The Ox and the Muzzle

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“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #93

“Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope” (1 Cor. 9:8-10).

Paul has argued for this point (on ministerial compensation) from natural law, which he equates with arguing “as a man.” He then asks, rhetorically, whether his case is limited to that. He then supplies his own answer, indicating that the law says the same thing.

The law he cites is from Dt. 25:4. Paul cites this passage again in 1 Tim. 5:18. He is very explicit—he says that the law about the treatment of oxen is not really about oxen. It would be a stretch to say that the law excludes oxen, but we really have to say that the primary point of the law is our treatment of other humans. He says that the law was given “altogether” for our sakes. The man who plows should have a share in the profits. The man who threshes should have a share in the profits also. This universal principle is emphatically not set aside when talking about ministerial compensation.


There are three things we may take away from this passage. The first is that biblical labor is teleological and the telos is the fruit of the labor. Laboring without a mind for the results is not disinterested and noble; it is short-sighted and stupid. The one who labors should labor in hope. The second is that this whole principle presupposes some form of essential ownership. All forms of collective ownership—socialism and the like—are out.  But last, this does not make every man an island. The apostle uses the word partaker here when talking about someone else in the production chain. The one who threshes should be a partaker together with the one who plows. They cooperate together, and they share in the profits.

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