ΠΡΟΣ ΚΟΡΙΝΘΙΟΥΣ Β
ΠΑΥΛΟΣ ΑΠΟΣΤΟΛΟΣ ΧΡΥ ΙΗΥ ΔΙΑ ΘΕΛΗ | ΜΑΤΟΣ ΘΥ ΚΑΙ ΤΕΙΜΟΘΕΟΣ Ο ΑΔΕΛΦΟΣ ΤΗ | ΕΚΚΛΗΣΙΑ ΤΟΥ ΘΥ ΤΗΟΥ ΟΥΣΗ ΕΝ ΚΟΡΙΝΘΩ | | ΣΥΝ ΤΟΙΣ ΑΓΙΟΙΣ ΠΑΛΙΝ ΤΟΙΣ ΟΥΣΙΝ ΕΝ ΟΥΗ |ΤΗΑΧΑΙΑΧΑΡΙΣΚΑΙΥΜΕΙΝΚΑΙΕΙΡΗΝΗ | ΑΠΟ ΘΥ ΠΑΤΡΟΣ ΗΜΩΝ ΚΑΙ ΚΥ ΙΗΥ ΧΡΥ
TO THE-CORINTHIANS 2
PAUL AN-APOSTLE OF-CHRIST JESUS THROUGH | THE-WILL OF-GOD AND TIMOTHY THE BROTHER TO-THE | CHURCH OF-GOD BEING IN CORINTH | WITH THE SAINTS ALL BEING IN ALL | - ACHAIA | GRACE AND TO-YOU PEACE | FROM GOD THE-FATHER OF-US AND LORD JESUS CHRIST.
Chester Beatty Papyrus P46, generally dated by writing style between ad.150 & ad.250, with an earliest assessment of c.ad.80. This part of P46, the folio f61r, is at the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin. It is the start of Paul's 2nd epistle to the Corinthians, vss.1-2.
P46 was a book.
We do not know how the First Letter to the Corinthians was received, nor whether Paul paid the visit he promised them. Acts is silent on these questions, and our next letter from the correspondence is so taken up with more recent affairs that the questions raised in 1 Corinthians are barely referred to. Indeed, after that letter was written, Paul's relations with the Corinthian church evidently went through a difficult period. Some member of the church had committed a serious offence, and the Corinthians had failed to punish it in the way demanded by Paul. This had led to a direct challenge of Paul's authority; and Paul, fearing that a personal visit from himself at such a juncture might merely cause pain and embarrassment, sent a stern letter by the hand of Titus; but he was not at all sure how this would be received, and he spent an anxious period of waiting, unable even to carry on with his missionary work in northern Greece, until Titus eventually rejoined him with the news that the Corinthians had yielded.
Paul's side of this story is told in the course of the first two chapters and in part of chapter 7 of 2 Corinthians. At the end of his account of it, he frankly expresses his relief at the way things have turned out, and his tone is as cordial as anywhere in his letters. The difficulty comes when we compare this with the rest of the letter. Apart from two chapters about the raising of funds for the poor in Jerusalem (8 and 9) and an isolated (and almost certainly misplaced) paragraph of moral teaching (6.14—7.1), the remainder of the letter reveals Paul on the defensive: in the earlier chapters he labours to establish the true basis of Christian apostleship, and in the last four chapters he feels himself forced to dwell (even though it is against his principles to do so) on his own superior qualifications for the work; and he concludes with a direct and outspoken attack on his opponents and with a threat to the Corinthians that, unless they own his authority in the meantime, he will be forced to put the matter to the test by confronting them in person.
These differences of mood and purpose are so striking that they demand explanation. In some passages, where Paul seems to change rapidly and repeatedly from one frame of mind to another, the differences can perhaps be explained as due to the tension and agitation which Paul had recently been undergoing, and to the fact that, shortly before, he had endured some torture or illness which nearly cost him his life. But there are certain sections, in particular the last four chapters, which it is hard to believe were written in the same circumstances as produced the serene sentiments of chapter 7; and many critics believe that the only solution to these difficulties is to assume that what we know as the SECOND LETTER OF PAUL TO THE CORINTHIANS is a collection of different letters (or parts of letters) written by Paul at various stages of the trouble with the Corinthians, and assembled by some later editor without regard to the order in which they were originally written.
Whether or not the several parts of the letter were composed at the same time, it is clear that for the most part they were connected with the same crisis. The moment of rebellion against Paul's authority had been accompanied by a many-sided attack on his claim to be an apostle. Men whom Paul calls 'false apostles' (or, with bitter irony, 'superlative apostles') had been alleging that Paul was deficient in eloquence, spiritual gifts and personal authority; that he had been defrauding the church; that he had no letters of recommendation; and even that he was of doubtful ancestry. Precisely who these men were, where they came from and what doctrine they preached, is difficult to determine. Part of the difficulty is caused by a fact which also gives the letter its unique interest and value. Paul seldom comes down to the level of his adversaries to refute them point by point. If he did, we should probably be able to find out more about them. Instead, he takes up an altogether different position, and demonstrates, by implication, the falsity of his opponents' pretensions by an analysis, based on his own experience, of the true nature of an apostle's calling. Hence the heading:
The greeting follows the usual form without any notable expansion; but this time it is addressed, not to Corinth only, but to all ... throughout the whole of Achaia (1). The Roman province of Achaia, of which Corinth was the capital, included the whole of Greece south of Thessaly and Epirus. Did other churches already exist in this area, apart from Corinth? We have no reason to think so—unless Paul's preaching in Athens (Acts 17) had led to the growth of a Christian community there. It is therefore likely that the greeting was simply intended to embrace all the members of the Corinthian church, including any who were normally resident outside the capital.
Praise be to (or, as it is sometimes translated, "Blessed be") the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (3)—a stereotyped beginning which occurs also in Ephesians and in 1 Peter, and which is a Christian adaptation of the commonest of all Jewish prayers, "Blessed be God, who ...". The particular attribute of God which Paul dwells on here is: whose consolation never fails us. He comforts us (4) (the same word, in the Greek, as "consoles": it occurs nine times in this short paragraph) and this "comforting", or "consolation", is more than a pious phrase: it is a datum of specifically Christian experience and, as the letter will show, is an important factor in the life of the apostle and of his churches.
According to Jewish religion, God was certainly a "God of consolation". But this "consolation" took certain precise forms: the prophets, the Messiah, the ultimate destiny of Israel—these things were "consoling" because they gave grounds for hope, and it is hope which makes bearable the tribulations of the present. God's consolation, therefore, took the form of fixing the eyes of the sufferer on a promised future reward. This conception is often found in the New Testament; compare Romans 15.4 (where, however, the same Greek word is translated "encouragement"). But in this passage, and again and again throughout the letter (though not in the previous one), the real substance of God's consolation is taken out of the future and brought into the present. It is seen to consist, not of hope merely, but of a present experience. How does this happen?
