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1 Corinthians 9

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Verse 1

1 COR. 9

This whole chapter is devoted to the discussion of the rights of an apostle, and by extension, the rights of ministers of the gospel to support by their congregations, seven distinct and convincing arguments being given (1 Corinthians 9:1-14), with the remaining part of the chapter being taken up by Paul's explanation of why, in his own case, he did not compel the honoring of such right by the Corinthians. It begins with a pointed proof of his being a genuine apostle (1 Corinthians 9:1-3).

Am I not free? am I not an apostle? have I not seen Jesus our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, yet at least I am to you; for the seal of my apostleship are ye in the Lord. My defense to them that examine me is this. (1 Corinthians 9:1-3)

By the last sentence here Paul took knowledge of the slander then current in Corinth to the effect that he was not a true apostle, the alleged proof of it being that Paul had supported himself instead of claiming the emoluments of an apostle as the other apostles were doing. As DeHoff noted, "It is a common occurrence for some minister to preach on an evil and have the evil-doer condemn the preacher instead of repenting of the evil."[1]

Paul refuted the charge that he was not a genuine apostle with two indubitable proofs: (1) he had seen the Lord Jesus, and (2) God had marvelously blessed his apostleship, the Corinthian church itself being the stark proof of it, "the seal," as Paul called it, of his apostleship.

It is important to see in this short paragraph the impossibility of any man's being a true apostle unless he had seen Jesus Christ after our Lord's resurrection, thus being an eyewitness of the resurrection.

Verse 4

Have we no right to eat and drink? Have we no right to lead about a wife that is a believer, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? Or I only and Barnabas, have we not a right to forbear working?


Have we no right ...? is a Hebrew idiom for "We certainly do have the right."

To eat and drink ... means "entitled to be fed by the church."[2] It is incorrect to refer this to eating and drinking in an idol's temple.

Wife that is a believer ... In view here, as Morris noted, is not the rights of apostles to marry; nobody in the first century would have raised any such question; rather, the thing in view is "the right to lead about a wife,"[3] maintaining her (along with her husband) at the church's expense.

The rest of the apostles, and Cephas ... This means that all of the other apostles, and Cephas (Peter) in particular, carried their wives with them on their missionary journeys; and Paul as a true apostle had the same right to do so. Significantly, Peter appears in this passage not as a celibate, but as a family man. It will be recalled that his mother-in-law was healed by Jesus (Matthew 8:14). Thus, it is certain that Peter did not forsake the married state to discharge his apostolic office.

Brethren of the Lord ... These were James, and Joseph, and Simon and Judas (Matthew 13:55); and there is nothing in the New Testament that requires these to be understood in any other way than as the half-brothers of Jesus, the natural children of Joseph and the Virgin Mary, her virginity following the birth of Jesus being nothing but a superstition. For more on Mary's so-called perpetual virginity, see in my Commentary on Matthew, pp. 9-11.

Or I only and Barnabas ... It appears that Barnabas also gave up his right to be supported by the churches. While commendable in the highest degree, this renunciation of the right of support on the part of Paul and Barnabas resulted in their being looked down upon by some who were steeped in the culture of the Greeks. "The philosophers regarded the men who performed menial tasks as inferior."[4] Working with one's hands for his own support was detested by them.

As Metz considered it, so do we, that the "wife" to be carried about as mentioned here could have any possible reference to some woman who was not the wife of the missionary, but a mere female companion or woman assistant, is "morally preposterous."[5] It is a fact, however, that the historic church did so pervert the meaning of this place; and of such perversion Farrar said:

It was the cause of such shameful abuses and misrepresentations that at last the practice of traveling about with unmarried women, who went under the name of "sisters," "beloved," or "companions," was distinctly forbidden by the third canon of the Council of Nice.[6]

Paul's argument is simply that he was as fully entitled to be supported by the churches as were any of the other apostles, a right proved by the general acceptance of it throughout the brotherhood of that day.

[2] J. W. McGarvey, Commentary on First Corinthians (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1916), p. 89.

[3] Leon Morris, Tyndale Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1958), p. 133.

[4] Donald S. Metz, Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press, 1968), p. 397.

[5] Ibid., p. 396.

[6] F. W. Farrar, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), Vol. 19, p. 287.

Verse 7

What soldier ever serveth at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not the fruit therof? or who feedeth a flock and eateth not the milk of the flock?


