BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 36
Copyright 1992, Biblical Horizons
- And because [Paul] was of the same trade, he stayed with [Aquila and Priscilla] and they were working; for by trade they were tentmakers (Acts 18:3).
The fact that Paul was by trade a tentmaker has usually been taken as the springboard for a discussion of whether pastors should have other jobs or not. The Biblical answer is yes and no. The apostles received tithes so that they could devote themselves full time to the ministry of the word and prayer (Acts 6:2, 4; 1 Cor. 9:14). On the other hand, in situations with small churches and missionary situations, it is well for the pastor to "make tents" in order to sustain himself. Another situation in which tentmaking is in order is this: Many churches today are so full of carnal people that a pastor’s livelihood will be threatened if he preaches anything like a true gospel message. In such a situation, it is good for the pastor to have a trade he can fall back on, so that he will be bold in preaching. Then, if 3/4 of the congregation departs, he can still keep the pastorate and build the church back up with real sheep.
Another observation that is often overlooked in connection with tentmaking is this: Paul’s trade enabled him to sit in the market and talk with people during the day. Tentmaking was a trade that kept him in constant touch with an important aspect of his ministry. Pastors who need to make tents should think about similar jobs. A job as an editor will hone his communication skills, for instance. In a technological society, it is harder for a pastor to find a tentmaking job that is "close" to his pastoral calling, but he should think about the problem and try to find something as close as possible.
All this is true, but does not go far enough. Such an interpretation does not rise above moralism, failing to do justice to the theological undercurrents of the text. It is significant in a symbolic sense that Paul was a tentmaker. His occupation is directly related to his work of church planting and building, and fulfills a pattern found in the Old Testament. When we understand this, we can get a better picture of what modern tentmaking jobs might be like.
When the Sinaitic Covenant was established, God called Moses to be the prophet. God gave Moses the blueprint for the Tabernacle, the tent of God. God gifted another man, Bezalel, with the Holy Spirit of "wisdom, understanding, and knowledge" and put him in charge of actually building the Tabernacle (Ex. 31:3). God appointed another man, Oholiab, to help him, but nothing is said about the Holy Spirit in connection with him (Ex. 31:6). "Bezalel" means "God Protects," and that is what the Tabernacle as a shelter was all about. "Oholiab" means "Father’s Tent," which is also what the Tabernacle was all about. Theologically, the Spirit-filled Bezalel represents the Spirit, and Oholiab represents the contribution of Israel, the Bride. In terms of the theology of Exodus, we see God give Moses the blueprint in Exodus 25-31, and we see the Spirit and the Bride building the Tabernacle in Exodus 35-40.
When the Kingdom Covenant was established, God called David to be the prophet. God gave David the blueprint for the Temple (1 Chron. 28:11-19), the house of God. God gifted another man, Solomon the son of David, with "wisdom and knowledge" to build the Temple (2 Chron. 1:11-12). The Holy Spirit is not particularly mentioned here, but we are to understand that He alone gives wisdom and understanding. Solomon appointed another man, Hiram-abi, to help him (2 Chron. 2:13-14). Theologically, Solomon represents the Spirit of God who builds the Temple after David is gone, and Hiram-abi represents the Bride, who assists. In terms of the theology of Chronicles, we see God give David the blueprint in 1 Chronicles 22-28, and we see the Spirit and the Bride building the Temple in 2 Chronicles 2-7.
There are certain advances in conception from Sinai to Jerusalem. Moses does not die and go to heaven before Bezalel starts his work, while David does die before Solomon starts his. Also, while the Tabernacle was made of Egyptian spoils as well as Israelite contributions, the part played by Gentile God-fearers is much greater in the building of the Temple. Hiram of Tyre, a convert, sends much material for the Temple, and Hiram-abi himself was the son of an Israelite woman and a Tyrean man (2 Chron. 3:3-16 and 3:14). In fact, it was Hiram of Tyre who recommended Hiram-abi to Solomon (2 Chron. 3:13).
The kings of Judah, who repair the Temple from time to time, are permanent Bezalels, permanent Solomons. As the Holy Spirit is the Second Comforter and Heir of Jesus Christ the King, so Solomon and his successors are the heirs of David.
King and priest cooperate at all times in the building of the tent and house. Exodus 28 and Exodus 31 belong together, as God appoints Aaron to oversee the spiritual and moral aspect of the Tabernacle and Bezalel to oversee its physical plant. The covenant with Phineas, guaranteeing his line permanence in the house of God as priest (Num. 25:10-13), is parallel to the covenant with David, guaranteeing his line permanence in the house of God as king (2 Sam. 7). The Phineas line of Zadok came to permanence when Solomon became king. (The Davidic Covenant cannot be understood rightly unless it is connected with the Phineas Covenant, its complement.)
