Privileges of an Apostle Page 4 (series: Lessons on 1 Corinthians)
by John Lowe
4 Have we not power to eat and to drink?
Paul is making a statement, not asking a question. Certainly, as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul had a right to eat and to drink. As an Apostle he had that liberty. However, that liberty was curbed and curtailed by others. He had made the bold declaration. “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” (1 Cor. 8:13). He had the right to eat meat, but he was not going to eat meat. Now that is an exercise of free will, isn’t it? It is free will to be able to do something and then choose not to do it. In a sense, that is a higher liberty, perhaps the highest liberty that there is. If you cannot do something, you do not do it; there is no exercise of free will in that. But if you are able to do something and then choose not to do it that is a revelation of your free will.
Here the word “power” is used in the sense of “right;” the right to choose what to eat and drink; but there was another issue being debated in Corinth, that is, whether Paul had the right to receive a wage (sometime referred to as “maintenance”) for his ministry among them. The objection they raised seems to have been this, “You, Paul and Barnabas, labor with your own hands—‘After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth; And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them. And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers” (Acts 18:1-3; KJV)’—but other religious teachers lay claim to maintenance, and are supported without personal labor. This is the case with pagan and Jewish priests, and with Christian teachers among us. You must be conscious, therefore, that you are not Apostles, and that you have no claim or right to support.” To this the answer of Paul is, “We admit that we labor with our own hands. But your assumption is wrong. It is not because we do not have a right to such support, and it is not because we are conscious that we have no such claim, but it is for wise and important reasons that we support ourselves by tent making, as they had done in most places where they stayed.” Paul proves at length in the subsequent part of the chapter that they had such a right.
5 Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other Apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?
Have we not power to lead about a sister,
“Have we not power” would be better stated; “Have we not a right?” The objection which Paul answers here appears to have been, that Paul and Barnabas were unmarried, or at least that they traveled without wives. The objectors insisted that the other Apostles had wives, and that they took them with them, and expected provisions to be made for them as well as for themselves. The Corinthian believers felt that this showed that they had a claim to support for their families, and that they were conscious that they were sent by God. But Paul and Barnabas did not have families, as far as we know. And the objectors inferred from that that they were conscious that they had no claim to the Apostleship, and no right to support. To this Paul replies as he had before, that they had a right to do the same as the other Apostles did, but they chose not to do it for reasons other than that they were conscious that they had no such right.
The Greek word rendered “power” is “εξουσιαν” which has the same meaning here, as it does in 1 Corinthians 9:4, implying authority or right; and that this authority is not merely derived from their office, but from God who gave them that office.
The phrase “to lead about,” as it is used here, has the sense of; being in their company; to lead from place to place; and to have them taken care of at the expense of the churches they are ministering to.
The phrase "a sister, a wife", is a Hebraism, and denotes "my sister, spouse:” “Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck” (Song 4:9; KJV). The Jews called their wives, sisters, not on account of their religion; but because of the common relation that men and women have to one another, which was also a predecessor to any closer relationship, such as that of man and wife. This phrase has puzzled commentators, but the simple meaning seems to be, “a wife who should be a Christian.” Probably Paul meant to call attention to the fact that the wives of the Apostles were and should be Christians; and that it follows, that if an Apostle led about a wife she would be a Christian. It is very doubtful, as he traveled from place to place, that the Apostle would have brought with him, a woman to whom he was not married.
Paul says that he has the right to take a wife with him—he has that liberty—but he has made his decision to remain single. After all, he was a pioneer missionary, and his life was a very rugged one. That is what the Apostle means when he speaks of leading about a sister, a wife; he means that he and all the other Apostles, and consequently all ministers of the Gospel, had a right to marry. It is almost certain that our Lord‘s brothers James and Jude were married; Philip the Evangelist had four daughters—“And the next day we that were of Paul's company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him…And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy” (Acts 21:8-9; KJV)—and we have infallible evidence that Peter was a married man, not only from this verse, but from Matthew 8:14, where his mother-in-law is mentioned as being cured by our Lord of a fever—“And when Jesus was come into Peter's house, he saw his wife's mother laid, and sick of a fever” (Matt 8:14; KJV).
The Apostles wives shared the same faith; since that is implied in the word sister. This is a crucial proof against the celibacy of the Catholic clergy: and as to their attempts to evade the force of this text by saying that the Apostles had holy women who took care of them, and ministered to them during their travels, there is no proof of it in scripture or within any historical writings. Furthermore, they would never have allowed either young women or other men‘s wives to accompany them in their travels, since that would have given rise to rumors and the worst kind of scandal. And one Clemens Alexandrinus remarked that the Apostles brought their wives with them, “not as wives, but as sisters, that they might minister to those who were mistresses of families; that so the doctrine of the Lord might without reprehension or evil suspicion enter into the apartments of the women.”
Paul had as good a right to be married, and have his family supported, as Peter and the other Apostles had. Ministers of the gospel, whether serving in Christian Churches in this nation or as missionaries to heathen lands, have a right to be married, and for them and their families to be supported; though it may sometimes be wise not to exercise this right.
as well as other Apostles,
It is evident from this clause that the Apostles in general were married, and their wives accompanied them on their missionary journeys. Now, we cannot say that all the Apostles were married, but it is clear from this and other scriptures that most were. The Greek phrase used here is οἱ λοιποὶ ἀπόστολοι hoi loipoi apostoloi, which is rendered “as well as the remaining Apostles,” or “as well as the other Apostles.” And if they were married, it is right and proper for ministers to marry now, whatever the Catholic Church may say to the contrary. It is safer to follow the example of the Apostles than the opinions of the Catholic Church. There may have been a number of reasons why the Apostles took their wives with them on their journeys. They may have given instruction and counsel to those of their own sex to whom the Apostles could not have access, or perhaps they went along to minister to the needs of their husbands as they traveled. We need to bear in mind that they traveled among pagans; they had no coworkers and no friends; therefore, they took their wives with them for companionship and to care for them during sickness and ordeals. Paul says that he and Barnabas had a right to do this; but they had not used this right because they preferred to minister the gospel without charge, because they thought they could do more good, if they were beholden to no one: “What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel” (1 Cor 9:18; KJV). From this, we may draw several conclusions:
1. That it is right for ministers to marry, and that the Catholic doctrine of the celibacy of the clergy is contrary to the apostolic example.
2. That it is right for missionaries to marry, and to take their wives with them to pagan lands. The Apostles were missionaries, and spent their lives in pagan nations as missionaries do now, and there may be as many good reasons for missionaries marrying now as there were then.
3. That there are people, like Paul, who can do more good without being married. There are circumstances, like his, where it is not advisable that they should marry, and there can be no doubt that Paul regarded the unmarried state for a missionary as preferable and advisable. Probably the same is to be said of most missionaries at the present day, that they could do more good if unmarried, than they can if burdened with the cares of family life.