An answer is suggested by verse 5. As Christ's cup of suffering overflows, and we suffer with him. This is a deliberate paraphrase of the Greek; literally, the sense is, "As Christ's sufferings overflow with respect to us", and the meaning of this very compressed phrase may be somewhat similar to Paul's statement in Colossians 1.24, 'this is my way of helping to complete ... the full tale of Christ's afflictions still to be endured'. The sufferings which Christians endure are not an adventitious calamity which might have been avoided, but a necessary part of their destiny; there is indeed a definite quota of sufferings which has to be undergone before the end of the world comes. These sufferings form a continuous series with the sufferings of Christ himself, who is in some way implicated in them—we suffer with him; and this implication of Christ in the sufferings of Christians alters the whole nature of Christian consolation, which now consists, not merely in the hope of a greater destiny after the sufferings are over, but of a personal consciousness of the presence of Christ in the sufferer. The experience of suffering "with Christ" already contains its own consolation; in this sense, through Christ our consolation overflows. Moreover, this new kind of consolation is an experience Christians can communicate to each other. For the Christian, therefore, distress and consolation (6) are two sides of the same experience. Whichever way it is looked at, such an experience is a source of inspiration for others. Paul's sufferings may thus be of positive help to the Corinthians; and yet the Corinthians should not be in any real need of help, for so long as their suffering is related to Christ's suffering, they already have their experience of consolation. So Paul can write: our hope for you is firmly grounded (7).
It is in this perspective that Paul wishes the trials he has recently gone through to be seen. We do not know anything about what he calls the trouble that came upon us in the province of Asia (8). If it was anything to do with the disturbance in Ephesus narrated in Acts 19.23 41, then the
author of that account must have been unaware of the true seriousness of the crisis for Paul. But Paul's language is very general; all we can say is that, whether it was illness or persecution, it had clearly been a harrowing experience, and one from which Paul had learnt his own spiritual lesson. His escape had been due to God alone, and his continued safety would depend on the prayers of his friends. There was nothing in his deliverance for which he could properly take any credit himself. It had been a gracious favour (11), to which the only possible response was thanks to God from all who had been praying for it.
There is one thing we are proud of (12). The Greek word kauchesis had a larger range of meanings than any corresponding English word. Its normal usage was pejorative, to express any kind of boasting, over-confidence or excessive pride. But there was also a perfectly proper kind of pride or confidence which arose from the consciousness that God had done great things for his people, or even (as here) from a sense of one's own integrity; and this too could be called kauchesis. Paul uses the word a great deal in this letter. His opponents had evidently been behaving in a way well described by the first group of meanings: they had been boasting of advantages or of superior talents which were either fictitious or irrelevant, and their excessive kauchesis was one of the main objects of Paul's attack. On the other hand, Paul had a consciousness of the commission which God had given him, and of his own integrity in carrying it out, which furnished him with a genuine kauchesis of his own to set against the inflated and objectionable kauchesis of his opponents. The word is thus made to do duty for the attitude of both sides in the dispute; and in addition it derives a still more serious meaning from being projected into the context of the ultimate judgement to be passed on man. On the Day of our Lord Jesus (14), Christians were to come before God supported by each other; it would be the relationship which held between them on earth which would enable them to stand with a certain pride or confidence (kauchesis) before God. What mattered far more than the present misunderstanding between Paul and his friends in Corinth was the deep relationship between them which would come to light on the last day.
Meanwhile, however, there was misunderstanding in plenty. People had been reading between the lines of Paul's letters (verse 13), and in particular had been criticizing his plans and his changes of plan. We last heard of Paul's plans at the end of 1 Corinthians (16.5): 'I shall come to Corinth after passing through Macedonia—for I am travelling by way of Macedonia'. We cannot say for certain whether or not this plan had been carried out before the present letter was written; but in any event Paul certainly paid a visit to Macedonia. From Ephesus, there were two possible routes. He could either have gone mainly by land round the Aegean; or have crossed the sea to Corinth and then proceeded north, either overland, or up the coast by ship. The second route was the one he had decided to take, in order to have a chance to see the Corinthians both before and after his journey to Macedonia—to give them the benefit of a double visit (15). For some reason (the text does not allow us to be sure what the reason was) all this had exposed Paul to the charge of irresponsibility; people were criticizing him, perhaps because he had proposed an ambitious alteration to his previous plan, or perhaps because he subsequently had not fulfilled his promises.
Paul does not answer this charge by defending any particular plan or course of action. Instead, he sets about refuting the suggestion that his plans or activities in general depended on his own whim or his own interests. Do I, when I frame my plans, frame them as a worldly man might? (17) The "worldly man's" planning consists of reviewing various possible courses of action, and saying 'yes' and 'yes' to some and 'no' and 'no' to others. In order to choose the best combination, his reasoning will involve an ambiguous blend of Yes and No (18). But this, Paul protests, was not his own manner of procedure at all. The project, for instance, to go all the way to Macedonia was not adopted as a result of weighing alternatives and balancing yes's against no's; it was a command of God, to which only one response was possible: Yes. And even this response was not comparable with (he worldly man's decision to adopt the best available course of action, for it was directly inspired by God himself. Just as Christ Jesus' whole being was the Yes pronounced upon God's promises (20), so Christians, by virtue of having been baptized into union with Jesus (for which guaranteed and anointed are doubtless metaphors) and of possessing the Spirit (for which seal and pledge are certainly metaphors) are taken up into this affirming response of Jesus. Their very 'Amen' at worship is an expression of their solidarity with Christ Jesus in giving glory to God; and so (if we may round off Paul's argument for him) their actions and plans, far from being inspired by "worldly" motives or calculations, are simply their response to the commands of God, which they now make by virtue of their intimate relationship with Christ.
Nevertheless, Paul did in fact change his plans. I did not after all come to Corinth (23). How was this to be squared with what has just been said?
It was out of consideration for you. In 1 Corinthians Paul insists more than once that, in anything affecting the relationship between Christians, there is one overriding principle, which may be called 'love', or 'building up', or concern for the 'weak'. And so here: this was the principle which had made him act with apparent irresponsibility. If it had been necessary for him to go to Corinth to give instruction in the faith, doubtless he would have gone at once, since this was a task which could not be delayed. But this had never been the case—your hold on the faith is secure enough (24). And since the only other object of his visit would have been their mutual pleasure— we are working with you for your own happiness—then to have undertaken it at that moment would have been pointless, since such was the estrangement between them that it could have resulted only in pain and bitterness for both sides.
Instead, therefore, Paul wrote them a letter (3). Unless (as some believe) 2 Corinthians 10-13 originally formed part of it, we do not possess this letter, and we know nothing more about it than can be inferred from this chapter and from chapter 7 below. It was written, we learn, out of great distress and anxiety (4), so much so that Paul was unable to settle down to preach the gospel at Troas (12), or to find any relief in Macedonia (7.5) until he had received an answer. What was really at stake (as Paul eventually confesses in 7.12) was not 'the offender or his victim'—i.e. the specific cause of all the trouble in Corinth—but whether the Corinthians fully accepted his authority (9). The issue must have been a test case: Paul had laid down a certain course to be followed, and remained in suspense until he knew that he had been obeyed.
This test case was either the same as, or similar to, that on which Paul had already legislated in 1 Corinthians 5. A certain offender (7) had been sentenced by the general meeting (6) to some penalty which could now be alleviated only by a formal act (8). If the procedure was similar to that recommended in 1 Corinthians 5, we may suppose that the offender had been excommunicated, but had now shown signs of penitence, and that instead of being permanently 'consigned to Satan' (1 Cor. 5.5), he could now be forgiven and formally re-admitted. This course would incidentally deprive Satan of a victim (11); and the authority behind any blow struck at Satan was of course ultimately, not Paul's, but Christ's.
