To Paul's third journey
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2bCORINTHIANS: Written by Paul in the late summer/early fall of 55C.E. from Ephesus.
Obviously the preceding (pitiful) letter (2aCorinthians) did not work. Now Paul is taking a position of strength and goes on the attack against other preachers (false apostles). He also acknowledges the criticism against him and his apparent lack of credentials as an apostle. On the later, Paul's main weapon is the revelation of a vision he allegedly had fourteen years ago (that would put it in 41C.E., soon before Paul was picked up by Barnabas to become an (approved) apostle: Ac11:25).
Paul is rejected, considerably angry and
It is indicated how Paul and his letters were considered.
10:1 ... Now I,
Paul, myself am pleading with you
by the meekness and gentleness of Christ; who in presence am lowly among you, but being absent am bold toward you. 2 But I beg you that when I am present I may not be bold with that confidence by which I intend to be bold against some, who think
of us as if we walked according to the flesh.
[Paul and his helpers were accused of (human) wrong doings]
` 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, 6 and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled. 7 Do you look at things according to the outward appearance? If anyone is convinced in himself that he is Christ's, let him again consider this in himself, that just as he is Christ's, even so we are Christ's. 8 For even if I should boast somewhat more about our authority, which the Lord gave us
[a bold statement: Paul will justify it later on]
` for edification and not for your destruction, I shall not be ashamed; 9 lest I seem to terrify you by letters.
[here is evidence at least two letters had been sent by Paul to the Corinthians prior to this one]
` 10 "For his letters," they say, "are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible." 11 Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when we are absent, such we will also be in deed when we are present.
Paul again defends himself & his helpers
and talks about his competitors:
Paul wants to win back the Corinthians in order to continue his ministry beyond them.
12 For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves
with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. 13 We, however, will not boast beyond measure, but within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us; a sphere which especially includes you. 14 For
we are not overextending ourselves
(as though our authority did not extend to you), for it was to you that we came with the gospel of Christ; 15 not boasting of things beyond measure, that is, in other men's labors, but having hope, that as your faith is increased, we shall be greatly enlarged by you in our sphere, 16 to preach the gospel in the regions beyond
you, and not to boast in another man's sphere of
[evidently an allusion to the other missionaries who operated on Paul's own turf]
` 17 But "he who glories, let him glory in the LORD." 18 For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.
[again, Paul will justify this statement later in the letter, by a vision he allegedly had many years ago. Let's note here "Lord" is Jesus, but in the preceding quote (Jer9:24) "LORD" is God]
Paul warns about other Jesus/gospel/spirit being preached and does not approve of:
11:1 Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly; and indeed you do bear with me. 2 For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 3 But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 4 For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted; you may well put up with it!
Paul talks about his shortcomings and credentials:
He also reminds the Corinthians he was not getting any money from them.
5 For I consider that I am not at all inferior to the most eminent apostles. 6 Even though I am untrained in speech, yet I am not in knowledge. But we have been thoroughly manifested among you in all things. 7 Did I commit sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you. 9 And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself.
Paul lashes out against the "false"
Paul is facing intense competition from others he does not approve of.
10 As the truth of Christ is in me, no one shall stop me from this boasting in the regions of Achaia. 11 Why? Because I do not love you? God knows! 12 But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast. 13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.
Paul and his boasting:
Paul was accused his boasting is foolish.
16 I say again, let no one think me a fool. If otherwise, at least receive me as a fool, that I also
may boast a little. 17 What I speak, I speak not according to the Lord, but as
it were, foolishly, in this confidence of boasting. 18 Seeing that many boast according to the flesh,
I also will boast.
[is it an admission that Paul's boasting was justified in order to compete against the one of "false apostles"?]
` 19 For you put up with fools gladly, since you yourselves are wise! 20 For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you on the face. 21 To our shame, I say that we were too weak for that! But in whatever anyone is bold; I speak foolishly; I am bold also.
Remark: being bold, for an apostle, appears to have been a requirement then. Speaking in "spiritual" or "unpersuasive" words (as in '1aCorinthians', three years before) was out. Does "bold" entail stretching the envelop?
