the weblog of Alan Knox

What about the right of elders/pastors?

Posted by on Oct 9, 2007 in elders, office | 12 comments

So far, as I have attempted to share my argument against paying an elder/pastor based upon his position, I started with a general principle of work: 1) “working with your hands” to support yourself and others is different than 2) work as service or ministry (see “What about work?“). Also, I showed that elders specifically are instructed to work with their hands to provide for their own needs and the needs of others, and that this work was distinct from their responsibilities of shepherding the flock of God (see “What about work for elders/pastors?“).

Then, in response to a possible counter-argument, I suggested that the “double honor” of 1 Timothy 5:17 is not a salary paid because of an elder’s position, but it is an individual’s response to anyone who has already led or taught (see “What about honor for elders/pastors?“).

In this post, I would like to consider a second counter-argument: Paul said that as a minister of the gospel, he had the right to receive compensation from those he served. Even though Paul did not exercise his right, elders still have the right to receive compensation from the church and are not wrong when they exercise that right.

First, we should consider Paul’s “right” to receive support from those he served:

Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? (1 Corinthians 9:4-6 ESV)

If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. (1 Corinthians 9:11-15 ESV)

For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:7-10 ESV)

So, we see Paul talking about his “right” to receive compensation from those he served in two passages: 1 Corinthians 9 and 2 Thessalonians 3. Since I have already discussed 2 Thessalonians 3 in a previous post, and since 2 Thessalonians 3 seems to speak against the counter-argument, I will focus my attention on 1 Corinthians 9.

First Corinthians 9 appears in the middle of a discussion of giving up one’s rights for the “weaker brother”. In Chapter 9, Paul offers himself as an illustration and as an example to follow. But, specifically, what “right” is Paul giving up, and is this a “right” that is given to all followers of Jesus Christ?

Paul begins Chapter 9 by explaining the context of his illustration and example. In 1 Corinthians 9:1-6, he says that he is talking about himself, Barnabas, other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas (Peter). In particular, he says that he is talking about those “take along” (not “have”) a wife (vs. 5). These verses set the stage for his argument: Paul is talking about Christians who are travelling away from their home for the purpose of spreading the gospel. Since these people are away from their home, they are also away from their primary source of support: their place of employment or their job.

As we read through Chapter 9, we should keep this in mind. If we begin to apply this to all believers, then the argument will not make sense. For example, Paul says, “In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:14 ESV) However, Paul clearly believes that ALL followers of Jesus Christ are responsible for “proclaiming the gospel”. Does this mean that ALL followers of Jesus Christ have a “right” to receive a salary? No. We must keep context in mind. When Paul says, “those who proclaim the gospel”, we should remember that he is talking about those who travel away from their homes in order to proclaim the gospel.

In fact, in 1 Corinthians 9, while talking about his “right”, Paul never changes his focus to “local leaders”. He never mentions elders or pastors or teachers or even prophets. Instead, he maintains his focus – from the beginning of his argument to the end – on those who are travelling away from their home, and thus, away from their source of support. These are the ones who have the “right” to receive compensation, and even they should give up that right, according to Paul’s example.

By the way, we can see that this “right” is not reserved for apostles and the brothers of the Lord by examining 3 John. In that short letter, the author praises Gaius and others for supporting brothers who are travelling away from their home, and he admonishes Diotrephes for failing to offer support. According to the author of 3 John, Christians should offer support to other Christians who are travelling through their area. The author also recognizes leaders who remain in one location, such as Diotrephes.

However, in Scripture, we never see this “right” to support offered to those who remain in one place. It is never offered to elders/pastors.

So, my response to the counter-argument that elders/pastors have a “right” to receive compensation because of their position, I suggest that Scripture does not offer this “right” to elders/pastors or any other believer who stays in one location. Instead, that “right” is available only to believers who travel away from the source of income. Even those believers who travel are encouraged by example to give up their “right” so that they will not hinder the gospel.

Do you agree that Paul is focusing on believers who travel away from their home in 1 Corinthians 9? If not, what in that passage indicates that Paul is broadening his focus beyond those who travel? Does this “right” – either for travelling Christians or for any Christian – include the “right” to a salary?


Series: Scripturally, we cannot justify paying elders/pastors a salary based on their position.

1) What about work?
2) What about work for elders/pastors?
3) What about honor for elders/pastors?
4) What about the right of elders/pastors?
5) Summary – Should elders/pastors be paid a salary?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 10-9-2007

    I think it’s worth drawing attention, too, to the fact that when Paul does talk about being supported, it is almost always (if not always) being supported by the ones to whom one is ministering.

    In this sense, then, one might draw the conclusion that our modern practice of missionaries being fully supported by sending churches is not even in line with what Paul describes.

    Your thoughts?

  2. 10-10-2007

    “In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”

    Which command of our Lord is Paul referring to? Is it this one?

    “Freely you have received, freely give. Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave.”

    This does seem to me what Paul is referring to since he is talking about being supported by those he is ministering to as opposed to receiving an offering from other churches (which he did sometimes do).

    Perhaps this is why the New Living Translation puts 1 Cor 9:4-6 this way:

    “Don’t we have the right to live in your homes and share your meals? Don’t we have the right to bring a Christian wife with us as the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers do, and as Peter does? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have to work to support ourselves?”