But this is to anticipate the end of the story. In the last paragraph of this chapter, Paul recalls something of the relief with which he finally received an answer to his letter. A chain of metaphors describes the destiny of a Christian missionary. He is a member of Christ's triumphal procession (14) (with perhaps the implication that he must expect to be continually on the move); is and he is like incense (15) which is both a sacrifice to God (offered by Christ) and also a means of putting men to the test: for, according to whether they react to it as to a deadly fume or a vital fragrance (16), men are thereby divided up into the lost and the saved. A heavy responsibility indeed; and if Paul's opponents in Corinth had been saying that they were equal to such a calling (or 'qualified', as the same phrase is translated below, 3.5) they must realize what they were claiming. The most Paul will say about himself is that his own preaching is free from either mercenary motives or counterfeit arguments (both implications are probably present in the phrase, hawking the word of God about (17)). In declaring the word of salvation and judgement, Paul does it, so far as is humanly possible, only as the authorized spokesman of God.
If this is the case it can hardly be necessary for Paul to start all over again producing his credentials (1). And yet he is forced to say something on the subject, since his opponents (some people) had apparently been basing their claims to authority on letters of introduction which they had brought, we may suppose, from Jerusalem or some other well-established Christian community.
Characteristically, Paul does not come down to their level. He refuses to discuss whether such letters of introduction gave their possessors any authority which he did not have himself. If any kind of proof were needed that Paul's commission to preach to the Gentiles was a real one, it lay to hand (as Paul was fond of saying: compare 1 Corinthians 9.2) in the very existence of the churches which had grown up as a result of his preaching. These communities, and in particular the church in Corinth, were all Paul could possibly need by way of a "letter of introduction "; and the idea that this was precisely what they were leads Paul into a complex series of metaphors.
If they were a letter (3), then it was a letter which had come from Christ. Paul did not write it for himself, it was written by Christ for him to carry, and it was more permanent and constantly valid than any ordinary letter because (in the Old Testament phrase) it was "written on his heart". But this metaphor also suggests another point. The Old Testament knew of a divine "letter": the laws given by God to Moses, which were written on stone tablets. But this "letter", the Law of Moses, was precisely that old covenant or old dispensation which, Paul had come to realize, had no power to save: the written law condemns to death (6)—indeed the Old Testament prophets themselves had looked forward to a new dispensation, under which the law of God would be taken out of the realm of objective commands and duties, and would become a spontaneous motive of conduct, written on the pages of the human heart (3) (see especially Jeremiah 31.31-3; Ezekiel 11.19), and taking effect through the agency of the Spirit. If one may draw out the implications of the metaphor a little further than Paul does: the Corinthian church was a document of the new relationship, or new covenant (6), which now holds between God and men, energized by the Spirit, and displayed in human lives. As such, it provided all the "credentials" needed by the preacher whose preaching brought it to birth (or, who delivered the "letter"), but it no more argued for any special qualification (5) in the messenger than the character of a letter argues for the character of the postman. If Paul's opponents were laying claim to some special kind of qualification for exercising authority in the church, the effect of Paul's metaphor was to show that, in this matter of dispensing the new, spiritual covenant, no preacher was entitled to claim anything as his own.
The metaphor of the two "letters" or covenants—one on stone, the other in the heart—serves to make a further point. The agent of the first covenant, which was engraved letter by letter upon stone (7), was Moses; and at the time when the covenant was made, Moses was invested with an unearthly splendour which was actually visible to those who saw him. The account is in Exodus 34.29-35:
"At length Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two stone tablets of the Tokens in his hands, and when he descended, he did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been speaking with the Lord. When Aaron and the Israelites saw how the skin of Moses' face shone, they were afraid to approach him ...
Then Moses put a veil over his face, and whenever he went in before the Lord to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. Then he would go out and tell the Israelites all the commands he had received. Whenever the skin of Moses' face shone in the sight of the Israelites he would put the veil back over his face until he went in again to speak with the Lord."
Yet, despite the splendour of its inauguration, the divine testimony turned (as we might say) from law into legalism, and became (in Paul's language) the dispensation under which we are condemned (9). Its efficacy was of short duration, the splendour was soon to fade (11). There was now a new dispensation, under which we are acquitted. How much greater, then (9), must be the splendour of this new dispensation, what a radiance there must be in the face of the messenger who brought such a "letter"—and much of 2 Corinthians is concerned to show that this was indeed the case. Paul's ministry, for instance, had been attended by reverses and tribulations of various kinds, and his opponents had apparently been fastening on these as evidence that he lacked divine authority. But, unlike the splendour of the divine presence on Sinai, which was with Moses only briefly, the splendour of the Spirit was with Christians continuously; it is the splendour of that which endures (11). Therefore no physical adversity could affect the fact that, all the time, a Christian is being transfigured into the likeness of Christ, from splendour to splendour (18).
The same chapter of Exodus yields a further point. Moses put a veil over his face (13). Christians, on the contrary, have no need to conceal the splendour given to them by the constantly indwelling Spirit; they can speak out boldly (12). But more than this: the veil over Moses' face was also a symbol that the original hearers of the law did not understand its true meaning. Why, for instance, had the Jews not recognized Jesus as the fulfilment of all that was written in Scripture about the coming Messiah? Because their minds had been made insensitive (14). The veil symbolized the fact that the Jews had never yet grasped the true interpretation of Scripture. All that they had ever seen in it was the old covenant—indeed, Paul is bold enough to call Scripture itself the old covenant (the Old Testament), so setting a fashion which has been universally followed to this day (see above, p. 4). For Scripture is not self-explanatory: all that the unaided human mind can read there is the old covenant, and this is abrogated only in Christ—or (as the Greek may also be translated)"the veil is abolished only in Christ", that is to say, only in the light of Christ does Scripture yield its true meaning.
And there is yet another point to be made. According to the Greek version of the Septuagint (slightly adapted to his purpose by Paul), one verse from the passage quoted above reads: 'whenever he turns to the Lord the veil is removed' (16) (Exodus 34.34). Now Christians were already accustomed to seeing, in Old Testament statements about "the Lord", prophetic references to Jesus Christ. By the same technique, Paul can say that the Lord of whom this passage speaks is the Spirit (17). The original subject of the sentence in Exodus was of course Moses. But if the sentence is taken out of context (which seemed quite legitimate to an interpreter like Paul, who was prepared to find prophecies and deeper meanings hidden in any text of the Old Testament) it sounds quite general, and can even be rendered (as the NEB footnote has it) "when one turns to the Lord the veil is removed". The text then becomes a prophecy of the "new covenant" under which Christians now live. Christians have the Spirit always with them. Not merely, therefore, do they constantly reflect ... the splendour of the Lord but, having "turned to the Spirit", they have had the "veil" removed—that is to say,
they have been cured of the insensitivity of their minds, they can read Scripture aright, and they are released from the slavery of the law. Such is the influence of the Lord who is Spirit.
Paul's authority, then (unlike, we may suppose, the authority being claimed by his opponents), does not depend upon any 'qualification' of his own, but upon a commission (1) (literally, a "service") with which he has been entrusted by God. It does not need to be proved by subtle arguments (We neither practise cunning nor distort the word of God (2)—again doubtless a glance at Paul's opponents, as in 2.17 above). Nor—and this is a point which is about to be developed—is it rendered in any way questionable by the sufferings which the bearer of the commission has to endure. Despite every tribulation—we never lose heart (1). Paul's conduct, in fact, both with regard to his methods of preaching and with regard to the chequered course of his ministry, has been entirely candid: only by declaring the truth a openly do we recommend ourselves (2). The reason why some of his hearers have not believed is not (as perhaps the opposition was saying) because of any distortion on his part, but because of their blindness—or rather, because Satan (the god of this passing age (4)) has blinded them and set them on the way to perdition (3). And it is real blindness; for the light (6) which God originally created out of darkness (Genesis 1.3), and which had always served as a powerful symbol of the coming of salvation to Israel (Isaiah 9.2), is now gloriously present in the face of Jesus Christ as the light of revelation.
