Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Paul the Tentmaker (Acts 18:3)

What was Paul’s occupation? Tentmaker (Acts 18:3)

During Paul’s second missionary journey, the apostle travels from Athens to Corinth (Acts 18:1). In Corinth, he stays with a Jewish husband and wife named Aquila and Priscilla who have been banished from Rome by the Edict of Claudius (Acts 18:2). Paul also joins the couple in their trade of tentmaking (Acts 18:3).

And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers. (Acts 18:2-3 NASB)
Despite not having been previously referenced, Acts casually reports that Paul works as a tentmaker as if his trade is common knowledge (Acts 18:3). This is one of the few biographical facts Acts provides about the famous missionary (Acts 18:3).

David Wenham (b. 1945) compiles:

In the book of Acts Paul first appears on the scene as a ‘young man’ at the killing of Stephen (Acts 7:58). Acts gives us very little information about his background; but we gather that he had a Hebrew and a Roman name (Saul and Paul respectively). Born in Tarsus he was a citizen of that city (Acts 21:39, 22:3), and also a Roman citizen by birth (Acts 16:38, 22:26, 27). By trade he was a tent-maker (or leather-worker) (Acts 18:3). A ‘Pharisee and son of Pharisees’, he trained in Jerusalem under Gamaliel, ‘educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God’ (Acts 22:3, 23:6). He was fluent in Hebrew/Aramaic (Acts 22:2) but apparently associated with the Greek-speaking synagogues of Jerusalem (to judge from his involvement with Stephen; cf. Acts 6:9 and also Acts 9:29). (Bruce W. Winter [b. 1939] and Andrew D. Clarke, “Acts and the Pauline Corpus II. The Evidence of Parallels”, The Book of Acts in its First Century Setting: Ancient Literary Setting 216-17)
Robert L. Brawley (b. 1939) sees Acts’ character sketch as supporting its historicity:
Paul’s highly repetitious references to himself, especially in the Miletus address and the defense speeches, point to a literal character. In addition, Acts individuates Paul as a persecutor of Christians [Acts 9:4-5, 22:4, 7-8, 26:14-15], a Pharisee [Acts 23:6] educated under Gamaliel [Acts 22:3], a tentmaker [Acts 18:3], and a Roman citizen [Acts 22:26-29, 23:27] (cf. Jacob Jervell [1925-2014] 1972:154, 161-63)—characteristics that have no symbolic counterpart in Christianity as a whole. He faces some typical opponents, but others confront him uniquely (e.g., Acts 21:21, 28, 24:5). (Brawley, Centering on God: Method and Message in Luke-Acts, 156)
Though he enters the text eleven chapters earlier (Acts 7:58), this is the first time that Acts mentions that Paul works in this capacity (Acts 18:3). Either he has never previously plied his trade while on the mission field and he is adapting his strategy to correct a deficiency or he has always worked and there had simply been no cause to mention this activity previously.

James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000) speculates:

This is the first time in the missionary journeys of Paul, so far as we can tell, that he found it necessary to support himself by making tents...How had he managed before? No doubt those who sent him had given him sufficient money. (Boice, Acts: An Expositional Commentary, 306)
Kenneth O. Gangel (1935-2009) adds:
Paul wrote often about his “secular occupation” and seemed to take a good bit of heathy pride in his self-support (I Corinthians 4:12; I Thessalonians 2:9; II Corinthians 11:7). Only here, however, does the Bible tell us Paul was a tentmaker...Willingness to work to support oneself while proclaiming the gospel served as a life principle for Paul. (Gangel, Acts (Holman New Testament Commentary), 303)
Though Paul does not specify the type of manual labor he performs in his letters, he alludes to it. Luke Timothy Johnson (b. 1943) introduces:
Paul...makes a considerable point of his “working with his hands” (I Thessalonians 2:9; II Thessalonians 3:6-8; I Corinthians 4:12, 9:6), in this following one ideal for teachers of wisdom, found among at least some of the Rabbis (see Pirke Aboth 2:2, 4:7; Aboth de Rabbi Nathan 11), as well as among certain Cynic Philosophers (see Diogenes Laertius [third century], Lives of Eminent Philosophers 7:168 (Cleanthes [331-232 BCE]); Epictetus [55-135], Discourses 3,26, 23; Musonius Rufus [first century], fragment 11). (Johnson, Acts (Sacra Pagina), 322)
Mikeal C. Parsons (b. 1957) informs:
Like Paul, Aquila and Priscilla were also tentmakers [Acts 18:3]...This characterization of Paul as an artisan who worked with his hands coheres with the picture Paul paints of himself in his letters (I Corinthians 4:12, 9:6; I Thessalonians 2:9; II Thessalonians 3:6-8). If the Paul of the letters viewed such manual labor negatively (so Ronald F. Hock [b. 1944] 1978, 555-64; but cf. now Todd D. Still [b. 1966] 2006, 781-95), there is no indication he does so in Acts (cf. also Acts 20:34-35). Paul stayed and worked with Aquila and Priscilla [Acts 18:2-3]. Paul moves from intellectual debate with Athenian philosophers to manual labor with Corinthian artisans, and in so doing “becomes all things to all people” (I Corinthians 9:22). His economic self-sufficiency was no doubt important, not only given the length of his stay (eighteen months; cf. Acts 18:11), but also because of Corinth’s reputation for hosting philosophical charlatans and other “peddlers” who sold their intellectual “wares” to the highest bidders...It is little wonder...for an audience familiar with such practices that Luke would characterize Paul as engaging in work for self-support in order to distinguish himself from these hucksters in much the same way that Paul in writing to the Corinthians would seek to distance himself from “so many who are peddlers of God’s word” (II Corinthians 2:17). (Parsons, Acts (Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament), 250-51)
While Paul does not make a direct reference to tentmaking in his writings, he does present a related analogy. James F. Kay (b. 1948) connects:
In II Corinthians 5:1 Paul, the tentmaker (Acts 18:3), switches his metaphors. The “body” (II Corinthians 5:8) is likened to a destructible “earthly tent” in contrast to a “house...eternal in the heavens.” Our tattered flesh, in which the treasured gospel finds embodiment, strains forward to God’s permanent provision for risen life. Treasured by God, eternal security awaits us in glory when we shall be “at home with the Lord” (II Corinthians 5:8). “So we do not lose heart” (II Corinthians 4:16, 1), and “we are always confident” (II Corinthians 5:6) amid our present struggles on behalf of the gospel. (Roger E. Van Harn [b. 1932], “Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year B”, The Second Readings: Acts and the Epistles (The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts, 253)
Aquila, Priscilla and Paul presumably work closely together as in this era people sharing a trade worked in close proximity (Acts 18:2-3). This practice still holds in some areas. For instance, many Oriental rug distributors sell in the same region of Atlanta.

Bruce J. Malina (b. 1933) and John J. Pilch (b. 1936) report:

In the ancient Mediterranean world, artisans lived in their respective quarters. Hence, tentmakers lived in one place and Paul, who plied this trade, would very naturally seek lodging there. We agree with Ekkehard W. Stegemann [b. 1945] and Wolfgang Stegemann [b. 1945] (1999:300) that by Paul’s own testimony (I Thessalonians 2:9; I Corinthians 4:12; II Corinthians 11:7) he worked hard, day and night, with fellow tradespersons for a daily wage in workshops. (Malina and Pilch, Social-science Commentary on the Book of Acts, 130)
Bruce B. Barton (b. 1943) explains:
Since ancient craftsmen did not compete as merchants do today but rather formed cooperative trade guilds and often lived in close proximity, it is not surprising that Paul and Aquila worked together [Acts 18:2-3]. Because many of the trade guilds had adopted pagan practices, two God-fearing artisans would have been delighted to work together. (Barton, Romans (Life Application Bible Commentary, 311)
In addition to living in close proximity, Aquila, Priscilla and Paul share other common bonds, three especially important: race, religion and occupation. Given this commonality, it is not surprising that the trio bonds and becomes lifelong friends (Acts 18:2, 18; Romans 16:3; I Corinthians 16:19; II Timothy 4:19).

