Lecture: 2 Corinthians(Any slides and photos that the lecturer mentions or uses should be down loaded if they are available, otherwise you may be able to find something similar through the Google© search engine.)
I. Opening Remarks
2nd Corinthians reflects the second time in our Chronological survey in the Epistles of Paul in which we are able to read a follow up letter to the same congregation as previously delivered. You will see that 1st & 2nd Thessalonians clearly deal with a number of the same topics though questions of sequence and authorship which bedeviled those epistles. At first glance 2nd Corinthians with a few minor exceptions seems to be a completely different kind of letter with largely different issues, a different tone in many places and one wonders, largely undisputed today of common authorship by the apostle Paul of both letters, just what all has happened in between the writing of these two epistles. We may recall from our previous lecture that Paul founded the church in Corinth toward the end of his westward movement during his second missionary journey and just before heading back home to Israel. We saw in introducing 1st Corinthians as well that it was during his third missionary journey that he travelled overland to Ephesus and a period of three years there, penning 1st Corinthians toward the end of that time before embarking northward and westward to Europe and the provinces of Macedonia and Achaia. We learned from 2nd Corinthians that Paul made it as far as Troas, looking for his travelling companion, Titus, who was supposed to be coming back from Corinth with news of the progress of the church there.
In chapter 2:12, he explains that he still had not found Titus by the time he came to Troas so in verse 13 he explains that he set out for Macedonia or northern Greece. Five chapters later in 7:5 and following, he then completes this portion of his travel report by explaining that at some point while he was in the Macedonia, not yet having made it all the way to Corinth, Titus did meet up with him and comforted him with the largely good news and progress of the Corinthian church. At some point shortly thereafter, Paul then produces this letter that we now know as 2nd Corinthians.
II. The Corinthian Correspondence
But as we mentioned in introducing 2nd Corinthians as well, there are still more letters, some of them lost, some of them merely hypothesized, that typical introductions of 2nd Corinthians discuss. A slide of a chart the lecturer is using tries to illustrate in reasonable simplified fashion the primary data and theories involving these letters. We have already noted from our introduction of 1st Corinthians that in chapter 5:9, Paul refers back to a letter he had previously written before 1st Corinthians which had been misunderstood in at least one area when he told the Corinthians not to associate with the fragrantly immoral, but they understood him to be talking about non-Christians while he was speaking about church discipline and disassociation when necessary with unrepentant Christians. Other than this one inference, we know nothing from any text of Scripture or any outside historical source of what this missing letter might have contained. We learn also from 1st Corinthians 7:1 that the Corinthians had written a letter to Paul to which many if not all the topics addresssed from 1st Corinthians 7 onward in that epistle are responding to. That means that the letter we know as 1st Corinthians is in fact the third letter going back and forth between Paul and Corinth and is the second letter that Paul wrote, hopefully to avoid unnecessary confusion we may speak of this as ‘Paul to Corinth B’ since the title 1st Corinthians is unchangeable because of tradition and long life of the name itself.
But then comes the more ambiguous data in 2nd Corinthians, where in chapter 4:2 Paul refers back to a letter that he wrote to the Corinthians out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears not to grieve them but that they may know the depth of his love for them. Seemingly speaking of that same correspondence in chapter 7:8, he says that I see that my letter hurt you. In fact if we pick it up at the beginning of the verse, he writes more fully, ‘even if I caused you sorry by my letter, I do not regret it. Even if my letter hurt you, it was only for a little while but yet, I am happy not because you are made sorry but because your sorrow led you to repentance. Both of these references can and have been taken as referring back to the letter we know as 1st Corinthians or ‘Paul to Corinth B’. There is a long history in the church trying to identify the original letter, but among modern scholars, conservatives as well as liberal, there is a wide spread tendency to question whether 1st Corinthians would have been described by Paul in such harsh language, notwithstanding the many problems that Paul had to address in that letter, his overall tone doesn’t strike most readers overwhelmingly or excessively sorrowful, or regretful. It may well be therefore and it is the considerable majority view today that Paul here is referring to another letter that should not be equated with 1st Corinthians and because it led to the action that has created Titus’s good word to Paul which he was not previously aware of. It needs to be placed in our list of correspondence after what we call 1st Corinthians.
The fuller discussion of the introduction of 2nd Corinthians in our textbook goes on to note that in more liberal scholarship at times and certain periods perhaps as a majority perspective. This ‘lost letter’ perhaps has been identified with chapters 10 – 13 of 2nd Corinthians does have a harsh and sorrowful tone to it in many ways. But those notes also give reason for preferring to understand chapters 10 -13 as chronological following all the rest of the existing Corinthian correspondence and so we pass on without further debate here.
