Of Muzzles And Oxen: Deuteronomy 25:4 And 1 Corinthians 9:9 -- By: Jan L. Verbruggen

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 49:4 (Dec 2006)
Article: Of Muzzles And Oxen: Deuteronomy 25:4 And 1 Corinthians 9:9
Author: Jan L. Verbruggen


Of Muzzles And Oxen:
Deuteronomy 25:4 And 1 Corinthians 9:9

Jan L. Verbruggen*

In Deut 25:4, we find the short apodictic statement, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is threshing.”1 Paul quotes this verse in 1 Cor 9:9 and 1 Tim 5:18 to make the point that a minister of the gospel should be allowed to live from his work. Various scholars have spent a great deal of effort investigating how Paul used this text. Did he cite Deut 25:4 in an allegorical, a typological, or an analogical way?2 However, very little discussion has centered on establishing the meaning of the OT verse (Deut 25:4) in its literary context. In this article, we will first analyze the meaning of the verse in Deuteronomy. How does this verse fit into the broader context of Deuteronomy 24–25? Is Paul reading this verse in the same way as the author of Deuteronomy intended it?

1. The Interpretation Of Deuteronomy 25:4

1. Survey of interpretations. Most scholars comment on the meaning of this verse with the NT references in mind. We can identify three different interpretations in the various commentaries. The first interpretation views this passage as a proverbial saying, not really applicable to an ox, but showing

* Jan L. Verbruggen is professor of Old Testament language and literature at Western Seminary, 5511 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Portland, OR 97215.

concern with the laborer and his wages.3 The second interpretation focuses on the humanitarian character of the law: the concern is for the care of the animal.4 The third interpretation is very similar, but understands that the concern for the animal shown is a natural outcome for the care that should be given to the weak in a society, that is, the widow, the orphan, and the alien, but is here extended to include also the animals.5

2. The traditional interpretation. From all this we may conclude that the most common, traditional interpretation of this verse is the humanitarian notion that a man was not allowed to muzzle his ox while it was working, thus preventing the ox from eating. This was inhumane because the animal, which was helping to provide...

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