After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.

—Acts 18:1–3

In his absolutely fascinating book, Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection (IVP, 2004), E. Randolph Richards seeks to determine (among many other things) how much it might have cost the Apostle Paul to write his letters, including the secure of materials and the hiring of a secretary to make a copy for himself. After extensive research and calculation, he determined that on the low side it would have cost him at least $2,000 in today’s currency to write 1 Corinthians. (And that doesn’t include the cost of sending someone like Titus on a long journey to deliver it.)

He asks: “How was it that Paul paid for his letters?” and answers: “It is possible that the church where he was serving or a patron in the church paid the expense. It is less likely that Paul paid for the letter from his income as a tentmaker. Paul’s work as a tentmaker has been exaggerated in modern times, particularly in discussions of modern mission methodology.”

Richards goes on:

As a traveler, Paul did not carry the supplies necessary to conduct a significant business as a tentmaker. It is true today and even truer in antiquity that one did not enter a town and immediately open a profitable business. In the ancient Greco-Roman world, it took considerable time to establish the necessary relationships in order to gain the necessary permissions to conduct business in a city, both from city leaders as well as the appropriate guilds. Paul was able on occasion to enter into business, but only in situations such as Corinth, where he was actually assisting in an established business with an established shop with regular suppliers, owners with memberships in the appropriate trade guilds and a regular clientele. While he and his team may have done some minor contract work (repairing tents perhaps) in order to gain food and lodging, Paul was primarily dependent, as were all travelers, upon hospitality and patrons.