Paul and Tentmaking

Q – A friend asked me if Paul was always a tentmaker. After training under Gamaliel, did he continue to make tents while teaching the law? And after his conversion, was he in “full-time” ministry getting wages from the churches as well as gifts?

Jim – Well, the Bible is not definitive on the topic. We can speculate, but that’s the best anyone can do. I think the good likelihood is that Saul, during his Hebrews/anti-Christian days, always used his trade to make his living. That’s logical. Historically, leaders in the Hebrew community, other than priests and Levites, worked for a living. So, I think it’s safe to assume that Paul did, as well.

Now, we know for sure that Paul did not take wages from the Corinthian Church after his conversion. But, he did take gifts from other churches. In the interim, he worked his trade and paid his way.

I think if you try to climb into Paul’s skin and crawl around a bit, you can see that he was in a precarious position to be out proclaiming the truth. He was well known as one who persecuted the church. When he came into an area, he had a huge PR problem to overcome. The last thing he wanted to do was give anyone an excuse or reason to disbelieve him or see him as insincere. That’s the primary reason for refusing to take money from any except those who insisted – like the Philippians.

What I really admire about Paul, though (among the great many things I admire about Paul), is that he did not let his personal refusal to take up offerings get in the way of teaching the proper, sound doctrine of giving in support of God’s ministry. And, I think that’s because he was always putting people in positions of leadership – like Timothy and Titus – and he wanted to make sure that the church understood the responsibility that was theirs to support their God-given leaders. Far too many preachers allow their personal convictions to interfere with their doctrine, and then try to make their conviction your conviction. But, Paul was determined to be above reproach. He refused to give anyone an opportunity to say, “He’s in it for the money.” But, at the same time, he made sure that what Scripture taught about God’s plan of support of His leaders was not tainted by his personal conviction. That’s character, man.

So, I guess I would summarize thusly – The church has a necessary burden laid on them by God to support – share, communicate, koinonia – God’s chosen ministers. However, the ministers themselves are not obligated to take that support. It becomes – like so many things in the proper Christian frame – a matter of grace, personal conviction, and individual conscience.

Okay, sorry. Short answer, long question.

Q – As I read through the last chapter in Acts, I wonder how Paul “paid rent” while living in Rome.

Jim – Well, that verse says that Paul lived in a hired house, or rented home, but it does not say that he paid the rent. He was under a form of house arrest. But, Paul had very wealthy, powerful friends in Rome.

Briefly, Paul mentions in his second letter to Timothy, written from Rome, that “Pudens, and Linus, and Claudia, and all the brethren” sent greetings. Now, this guy “Pudens” is Rufus Pudens, known in Rome as Rufus Pudens Pudentius. He’s the same guy that Paul sent greetings to as he wrapped up his letter to Rome, prior to his arrival there in chains – “Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.” (Rom 16:13)

Rufus Pudens was married to Claudia, and he was a Roman Senator and former personal aide to the roman commander-in-Chief, Aulus Plautius. This Plautius was married to Gladys, the sister of Caractacus, or Caradoc, the hero of the Briton/Roman wars. Now, when Caractacus was captured and the Emperor Claudius inexplicably spared his life, he was ordered to reside in Rome for seven years, so as not to start a new revolt in Britain. When Paul arrived in Rome, Caractacus would have had three years left to serve.

Caradoc’s family resided at Palatium Britannicum – the Palace of Britain – that soon after became a famous Christian sanctuary. Later, it was named St. Pdentiana, after Rufus Pudens, which name it retains to this day. Both the palace and the grounds were bequeathed by Timotheus – eldest son of Pudens and Claudia, later the Bishop of Ephesus – to the Church at Rome

Now, given Paul’s greeting, and substantial historic evidence, Paul’s mother was living in Rome at that time with the Pudens family. Pudens and Paul, then, were half-brothers. (I know that some try to make the argument that Paul was referring to Rufus’s mother as his “spiritual mother,” but Paul reserved such language for those who were responsible for conversion, and Christ converted Paul personally. So, that argument falls apart. At face value, Paul was referring to his own, flesh and blood mom.)

Meanwhile, this palace became the first substantial “above ground” Church at Rome, and the services appear to have been conducted by Hermes, who is mentioned in Rom. 16:14. This was primarily the church of the Gentiles, while the church of the circumcised met at the house of Aquila and Priscilla (Rom. 16:3-5; 1Cor. 16:19; 2 Tim. 4:19). If they sound familiar, they were the family that Paul stayed with in Corinth during the time that Claudius banned the Jews from Rome. After the death of Claudius, they moved back to Rome and set up a church in their home. They were the “tentmakers” that Paul lived with in Corinth. (Hey, this all ties in!!!)

Meanwhile, this guy Linus that we spoke of earlier was the son of Caractacus, and was appointed by Paul as the first Bishop of Rome. St. Clement, the third bishop of Rome, attests to that fact.

So close was Paul with this royal, wealthy family that when he was beheaded at Aquae Slaviae, a little way out of Rome, the royal family consigned his remains with their own hands to the Pudentinian family tomb on the Ostain Road.

So, I said all this to say that Paul was well cared for in Rome. His letters managed to cover the whole Asia Minor and the Roman provinces – no mean feat in that day! He had means and he had support. He was well connected, even up to the household of Caesar, through his adopted daughter Claudia, the daughter of Caractacus.

God had the right man in the right place at the right time to spread this word far and wide. Cool, eh?

However, I doubt, given the nature of his captivity – despite having a home to live in – that he was able to engage in free enterprise. He, as a captive, would have been competing with free men of the area, which thing the local Roman government would certainly have frowned upon. So, I see no evidence of his tent making in Rome, nor does it make sense that he would have been able to support himself in so doing.

Q – Also, when he writes to the Corinthians in 9:6 by saying, “Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?” is Paul making tents while making wages while receiving gifts?

Jim – This section of 1Cor. 9 is Paul’s defense of his apostleship. He was listing all the benefits that the apostles had in Jerusalem and asking whether or not he should be afforded those same benefits.

Mine answer to them that do examine me is this – ”

Don’t I have the power to eat and drink what I choose? Don’t I have the right to have a wife, the way James and Peter do? Don’t I have the right to stop working and be supported? After all, who goes to war at any time and pays his own way? Who plants a vineyard and doesn’t expect to eat from it? Who feeds a flock and doesn’t drink the milk from it? Am I saying this as a man, or doesn’t the law say the same thing? Moses said that you should not muzzle the ox that treads out the corn. So, does God have such great care of oxen that he included them in His law, or was that written to teach us a lesson? Well, for us, of course. (That’s the Jim Mc. loose translation)

But, you get my point. Paul was arguing that he had every right to forebear working; just as he had the rights that any apostle had. Now, as to whether he was working as a tentmaker at the time, I have no way of knowing. Nor does anyone else. In his missionary journeys he worked some and he lived from church support some. At what particular moments he was engaged in which activity is impossible to say.

Sorry to be so vague, but we cannot be authoritative where there’s no clear data.

Q – Maybe you could clear up some of my confusion on this point. ;-0

Jim – If I did not actually clear anything up, I hope I gave you some new bones to chew on. I look forward to our next exchange.