The First to the Corinthians 9:1-27

9  Am I not free? Am I not an apostle?+ Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?+ Are you not my work in the Lord?  Even if I am not an apostle to others, I most certainly am to you! For you are the seal confirming my apostleship in the Lord.+  My defense to those who examine me is as follows:  We have the right* to eat and drink, do we not?  We have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife,+ as the rest of the apostles and the Lord’s brothers+ and Ceʹphas,+ do we not?  Or is it only Barʹna·bas+ and I who do not have the right to refrain from working for a living?  What soldier ever serves at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit?+ Or who shepherds a flock and does not partake of some of the milk of the flock?  Am I saying these things from a human viewpoint? Or does not the Law also say these things?  For it is written in the Law of Moses: “You must not muzzle a bull when it is threshing out the grain.”+ Is it bulls that God is concerned about? 10  Or is it actually for our sakes that he says it? It was really written for our sakes, because the man who plows and the man who threshes ought to do so in the hope of receiving a share. 11  If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material support from you?+ 12  If other men have this rightful claim over you, do we not have it much more so? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right,*+ but we are enduring all things so that we might not in any way hinder the good news about the Christ.+ 13  Do you not know that the men performing sacred duties eat the things of the temple, and that those regularly serving at the altar receive a share from the altar?+ 14  In this way, too, the Lord commanded for those proclaiming the good news to live by means of the good news.+ 15  But I have not made use of a single one of these provisions.+ Indeed, I have not written these things so that this would be done for me, for it would be better to die than—no man will take away my grounds for boasting!+ 16  Now if I am declaring the good news, it is no reason for me to boast, for necessity is laid upon me.+ Really, woe to me if I do not declare the good news!+ 17  If I do this willingly, I have a reward; but even if I do it against my will, I still have a stewardship entrusted to me.+ 18  What, then, is my reward? That when I declare the good news, I may offer the good news without cost, to avoid abusing my authority* in the good news. 19  For though I am free from all people, I have made myself the slave to all, so that I may gain as many people as possible. 20  To the Jews I became as a Jew in order to gain Jews;+ to those under law I became as under law, though I myself am not under law, in order to gain those under law.+ 21  To those without law I became as without law,+ although I am not without law toward God but under law toward Christ,+ in order to gain those without law. 22  To the weak I became weak, in order to gain the weak.+ I have become all things to people of all sorts, so that I might by all possible means save some. 23  But I do all things for the sake of the good news, in order to share it with others.+ 24  Do you not know that the runners in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.+ 25  Now everyone competing in a contest exercises self-control in all things. Of course, they do it to receive a crown that can perish,+ but we, one that does not perish.+ 26  Therefore, the way I am running is not aimlessly;+ the way I am aiming my blows is so as not to be striking the air;+ 27  but I pummel my body+ and lead it as a slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself should not become disapproved* somehow.


Lit., “authority.”
Lit., “authority.”
Or “rights.”
Or “disqualified.”

Study Notes

an apostle: The Greek noun a·poʹsto·los is derived from the verb a·po·stelʹlo, meaning “to send away (out).” (Mt 10:5; Lu 11:49; 14:32) Its basic meaning is clearly illustrated in Jesus’ statement at Joh 13:16, where it is rendered “one who is sent.” Paul was called to be an apostle to the nations, or non-Jews, by the direct choice of the resurrected Jesus Christ. (Ac 9:1-22; 22:6-21; 26:12-23) Paul affirmed his apostleship by pointing out that he had seen the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ (1Co 9:1, 2) and had performed miracles (2Co 12:12). Paul also served as a channel for imparting the holy spirit to baptized believers, providing further evidence that he was a true apostle. (Ac 19:5, 6) Though he frequently refers to his apostleship, nowhere does he include himself among “the Twelve.”​—1Co 15:5, 8-10; Ro 11:13; Ga 2:6-9; 2Ti 1:1, 11.

an apostle: See study note on Ro 1:1.

Simon, the one called Peter: Peter is named in five different ways in the Scriptures: (1) the Greek form “Symeon,” which closely reflects the Hebrew form of the name (Simeon); (2) the Greek “Simon” (both Symeon and Simon come from a Hebrew verb meaning “hear; listen”); (3) “Peter” (a Greek name that means “A Piece of Rock” and that he alone bears in the Scriptures); (4) “Cephas,” which is the Semitic equivalent of Peter (perhaps related to the Hebrew ke·phimʹ [rocks] used at Job 30:6; Jer 4:29); and (5) the combination “Simon Peter.”​—Ac 15:14; Joh 1:42; Mt 16:16.

