Posted by: mattcolvin | September 13, 2008

1 Corinthians 9

I lead a Bible study for Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church, which is also attended by a couple of my presbyterian friends, former MHA teacher Brad Peppo (from the OPC in Dayton) and David Langdon (Holy Trinity Church, CREC). Every week, a different fellow cooks breakfast — usually something loaded with cholesterol. We joke that the study is “full of grease and truth.” I’m going to use this blog as a repository for notes I prepare every week. In previous weeks, I have used Antony Thiselton’s massive NICGT tome, which is fortunately available on GoogleBooks. But this week, I didn’t do so. You can consider this category as a continuation of the Greek New Testament Notes category on my old blog.

9:1 – The rhetorical questions that open this chapter are the imagined objections to Paul’s conclusion in 8:13, where he said that he would never eat meat again if it will cause his brother to stumble. In order to make the point that the mere possession of a right (ἐξουσία) is not a reason to do or not to do something, Paul points to his status as an apostle, one possessed of greater rights (ἐξουσία) than others. He has “seen Jesus”. The Corinthians are his work (ἐργον). Surely such a one should exercise his rights? But Paul does not.

9:8 – “Do I say these things as a man? Or does not the Torah say the same also?” – the former phrase is a technical term in Rabbinic thought, an apology for a statement that might seem near-blasphemous because lacking in reverence or too anthropomorphic in its speech about God. Paul intends it about verse 7 — having spoken as though he is owed a livelihood by God, since he is working for him, he anticipates the possible objection that to speak this way is irreverent.

It isn’t irreverent. It is nothing other than what the Torah itself teaches: if you’re using an animal, you don’t keep it from enjoying the fruit of its labors, you don’t deprive it of hope. Paul makes this point in order to show the Corinthians that even a right (ἐξουσία) that is guaranteed by the Torah itself, by God’s Word, is STILL nothing but a strategic tool, to be used or given up, whichever conduces more to the end of spreading the gospel.

9:11 – “If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things”? — this verse has been ripped from its context and used to justify all manner of clerical and other depredation. Yet Paul’s argument is nothing other than that the two sides — the paying congregation and the paid pastor or apostle — are in this situation: the congregation has an obligation to pay the pastor, but the pastor has an obligation not to demand it as his right. (I would note that the congregation has an obligation to pay the pastor even if it might require more than 10% of their income to do so.)

9:13 – priests eat of the sacrifices of the temple. Cf. Peter Leithart’s excellent Priesthood of the Plebs, which uses this fact to establish paedocommunion just sort of by-the-by: “Baptism is initiation to priesthood; priests eat of the holy things served in God’s house; therefore baptized babies eat too.” It’s rather like Andrew Wiles incidentally proving Fermat’s Last Theorem while really working on the the modularity theorem.

9:17 – “For if I do this willingly, I have a reward” — in the sense of Jesus saying of the rich “they already have their reward”. Indeed, Paul is claiming that he preaches the gospel whether he wants to or not. He had no choice in the matter; Jesus knocked him down and blinded him, and is showing him how much he must suffer for the gospel. It is that suffering that Paul boasts in — not the wages or rewards that might be expected to accrue to God’s ox as it is treading out the grain. The Greek ἑκων here should be understood in the sense of “of my own choice” rather than “willingly”. Certainly Paul is not acting against his will anymore. His point, however, is that his preaching of the gospel was not a shrewd business decision made for gain.

9:18 – Paul’s reward or wages (μισθος) is precisely to preach the gospel for free and NOT to abuse his rights (ἐξουσία) — in other words, to behave like Christ. Yes, this is paradoxical.

Paul at this point switches into a clever metaphor as an alternate answer to his question, “What is my reward, then?” (9:18). Over and over again in 19-22, he uses the verb κερδαινω. Your NKJV has “to win”, but this misses the point. The verb means “to make monetary gain”, “to turn a profit.” This is Paul’s answer: his reward for his apostolic labor is THE CORINTHIANS themselves, not money — as he will tell them again in 2 Cor. 12:14: “I do not want your possessions, but you.”

9:21 – Paul quickly qualifies the sense in which he is “without law” (ἀνομος). This ought to be understood to mean, not just “lawlessness” in the sense of “not having an ethical code from God to live by”, but “without Torah”, in the sense of not having a covenant with God, not having a defined relationship to Him. Hence Paul’s explanation that even if he behaves as “without law” — say, by fraternizing with Gentiles, eating whatever is sold in the marketplace (Lat. macellum), or not preaching circumcision — he still has a true relationship to God in Christ, the living Torah, the Word made Flesh.

9:23 – the goal is to be a “fellow sharer” (συγκοινωνος) with the Corinthians in the gospel. Note well: this desire is not merely for a place at the table for Paul’s self, but for the Corinthians to be at the table with him! Otherwise, no need for the prefix συν- (“fellow-” or “together”). But what does P mean by partaker of the gospel? The locution is reminiscent of 9:13, which mentions priests who partake (συμμερίζονται) “of the altar.” This is a metonymic expression: the NKJV unhelpfully tries to gloss it, unpacking “of the altar” as “of the offerings of the altar”, thereby limiting (rightly or wrongly) the meaning to the physical sustenance, the meat of the sacrifices offered on the altar. But the gospel is not amenable to this sort of physical interpretation. Discuss: what does it mean to “share in the gospel”?

9:25 – This may be the answer to “what is it to share in the gospel?” — it is to suffer, and die, and reign with Christ; it is to obtain a crown.

9:27 – Paul exercises himself in order not to become “disqualified” (ἀδοκιμος). This is a minor theme in the Corinthian letters. Cf. my old, yet still unanswered — because unanswerable! 🙂 — article at



  1. […] “let a man examine himself” means in 1 Corinthians 11. (Also here.) 3. From the fact that the children of priests are entitled to eat of the same holy food that priests do. This involves proving that Christian baptism is an […]

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