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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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Greek and Roman thought regarded those who lived by labour as indispensable but contemptible necessities. Jewish teaching stood in strong contrast to this. ‘Hate not laborious work’ (Sirach 7:15) was accepted as a rule of life. Even the scholar was to spend some of his time in manual work (Schürer, History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).] II. i. [Edinburgh, 1885] § 25). The apostolic writers repeat and emphasize this principle. A man who does no work is to them a parasite (2 Thessalonians 3:10). In the Thessalonian Church the expectation of the speedy return of the Lord had been made an excuse by many for the abandonment of their daily work. St. Paul meets this by reminding his converts how, when he had preached to them, he had taught them to welcome a life of labour. It brings with it three good effects-quietness of spirit, honourable standing among neighbours, and independence of other men’s alms (1 Thessalonians 4:11 f., 2 Thessalonians 3:12). To these he adds in Ephesians 4:28 the ability to help those who are in need. It is possible, as von Dobschütz suggests, that this had been forgotten not only at Thessalonica, but also at Jerusalem, and that that fact was one of the causes of the distress among Christians there.

St. Paul enforced his teaching by his own example. He had been taught at Tarsus the local trade of tent-making, and by practising this (cf. Acts 18:3) maintained himself while evangelizing. That he might be no burden to others, he willingly worked overtime (‘night and day,’ 1 Thessalonians 2:9). His roughened hands showed the severity of his toil (Acts 20:33-35). In 1 Corinthians 9:6 he mentions Barnabas as another who lived by the same rule-a striking instance of self-discipline in view of his past history (cf. Acts 4:36).

The justification of this high view of labour can be seen in St. Paul’s treatment of the position of slaves (Ephesians 6:5-9, Colossians 3:22-25; Colossians 4:1). There was a danger that slaves might suppose that, as in the eyes of God they were of equal value with their masters, they need not do their work very carefully. But St. Paul forbids all scamping of work (‘not in the way of eyeservice’). It is to be done thoroughly, because they are servants not be much of earthly masters as of Christ, who has an absolute claim on their best, and will see to their reward.

It was the custom among Jewish artisans to maintain anyone of their own craft who was seeking work until his search was successful. In the Didache (xii.) a similar rule is laid down for Christians. But such help is to be given for two or three days only, to avoid imposture. If a man does not Know a trade, he is to learn one. Similar advice is given in Ep. Barn. (x.), where Christians are forbidden to keep company with the idle.

Modern conditions call for a renewed emphasis on the apostolic teaching about labour. The principles which it embodies are a warning, to the wealthy not to consider themselves exempt from labour, if they would be accounted Christians, and to the workman not to be content with less than the beat in his work, because anything less is unworthy of the Heavenly Master.

Literature.-E. von Dobschütz, Christian Life in the Primitive Church, Eng. translation , London and N.Y., 1904; W. Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis, N.Y., 1907, ch. iii.; F. Delitzsch, Jewish Artisan Life in the Time of Christ, London, 1902, ch. ix. § 3; A. B. D. Alexander, The Ethics of St. Paul, Glasgow, 1910. For Greek view of labour: E. Barker, Political Thought of Plato and Aristotle, London, 1906, ch. viii. § 1. For Roman: W. Warde Fowler, Social Life at Rome, do. 1908, ch. ii. For Jewish: Pirqe Aboth, ed. Taylor, do. 1877, p. 18; cf. Delitzsch, op. cit. ch. ii.

C. T. Dimont.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Labour'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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