1 Timothy 5:17: Worthy of Double Honor

An Exhaustive Examination of "Tithe," "Tithes" and "Tithing"

Should the Church Teach Tithing?

A Theologian's Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine

Russell Earl Kelly, PHD

Section 24 -FIRST TIMOTHY 5:17-20

1 Tim. 5:17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine.

1 Tim. 5:18 For the Scripture says, You shall not muzzle the ox that treads out the grain, and, The laborer is worthy of his reward.

1 Tim. 5:19 Against an elder do not receive an accusation, except before two or three witnesses.

1 Tim. 5:20 Rebuke them that sin [elders] before all, that others also may fear.

Verses 17 and 18 have been quoted by many commentaries as texts in God’s Word that discuss pay for gospel ministers. The correct interpretation, they claim, is “worthy of double pay,” or “double salary.” However, this author strongly disagrees with such conclusion for the following reasons:

One: Greek scholars who translated the most respected versions refused to translate “double honor” as “double pay.” Although the Greek word can mean “price,” the best translations of the Bible read “honor.” For example, “honor” is found in the KJV, NAS, NIV, RSV, NKJ, and the Roman Catholic New American version. Paraphrased versions take more liberties; Phillips says “worthy of respect and of adequate salary”; The Living Bible says “should be paid well and should be highly appreciated”; the Amplified Bible says “doubly worthy of honor [and of adequate financial support].”

Again, it is strange that, while many scholars of the Greek language claim in their other written literature that “pay” is meant, they still refuse to commit to that word in the reputable translations they co-translate. They fully realize that, in its context, “honor” is the correct translation.

Two: The context of “double honor” in 5:17 is that of rebuking wrongdoers in the church, and not “salary.” Verses 1-16 and 19-20 are clearly discussions of discipline. Immediate context must be the primary determining factor.

5:1 Do not rebuke an elder [older man] [remember their honor].5:3-16 Honor widows [honor is greater than rebuke].

5:17-18 Give double honor to elders who labor in the word.

5:19-20 Rebuke [ministering] elders openly that sin.

5:21 Do not be impartial [honor first; rebuke last resort].

5:22 Do not be hasty in discipline [remember their honor].

5:24 God will judge sins.

The disciplinary honor sequence begins with “Do not rebuke an elder” (v. 1) and ends with “rebuke an elder who sins before all” (v. 20). The “elder” of verse one is probably an older church member who is due honor because of his age and experience. After discussing the cautious approach to rebuking fellow church members (vv. 1- 2) and special rules for honoring widows (vv. 3-16), the writer next takes up the unpleasant, but necessary, rebuke of the church’s spiritual leaders (vv. 19-20). First, however, he reminds all of the double-honorable position of the person he is about to discuss (vv. 17-18). While an ordinary elder (older person) is due single “honor,” an elder who leads in the Word of God is worthy of “double honor”–the first honor because of his age and the second, or double honor, because of his ministry in the Word.

To restate the previous conclusion, since all church members are “honorable” (1 Cor. 12:23-24), they are all worthy of honorable and cautious rebuke. Older persons are to be rebuked with an honor which respects their age and experience. However, ruling and teaching elders are worthy of double “honor,” that is, of a “double-cautious rebuke.” Such is the context, not salary! Because elders are worthy of double honor, those wishing to rebuke them must be “twice” as careful and should not rebuke them on a one-to-one basis, but in front of two or three witnesses (v. 19). Those elders who continue in their sin are to be rebuked before the whole church (v. 20). In rebuking church leaders, it appears that the one-to-one first stage is omitted. Compare and contrast these principles with those of Matthew 18:15-17.

Three: If “wages,” or “salary,” were the intended meaning for “honor” in verse 17, then the inspired writer would have certainly used a better word than “honor,” timees. See the discussion of “living,” zoee, at First Corinthians 9:14.

Four: The Greek word for “honor,” as used in verse 17 and in the rest of the New Testament, does NOT mean “salary” or “wage.” As just mentioned, the noun in 5:17 is timees (Strong’s 5092). It occurs 38 times in the KJV New Testament: 28 times as “honor,” 8 times as “price,” once as “sum,” and once as “precious,” but NEVER as “wage.” When used as “price,” it does not mean “wage” or “salary,” but “value.” Timees is the “price of blood” (Matt. 21:6, 9), the “prices of things sold” (Acts 4:34), the “price of land” (Acts 5:2-3), the “price of Sarah’s sepulcher” (Acts 7:16), and the “price of books” (Acts 19:19). Redeemed believers are “bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23). In NONE of the occurrences is timees “pay” for work performed. Timees is the “price,” “worth,” or “value” of a person or thing bought or sold.