Paul now addresses himself more directly to the criticism that the personal reverses he has suffered are evidence that his authority cannot be from God. The human body is at best a frail thing, standing under the daily possibility of death, as breakable as pots of earthenware. But such frailty is inevitable: it is not an argument against the validity of a man's philosophy of life. On the contrary, it is the very survival of the body under adverse circumstances, it is the preservation of faith and hope despite all afflictions, which offers the most convincing testimony of the truth of a man's beliefs. And more than this: the Christian, when he suffers, enters into still closer union with Christ; or, to put it the other way round, the external blows which reduce a Christian's body more and more to the condition of a corpse (an idea which is included in the meaning of the word here translated death (10)) are nothing else but the means by which Christ becomes fully manifested in the persons of his followers. For just as the full manifestation of Christ embraced not merely his suffering, but suffering followed and transformed by new life, so the sufferings of Christians are the necessary context, so to speak, in which the life of Jesus also may be revealed in this mortal body of ours (11).
Thus death is at work in us (12): the whole paragraph has been an essay in expressing the complex phenomenon of suffering transforming the body of the Christian NuU'erer willi new life. ()ne would expect the second half of the sentence to complete the picture: "but at the same time life is at work in us". Unexpectedly, Paul writes and life in you. It is as if (though we cannot be sure of his meaning) Paul feels that there is after all a simpler explanation of his own sufferings: they are part of what is necessary to procure life—that is, solidarity with Christ, true Christian living—for his converts. Perhaps after all one need not strain one's imagination to understand how death and life, suffering and splendour, can coexist in the same person, for it is only in exceptional cases, such as that of Paul himself, that Christian suffering reaches such a pitch. Let it rather be said that the extreme suffering of a few is the necessary price that has to be paid for the new and splendid life of the Christian community as a whole. Thus death is at work in us, and life in you.
'I believed, and therefore I spoke out' (13) (Psalm 116.10, in the Greek Septuagint version). The Christian can have more than the confidence of the psalmist. The sufferings which he incurs by his boldness of speech enable him to enter the sufferings of Christ and thereby assure him of being ultimately brought by God to his presence (14), along with all other Christians— for this destiny is not reserved for exceptional cases, such as apostles and martyrs, but is the process by which all Christians, in the solidarity of their prayer and thanksgiving, are being prepared for the glory to come.
The usual way for a pious man of Jewish background to explain the sufferings of the righteous was to express the conviction that God would reward the sufferer in the next life. This, too, was Paul's usual way of putting it (Romans 8.18; 1 Corinthians 15.30-2), and indeed Jesus often used the same kind of language himself. But in this letter the thought has been moving towards a conclusion which is more easily formulated in terms of Greek than of Hebrew psychology. It remains true, of course, that present sufferings will be made good in the future (verse 17); but Paul now realizes (perhaps for the first time) that they are also rewarded in the present, by a deep transformation which takes place within the Christian as he enters into the sufferings of Christ. To use terminology which goes back to Plato and which was a commonplace of Greek philosophical language, though our outward humanity is in decay, yet day by day we are inwardly renewed (16). Or (to use another very common Greek antithesis), our eyes are fixed, not on the things that are seen, but on the things that are unseen (18). Paul's sufferings are signs of the invisible renewal taking place within him.
The passage which follows is a particularly difficult piece of Greek, and has been interpreted in various ways. It is possible to find in it a number of ideas, which are somewhat alien to Paul's traditional beliefs, about the fate of the individual immediately after death, and the danger (or advantage) of an interim period of "nakedness" between death and the general resurrection. It is quite possible that Paul shows an interest in such ideas here; but they lie rather wide of the argument as it has developed so far, and the following attempt to interpret the passage assumes that the subject is still
the possible effect on Paul's authority and reputation of his continued weakness and suffering.
The body, Paul has already admitted, is a frail thing. We have our treasure in pots of earthenware, and you must not judge the truth of the gospel by what you see happening to a man's body. But suppose—and perhaps at this time Christians were not reckoning with the possibility seriously enough, since the majority of them expected to live to see the Day of Christ—suppose we do not just nearly die, but that the all-too-breakable earthenware is actually broken! Suppose (to change the metaphor) that ... the earthly frame (the Greek word suggests a "temporary tent-dwelling" which was a notion of Greek religious philosophy) that houses us today should be demolished (1): we are already in possession of something which makes even that danger insignificant. What is this possession? It can of course only be described metaphorically. For instance, it can be called a building which God has provided; and the words not made by human hands suggest a building of a particular kind. For Christians, the old temple worship at Jerusalem had given way to that of the new temple, which was the church; and they were fond of saying that this temple, unlike the one at Jerusalem, was 'not made with hands' (Mark 14.58; Acts 7.48; Hebrews 9.11). It looks, then, as if Paul's first way of describing the Christian's most precious possession is by a metaphor suggesting the life and worship of the church. But then the metaphor changes: it is also something which can be put on (2) like a garment. Even this is not quite what it seems. For "putting on" is an almost technical expression for the act of a Christian when, for instance at baptism, he accepts Christ as his Lord (Romans 13.14; Galatians 3.27). Thus the heavenly habitation, which is already our possession, emerges from this mass of images as nothing less than Christ himself as he is known in the earthly life and the heavenly worship of the church.
But in whatever terms it is described, and despite the immense consolation and assurance which flow from it, this inestimable possession does not for one moment protect the believer either from the moral consequences of his own acts or from the physical dangers which surround him. In this present body we do indeed groan (2): we are still exposed to pain and threatened with death and judgement; and the reason why this continues to oppress us is that we cannot yet be sure that our "putting on" of Christ has been complete. Therefore, if we suddenly die, we may be found not to have put anything on at all, but to be in the same condition as any other sinner before God's judgement seat: naked (3).We need time to be sure that our "putting on" of Christ has taken effect, and so we do not wish to be deprived of our present body too soon: rather our desire is to have the new body put on over it (4). We yearn for the inner transformation and renewal of our inner selves (described in 4.16 above) to be complete before the dissolution of the outward man, so that (as Paul has expressed it before in 1 Corinthians 15.53) our mortal part may be absorbed into life immortal.
And yet this is perhaps to overstress the ambivalence and insecurity of it all. God himself has shaped us for this very end (5). Christians are " God's people", their faith assures them of their immortal destiny, and their own experience gives them proof of it: as a pledge of it he has given us the Spirit. Therefore (6), despite all dangers and uncertainties, we never cease to be confident. Since faith is our guide (7), and not the things we see,we do not judge by appearances or set any store by the safety of our persons; for, whether or not we die before this is accomplished, our destiny is close union with Christ, and indeed we would actually prefer to die (we ... would rather leave our home in the body (8)) so long as this meant that we would go to live with the Lord. "So long as"—and this is the great condition, the essential factor which prevents our salvation from being in any way automatic: we must all have our lives laid open before the tribunal of Christ. We therefore make it our ambition, wherever we are, here (i.e. alive when Christ comes again) or there (i.e. already dead), to be acceptable to him (9).