2nd Corinthians or at least the first 9 chapters may be then viewed on the assumption that we now call, ‘Paul to Corinth C’, is in fact separate what we have called, ‘Paul to Corinth B’, so 2nd Corinthians must therefore be the fourth letter that Paul has penned to Corinth. We may label it as ‘Paul to Corinth D’ and then we must say a bit more about the striking difference in content and tone of chapters 10 – 13. After largely congratulatory sections from chapters 1 – 7 about the progress that the Corinthians have made with potential one and only remaining issue still seriously unresolved involving the collection for God’s people in Jerusalem addressed in chapter 8 – 9 and still reflecting a fairly neutral and at times an encouraging tone. We are taken completely back when chapter 10 begins with the words by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you; I Paul who am ‘timid’ when face to face with you but ‘bold’ when away. I beg you that when I come that I don’t have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by standards of this world. One might take the first few words of 10:1 ‘by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you’ is in fact a very gentle appeal just as the words denote, but it is highly unlikely that Paul would have in a straight forward way describe himself as timid when present but bold when away so that the NIV uses quotation marks around these two adjectives in the second half of verse one, rightly points out that he is most likely characterizing the way some or many in Corinth have viewed him. At which point, an element of irony has been introduced that most probably extends to the first part of the verse as well, particularly because verse 2 and following go on to make an appeal that stops just short of commands threatening quite bold actions and quite serious judgment if they are not followed or obeyed.
As chapters 10 – 13 progress, we discover a group of false teachers claiming to be apostles and perhaps claiming authority from the Jerusalem apostles who Paul must rebut in no uncertain terms, not clearly allegeable with any of the factions inside or outside of the church that have emerged in the earlier Corinthian correspondence and who most probably are Judaizes who Paul had to confront in his letter to the Galatians. This suggest a passage of time between chapter 1 – 19 and chapters 10 – 13 and news presumably brought after Titus’s meeting up with Paul in Macedonia of new problems apparently created by fresh intruders into the Corinthian congregation. We may therefore speak of 2nd Corinthians 10 – 14 as Paul’s fifth letter to Corinth or perhaps slightly more probably given the pattern in the ancient world of often slowly and leisurely dictating a letter to a scribe over a period of days or at times, even weeks; that somewhere in the process of writing what we call 2nd Corinthians, Paul somehow received this additional report of new troubles in Corinth and therefor appended to what was initially sent as one epistle and what we know as chapters 10 – 13. Well, that seems complicated enough but it gets worst as one looks at the major sections to which an outline of 2nd Corinthians may be divided, what the next slide labels the building blocks of 2nd Corinthians.
III. The Building Blocks of 2 Corinthians
Chapter 1 begins with a conventional enough greetings and a reasonable conventional thanksgiving except that the word ‘praise’ perhaps is a literal translation of the Hebrew, Baraka, a significantly Jewish form of prayer comes next. But as the body of Paul’s letter begins in 1:12, it is largely travel news, information about what Paul has been doing and what he hopes to do, dominates until we come to 2:13. There is nothing inappropriate about putting this first in the body of the letter. Paul will do the same in Romans as well. But it is different from what we have seen so far and our surprise has considerable increased when right among tightening the suspense of what news Paul will receive of the Corinthian congregation after 2:13, still not finding Titus, moving on to Macedonia, the very next verse, 14, seems to digress from Paul’s topic. As he writes, ‘but thanks be to God,’ was he initially thinking of moving onto what he gets to in 7:5? Thanking God that he did meet up with Titus? But that is not what he precedes to write, ‘thanks be to God who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphant procession uses us to spread the knowledge of him everywhere.’ And from 2:14 to 7:4, Paul reflects on the nature of his own apostolic ministry. It’s not until he gets to 7:5, he finishes the thought, introduced in 2:12 and 13 and even in the opening words of verse14 about his news from Titus when the two of them met up.
As a result, 2:14 – 7:4 has often been considered to be a major digression or even part of all, minus the opening introduction in the concluding greetings, a separate letter. What is more, the same kind of digression intrusion into Paul’s narrative flow on a smaller scale and reappears in 6:14 – 7:1. Paul has just appealed in 6:11 – 13 to the Corinthians to open wide their hearts to him and in 7:2, he reiterates the identical point. But in between without any obvious connection of what comes before or after, he issues this server warning, not to be yoked together with unbelievers, for what do righteousness and wickedness have in common…he calls them to come out from evil people and be separate. And so we can at least understand even though we don’t agree that some have seen this as a portion or addition fragment of correspondence from elsewhere. Add to that, the apparently unrelated nature of chapters 8 – 9 on the collection for Jerusalem, to all of chapters 1 – 7 and 10 – 13 and the apparently redundant repetition in chapter 9:1 about no need to write on this topic, but immediately after writing a chapter on it, we can at least understand that 8 & 9 or 8 as well as 9 separately form one or two epistle fragments of Paul to Corinth.