Paul again compares his credentials to the
ones of the others:
Also, he speaks again about his many (likely exaggerated!) tribulations and sufferings as a Christian missionary (as in 1Co4:8-13, 2Co6:4-10). Paul is using that to make himself more deserving than the other apostles. The following also illustrates the perils of an early Christian missionary.
22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they ministers of Christ?; I speak as a fool; I am more: in labors
abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons
frequently, in deaths often
[could Paul have exaggerated here?]
` 24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness; 28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? 30 If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity. 31 The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
[first allusion of Jesus as Son of God in Paul's letters]
` who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. YLT 32 In Damascus the ethnarch of Aretas the king was watching the city of the Damascenes, wishing to seize me, 33 and through a window in a rope basket I was let down, through the wall, and fled out of his hands.
[part of 32-33 (more so "of Aretas the king") or the whole is contested as interpolation because there is no external evidence that Damascus came under Aretas' rule at that time. However, it is not necessarily meant here this ethnarch had control of the city. Rather, he may just have been the representative of Nabataean residents and, at the same time, ambassador for Aretas IV (9-40C.E.). As such, he could hire henchmen in order to watch the few city gates and search for Paul, for the purpose of bringing him to trial.
a) Damascus was a center of trade by caravans and immediately North of the territory held by the Nabataean Arabs. Furthermore, in the past, Damascus had been part of the Nabataean kingdom. Therefore the presence of a Nabataean minority in Damascus is plausible.
b) According to Josephus (Ant., XIX, V, 2-3), the Jews of Alexandria (Egypt) were represented by an ethnarch and Claudius extended the practice to all cities with Diaspora Jews. Therefore it is very plausible other significant national minorities in cities would also have their own ethnarch]
Paul is preparing his audience for a major
personal revelation, then tells of the past
Paul is careful by being not specific on how & in which form, the man (Paul himself as it turns out) made it to third heaven. Obviously, Paul does not want to generate any controversy about bodies in heaven, a sensitive issue.
12:1 It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast.
I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord:
2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years
ago; whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows; such a one was caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I know such a man; whether in the body or
out of the body I do not know, God knows; 4 how
he was caught up into Paradise
and heard inexpressible words,
[but nothing is seen, corresponding to Paul's platonic ideas (also Philo's) of an ethereal heaven]
` which it is not lawful for a man to utter. 5 Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities. 6 For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me. 7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
This is the purpose of the revelation: despite (or rather because of) his infirmities & weaknesses, Paul was personally chosen by Jesus.
Now Paul thinks he has the edge:
After describing the alleged fourteen years old revelation, he goes on the counter-attack.
10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 11 I have become a fool in boasting; you have compelled me. For I ought to have been commended by you; for in nothing was I behind the most eminent apostles, though I am nothing. 12 Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds. 13 For what is it in which you were inferior to other churches, except that I myself was not burdensome to you? Forgive me this wrong!
The finale and Paul's travel plans:
Paul is threatening to visit the Corinthians with a vengeance!
14 Now for the third time I am ready to come to
[allusion to the 2nd trip when Paul suffered rejection]
` And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. 15 And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved. 16 But be that as it may, I did not burden you. Nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you by cunning! 17 Did I take advantage of you by any of those whom I sent to you? 18 I urged Titus, and sent our brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not walk in the same spirit? Did we not walk in the same steps? 19 Again, do you think that we excuse ourselves to you? We speak before God in Christ. But we do all things, beloved, for your edification. 20 For I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish, and that I shall be found by you such as you do not wish; lest there be contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults; 21 lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and I shall mourn for many who have sinned before and have not repented of the uncleanness, fornication, and lewdness which they have practiced.
13:1 This will be the third time I am coming to you. "By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established." 2 I have told you before, and foretell as if I were present the second time,
[evidently things did not go well during Paul's second time in Corinth]
` and now being absent I write to those who have sinned before, and to all the rest, that if I come again I will not spare; 3 since you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me,
[it appears that Paul was claiming Christ spoke through him]
` who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you. 4 For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you. 5 Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves
[the test will be referred to in 2cCorinthians 2:9]
` Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?; unless indeed you are disqualified. 6 But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified. 7 Now I pray to God that you do no evil, not that we should appear approved, but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified. 8 For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. 9 For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. And this also we pray, that you may be made complete. 10 Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the authority which the Lord has given me for edification and not for destruction ...