1 Corinthians 9
Pulpit Commentary
Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord?
Verses 1-27. - The rights and the self denial of an apostle. Verses 1-14. - An apostle's right to maintenance. Verse 1. - Am I not an apostle I am I not free? The order of the best manuscripts is, Am I not free? am I not an apostle? St. Paul designed in this chapter to show that he was not only giving a precept, but setting an example, He told the "strong" Corinthians, who had "knowledge," that they should be ready to abnegate their rights for the good of others, he now wishes to show them that, in a matter which affected his whole life, he had himself abnegated his own rights. Being free and an apostle, he could, if he had chosen, have claimed, as others had done, a right to be supported by the Churches to which he preached, he had thought it more for their good to waive this claim, and therefore he had done so at the cost (as appears in many other passages: 1 Corinthians 4:12; Acts 20:34; 1 Thessalonians 2:9) of bitter hardship to himself. But St. Paul practically "goes off" at the word "apostle." It was so essential for him to vindicate, against the subterranean malignity of hostile partisans, his dignity as an apostle, that in asserting that authority he almost loses sight for the time of the main object for which he had alluded to the fact. Hence much that he says is of the nature of a digression - though an important one - until he resumes the main thread of his subject at 1 Corinthians 11:15. Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Doubtless he mainly refers to the vision on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3, 17; 1 Corinthians 15:8), though he received other visions and revelations also (Acts 18:9; Acts 22:14, 18; 2 Corinthians 12:1, etc.). he had probably not seen Christ during his life on earth (see my 'Life of St. Paul,' 1:73-75). The words are added to remind them that those who boasted of personal knowledge and relation with Jesus - perhaps the Christ party - had no exclusive prerogative. Are not ye my work in the Lord? I am not only an apostle, but emphatically your apostle (Acts 18:1-11; 1 Corinthians 4:15).
If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.
Verse 2. - Unto others. If the emissaries from Jerusalem or the Petrine party do not choose to regard me as their apostle or an apostle at all, yet at any rate I am yours. Doubtless; rather, at least, at any rate. The seal of mine apostleship. Your conversion attests the genuineness of my claim, as a seal attests a document. Thus baptism is the seal of conversion (Ephesians 4:30; comp. Romans 4:11; John 3:33).
Mine answer to them that do examine me is this,
Verse 3. - Mine answer; literally, my defence; the word "examine" is the word used for a legal inquiry. The Corinthians had as it were placed him on his defence at the bar of their criticism. Is this. That I was the cause of your conversion. In 2 Corinthians 12:12 he refers to other proofs of his apostolic power.
Have we not power to eat and to drink?
Verse 4. - To eat and to drink. To be supported by those to whom we preach (Luke 10:7).
Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?
Verse 5. - To lead about a sister, a wife. There can be no doubt that this represents the true reading, and that the meaning is, "We have power to lead about, that is, to travel in company with, some Christian sister to whom we are married, and who is supported at the expense of the Church." This plain meaning, however, involving the assertion that the apostles and desposyni ("the Lord's brethren") were married men, was so distasteful to the morbid asceticism which held celibacy in a sort of Manichaean reverence, that the scribes of the fourth, fifth, and later centuries freely tampered with the text, in the happily fruitless attempt to get rid of this meaning. They endeavoured, by putting the word in the plural or by omitting "wife," to suggest that the women whom the apostles travelled with were "deaconesses." Augustine, Tertullian, Ambrose, and others explain the verse of "ministering women" (Luke 8:2, 3). The false interpretation avenged itself on the bias which led to it. Valla adopts the wilful invention that the apostles, though married, travelled with their wives only as sisters. Such subterfuges have eaten away the heart of honest exegesis from many passages of Scripture, and originated the taunt that it is a "nose of wax," which readers can twist as they like. It was the cause of such shameful abuses and misrepresentations that at last the practice of travelling about with unmarried women, who went under the name of "sisters," "beloved," "companions," was distinctly forbidden by the third canon of the first Council of Nice. Simon Magus might unblushingly carry about with him a Tyrian woman named Helena; but apostles and true Christians would never have been guilty of any conduct which could give a handle to base suspicions. They travelled only with their wives. A sister. A Christian woman (1 Corinthians 7:15; Romans 16:1; James 2:15, etc.). A wife; i.e. as a wife. Other apostles. This is a positive mistranslation for "the rest of the apostles." It might be too much to infer positively from this that every one of the apostles and desposyni were married; but there is independent evidence and tradition to show that at any rate most of them were. The brethren of the Lord. They are clearly and undeniably distinguished from the apostles. According to the Helvidian theory (to which the plain language of the Gospels seems to point), they were sons of Joseph and Mary. This is the view of St. Clement of Alexandria in ancient times, and writers so different from each other as De Wette, Neander, Osiander, Meyer, Ewald, and Alford, in modern. The theory of Jerome, that they were cousins of Jesus, being sons of Alphseus and Mary, a sister of the Virgin, is on every ground absolutely untenable, and it was half dropped even by St. Jerome himself, when it had served his controversial purpose. The theory of Epiphanius, that they were sons of Joseph by a previous marriage, is possible, but incapable of proof. It comes from a tainted source - the apocryphal Gospels (see my 'Early Days of Christianity,' 2). Cephas. St. Paul also uses the Aramaic name in Galatians 2:9. Peter's wife is mentioned in Matthew 8:14 and in the tradition of her martyrdom (Clem. Alex., 'Strom.,' 7. § 63).
Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?
Verse 6. - And Barnabas. Like St. Paul, Barnabas was in every respect a genuine apostle, by the Divine call (Acts 13:2; Galatians 2:9), though not one of the twelve. He seems to have continued in his separate mission work the practice of independence which he had learnt from St. Paul. This allusion is interesting, because it is the last time that the name of Barnabas occurs, and it shows that, even after the quarrel and separation, Paul regarded him with love and esteem. To forbear working. To give up the manual labour by which we maintain ourselves without any expense to the Churches (Acts 18:3; 2 Thessalonians 3:8, 9). If, then, St. Paul toiled at the dull, mechanical, despised, and ill paid work of tent making, he did so, not because it was, in the abstract, his duty to earn his own living, but because he chose to be nobly independent, that the absolute disinterestedness of his motives might be manifest to all the world. For this reason even when he was most in need he would never receive assistance from any Church except that of Philippi, where he had at least one wealthy convert, and where he was beloved with a peculiar warmth of affection.
Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?
Verse 7. - Who goeth a warfare, etc.? In this and the following verses he adduces six successive arguments to prove the right of a minister to be supported by his congregation.

