Writing to early Christian communities in Corinth, the apostle Paul argues that those who serve a congregation are entitled to financial support from that congregation (1 Cor 9). He backs up his argument with some examples from everyday life. "Who serves as a soldier at his own expense?", he asks. "Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?" (v. 7)
finds further corroboration in Deut 25:4, a verse from the Torah: "You
shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain" (1 Cor 9:9). Since
Deut 25:4 is ostensibly about animals rather than people, questions have arisen
about Paul's application of this verse to human ministers of the Gospel. To
understand his reasoning, it will help to take a closer look at the meaning of
Deut 25:4 in its scriptural context, and also to learn about the ways in which
this verse was applied in Paul's day.
is Deut 25:4 About?
First, what sort of situation is in view in Deut 25:4? A farmer might be (a) harvesting grain with his own ox; or (b) harvesting grain with a borrowed or rented ox. In scenario (a) it would not make economic sense for the farmer to muzzle his ox. The ox is a valuable investment, worth much more than the grain. If the ox is well fed, the farmer's investment would be protected, and the ox would be strong and able work most effectively. This farmer does not need to be told not to muzzle his ox.
the other hand, the farmer in scenario (b) might be inclined to show less
concern for the welfare of someone else's ox. This farmer might be tempted to
maximize his grain harvest by minimizing the amount of grain consumed by his
neighbor's ox. So the commandment may be directed toward this second scenario,
instructing the farmer not to return the ox to its owner weak and hungry.
analysis suggests that Deut 25:4 is less about animal welfare than about the
principle of giving proper compensation for services provided by another.1
The owner of the ox expects the ox to come back healthy and well fed.
Similarly, one who ministers to a congregation can expect appropriate financial
interpretation of Deut 25:4 is in accord with Paul's application in 1 Cor 9. It
also fits well with the context of the verse in Deuteronomy 24-25. These
chapters include a number of precepts related to justice and fair treatment of
other human beings (24:10-22; 25:1-3; 13-16). Moreover, provisions in ancient
legal codes involving farm animals (e.g., Exod
21:35-36) were primarily concerned with implementing economic fairness for
`Ox Laws' to Humans
In light of our discussion so far, let us consider Paul's reasoning in 1 Cor 9. After citing Deut 25:4 he asks, "Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake?" (vv. 9-10) Paul is saying that Deut 25:4 is primarily for humans, an assertion that is true in two senses. As we have seen, Deut 25:4 seems to be especially concerned with fair treatment of an ox's owner. In addition, all of the Torah is directed to humans. Animals certainly benefit when people follow God's instruction, but people benefit even more, growing closer to God in a relationship that continues beyond this life.
Paul asserts, "It was written for our sake, because the plowman should
plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop" (v.
10). Here Paul may be citing a Jewish legal ruling that was later recorded in
the Mishnah (Bava Metzia
7.2).3 According to this ruling, a person who
plows a field ("the plowman" in 1 Cor 9:10) and one who harvests a
crop ("the thresher" in 1 Cor 9:10) are allowed to eat some of the
grain. In the case of the plowman, the grain would be still attached to the
plant; and in the case of the thresher, the grain would be no longer attached
to the plant.
for this ruling combines scripture and logic. Permission for the plowman to
pick some grain that is still attached to the plant comes from Deut 23:25,
which says, "If you go into your neighbor's standing grain, you may pluck
the ears with your hand." As we have seen, permission for an ox to eat
grain that is no longer attached to the plant is given in Deut 25:4. The
reasoning then proceeds as follows: Since an ox, which is not allowed to eat
grain still attached to a plant, is permitted to eat grain that is no longer
attached to a plant; then certainly a human, who is allowed to eat grain that
is still attached, may also eat grain that is no longer attached.
do not know when this ruling originated, but we do know that by Paul's day,
Torah commandments about oxen were routinely applied to humans. For example,
the Sadducees in the Second Temple period ruled that since the owner of an ox
could be held liable for damages caused by that ox (Exod
21:29), the owner of a human slave likewise could be held liable for damages
caused by the slave (m. Yad. 4:7). So it is likely
that Paul knows the principle of applying "ox laws" to humans and
refers to it in 1 Cor 9:10.
goes on in 1 Cor 9:11 to make a ruling of his own: "If we have sown
spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from
you?" In this ruling Paul uses irrefutable reasoning. If laborers may eat
some of a valuable crop ("spiritual things") that they plant, much
more should they be able to have some of a less valuable crop ("material
things") instead. Christian rabbinic scholar David Instone-Brewer
classifies 1 Cor 9:11 as "the only example of new halakah"
recorded in Paul's epistles.4
Cor 9 Paul uses reasoning methods that he would have learned from his teacher
Gamaliel. He also appeals to the teaching of Jesus (Luke 10:7) in support of
his ruling (v. 14). In the end, though, he chooses not to take advantage of the
right to financial support that he has established, opting instead for the
greater treasure in heaven that he hopes to gain by giving away the Gospel free
of charge (v. 18).
1Kind treatment of
animals is also a biblical principle, as we see, for example, in Gen 1:26-28
and Prov 12:10.
2On these points, see
Jan L. Verbruggen, "Of
Muzzles and Oxen: Deuteronomy 25:4 and 1 Corinthians 9:9," Journal
of the Evangelical Theological Society, Vol. 49, No. 4, 2006, pp. 699-711.
3See David Instone-Brewer's article, “I
Corinthians 9:9-11: A Literal Interpretation
of `Do Not Muzzle the Ox’ “, New Testament Studies, Vol.
38, 1992, pp. 554-565.
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On 20 Aug 2017, 15:02.