It is less explicit, but I believe we can see the same pattern recapitulated at the time of the Restoration Covenant. The prophets this time are Haggai and Zechariah, especially the latter, who in his "night visions" receives a blueprint of how the new covenant is established by God’s removal of sin so that the Temple can be rebuilt (Zech. 1-6, especially chapter 3). These two men carry on the previous work of Ezekiel, who revealed the Spiritual dimensions and social structure of the Restoration Temple before his death (Ezk. 40-48). The Restoration Temple is then built under the direction of the last Davidic prince Zerubbabel and the high priest Jeshua. For reasons I have explained elsewhere (Biblical Chronology III:3, March 1991), the death of Jeshua the high priest completed the work of restoration, since the death of the high priest enables all those in exile to return to the land (Num. 35:28; Num. 20:29-21:1; Josh. 24:33). His death immediately precedes the arrival of Ezra with materials to furnish the Temple, a point that emerges when we realize that the Darius of Ezra 1-6 is the same as the Artaxerxes of Ezra 7-10 and Nehemiah 1-13 (Biblical Chronology III:2-5).
In the Restoration period, the Temple-maintainers are no longer the Davidic-Solomonic kings, but the line of high priests. King and priest are combined in the crowning of Jeshua (Zech. 6), and the Davidic king-line goes "underground" until the coming of Jesus. Zerubbabel, then, becomes Chief Layman, as Ezekiel 46 had prophesied concerning the Restoration Temple. With this in mind, we can see Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Haggai as Moses, Jeshua as Bezalel, and Zerubbabel as Oholiab. In the next generation, the work of Jeshua as Temple-builder is carried on by Ezra, and the work of Zerubbabel as Chief Layman (representing the Bride) is carried on by Nehemiah.
Once again there is a progression from the Kingdom Covenant to the Restoration Covenant. The presence of the God-fearing Gentiles is much more pronounced in connection with the Restoration Temple. The God-fearing kings of Persia, Cyrus and Darius, order that the Temple be built and help furnish it. They send Ezra and Nehemiah to make sure that it is being done correctly. While the Jews are busy apostatizing by marrying heathen women (Ezra 9-10; Neh. 13) and allowing heathens to have rooms in the Temple (Neh. 13), the Godly Persian kings are actively working to purify the Temple through their agents Ezra and Nehemiah.
We now have a pattern that we can abstract as follows:
1. God gives the blueprint to the Prophet.
2. The Prophet enlists a Chief Tentmaker.
3. The Chief Tentmaker enlists other tentmakers among the members of the Bride.
When we get to the New Covenant, we see this pattern played out in its fullness. The Father gives the blueprint to the Son, who is the Great Prophet, and who speaks and does only the Father’s will. After the death and ascension of the Son, the Son commissions a Second Comforter, His Heir, to become Chief Tentmaker. This is the Holy Spirit, whose arrival in Acts 2 begins the building of the Church, the new house of God. The Spirit enlists members of the Bride to help Him. The leaders of the Bride are the Apostles and pastors, including Paul.
Thus, the Father is God the Author; Jesus is Moses the blueprint-revealer; the Spirit is Bezalel the Chief Tentmaker; and Paul is Oholiab the leader of the Bride’s contributions.
The Father is God the Author; Jesus is David the blueprint-revealer; the Spirit is Solomon the Chief Templebuilder; and Paul, a Jew raised in Gentile Joppa, is Hiram-abi the leader of the Bride’s contributions.
The Father is God the Author and is also represented by the Godly Gentile commissioners of the Restoration Temple. Jesus is Ezekiel-Haggai-Zechariah, prophetic blueprint-revealer. The Spirit is Jeshua-Ezra. And Paul is Zerubbabel-Nehemiah.
When we see this we see that we are all, like Paul, tentmakers. Pastors are the leaders in this tentmaking operation, the building of the Church.
From all this we see that Paul’s tentmaking occupation carries with it a deep association with God’s plan for building the Church. Paul’s occupation as tentmaker symbolizes and thus is intimately related to his calling as Church builder. He made tents not primarily so that he could be fed and clothed, but primarily to relieve the Church of the burden of caring for him, so that the Church’s money could be used elsewhere in the building up of the Church (Acts 20:34; 1 Cor. 4:12; 9:15; 2 Cor. 11:7; 12:13; 1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Thess. 3:8).
I derive the following two applications from this study. First, it is appropriate for men to engage in tentmaking when the Church is small and struggling. This frees up the money of the Church for other uses.
Second, tentmaking occupations should ideally be related to ministry work. For instance, music is one of the most important aspects of the work and worship of the Church. For a pastor to make his money as a music teacher would be an excellent tentmaking job, because his experience there would play into the upgrade of the work and worship of the Church. A similar occupation would be teaching Bible in a Christian school. Financial counselling would also be a good tentmaking occupation, because the pastor could use his expertise and experience to help the members of his parish. But of course, if these jobs are not available, anything will do.