Robert C. Tannehill (b. 1934) deduces:

Aquila and Priscilla are introduced in Acts 18:2. They are important, first of all, because they enable Paul to work at his trade. Later they will travel with Paul from Corinth to Ephesus (Acts 18:18) and will play a role in the mission as teachers during Paul’s absence from Ephesus (Acts 18:26). Thus they are more than employers. The reference to Paul working with them at a trade in Acts 18:3 prepares for Paul’s statement in his farewell speech that he supported himself and others with his own hands (Acts 20:33-35). His statement there indicates that he did hand labor not only in Corinth but also later in Ephesus. (Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation, Volume 2: The Acts of the Apostles, 221)
Though there is some debate, most assume that all three, including Priscilla, work as tentmakers (Acts 18:2-3). Luise Schottroff (b. 1934) researches:
There are two versions of Acts 18:3 in the handwritten manuscripts. One version...says that Prisca, Aquila, and Paul worked in the trade of tentmaking (“he stayed with them and they worked”). The other version uses the singular—“and he [Paul] worked”—creating the impression that Paul is living with people of the same trade and, on that basis, pursues his work...The more reliable and older version leaves the impression that Aquila, Prisca, and Paul live together and, for that reason, also work together. The change to the singular, which makes no mention of Prisca working, belongs to the recognizable intention of one part of the handwritten communication of Acts, which was to push Prisca into the background. Even Adolf von Harnack [1851-1930], who had clearly brought this matter to attention and had commented extensively on Prisca, devotes to her work the singular notice that she and her husband made tents. In more recent commentaries, I find either that Aquila and Prisca were a well-to-do couple who owned a tentmaking business and that Paul was employed by them or that Aquila and Prisca were tentmakers. Reference to Prisca’s work is missing even where the vocation of tentmaking is discussed as the vocation of Aquila and Paul or of Aquila and Prisca. The conditions under which women live are no subject matter for traditional interpretation even when the text, as in this case, speaks about them directly. Extensive analysis of and theological reflection on women’s work in the New Testament can be found particularly in the work of Ivoni Richter Reimer [b. 1959], a woman scholar of feminist liberation theology. (Schottroff, Lydia’s Impatient Sisters: A Feminist Social History of Early Christianity, 88)
The work in which the trio is engaged is described by the Greek skēnopoiós. The term is almost universally translated as tentmakers with only the grammatical construction varying: “tentmaker(s)” (ESV, HCSB, KJV, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV), “tent makers” (ASV, CEV), “tent-makers” (NASB) or “tentmaking” (MSG).

This is in fact, the literal meaning of the term. Though the word’s scope is broader, the translation of tentmaker is so pervasive that even contemporary paraphrases like The Message and The Voice retain it.

James M.M. Francis (b. 1944) recognizes:

To be sure it would be more accurate to refer to Paul as a leather worker but the description of tentmaker has come to predominate, so much so that in the United States of America non-stipendiary ministry is regularly preferably described as a tentmaking ministry, harking back to the example of Paul [Acts 18:3]. (Francis and Leslie J. Francis [b. 1947], “Biblical Perspectives”, Tentmaking: Perspectives on Self-Supporting Ministry, 1)
Despite the consistency among translators, the word’s precise meaning is disputed. Instead of simply indicating a tentmaker, skēnopoiós is commonly thought to be an umbrella term encompassing a variety of skills pertaining to leather working.

The exact meaning of the term cannot be established with confidence. F.J. Foakes-Jackson (1855-1941) acknowledges:

