2 Timothy 2:6 is usually translated as if it were summarizing The Little Red Hen:

New International Version 2 Tim 2:6 The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.

You can see many renderings of this here: 2 Timothy 2:6.

But Adam Clarke opines that the lesson of the passage is not about who gets to eat first or the biggest share but rather that there is a divine principle that labor precedes reward:

The husbandman that laboureth - The margin is, “labouring first, must be partaker.” The idea, according to the translation in the text, is, that there is a fitness or propriety (δει dei) that the man who cultivates the earth, should enjoy the fruits of his labor. See the same image explained in the notes at 1Co_9:10. But if this be the meaning here, it is not easy to see why the apostle introduces it. According to the marginal reading, the word “first” is introduced in connection with the word “labour” - “labouring first, must be partaker.” That is, it is a great law that the husbandman must work before be receives a harvest. This sense will accord with the purpose of the apostle. It was to remind Timothy that labor must precede reward; that if a man would reap, he must sow; that he could hope for no fruits, unless he toiled for them. The point was not that the husbandman would be the first one who would partake of the fruits; but that he must first labor before he obtained the reward. Thus understood, this would be an encouragement to Timothy to persevere in his toils, looking onward to the reward. The Greek will bear this construction, though it is not the most obvious one. -- Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible Albert Barnes (1798-1870)

I find Barnes' comments cogent. Do they agree with the Greek?:

Westcott and Hort / [NA27 variants] τὸν κοπιῶντα γεωργὸν δεῖ πρῶτον τῶν καρπῶν μεταλαμβάνειν.

2 Timothy 2:6 (Greek Texts)


2 Answers 2


First, there are no differences in the Greek text between NA28/UNS5 as compared to Westcott-Hort, majority and Byzantine texts - all read the same at 2 Tim 2:6.

Most translations render the Greek fairly well. I would literally translate the Greek thus: "It is necessary that the working farmer first of the fruits partake." To understand this passage, we must look at the context as this is one of several illustrations of the principle that Paul is arguing.

  • V1, 2 - Paul encourages Timothy to be a faithful worker.
  • v3, 4 - Illustration of the soldier; Christ who suffers through difficulties but concentrates on the work without distractions of worldly things
  • V5 - Illustration of the athlete who trains hard to receive a crown but must compete according to the rules
  • v6 - Illustration of the farmer who must work hard in order to partake of the produce
  • v7-10 "I endure everything for the sake of the elect so that they may also obtain …"

Paul then makes four assertions of principles that he regards as trustworthy about the reliability of God's end of the agreement and Jesus faithfulness:

  • If we died with Him [ie endured all things etc] we will also live with him
  • If we endure we will also reign with him
  • If we deny him he will deny us
  • If we are faithless he will remain faithful

This is quintessential Pauline argument style is using several illustrations to bolster the main thrust of his thought. Further this same idea of the saints persevering is taught elsewhere in the NT such as:

  • “… but he that endures to the end shall be saved.” Matt 10:22, 24:13, Mark 13:13.
  • “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” Heb 3:14
  • “And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.” (Heb 3:6)
  • “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.” (Col 1:22, 23)
  • “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test [= stood firm], that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)
  • “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you.” (1 Cor 15:58),
  • “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day …” (2 Tim 4:7, 8),
  • “being strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” (Eph 6:10)
  • “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” 2 Thess 2:15
  • “To the overcomer I [Jesus] will give …” (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 26, 3:5, 11, 12, 21)
  • “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:25)
  • “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Gal 6:9)

Thus, I agree with Barnes' comments.

  • Classy answer, thanks! +1 (and I wish I could mark it as the answer).
    – Ruminator
    Dec 22, 2018 at 1:18

Having been an avid gardener, I saw it being interpreted as the laborer should receive of his fruits from his work,but after I became a street preacher and observed others around me doing the same, it was impressed upon me that those that are out there working in the fields of the Lord must first be a partaker of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Otherwise, I have seen much crop damage done by those who do not display those gifts.

The verse after that says "Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.

Paul was also admonishing Timothy of those which would be placed in the ministry should have these fruits manifesting in their lives before he put them in positions in the Church.

  • That is an interesting thought. I don't think it was what Paul was reaching for but it is a good exhortation.
    – Ruminator
    Dec 22, 2018 at 1:21
  • Thanx! I understand, but what I am conveying that this is what the Spirit was reaching for when He spake through Paul. Dec 22, 2018 at 2:48

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