IV. 2 Corinthians Outline
One way to respond to all of this and undoubtedly the simplest way is to argue that all of these narrative scenes or literary sutures, not withstanding, one can envision a straight forward A – B – A structure in which Paul could have imagined what in fact we read as a unified whole from the outset. Thus chapters 1 – 7 is in largely tender and congratulatory tones, were intended to focus primarily on the nature of Paul’s apostle ministry but sandwiched in between, information about his travels and the Corinthians progress. The center and perhaps therefore climatic focus of the A – B – A structure is then the distinct topic of the one issue in which Paul new the Corinthians still needed to make significant progress, faithfulness to their commitment to the collection for the saints in the Jerusalem.
And finally in chapter 10 -13, even if abruptly, Paul returns to the nature of his apostolic ministry but this time in contrast with the Judaizes who he knew had come but was waiting until this closing location after he had spoken more re-assuringly to tackle head on in more stuff tones. Or if we opt for the modification of the hypothesis of a fifth letter, ‘Paul to Corinth E’, which see chapters 10 -13 as not intended from the beginning but still added in time to form part what was sent in its entirety to Corinth all at once, Paul may have intended to write simply on sections A – B giving them the good news before giving them the bad news, although the bad news wasn’t all that bad, and then realizing he had to add the discussion of an even more serious problem and realizing what even in the ancient world would have been recognized as good phycology, it remains appropriate to put this in the final position in the letter.
V. Paul's Ministry with the Corinthian Church (2 Corinthians 1-7)
But what about chapters 1 – 7, what about all of the seeming narrative discontinuities there? As at this point, one must honestly observe that there is nothing remotely approaching a consensus on a solution among different scholars and therefore one may be permitted and even forgiven for suggesting a somewhat newer approach, not fully attested elsewhere though adopted by a handful of scholars since this lecturer has proposed it and built on observations, all of which have been widely made but simply never put together in quite this way. But the listener and student need to hear truth in advertising that because of the difficulty and the newness and the minority of this proposal, it should perhaps be taken with a bit more grain of salt that most of the remaining information presented in these lectures.
Nevertheless, let’s consider the following possibilities in the body of Paul’s letter beginning with 2nd Corinthians 1:12. From verses 12 – 22, it’s clear that Paul is reassuring the Corinthians that even though his travel plans have changed, it is not because he is vacillating in his Christian commitment in anyway. Here, it may be helpful to refer back to our discussion and maps of Paul’s various missionary journeys, but we saw how his third missionary journey during which this second letter was written, travelled over land from Ephesus to the north to Troas, across to Macedonia and then down to Corinth in Achaia or southern Greece. Whereas 1:15 and following, discloses that Paul had originally intended to go from Ephesus directly across the Aegean Sea and then work his way up the coast of Greece retracing his footsteps along those identical lines instead. But the reason he delayed coming and therefore changed plans in terms of the direction of his travel because he wanted to give the Corinthians as much time as possible to sort themselves out. This was in order to encourage them in his next correspondence and with his next visit. The next segment, largely recognized to be a discreet section in Paul’s outline, runs from 1:23 – 2:11 and speaks about Paul’s sorrow and the Corinthian’s sorrow over at least one individual and depending on this passage relates to 1st Corinthians 5, perhaps more than one, who had been disciplined by the Corinthian church, but who had repented and who therefore now could be welcomed back and restored. As we have already noted, the short little paragraph from 2:12 – 13, very directly addresses Paul’s immediate circumstances that have led him to where he is in Macedonia and where he is in Corinth and then breaks off abruptly with the section we have already dealt with, dealing with his apostle ministry.
But if we look at that section, 2:14 – 7:16, it in turn can be broken up into reasonable identifiable sections. The most amorphous of these is 2:14 – 2:46 of which we will say more after surveying this entire outline. But at least the way Paul seemingly got off the topic, does appear reasonable discernable as the author Scott Hayfamen has stressed in a number of works including two full length books, just on this particular segment of 2nd Corinthians. Paul is literally on the road particularly and it makes him think while his travels while he is persecuted or under difficult circumstances and at this point wondering if the Corinthians have improved at all, can be likened to a triumphant procession for an army victorious in battle as they march their soldiers down the road and prisoners of war behind them but which is in fact a death march or at the very least a march of shame for those who have been taken captive. Paul recognizes that depending on the perspective that one uses to look at his itinerant ministry, either of those metaphors could apply. That is enough to get him onto a series of topics that will contrast a variety of other approaches of understanding his ministry. What all of those contrasts have in common is that not only do they contrast a Christian with a non-Christian perspective on things; they also reflect an advance in an age of the new covenant over understandings and principles in the age of the Mosaic Covenant. Beyond that, it is difficult to see ambiguous themes linking this entire section together but perhaps that is enough. 4:7 – 5:10 is more clearly united in contrasting Paul’s present afflictions, a pungent catalogue indeed beginning in verse 7 of chapter 4 combinating on how Paul is able to reflect on all this in a remarkable positive light. Part of the answer is his lively hope in the coming resurrection glory, packed in chapter 5:1 -10.
