The Apostle Paul and Rights – 1 Corinthians 9:1-6

In the 1 Corinthians 8 Paul agreed with the Corinthians that eating meat sacrificed to idols was not sinful. However, if that act of freedom in Christ causes another believer to sin, then that freedom should be set aside for the sake of the gospel. What were the Apostle Paul’s rights?

Apostle Paul

In a series of rhetorical questions, Paul first argues he has the right to be treated with respect because he is an apostle (9:1-6). Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? This is one the main qualifications for being an apostle, and in 1 Corinthians 15:8-10 Paul includes himself alongside Peter and James and individuals to whom Jesus appeared (and commissioned for a particular ministry?)

In fact, the church at Corinth is Paul’s proof of apostleship. He says, “Are not you my workmanship in the Lord?” Workmanship (ESV) tries to express the meaning of the word “work” (NRSV; NIV2011, ἔργον). The sense here is that the Corinthian church is Paul’s accomplishment in the Lord. If anyone doubts Paul is an apostle, the Corinthian church itself are a seal of his apostleship (9:2-3). The church at Corinth is a seal (σφραγίς) of his apostleship in the Lord” (v. 2). The noun translated as seal refers to something that bears an official imprint signing or sealing a document, but also attesting to the authenticity of that document (BDAG). This might be understood as, “you are my certificate of authenticity as an apostle.”

This is my defense (ἀπολογία) if someone wants to examine me (ἀνακρίνω). Both words are legal terms, as if someone is bringing a lawsuit against Paul in a court. Paul needs to deal with people in Corinth who doubted his qualifications as an apostle (or rather, that he has an inferior apostleship compared to the super-apostles). In Galatians 1 he responds to people who question his authority to declare Gentiles are free from the Law.

The next questions have to do with Paul’s rights as an apostle (9:4-5) “Do we not have the right to eat and drink” (9:4)? This may mean Paul and his ministry team have a right to “room and board” while they are in Corinth.

“Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife” (9:5). In the section on 1 Corinthians 7, I speculated the Apostle Paul may have been married and was now single, whether because his wife died, or she divorced him after he began to preach Jesus as Messiah.  This verse implies that Cephas (Peter) and Jesus’s brothers were married. Jesus’s brothers must include James. In 1 Cor 15:6-7, Peter and James are the only named individuals who witnessed the resurrection of Jesus besides Paul. In 9:5 Peter, James (implied) and Barnabas and Paul are the named apostles who have certain rights.

Do we have no right to refrain from working for a living (9:6)? Although there is evidence Jewish rabbis often had a trade, it is possible this manual labor was looked down on by Greco-Roman society. Bruce Winter cites Plutarch, Pericles 2.1 as evidence for disrespect towards manual labor, including leather workers (“we despise the workman…”) Manual labor may cost Paul credibility among the higher placed members of Corinthian society. There was something suspicious about a philosopher who taught for pay.

By asking these questions, Paul establishes he has clear rights as an apostle. In the same way an elite citizen of Greco-Roman Corinth had rights to a certain level of respect fitting his social status. But does Paul insist on the rights? Did Paul intentionally refuse patronage from members of the Corinthian church? If so, he may have offended some elite member of the congregation, creating enmity (along factional lines?)

One thought on “The Apostle Paul and Rights – 1 Corinthians 9:1-6

  1. I believe room and board were far from Paul’s thoughts. I believe he meant they were free to eat and drink what they pleased. You are making arguments for the weak to rule the strong, brother. Don’t fall into that trap.

    Woodrow Nichols

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