That Time Paul Gave Timothy a Quote from Luke’s Gospel

Paul had access to Luke during his travels, the preface “Scripture says” occurs six times in Paul’s letters and always leads to a quotation of an authoritative writing, and the context of Luke 10:7 corresponds to Paul’s concern about provision for elders in 1 Timothy 5:17–18.

We are used to reading references and allusions to the Old Testament in Paul’s letters. Would you be surprised to know that he quoted from a New Testament book?

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul is addressing groups in the church in 1 Timothy 5:1–6:2. And in 5:17–25, he writes about elders. In 5:17 he says, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching,” and then in 5:18, he gives a reason for his instruction.

The reason begins with, “For the Scripture says,” and then he cites two things.

  • First, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” which is from Deuteronomy 25:4.
  • Second, “The laborer deserves his wages,” which is from Luke 10:7.

The two citations serve as evidence for Paul’s instruction in 1 Timothy 5:17, that elders who rule well (especially in the labor of preaching and teaching) are worthy of double honor (the honor of respect and the honor of remuneration).

The first citation is obviously from Deuteronomy 25:4. What’s not so obvious to interpreters is the source of Paul’s second citation. In the previous paragraph, I nonchalantly said that Paul is citing Luke 10:7 when he writes, “The laborer deserves his wages.” But according to New Testament commentators, that conclusion is not certain.

In fact, there seems to be a genuine reluctance among commentators to suggest that Luke’s Gospel is the source of Paul’s second quotation in 1 Timothy 5:18. Why the reluctance? Well, some scholars don’t believe Paul even wrote 1 Timothy, and even if he did write it, some scholars don’t believe Luke’s Gospel would have been written by that point.

But I’m going to assume, just as 1 Timothy 1:1 tells me, that Paul is the author of 1 Timothy. There is no external or internal evidence that actually negates Pauline authorship of this letter. And if Paul is the author of 1 Timothy, the timeline for writing 1 Timothy would be after the events of Acts 28, which would mean sometime after AD 62 but before his martyrdom in the mid-60s.

What about Paul’s source for his second citation in 1 Timothy 5:18? What would he have access to? Some New Testament scholars suggest that a “Jesus saying” was known to Paul, and that was his source for the citation. According to this possibility, Paul would have been aware of a “tradition” that Luke eventually used for his own Gospel in Luke 10:7. This “Jesus tradition” would then have been used by both Luke and Paul for their respective writings.

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