And then the sixth and final entirely new topic, the core of what he is about in his apostolic ministry, namely the reconciliation in 5:11 – 21. Interestingly, it seems to follow, fairly straight forwardly, hopefully we are not reading into the text, that the five topics, I have labeled A – E, now reoccur in reverse order as one progresses through chapter 6 and 7. A catalogue of Paul’s suffering or afflictions, very much like that begun in 4:7 occupies much of 6:1 – 10, only the contrast this time is with those ways in which from a Christian perspective even those present sufferings can be viewed at glorious. 6:11 – 7:4 on this outline including that other supposedly digress, now matches up exactly with the so called larger digression of 2:14 – 4:6 and even more clearer focuses on a series of contrasts between Christian and non-Christian, believing and unbelieving, Godly and idolatrous, approaches to Christian ministry, but with the language of yoking, not to be unequally yoked, perhaps with a side glance even at the old covenant, even at Judaism with its commonly used metaphor: the yoke of the Torah and its legalistic or covenantal nomistic requirements for 1st century Jews. We should not be surprised then as we typical are on outlines of chapters 1 – 7. It is precisely after this section that Paul resumes his travel plans or describing them because it is precisely the point of the outline introduced in 2:12 – 13. We should not find it at all surprising that the passage regularly seen as a twin with 1:23 – 2:11, namely 7:8 – 13a appears where it does with more information we might have expected for Paul to include originally on the repentant offender. And finial at the end of chapter 7, he returns to the theme of confidence, this time however focusing on his confidence in the Corinthians and their progress and the Gospel rather than on his own behavior and the motives behind it. If anything like this outline is correct then we have largely extended chiastic or inverse parallel construction with the climatic core at its center rather than at its end, namely in a passage that has widely been seemed to be the theological heart of this epistle, even on other outlines, namely the reconciliation of God and human kind that the Gospel makes possible.
VI. Exegetical Highlights of 2 Corinthians 1-7
It is certainly worth stressing how Paul does not want to allow any misunderstanding of his motives due to his changes in travel plans to go uncorrected. He seems to allude to Jesus’ teaching on the Sermon on the Mount where Christ commands one’s yes to be yes and no to be no, recognizing that he could be charged for having violating this precisely. A reminder that there are times when it may be necessary to change our plans, to be as backing down on certain kinds of promises when in fact the purposes behind those initial plans or promises will not materialize if we don’t change something. The parent who says to a child, he or she will give them something that they have ask for which only later discover will be harmful, a toy that could be a danger for a child in some way. It’s appropriate to explain as best as one can, understanding that the explanation may or may not be understood. It is nevertheless appropriate, indeed incumbent on the parents to withhold from the child anything that represents a particular danger.
An additional exegetical highlight stemming out of section B of the outline, follows up on our relationship between this offender and the man who is living in sin with his father’s wife, 1st Corinthians 5. If Paul’s reference in chapter 5:5 to the destruction to the flesh, refers to the death of that offender, then of course this cannot be the same person, but if the word, flesh, which in Greek is Sarx is taken as the sinful nature, it would seem that some form of excommunication is due as in the approach we adopted in our lecture on 1st Corinthians 5 even while acknowledging the alternative in our more detailed printed notes (textbook). Even if the man from 1st Corinthians 5 were still alive, there is no proof that the same person is still in view here in 2nd Corinthians. Some have argued that it is not the same individual because here, Paul talks about a personal offence. He has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you. But it can also be inferred from 2nd Corinthians, again as the printed notes (from textbook) explain in more detail, that there is reason for understanding an intervening visit between Paul and Corinth. Besides, just a lost letter that took place before what we call 1st & 2nd Corinthians, Paul speaks of such a visit in 2:1, called painful, not likely to be equated with the visit which he founded the church but here we can be more certain that we were with the theories about an intervening letter because in 13:1, he says this will be my 3rd visit to you as Acts only describes two visits, those that form part of Paul’s second and third missionary journeys. There must have been another one in between and if Paul confronted the incestuous member personally and that man repented only after subsequence sorrowfully harsh painful letter. It’s very likely that personal offense could have been incurred. It does seem that it is at least probably or reason to suggest that the same man are in view in both 1st & 2nd Corinthians. Whether or not that is the case, however, we can agreed that on any interpretation of both letters, dis-fellowshipping, excommunication, even those rare cases of divine judgment that lead to death over sin in a Christian’s life is always remedial or rehabilitative in nature so at least to save the person’s soul if he dies, 1st Corinthians 5, so that he will repent and be restored as here in 2nd Corinthians 2 and we are suggesting that probably in 1st Corinthians 5 as well.