Cephas: One of the names of the apostle Simon Peter. Upon meeting Simon for the first time, Jesus gave him the Semitic name Cephas (in Greek, Ke·phasʹ). The name may be related to the Hebrew noun ke·phimʹ (rocks) used at Job 30:6 and Jer 4:29. At Joh 1:42, John explains that the name “is translated ‘Peter’” (Peʹtros, a Greek name that similarly means “A Piece of Rock”). The name Cephas is used only at Joh 1:42 and in two of Paul’s letters, namely, 1 Corinthians and Galatians.​—1Co 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:5; Ga 1:18; 2:9, 11, 14; see study notes on Mt 10:2; Joh 1:42.

Simon’s mother-in-law: That is, the mother-in-law of Peter, also called Cephas. (Joh 1:42) This statement agrees with Paul’s words at 1Co 9:5, where Cephas is referred to as a married man. Peter’s mother-in-law evidently lived in his home, one he shared with his brother Andrew.​—Mr 1:29-31; see study note on Mt 10:2, where the apostle’s different names are explained.

a believing wife: Or “a sister as a wife,” that is, a wife who is a Christian. Women in the Christian congregation are viewed as sisters in a spiritual sense.​—Ro 16:1; 1Co 7:15; Jas 2:15.

Cephas: One of the names of the apostle Peter. (See study notes on Mt 10:2; 1Co 1:12.) Cephas is here referred to as a married man. As shown in the Gospel accounts, his mother-in-law lived in his home, which he shared with his brother Andrew. (Mt 8:14; Mr 1:29-31; see study note on Lu 4:38.) This verse shows that Cephas’ wife at times accompanied him when he carried out his ministry. The wives of other apostles and of Jesus’ half brothers also accompanied their husbands.

at his own expense: Lit., “at his own wages.” Paul here uses a Greek term that refers to the material “provisions” given to those in military service. (See study note on Lu 3:14.) In this context, the term is used in a figurative sense to show that hardworking Christian “soldiers” deserve modest material support.

provisions: Or “wages; pay.” The expression is used here as a military technical term, referring to a soldier’s pay, ration money, or allowance. Originally, food and other provisions may have been included as part of a soldier’s allowance. The Jewish soldiers who came to John were possibly engaged in a type of police inspection, especially in connection with customs, or the collection of taxes. John may have given this counsel because the pay given to most soldiers was low, and there evidently was a tendency for soldiers to abuse their power in order to supplement their income. The term is also used in the expression “at his own expense” at 1Co 9:7, where Paul refers to the pay to which a Christian “soldier” is entitled.

Is it bulls that God is concerned about?: Paul asks this rhetorical question to make his point. He has just quoted the Mosaic Law where it says: “You must not muzzle a bull when it is threshing.” (De 25:4) Just as the working bull is entitled to feed on the grain it is threshing, so the Christian who shares spiritual things with others deserves material support. At 1Co 9:10, Paul says that the law at De 25:4 “was really written for our sakes.” He does not mean that Christians could disregard the divine principle of treating animals in a humane way. Rather, he means that if the principle applies with regard to animals at work, it applies with even greater force to humans at work​—especially to those who are laboring in God’s service.

necessity: Or “obligation.” Paul received an assignment to preach, and he felt obligated to do this work. (Ac 9:15-17; Ga 1:15, 16) The Greek word for “necessity” is also rendered “compelling reason.” (Ro 13:5) Paul continues, woe to me if I do not declare the good news! He uses the Greek word rendered “woe” to express the distress he would feel if he did not fulfill his obligation. His very life depended on his being loyal. (Compare Eze 33:7-9, 18; Ac 20:26.) Paul may have had in mind the words of Jeremiah and Amos. (Jer 20:9; Am 3:8) However, his motive for preaching is love, not mere duty.​—2Co 5:14, 20; Php 1:16.

To the Jews I became as a Jew: Paul’s Jewish background and his willingness to “do all things for the sake of the good news” equipped him to help humble Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah. (1Co 9:23) For example, Paul “took [Timothy] and circumcised him because of the Jews.” Paul did so​—and Timothy cooperated​—even though circumcision was not a Christian requirement.​—Ac 16:1-3.

