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Elders/Pastors and Financial Benefits in 1 Timothy 5:18

Posted by on Mar 1, 2012 in discipleship, elders, scripture | 15 comments

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In many sectors of the church, elders/pastors and financial benefits seem to go hand-in-hand. In fact, until a few years ago, I had never heard of a church that did not fall into one of the following categories: 1) already employed one or more people as elders/pastors, 2) actively looking for one or more people to employ as elders/pastors, or 3) could not afford to hire someone as elder/pastor but was working toward that goal.

In this series, I am examining three passages (in four posts) in which elders/pastors and financial benefits are explicitly connected. Those three passages are Acts 20:33-35, 1 Timothy 5:17-18, and 1 Peter 5:2. I think it is important to analyze each passage to determine what it can or cannot mean before synthesizing the information together to help us understand what Scripture says about the connection between elders/pastors and financial benefits.

In this post, I’m going to examine what Paul wrote to Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:18 regarding elders/pastors and financial benefits. (Yesterday’s post examined the preceding related verse 1 Timothy 5:17.)

Here is the verse under consideration along with the preceding verse:

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:17-18 ESV)

In my previous post concerning 1 Timothy 5:17, I concluded the following:

The people are only to consider elders worthy of double honor if they are already leading well and working hard in the word and teaching. There is no indication here that the people should provide “double honor” SO THAT elders lead well and work hard. So, the “double honor” in this passage is not similar to the modern concept of the salary. If anything, it is closer to the modern concept of the honorarium or “love offering.”

However, it is often brought out – correctly, I might say – that Paul uses the term “wages” in 1 Timothy 5:18, a term which probably does refer to something similar to the modern cay concept of salary. Does Paul’s use of the term “wages” indicate that Paul sees “double honor” as “salary”?

The argument is that Paul is equating “elders” with “laborers”, and he is also equating “double honor” with “wages/salary.” Thus, according to this interpretation, elders are laborers and should be paid their wages just as other laborers.

However, there is a problem with this interpretation. Mainly, it does not work with the first part of the verse. In order for this interpretation to work consistently, then Paul must also be equating “elders” with “ox,” and he must also be equating “double honor” with “grain.” However, no one argues that elders are oxen who should be given grain. Instead, it is recognized that this is a metaphor.

The metaphorical connection between “elders”/”double honor” and “oxen”/”grain” helps us understand how to interpret the connection between “elders”/”double honor” and “laborers”/”wages.” The connection is the concept of something being deserved.

Elders (who lead well) deserve double honor in the same way that oxen deserve to eat grain while threshing and in the same way that laborers deserve the wages they were promised. Thus, elders are not laborers just as elders are not oxen. And, double honor is not wages just as double honor is not grain. The metaphor is used to demonstrate that one things deserves something else.

So, 1 Timothy 5:18 does not connect “double honor” with wages. Again, “double honor” could indicate some type of financial benefit, but it is impossible to tell in that context (since the term is used in different ways in the same context – see my previous post on 1 Timothy 5:17). The use of the term “wages” in 1 Timothy 5:18 does not affect the meaning of the phrase “double honor.”


Elders/Pastors and Financial Benefits Series

  1. Introduction
  2. Acts 20:33-35
  3. 1 Timothy 5:17
  4. 1 Timothy 5:18
  5. 1 Peter 5:2
  6. Conclusion


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

  1. 3-1-2012

    Well-reasoned and nicely done — thank you!

    Similar thoughts from Lutheran commentator R.C.H. Lenski (from

    “It is generally assumed that the elders were paid for their services in the apostolic churches. We are convinced that this assumption is not tenable. The probability is that none of them were paid. The elders of the synagogues were not paid or salaried. Each synagogue had a number of elders, too many to have a payroll that would be large enough to support them. The apostolic congregations imitated the synagogue in this respect. Our passage speaks of ‘twofold honor,’ not of twofold financial pay or salary. Paul’s two quotations support the injunction relating to according due honor to diligent elders; such honor is to be their reward just as the ox treading out grain is accorded the privilege of eating as he tramped along, just as the worker is accorded his pay. The tertium of the analogy lies in the worthiness and not in the identity of what the three are worthy of: the elders worthy of what naturally should go with their office – honor; the ox worthy of what naturally goes with the task for which he is employed – wisps of grain; the workman worthy of what naturally goes with his work – pay for his work (Commentary on Saint Paul’s Epistles to Timothy [Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1937] p.683).”

    The final instructions and applications related to Paul’s directive would undoubtedly have been communicated by Timothy to the brethren in the church to follow. But should more thought be given, perhaps, to the person Paul’s directives would have been directed initially, that is, to Timothy himself in fulfilling his ministry to the church (in light of verses 19-22)?

    To be a responsible evangelist and apostolic co-worker, it would have been important, first of all, for Timothy to help the church recognize and honor the elders who served well as guides and teachers of the church. And, as you have pointed out, this would have meant for Timothy, like the rest of the church, that he observe and respond to what the elders were already doing, versus what they might potentially do.

