2 Corinthians

In his second letter to the church at Corinth Paul writes about "how serious was the trouble" that he and his companions encountered in Asia. The burden was so heavy, he says, that they "even despaired of life." Paul affirms that God delivered them, and reminds the Corinthians that they must rely on God rather than on themselves. Paul suggests it was God's will that he did not come to Corinth when he first intended, as his visit would have caused them pain — probably because he would have quarreled with them.

Then Paul strongly objects to having to verify once again his apostolic authority. "Are we beginning all over again to produce our credentials? Do we, like some people, need letters of introduction to you, or from you?" Clearly, others with letters of authority are visiting the church at Corinth and criticizing the gospel Paul has preached there. Paul reasserts his authority by describing the congregation as "a letter that has come from Christ, given to us to deliver." And this letter is "written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, written not on stone tablets but on the pages of the human heart." Paul's opponents carrying letters of ink, who claim that tablets of stone give them authority, are Jewish Christian messengers — most likely sent by the church in Jerusalem.

Paul suggests the veil that Moses put over his face, when he spoke with God, was a way of hiding from the Israelites the fact that the "old covenant" was "fading away." Moreover, "to this very day, every time the law of Moses is read, a veil lies over the mind of the hearer." By turning to the Lord, however, this veil is removed, "for where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." Only those whose "unbelieving minds are so blinded by the god of this passing age" are unable to see "the gospel of the glory of Christ." The "spirit of faith" drives Paul to speak out, because "we know that he who raised the Lord Jesus to life will with Jesus raise us too, and bring us to his presence, and you with us."

Given this vicious attack on the Jewish tradition of faith, it is no wonder Paul had enemies not only among Jews who opposed the church but also among Jewish leaders of the church. The idea of the "old covenant" and "new covenant," which is what Old Testament and New Testament mean, is born in the writings of Paul as part of his resistance to the authority of Jewish Christian leaders. Of course, the idea of a new covenant need not mean rejecting the old covenant, but might be a way of affirming the fulfillment of the old through the new. This is exactly why the Bible contains both the Jewish scriptures as well as the writings of Paul and the gospels. Nonetheless, Christians should read Paul's attack on Jewish faith with shame rather than with pride. There is no need to condemn Jewish faith in order to affirm Christian faith.

Paul says that although he may appear weak, he fights his battles with weapons that "are not merely human." The struggle for control over the church at Corinth must have been fierce, for Paul is clearly aroused. "We demolish sophistries and all that rears its proud head against the knowledge of God; we compel every human thought to surrender in obedience to Christ; and we are prepared to punish any disobedience once your own obedience is complete." The Corinthians, it would seem, are in revolt. Paul's authority has been undermined by those who, he asserts, "commend themselves."

The same old issues continue to divide the community. Some "newcomer," Paul writes, has proclaimed "another Jesus" and offered "a spirit different from the Spirit already given" them and a "gospel different from the gospel" they have already received from him. Paul speaks derisively of such "super apostles" and claims that they are "sham apostles, confidence tricksters masquerading as apostles of Christ." Who are these challengers? Paul doesn't say specifically, but he gives us a clue. "Are they Hebrews: So am I. Israelites? So am I. Abraham's descendants? So am I." Clearly these "super apostles" are Jewish Christians — probably sent by the church in Jerusalem to discipline the church at Corinth.

"Are they servants of Christ?" Paul asks, referring to those who criticize his teaching. The question is rhetorical, as they and other church leaders would say they are. But Paul is determined to prove his status as an apostle is more than equal to theirs. "I am mad to speak like this, but I can outdo them: more often overworked, more often imprisoned, scourged more severely, many a time face to face with death.” 

Do these other apostles claim visions and revelations? It seems so, because Paul feels bound to boast that he was "caught up as far as the third heaven" where he "heard words so secret that human lips may not repeat them." Do these "super apostles" give signs and perform miracles? Probably, as Paul claims he has proved to the Corinthian Christians his credentials as an apostle "by unfailing endurance" as well as by "signs, portents, and miracles."

Paul warns the Christians at Corinth that he will visit again but fears he "may find quarreling and jealousy, angry tempers and personal rivalries, backbiting and gossip, arrogance and general disorder." If these are the fruits of the meddling by the "super apostles" sent by the authorities of the Jewish Christian church, we should expect that the Christians at Corinth would welcome Paul's return visit. Yet, it seems likely that the "super apostles” attribute these problems as due to Paul's opposition to the Jewish law — which is why they came to Corinth to preach the gospel authorized by the church in Jerusalem!

 Bob@rtraer.com © Robert Traer 2016