Paul and the Heritage of Israel– Part Twelve

The issue of Paul working with his hands, which comes up in a variety of Pauline texts, and also in Acts (cf. Acts 20.33; 2 Thess. 3.7-10; 1 Tim. 5.17; 2 Tim. 3.7-10, and also the general discussion in 1 Cor. 9), is treated in the translated essay by Yann Redalie (pp. 282ff.). The elders in Ephesus are exhorted to follow Paul in regard to this practice, which is part of the largely exhortation towards imitatio Pauli. The motive given for such imitation in Acts 20 is so that the weak may be provided for. In the letters Paul says the rationale is so Paul may offer the Gospel freely and without charge, but it is possible there were several motivating factors for why Paul did this from time to time. There is in addition in Acts the agraphon of Jesus, found in no Gospel— ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’ as a further motivating factor.

Where Redalie goes wrong (p. 285) is in seeing 1 Tim. 5.17-19 as at odds with Acts 20. In the Pastorals, elders are worthy of double honor, which may well mean double pay. But being worthy of pay, as all workmen are according to Jesus and Paul, is one thing, and accepting pay and support is another. It is a mistake to assume that Paul would not accept support under any circumstances because it was believed it would compromise his freedom and the free offer of the Gospel. Clearly, this idea doesn’t work in the face of the end of Philippians and 2 Cor. 8-9 where Paul is clear enough that he has received and accepted and used the support of the church in Philippi. The issue in Corinth is avoiding patronage. The Pastorals do stress that elders should not be lovers of money or money-grubbers but that is one thing, being paid for one’s work is another.

One of the real failings of the discussion in this essay is that there is not attempt to consider the remarks made in the context of patronage and clientage. But that is precisely the context is which: 1) Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians, as he tries to avoid patronage; and 2) why he speaks as he does about work and not being a sponge on others in the Thessalonian correspondence. In other words, he has converts who are clients, and happy to be dependent on others when they are able to work. Paul is busily circumventing this whole system of circumventing work, or co-opting and domesticating teachers and preachers by making them paid employees of some patron. Paul is providing a model to imitate when it comes to the issues of work, patrons, and clients. This can be a model for the whole community, but there is a stress in the Pastorals and in Acts that it is a model for leaders. N.B. that it is characteristic of false teachers and false prophets (see the Didache) that they are in it for the money or support, or hospitality.


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