Σκηνοποιός is a difficult word. It is rendered ‘tent-maker’ in the Authorized Version [Acts 18:3]. In the Vulgate there is no attempt to translate the word, which is rendered scenofactoriae artis. One Latin manuscript has lectari (lectarii)—makers of couches. The rendering workers in leather, found in some Latin versions, is open to the alleged objection that this was considered an unclean trade, and consequently one not likely to be chosen by a family of strict Pharisees, like Paul’s [Acts 26:5; Philippians 2:5]. Paul is popularly called a ‘tent-maker’; and there we must leave it. (Foakes-Jackson, Acts (Moffat Commentary), 169)
Frank Stagg (1911-2001) admits:
The common trade which brought Paul and Aquila together is usually held to have been that of tentmaker [Acts 18:3]. The Greek word means just that etymologically, but early writers refer the term to leather-workers. This latter is not a likely trade for a Jew, because of the “defiling” force of skins; and cloth made of goat hair would have offered Paul a ready trade, since it was the special product of Cilicia...The reader is faced with inconclusive evidence and in honesty must plead ignorance. In view of the uncertainty of the evidence, there is little reason for departing from the traditional view that Paul was a tentmaker. (Stagg, The Book of Acts: The Early Struggle for an Unhindered Gospel, 189)
Ivoni Richter Reimer (b. 1959) explicates:
The word σκηνοποιοί, “tentmakers,” is a New Testament hapax legomenon [Acts 18:3]. Therefore no New Testament passage can be adduced to explain it; nor is it found in the Septuagint, although there we do find σκηνή, “tent” (e.g., Genesis 4:20: “those who live in tents...”. As far as I can tell, the word σκηνοποιός is attested only twice in literary sources, and not at all in Greek inscriptions. It is a composite of the two words σκηνή and ποιέω, which in the active voice means “to make tents,” not in the sense of “pitching tents,” but in that of producing them. (Reimer, Women in the Acts of Apostles: A Feminist Liberation Perspective, 199)
Several potential meanings have been posited. Beverly Roberts Gaventa (b. 1948) presents:
Disputes persist about the exact nature of the labor Luke identifies as skēnopoioi (NRSV: tentmakers), whether it refers to leather work, the actual construction of tents, weaving, or even the construction of theatrical sets (Ronald F. Hock [b. 1944] 1980, 20-21; [Walter Bauer [1870-1960], F. Wilbur Gingrich [1901-1993], William F. Arndt [1880-1957] and Frederick W. Danker [1920-2012] 928-29). Paul’s letters refer to his labor, but not to a specific trade (I Corinthians 4:12). Similarly, interpreters differ in their estimates of the income and status attached to this labor. That Aquila and Priscilla are able to accommodate Paul at least suggests that they do not operate at a mere subsistence level, but that fact scarcely places them among the elite. In addition, nothing in the syntax permits identifying Aquila and Paul, but not Priscilla, as laborers (Ivoni Richter Reimer [b. 1959] 1995:195-226). (Gaventa, Acts (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries), 256)
Darrell L. Bock (b. 1953) contemplates:
Paul and these two make an immediate connection because they share the same trade (τέχνη, technē). I Corinthians 4:12 refers to how Paul labored with his hands to earn a living (also I Thessalonians 2:9). They are tentmakers, which likely included working with leather in general, so that they can be considered leatherworkers (Wilhelm Michaelis [1896-1965], Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 7:393-94, speaks of primarily leatherwork, which also could include tents; Jacob Jervell [b. 1925] 1998:458). They are not weavers of goat hair as some suggest (correctly, Gerhard Schneider [1926-2004] 1982:249; William J. Larkin [1945-2014] 1995:262-63n). (Bock, Acts (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 578)
Some have posed the alternate theory that Paul is in actuality a stage maker. L.L. Welborn (b. 1953) relates:
The term used by Acts to describe their occupation, σκηνοποιός, is traditionally translated “tent-maker” [Acts 18:3]; but Frederick W. Danker [1920-2012], the editor of A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, has...argued, on the basis of contemporary usage, that readers of Acts in urban areas would have thought of σκηνοποιός in reference to matters theatrical, and so he has proposed the translation “maker of stage properties.” Whether as a “tent-maker” or a “prop-maker,” Paul lived and worked with Jewish artisans in one of the little ships scattered throughout the city, perhaps in the Peribolos of Apollo just off the Lechaeum Road, or in the North Market, or along East Theater Street. (Mark Harding [b. 1951] and Alanna Nobbs [b. 1944], All Things to All Cultures: Paul Among Jews, Greeks, and Romans, 208)
Bartosz Adamczewski (b. 1967) directs:
Luke’s description of Paul as tentmaker, a trade that was hardly profitable in a great city and that, moreover, was referred to by Luke with a neologism in this meaning (σκηνοπσιός: Acts 18:3), probably alludes to II Corinthians 5:1.4. For a suggestion that this noun meant “maker of stage properties” and as such it alluded to I Corinthians 4:9, see William O. Walker, Jr. [b. 1930], ‘The Portrayal of Aquila and Priscilla in Acts: The Question of Sources’, 488-89. (Adamczewski, Heirs of the Reunited Church: The History of the Pauline Mission in Paul’s Letters, in the So-Called Pastoral Letters, and in the Pseudo-Titus Narrative of Acts, 127)
Eckhard J. Schnabel (b. 1955) counters:
Frederick W. Danker [1920-2012] suggests that the Greek term skēnopoios, which is usually translated as “tent-maker,” should be interpreted in the sense of “maker of stage properties” for theatrical productions (Walter Bauer [1870-1960], F. Wilbur Gingrich [1901-1993], William F. Arndt [1880-1957] and Frederick W. Danker [1920-2012], 928-29). Note, however, the Jewish objections toward the theater; cf. Emil Schürer [1844-1910], History of the Jewish People, 2:54-55. (Schnabel, Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods, 105)
Some have posited that Paul’s trade is that of weaving in conjunction with a purported connection to his home territory, Cilicia (Acts 21:39, 22:3, 23:34). F.F. Bruce (1910-1990) opines:
Paul’s trade was probably connected with the chief manufacture of his native province, cilicium, a cloth of goats’ hair from which were made coverings designed to give protection against cold and wet. While the etymological sense of σκηνοποιός is “tent-maker,” it was used in the wider sense of “leather-worker” (cf. English “saddler,” which has a wider sense than “maker of saddles”). Ronald F. Hock [b. 1944], who puts Paul’s manual work in a Hellenistic social setting (cf. “Paul’s Tentmaking and the Problem of his Social Class,” Journal of Biblical Literature 97 [1978], pp. 555-64; “The Workshop as a Social Setting for Paul’s Missionary Preaching,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 41 [1979], pp.438-50; and The Social Context of Paul’s Ministry: Tentmaking and Apostleship [Philadelphia, 1980]), finds a polemic note in Paul’s own references to it; whether that is so or not, there is no such note in Luke’s present reference. (Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary, 392)
David G. Peterson (b. 1944) refutes:
Some have argued that ‘Paul’s trade was probably connected with the chief manufacture of his native province, cilicium, a cloth of goats’ hair from which were made coverings designed to give protection against cold and wet’. However, the same occupation is ascribed to Priscilla and Aquila, though they were from Pontus [Acts 18:2], and Paul probably did not learn his trade until he began his formal theological education in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3). It is more likely that his trade involved working with leather rather than with weaving. (Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 508)
Christopher R. Little (b. 1959) expounds:
The better one understands Saul the Jew the more clearly one comprehends Paul the apostle (Martin Hengel [1926-2009] 1991:xiii). This is especially true in terms of his trade. Some have supposed that Paul’s trade should be linked to his upbringing in Tarsus where it is known that the tentmaking material cilicium was manufactured (Franz Delitzsch [1813-1890] 1883:81-82; J.B. Lightfoot [1828-1889]1895:27; Colin J. Hemer [1930-1987] 1989:119; Roy B. Zuck [1932-2013] 1998:22). However, there are several reasons to doubt this viewpoint...Paul spent his childhood in Jerusalem not Tarsus...In relation to this Brian Raspke [b. 1952] says: “Trying to connect Paul with Tarsus/Cilicia in this way is irrelevant. He moved to Jerusalem while still very young...The fact that the same occupation is ascribed to Aquila and Priscilla though they are from Pontus shows the link to be unnecessary” (1994:107). Also, it is misleading to associate Paul with cilicium. This material, which derived it name from the province of Cilicia, was “a coarse cloth woven from goats’ hair” (Wilhelm Michaelis [1896-1965] 1971:394). It was used in the production of tent-fabric and carpets (Michaelis 1971:394). Because weaving was an occupation reserved for women, Jewish men who undertook this trade were disqualified from the priesthood and even despised (Michaelis 1971:394; W. Hulitt Gloer [b. 1950] 1988:792; Raspke 1994:107). “It is therefore highly improbable that Paul would have chosen to be, or have been trained as, a weaver by profession” (Rapske 1994:107). Thus, “The thesis that Paul wove tentcloth from the goats’ hair...should once and for all be dropped” (Ronald F. Hock [b. 1944] 1980:66). (Little, Mission in the Way of Paul: Biblical Mission for the Church in the Twenty-First Century, 27)
Ernest Haenchen (1894-1975) concurs:
It was natural to conjecture that Paul in his homeland had learned the weaving of cilicium as a trade. But cilicium served neither exclusively nor particularly for tents; they were rather made chiefly from leather: Theodor Zahn [1838-1933] 633. We must with Joachim Jeremias [1900-1979] (Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 30 (1931), 299) understand by σκηνποιός a leather-worker. This was already the explanation of the ancients with their explanation σκυτοτόμος (Rufinus [340-410], probably after Origen [184-253]) and σκηνοράψος (John Chrystostom [347-407]): Zahn 632, n. 10. (Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary, 534)
The weaver’s tools would likely be too cumbersome to transport for a persistent traveler such as Paul. Brian M. Raspke (b. 1952) scrutinizes:
If Paul’s overland journeys were generally undertaken on foot, the recently popular explanation of Acts 18:3,that Paul was a weaver of tentcloth made from goats hair or linen, whatever its other problems, is rendered even less probable. Such an occupation, requiring tools and equipment inconvenient in size, weight and shape, is hardly in keeping with the impression in Acts of a highly mobile Paul — even less so a pedestrian like Paul. The maker/repairer of tents and other leather products, carrying his bag of cutting tools, awls, sharpening stone and such, presents a more consistent and more credible picture. (David W. J. Gill [b. 1946] and Conrad Gempf [b. 1955], “Acts, Travel and Shipwreck”, The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting: Graeco-Roman Setting, 7)
The most prevalent theory identifies Paul as a leather worker (Acs 18:3). Brian Raspke (b. 1952) argues:
Acts...affirms that he [Paul] plied a trade (Acts 20:33-35) and specifies that he was a σκηνοποιοὶς (Acts 18:3). This term, appearing only this once in the New Testament, is also rare in non-New Testament sources. Wilhelm Michaelis [1896-1965] writes: “ cannot rule out the possibility that σκηνοποιοὶς is used for the trade of “tent-maker.” For one thing this meaning is wholly within the range allowed by the etymology and it is indeed the most natural, since a construct with -ποιοὶς can hardly denote a casual and not a permanent activity.”...It seems best to understand that Paul was a leather-worker. First, tents during the period with which we are concerned were usually made of leather and not textiles. Second, the earliest versional renderings noted above by and large presume that Paul’s trade, whatever it actually entailed, had something to do with working leather. Third, while tanning was considered an unclean trade, no stigma attached to the Jew who worked already-prepared leather. Finally, the tools needed to work leather, certainly less onerous a burden to carry from place to place than weaver’s equipment, lend themselves well to the picture of Paul found in Acts. We may cite Ronald F. Hock [b. 1944]’s comments in summary: “Leatherworking, then, was Paul’s trade; the specialized title ‘tentmaker’ reflects a widespread tendency among artisans to use specialized titles, even though they made more products than their titles would suggest. We must thus picture Paul as making tents and other products of leather.” (Rapske, The Book of Acts in its First Century Setting: Paul in Roman Custody, 106-08)
Christopher R. Little (b. 1959) bolsters:
Paul is reported to have been a “σκηνοποιός.” This term, translated as “tent-maker” (Acts 18:3), is best rendered “leather-worker” (Wilhelm Michaelis [1896-1965] 1971:394). The testimony of early church fathers confirms the view “that Paul was a leatherworker of some sort” (W. Hulitt Gloer [b. 1950] 1988:792). Leatherworkers produced a wide variety of good from leather, not just tents (Ronald F. Hock [b. 1944] 1980:21; Gloer 1988:792). According to Ronald Hock: “Leatherworking involved two essential tasks: cutting the leather, which required round-edge and straight-edge knives; and sewing the leather, which required various awls” (1980:24). Hence, Paul is more accurately described as a “leatherworker” who carried the easily portable tools of his trade during his missionary travels in order to sustain himself (Hock 1980:25; Brian Raspke [b. 1952] 1994:107). (Little, Mission in the Way of Paul: Biblical Mission for the Church in the Twenty-First Century, 27)
This task required arduous labor if not skill. Marie Noël Keller (b. 1943) describes:
Today most scholars think all three missionaries worked with leather, and they picture the three of them working for long hours, bent forward on a stool by a workbench. All that was needed was a set of basic tools, which included round-edge and straight-edge knives to cut the leather and awls, needles, and thread to sew it. So little was necessary, it made “tenting” a portable thriving trade. Indeed, Acts 28:30 may even imply Paul worked when he was in custody in Rome. More onerous was the abundance of strength and patience that were also needed, for as Paul later comments, “We grow weary from the work of our own hands” (I Corinthians 4:12 NRSV). (Keller, Priscilla and Aquila: Paul’s Coworkers in Christ Jesus, 15)
An advantage to leather working is that the trade was in steady demand during Paul’s lifetime. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor (b. 1935) enlightens:
In cities several types of awning were in demand. They all involved sewing strips of canvas of various weights together. Those in sailcloth shading the theatre and forum could be moved backwards and forwards on guy wires. The courtyards of private houses had to be protected from the summer sun. Inscribed awnings both advertised and shaded shop fronts. Those who went to the beach used linen pavilions to provide shade without impeding the cooling breezes...The market for tents in the strict sense was also far from negligible. Inns needed them to accommodate overflow customers, which occurred on the occasion of great festivals. Shrewd travellers took the precaution of providing themselves with tents in case an accident should prevent them from reaching an inn at night. If they planned to travel any distance by boat, tents were indispensable. There were no ferries, and cargo boats had no cabins. Without tent deck passengers could not protect themselves from sun or spray, and had nowhere to sleep when the ship docked at nightfall...Every town with a temple had its festival, when traders erected their leather or canvas booths around the sanctuary...Minor repairs were also a valuable source of income...Paul had chosen to arm himself with a skill that virtually guaranteed him jobs on every road he walked and on every sea he sailed. (Murphy-O’Connor, Paul: His Story, 29-30)
This demand might have been especially high in Corinth. David W. J. Gill (b. 1946) reveals:
If Paul stayed in Corinth for eighteen months (Acts 18:11) and was present during the governorship of Gallio [Acts 18:12, 14, 17], one of the events he would have witnessed would have been the biennial agonistic festival held at nearby Isthmia and which was the responsibility of the colony. This festival was linked to the sanctuary of Poseidon where the temple was refurbished in the early days of the colony with its interior being partly revetted in marble. Oscar Broneer [1894-1992] has suggested that as Aquila and Priscilla were tentmakers or σκηνοπιοι (Acts 18:3), they may been involved with the making of awnings or skenai for the festival of Isthmia which would have been held in April-May 51. Certainly this is an attractive possibility, though they could have been making skenai for the theatre and other such areas at Corinth itself. (Gill and Conrad Gempf [b. 1955], “Achaia”, The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting: Graeco-Roman Setting, 452)
There are many advantages that accompany Paul’s selection of this particular trade. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor (b. 1935) evaluates:
To us this seems a rather bizarre choice. Paul exercised his ministry in an urban environment, and what need have city dwellers of tents? From a first-century perspective, however, it was a very clever decision...The skill involved was minimal, so was quickly learned. It was essentially the ability to cut and shape lengths of leather and canvas, and then to sew them together with a neat turned-over seam. The tools were simple and light. Paul needed a half-moon knife to cut heavy leather of canvas, an awl to make the holes to take the waxed thread, and curved needles. The lot fitted neatly into a small wallet. Exercise of this trade developed muscular shoulders and strong calloused hands. The stitch was set by a sudden outward jerk of both hands into which the thread bit. Little wonder that Paul could write only with awkward large letters (Galatians 6:11)—a sign that he had plenty of work. (Murphy-O’Connor, Paul: His Story, 29)
Some have seen some symbolic connection associated with Paul’s secular trade (Acts 18:3). Bernard Aubert (b. 1972) bridges:
Paul’s occupation as a tentmaker is relevant to the issue of his relationship to the countryside. Ronald F. Hock [b. 1944] argues that Paul’s occupation as a tentmaker indicates his willingness to lower himself on the social scale. In the context of the city, Paul’s manual labor corresponds to the labors of shepherds. Consequently, there is a loose correlation between Paul’s occupation (Acts 20:34) and the servant-shepherding ministry (Acts 20:19, 28). More importantly, whether “tentmaking” (Acts 18:3) refers to work with “goats’ hair” (cilicium) or “leatherworking,” Paul was working with material from flocks. Thus Paul in his trade, must have been at least indirectly connected with herdsmen responsible for raising animals. (Aubert, The Shepherd-Flock Motif in the Miletus Discourse (Acts 20:17-38) Against Its Historical Background, 46)
Robert Wall (b. 1947) consociates:
There are a few intriguing allusions to the first part of the Amos citation [Amos 9:11-12] (Acts 15:16) that facilitate a more reflexive reading between the two. For example, the promise the God ‘will rebuild the tent (σκηνήν) of David’ is picked up in Acts 18:3 where Paul’s occupation is described as a ‘tentmaker’ (σκηνοποιός). The irony of this narrative detail is clear: Paul is actually God’s appointed ‘tentmaker’ by whose Gentile mission the Davidic/Messianic kingdom is reconstituted and restored according to Scripture (cf., Acts 1:6). (I. Howard Marshall [b. 1934] and David G. Peterson [b. 1944)], “Israel and the Gentile Mission in Acts and Paul: A Canonical Approach”, Witness to the Gospel: The Theology of Acts, 450)
The Bible does not state how Paul acquires his vocational skill. Two primary explanations have been offered. Gerd Lüdemann (b. 1946) supplies:
Paul’s activity as a tentmaker or leatherworker (Acts 18:3; cf. I Thessalonians 2:9; I Corinthians 4:12, 9:6-18, etc.) either derives from the rabbinical custom of learning a trade or stems from a familial context, likely from his father. If the latter is true, “Paul’s family may have acted in accordance with specifically Jewish prescriptions, but we need to realize that the plausibility structure for their action extended far beyond the Jewish community.” (Lüdemann, Paul: The Founder of Christianity, 94)
Christopher R. Little (b. 1959) details:
There is a difference of opinion on how Paul would have acquired his trade in Jerusalem (W. Hulitt Gloer [b. 1950] 1988:792). Some assert that Paul obtained it during his studies under Gamaliel in connection with the Rabbinic injunction to combine the study and teaching of the Torah with the practice of a trade (Joachim Jeremias [1900-1979] 1969:112-13; Martin Hengel [1926-2009] 1991:16; Brian Raspke [b. 1952] 1004:107). However, Ronald F. Hock [b. 1944] contends that “the ideal of combining Torah and a trade is difficult to establish much earlier than the middle of the second century A.D., that is, long after Paul” (1980:22; cf. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor [b. 1935] 1996:86). Others believe that “since it was a general rule that the son followed the trade of his father” (Franz Delitzsch [1813-1890] 1883:81), it is best to see Paul coming form a long line of leatherworkers (Richard Wallace [b. 1941] and Wynne Williams [b. 1941] 1998:140). In this fashion, Paul’s profession would have been passed on to him by his father (W.C. Van Unnik [1910-1978] 1973:300; Gloer 1988:792) in accordance with the common maxim of the day: “Whoever does not teach his son a craft teaches him to be a robber” (Arthur T. Geoghegan [1914-2006] 1945:108). Even though there is disagreement on the manner in which Paul obtained his trade, the reasons for which he was taught it are quite clear. (Little, Mission in the Way of Paul: Biblical Mission for the Church in the Twenty-First Century, 28)
Traditionally Paul’s tentmaking is consider a product of his religious training. F.F. Bruce (1910-1990) educates:
Paul’s maintaining himself by his own manual work is traditionally illustrated by the rabbinical insistence that religious instruction should be gratuitous (cf. Pirqê ’Abôt 4.7: “Rabbi Zadok [first century] said, ‘...Make not of the Torah a crown with which to aggrandize thyself, nor a spade with which to dig.’ So also used Hillel [110 BE-10 CE] to say, ‘He who makes a worldly use of the crown of the Torah shall waste away.’ Hence thou mayest infer that whosoever derives a profit for himself from the words of the Torah is helping on his own destruction”). A later teacher, Gamaliel III [third century CE], said that the study of the Torah was excellent if combined with a secular occupation (Pirqê ’Abôt 2.2). Greek culture, by contrast, tended to despise manual labor; an exception is presented by scientific writers, who speak respectfully of τεχνιται. Loveday C.A. Alexander finds in the attitude of scientific writers a possible background for Luke’s totally matter-of-fact record of Paul’s practice her (“Luke’s Preface in the Context of Greek Preface-Writing,” Novum Testamentum, pp. 48-74, especially p. 70). Cf. Acts 20:34, and Paul’s reference to his policy in I Thessalonians 2:9; I Corinthians 9:12b-18; II Corinthians 11:7-12. (Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary, 391-92)
Lee Martin McDonald (b. 1942) interjects:
In the Mishnah, a Rabban Gamaliel [third century], son of Rabbi Judah the Patriarch, says: “Excellent is study of the Law together with worldly occupation, for toil in them both puts sin out of mind. But all study of the Law without labour comes to naught at the last and brings sin in its train. And let all them that labour with the congregation labour with them for the sake of heaven, for the merit of their fathers supports them and their righteousness endures for ever (m. Aboth 2.2, Herbert Danby [1889-1953] translation)...Similar attitudes were found among the Greeks and those philosophers who also worked with their hands were praised. The practical Stoic philosopher Epictetus (ca. 54-120 A.D.) admonished all in his guild to combine their scholarly activity with practical work. Showing his disdain for those who refused to work with their hands he concludes that they, “have only to learn the life of healthy men—how the slaves live, the workmen, the genuine philosophers, how Socrates [470-399 BCE] lived—he too with a wife and children—how Diogenes [412-323 BCE] lived, how Cleanthes [331-232 BCE], who combined going to school with pumping water. If this is what you want, you will have it everywhere, and will live with full confidence” (Discourses 3.26.23-24, Loeb Classical Library). He goes on to ask why those in his guild have made themselves so useless that no one would take them in. (Discourses 3.26.23-24, Loeb Classical Library). (Craig A. Evans [b. 1952], Acts—Philemon (Bible Knowledge Background Commentary), 125-26)
Ernest Haenchen (1894-1975) objects:
At this juncture it is usually pointed out...that the Rabbis were in the habit of learning a trade. But Paul was not a Rabbi and also did not want to imitate the Rabbis: Alfred Loisy [1857-1940] 689. (Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary, 534)
Sadami Takayama (b. 1955) exposes:
In Jewish tradition any occupation was considered to be a distraction from the study of the Law. All the evidence of rabbis practising trades originates in the post-AD 70 period when conditions in Jerusalem had starkly changed. The rabbis had to support themselves by working and this necessity created a maxim, “All study of Law without (worldly) labour comes to naught at the last and brings sin in its train. (Takayama, Shinran [1173-1263]’s Conversion in the Light of Paul's Conversion, 159)
Paul’s performing manual labor is a far cry from his intellectualizing with philosophers in Athens seen in the previous pericope (Acts 17:16-34). There has been much discussion regarding the perception Paul would have accrued working as a secular artisan.