But as we move to that large amorphous section which may be an extended Chiasm, how do we explain this series of contrasts between the old and the new, triggered by the two ways of viewing Paul’s journey? At this point, we may appeal to a widely adopted Jewish form of preaching and writing, or discussion where a key linking word or short expression suggest to the speaker or writer a related topic, some key term of which suggest another related topic, etc. Rather than immediately outline a bilinear western structure of main points and sub points, one has a more loosely connected succession of perhaps equally important points linked by these key words or concepts. And it would appeal that we have precisely this in 2:14 – 4:6. Paul’s travelling reminds himself of the fact iterant Greco-Roman religious or philosophical teachers often took with them written letters of recommendation from people who would indorse their ministry and teaching and also be known by or respected by the new communities to which that individual would be coming. It is very, very much like the process of written letters of reference being sent by mail or e-mail in today’s world.
But the theme of letters of recommendations then leads to Paul to think about how the Corinthians could be viewed as a living letter of recommendation; because they know Paul, they can attest to his integrity and truth of his Gospel, even though they were not always behaving in accordance with it. This is the contrast between a Christian and non-Christian approach to letters of recommendation. With an eye on Jewish background, however, Paul naturally thinks of the expression, well known in Israelite religion of the letter of the law and of two ways of looking at the Law: an overly literalistic interpretation that misses larger principles and also the ways in which the New Covenant has changed things verses a reading of the Law given by the Law given by the Holy Spirit in keeping with the New Covenant age. A reference to the Holy Spirit then leads to a reflection on right and wrong spirits between old and new ages to the glory that was associated with the glory of the Mosaic Covenant to now be surpassed by the glory associated with the New Covenant. And finally to the veil that was on Moses face that was part of his experience of the glory of the Old Covenant to protect others from its splendor, now being compared metaphorically to the veil that lies over readers eyes, even Jewish ones when they do not see the presence of the New Covenant in Jesus and in the Gospel message. While at first glance not nearly in narrative flow as many other parts of Paul’s writings, this approach to 2:14 – 4:6 does seem to make reasonable sense of a sequence of his thoughts.
We may now resume making more exegetical comments on material following 4:6. As already mentioned 4:7 and following is a key catalogue of Paul’s suffering, both as a Christian and as an iterant speaker more generally. As a result 4:7 and followings forms a key text on how Christians can look at suffering in any kind of context and how they can cope. With Paul in 4:7, we do indeed have this treasure of Christian life in jars of clay, a very fragile, breakable and bodily container to show that this is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side but not crushed and not in despair, persecuted by not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. What is remarkable about all of these contrasts is how severe the suffering may be that God permits but as long as we cling to him, he will never let us be overwhelmed by it. How to cope? As we have already begun to suggest a key answer begins in 4:16. We don’t lose heart because outwardly we are wasting away, but inwardly, spiritually we can experience God’s renewing, even during physical affliction and persecution. Then in verse 17 comes one of the most remarkable statements in Scripture. For Paul adds: ‘our light and momentary troubles,’ as our eternal glory out weights them all. ‘Our light and momentary troubles’; after what Paul has disclosed about his persecution and about what he will and even more detail in chapters to come. Yes, light and momentary, but only from the eternal perspective or as verse 18 adds; so we fix our eyes on not what is seen but on what is unseen. The worst and prolonged suffering of this life is still only temporary; but what is unseen is eternal.
From those profound words, it’s very natural to reflect on that eternal state and the expectation of a resurrection body in which Paul talked about in 1st Corinthians 15. There, it seems reasonably clear that the new body was to be ours only at the last trumpet of the final judgment. And Paul hasn’t taught thus far or at least put in print any teaching of what theologians call an intermediate state. What about those who live and die before Christ’s return? Some have argued from chapter 5:1 which is in the present tense that believers received a resurrection body immediately upon their death. This is hard to see as in 1st Corinthians 15 with the talk of development of Paul’s doctrine that seems to be merely euphemistic for a contradiction. Others envision what has come to be known as a period of soul sleep, so that from the believer’s perspective their next conscience moment is at the final day when the resurrection body is theirs. But various texts in both Testaments including Philippians 1 in which we shall return in another lecture has suggested that the vast majority of Christians throughout church history that the intermediate state is one of conscience spiritual existence and presence in utter happiness with God and Christ in heaven, but in a disembodied state so that we still await the full destiny that is ours in a resurrected body, designed for a millennium kingdom and a new heaven and a new earth.
