Published: 5 February 2024

Why Did Paul Refuse Support from Corinth?

Mandy is an Old Testament scholar and the author of some of the best commentaries on Job and Amos. Both are published by Zondervan and don’t cost more than other commentaries. She’s also employed by a legacy Bible institute and teaches several courses, including biblical Hebrew.

Unfortunately and unwittingly, Mandy is selling Jesus. The problem for her, like many others, is the fact that she has simply never thought about copyright or the status quo of selling Christian teaching. Even though she is a deep, critical thinker and has a PhD, she hasn’t taken the time to think biblically about whether it’s right to sell her commentaries on God’s Word or require students to pay tuition before being able to learn about the Bible from her.

She has accepted an old, widespread system without a second thought, assuming that the system is biblical because so many other people have bought into it. If you were to challenge her to think differently and reconsider how biblical the system is, she would dismiss any contrary ideas as ‘fringe’ and not worthy of her time.” –Adapted from SellingJesus.org

Why Did Paul Refuse Support from Corinth?

In the previous article, we noted how students of the New Testament have sometimes been perplexed by Paul’s apparent inconsistency. Sometimes he accepted financial support from churches, other times he refused it. Are his actions consistent with the dorean principle? (Note: last week’s post contains important background information which will be helpful in understanding Paul’s choices.)

Paul’s actions were consistent with the dorean principle. We can be sure because reading Paul’s words in light of the dorean principle explains why he made the choices he did. Also, Paul quoted Jesus from the very passage where Jesus commanded the dorean principle in the first place:

In the same way, the Lord has prescribed that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. (1 Cor. 9:14 BEREAN)

Is it reasonable to think that Paul would apply one aspect of the principle while ignoring the other? 

Paul asserted his right to receive support

Paul wrote the Corinthians asserting his right to recieve funds from them as an act of co-labor:

If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much for us to reap a material harvest from you? (1 Cor. 9:11 BEREAN)

Paul asserted his obvious right to eat and receive adequate payment to support a wife if he chose to marry (1 Cor 9:4-5). He asserted that as a full time minister of the gospel he had a right to refrain from working to support himself (v. 6). He used the example of a soldier to make his point. Soldiers do not have to work a side job to feed themselves. Instead, they are fully supported by the government so that they can focus on their assigned task. Paul is arguing that gospel ministers should be likewise funded.

 “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain”

Importantly, Paul also argued from the Old Testament Scriptures. In v. 9 he quoted Deuteronomy 25:9: “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.” Paul argued that God wasn’t concerned about oxen; instead, this law was meant to teach something about equity.

“The surrounding laws in Deuteronomy 24 and 25 (especially Deut. 24:6–7, 10–22; 25:1–3) almost all serve to promote dignity and justice for human beings; the one verse about the threshing ox sits oddly in this context. It is not surprising that Paul would have read this verse also as suggesting something about justice in human economic affairs.”1

Deuteronomy 25:4 evokes an image of an animal allowed to eat food produced by its own labor. Paul expertly cited this passage to demonstrate that he had the right to receive support in full-time ministry. This passage makes the point on more than one level. Paul didn’t stop there. He cited several more examples to show that the worker should reasonably expect support (vv. 7, 10, 13). 

Ministry should be supported, not sold

As an established congregation of Christians Paul should be able to receive support from Corinth. That is, they should be ready to partner with Paul by supporting him financially as he labors in preaching the gospel. As servants of the same Master (God), both the Corinthians and Paul should be working toward the same ends (co-labor). 

The dorean principle forbids us from charging for Bible teaching. At the same time, it demands that those who teach are worthy of being supported. However, something was wrong in the Corinthian church which caused Paul to refuse support from them. 

Paul waived his right of support 

Paul expertly defended his right to co-labor support in the first half of 1 Corinthians 9. Yet, he plainly told the Corinthians he did not want their financial support:

But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this to suggest that something be done for me.  (1 Cor. 9:15 BEREAN)

Why did Paul decide not to accept money from the church at Corinth? Was it because he preached the gospel for free? Even though Paul, following the dorean principle, never accepted money for preaching (1 Cor 9:18) he wasn’t preaching to the Corinthians. In the New Testament, preaching was an activity directed exclusively toward lost people.

Paul had proclaimed the gospel to the Corinthians (2 Cor 11:7) and many of them became Christians. Therefore, his refusal to accept money from fellow Christians had nothing to do with him preaching to them. By becoming followers of Jesus their relationship with Paul changed. Their relationship with Paul was no longer that of an evangelist sharing the gospel with lost people. They were now Paul’s brothers and sisters in Christ.

Paul was not refusing reciprocity from the Corinthians; he was refusing co-labor! In 2 Corinthians 11:8-9 Paul says that he accepted co-labor from other churches. This informs us that he had no problems accepting financial support from fellow believers. He just wouldn’t accept it from Corinth. Why?

The Corinthians were not mature enough to engage in co-labor with Paul.

In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul reprimanded the Corinthians:

4 For if someone comes and proclaims a Jesus other than the One we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit than the One you received, or a different gospel than the one you accepted, you put up with it way too easily. 5 I consider myself in no way inferior to those “super-apostles.” (2 Cor. 11:4-5 BEREAN)

The implication in 2 Corinthians 11 is that the church in Corinth were paying these fake “super-apostles.” Just as the philosophers and orators of the ancient Roman world charged money for their silver tongues, so too were these super-apostles. They were too immature in the faith to understand what Jesus expected when it came to funding gospel ministers. They had a worldly view of ministry fundraising.

The answer to why Paul refused Corinthian co-labor

And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. (2 Cor. 11:12 ESV)

By refusing to take co-labor from the Corinthians, he is showing them that his motives for ministering to them are above reproach. He is not doing anything for personal gain. He is showing the Corinthians that the fake super-apostles are not like him. What they did, they did for personal gain (1 Tim 6:5).

Just as he would deny himself the right to eat meat if it caused another to stumble, he would waive his right to co-labor. Accepting co-labor from the Corinthians, at that point in their spiritual development, would be harmful for them. They were confused about which men were the real apostles. It would undermine Paul’s efforts if he were to accept co-labor since it would make him appear to be like them. It would also perpetuate false notions about the proper means of supporting gospel ministers. Like many today, the Corinthians did not see the difference between reciprocity and co-labor. Paul would endure any hardship if it benefitted those whom he ministered to:

If others have this right to your support, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not exercise this right. Instead, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. (1 Cor. 9:12 BEREAN)

Paul did not always refuse co-labor from Corinth

Under different circumstances, Paul would have accepted co-labor support from Corinth as he did other churches. In fact, he tells them that he expects their support: 

“Paul makes it clear that he intends to have the Corinthians support him in his missionary travels. In 1 Corinthians 16:6–7, the anticipation of an extended stay focuses on the Corinthians helping the apostle rather than the apostle ministering to them.”2

Why would Paul accept money from Corinth to fund his missionary travels but not to minister to them directly? We’ll consider this in next week’s article.

References

  1. Hays, Richard B.. First Corinthians: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (p. 151). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
  2. Owens, Conley. The Dorean Principle: A Biblical Response to the Commercialization of Christianity (p. 29). FirstLove Publications. Kindle Edition.