This argument derives from the inherent right of soldiers to be supported by their government, the right of the owner of a vineyard to eat the crop, and the right of a shepherd to drink of the milk of the flock. Such rights have been universally recognized and accepted in all ages. These examples are pointedly appropriate in their application to ministers of the gospel. "The Christian minister fights evil (as a soldier), plants churches (like the planter of a vineyard), and shepherds congregations."[7]

Verse 8

Do I speak these things after the manner of men? or saith not the law the same? For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn. Is it for the oxen that God careth, or saith he assuredly for our sake? Yea, for our sake it was written: because he that ploweth ought to plow in hope, and he that thresheth, to thresh in hope of partaking.


Paul's argument here is founded on the quotation from Deuteronomy 25:4, which Paul affirmed to be applicable to the support of ministers of the word of God. However, when Paul said that "God does not care for oxen" (the meaning of the interrogative), it is not a denial that God commanded righteous men to regard even their beasts. In the sense that God sought to protect even a beast from abuse, God did indeed care for oxen; Paul's point here is, he would care infinitely more for the proper care and support of his ministers.

The scene in view is that of an ancient threshing floor, the like of which may still be seen in some places. The wheat (or other grain) was placed upon a threshing floor; and the oxen were driven, treadmill style, around the floor until their hooves had beaten out the grain. No Jew, in the light of the law of Moses, could muzzle the ox and prevent his eating during his work on the floor. Pagans, of course, muzzled the ox to prevent his eating any of the grain.

The prohibition in Deuteronomy occurs in a section where human relations, rather than the treatment of animals, is under consideration; and from this it appears that the human application of the principle was primary, even in Deuteronomy. As Morris said, "It may well have been meant figuratively from the first."[8] In any event, Paul applied it with full force to the question of supporting preachers of the gospel.

Verse 11

If we sowed unto you spiritual things, is it a great matter if we shall reap your carnal things?


As Grosheide noted, "Carnal is not here identical with sinful; the contrast is between the heavenly and the earthly, between the spiritual and the material."[9] "What was earthly support in comparison with the riches of the gospel?"[10]

[9] F. W. Grosheide, The New International Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1953), p. 207.

[10] J. W. McGarvey, op. cit., p. 91.

Verse 12

If others partake of this right over you, do not ye yet more? nevertheless we did not use this right; but we bear all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.


The right pointed out in this verse is the superior right of one who planted and nourished a congregation over the claims of others who came afterward; and, by their admission of the claims of many teachers who succeeded Paul, they were bound to admit the prior rights of the founder of their congregation. This writer has known of ministers of the gospel whose labors had planted churches, but who were neglected and denied adequate support at a later period when those congregations had flourished and become prosperous; and something of this same abuse was taking place in Corinth. Despite this, Paul, even then, was not willing to be supported by any gifts from Corinth.

That we may cause no hindrance to the gospel ... In order to disarm any evil thought to the effect that Paul was preaching the word of God for money, the grand apostle chose rather to suffer privation and hardship.

Verse 13

Know ye not that they which minister about sacred things eat of the things of the temple, and they that wait upon the altar have their portion with the altar?


Paul doubtless had in mind the sacred things of the temple in Jerusalem, but his words have even a wider application, including the universal practice of all the world in such matters, the same things being true of the pagan temples as well as of the temple of the Jews.

It may well be that Paul's mention, only a moment previously, of not being a "hindrance" to the gospel, was precisely what prompted the thought of the rich emoluments and perquisites of all priests, pagan and Jewish, and of the "hindrance" which the conduct of such priests certainly causes.

Barclay gave a detailed account of all the profitable benefits which Jewish priests claimed under the temple system, pointing out that, at a time when the average family had meat only once a week, many of the priests were suffering "from an occupational disease caused by eating too much meat."[11] They had grown indolent, wealthy, and disdainful of the poor. Paul would not be LIKE THEM.

Nevertheless, Paul did not deny, but rather affirmed, the propriety of the servants of temples living from the temple revenues, the application being that ministers of the gospel should live from the revenues of the churches.

Verse 14

Even so did the Lord ordain that they that proclaim the gospel should live of the gospel.


Most commentators believe that Paul here had reference to the Lord's statement that "The laborer is worthy of his hire" (Luke 10:7); but it might be true that "They that proclaim the gospel should live by the gospel" is a verbatim statement of the Lord himself, being another quotation from the Lord found exclusively in Paul's writings, another example of the same thing being in Acts 20:35: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." There is no logical reason why this may not be another such statement of the Lord himself.