Again, we refer the listener to a more detailed discussion in the textbook of why we believe 5:1-10 supports this notion. Paul says that he would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord in verse 8. This seems to suggest more than being away from the fallen body but away from any embodied state at all. It gets a bit more complicated because as verse 3 suggests that he doesn’t want to be found anywhere naked, again metaphorically, unclothed or disembodied. Thus his first preference is to live until Christ’s return so that he never goes to any intermediate state at all and that his new body was put on, as it were, like an over coat over his current one. But if he cannot live that long, he would still prefer to go be with the Lord and away from the body than to simply live forever in this life and existence. But again, scholars continue to debate this topic.
With 5:1, as we have already noted, we come to what on any outline, from many commentators, the heart of Paul’s thoughts, perhaps even in all of his writings. At least one Pauline scholar, Ralph Martin has taken that tact in a book, the main title is simply: Reconciliation. Reconciliation is made possible by Christ’s substitutionary atonement described very poignantly in verse 21, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us. And while with the NIV footnote, we can explain what appears to a contradiction that this is the sin offering in which Paul refers. The actual text of the NIV gives us the more literal translation and it is in a very vivid and striking language of that more literal translation that Paul undoubtedly wanted to impress upon his listeners. Reconciliation, perhaps a term we use so broadly that we forget its more precise definition in the Greek of Paul’s day, fundamentally the removal of alienation between estranged parties. And Paul is saying that this is possible with God, thanks to Christ and the Cross, and then derivatively with other humans and oneself: as all who may have been alienated from one another have the opportunity to become reconciled in the Christian family or state of existence.
Chapter 6:1 and following on a slightly more conventional outline of chapters 1 – 7 would be the point in the body of the letter where largely informational material gives way to exhortation material and that is also the place where we see the chasm turning around or turning back on itself, those two outlines are by no means mutually exclusive. 6:14 – 7:1, the so-called minor digression is undoubtedly best known for its metaphor in the opening verse, commanding believers not to be yoked to non-believers. In the modern western world and parts of the Christian influence by the modern western missionary movement, it has come to be understood to refer to mixed marriages, thus Christians should not marry non-Christians. Interestingly, there is not a word anywhere in 2nd Corinthians about the topic of marriage. There is not a term or concept in this passage that has anything to do with marriage. And the words used for marriage (ἑτεροζυγέω – heterozugeo – it sounds like the lecturer is saying heterozuagaio but according to the Greek dictionary, this is the correct spelling as used in this verse) when metaphors of binding and yoking occur elsewhere in Scripture are not the same as the word used here. We’ve already mentioned the Jewish pre-election of the Yoke of the Torah and in the immediate context of this passage, the mishmash which is explicitly discussed and is much more reminiscent of the issue of idolatry in 1st Corinthians 8 – 10 and not in any way being involved in temple of idols, coming out from idol worship and practices and being separate from that which is morally unclean since the ritual uncleanness of Judaism was abolished in Acts 10.
Perhaps a derivative application to marriage is legitimate though a clear one, comes from the end of 1st Corinthians 7 when Paul says that the widow is free to remarry but only in the Lord and if that’s true for a second marriage, surely it’s the ideal for the first marriage as well. Why not use that text when we are discussing marriage and focus on what is often lost sight of when we deal with 6:14 and 7:1, namely in other ways how the world compromises with idolatry. We have already commented in brief on the rest of chapter 7. It largely repeats topics from the first half of the possible chiastic sequence of Paul’s structure so we pass on to the next major structure and next substantially new topic, the collection for the impoverished saints in Jerusalem and principles of giving in chapters 8 – 9.
VII. The Principles of Giving in 2 Corinthians 8-9
A least six emerge as we subdivide these two chapters. First is the principle of sacrificial giving, like that which was exhibited by the poor Macedonian Christians, ironically in light of Corinth’s wealth. The principle of what might be called holistic giving, giving as a mark of a fuller understanding of all the responsibilities and privileges of a Christian life, just as Paul in verse 5 says that the Macedonians, first of all, gave themselves to the Lord and then to the apostolic leadership in obedience to the participation of this collection. They are also to be promise keepers. Interesting how the modern movement of Promise Keepers had such significant impact on many men and their families in the area of keeping marriage promises. It would be nice if an organization or group of churches or Christian leaders somewhere could instill the equal importance of keeping our promises to our church in terms of our giving and other aspects of the Lord’s work, perhaps less formally institutional. It was shameful enough that the Corinthians had been out-given by the Macedonians but it was all the worst because it was their initial generosity and pledges that prompted the Macedonian Christians to want to participate and now they were in danger of reneging on their promises.