1. From the ordinary laws of human justice (ver. 7).

2. By analogy, from the Law of Moses (vers. 8-10).

3. A fortiori, from the obligations of common gratitude (ver. 11).

4. From their concession of the right to others who had inferior claims (ver. 12).

2. From the Jewish provision for the maintenance of priests (ver. 13).

6. By the rule laid down by Christ himself (ver. 14). Goeth a warfare. Analogy from the payment of soldiers (2 Corinthians 10:4). At his own charges. The word used for "cost" means literally rations (Luke 3:14; Romans 6:23). Planteth a vineyard. Analogy from the support of the vine dressers (Matthew 9:37). Feedeth a flock. Analogy from the support of shepherds (1 Peter 5:2). The two latter classes of labourers are paid in kind in the East to this day.
Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?
Verse 8. - Say I these things as a man? Am I relying exclusively on mere human analogies? The same phrase occurs in Romans 3:5; Galatians 3:13. Saith not the Law. The verbs used for "say" (λαλῶ) and "saith" (λέγει) are different: "Do I speak [general word] these things as a man? or saith [a more dignified word] not the Law," etc.?
For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?
Verse 9. - In the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 25:4). He uses the same argument again in 1 Timothy 5:19. The mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn; rather, an ox while treading out the corn. The flail was not unknown, but a common mode of threshing was to let oxen tread the corn on the threshing floor. Doth God take care for oxen? Certainly he does; and St. Paul can hardly mean to imply that he does not, seeing that tenderness for the brute creation is a distinguishing characteristic of the Mosaic legislation (Exodus 23:12, 19; Deuteronomy 22:6, 7, 10, etc.). If St. Paul had failed to perceive this truth, he must have learnt it at least from Psalm 145:15, 16; Jonah 4:11. Even the Greeks showed by their proverb that they could pity the hunger of the poor beasts of burden starving in the midst of plenty. It is, however, a tendency of all Semitic idiom verbally to exclude or negative the inferior alternative. St. Paul did not intend to say, "God has no care for oxen;" for he knew that "his tender mercies are over all his works:" he only meant in Semitic fashion to say that the precept was much more important in its human application; and herein he consciously or unconsciously adopts the tone of Philo's comment on the same passage ('De Victim Offerentibus,' § 1), that, for present purposes, oxen might be left out of account. The rabbinic Midrash, which gave this turn to the passage, was happier and wiser than most specimens of their exegesis. St. Paul sets the typico allegorical interpretation above the literal in this instance (comp. 1 Timothy 5:18), because he regards it as the more important. It is a specimen of the common Jewish exegetic method of a fortiori or minori ad magus. Luther's curious comment is: "God cares for all things; but he does not care that anything should be written for oxen, because they cannot read"!
Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.
Verse 10. - Altogether. It is probable that St. Paul only meant the word to be taken argumentatively, and not au pied de la lettre. This application (he says) is so obviously the right application, that the other may be set aside as far as our purpose is concerned. In the margin of the Revised Version it is rendered "Saith he it, as he doubtless doth, for our sake?" In hope. St. Paul's large experience of life, and his insight into character, sufficed to show him that despairing work must be ineffectual work. The spring and elasticity of cheerful spirits is indispensable to success in any arduous undertaking.