The verb form of “honor” (Strong’s 5091) occurs 21 times in the New Testament. With the lone exception of Matthew 27:9, when Judas received the “price” (noun) of Jesus according to the way Israel “valued” (verb), the word merely means “honor” or “respect.” Of the 59 total occurrences of this word in the KJV New Testament, it is never translated as “wage” or “salary.” Therefore, it is inaccurate to teach that it must be interpreted as “salary” or “wage” in First Timothy 5:17.

Five: Concerning the immediate context, the Greek word for “honor” is not used elsewhere in Timothy to mean “pay” or “wage.” Timothy’s Greek name is a combination of “honor” and “God.” God and Paul saw Timothy as very honorable and valuable to God. In his pastoral letter to Timothy, Paul used the noun, timees, four (4) times. “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory forever and ever” (1:17). “Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed” (6:1). “Who only has immortality dwelling in the light which no man can approach to; whom no man has seen, nor can see; to whom be honor and power everlasting” (6:16). The verb form is used once in 5:3, “Honor widows.”

Six: To expand on point 3, if the writer of First Timothy had wanted to clearly express the meaning of “wage,” or “salary,” there are much better words he could have used. The Greek word for “labor” in 5:17 is the verb kopiao (Strong’s 2872) but it does not implicitly mean “labor for a living.” The word merely means “grow tired, become weary.” Ergazomai (Strong’s 2038, 2039, 2040) is the common verb for “work to acquire” and occurs 41 times in the New Testament. Without a modifier, such as “hired,” even its noun form for laborer, ergates, does not necessarily mean one who is paid. Again, misthos (Strong’s 3408) is the more common word for “reward, wages, hire” and would have been the preferable word to use in 5:17, if “salary” were intended.

Seven: Why would Paul tell the church to give Timothy a double salary when he himself refused any at all (1 Cor. 9:12, 15; Acts 20:33-35)? Was not his companion, Timothy, included in the injunction, “I have shown you all things, how that so laboring you ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)?

Eight: Why were the two examples of 5:18 given? We must remember that the context in Timothy relates to discipline, while the context of First Corinthians 9 relates to being worthy of the honor of receiving some sustenance (which he refused). In 5:18 the ox is being honored while it is treading the grain. The emphasis here is on the fact THAT it is being honored, and not HOW! The quotes are included to remind the church of the HONOR of the elder about to be disciplined.

Also, although Paul concluded in First Corinthians 9:12 and 9:15 that he and others had certain legitimate “rights” of compensation for their work in the ministry, he did not say that he meant double salaries for all. That would have been the very last thing Paul would have said about wages! Remember that, although in Second Corinthians 11:8 Paul admitted to receiving “wages” (opsonion; Strong’s 3800), this Greek word merely means “a soldier’s ration,” or daily bare necessities of life, while continuing his trade as a tentmaker.

The real emphasis of 5:18 is on the “double worthiness” of the ox. While it was normally unmuzzled while not working; it was double-worthy of not being muzzled while working. Thus the ox “plowed in hope” that its needs would be met. If Paul had wanted to teach tithing at this point, he would have quoted Numbers 18:20-26 and compared Christian workers to the Levitical system instead of referring to a grinding ox.

Nine: “The laborer (ergatees) is worthy (axios) of his reward (misthos),” again, in its context, refers to double honor, and not double pay. Think this through. Why would a discussion of honorable discipline (vv. 1-16 and 19-20) be interrupted by a reminder of how much salary a minister should get (vv. 17-18)? Such an idea is absurd! It is true that, even the word “wage” is not the only definition which can be assigned to misthos in verse 18 (Strong’s 3048)! Of the 29 occurrences, only 5 could possibly be “wages,” or “salary,” while the remainder simply mean “reward.” In fact, Paul used misthos twice in First Cor. 9:17-18 as “reward” in his refusal of a wage! Misthos is the believer’s “reward” in heaven and the “reward” which Christ brings with him.

In the context of First Timothy 5:17-18, the ministering elder’s “reward” is the “double-honor,” or double-cautious discipline due him! The minister is first worthy of single honor while being disciplined because he is a elder Christian, and he is worthy of double honor while being disciplined because he is a laborer in the church.