Marianne Palmer Bonz (b. 1942) reports:

As Richard I. Pervo [b. 1942] has so eloquently observed, it is absurd to claim (as Luke does) that Paul was a tentmaker who somehow gained the favor of Ephesian Asiarchs (Profit with Delight: The Literary Genre of the Acts of the Apostles [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987], 10). (Bonz, The Past as Legacy: Luke-Acts and Ancient Epic, 169)

David G. Peterson (b. 1944) investigates:

F.F. Bruce [1910-1990], 391-92, supports the view that Luke’s background is that of the Greek scientific writers who were more respectful of manual labourers. However, Ronald F. Hock [b. 1944], The Social Context of Paul’s Ministry: Tentmaking and Apostleship, 36, argues that tentmakers belonged to a class of humble artisans who were looked down upon by aristocrats and some leisured intellectuals. Hock, 42, discusses the workshop as a social setting for Paul’s missionary preaching, but Bradley Blue [b. 1960], ‘Acts and the House Church’, in David W. J. Gill [b. 1946] and Conrad Gempf [b. 1955], The Book of Acts in Its Graeco-Roman Setting, 172-77, argues for the household as the standard base for ministry outside the synagogue. Cf. Hock, ‘Paul’s Tentmaking and the Problem of his Social Class’, Journal of Biblical Literature 97 (1978), 555-64...Jewish tradition encouraged rabbis to support themselves with some other occupation, while giving religious instruction (cf. Pirke ’Aboth 2,2, 4.7). Greek culture, however, tended to despise manual labour, which makes Luke’s matter-of-fact record of Paul’s practice...unusual. ‘By lodging with an artisan couple and, beyond that, actually joining them in their trade, Paul suddenly appears no longer as the rising star among noble ladies and gentlemen and lofty academicians.’ In his farewell speech to the Ephesian elders, Paul makes much of the fact that he worked with his own hands, to support himself and his companions, while engaging in ministry (Acts 20:33-35). Although he urged Christians to share all good things with those who taught them (Galatians 6:6). Paul did not normally avail himself to such rights (I Corinthians 9:3-18). Two reasons are given in Acts 20:33-35 for what we know to have been his practice in Ephesus, Thessalonica (I Thessalonians 2:3-9; II Thessalonians 3:6-8), and Corinth (I Corinthians 4:12, 9:6; II Corinthians 11:7). Negatively, Paul sought to avoid any hint of covetousness. Positively, he was determined to help ‘the weak’, inspired by an otherwise unrecorded saying of Jesus about the blessedness of giving instead of receiving [Acts 20:35]. Paul’s behaviour thus reflected his trust in God and God’s generosity to his people, demonstrating two important aspects of the message he preached. (Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 508-09)
F. Scott Spencer (b. 1956) delineates:
To determine the position of Priscilla, Aquila and Paul in Corinthian society, we must understand the nature and status of their ‘tentmaking’ trade. The main skills associated with the craft involved the cutting and stitching of leather material with specially designed knives and awls. It was hard work, demanding long hours hunched over a workbench to make ends meet. As for their social position, Ronald F. Hock [b. 1944] has demonstrated that tentmakers belonged to a class of humble artisans clustered in the marketplace who were looked down upon by aristocrats and some leisured intellectuals...“Stigmatized as slavish, uneducated, and often useless, artisans [like tentmakers], to judge from scattered references, were frequently reviled or abused, often victimized, seldom if ever invited to dinner, never accorded status, and even excluded from one Stoic utopia (Hock, 36)”...By lodging with an artisan couple and, beyond that, actually joining in their trade, Paul suddenly appears no longer as the rising star among noble ladies and gentlemen and lofty academicians. Rather, he restores his links with lowly cloth-handlers, like Lydia (cf. Acts 16:13-15), and builds new tie with the rabble of market laborers (agoraioi) who previously were turned against him (cf. Acts 17:4-5)...It is thus becoming increasingly difficult to construct a consistent portrait of Paul’s social identity in Acts. We seem to be facing a more idealistic than realistic image of the great missionary as a kind of ‘everyman’, able to span the spectrum of human society. It is, nonetheless, an image in keeping with one who himself claimed in correspondence with the Corinthians: ‘I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some’ (I Corinthians 9:22; cf. I Corinthians 9:19-23). (Spencer, Acts (Readings: A New Biblical Commentary), 178-79)
Paul’s willingness to perform manual labor has called his social standing and background into question. Christopher R. Little (b. 1959) inquires:
Church fathers such as John Chrystostom [347-407], Gregory of Nyssa [335-394], and Theodoret [393-457] believed that Paul, in view of his labor-intensive lifestyle as a leatherworker, fell among the lower social levels of the first-century world (Ronald F. Hock [b. 1944] 1978:556). Adolf Deissmann [1866-1937] renewed this position in the modern era by postulating that Paul “came from the unliterary lower classes and remained one of them...[H]e belongs far more to the middle and lower classes than to the upper class...[And] to the great mass of the weary and heavy-laden” (1926:48, 51, 74). However, in rejection of this hypothesis, a new consensus has emerged in contemporary scholarship regarding Paul’s place in ancient society. This place can be ascertained by examining his social status, his education, and his wealth. (Little, Mission in the Way of Paul: Biblical Mission for the Church in the Twenty-First Century, 7)
Craig L. Blomberg (b. 1955) inspects:
From his autobiographical remarks in the epistles and from the data of Acts, we learn that Paul’s own socio-economic background seems to have been relatively prosperous, at least by ancient standards. Tutored in Jerusalem under the rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), after a probable elementary-school education in Tarsus, a centre of Greek culture, Paul would have been among the top few percent in his society in terms of level of education. He also had training in leather-working, of which tent-making was one common application (Acts 18:3). As one who inherited Roman citizenship from his father, he also would have been among just a handful of non-Romans in the empire with this privilege (Acts 22:28). Gillian Clark (1985:111) concludes, ‘The chances are that Paul, though prepared for the sake of the gospel to identify himself with the artisans, was at home in the more prosperous levels of society.’ Nils Dahl [1911-2001] (1977:35) occurs, adding that Paul probably came from a rather well-to-do family. (Blomberg, Neither Poverty Nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions, 177)
Ryan S. Schellenberg considers:
Luke’s Paul is evidently a man of elevated status: he is always aristocratically self-possessed; he comfortably converses with the likes of Felix and Festus [Acts 24:10-23, 25:6-12]; he capably addresses the Athenians in the Areopagus (Acts 17:16-34). Such a man could only have been a tentmaker incidentally. And, indeed, this is precisely how Luke, like many subsequent biographers, deals with Paul’s labor: he mentions it in passing (Acts 18:3). (Schellenberg, Rethinking Paul’s Rhetorical Education: Comparative Rhetoric and 2 Corinthians 10-13, 20-21)
Ben Witherington III (b. 1951) illuminates:
Some Cynic philosophers were known to frequent workshops, and so even when Paul did practice his trade, it would not necessarily have sent the signal that he was a person of low social status. Martin Hengel [1926-2009] makes reference to a man named Isaac, a linen merchant from Tarsus who was an elder in the Jewish community in Jaffa. He was, in short, a relatively high-status person in his own community, yet like Paul he was not reluctant to practice a trade—indeed, his work is proudly mentioned on this tombstone! But also like Paul, Isaac had lived in more than one social world, and while he may have had high status in the microcosmic Jewish community in Tarsus and in the Holy Land, elsewhere he would have been seen as a Jew and an artisan, which in the anti-Semitic environment of the Roman Empire would have represented two strikes against him. (Witherington, The Paul Quest: The Renewed Search for the Jew of Tarsus, 129)
John B. Polhill (b. 1939) footnotes:
Ronald F. Hock [b. 1944] notes that Paul’s references to his work by such terms as “enslaved” (see I Corinthians 9:19) and “demeaning myself” (see II Corinthians 11:7) and being “a spectacle to the world” (see I Corinthians 4:9, 12) reflect a decidedly upper-class attitude toward work and may, along with Roman citizenship, indicate his coming from a higher social level (“Paul’s Tentmaking and the Problem of his Social Class,” Journal of Biblical Literature 97 [1978], pp. 555-64). (Pohill, Acts (New American Commentary), 381)
While his social standing is debated, Acts certainly presents Paul as being self sufficient. Thomas E. Phillips characterizes:
Although Paul’s hosts in Corinth, Aquila and Priscilla, are said to share a common vocation with him, Acts never records any of Paul’s traveling companions engaging in labor of any kind. Barnabas, Paul’s traveling companion in Acts 13:2-15:39, may have been independently wealthy [Acts 4:36-37], but according to Acts, Paul provided economic support for his later traveling companions, including Silas, Timothy, and the narrator of Acts. The Paul of Acts is a tentmaker who takes pride not only in the financial independence that the revenue from his labor provides [Acts 18:3], but also in his ability to support his fellow missionaries and the poor within the community [Acts 20:33-35]. The Paul of Acts experiences shipwrecks [Acts 27:27-44], beatings [Acts 16:22], and persecution, but he does not experience unaddressed physical needs for food, clothing, or shelter. In fact, the Paul of Acts has sufficient resources that he can claim to “give” rather than “receive” (Acts 20:35)...In Acts, Paul, the tentmaker and Christian missionary, is a hardworking and generous artisan. In fact, the degree of Paul’s generosity is somewhat surprising for a mere artisan in the Greco-Roman world. Not only can Paul support his fellow missionaries, but upon his arrival in Jerusalem, James assumes that Paul can afford to pay the expenses associated with the fulfillment of a vow for himself and four other persons (Acts 21:23-24), and the governor Felix assumes that Paul could afford to offer him a bribe for his freedom (Acts 24:26). Paul’s apparently flush financial situation in Acts is hardly consistent with the resources typically derived from work as an artisan, a fact that has caused some interpreters to speculate that the Paul of Acts had benefited from inherited wealth. (Phillips, Paul, His Letters, and Acts, 115-16)
While there has been some discussion about how Paul’s day job would have been perceived, it cannot be denied that he is proud of his labor (Acts 20:33-35). He owns it. He knows who he is: Paul is a worker.

