On 2 Corinthians 11:8-9: What was Paul receiving while in Corinth?

2 Corinthians 11:8-9 is a passage frequently misunderstood, with many using it to support that Paul was receiving a salary from a church while in Corinth. It would be fine for Paul, an apostolic worker, to “live from the gospel”. He was entitled to this. However as we saw previously he chose not to do so, giving an example to the other believers. Before we go to 2 Corinthians 11:8-9, let’s first go to Philippians where we read about the support these believers sent to Paul. This is necessary so that we get the background needed to understand 2 Corinthians 11:8-9 :


Philippians 4:14-18
“Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.”


Many consider that the support of the Philippians to Paul was only during the time that he was in Thessalonica. However this is not what the passage is telling us. As it says the Philippians supported Paul “in the beginning of the gospel, when he departed from Macedonia”. Thessalonica was part of Macedonia. Also see that the passage says that “even in Thessalonica you sent me..”. In other words what he is saying is: “you sent me support in the beginning of the gospel, after I departed from Macedonia …. in fact you even sent me support when I was still in Macedonia, in Thessalonica”. Now, where did Paul go after he departed from Macedonia? Acts 17 and 18 tell us that he went to Athens, where he stayed only briefly, and from there he went 50 miles southwest to Corinth. There he stayed one year and a half preaching the Word of God and establishing the local church. I believe it is there where he received the support of the Philippians. Acts 18:5 tell us:


“When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul [now in Corinth] was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ.”


The Philippians helped Paul “in the beginning of the gospel, when he departed from Macedonia”. Where was he when he got their help? I believe in Corinth, and he got their help through Silas and Timothy the brothers that “had come from Macedonia”. So Paul was supported partly by the Philippians church in Corinth. He was also working, at least part time. The fact that he was working there is clear from Acts 18:1-3 :


“After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them. So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them AND WORKED; for by occupation they were tentmakers.


Paul was working in Corinth. He also received support from the church in Philippi. From the record of Philippians it is clear that this was not an involuntary support extorted from Paul, but a voluntary given gift. Having clarified this, let’s now turn to 2 Corinthians 11:8-9 where Paul is saying:


“I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you. And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself.”


The phrase “taking wage from them” is rather misleading and unfortunate translation. This is recognized by more modern translations such as the English NIV and ESV that have translated this as “I robbed other churches by accepting support from them” (ESV). This is a more accurate translation and agrees also with the context and the other references on the subject. Paul was not receiving “wages”, salaries from other churches. He received support. This support was voluntary given, for we never see him soliciting it. How did he get this support? “From the brothers who came from Macedonia”. From which churches? We have seen already one: the Philippians who “sent him support in the beginning of the gospel, after he departed from Macedonia” and went to Corinth. Other Macedonian churches may have supported him too, though such support is not mentioned explicitly in the Scriptures. Did he rob these churches? Of course not. I believe he uses this phrase as a figure of speech, to make a point, because Corinth was a very wealthy city. As Strabo, a Greek historian and geographer of the 1st century, informs us:


"Corinth is called 'wealthy' because of its commerce, since it is situated on the Isthmus and is master of two harbors, of which the one leads straight to Asia, and the other to Italy; and it makes easy the exchange of merchandise from both countries that are so far distant from each other" (Geography, 8.6.20).”


According to ancient sources, Corinth at the time of Paul was more wealthy and prosperous as never before. Its population was 300.000 free men plus 450.000 slaves, a city of huge size by ancient (and even modern) standards. Paul, in saying that he robbed other churches, he uses a figure of speech to say that he was supported by other poorer churches in his ministry to these wealthy Corinthian Christians. Figuratively, it is “robbing”.

To sum up: Paul was not receiving a salary from a church. While in Corinth, he was working, at least part time, and he was also partly supported with free will, unsolicited, gifts from the brothers from Macedonia. He did not rob any church literally but he uses this term figuratively to point out that he was receiving support from poorer churches to preach the gospel to a rather wealthy community of people.


Tassos Kioulachoglou






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