastors but even if you try to force that interpretation on to it, Paul sees receiving financial support to preach the Gospel as an obstacle to the very Gospel proclamation itself (1 Cor 9: 12)! In reading what Paul is saying here, if you are serious about preaching the Gospel you should eshew payment, not try to defend your salary!

Eric said...


When people who begin yanking verses like this one out of context are the same people preaching in the majority of churches, then I really begin to worry.

Jacob said...

To say that elders are excluded overstates things a bit. Certainly elders are not the focus, since Paul is discussing his own right as an apostle and his willingness to decline making use of it to avoid the suspicion that he was in it for the money. However, it's going too far to say that this doesn't at all apply to the discussion of pastors/elders. What does the passage actually say?

- As apostles they had a right to financial support (v.4, 11)
- This included the right to refrain from working for a living (v.6)
- Analogies are brought up in defense (v7)
* Soldiers aren’t required to serve at their own expense
* Planters of a vineyard are allowed to eat the fruit
* Those who tend a flock may get some of the milk (don’t miss the poimaino here as in Act 20:28 and 1Pe 5:2)
- Citing the law “Don’t muzzle an ox,” he explains that oxen is not the issue, but we are – Those who plow and those who thresh have a right to share in the crop (v.10)
- Paul has opted not to make use of this right in order to avoid offense (v.12)
- He draws a parallel with those in the temple service who eat the food of the temple (v.13) and then says that the Lord commanded that it be “the same way” for gospel laborers (v.14)
- Paul’s declining doesn’t nullify the right, or establish a contrary rule, as this was the Lord’s command (v14)

There is clearly an allowance here for people who are full-time workers for the word of God and who receive support, when such support is possible. Even Paul’s tentmaking serves this point – In Acts 18:3, Paul is working as a tentmaker, but when Timothy and Silas arrived in 18:5, he began to devote himself more fully to the word.

Why is this significant for pastors/elders? If you agree that this passage is about financial support for full-time gospel laborers (which I hope you would), then it is significant that Paul uses the exact same principle from the law and command from the Lord to support his point in 1 Tim 5:18. That passage may be about more than mere financial support, but it is certainly not about less.

This is not to defend the gross abuse of this principle that exists in many churches, but it is absurd to contend that the Bible does not allow for people who are devoted full-time to teaching and shepherding the flock of God and who are entitled to live off of the support of those same people.

Scott Reeder said...

I just wanted to add in a very “brief manner”, as a matter of fact “almost in passing”, that “We can safely infer”, that “we must come to the conclusion” that paid pastors are bad, bad, people who most (if not all) prostitute the very gospel of Christ for their own selfish desire – Heretics !

Eric said...


Thanks for your comment. I agree with much of what you say as it relates to apostolic workers and evangelists. These were full-time gospel laborers.

The problem I see is that in scripture we do not find elders/overseers/pastors being full-time gospel workers. That example simply is not there for us. In fact, all of us are called to proclaim the gospel.

Additionally, I do think it is significant that Paul does not mention elders/overseers/pastors here. He could easily have done so. The lack of their mention must at least ask us to question why this passage is so often used to justify pastoral salaries.

Eric said...


I have no idea how to respond to your comment.

Randi Jo :) said...

Great post, thank you! :)

Eric said...

Randi Jo,


Goblin said...

hi Eric
i also see a huge difference between 'full-time' workers being paid a salary and being able to accept freewill offerings of support. I would have no problem with elders/pastors accepting freewill offerings from people, even people in their own congregations, to free them up from the need to work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. HOWEVER, as soon as this becomes a guaranteed, regular salary payment the role of elder/pastor becomes a professional job, we establish a clergy/laity divide, the elder/pastor becomes liable to compromise on what he can or will say in order to protect his livelihood, etc.
I have known a number of Christian workers who work 'full time' but who are completelely reliant on the Lord to provide via freewill offerings and donations but which are not guaranteed. This is also how I understand what Paul is referring to in both 1 Cor 9 and 1 Tim 5 - freewill offers of accommodation, food, expenses - basic hospitality. Nowhere is a 'salary' in return for services rendered intended, despite the allusion to a soldiers pay.

Eric said...


When it comes to I Cor. 9:14, Paul is referring in context to those who travel around as opposed to elders who live in one place. Therefore, I don't believe this verse applies whatsoever to elders.

That said, it is obvious that I Tim. 5:17-18 does apply to elders. Those verses do seem to allow for some sort of financial support. I agree with you that free-will offerings are in mind as opposed to salaries.

Once the jump is made from offerings to salaries, we move far away from the biblical model.

Thanks for commenting!