In any case, here was the climax of Paul's argument that ministers of the gospel should be supported by the churches. He summed it all up as having been "ordained," that is, "commanded" by the Lord Jesus Christ himself; and it makes no difference if the reference is to such a passage as Luke 10:7, or to a specific order of the Lord; it is true either way, or both ways.

The balance of the chapter deals with a further explanation on Paul's part of why he had renounced on his own behalf a right of so much consequence to the growth of the church in all ages. The nobility, self-denial, altruistic motivation and benevolent love of others are set forth in the following verses.

Verse 15

But I have used none of these things: and I write not these things that it may be done in my case; for it were good for me rather to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.

Why did Paul take such a viewpoint? He clearly foresaw that, in so doing, he would rob Satan of any excuse to allege that the eternal gospel of Christ had first been advocated by people seeking their own gain. He would simply rather die than to give the devil any such opportunity to slander the truth.

Glorying ... has reference to glorying in a gospel freely proclaimed without cost to those who heard it. The genius of the holy apostle was profoundly correct in such a discernment; and, through his own self-denial and sacrifice, he placed all subsequent generations of people under a debt of appreciation and gratitude.

Verse 16

For if I preach the gospel I have nothing to glory of; for necessity is laid upon me; for woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel.

Woe unto me ... if I preach not ... It is to be feared that many ministers of the present day are lacking the essential compulsion which moved the apostle. As Barnes said:

Men who leave the ministry and voluntarily devote themselves to some other calling when they might preach, never had the right spirit. A man whose heart is not in the ministry, and who would be as happy in any other calling, is not fit to be an ambassador of Christ.[12]

What an indictment of one's life must it be for him to turn away from preaching the truth of God to a perishing world in order to avoid inconvenience, poverty, deprivation and hardship, and with a view to possessing a greater share of the earth's wealth, honor and privilege! It is to be feared that the spirit of the apostle Paul is as rare upon earth now as it was then.

Verse 17

For if I do this of mine own will, I have a reward: but if not of mine own will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me.

If I do this of mine own will ... This probably refers to "preaching the gospel without financial support," as indicated by the consequence, "I have a reward." Above, it was pointed out that this reward consisted of thwarting Satan in a most important particular, the same being stated in the verse immediately following.

I have a stewardship entrusted to me ... Shore's discernment of the meaning here appears to be correct. He said that if Paul's preaching the gospel (without charge) was not a thing voluntarily done, then, in that case, "he would be merely a steward, a slave doing his duty."[13] Throughout this passage, it is clear that Paul aimed at going beyond all duty and obligation. The phrase "over and beyond the call of duty" finds its noblest application in the person of Paul the apostle.

Verse 18

What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel without charge, so as not to use to the full my right in the gospel.

The gospel without charge ... This was Paul's reward, to be able to preach the gospel without charge to dying people. It is not to be denied that a commendable pride existed in his heart. As Wesley said:

There is perhaps no passage in the apostle's letters where there are more admirably revealed at once the nobility, delicacy, profound humility, dignity, and legitimate pride of this Christian character. Serving Christ cannot give him matter of joy except insofar as he has the consciousness of doing so in a condition of freedom.[14]

Verse 19

For though I was free from all men, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more.

From this it is clear that it was not merely a matter of justifiable pride that Paul should have insisted on making the gospel free; but it was related to thwarting Satan, as noted under 1 Corinthians 9:15 and for the purpose of procuring a more abundant harvest in the gospel. Moreover, there can be little doubt that Paul's selfless actions actually did result in a mighty increase in the numbers of those accepting the truth. In all ages, there are people of little minds who suppose that every servant of the gospel is more interested in the pecuniary rewards of his work than in the salvation of souls; and, alas, it must be confessed that many times the conduct of preachers themselves supports such allegations.

Under bondage to all ... This has the same ring as Paul's "debtor both to Greeks and barbarians" (Romans 1:14). He accepted for himself the obligation of preaching the gospel "to the whole creation."

Verse 20

And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, not being myself under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law.

I became as a Jew ... has the meaning that Paul did not then any longer consider himself as a Jew, except in an accommodative sense. At a time when it is being alleged that Jews do not have to give up their Jewry to become Christians, it is significant here that Paul did, in some very real sense, consider that he was no longer a Jew. If not, he could not have declared that "to the Jews he became as a Jew."

Not being myself under the law ... This is "a remarkable statement which emphasizes how completely Paul had broken with the law of Moses."[15] This is one of the strongest statements in his writings.