"Life without hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And hope without an object cannot live."
If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?
Verse 11. - If we. The we is in both clauses emphatic, to show that the argument applied directly to St. Paul's own case. Is it a great thing. An argument a fortiori. If ordinary labour is not undertaken gratuitously, is the spiritual labourer to be left to starve? St. Paul always recognized the rights of preachers and ministers, and stated them with emphasis (Galatians 6:6; Romans 15:27), although from higher motives he waived all personal claim to profit by the result of his arguments.
If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.
Verse 12. - If others. St. Paul felt a touch of natural indignation at the thought that these Corinthians submitted to the extremest and haughtiest exactions from other teachers who had been loud in the statement of their own pretensions, while his own claims were shamefully disparaged, and he was even left, with perfect indifference, to suffer real privation. We shall find the full expression of his wounded sensibilities in 2 Corinthians 11:1-15. We have not used this power. This strong climax here asserts itself before the time. It anticipates ver. 15. Suffer. The same word, which also means "to contain without leaking," is used in 1 Corinthians 13:7; 1 Thessalonians 3:1, 5. All things. Any amount of privation and distress. Hinder the gospel of Christ. By giving any handle for malicious misrepresentations as to our being self interested. The word for "hindrance" means etymologically "cutting into," i.e. an impediment on a path, etc.
Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?
Verse 13. - They which minister about holy things. Jewish priests. He adds his two final arguments - since the right which he is pleading has its own intrinsic importance - before proceeding to the example which he set in order to prevail on the strong to give up their rights and their liberty, when need was, for the sake of the weak. Live; literally, eat, or feed. The Zealots used this excuse for themselves when they broke open the temple stores in the siege of Jerusalem (Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 5:13, § 6). Of the things of the temple. They shared in the victims offered (see Numbers 18:8-13; Deuteronomy 18:1). Partakers with the altar. Only certain portions of certain victims were allowed them.
Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
Verse 14. - Hath the Lord ordained (Matthew 10:10;.Luke 10:7). The reference has special interest, because it shows that St. Paul was at least orally familiar with the discourses of Christ. Indeed, there is nothing impossible or improbable in the supposition that some of these were already being circulated in manuscript. Should live of the gospel. If, that is, they desired and had need to do so. He does not say, "to live of the altar," because Christians have no "altar" except in the metaphorical sense in which the cross is called an altar in Hebrews 13:10.
But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.
Verses 15-23. - Self denying ordinance of St. Paul. Verse 15. - I have used none of these things. None of the forms of right which I might claim from these many sanctions. He is appealing to his own abandonment of a right to encourage them to waive, if need required, the claims of their Christian liberty. His object in waiving his plain right was that he might give no handle to any who might desire to accuse him of interested motives (1 Corinthians 9:4; Galatians 6:6, etc.). Have I written; rather, do I write; the epistolary aorist. That it should be so done unto me. Do not take my argument as a hint to you that you have neglected your duty of maintaining me, and have even seen me suffer without offering me your assistance. Better for me to die. Not "to die of hunger," as Chrysostom supposes, but generally, "I should prefer death to the loss of my independence of attitude towards my converts." Than that any man should make my glorying void. The Greek is remarkable. Literally it is, than my ground of boasting - that any one should render it void. Another reading is, better for me to die than - no one shall render void my ground of boasting.
For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!
Verse 16. -