  2. 3-1-2012


    Thanks for the quotations. You mentioned “two-fold honor.” This is often used to suggest it represents pay/wage, since it is different than the “honor” given to widows. This arguments misses the fact that slaves are to give their masters “all honor.” I think “all” is more than “double/two-fold”?


  3. 3-1-2012

    It seems that the widow reference is really telling. I don’t know that I have seen anyone say we should pay the widows of the church half of what we “honor” pastors with.

  4. 3-1-2012

    Arthur, they are certainly on the same wage scale with the elders who do not rule well…

    Why would Paul instruct Timothy from the Law with the ox reference, but not (nor does he ever) simply go to the Aaronic priesthood if that priesthood separation/non-inheritance is what was intended to be taught to the New Testament church?

  5. 3-2-2012


    I think the slave references (giving “all honor”) in 1 Timothy 6:1 is even more telling.


    The lack of connection between elders/overseers/pastors/whatever in the NT and either Levites or priests in the OT is very important, I think.


  6. 3-4-2012

    Interesting thread. I think you have shown that the three new testament passages could show that Elders/overseers were unpaid, however as you have referenced this is only one possible interpretation. So it may help to start from a different place, “Should elders/overseers” be full time. If we start there we can easily see that those Elders/overseers who serve the church and also have another (paid) job should not be paid. Those who serve full time and have – as a consequence – no other source of income should be paid.
    It would seem to me that the first apostles, who left fishing and tax gathering, to follow Jesus were full time. It would make sense of the early Christians selling land and possessions for the “general fund” of the church. It would make sense of the Apostles appointing deacons so that they could “dedicate themselves to prayer and the Word”, it would make sense that sometimes Paul accepts support, and at other times he makes tents.
    Working in a paid job in addition to being an Elder makes sense because it does not burden the church who are then free to support Widows and ministry, but being set apart as a full time Elder also makes sense because it gives time to the pursuit of God and the building up of the Church. This distinction is consistent with the OT expectation that Israel support the Levites who had to serve full time and were expressly forbidden to own land/have a source of income.
    So not at all as clear cut as concentrating on just three passages suggests!

  7. 3-4-2012


    Is there an example of what you’ve described in the New Testament? Is there an example of any of the authors of the New Testament telling elders to expect payment from churches (either part-time or full-time)?

    You said, “…being set apart as a full time Elder also makes sense because it gives time to the pursuit of God and the building up of the Church.” But, according to Scripture, this is the responsible of ALL believers, not specifically of elders. Elders are never connected to Levites in the New Testament.

    By the way, these passages are not the reason that I believe elders should not be paid a salary. However, I do not see how any of these passages would support the idea of elders being paid a salary. Acts 20:33-35 specifically would indicate otherwise.


  8. 9-22-2012

    Hi Alan

    I am enjoying your posts on this issue – thank you. Your previous comment here has made me curious. If these verses are not the reason that you believe elders should not be paid a salary, could you please explain what the reason is?

  9. 9-22-2012


    I’ve written part of my reasoning and interpretations of Scripture in a series that ends with this post: “Summary – Should elders/pastors be paid a salary?” You’ll find links to the others posts in the series in that summary post. I’ve also written extensively on a few of the key passages such as 1 Timothy 5, 1 Corinthians 9, and Acts 20 (a passage that is often ignored, but directly relates to this topic).


  10. 11-2-2012

    Very interesting topic. I think workers of the church deserves to be paid because of their dedication and hard work in the ministry., but sadly, only the Pastors enjoyed that benefit knowing that the elders/workers of the church have the big responsibility and job inside the church compare to them.. According to 1 timothy 5:18″ worker deserves his wages. it means not only the Pastors and also the workers/ laborers in the church.. Let us break the mindset that only the Pastors have the right to be paid!

  11. 11-5-2012


    I do not think 1 Timothy 5:17-18 refers to payment for someone to be an elder or other type of church leader. However, if it is interpreted to be payment/salary, then you are correct: it should be applied to all elders, and also probably to widows (1 Timothy 5:3) and masters of slaves (1 Timothy 6:1).


  12. 6-4-2013

    Thanks you for your explanations.( I am so sorry about my English because I am not a native English speaker) I was wondering about First Timothy chapter 5 verse 22. The bible said “Do not lay hands anyone hastily”, which means the imposition of hands or another meaning?
    I am so sorry if I interrupt you….

  13. 6-4-2013


    Thank you for your comment. “Laying on of hands” demonstrated many different things in Scripture. In the example you mention from 1 Timothy 5:22, it seems to represent a church recognizing or appointing people as elders. So, Paul is telling them not to do that hastily.


  14. 6-12-2013

    I really appreciate of your help. To be honest, every time I read Bible, I have difficulty understanding it. I was wondering about if I have a question, should I ask to you?

  15. 6-15-2013


    I certainly don’t have all the answers. But, I’ll be glad to discuss any topic with you. You can email me at alan[at]alanknox[dot]net.