As many of my regular readers know, I do not believe that it is scriptural to pay a salary to a pastor/elder (or other localized Christian) because of their position in the church. (I do believe that sharing or honoring in response to anyone’s teaching, leading, or service is appropriate at times.) When I wrote a series of posts on this topic, someone asked about a particular phrase in Acts 20. I wrote the post “By working like this” about 3 years ago in response to that question.
Last October, I wrote a series of posts where I argued that paying a salary to an elder/pastor because of their position cannot be supported from Scripture. The summary to the series, and links to the other posts in that series, can be found in the post “Summary – Should elders/pastors be paid a salary?”
Recently, there have been some really good anonymous comments left in some of the posts of that series. One comment in particular by Jerry deserved further consideration. Jerry writes:
He [Paul] says that they (and he) must work hard to support the weak, embodying the principle of giving over receiving as spoken by Jesus and modeled by Paul in his providing for the men with him from his enterprises. I think you are reading more into outws in Acts 20:35 than can be substantiated from the greater context of scripture. Were they to work â€œexactlyâ€ as Paul did they would all have to enter the craft of tentmaking. Paul clearly argued that there were some in ministry positions who had the right to earn their living from the gospel (1 Cor 9:14). Paul didnâ€™t assert this right, this is to his credit, but Paulâ€™s example here cannot be exegetically construed to be prescriptive to all ministry workers lest a number of problems with the text arise.
The primary passage that Jerry references is Acts 20:33-35:
I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:33-35 ESV)
In context, this is the end of a speech that Paul gives to the elders of the church in Ephesus. This is a very valuable passage, because it is one of the few places in Scripture where elders are specifically addressed. (By the way, one other passage is 1 Peter 5:1-4.)
Jerry raises the question concerning the referent of “outws” (Î¿á½‘Ï„Ï‰Ï‚), which is an adverb that is generally translated “thus” or “in this manner”. It is translated “in this manner/way” in the ESV, NASB, and NET and “like this” in the NKJV and HCSB. Of course, the question is, “To what does ‘outws’ refer?” The NIV interprets the reference for us: “this kind of hard work”. But, is this a valid interpretation?
In verses 33-34, Paul says that he has demonstrated to these elders how he “worked hard with his hands” while he was among them. He did this in order to provide for himself and for others and so that he would not covet other people’s money – at least, according to the text this is why he did it. Notice that Paul does not mention how he worked. He does not mention that he made tents. That information is not necessary for his argument. What is necessary is that he worked hard with his hands in order to provide support for himself and others.
Next, in verse 35, Paul says that he showed the Ephesian elders (“you” – his audience was composed of elders from the church in Ephesus) that it was necessary for them to work “like this”. Literally, this verse reads, “In all things I showed you that it is necessary to help the weak by working hard like this…” The phrase “by working hard like this” is fronted both in the Greek text and in our English translations for emphasis. How do elders help the weak? Paul’s answer is, “By working hard like this”. Of course, this still brings up the question, “To what was Paul referring when he said “like this”?
From the context, Paul was using his own work (“with his hands”) as an example to the elders. They were to work in the same manner – that is, “with their hands in order to provide for themselves and others”. Again, Paul does not mention tentmaking in this argument, but it was not his emphasis. He did not expect nor encourage the elders to begin making tents like he did. However, he did expect each of them to “work hard with his hands”. This is the reference for “outws” – “in this way” or “like this”.
The remainder of verse 35 reinforced what Paul is saying. By working hard with their hands, the elders would be able to support themselves and to have enough to help others, especially those who are weak. Therefore, they would be remembering and living out Jesus’ words: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
By the way, this is not a nice suggestion on Paul’s part. Instead, he says, “It is necessary”. This is one of the strongest imperatival forms in the New Testament. Paul could have said, “It is fitting” or “It is proper”, which carries less weight. However, he did not. He said that it is necessary for elders to help the weak by working hard with their hands in order to support themselves and others.
One more quick note. As I’ve said before, I do not think that paying a salary to a pastor/elder because of their position is scriptural. First, this does not mean that I think the practice is always wrong. A practice does not have to be in Scripture to be appropriate at times. However, I do not think a salaried pastorship is necessary, and I think it is detrimental in many contexts. This does not mean that I condemn every pastor who receives a salary. In fact, I do not even bring up the topic with pastors that I personally know who receive a salary. Why? Because for the most part they are very godly people, interested in serving God and the church. Also, while I think they are wrong in their understanding of this topic, I also recognize that I could be wrong. In humility, I prefer to let God sort that out, and live in unity with other believers instead of causing division. Finally, I do believe that giving financially to pastors/elders is scriptural, when it is done by individuals in response to that person’s teaching, leading, and other forms of service. I have gratefully accepted money from people many times, as well as other types of support – that is, financial and non-financial. I have also been the recipient of hospitality from many different brothers and sisters in Christ. I also give cheerfully to others in response to their needs or in response to their teaching, leadership, and other forms of service and offer hospitality to others. “Money” is not the issue in my argument. Instead, the issue is whether or not a pastor/elder should be paid a salary based on their position as pastor/elder.