To those without law I became as without law: The expression “those without law” refers to the Gentiles, or non-Jews, who were not under the Mosaic Law. When witnessing to a Greek audience in Athens, Paul took into account their thinking and spoke about the God unknown to them; he even quoted their own poets.​—Ac 17:22-34.

To the weak I became weak: Though his speech was forceful, Paul considered the sensitive consciences of certain Jews and Gentiles in the congregation and thus “became weak” to the weak.​—Ro 14:1, 13, 19; 15:1.

I do all things for the sake of the good news: With this expression, Paul summarizes how he has adapted his approach in order to present his message effectively to a wide variety of people. (1Co 9:19-23) Still, he never considered “adulterating the word of God” or acting “with cunning,” or deceit, in order to make disciples.​—2Co 4:2.

the runners in a race: Athletic competitions were an integral part of Greek culture, so Paul made good use of these events as illustrations. (1Co 9:24-27; Php 3:14; 2Ti 2:5; 4:7, 8; Heb 12:1, 2) The Corinthian Christians were acquainted with the athletic contests at the Isthmian Games held near Corinth. These games were held every two years. Paul would have been in Corinth during the games of 51 C.E. They were second in importance only to the Olympic Games held at Olympia in Greece. The runners at such Greek games ran races of varying lengths. By using runners and boxers in his illustrations, Paul taught the value of self-control, efficiency, and endurance.​—1Co 9:26.

a race: The word “race” renders the Greek term staʹdi·on, or stadium. That Greek term may refer to the structure used for footraces and other events, to a distance, or to the footraces themselves. In this context, Paul is referring to a footrace. The length of a Greek staʹdi·on varied from place to place. In Corinth, it was about 165 m (540 ft). The approximate length of the Roman stadium was 185 m, or 606.95 ft.​—See App. B14.

only one receives the prize: In ancient Greek athletic contests, the winner received as prize a wreath, usually made of leaves. The crown was a mark of great honor and was apparently displayed in the stadium so that the contestants could see the prize. Paul urged anointed Christians to strive for something far better than a perishable wreath​—the incorruptible crown of immortal life. To win, a Christian must keep his eyes fixed on the prize.​—1Co 9:25; 15:53; 1Pe 1:3, 4; 5:4.

everyone competing in a contest: Or “every athlete.” The Greek verb used here is related to a noun that was often used to refer to athletic contests. At Heb 12:1, this noun is used figuratively for the Christian “race” for life. The same noun is used in the more general sense of a “struggle” (Php 1:30; Col 2:1) or a “fight” (1Ti 6:12; 2Ti 4:7). Forms of the Greek verb used here at 1Co 9:25 are rendered “exert yourselves vigorously” (Lu 13:24), “exerting [oneself]” (Col 1:29; 4:12; 1Ti 4:10), and “fight” (1Ti 6:12).​—See study note on Lu 13:24.

exercises self-control: While preparing to compete in a contest, athletes used self-restraint. Many restricted their diet, and some abstained from wine. Historian Pausanias wrote that training for the Olympic Games lasted for ten months, and it is assumed that training for other major games lasted for a similar length of time.

Exert yourselves vigorously: Or “Keep on struggling.” Jesus’ admonition emphasizes the need for taking whole-souled action in order to get in through the narrow door. For this context, various reference works have suggested such renderings as “Exert maximum effort; Make every effort.” The Greek verb a·go·niʹzo·mai is related to the Greek noun a·gonʹ, which was often used to refer to athletic contests. At Heb 12:1, this noun is used figuratively for the Christian “race” for life. It is also used in the more general sense of a “struggle” (Php 1:30; Col 2:1) or a “fight” (1Ti 6:12; 2Ti 4:7). Forms of the Greek verb used at Lu 13:24 are rendered “competing in a contest” (1Co 9:25), “exerting [oneself]” (Col 1:29; 4:12; 1Ti 4:10), and “fight” (1Ti 6:12). Because the background of this expression is connected with competition in the athletic games, some have suggested that the effort Jesus encouraged may be compared to an athlete’s exerting himself vigorously with all his power to win the prize, straining every nerve, as it were.