It has often been noted that the foregoing paragraphs display a certain inconsistency. At one moment, 'we do indeed groan'; at the next, 'we never cease to be confident'. Why does Paul's mood seem to swing so rapidly from one extreme to the other? It is possible that the reason was personal and psychological: because of his private troubles and his anxiety over his churches, his confidence ebbed and flowed even while he was writing the letter. But it may be that the apparent inconsistency is only an extreme form of a tension always present in the Christian life. On the one hand, there is a legitimate assurance of salvation: Christians have received baptism, they are 'God's people, incorporate in Christ' (Philippians 1.1), they experience the Spirit as a 'pledge' of the full glory and liberation which is to come. On the other hand, all this does not diminish the individual's responsibility to walk worthily in the new way, to follow the promptings of the Spirit, and to make all his conduct' acceptable' to Christ. The ultimate standards of moral action still apply to him, and so all his confidence and assurance must ever be tinged with a serious consciousness that he still stands subject to the judgement of God.
With this fear of the Lord before our eyes we address our appeal to men (11). What Paul has suffered, what dangers he has encountered, what weaknesses and apparent inconsistencies he has found himself limited by— nothing of all this provides material for judging his performance as an apostle. All the judging must be done by God, and to this judgement the apostle is exposed as much as anyone else. But once this accountability is accepted, and once it is realized that to God our lives lie open, then there can be no possible grounds for practising any deception towards men. This is not another attempt to recommend ourselves to you (12)—Paul is not trying to produce new considerations which will make the Corinthians think better of him, but rather to help them to look, not at the messenger, but at the message, and to understand what kind of mission and activity is a proper ground for pride (kauchesis, see above on 1.12). They will then have a standard by which to measure both the pretensions of his opponents (those whose pride is all in outward show (13)), and the allegedly extravagant and abnormal behaviour of Paul. It is, in fact, the only possible standard which can be applied to Christian living in general. The purpose and result of Christ's death (which was undergone out of love for men, and therefore leaves us no choice (14) but to respond to it in this way) was that men should cease to is live for themselves, and should live for him who for their sake died and was raised to life (15). Their lives, therefore, like Christ's life, are not to be judged by worldly standards (16), such as power, eloquence and wisdom, but only by the extent to which they are dedicated and transparent, lived in the service of God and man—a kind of existence to which man cannot aspire unaided, but which is part of the new order, or new life,which he enters when he becomes united to Christ (17).
To put it in another way: any 'qualification' possessed by the preacher or the apostle is as much the work of God (18) as is the message he bears. The thing which has happened in Christ, and the change which has thereby become possible in the relationship between God and men, is here described (unusually) as reconciliation (18); and reconciliation is set in motion by a messenger or an embassy from the other party. We come therefore as Christ's ambassadors (20)—and Paul gives a specimen, in the last two verses of this chapter, of the kind of appeal which the ambassador is empowered to make: God allowed Christ (though innocent of sin) to become in some way implicated with the sinfulness of men (21) (the metaphor may be sacrificial—see the footnote in NEB), so that men, by their union with him, might be taken up into Christ's inherent state of "righteousness" or "justification" (here translated goodness) before God.
Such an appeal is evidently intended for the world at large, not for an already Christian congregation. Paul may of course have felt that there were some members of the Corinthian church who could attend to it with advantage, but its main purpose seems to be to stand as a demonstration of Christian preaching and of the function of the Christian preacher. For he addresses the Corinthians as sharing in God's work (1). They have this task—or grace —just as much as Paul has, and they must not allow any sophistical arguments about, say, the "proper qualifications", to lull them into letting it go for nothing (2). To use the inspired words of Isaiah (49.8), the hour of favour, the day of deliverance, is the present. The embassy, the appeal, should be on its way.
These chapters have accumulated many arguments to show (with reference to Paul's opponents) what a true apostle is not like, what his authority does not depend on, and what his success must not be judged by. In conclusion (3-10), Paul adds a more positive characterization of God's servants, painting in a few distinctive traits by which they may be recognized. And yet these marks too are ambiguous; everything the Christian does is of its very nature open to misunderstanding. The impressive paradoxes of Paul's description arise out of the very ethos of the Christian life: men of two worlds, poor and yet rich, suffering and yet triumphant.
All this has involved self-examination and self-exposure, an elaborate demonstration that Paul has nothing to hide and nothing to apologize for. If there is still constraint (12) in his relations with the Corinthians, it must be on their side, and can be dispelled only if they too follow his example and open wide their hearts (13).
There is now an abrupt break in the argument, marked in the NEB by a new heading. The short section 6.14-7.1 seems to have no connection with what comes before or after it, and if it were omitted the letter would run on quite naturally from 6.13 to 7.2.
Furthermore, the content of this short paragraph is unexpected. It consists of a piece of dogmatic moral instruction for Christians, couched in strikingly Jewish terms. Do not unite yourselves with unbelievers; they are no fit mates for you (14). The metaphor is of setting two different beasts, say an ox and an ass, under the same yoke together, and the application intended is probably to the question of mixed marriages between Christians and non-Christians. But the language seems to be inspired less by the practical inconveniences of such unions as by a Jewish type of horror at contact with heathendom and idolatry. The "unbeliever" is not regarded (as he is in 1 Corinthians 7) as a person who might still be influenced for good, but as an embodiment of wickedness and darkness (14), indeed as Belial himself (15) (a current Jewish word for Satan). The Christian, on the other hand, is the temple of the living God (an idea found elsewhere in Paul); and a veritable
mosaic of scriptural phrases (16-18) (drawn from Leviticus 26.12, Isaiah 52.11 and elsewhere) is used to stress the incompatibility of the two. The paragraph ends, in terminology which sounds a little unlike Paul (the phrase flesh or spirit (7.1), for instance, does not seem to bear the precise technical sense he usually gives to these two words), with a general exhortation to avoid defilement, which certainly has a Christian application, but which again sounds strangely exclusive and Jewish in tone.
In view of this, it is hard to allay the suspicion that the paragraph did not originally belong here, and has been incorporated by accident at this point. Where it originally belonged, and whether indeed it is by Paul at all, are probably unanswerable questions. One possibility, among many others, may be mentioned: that it is a fragment of the letter to which Paul refers in 1 Corinthians 5.9, when he writes, 'In my letter I wrote that you must have nothing to do with loose livers'.
Paul now picks up the point reached in 6.13. Do make a place for us in a your hearts! (2) The whole burden of the letter so far has been that Paul has nothing to hide or be ashamed of. If there has been any misunderstanding, it must be due, not to him, but to them—'any constraint there may be is in yourselves' (6.12). And yet, though it has been necessary for Paul to clear himself in this way, he has no wish merely to shift the blame on to them. I do not want to blame you (3). Too much is at stake for that, the identity of his destiny with theirs, his pride in them, and the consolation (4) which is part of their common experience—both these words recalling the opening of the letter.
But to return to the misunderstanding itself: Paul picks up his account of the incident from the point where he broke off at 2.13. There he explained the extreme anxiety he had felt while waiting for news of how his stern letter had been received: he had been able to do no useful work, and had gone on to Macedonia, where his agitation continued until Titus eventually brought his report. Now he describes his relief (6-7), and seeks to allay any lingering bitterness his letter may have caused by pointing out the benefits (8-13) which have proceeded from it, and expressing his own and Titus' joy at the outcome (13-16).
