Borrowing beasts & paying preachers: Why Paul’s use of the Old Testament makes sense

This was a real “Oh yeah – aha!” moment in my understanding of the Bible, especially in my understanding of the way Paul uses the Old Testament.

The Law of Moses says:

You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain. (Deut 25:4)

Paul says:

For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. (1 Cor 9:9-10)

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour 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 Tim 5:17-18)

What’s going on here? To summarize (and slightly expand) Justin Taylor’s argument:

  • The Old Testament says: If you borrow somebody’s ox to use in your field, it’s only fair to the owner that you should let the ox eat your grain.
  • Paul says: If you benefit from an apostle or elder (especially one supported by somebody else), it’s only fair you should feed him.
  • Why? Because the law about oxen isn’t ultimately a law about animal welfare; it’s a law about human justice.

Paul’s not doing violence to the Old Testament here; he’s just reading it carefully and applying it to the situation of apostolic ministry.