I am aiming my blows: Paul here compares himself to a boxer trying to win a boxing match. A well-trained boxer makes his blows count, not wasting energy by striking the air. Similarly, a Christian needs to direct his efforts well, always aiming for his ultimate reward of everlasting life. (Mt 7:24, 25; Jas 1:22) He fights any obstacle or challenge​—including those arising from within himself​—that could cause him to fail.​—1Co 9:27; 1Ti 6:12.

pummel: Or “punish; strictly discipline.” The Greek word translated “pummel” literally means “hit under [the eye].” A Christian needs to discipline himself, exercising self-control to such an extent that it might even seem as painful as a blow under the eye. Such strict self-discipline would help him not to “become disapproved” before God.​—Compare study note on Lu 18:5.

wearing me out with her demand: Or “pummeling me to a finish.” Lit., “hitting me under [that is, under the eye] into the end.” The Greek verb hy·po·pi·aʹzo used here has been defined “to strike in the face; to give a black eye.” Here it is evidently used figuratively to convey the idea of causing someone constant annoyance or wearing someone out completely. Some scholars feel that the term conveys the idea of damaging someone’s reputation. As the expression is used in this context, it describes the feeling of the judge, who was at first unwilling to listen to the widow’s plea for justice but who was moved to act because of her persistence. (Lu 18:1-4) The illustration does not say that God is like the unrighteous judge; rather, it contrasts God with the judge. If this unrighteous judge would eventually do what was right, how much more so would God! Like the widow, God’s servants must persist in asking Jehovah for his help. God, who is righteous, will respond in answer to their prayer, causing justice to be done.​—Lu 18:6, 7.


Sealing a Document
Sealing a Document

In ancient times, seals had various purposes. For example, they were used to show authenticity or agreement. (See Glossary, “Seal.”) People in Greco-Roman times recorded legal or business transactions on wooden tablets covered with wax. The valuable information in these documents needed to be authenticated by witnesses. A witness had his personal seal, a distinctive mark that was engraved, often on a ring. He pressed it into a lump of hot wax covering a string that tied the document together. When the wax cooled, it would seal the document shut, and the document would remain shut until it was publicly opened. In this way, the witnesses attested to, or acknowledged, the truthfulness of the content, and the document was protected from being tampered with. For this reason, the expression “to seal; to put a seal on” came to be used in the sense of certifying, confirming, or authenticating that something was true. The apostle John wrote that whoever accepts Jesus’ witness has put a seal to, or has confirmed, that God is true, or truthful.​—See study note on Joh 3:33.

A Bull’s Muzzle
A Bull’s Muzzle

These photographs, taken at the beginning of the 20th century, show a farmer using muzzled cattle to thresh grain. To begin separating the wheat from the chaff, farmers used bulls to pull a threshing sledge over cut grain. A muzzle prevented the animal from eating while it worked. Revealing Jehovah’s loving consideration for animals, the Mosaic Law forbade this practice. (De 25:4) A hungry animal would be tormented if it had to work hard with grain so close at hand. The apostle Paul reasoned on the principle behind this command, stating that hardworking Christian ministers are permitted to receive due honor and material support from others.​—1Co 9:9-14; 1Ti 5:17, 18.

Paul Preaches at the Market in Corinth
Paul Preaches at the Market in Corinth

The ancient city of Corinth sat on a narrow isthmus that connects central Greece with the southern peninsula known as the Peloponnese. Many people traveled through this neck of land as they continued their journey by land or by sea. The city had a large population made up of numerous nationalities and cultures. Paul sought a common ground with all sorts of people, in order to save as many as possible. (1Co 9:22) Paul was told in a vision that the Lord had many prospective disciples in Corinth, so the apostle stayed there for a year and a half. (Ac 18:1, 9-11) A few years later when Paul was in Ephesus, he learned that the disciples in Corinth faced serious problems. He viewed them as his beloved children, so he admonished and encouraged them by writing the spirit-inspired letter now known as 1 Corinthians.​—1Co 4:14.

“A Crown That Can Perish”
“A Crown That Can Perish”

In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul wrote about athletes who worked hard “to receive a crown that can perish.” Paul may have been referring to the prize given to athletes who won an event at the Isthmian Games. These games were held near Corinth. When Paul wrote his letter, the crowns were likely made of pine, though at times wild celery was also used. Both types of material perish quickly. This background information helps to explain the contrast between the fleeting glory won by athletes and the lasting glory gained by anointed Christians as corulers with Christ.​—1Co 9:25.