Feeling, perhaps, that relations between himself and the Corinthians were now at last sufficiently cordial for the question to be reopened, Paul turns to the matter of the collection which he was raising from all his churches for the "poor" Christians at Jerusalem. He has already alluded to this at a previous stage in the correspondence (1 Corinthians 16); at that time it seems that the Corinthians had already agreed to it in principle, but were being slow in doing anything practical about it ; and during the periodof misunderstanding we may assume that the matter had to be shelved. But now the time was ripe to raise it again, and Paul devotes the next two chapters to it. As usual when it is a question of money, Paul writes with considerable embarrassment (for a notable example, see the concluding paragraphs of the letter to the Philippians). Typically, he never actually refers to the collection in so 8.1,4 many words, but only talks vaguely about the grace of generosity (1,4), the generous service, the 'promised bounty' (9.5) and so forth; and he leads into the subject obliquely by holding up as an example the congregations in Macedonia. These congregations—we may take it that Paul is referring to churches such as those at Thessalonica and Philippi—could have asked for exemption in view of their adverse circumstances; but, far from doing this, they had begged to be allowed to take part. This so encouraged Paul that he decided to send Titus back to Corinth to bring this work of generosity also to completion (6).
This is not meant as an order (8); but Paul presents it as a powerful obligation on grounds both of the Christian faith and of expediency.
(i) It is a Christian obligation, because of the example of Christ himself, who was, in a sense, generous (9) (though this translation is a little strained: he had the attribute called in verse 1 the 'grace of generosity', and in his case the idea of "graciousness" was probably the dominant one). That is to say, Christ was rich in that he was divine, and became poor in that he took human form (the thought is worked out more fully in Philippians 2.5-11); and Christians who profess to follow him and enter the pattern of his existence must at least be ready to do with their material possessions what Christ did with his life.
(ii) It is expedient, because the Christians in Corinth are in fact better off than the Christians in Jerusalem. No heroic sacrifice is being asked of them: God accepts what a man has; he does not ask for what he has not (14). The aim is not extreme self-denial, but simply equality, of which an example (15) (of a somewhat ideal kind) may be found in Exodus 16.18: when manna was gathered in the desert, no one had either too much or too little.
There seems to have been criticism about the way in which Paul proposed to handle the actual conveyance of the money to Jerusalem. In 1 Corinthians 16.3 he had to give assurances that representatives of the donor churches would be present; and here he names others who will share the responsibility. Or rather (apart from Titus) he most puzzlingly omits to name them. Who these two men were who were of such high reputation that they would silence all criticism, why Paul leaves them unnamed, and why indeed there should have been any question about Titus (23), are matters quite unknown
to us. But the Corinthians presumably knew who was being referred to; when the men arrived they would have the opportunity of showing that they could come up to the level of the other churches (and of Paul's expectations) with their contribution.
About the provision of aid for God's people, it is superfluous for me to write to you (1)—an unexpected sentence, which would come more naturally if Paul had not been writing about precisely this throughout the previous chapter. This may be just another indication of his embarrassment; or he may mean that he has no need to go over the actual purpose of the collection again, for the Corinthians had evidently grasped this when they showed their eagerness to help. Indeed, so good was their initial response, that Paul is able to hold them up as an example to the Macedonians (I tell them that Achaia had everything ready last year (2)), in much the same way as he is holding up the Macedonians as an example to the Corinthians. But that initial response has still to bear fruit; and Paul finds it far from superfluous to remind them of what they have promised.
The reminder is supported with a string of proverbs and quotations from Scripture. Verses 6 and 7 are a neat adaptation of Proverbs 22.8 which runs (according to the Greek version of the Septuagint),
"He who sows meanly shall reap evils
and shall receive the punishment of his deeds.
A man who is cheerful and generous is blessed by God ..."
And to the objection that in some circumstances one may not have the means to give to the poor, there is again an answer in Scripture. In the words of Psalm 112.9, the benevolence (9) (which is the same word as "righteousness") of the generous giver stands fast for ever—that is, his claim to stand before God is lasting; and the God who recognizes this claim is also he who provides seed for sowing and bread for food (10) (Isaiah 55.10), and so will himself swell the harvest of your benevolence (Hosea 10.12). Besides all this, the Corinthians' contribution will be a proof (13) of the strength of their faith and of the reality of their Christian commitment, a sign of the grace which God has imparted (14); it will therefore do good, and be a cause for thanksgiving, far beyond the usefulness of the money itself.
At this point there is a sharp change. The preceding chapters were evidently written when relations between Paul and the Corinthian church had become once again confident and affectionate. The tone was serene, and even the somewhat delicate subject of the collection could be broached without fear of causing offence. But with the beginning of chapter 10 it is as if such a period of calm and reconciliation had never been. Paul seems to be reduced, once again, to defending himself against damaging imputations and mounting a fierce attack against his opponents.
Thus the connection of these last four chapters with the rest of the letter is mysterious. It is true that Paul's moods change unpredictably, and we must never expect his letters to follow an altogether ordered and logical course; but to fit these bitter and tortured paragraphs into the same situation as elicited the warm sentiments of chapter 7 is a task which can be achieved only by straining the interpretation of Paul's words. We seem forced to accept one of two alternatives: either these chapters stand in their correct place, but were added as a kind of postscript on receipt of fresh and disturbing news from Corinth; or else they do not belong here at all, and are a fragment of some other letter. Many believe, in fact, that they originally formed part of the letter written 'in great sorrow' between 1 and 2 Corinthians, an answer to which Paul awaited with such agitation when he was in Macedonia (7.5-7), and that a subsequent editor placed them in their present position. The chapters clearly belong somewhere in Paul's correspondence with the Corinthians, but precisely where we cannot say. Meanwhile, it is best to interpret them as an independent section, provoked by circumstances the details of which we can no longer recover. The NEB very properly gives them a separate and fairly general heading: Trials of a Christian missionary.
The first charge Paul has to refute is that he lacks the force of personality which is to be expected in a man who possesses real authority: so feeble (you say) when I am face to face with you (1) (the NEB is doubtless right to add the words, you say, though they are not in the Greek: the sentence looks like an accusation which someone is making against Paul). His immediate response is to appeal to the example of Christ himself, whose distinctive characteristic was, not force of personality, but gentleness and that kind of magnanimity which was the exact opposite, we may suppose, of the bearing of Paul's opponents. On the heels of this follows another accusation: Paul is charged with moral weakness (2) (or "worldliness", if the alternative rendering in the footnote is correct). We have already seen one example of what might be meant by weakness or worldliness: the alleged irresponsibility with which Paul conceived and changed his plans (1.15-17). Here the specific charge was probably different, but we do not hear what it was, because Paul spares it no further words (3). In one sense all men are weak; but in this particular battle Paul claims to possess divinely potent weapons, beside which the sophistries of his opponents are seen to be really weak. Armed with these, Paul can exercise authority as much over intellectual pretensions as over cases of practical disobedience.