Fourthly, giving is proportional or perhaps to use modern terms, even graduated. As we point out in the textbook, simply to give a fix percentage of one’s income, with all things being equal, create a much greater hardship on someone who is poor rather than someone who is rich, and therefore if the quality desired in chapter 8:12 – 15 while not being the quality of Marx’s theory still allowing for some people to have more and some to have less but recognizing boundaries above which certain people simply have too much and below, there are people who simply have too little. If those boundaries are not to be transgressed, then all things being equal and in many cases, those who are more well to do, will need to give a higher percentage than those who are less well to do. This belies a tithe and any other fixed percentage but for most middle class westerners or richer, if we are to be sacrificial as well, probably means considerably more than ten percent.
A long section spanning 8:16 – 9:5 describes in meticulous detail the ways in which Paul wants to protect this collection with representatives who will hold him responsible and all others who carry it, he hopes to Jerusalem, to be accountable and if there are any charges of mismanagement, they will be able to refute them. Individuals who are respected and trusted by Paul and the churches from which he is taking the collection and these scrumptious accounting mechanisms are crucial.
Then, finally, in 9:6 – 15, comes the promise of rewards for giving; unfortunately and drastically abused by the so-called prosperity gospel, as if there were some level of material blessing that could be automatically guaranteed to faithful generous Christian givers. The only places such ever occur in Scripture are in the Old Testament and they have to do with God’s unique arrangement with the Nation of Israel, to the extend to people as a whole and leaders in particular are more obedient than not, God will bless the land from their enemies and peace and prosperity, but that scheme doesn’t carry over to any other nation, even in Old Testament times. It is never promised to the church and was even in Old Testament times, cooperate rather than individual. The Psalms and Proverbs and Ecclesiastes know plenty of faithful individual Christians who suffered materially and plenty of evil wicked people who became rich. It is only in the very material world to come of the millennial kingdom and new heavens and new earth that material blessings can be guaranteed to all of God’s people. Sometimes, 2nd Corinthians 9 has been said to be proof text for the so called prosperity gospel, because of a verse like 11, ‘you will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God but it is false and no Christian in any movement in Christian history has ever even remotely come close to experiencing every conceivable material and spiritual blessing, accompanying every good deed they perform. Rather the interpretation of this text must be that out of all the possible ways, people can be made rich materially or spiritually or some combination, as some reward attends to every good deed.
VIII. From Triumphalism to Maturity (2 Corinthians 10-13)
Finally, we turn to chapter 10 – 13 in which the misguided views of Christian maturity which we noted at the onset of chapter 1, now has seemingly been exacerbated all the more by the arrival of these false teachers, have created a triumphantism in which the Corinthian need is to be sadly taken down a step or two. Again, because of the nature of these lectures, we limit ourselves to selective exegetical commentary. We note in 10:4 there is a dimension to what has often been called ‘spiritual warfare’ in combatting the like of triumphant thinking and behavior that Paul confronts with these false teachers in Corinth. He writes the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary they have divine power to demolish strongholds and the language of strongholds in the ancient Mediterranean was often connected to demonic activity. Is it possible that Paul has something along those lines in view here? But note as one goes on with that more explicitly, what the strongholds are that are demolished in verse 5, are arguments and every pretention that sets itself up in the knowledge of God. So that we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ, what Paul has foremost in mind here is not some exotic, supernatural, spiritual warfare but combatting false teachings with true teaching, false thinking with true thinking, which requires the hard and often tedious and unglamorous task of learning the content of Scripture well and applying them to every situation in life.
Also note that in verses 13 and 14 what has sometimes been called the ‘principle of ministering’ in regents beyond, a principle we will see Paul reiterate in Romans, that whenever possible he seeks to minister in those areas that do not already have thriving Christian ministries founded by others. Even just a small percentage of Christian believers had obeyed that in our day as well and other areas in between. We referred a couple of times to the false teachers in Corinth as possible Judaizes; other suggestions have been made as well. Chapter 11:5 explicitly refers to them as supper apostles, an estimation either given by themselves or the Corinthians but by verse 13, they are called false apostles, deceitful workers master-raiding as apostles of Christ. Yet the fact as Paul goes in verse 16 and following in describing the most detailed catalogue of his suffering thus far included to contrast their apparent claim to be Hebrews and Israelites and Abraham’s descendants as well as servants of Christ, it would appear that a Judaizing mentality is present there also. Paul’s approach is very interesting in having to match the credentials of these false teachers, a feeling that forces him to talk about his own credentials. But then he goes on and says that the credentials of these people cannot match the catalogue of his sufferings, because were they true Christian apostles that they too would be suffering in ways that Paul did? This is a powerful reminder for those who find themselves living in ease and without significant opposition from anyone anywhere that most likely their Christian witness is not nearly as plain and bold as it needs to be. Not that it must be tactless, Paul reminds us of that in 1st Corinthians 9, trying not to put unnecessary obstacles in front of people, but he also taught us in 1st Corinthians 1 and 2 that the message of a crucified Messiah and a matching lifestyle would be inherently and unavoidable stumbling block for many Jew and gentile, alike.