“You shall not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he is of your brothers, or of your strangers that are in your land within your gates. At his day you shall give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and sets his heart upon it: unless he cry against you to the LORD, and it is sin to you (Deut. 24:14,15).” Many commentaries and cross-references say that Paul’s reference to “Scripture” in First Timothy 5:18 must have meant Deuteronomy 24:14-15. Yet, here again, these verses also refer to the poorest farm workers who lived from meager earnings day by day and were required to be paid at the end of each working day. They do not refer to financially secure merchants worthy of double pay. Compare Leviticus 18:13  and James 5:4.

Ten: If Paul had meant “double-pay” in First Timothy 5:17, then why did he quote references to paupers who owned or accumulated nothing? How can one refer to penniless paupers to prove that one should receive double salary?

Eleven: 1 Tim. 6:1 “Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine will not be blasphemed.” If “worthy of double honor” in 5:17 means “worthy of double pay,” then what does “worthy of all honor” mean only nine verses later in 6:1? Certainly Paul is not saying that a Christian slave should give his master ALL the money he accumulates! Thus the context and word usage in First Timothy does not support the translation of “double pay.”

Twelve: 1 Tim. 6:5 “. . . [those who are] destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness–from such withdraw yourself.” Timothy is told to “withdraw” from those who think that religion, or godliness, is a means of gaining wealth (6:3-5). This is a strange command to follow-up “worthy of double salary” with!

Thirteen: 1 Tim. 6:6 -8 “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us therewith be content.” Paul told ministers to be content with bare necessities. This also is inconsistent with the “double pay” interpretation of 5:17. Their “great gain” is not double salary, but “godliness which brings contentment.”

Fourteen: 1 Tim. 6:9-11 “But they that want to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money [covetousness] is the root of all evil, which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things, and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.” Paul warned Timothy against accumulating wealth. Yet today many ministers of wealthy churches are themselves very wealthy.

Fifteen: 1 Tim. 6:12, 14 “Fight the good fight of faith . . . That you keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul encouraged Timothy to “fight the good fight of faith” and be “un-rebuke-able”. From the context, this “fighting” at least includes the warning, “don’t get caught up in money matters and a desire for wealth.” Unfortunately, all too often, ministers need to be rebuked about money matters.

Sixteen: 1 Tim. 6:17-19 “Instruct them that are rich in this world, that they should not be high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate.” The “rich in this world” are referred to as “them,” but not “us,” or gospel ministers.

Seventeen: Paul instructed that the gospel minister is “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim. 6:18 NAS). His “richness” is in sharing with others.

Eighteen: 1 Tim. 6:19 “Storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.” The gospel minister “stores up,” or “treasures up,” not worldly wealth, but “a good foundation for the future. This is the same thesaurizoon discussed in First Corinthians 16:2!

Nineteen: Tithing is not even implied in these passages. The author did not tell the church that the pastor is due full-time support through tithing. As in First Corinthians 9:14, another “golden opportunity” to teach tithing has been totally ignored.

In conclusion, Paul would not expect his best pupil, Timothy, to follow lower standards than himself. As a Pharisee, lawyer, and teacher of the law, Paul had been taught to refuse payment to instruct others in the honored Mosaic Law. Yet teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ was a much greater honor than that of teaching the law. Since Timothy accompanied Paul from a very young age, it is very likely that Paul became a surrogate father to Timothy and taught him the highly-important trade of tent-making.

First Timothy 5:17and 18 do not teach that a minister should receive double salary for his services. Since Timothy was among “them that were with me” in Acts 20:31-35, he witnessed firsthand how Paul worked night and day for three years at tent-making while not asking the church at Ephesus for money or food. Paul concluded his farewell sermon by telling his co-workers, including Timothy, to follow his example and work in order to help the needy in the church (Acts 20:35).

It is impossible to conclude that Paul is now asking the church to pay Timothy a double salary! Claiming that Paul wanted Timothy and church leaders to receive “double-salary” contradicts his convictions about preaching the gospel. In First Corinthians 9:12 he refused a “right” to receive compensation “unless we should hinder the gospel of Christ.” In 9:15 he stated that, not only had he not accepted support, he did not intend to start accepting it; as a matter of fact, he would “rather die” than have anybody deny him of boasting that he preached for free. Why would Paul expect Timothy to do otherwise, and not follow his own example?