1 have nothing to glory of. He is desirous to remove all appearance of haughtiness from his tone. There was, he says, no merit involved in his preaching the gospel. He did so from the sense of overwhelming moral compulsion, and he would have been miserable if he had tried to resist it. Necessity is laid upon me. "We cannot but speak" (Acts 4:20).
For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.
Verse 17. - If I do this thing willingly. The word rather means "spontaneously;" "without compulsion." He was preaching willingly, but still it was in obedience to an irresistible behest (Acts 9:6, 15). I have a reward. The reward (or rather, "wage ") of such self chosen work would be the power to fulfil it (comp. Matthew 6:1). Against my will; rather, involuntarily, "under Divine constraint." A dispensation. He was appointed a "steward" or "dispenser" of the gospel, and could only regard himself at the best as "an unprofitable slave," who had done merely what it was his bare duty to do (Luke 17:10). There is no merit in yielding to a must.
What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.
Verse 18. - What is my reward then? The answer is that it was not such "wages" as would ordinarily be considered such, but it was the happiness of preaching the gospel without cost to any. I abuse not; rather, I use not to the full, as in 1 Corinthians 7:31. It may be said that this was a ground of boasting, not a reward. It was, however, a point to which St. Paul attached the highest importance (1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Corinthians 11:7-12; Acts 20:33, 34), and he might therefore speak of it, though almost with a touch of half unconscious irony, as his "fee." There is no need to adopt the construction suggested by Meyer: "What is my reward? [none] that I may preach gratuitously;" or that of Afford, who finds the reward in the next verse.
For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
Verse 19. - For though I be free; rather, though I was free. He has voluntarily abandoned this freedom. The true rendering of the verse is, For being free from all men [Galatians 1:10], I enslaved myself to all. In acting thus he obeyed his own principle of not abusing his liberty, but "by love serve one another" (Galatians 5:13).
And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
Verse 20. - Unto the Jews I became as a Jew. When, for instance, he circumcised Timothy (Acts 12:3) and probably Titus also (Galatians 2:3; see 'Life of St Paul,' 1. 412, sqq.); and he was continuing this principle of action when he took the vow of the Nazarite (Acts 21:21-26), and called himself "a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees" (Acts 23:6). To them that are under the Law. That is, not only to Jews, but even to the most rigorous legalists among the Jews. It should be carefully observed that St. Paul is here describing the innocent concessions and compliances which arise from the harmless and generous condescension of a loving spirit. He never sank into the fear of man, which made Peter at Antioch unfaithful to his real principles. He did not allow men to form from his conduct any mistaken inference as to his essential views. He waived his personal predilections in matters of indifference which only affected "the infinitely little."
To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.
Verse 21. - To them that are without law, as without law. In other words, I so far became to the heathen as a heathen (Romans 2:12), that I never wilfully insulted their beliefs (Acts 19:87) nor shocked their prejudices, but on the contrary, judged them with perfect forbearance (Acts 17:30) and treated them with invariable courtesy. St, Paul tried to look at every subject, so far as he could do so innocently, from 'their point of view (Acts 17.). He defended their gospel liberty, and had intercourse with Gentile converts on terms of perfect equality (Galatians 2:12). Not without law to God. Not even "without law" (anomos) Much less "opposed to law" (antiheroes), though free from it as a bondage (Galatians 2:19). The need for this qualification is shown by the fact that in the Clementine writings, in the spurious letter of Peter to James, St. Paul is surreptitiously calumniated as "the lawless one." Even the Gentiles were "not without law to God" (Romans 2:14, 15). So that St. Paul is here using language which base opponents might distort, but which the common sense of honest readers would prevent them from misinterpreting.
To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
Verse 22. - To the weak. His whole argument here is a plea for condescension to the infirmities of weak converts. A similar condescension to their prejudices might be necessary to win them to Christianity at all (1 Corinthians 8:13; "We that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves," Romans 15:1). St. Paul often touches on our duties to weak brethren (1 Corinthians 8:7; Romans 14:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; Acts 20:35). All things to all men. He repeats the same principle in 1 Corinthians 10:33, "I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved;" and once more, at the end of his course (2 Timothy 2:10). This condescension laid him open to the malicious attacks of religious enemies (Galatians 1:10). But not on that account would St. Paul ever be led to abandon the fruitful aid of that universal sympathy and tolerance which is one of the best tests of Christian love. That I might by all means save some. He adds this explanation of the motive of his condescension to various scruples συγατάβασις) lest any should accuse him of men pleasing, as some of his Galatian opponents had done (Galatians 1:10). In his desire to win souls he acted with the wisdom and sympathy taught by experience, suppressing himself.
