I’m a self professed geek. I ask questions that would cause most people to think “Why are you bothering to wonder about that?” I remember things that most people would find completely trivial (J.S. Bach was born in 1685 and died in 1750. Now you know.). I was reading something the other day by John MacArthur related to I Timothy 5:17 where he seemed to be making the point that “double honor” means double salary. There are Christians who believe that this means to literally pay an elder who rules well twice as much as other pastor’s make. I decided I wanted to investigate for myself and see if I could determine what the word honor meant in the verse in question.
First of all, the English word “honor” translates a Greek word “time” (5092). Strong’s dictionary defines it as follows: a value, that is, money paid, or (concretely and collectively) valuables; by analogy esteem (especially of the highest degree), or the dignity itself. This word and its related word “timao” (5091) are used 58 times in the New Testament. Of those 58 times, forty-two times (72.41 % Oh, what do you expect, I am an accountant.) are about giving respect or reverence and have nothing to do with money. The remaining sixteen times (27.59%) the words are used in a way related to money or other material possessions. However, in the uses outside of I Timothy 5:17 there is no instance where these words are used to indicate that there was an ongoing payment of some sort being made. For instance, in Acts 4:34, the word is used to describe the money that is brought in by people after they sold possessions so that that money could be distributed among the poor. It’s pretty sure that they didn’t sell the possessions on some sort of payment plan and brought the monthly payment they received in and gave it to the apostles but rather they brought the lump sum proceeds from the sale. Therefore, it is not reasonable to conclude that the use of “honor” in the verse in I Timothy 5:17 means a salary.
Furthermore, the context of the verse seems to indicate otherwise. In verse 18 of this chapter, Paul makes two statements which are in scripture. He writes “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing” (Deu 25:4) and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” (see Luke 10:7 for a similar statement by our Lord). Since Paul uses these two statements to support his claim that elders who rule well are worthy of double honor we should assume they are intended to be parallel. People read the second statement about a worker and say “See, that proves Paul is talking about paying elders double salary.” However, let’s think through the first example Paul uses. An ox was given a regular meal. That ox did not depend on what he ate while he was working in the field as his primary source of food. So, as a friend of mine over at The Assembling of the Church writes, the point Paul is likely making is this: We wouldn’t prevent an ox from eating while it worked and we wouldn’t withhold wages from someone who has earned them. In the same way, we should not withhold double honor from an elder who is ruling well.
Is the honor Paul speaking of monetary? I would say probably although it does not have to be exclusively monetary. However, it does not appear, based on the evidence in the Bible, to mean that Paul is saying that their salary should be doubled. However, as believers we should show love to those elders who do work hard to teach the Bible and we should show that love in any ways that they Lord give us the opportunities. One of the most affirming folks at the church I was privileged to pastor would occasionally give me a $20 after the service during the season where he would sell his crops and tell me to treat myself and my wife to lunch. His kindness encouraged me. I exhort you to find ways to do the same to those who teach you the word.