Chapter 12 with its opening to paragraphs could be a database for an extensive reflection and exposition. We may briefly say here, on the one hand, Paul has seemingly an inexpressible experience of being caught up to what he calls the third heaven. No doubt, reflecting one common Jewish cosmology in which the visible atmosphere and what even then was called heavenly bodies was made up of what was thought to be the first heaven and invisible dimension beyond that where angels and demons did battle was considered the second heaven and the very place of God’s throne room was viewed in the scheme as the highest heaven. Paul had some kind of probable disembodied experience, though he doesn’t know for sure, of communing with God in an intimate fashion that suggested to what other Jews meant when they referred to the third heaven and was privet of revelations so wonderful and secret and he was forbidden to tell or describe them to anyone else. And yet, balancing that supernatural experience, verse 7 says, because of the suppressing great revelations. In order to keep him from being conceded, I was given a thorn in my flesh, language that most naturally suggest a bodily injury or illness of some kind and our notes reflect on the many suggestions that have been given but we simply don’t know. Something that could also be seen as having been sent by the devil, yet permitted by God that in some way repeatedly tormented Paul and three times, perhaps more often. Paul pleaded for the Lord to take it away from him but here comes the red letter verse in 2nd Corinthians in which Jesus from heaven speaks directly to him and says, ‘my grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ The principle of every version of the so-called prosperity gospel or health and wealth movement or name it and claim ideology misses completely. There are times and from the testimony of Scripture, it would appear that many times if not a majority of times when God works, it is more powerfully and effective through believers in their weakness, in their poverty and disgrace. It is not in situations that reflect status and power and glamor as pushed by the fallen world around us. The Christian life is not a life to eagerly sign up for, unless there was the promise of incredible and expressible and unending perfect worry on the other side of the grave. And any form of so-called Christianity that cannot see this and make it central to their teaching does not deserve the adjective, ‘Christian.’
We see also in 12:14 – 15, that the parental metaphor introduced in 1st Thessalonians reflecting how Paul doesn’t want to burden his spiritual children. We can apply many things from that to here with Paul as well. In balancing those tender tones once again with a more serious warning in 13:5, examine yourselves! In light of everything Paul has said in all of his Corinthian correspondence, it is to see whether you are in the faith, to see whether Christ is in you. The danger, going all the way back to our discussion on worldly Christians vs spiritual Christians is that in any Christian congregation, in any assembly of supposed believers, there will be those that have fooled others and perhaps even fooled themselves because they have not thought about their lives in relation to where they are with Christ and whether there is genuine transformation in their lives over the areas Paul discusses in which growth is attainable. And if the answer is no, and if that person never changes or shows any visible transformation then Paul’s final verdict is that they were carnal Christians. But if they are lost to all eternity, they were never Christians at all. That alone should be enough to make every Christian confident of his or her faith and standing before God to avoid the attitude and misguided ideals of their maturity that seems to stand behind all the many problems that inflict people in both 1st and 2nd Corinthians.
X. How to React to Suffering
Of many topics in which we could review and some closing reflections on 2nd Corinthians, perhaps the most significant is to put together what we have seen Paul teach in this letter and that is about how to react to suffering. For it has often been said that modern western Christians have one of the most anemic theologies of suffering of any period or segment of Christianity throughout its global history. In the opening thanksgiving or praise, we read that one of the ways to respond to suffering is to recognize that God wants us to use the comfort he can give us during that time. We can comfort others when they are going through similar hard times and it takes very little reflection to know that others have faced the same and have made it through by God’s grace. Secondly to realize that we can be a more powerful witness in many situations for Christ if we allow him to do so, when the world does not look and say, of course that person is happy because everything is going great for them. Yet, when they see us in some setting or circumstance where we struggle or with a characteristic that should not cause us to rejoice, to live faithfully and obediently and joyfully through a super natural power, a treasure in earthen vessels must be present and thus enabling that person to do so. And finally, remembering our coming glory is a far more adequate compensation, though the time may seem so long and the pain being so difficult as one faces difficulties, we will look back one day in the future in heave and recognize how small it really was. If we can keep that perspective in mind, we will have a better ability to cope with our sufferings. And as Linda Bellville in her commentary on 2nd Corinthians citing the repeated theme found in the works of evangelical Christian theologian and philosopher Allister McGraph reminds us that without the rigorous intellectual scripturally correct thinking and also reflection on such difficult topics. And as Don Carson puts it in his wonderful little theodicy, oh how long oh Lord without, thought without preventative reflection when times are okay in advance of the hard times, we will not think rightly more often than not during the hard times and our response to suffering will tend to be exotic or eccentric or even heretical rather than biblical.