On all matters of innocence or indifference, Paul accommodated himself to the life-style of those whom he hoped to win for the gospel. In keeping with such conduct, he ate with Gentiles without raising any question of where they had purchased the meat; and when in the homes of Jews, Paul avoided flaunting any of the liberty which he enjoyed in Christ.

This accommodation to the viewpoint of others was the master strategy of Paul, reminding us of the notable instance from the life of the Saviour, who, at the well of Samaria, sought the common ground with the woman who had come to draw water. Jesus approached her in the common circumstance that both were thirsty. See my Commentary on John, p. 114. This conformity to the views of others on Paul's part, however, was limited to incidental or indifferent things; for Paul made it clear in the next verse that he was always under the law of Christ.

Verse 21

To them that are without law, as without law, not being without law to God, but under law to Christ, that I might gain them that are without law.

This was the limitation which was never waived or relaxed. Whatever adaptation marked Paul's conduct, it never involved disobeying the word of the Lord, or violating his allegiance to the law of Christ.

Verse 22

To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak: I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.

David Lipscomb's comment on this is:

Paul accommodated himself to the prejudices and preferences of men so far as he could without sacrificing truth and righteousness, in order to win them to Christ ... He did this not that he might be personally popular with any man, but that by doing so he might throw no obstacle in the way of their giving the gospel a fair hearing.[16]

For example, Paul felt no obligation whatever to keep the forms and ceremonies of the law of Moses; yet he observed and kept such things in circumstances where his failure to do it would have antagonized the Jews, and in cases where their observance did not violate the spirit of the new law in Christ Jesus. Thus, Paul shaved his head; but there is no record that he ever ate the Jewish Passover. As he said, "Christ is our Passover."

That I may save some ... As Johnson said, "This does not remove salvation from the hands of God";[17] and, when it is declared in the word of the Lord that people should "save themselves" (Acts 2:40), it is likewise true that their doing so cannot remove salvation from God's hands. When a man is baptized unto the remission of his sins, it does not make him his own saviour; because, when one obeys the gospel, he saves himself in the sense that he does that without which not even God can save him. In that same sense, not even God could save sinners without the preaching of the word; and by preaching the word, Paul, in that sense, saved people.

[16] David Lipscomb, Commentary on First Corinthians (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1935), p. 137.

[17] S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., op. cit., p. 616.

Verse 23

And I do all things for the gospel's sake, that I may be a joint partaker thereof.

Adam Clarke translated this, "I do all this for the sake of the prize, that I may partake of it with you."[18] Paul's use of the word "prize" in the verse immediately following also seems to indicate that it was the prize of eternal life which he had in view here. At any rate, he at once elaborated an illustration taken from the Isthmian games, in which the attainment of the prize was the goal of all participants.

Verse 24

Know ye not that they that run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? Even so, run that ye may attain.

There are important differences, as well as similarities, in such a contest as Paul referred to here. Analogies are: (1) to win; a man must contend legally, being properly enrolled in the contest, suggesting that a Christian must contend along with others in the church, and not as some kind of free-lance operator; (2) discipline is required (Hebrews 12:1); (3) some win; others do not win; (4) a host of spectators views the contest (Hebrews 12:1); (5) patience is necessary; (6) the winner receives the prize. The contrasts are: (1) only one may win an earthly race; all may win the heavenly; (2) the earthly reward is but a trifle; the heavenly reward is eternal life.

The prize ... Johnson objected to interpreting this as eternal life, declaring that "The apostle had in mind service and rewards, and not salvation and eternal life."[19] However, it is probable that such comments are derived from the necessity some scholars feel to soften the implications of "castaway" or "rejected" in 1 Corinthians 9:27. The "prize" in which Paul hoped to participate with all Christians could hardly be anything else, other than eternal life.


Barnes gives an excellent summary of the Greek contests which prompted Paul's comparison in this and following verses. There were four great celebrations: (1) the Pythian at Delphi, (2) the Isthmian at Corinth, (3) the Nemean in Argolis, and (4) the Olympian at Elis, on the southern bank of the Alphias river. Some of these were celebrated every four years (hence the word Olympiad), but others, such as the Isthmian, were celebrated every two years; and the Pythian were celebrated every three years, or as some say, every five years. In any case, there was hardly any year in which one or more of these celebrated contests did not occur.

The prizes given in these various games were usually garlands bestowed upon the victors, being constructed of the leaves of olive, pine, apple, laurel, or even parsley, their worth being totally symbolical.[20] It was for such worthless prizes that men endured all kinds of rigorous training and hardship; but it is a far different kind of prize that may be won by the Christian.