Paul now moves to the attack. One of the slogans of his opponents seems to have been, "We belong to Christ". In reply, Paul challenges them to explain the meaning of this slogan. In what sense could they possibly "belong to Christ" more than he does himself? The point, again, seems to have been the question of personal authority. It was being said that an apostle who really "belonged to Christ" would have obvious power and authority as a speaker, whereas Paul was reduced to exerting his authority at one remove, so to speak, by the letters he writes (9). We know that the Corinthian church set great store by public manifestations of the Spirit (see above p. 563). A man was recognized as a true Christian if he possessed the gift of spontaneous and ecstatic utterance, and a man whose "inspiration" only took the form of letters composed in his study may have seemed of doubtful authority compared with a truly "spiritual" speaker. If this was his adversaries' insinuation, Paul indignantly repudiates it. When I come, my actions will show the same man as my letters showed in my absence (11). If he has been sparing of this authority so far, it has been out of his usual concern for the Corinthians' well-being as a church. His authority is to build you up, not pull you down (8).
But it is only momentarily that Paul condescends to come down and fight on his adversaries' own ground. If he were to accept their standard of comparison (12), he might quite possibly not measure up to it—he might be found lacking in many things which they regarded as essential qualifications for holding authority. But what is the validity of this "standard"? It has none. It merely shows that they measure themselves by themselves: it is they who have decided what the standard is to be, and whether a given person measures up to it. Paul's claim, by contrast, depends on no such subjective standard. His authority proceeds, not from qualifications of his own which, by human standards, make him superior to others, but from a commission (14) with which he has been entrusted. Even this, it seems, had been misrepresented. His opponents appear to have been saying that it was they who were really responsible for the growth of the church in Corinth and that Paul's commission, if he had one, did not extend to Corinth at all; in interfering there, he was acting beyond his proper sphere (15). In reply, Paul can simply point to the fact that he was the first to reach Corinth in preaching the gospel of Christ (14). And if, as he hopes, the Corinthian church becomes more firmly established, he will be able to go further on from there, still without trespassing on another man's sphere (17). All this boasting of his opponents is beside the point. The only proper ground for boasting (kauchesis again, see above on 1.12) is not what we do ourselves, but what the Lord does through us. (Verse 17 is a quotation from Jeremiah 9.23-4.)
Nevertheless, even though it was beside the point to claim any personal qualifications for the task of preaching the gospel, and even though it would have been almost folly (1) (in view of all that has been said) for Paul to try to
'recommend himself', yet he could not resist pointing to certain things within himself which in any normal contest would have shown him to be the equal of his opponents. He was not, after all, only concerned about his own status; he had an anxious concern and affection for the Corinthian church,
which he thought of as betrothed ... to Christ (2) (much as an Old Testament prophet saw Israel as "betrothed" or "married" to God), but now in danger of seduction, like Eve, away from its single-hearted devotion (3). We cannot tell how real this danger of seduction was, but Paul presumably had reason for his fears. At any rate, if some other preacher was trying to modify Paul's gospel, saying that Jesus was not like that at all, or that the spirit which the Corinthians thought they had received was not the real Spirit, then the Corinthians were apparently not reacting against such suggestions with the firmness they should: you manage to put up with that well enough (4). Such preachers, to have had such success, must indeed
be superlative apostles! (5) But had they in fact any excellence which Paul did not possess? Perhaps they had one: a facility for rhetorical speech with which Paul did not pretend to compete (I may be no speaker (6)). But this was no substitute for the knowledge which Paul possessed and which he had always taken care to impart fully to the Corinthians.
Before pursuing the 'folly' of listing some of his own qualifications, Paul turns aside to defend himself against yet another accusation, that of making no charge for preaching the gospel of God (7). This has already formed the subject of a substantial section in 1 Corinthians (chapter 9), where it appeared that Paul's unwillingness to conform to the usual practice was exploited as a reason for doubting his official authority. Here, the attack seems to have been taken a stage further. It was known to the Corinthians that, although Paul was receiving no maintenance from them (I sponged on no one, he says (9), using a colloquialism which may have been current in his native dialect), he was in fact accepting support (8) from other congregations in Macedonia (this is referred to in Philippians 4.10-18). What did this mean? Why was he prepared to accept support from one congregation and not another? Did it not suggest that Paul lacked confidence in the Corinthians? Paul protests: Is it that I do not love you? God knows I do (11).
In 1 Corinthians, Paul admitted that his attitude in this matter was an entirely personal one, and gave his reasons for holding to the principle of financial independence. Here he hints at a further point of principle:
lowering myself to help in raising you (7). The word translated lowering has the same root as that rendered 'feeble' in 10.1, and contains, again, an implicit appeal to the example of Christ, who ' humbled himself' (Philippians 2.8—another form of the same word). Besides, the activities of his opponents had now furnished him with a further practical reason for continuing in the same way. If he were once to start accepting money from the Corinthians, it would put him and his apostleship on the same level (12) as the sham-apostles (13) (who presumably were drawing a stipend), whereas in fact the difference between them is as great as the difference between Christ and Satan. If Satan even masquerades as an angel of light (14) (as was affirmed by Jewish writers contemporary with Paul), then, as surely as Paul himself is an agent of God, his opponents may well be Satan's agents, heading for an end their deeds deserve (15).
Paul now allows himself the 'folly' of a little boast (16). If the Corinthians are so wise (19) that they can put up with the arrogant and insulting behaviour of his opponents (he permits himself this much irony), then surely they can bear with a mild piece of folly from Paul—indeed, perhaps this was what they meant by saying that he had been weak (21) (10.1): he had not behaved with the insolence of his opponents! Paul is ready to admit the reproach.
Now for the moment of bravado (21). Paul can meet any opponents (and perhaps he is selecting extreme hypothetical cases, perhaps he has certain people in mind) on their own ground. If they boast of being Jews, they cannot be more Jewish than Paul himself (on these particular titles to Jewishness, see below on Philippians 3.5-6). If they claim to be servants of Christ (23), then let them show what they have endured in his service—for in this matter Paul can certainly outdo them. With a lack of modesty of which he is painfully aware (I am mad to speak like this) Paul gives an impressive catalogue of the conditions of his service—and had circumstances not forced this confession out of him, we should never have known more than half the afflictions he endured. From the Jews he had received the maximum penalty short of death: thirty-nine strokes (24). (In Deuteronomy 25.2 the number prescribed is forty, but we know from subsequent Jewish tradition that 39 was the usual number—perhaps to avoid breaking the law by accidentally giving one too many!—and that the punishment was most frequently given for an offence against the rules of religious purity.) By the Romans, despite his Roman citizenship which should have protected him, he was three times beaten with rods (25): one of these occasions is recounted in Acts 16.22. By the Jews again he was stoned, a punishment which usually resulted in death; and it is clear from Acts 14.19 that once at least Paul barely escaped with his life.
The list is impressive enough. For good measure, Paul adds the anxious concern (25) which his responsibility for so many scattered churches constantly caused him. He ends with a particularly memorable incident, which is also recorded in Acts (9.24). King Aretas (32) was king of the Nabataeans, a desert people, from about A.D. 9 to 39. His capital was at Petra, deep in the desert towards the Red Sea, but his empire certainly extended as far north as the region of Damascus, so that it is not improbable that he should have had some sort of commissioner in the city. On the other hand, although Damascus had been under Roman control from the conquests of Pompey in the previous
century until the death of the Emperor Tiberius in A.D. 37, its history between A.D. 37 and 60 is somewhat obscure, and it is perfectly possible to accept the implication of this passage that at the beginning of this period it came under Nabataean control. Had it been administered by the Romans when this incident took place, Paul (who was a Roman citizen) would hardly have been exposed to the danger of arrest by the representative of a foreign power.