And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.
Verse 23. - And this I do. The better reading is, and I do all things. For the gospel's sake. This is a wider feeling than even "for the elect's sakes" of 2 Timothy 2:10. With you. The "you" is not expressed in the original, where we only have "a fellow partaker [συγκοινωνὸς, Romans 11:17] of it." But the word illustrates the deep humility of the apostle.
Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
Verses 24-27. - Exhortation to earnestness as a corollary from the principles here stated. Verse 24. - Know ye not that they which run in a race run all? They as Corinthians would well know the full bearing of every illustration derived from the triennial Isthmian games, which were the chief glory of their city, and which at this period had even thrown the Olympic games into the shade. The words "in a race," are rather, in the stadium. The traces of the great Corinthian stadium, where the games were held and the races run, are still visible on the isthmus. This metaphor of "the race," which has pervaded the common language of Christianity, is also found in Hebrews 12:1; Philippians 3:14; 2 Timothy 4:7. The prize. The bracium was the wreath given to the victor by the judges. The Christian prize is that of "the high calling of God in Jesus Christ," towards which St. Paul himself was pressing forward.
And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
Verse 25. - That striveth for the mastery; rather, that strives to win in a contest. St. Paul never allows his converts to dream of the indefectibility of grace, and so to slide into antinomian security. He often reminds them of the extreme severity and continuousness of the contest (Ephesians 6:12 1 Timothy 6:12). Is temperate in all things. One good moral result which sprang from the ancient system of athleticism was the self denial and self mastery which it required. The candidate for a prize had to be pure, sober, and enduring (Horace, 'Ars Poet.,' 412), to obey orders, to eat sparely and simply and to bear effort and fatigue (Epict., 'Enchir.,' 35) for ten months before the contest. A corruptible crown. A fading garland of Isthmian pine, or Nemean parsley, or Pythian olive, or Olympian bay. An incorruptible; "unwithering" (1 Peter 2:4); "amaranthine" (1 Peter 5:4); "a crown of righteousness" (2 Timothy 4:8); "a crown of life" (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10; comp. also 2 Timothy 2:5; Revelation 3:11).
I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
Verse 26. - Not as uncertainly. My eye is fixed on a definite goal (2 Timothy 1:12). So fight I (Romans 7:23; Ephesians 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7); literally, so box 1. Not as one that beateth the air; rather, as not beating the air. Not what the Greeks called "a shadow battle." I strike forthright blows, not feints, or blows at random.
But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
Verse 27. - I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; literally, I bruise my body, and lead it about as a slave. The word tamely rendered "keep in subjection" means literally, I smite under the eyes. The pugilistic metaphor is kept up, and the picturesque force of the words would convey a vivid impression to Corinthians familiar with the contests of the Pancratum, in which boxing with the heavy lead-bound caestus played a prominent part. The only other place in the New Testament where the word occurs is Luke 18:5, where it seems (on the lips of the unjust judge) to have a sort of slang sense. How St. Paul "bruised his body" may be seen in 2 Corinthians 6:4, 5; Colossians 3:5; Romans 8:13. It was not by absurd and harmful self torture, but by noble labour and self denial for the good of others. When I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. "Lest" - such is the meaning of the metaphor" after proclaiming to others the laws of the contest (as a herald), I should myself violate those conditions, and be not only defeated as a combatant, but ignominiously rejected from the lists and not allowed to contend at all." The metaphor is not strictly adhered to, for the herald did not personally contend. No candidate could compete without a preliminary scrutiny, and to be "rejected" was regarded as a deadly insult The word "rejected," "reprobate" - here rendered "a castaway" - is a metaphor derived from the testing of metals, and the casting aside of those which are spurious. That Paul should see the necessity for such serious and unceasing effort shows how little he believed in the possibility of saintly "works of supererogation, over and above what is commanded." "When the cedar of Lebanon trembles, what shall the reed by the brookside do?"

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