Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel logo

God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 9:5-6 A believing wife

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, February 24, 2023

5 Do we not have a right to bring along with us a believing wife, as the other apostles do, including the Lord’s brothers and Peter?

Certainly the apostles had the right to bring their wives along as they preached and did the work of the church, and at the expense of the church. Most if not all of the apostles were married, and Paul merely emphasizes that Peter certainly was (Matthew 8:14; Mark 1:30) as were the Lord’s brothers. This is a reference to James and Jude and the other two (Mark 6:3) who are always listed as the brothers of Jesus and in connection with Mary herself (Matthew 13:55).

The doctrine or point here is that the workers in the church are to be supplied with their needs by the church. This naturally means that clothing, food, and shelter be supplied for the man as well as for his family, so that ministry would not effectively divorce a pastor from his wife and children (if, for example, he had to leave them behind for years at a time). “Believing wife” in Greek is the phrase “a sister (as) a wife,” meaning that the wife of an apostle or minister should share his faith.

Here once again the subject of whether or not Paul was married is raised. The text does not address the question; Paul only asks whether he has the right to do this. In earlier times, men like Luther and Erasmus took Philippians 4:3 to be a hint that Paul was indeed married. Paul says, “I ask you, O loyal yokefellow, to help these women who have contended at my side for the cause of the gospel.” It makes sense for women to be commended to a woman, and that Paul is actually addressing his wife in that passage (Philippians was written during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment, see Philippians 1:13-14). About this, Luther says: “This true yokefellow many people take to be Saint Paul’s wife, because he does not mention her name and otherwise never uses the address ‘true yokefellow,’ which in Greek means someone who pulls with us in the same yoke and has a special relation to us different from others, as married people have. Furthermore, he commends this yokefellow to help women” (LW 28:22).  And again Luther says: “It is certainly conceivable that he (Paul) did have a wife. For in Jewry everyone had to marry, and celibacy was not allowable unless by special permission and as an exception made by God.”

The right of a called worker (pastor, priest, minister, monk or nun) to have a spouse is clearly answered by Paul as well as by the rest of the New Testament. Christ took married men and made them his apostles. In the Old Testament, priests not only had wives, but the natural progression of one high priest to the next was from father to son (Leviticus 6:32; Numbers 30:25-26). Our confession (that is, the Apology to the Augsburg Confession) makes a long, logical and purely Scriptural argument rejecting the practice of insisting upon celibacy among the clergy “because it clashes with divine and natural law, and conflicts with the very decrees of councils.” This is well worth reading in full, but the main points are these:

1, Genesis 1:28 teaches that men were created to be fruitful and that one sex should have a proper desire for the other.

2, Because this creation or divine ordinance in man is a natural right, the jurists (that is, governments) have said wisely and correctly that the union of man and woman is by natural (and unchangeable) right.

3, Paul says (1 Corinthians 7:2) “Because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife.” This is an express command, directed to anyone not suited for celibacy. Our opponents demand to be shown a command requiring that priests should marry—as though priests were not human beings.

4, The pontifical (papal) regulation also disagrees with the canons of the councils. The ancient canons do not forbid marriage, nor dissolve marriages… These new canons do not represent the decision of the synods but the private judgment of the popes. They forbid the contracting of marriages and dissolve them once they have been contracted, and all this in open defiance of Christ’s command (Matthew 19:6), “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”

5, Although our opponents (that is, the Catholic Church) do not defend this regulation for religious reasons, since they see that it is not being observed, still they cloak it with pious-sounding phrases to give it a religious front…. Christ calls marriage a divine union (Matt. 19:6).... If purity means that something has God’s permission and approval, then marriages are pure since they are approved by the Word of God. Paul says about lawful things (Titus 1:15), “To the pure all things are pure.”

6, We have many reasons for rejecting the law of perpetual celibacy. But even if the law were not unjust, it is dangerous to public and private morals; this alone should keep good men from approving a burden that has destroyed so many souls… God takes revenge against those who despise his gift and ordinance and forbid marriage (examples: The flood; Sodom and Gomorrah).

6 Or, are Barnabas and I the only ones who have no right to refrain from working for a living?

Readers should take care not to join verses 5 and 6 together too closely. Verse 6 is the conclusion to both verses 4 and 5, so Paul does not mean that there is any connection between taking a wife along on his travels and “refraining from working for a living.” Perhaps because of the rise of feminism in our time, there is often confusion and even outrage over this in Bible classes today. But verse 5 is only another example of the rights of an apostle, and verse 6 is a question that stands separate: The other apostles exercise their rights about food, about bringing their wives along, and even about receiving a living without having to do additional manual labor. Do only Barnabas and I have to give up all these things?

Paul and Barnabas frequently had to take outside work to support themselves while they were preaching the gospel. Paul worked as a tent maker along with Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth (Acts 18:1-2). On the Sabbath, he would enter the synagogue “trying to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:3), but then during the week he would return to the other work. Should this be the way it is everywhere? he asks. Don’t we apostles have the right to be supported by the Christian churches?

Because Paul is drawing a conclusion to help the Corinthians understand his position, we do not have a case in the context of a specific sin that was being committed. Rather, there was a misunderstanding about the rights of an apostle and a called worker. Let us remember to resolve issues like this the way Paul does, with the word of God always before us and love for one another foremost in our hearts and minds. “Proclaim among the nations what our Lord has done.” But let us also remember, with Paul and with Luther, that we must often take a stand even when it seems to make us adversarial, to stand up for the truth. “Lift up a banner and proclaim it,” the Lord said to Jeremiah (50:7). “Keep nothing back!” For in all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).

What God ordains is always good;
His will is just and holy.
As he directs my life for me,
I follow meek and lowly.
My God indeed in every need
Knows well how he will shield me;
To him, then, I will yield me.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


Browse Devotion Archive