Word Study #99 — Labor, Payment, Recompense, Wages

In the former post (#98), we discovered that the New Testament usage of such terms as “gain”, “profit”, and “reward”, includes very few parallels to today’s common economic interpretations of those words. So are we to assume that we are offered no guidance for life in the “real world”, and therefore must adopt the financial value system of the culture in which we find ourselves? Only after subjecting them to careful scrutiny through the lens provided by the transformation (#97) of life toward the “image” (#15) of the Lord Jesus.

“Labor”, for example, representing kopos (n.) and kopiao (v.), may apply simply to “hard work, exertion” or “toil and trouble”, referring both to one’s secular employment (Mt.6:28, Lk.5:5, I Cor.3:8, 14; 4:12; II Tim.2:6) and to efforts on behalf of the Kingdom (Jn.4:38, I Cor.15:10,58; II Cor.6:5, 10:15, 11:23; I Thes.1:3, 3:5; Heb.6:10, Rv.2:2). See also “work” (W.S.#39), for references using ergazomai and ergates.
Note that Paul frequently takes great pains to point out that he has been careful to support his Kingdom work by his own manual labor (Ac.18:3, 20:34, I Cor.4:12, I Thes.2:9, 3:5), although he also commends those who have shared in contributing to his needs – the letter to Philippi is basically a “thank-you-note”.
Another recurring theme is Paul’s assessment of the Christian motivation for work: in order to share with those in need (Ac.20:35, II Cor.9:11, Eph.4:28), as well as to provide for one’s own necessities and to lead exemplary lives in society (I Thes.4:11). Nevertheless, he accompanies these instructions with a significant caveat: (I Tim.6:8) “Let’s be content with having food and clothing”, and goes on to warn of the dangers of excessive desires.

“Payment” and “wages”, interestingly, are both traditional translations of the same two words. Apodidomi, variously rendered “pay”(10x), “give” (10x), “reward” (6x), “sell”(3x), “deliver”(2x), “yield” (2x), and “repay, restore, perform, and recompense”(1x each), is listed classically as “to pay a debt, to render what is due, the yield of a crop, to give an account, to sell something for its worth, or to give or take a bribe”! It is used in both parables and examples of indebtedness (Mt.18:25,34; Lk.7:42, Mt.5:26, Lk.12:59), as well as being often translated “reward” (see W.S.#98).

Misthos, on the other hand, also referenced in #98, primarily carries the idea of “wages paid to a hired worker” in classical usage. Traditional translators rendered it this way in Jn.4:36, Mt.20:8, Lk.10:7, and Jas.5:4 – this last in criticism of employers who neglect or refuse promptly to pay a just wage – although those translators usually have chosen (often questionably) to render it “reward.” They have used the more accurate concept of “hiring” for the verb form in Mt.20:1,7, rendered the participle as “hired servants” in Lk.15:17,19 and Mk.1:20, and correctly applied it to Paul’s “rented house” in Ac.28:30.
If apodidomi intends “the payment of a debt”, and misthos intends “a deserved payment for work”, we may need to re-think the idea of “reward”, as noted at the end of #98. This is another of many concepts that need to be re-examined and clarified in the context of a faithfully studying brotherhood.

Another word, opsonion, further complicates the situation. Classically, “a salary paid in money, the pay of a policeman or soldier, an allowance paid to a victorious athlete, a student, or a family member; the wages of labor”, it occurs only four times in the New Testament. Two of these are straightforward: the instruction of John the Baptist to soldiers, “Be content with your pay” (Lk.3:14), and Paul’s question, “Does a soldier serve at his own expense?” (I Cor.9:7). The other two are more problematic. Despite his having repeatedly harped on the theme of his own self-support, (see kopiao above), and been effusive in his thanks to various churches for their generosity in contributing to his needs, Paul, in his argument in II Cor.11:8, writes, “I robbed other churches, taking wages (opsonion) for ministering to you all!” He is referring to the contribution received from Macedonia (Philippi) (11:9), which he acknowledged in his letter to them (Phil.4:14-19) as a gracious gift!
Similar ambiguity is seen in the statements, also in II Cor.11, as well as 2:17 and 12:13-15, and warnings about greed on the part of elders and teachers (I Tim.3:3,8; Tit.1:7,11) juxtaposed with admonitions (Gal..6:6, I Cor.9:1-15) to share in their support. This may suggest that both avenues of support are acceptable – neither exclusively – or perhaps allow latitude for different approaches in different situations.  It should be clear, however, that Kingdom work is never represented as a career or business!
The fourth appearance of opsonion? Romans 6:23. If you can figure that one out, in the context of the other uses of the word, please add your insight with the “comment” button! I’m sure Paul intends to contrast “wages” with “gift” – but that’s as far as I can go!

Finally, there remains the use of “recompense” – six different words, none of them frequent.
Four of them use prefixes altering the understanding of didomi (“to give”) : antapodoma (Lk.14:12 and Rom.11:9), antapodosis (Col.3:24), apodidomi (Rom.12:17), antapodidomi(Lk.14:14, Rom.11:35, 12:19; II Thes.1:6, Heb.10:30). One is a prefixed form of misthosantimisthia (Rom.1:27, II Cor.6:13), and one, misthapodosia, combines the two words (Heb.2:2, 10:35, 11:26). All refer simply to “repayment of what is owed or earned” (L/S), along a spectrum ranging from a simple social obligation (Lk.14:12), through reciprocal relationship (II Cor.6:13), all the way to divine vengeance (Rom.12:19, II Thes.1:6, Heb.10:30). Although the uses of misthapodosia in Hebrews – the only New Testament appearance of the word, were traditionally rendered “recompense of reward”, there is only that one single word in the text. Recurring as a refrain throughout, is the expectation of eventual justice, whether positive or negative from the perspective of the recipient.

So yes, the Kingdom does have an “economic policy”. It does speak to the ordinary concerns of daily needs, including responsible labor, just compensation, generosity of sharing, and avoidance of greed.
We will conclude this section with an examination of the people involved in the work of this Kingdom.


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