In I Corinthians, Paul seems to argue that it is unreasonable to think that a precept of the law that ostensibly deals with the care of oxen actually is written out of care for oxen, but it is instead completely about financing his apostles:

1Co 9:9 For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? 10 Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope. (KJV)

Is the answer to his rhetorical questions "No, God doesn't care about oxen, he says it entirely about funding his apostles"?


Yes, the question is rhetorical, expecting the negative response, but no, this does not suggest Paul thinks that God is unconcerned about animals or that this Old Testament passage was originally about Apostles.

Paul was attempting to draw the reader's attention to an Old Testament passage which clearly teaches the same principle Paul was trying to teach the Corinthians, hence the rhetorical nature of his question. (Of course, such an argument would only have worked if the meaning of the OT passage was clear to both parties.) Paul's assumption was that the meaning of the OT passage would be clear enough to his readers -- unless they completely missed the point of it and took it to be about being nice to cattle!

The problem, of course, is that for many modern exegetes, it's not immediately apparent how the OT passage would offer clear support for Paul's argument! Paul was an expert in the Law and a very skilled exegete, so to grasp Paul's logic, it is helpful to first grasp the meaning of the OT passage through careful study of the Law in its original language and context. Hebrew professor Dr. Jan Verbruggen has done this, and has presented his findings in an article for the Evangelical Theological Society. (Here) His conclusion, after extensive examination of the nature of the Law, parallel ANE law codes, the Hebrew, etc. is that the statement was never about being nice to cattle -- it was about not short-changing your neighbor by weakening his animal when you rent it for working your land. In other words, it's just like all the other stipulations of the Law; it was meant to maintain justice and prohibit people from using others for personal gain to their detriment.

So Paul wasn't saying that God doesn't care about animals (cf. Matt. 6:26) or that the OT passage was about Apostles (in which case his rhetorical question would have been completely ineffective); he was making an appeal to the clear principle from the plain reading of this OT passage as support for his argument. Basically, "even the Law says you shouldn't short-change your neighbor for services rendered!".

Anecdotally, I do wonder if Paul didn't pick this particular law in order to suggest that he was a mere laborer (like an ox) and the one they were really being dishonest with was his master (God).

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  • While the article was imaginative and well written it clearly is not what Paul had in mind since Paul clearly concludes that it is the unbridled ox that expects compensation, not the imagined owner: "...For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope." (KJV) In what way is the imagined renter "plowing in hope" since he is not plowing at all? – user10231 Aug 10 '15 at 23:32
  • @WoundedEgo It is not the renter "plowing" but the ox, and by implication, its owner. I'm not sure what you meant by "the ox expects compensation". You think Paul's trying to say that an ox is consciously working because he expects to receive fair payment for his labor? This seems to me to miss the point of both passages completely. – Jas 3.1 Aug 11 '15 at 1:50
  • what does short changing mean? – Sharen Eayrs Aug 11 '15 at 6:21
  • I think the parallel passage in 1 Tim 5:18 makes it all crystal clear: 1Ti 5:17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. 1Ti 5:18 For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward. It is the laborer (the ox) that is to be unmuzzled so they get their reward. So also the apostles must be unmuzzled by being permitted to gather their compensation from those they serve. Clear as day. – user10231 Aug 11 '15 at 7:00
  • @SharenEayrs It's a more polite way of saying "swindle", " use", and clearer phrases I probably shouldn't repeat on this site. To state it positively, "compensate people for the services they render you." Paul was working for them, serving them in ministry, and yet they provided him no compensation. They were like a man who rents his neighbor's ox and then deprives it of food as it labors, and then returns it weak and hungry. – Jas 3.1 Aug 11 '15 at 21:50

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