The fact that Paul works may be more important than the specific job he holds. Despite being stated so incidentally, it is remarkable that Acts presents one of its leading figures engaging in manual labor (Acts 18:3).

Loveday Alexander divulges:

Celsus [second century]’s complaint about the Christians in the second century includes the fact that they meet in ‘cobblers’ shops and fullers’ shops’, and Tertullian [160-225] lists a wide variety of crafts practised by Christians (and causing problems of conscience) including those of plasterers, painters, marble masons and bronze-workers. Luke’s own narrative features a number of craftsmen and women in leading roles: Aquila and Priscilla, Lydia and Paul himself are presented as artisans or traders (Acts 16:14, 18:1-3)...For Luke, as much as for the other evangelists, Jesus the carpenter’s son and Paul the leather-worker figure without a trace of irony as actors in and mediators of events of world-shattering religious significance. (Alexander, The Preface to Luke’s Gospel: Literary Convention and Social Context in Luke 1:1-14 and Acts 1:1, 177)
The tentmaker becomes a world maker (Acts 18:3). In Christianity, all have a chance to serve and perform great works regardless of social standing.

Which bonds Paul and Aquila and Priscilla more, shared religious beliefs or mutual work (Acts 18:2-3)? Where have you seen similar artisans working in close proximity? In today’s world, is it natural to bond with people of the same trade? Who are you closer to, fellow church members or your coworkers? What is Paul’s motivation for performing manual labor; is it out of financial necessity, to correct a perceived problem in his ministry, both or neither? How many of the ideas from Paul’s Jewish education did he retain after he accepted Jesus? In what ways is Paul a model for contemporary tentmakers?

Many have imagined Paul conducting workplace evangelism while Paul “moonlights” as a tentmaker. William J. Larkin (1945-2014) speculates:

Paul engaged in leatherworking to offer his gospel without charge and model a good work ethic (Acts 20:34-35; I Corinthians 4:12, 9:15, 18; I Thessalonians 2:9; II Thessalonians 3:8). He probably used his workshop as a place of witness, as some Greek philosophers used theirs as a teaching venue (Ronald F. Hock [b. 1944] 1979). His departure from the workshop and exclusive devotion to preaching after Timothy and Silas’s arrival from Macedonia probably shows that he did not view his leatherworking as essential to his evangelism strategy (Acts 18:5). (Larkin, Acts (IVP New Testament Commentary Series), 263)
Ronald J. Allen (b. 1949) agrees:
Priscilla, Aquila, and Paul are, evidently, all tentmakers [Acts 18:2-3]... They worked in the marketplace. People often came to the market place to discuss philosophy in the stalls operated by workers. The detail that Paul was a tentmaker helps explain how the missionary financed the mission and also how he witnessed in the marketplace. (Allen, Acts of the Apostles (Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries), 143)
Grace Preedy Barnes (b. 1938) discusses:
While the reader might assume that Paul roved about looking for people to argue with (Acts 18:4), archaeology reveals that tentmaking stalls tended to be in or near markets in Corinth, allowing ample opportunity for Paul to engage with those who passed by or sought to do business. Thus Paul probably shared his faith naturally while at work. This suggests another emerging principle: All work is sacred if done unto the Lord and for God’s purposes in this world. (Robert L. Gallagher [b. 1949] and Paul Hertig [b. 1955], “The Art of Finishing Well: Paul as Servant Leader, Acts 18:1-28 and Acts 20:17-38”, Mission in Acts: Ancient Narratives in Contemporary Context, 242)
William H. Willimon (b. 1946) preaches:
From Athens Paul journeys to another great city of Greece—Corinth, where he is the guest of two Jewish refugees from Rome, Aquila and Priscilla [Acts 18:2-3]...While in their home, Paul practices his tentmaking trade (Acts 18:3, cf. I Thessalonians 2:9; II Thessalonians 3:7-8), though his work does not hinder his preaching in the Corinthian synagogue (Acts 18:4), particularly after the arrival of Silas and Timothy (with a gift? II Corinthians 11:9; Philippians 4:15). Paul regards his tentmaking work as an opportunity for evangelization: “...You remember, brothers, our work and toil. It was while we were laboring day and night, in order not to burden any of you, that we proclaimed to you the gospel of God” (I Thessalonians 2:9; author’s translation). Christian witness is not only for the synagogue or place of Sunday worship. (Willimon, Acts (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 145)
It is entirely possible that the two buildings where Paul worked and taught were one and the same, particularly if Aquila and Priscilla hosted a house church (Romans 16:3-5). John B. Polhill (b. 1939) reports:
Paul...may have witnessed in the context of the workshop as he pursued his tent-making trade. Homes were often connected with shops. Paul thus may have lodged, witnessed, and worked all in the same place when he took up with Aquila and Priscilla at Corinth (Acts 18:3). (Polhill, Paul and His Letters, 99)
Bradley Blue (b. 1960) rejects:
Ronald F. Hock [b. 1944] attempted to demonstrate that a shop such as the one Paul would have shared with Aquila ‘...was recognized as a conventional social setting for intellectual discourse’ and would have been suitable for Paul’s missionary purposes as an Artisan-Missionary. Paul, however, seems to have preferred the local synagogue or a publicly recognized location which was used exclusively for the purpose of preaching. (David W. J. Gill [b. 1946] and Conrad Gempf [b. 1955], “Acts and the House Church”, The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting: Graeco-Roman Setting, 172-73)
Paul’s ministry may have benefited from his trade. Tentmaking gives Paul an “in” with the Corinthian society. There are certainly financial benefits; tent makers are rent makers. He may also have used his business experience in operating his mission.

Loveday Alexander conjectures:

Paul’s own ability to deploy a complex network of co-workers may well owe something to his business experience. Travelling artisans had a recognized place in the life of the city, without the special privileges of citizens but accepted (and taxed) as resident aliens. The workshop of Aquila and Priscilla provides a long-term base for Paul’s operations, and solves the problem he had experienced in Philippi, Thessalonica and Athens. No one could just turn up in a Greek city (especially if it’s also a Roman colony) and start preaching, but the shopfront of a typical workshop, opening directly onto the marketplace, could provide an ideal location for engaging in conversation with passers-by. The shop also gave Paul financial independence, something that was to prove useful in later years in his somewhat stormy relationship with his Corinthian hosts (see I Corinthians 9:6). (Alexander, Acts (Daily Bible Commentary: A Guide for Reflection and Prayer), 138)
Paul’s day job also gives him a connection to the working class. Daniel R. Langton discloses:
Shalom Asch [1880-1957]’s Saul is described as ‘all motion and restlessness, as if in his veins ran quicksilver instead of blood,’ an ascetic firebrand who fasts frequently, has taken a vow of chastity, and provokes both admiration and concern for his uncompromising religious fervour...A student of the great Pharisaic authority, Gamaliel the Elder [Acts 5:34], Paul has trouble keeping up with the rabbinic curriculum, not because of any innate inability but because of his determination to follow the rabbinic ideal of learning a trade, which for Saul was tent-making. For Asch, this dedication to an occupation not only gave Saul financial security, reflecting the man’s independent streak, but also provided an opportunity to suggest that, in contrast to other Pharisaic students, Saul learned the ways of life not from legal theory but by contact with reality, with the poor and oppressed of first-century Palestinian society. In contrast to the yeshiva students, then, ‘The young man Saul knew the meaning of life.’ (Langton, “The Novels of Shalom Asch and Samuel Sandmel [1911-1979]”, The Apostle Paul in the Jewish Imagination: A Study in Modern Jewish-Christian Relations, 213)
Bruce Larson (1925-2008) confesses:
Paul sits eight or ten hours a day sewing tents, and by night he continues to be the world’s most exciting evangelist and preacher. I think the Holy Spirit wants that same rhythm for all of us. It’s a strange thing for a preacher to say, but I confess I’m a little suspicious of the religious professionals. It’s a somewhat lopsided focus. It seems to me much healthier to have a job out there in the real world. We need the rhythm of life—prayer and play, work and worship. (Larson, Wind & Fire: Living Out the Book of Acts, 128)
Paul’s experience in Corinth has coined the modern term “tentmaking” as a synonym for bivocational ministry (Acts 18:3). John R.W. Stott (1921-2011) familiarizes:
‘Tentmaking ministries’ have rightly become popular in our day. The expression describes cross-cultural messengers of the gospel, who support themselves by their own professional or business expertise, while at the same time being involved in mission. Dr. J. Christy Wilson, Jr. [1921-1999] has written about it in his book Today’s Tentmakers. The principle of self-support is the same, and the desire not to burden the churches, but the main motivation is different, namely that this may be the only way for Christians to enter those countries which do not grant visas to self-styled ‘missionaries’. (Stott, The Message of Acts (Bible Speaks Today), 297)
William J. Larkin (1945-2014) apprises:
Today “tentmaker” missionaries enter “creative access” countries through secular employment when there is no way to enter as a full-time missionary. If they keep Paul’s motives in mind, they will be able to see their bivocationalism as beneficial to the spiritual health of churches they plant. Not only will they model a work ethic that is essential to sanctification, but they will avoid creating wrongful dependency, for they will be offering the gospel of grace “free of charge.” (Larkin, Acts (IVP New Testament Commentary Series), 263-64)
Ajith Fernando (b. 1948) notes:
There has been a surge of interest in tentmaking ministry over the past two decades. Situations today may require tentmakers for the same two reasons that Paul had: economic necessity and credibility. In certain situations, where there is no trust yet concerning the Christian workers, it may be best for them not to take support from the people to whom they minister (cf. I Corinthians 9:1-27). Sometimes a work cannot afford to support a worker. This is true of churches in poorer areas and in predominantly in non-Christian cultures...Tentmakers bring great enrichment to a ministerial team in that they have much more intimate contact with the world, which can enhance the team’s relevance and impact on the culture. Ruth Siemens [1925-2005] writes, “The secular job is not an inconvenience, but the God-given context in which tentmakers live out the gospel in a winsome, wholesome, non-judgmental way, demonstrating personal integrity, doing quality work and developing caring relationships.”...It is on the mission field that tentmaking is becoming most valuable. In fact Ruth Siemens feels that the international job market, a key feature in today’s business world, “is an argument for tentmaking because it does not exist by accident, but by God’s design.” She describes it as God’s “‘repopulation program,’ transferring millions of hard-to-reach people into freer countries (Turks to Germany, Algerians to France, Kurds to Austria, etc.), and opening doors for Christians in hard-to-enter countries—so that many can hear the gospel!”...When challenging Christians to missions, which we should all be doing, we can also place before them the possibility of going as tentmakers to needy places. (Fernando, Acts (NIV Application Commentary), 498-99)
The efficacy of tentmaking is not universally accepted. Kenneth O. Gangel (1935-2009) notifies:
The wisdom of the ages haunts us today. Many teachers still wonder whether one can make a living at such a task, and many college and seminary students struggle with the potential of “tentmaking” as a means of ministry...In today’s selfish society, such a practice runs against the grain, but we cannot escape its biblical precedent, not only in Paul who apparently practiced it part-time with the primary focus on preaching, but also in Priscilla and Aquila who never left their full-time work to carry out vocational ministry. A major principle surfaces here: there is no secular duty for a Christian; everything we take on, from changing diapers to governing a state, becomes a form of service to Christ (Colossians 3:23-25). (Gangel, Acts (Holman New Testament Commentary), 303)
Definitions of modern tentmaking range in scope. Patrick Lai surveys:
Ed Van Baak [1926-2007] the most common definition of a tentmaker when he writes,”A tentmaker is a missionary in terms of commitment, but is fully self-supporting.” Don Hamilton [b. 1921], in his book Tentmakers Speak, defines a tentmaker as “a Christian who works in a cross-cultural situation, is recognized by members of the host culture as something other than a religious professional, and yet, in terms of his or her commitment, calling, motivation, and training, is a missionary in every way”...Richard Chia puts forward one of the more concise definitions befitting those working in restricted access nations. He sees a tentmaker as, “One who has a calling for full-time missionary service but is unable to enter a country of choice because of restrictions. One whose primary purpose is to do full-time missionary work but because of restrictions has to modify his mode of service.” Ruth Siemens [1925-2005] adds clarity to our understanding in pointing out that “tentmaking cannot be equated with lay ministry because it is a missionary mode, a missions strategy. But some of Paul’s principles are equally applicable to lay ministry.” (Lai, Tentmaking: The Life and Work of Business as Missions, 11-12)
There are different types of tentmakers. Patrick Lai delineates:
Greg Livingstone [b. 1940], the director emeritus of Frontiers, suggests that there are three types of tentmakers: job takers, job makers, and job fakers. Job takers work for national and international companies...Job makers are workers who set up their own businesses, offer social services for nationals or open schools...Job fakers find some legal way to get a resident visa that keeps them free enough to be fully involved in proclamation and discipleship of new believers. Job fakers, like regular missionaries, are supported by their home churches. (Lai, Tentmaking: The Life and Work of Business as Missions, 12)
As in Paul’s day there are advantages to modern tentmaking. Tetsunao Yamamori (b. 1937) catalogs:
Likelihood of being a “tentmaker” (Acts 18:3) would...give the Envoy less time for evangelizing. But it would also produce important benefits. First, the Envoy’s mission activities would be untraceable, since there would be no sending body. Second, the Envoy’s passport profession would create natural working opportunities for witness. And third, there would be no need to leave the mission field at regular intervals to secure funds. Being a tentmaker is also consistent with one of the basic premises of the Special Envoys: they should not compete for resources (that is, mission support) that current traditional missionaries require. (Yamamori, Penetrating Missions’ Final Frontier: A New Strategy for Unreached Peoples, 77)
Though Paul labors in Corinth (Acts 18:2-3), he does not always work a secular job while ministering. John R.W. Stott (1921-2011) reminds:
Paul insisted several times on the right of Christian teachers to be supported by their pupils [I Corinthians 9:3-7; Galatians 6:6]. But he himself voluntarily renounced this right, partly so as not to be a ‘burden’ to the churches and partly to undercut the accusation of ulterior motives by preaching the gospel free of charge [II Corinthians 12:13; I Thessalonians 2:9; II Thessalonians 3:8]. (Stott, The Message of Acts (Bible Speaks Today), 297)
Paul is not afraid to roll up his sleeves. Though the object of much criticism, no one has ever accused Paul of being lazy. Paul is both a blue collar and white collar worker. This enables him to interact with regular Joes, like working stiffs in Corinth (Acts 18:1-18), and the philosophical elite, as in Athens (Acts 17:16-34). Both Paul’s manual labor and striking intellect work for the glory of God (Romans 8:28).

What benefits does Paul gain from working a secular job in Corinth while ministering (Acts 18:2-3)? What are the reasons for contemporary tentmaking? Do you know any tentmakers? Should clergy learn a secular trade; should this be a component of a seminary’s curriculum? What are the advantages and disadvantages of bivocational ministry? How would you feel if your pastor also worked a secular job? When should a minister not charge for services?

“There are moments when art attains almost to the dignity of manual labor.” - Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)