1 Timothy 5:17-18 states

Elders who provide effective leadership must be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard in speaking and teaching. For the scripture says,

“Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,”


“The worker deserves his pay.”

The first reference is pretty clearly to Deuteronomy 5:24, but I am unsure of what the second quote is a reference to. A Cross-reference I found suggests this might be a reference to Deuteronomy 24:14-15. If so, it is not a direct quote. Does this quote verbatim a portion of Deuteronomy 24:14-15 in the Septuagint, or is this a paraphrase or a reference to another passage?


The comment of the Apostle Paul that “The worker deserves his pay” appears to have been the prevailing interpretation of this verse according to the oral traditions of the Jews during the First Century and beyond.

For example, in regard to this passage from Deuteronomy, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote the following in his compendium on the history of the Jews. That is, Josephus lived during the First Century when he wrote the following.

Jewish Antiquities, Book IV, 233.
“Do not muzzle the mouths of oxen when they thresh the ears of corn on the threshing-floor, for it is not right to bar from the fruit those who joined in the work and who have exerted themselves with regard to its production. (emphasis added)

The bolded text above was not part of the Hebrew Bible, but was instead the commentary and clarification of Josephus concerning the text. That is, Josephus understood the verse to mean the ox was comparable to human beings who participate and consume from the fruit of their labors.

Several hundred years later, the Babylonian Talmud appeared, which codified the oral traditions of the Jews. The following passage reflected the same interpretation found in Josephus, but with more clarification in that the consumption of the fruit of ones labors appears only permissible for those who were “full time” employees and therefore entitled to “fringe benefits.”

Please note the areas below highlighted in yellow, and please click on the text below to view the source (online).

b. Baba Mesi'a, Folio 91B

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In summary, the mention of the verses in Deuteronomy by the Apostle Paul in 1 Tim 5:17-18 appears to include the prevailing interpretation of the verse according to the oral tradition of the Jews. That is, his clarification of the verse in Deuteronomy concerning the unmuzzled ox was the prevalent Jewish interpretation of the verse at that time, which was, “The worker deserves his pay.”


These reference the words of Jesus, found in Luke 10:7 (emphasis mine):

7 And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house.

Peter calls Paul's writings Scripture as well:

14 Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; 15 and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. - 2 Peter 3:14-16 (NKJV)

  • 1
    That has some interesting dating implications. – Susan Dec 31 '15 at 20:34
  • @Susan I think most critical scholars would date Luke before 1 Timothy. – Dick Harfield Dec 31 '15 at 21:32
  • @Dick Maybe. Since there is substantial variability on both counts, "most critical scholars" may be hard to pinpoint. It would at least argue against a 2nd C. date for Luke (though cf. Matt 10:10) which I think (at least for its final form) is an idea still alive and well in some circles. Unless they were using a common source document, tradition of Jesus sayings, etc....and round and round we go. – Susan Dec 31 '15 at 21:57

Adding to what other have said, seeing the application of a word can provide additional insight as to its Biblical meaning even if the word itself is not used.

The first worker was God:

And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. (Genesis 2:2 KJV)

The meaing of μισθοῦ can be wages or reward:

Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward (μισθὸς) in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Matthew 5:12 KJV)

If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward (μισθὸν). (1 Corinthians 3:14 KJV)

Therefore, even the Creator received a μισθὸν for His work:

Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed. (Exodus 31:16-17 KJV)

Observing the Sabbath is a reminder that a worker deserves his μισθὸν and that all mankind can share in the same μισθὸν that the LORD God gave to Himself.

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