I shall go on to tell of visions and revelations (1). Continuing his ' little boast', and still with the same awareness that, although he feels obliged to do it, it does no good and is indeed inconsistent with his declared intention, Paul mentions a certain supernatural experience. I know a Christian man (2)—doubtless Paul means himself, but this oblique form of speech is not just modesty: it goes with the recognition that the subject of such an experience is not quite the same person as one's everyday self. Paul cannot even say what form it took, whether in the body (the experience of being lifted bodily into another world for a while, which was attributed to the Old Testament figure of Enoch, and later on to a Rabbi who lived a short time after Paul), or out of it (the more common type of interior vision); therefore, though the vision was certainly authentic and could be "boasted about" as an enrichment of human experience, Paul is not prepared to take credit for having been the subject of it—I will not boast on my own account (5). What was the vision? Paul uses the conventional language of visionaries. A Jewish seer, writing of his experiences, would often describe them as a kind of progression through a series of "heavens", sometimes three, sometimes four, sometimes seven, of which the last would offer the ultimate vision of paradise (4). Here Paul merely summarizes the experience. We do not know whether his third heaven (2) was the same as his paradise (4) or merely an intermediate stage which he had reached in an earlier vision; but his final vision was the authentic, incommunicable (and so secret) mystical experience. Paul is not prevented from talking about this by doubts about the reality of the vision. On the contrary, if I should choose to boast ... I should be speaking the truth (6). But this kind of evidence, being necessarily unverifiable, ought not to be invoked when one is forming an estimate of a person; nor ought the visionary to allow himself to feel elated by his experience. Paul was saved from any such temptation in a particularly brutal way.
I was given a sharp physical pain (7). We have no means of telling the nature of Paul's affliction. The word he uses means literally (as the footnote in NEB explains) a "stake" or "thorn"—something, that is, which pierces the flesh. The metaphor is thus vague enough to cover almost any kind of illness, and that it came as Satan's messenger means only that it was serious enough to seem to have a malignant existence of its own (the idea goes back ultimately to the Book of Job). But whatever it was, and whatever
humiliation it had brought Paul in the past, he could now see it as a further protection against the temptation to set too high a value on his own remarkable gifts. Indeed, it is one of the main contentions of the letter that outward vicissitudes offer no criterion for judging the validity of the gospel; on the contrary, they serve to display its power. When I am weak, then I am strong (10).
Apart from the foolishness of this 'little boast', it was also of course quite irrelevant to the point at issue. If any evidence were needed of the apostle's status, it should have been looked for, not in the man himself, but in the fruits of his work: my credentials should have come from you (11). Whatever may have been Paul's personal shortcomings (even if I am a nobody), the very existence of the Corinthian church, and the supernatural experiences of its members (which had thrown up some of the practical problems with which Paul had to concern himself in 1 Corinthians), were the sufficient marks of a true apostle (12). To produce such results, Paul must have given them everything he had to give. Was there anything they did not receive from their founding apostle—except perhaps the privilege of giving material support to that apostle? And by way of this ironical exception Paul returns to the charge he has already dealt with once in chapter 11, but which still seems to rankle in his mind: that he had refused financial assistance from the Corinthians.
Paul sees himself as the Corinthians' 'father' (1 Corinthians 4.15), and this gives him another argument for refusing their money. Children should not spend money on their father, but the father may spend all he has, his very self, on his children. Why should such a token of a father's love result in him being loved the less (15)?
Paul had never asked for money: that was common ground. Various inferences had been drawn from this, which Paul had shown to be false. But there was still one particularly damaging suggestion to attend to. Paul's refusal to appeal directly for money was, it had been said, simply a trick (16): he must have been recouping his expenses through his assistants. Paul evidently regarded this suggestion as so obviously unfounded that it was sufficient to ask the direct question, Did Titus defraud you? (18) Presumably the reputation which Titus enjoyed among the Corinthians was sufficient to scotch any rumour that he had been a deliberate agent of fraud. The language Paul uses here is very similar to that in chapter 8 (verses 6 and 16-18), where the subject was the collection for the Jerusalem church. Was the present accusation of fraud perhaps aimed at Paul's arrangements for administering this collection? It is tempting to think so; but the chronological sequence of these various references to the matter is so uncertain that we cannot do more than guess.
All this "boasting" and sell-justification may have given the impression
that what Paul is mainly concerned about is his own reputation at Corinth. But this is not so. We are speaking in God's sight, and as Christian men (19), and Paul's only interest in the whole matter is what he has already shown in 1 Corinthians to be an overriding principle governing relations between Christians—to build you up (an almost technical expression, see above on 1 Corinthians 12.31). He hopes that this letter will be effective in putting an end to the misunderstanding and personal intrigues, with all their pernicious consequences, which have been caused by his opponents. The only alternative left is a personal encounter, which may be unpleasant for both sides, either because Paul will have to fulfil his threat of exercising his disciplinary power (10.1-6), or else because God may choose to make him once again "Christ-like", that is: humiliate him in their presence (21), make him once again 'feeble' (10.1) and 'downcast' (7.6), so that he has to 'lower himself' (11.7)—all forms of the same Greek word, and all bearing overtones of the humiliation of Christ, through which God makes his ultimate appeal to men.
If this second possibility—of humiliation—has been correctly interpreted (the whole paragraph is singularly ambiguous), it must be confessed that Paul immediately loses sight of it again. His present purpose, after all, is to move the Corinthians to repentance before he meets them face to face (13.10); and even though, when it comes to the point, God may still prevent him from exerting his authority, and allow him, as before, to show his strength only in weakness and humiliation, he cannot afford to dwell on this possibility now, for fear of blunting the edge of his warning. It is true that the Christ who speaks through Paul died on the cross in weakness (3), and may therefore be recognized in a person's weakness as much as in a person's strength; but Christ also rose from the dead and lives by the power of God (4). Paul's service to the Corinthians must therefore include both elements, the weakness of the dying Christ, and the power which belongs to those who now live with him; and Paul warns the Corinthians that, just as a third witness may be decisive in showing a man guilty (Deuteronomy 19.15), so his third visit (1) must be expected to be accompanied by a decisive demonstration of his power—unless, meanwhile, his present warning takes effect.
This double-sided manifestation of the presence of Christ is also the key to the next paragraph. Christ may be present among Christians either in their weakness and tribulations, or in their deeds of power: the one may be a sign of his presence just as much as the other. So far as the Corinthians are concerned, the question (whether Jesus Christ is among you (5)) must be answered with reference both to their tribulations and to their achievements. It is possible (though Paul thinks it unlikely) that put to the test they would fail on both counts; but what is more important is that they should apply the same test to Paul, and be able to recognize Christ's presence in him as much because of his weakness as because of his strength—and Paul very much hopes (in the interests, once again, of the overriding principle of building up (10)) that he may be spared the unpleasantness of giving a demonstration of strength: we are well content to be weak (9).
On the kiss of peace (12), see above on Romans 16.16. Once again, the ending seems to contain echoes of the church at worship. The last sentence is one of the very few " trinitarian " formulae in the New Testament (placing together God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit), though each element of the formula occurs separately in other places. Fellowship in the Holy Spirit (14) is the translators' choice out of several possibilities. In Greek, the phrase means something like "common participation in the Holy Spirit", with perhaps a hint that this participation creates in itself a new kind of community or fellowship among Christians. No single translation can do justice to the richness of the phrase.