  3. 10-10-2007


    I think Paul does receive money from churches in cities where he is not currently located. For example, in the book of Philippians he thanks them for sending a gift to him.


    You left out the first part of that passage:

    Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. (Matthew 10:5-12 ESV)

    It seems that the apostles were travelling from place to place, much like Paul later. But, beyond that, this phrase which comes just before your quote is very interesting: “You received without paying; give without pay.” It’s spoken in the context of proclaiming, healing, raising, cleansing, and casting out. The apostles received all of these without paying for them, and Jesus says to do them without receiving pay.


  4. 10-10-2007

    Alan, as before, I’m inclined to not view modern pastors and elders as synonymous.

    Today, pastors do leave their homes and travel to new churches to minister and often (hopefully because of God’s calling), leave when the work they were called for is done, moving on to the next city.

    And for that reason, I see pastors as fitting the mold of Paul and Barnabas more than of the elders.

  5. 10-10-2007


    This brings up an interesting issue (interesting to me anyway). I could be totally off base here, but it seems to me that we have missed an important distinction made by the NT writers, Paul in particular. The distinction is between local elders and evangelists. We seem to confuse the two. I think we need to recognize these as separate giftings.

    What Mike has just described………..”Today, pastors do leave their homes and travel to new churches to minister and often (hopefully because of God’s calling), leave when the work they were called for is done, moving on to the next city.”…….is exactly what we see Timothy, Titus, Apollos, Barnabas and even Paul doing. They traveled from area to area to “Preach the Word”, and “set things in order”. These men were clearly marked out in the NT as evangelists and not local elders.

    Local elders seem to be men who were ALWAYS raised up from within the local congregations. We NEVER see from the scriptures where local elders are brought in from outside a local congregation. Therefore our “modern” practice of finding men to function as elders from outside our congregations is, if I may say so, unbiblical.

    I would appreciate anyone’s thoughts on this.


  6. 10-10-2007


    Yes, I thought of the Philippians passage when I commented, but wasn’t sure if it fell into the category of “support”. Unless I’m forgetting some details of what he writes (I’m shooting from the hip here), I don’t think we can make a case that what he received from Philippi was anything but a one-time gift.

    A gift is a gift, not a salary. But I don’t think there’s any indication that Paul was receiving a monthly check from Philippi to support him in his missionary work, is there?

    Bear in mind, I’m not trying to argue against missionary support (or even paying an elder). Just trying (as you are) to distinguish between what is a biblical indication and what is simply a practice we have put in place. Hopefully, then, we can move beyond “it’s the way Jesus told us to do it” concept that seems to permeate our traditions.

  7. 10-10-2007


    As you point out, “modern pastors” are not the same as biblical pastors. The point of my blog and this post is to discuss biblical aspects of the church, including pastors. If modern believers do not feel that their leaders should follow the biblical prescriptions and descriptions, then this blog and discussion is not for them. However, I would suggest that they also stop requiring their “pastors” to meet biblical qualifications or to carry out biblical functions. Because, as you pointed out, they are different.

    I wonder how many “pastors” would be hired if they told people that they were actually functioning as “Paul and Barnabas” and that therefore they plan to leave in 1 1/2 to 3 years.


    I think you make a good point. As I said to Mike above, believers should ask themselves if they want to follow the prescriptions and descriptions of Scripture or not. If not, then this discussion does not apply. If so, then hopefully they will consider my argument, which I think is from Scripture.

    The difference between modern day pastors and biblical evangelists is that biblical evangelists did not expect to stay in a certain area, nor did they tell people that they expected to stay in a certain area.


    I see the distinction you are making between one-time support and continuing support. I think it is a good distinction and a biblical distinction.


  8. 10-11-2007

    Two more thoughts:

    A. I think you’ve hit it right on the head regarding Biblical prescriptions and descriptions. Simply put, your case for arguing any point is weaked when you argue on descriptions rather than prescriptions. Application becomes more and more complex when you argue from a descriptive account rather than a prescriptive one. The requirements of 1 Timothy and Titus are prescriptive.

    And to say that we should drop the other pastoral requirements such as those in Timothy and Titus is not sound either because these are qualities required of ALL believers.

    I also think that most churches are aware that pastors don’t often stay for the rest of their lives. My father has pastored for about 25 years at four different churchs ranging from 2 years to 14 years. And I know that he does not plan on being in the present church for the rest of his life either.

    When it comes down to it. I think that you’re confusing form and function. Character is prescribed and gifting is prescribed.

    Church government is arbitrary.

  9. 10-11-2007

    I’m a bit late getting in on the discussion but just wanted to say that both the post and comments above are all good. The only thing I would add is a hearty “AMEN!”

  10. 10-12-2007


    Thanks for the interaction here. I’ve enjoyed the discussion.


    You’re not late. Thank you for adding your “Amen”.


  11. 9-28-2011

    Alan, That you can say on the idea of that the vision of the local church corresponds to the shepherd ?

    ¿Que puedes decir sobre la idea de que la visión de la iglesia local corresponde al pastor?

  12. 9-28-2011

    Juanjo Gómez,

    I’m working on a post about Proverbs 29:18 now. I should be ready to publish it by the middle of next week.