[19] S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., op. cit., p. 617.

[20] Albert Barnes, op. cit., pp. 169-171.

Verse 25

And every man that striveth in the games exerciseth self-control in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.

See under preceding verse for note on the nature of the "corruptible" crown bestowed upon the winner in the Greek games. In focus here is the dedication and discipline which men enforced upon themselves in order to win such prizes.

But we an incorruptible ... This is the phrase that requires "prize" in preceding verses to be understood as eternal life, that being the ONLY incorruptible crown, all others being sure to perish with time and using. This is the reward which is called "the crown of righteousness," which shall be bestowed upon the faithful by the Lord himself "at that day," that is, the judgment day (2 Timothy 4:8). It is the "crown of glory that fadeth not away," which shall be given to the redeemed "when the chief Shepherd shall be manifested" (1 Peter 5:4). It is the "crown of life" (Revelation 2:10).

Throughout this chapter, Paul was showing the Corinthians, and all Christians, that the inconveniences, hardships, disciplines and self-denial which were accepted by men striving to win in such a contest as the games, should far more willingly be endured and accepted by those intent upon the eternal reward. Specifically, they were not to flaunt their liberty in such a manner as to discourage others.

Verse 26

I therefore run, as not uncertainly; so fight I as not beating the air.

This indicates that "The whole of this chapter has been a vindication of Paul's self-denial,"[21] the object of it being the persuasion of the Corinthian boasters of their "liberty" to follow Paul's example by denying themselves all indulgence at the expense of the faith of their weaker brethren.

Beating the air ... is a reference to boxers who missed with their punches and so lost the fight. "Uncertainly ..." has reference to contestants in a race who, through lack of training, wobbled to defeat, not victory.

Verse 27

But I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage: lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected.

Buffet my body ... is metaphorical and does not refer to any type of flagellation such as was practiced by ascetics as a means of religious discipline. It indicates that every Christian, as Paul did, should exercise the sternest self-control over the body, its desires and appetites being a powerful source of temptation in all people.

I myself should be rejected ... As Foy E. Wallace, Jr., said: "The translators (in this place) were evidently attempting to circumvent the possibility of apostasy."[22] There is no excuse for rendering the word here [@adokimos] as either "rejected" (English Revised Version (1885)) or "disqualified" (RSV). It means "reprobate" and is so translated elsewhere in the New Testament (Romans 1:28; 2 Corinthians 13:5,6,7; 2Tim.3:8; Titus 1:16). It is thus crystal clear that the apostle Paul, even after the world-shaking ministry of the word of God which characterized his life, considered it possible that he himself could become reprobate and lose the eternal reward. It was for the purpose of avoiding that possibility that he buffeted his body, walked in the strictest discipline, and devoted every possible effort to the service of the Lord. His example should put an end to all thoughts of "having it made" as a Christian and being certain to win eternal life apart from the most faithful continuance in God's service.

We must therefore refuse interpretations of this passage such as that of Morris, who said, "Paul's fear was not that he might lose his salvation, but that he might lose his crown through failing to satisfy his Lord."[23] Clearly it was such a view as this that led to the mistranslation of 1 Corinthians 9:27; but the truth is available and clear enough for all who desire to know it.

The hope of eternal life is not sealed in a single glorious moment in one's experience of conversion; but it is a lifelong fidelity to the risen Lord, the running of life's race all the way to the finish line. As DeHoff wrote:

Not until every thought and imagination of man's heart is brought into subjection is his conversion complete. In this sense, conversion goes on as long as we live; and we are finally free from sin only when the day dawns and the shadows flee away, and we stand justified in the presence of God with the redeemed of all ages.[24]

Farrar's analysis of this verse is as follows:

The word "reprobate" here rendered "a castaway" (KJV) 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 saintly works of "supererogation, over and above what is commanded." "When the cedar of Lebanon trembles, what shall the reed by the brookside do?"[25]

It might be added that this passage also shows how little Paul believed any such doctrine as the "final perseverance of the saints," called also "the impossibility of apostasy."

[22] Foy E. Wallace, Jr., A Review of the New Versions (Fort Worth, Texas: The Foy E. Wallace Jr., Publications, 1973), p. 435.

[23] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 140.

[24] George W. DeHoff, op. cit., p. 78.

[25] F. W. Farrar, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), Vol. 19, p. 291.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.