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1 Corinthians 9.9–11: A Literal Interpretation of ‘Do not Muzzle the Ox’

  • D. Instone Brewer (a1)

When Paul interprets ‘Do not muzzle the ox while threshing’ as ‘do not neglect to pay Christian ministers’, commentators have quite naturally assumed that his exegesis was allegorical. However, comparisons with contemporary rabbinic exegesis suggest that this would have been regarded as a literal interpretation of the plain meaning of the text.

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1 Hanson A. T., Studies in Paul's Technique and Theology (London: SPCK, 1974) 161.

2 Bruce F. F., ‘Abraham Had Two Sons — a Study in Pauline Hermeneutics’, New Testament Studies – Essays in Honor of Ray Summers in his Sixty Fifth Year (ed. Drum-wright H. L. and Vaughan C.: Waco, Texas; Baylor University, 1975) 7183: 83.

3 Michel O., Paulus und seine Bibel (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1972) 110.

4 Hanson A. T., The Living Utterances of God: The New Testament Exegesis of the Old (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1983) 136.

5 Hanson, Studies, 166.

6 Jeremias J., ‘Paulus als Hillelit’, Neotestamentica et Semitica: Studies in Honor of Matthew Black (ed. Ellis E. and Wilcox M.; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1969) 8894: 89.

7 Fee G. D., The First Epistle to the Corinthians (New International Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987) 407.

8 Lenski R. C. H., The Interpretation of St. Paul's First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians (Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg, 1937) 361–2.

9 G. D. Fee, 1 Corinthians, 408.

10 Kaiser W. C. Jr, ‘The Current Crisis in Exegesis and the Apostolic use of Deuteronomy 25.4 in 1 Corinthians 9.8–10’, JETS 21 (1973) 318.

11 These are probably two names for one group which may have existed before 70 CE – see: Lauterbach J. Z., ‘Ancient Jewish Allegorists in Talmud and Midrash’, JQR NS 1 (19101911) 291333, 503–31; Lévi I., ‘Les Dorshé Reschoumot’, REJ 60 (1910) 2431; Ginzberg L., ‘The Allegorical Interpretation of Scripture’, On Jewish Law and Lore (New York: KTAV, 1955) 127–60 or JE 1 (1901) 403–11.

12 Bonsirven showed that the rabbis frequently employed allegory, but he found no examples before 70 CE and few in the 1st cent.: ‘Exégèse allegorique chez les Rabbins Tan-naites’, RSR 23 (1933) 513–41, and Exégèse Rabbinique et Exégèse Paulinienne (Paris: Beauchesne & Sons, 1939).

13 Brewer D. Instone, Techniques and Assumptions in Jewish Exegesis before 70 CE (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck] 1992).

14 Other important studies not otherwise cited include: Noonan J. T. Jr, ‘The Muzzled Ox’, JQR 70 (1980) 172–5; Lee G. M., ‘Studies in Texts: 1 Corinthians 9.9–10’, Theology 71 (1968)122–3.

15 H. Thackeray St. J. pointed out (in The Relation of St. Paul to Contemporary Jewish Thought [London & New York: Macmillan, 1900] 194) that πάντω could be translated ‘surely’, as in the Vulgate (utique instead of omnino). He claimed that Paul used πάντω in this sense in every instance except 1 Cor 9.22. Although he may have spoiled his case by over-stating it, this is a valuable suggestion which has been taken up by many scholars. It is especially valuable because it appears to remove the implication that Paul is denying the plain meaning of the text. However, it still leaves the question as to why Paul wrote in such a dangerously ambiguous manner. In the present exegesis, πάντω can be read as either ‘surely’ or ‘altogether’.

16 Alford H., The Greek Testament (Chicago: Moody, 1958) 2.544.

17 Quoted in Lenski, 361.

18 Weiss J., Der Erste Korintherbrkf (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1910) 237.

19 Conzelmann H., I Corinthians (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975) 155.

20 Robertson A. and Plummer A., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians (The International Critical Commentary; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1914) 185.

21 L. Ginzberg (‘Allegorical Interpretation’) and Bonsirven (Exégèse Rabbinique, 227–8) argued that Paul could have derived his ruling in 1 Cor 9.9–11 from this exegesis alone.

22 Etheridge J. W., The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan ben Uzziel on the Pentateuch with the Fragments of the Jerusalem Targum (New York: KTAV, 1968) 632.

23 The better MS evidence for φιμώσεις is outweighed by the likelihood that κημώσεις would have been absorbed from the LXX.

24 Cf. Hooker M. D., ‘Beyond the Things That Are Written? St Paul's Use of Scripture’, NTS 27 (19801981) 295309:305.

25 The exactly equivalent phrase inline-graphicinline-graphicinline-graphic occurs in rabbinic sources, e.g. b.Yoma 35b, 66a.

26 Cohn-Sherbok D., ‘Paul and Rabbinic Exegesis’, SJT 35 (1982) 117–32:132.

27 Sanders E. P., Paul, the Law and the Jewish People (London: SCM, 1985) 107.

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