Second Corinthians from a Reader’s Point of View: Few Questions, Devices and Reflections

Posted: November 30, 2011 in General

II Corinthians 1: (1) In Paul’s theology, “affliction” and “consolation” are going hand in hand. See his dual expressions: “…God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction…”, “…we may be able to console those who are in any affliction…”, “…just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ…”, “…if we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation…”, and “…as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation…”. (2) Paul’s experiences of “afflictions in Asia”, “utterly, unbearably crushed… despaired of life itself” experiences and “sentence of death” feelings would have provoked him for the development of a “Theology of Affliction-to-Consolation”. Paul’s “Theology of Affliction-to-Consolation” can be a paradigm in a context of religious persecution and negation of minority rights. (3) Timothy replaces Sosthenes in Second Corinthians (II Cor. 1:1; cf. I Cor. 1:1). Can we think that Silvanus was the amanuensis (v. 19), or Timothy? The Letter informs the readers that: “For we write to you nothing other than what you can read and also understand: I hope you will understand until the end” (v. 13). Do you think that Paul is inferring about “simplification” of style, language and theology?

II Corinthians 2: (1) Paul is not willing to make another ‘painful visit’ to Corinth. What made a painful situation in Corinth? Who caused that? What was Paul’s involvement in that? Why is Paul ‘hiding and seeking’ here? (2) Paul says: “For I wrote to you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you” (v. 4). While Paul said “I wrote out of much distress… tears…”, was he inferring about “The Previous Letter”, or “The First Corinthians”? Or a “Sorrowful Letter” he wrote after ‘First Corinthians’ (and after a ‘Painful visit’) and before “Second Corinthians”? (3) Paul writes: “But if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but to some extent–not to exaggerate it–to all of you. This punishment by the majority is enough for such a person; so now instead you should forgive and console him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow”. Can you suggest the identity of the person about whom Paul talks here?

II Corinthians 3: (1) Paul uses a ‘Graphic Metaphor’ by the way of the following expressions: “Letters of recommendation”, “you yourselves are our letter”, “written on our hearts”, “to be known and read by all”, “you are a letter of Christ”, “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God”, “not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts”, “not of letter but of spirit”, “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life”, “chiselled in letters of stone tablets”, “reading of the old covenant” and “Moses is read”. (2) Paul says: “Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed”. Moses’ veiled glory versus Jesus’/Spirit’s unveiled/real glory. II Corinthians 4: (1) An awesome chapter with a lot of literary elements like ‘dualisms’, ‘contrasts’, ‘ironies’, ‘antithetical expressions’ and others. The beauty of the chapter is the literary device called ‘bracketing’ or ‘inclusion’: “…we do not lose heart…” (v. 1) and “…so we do not lose heart…” (v. 16). (2) Few points: (a) Believers’ bodies are symbolical… in relation to Christ; (b) Great irony: “Christ died; so we live”; (c) Synonymous: “I believed, and so I spoke” (“…we believe… so we speak…”); (d) Contrast: “Gospel is ‘veiled’ for perishing… ‘unveiled’ for believing” and “God of heaven… gods of this world”. I think, style has the power to define things.

II Corinthians 5: (1) Paul uses ‘architectural expressions’ in order to contrast and reveal truths: “If the earthly ‘tent’ we live in is destroyed”, “we have a ‘building’ from God… a ‘house’ not made with hands”, “we are at ‘home’ in the body”, “we would rather be away from the body and at ‘home’ with the Lord”, and “judgment ‘seat’ of Christ”. (2) Paul says: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” “In Christ” (en Christo) experience can be a ‘mystical union with Christ’, i.e., an inseparable interlocking. (3) Can we consider ‘reconciliation’ (katallasso) as the ‘Center of New Testament Theology’? “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ”; “…given us the ministry of reconciliation…”; “…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself…”; “…entrusting the message of reconciliation to us…”; and “…be reconciled to God…”.

II Corinthians 6: (1) Can we accept the grace of God in vain?: “…not to accept the grace of God in vain…” (v. 1). (2) “Now” is emphasized: “…now is the acceptable time… now is the day of salvation” (vv. 2-3). (3) Paul’s stylistic mind is yet another time revealed. See the ‘repetitive style’ of Paul: “through…”, “by…”, “with…”, “in…”, and “as… yet…” (see vv. 4-10). (4) See the rhetorical questions and contrasts/dualisms @ vv. 14-16a: “righteousness and lawlessness”, “light and darkness”, “Christ and Beliar”, “believer and unbeliever”, and “temple of God and idols”. (5)  Can we think that 7:2a (i.e., “…make room in your heart…”) is an at a stretch continuation of 6:13b (i.e., “open wide your hearts also…”)? Looks logical to read in the following sequence: “…open wide your hearts also… make room in your heart…”. Why some scholars argue that 6:14-7:1 interrupts the flow of thought? If it is identified as an interpolation, then there is nothing in wrong in arguing that 6:14-7:1 is “The Previous Letter” or at least part of that! Are you willing to accept this scholarly view?

II Corinthians 7: (1) Paul is very calculative in employing words and phrases in order to structure his writing aesthetically. (2) Again “Theology of Affliction-to-Consolation”. (3) Synonymous Parallelisms/Repetitions: “no one… no one… no one…” (v. 2); “together… together…” (v. 3b); “what… what… what…” (v. 11). (4) Paul thanks Corinthians for their warm welcome extended to Titus. (5) Again a reference about “The Sorrowful Letter” (vv. 8, 12; cf. 2:4). Do you think that Paul is elusive in his language? Paul indicates about “The Sorrowful Letter” in 2:4, 7:8 and 7:12. Do you think that Paul is making references about the “First Corinthians” or it is altogether about a different epistle?

II Corinthians 8: (1) Paul talks about the Macedonian churches: “…their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part…”, “…they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means…” and “…they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us…”. (2) What is the basis for Christian giving/generosity? Paul says: “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich”. “Christ’s generosity of giving himself” is a paradigm for “Christian giving”. (3) Was Paul a Marxian who lived before Marx? He says: “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need”. Contemporary churches can take up this important concept: “Economic Equilibrium in the Society”.

II Corinthians 9: (1) Macedonians’ eagerness is the subject of Paul’s boasting to the people of Corinth. Similarly, Corinthians’ eagerness is the subject of his boasting to the people of Macedonia. Paul says: “…for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God”. (2) The Corinthian gift is described as: “a bountiful gift”, “voluntary gift”, “thanksgiving to God”, “generous gift”, “ministry of giving”, “cheerful giving”, “generosity of sharing” and “indescribable gift”. Paul says: “…God loves a cheerful giver…”

II Corinthians 10: (1) One missionary (Paul) and his two attitudes: (a) ‘humble’ when he is face to face with the Corinthians; and (b) ‘bold’ when he is away from them. He does this in order to avoid criticisms that he does everything according to “human standards”. (2) A dialogue between Paul and Corinthians about his absence and presence: (a) Paul says, “I do not want to seem as though I am trying to frighten you with my letters”; (b) Many Corinthians say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible”; and (c) Paul replies: “Let such people understand that what we say by letter when absent, we will also do when present”. Are Paul’s words justifiable? Can we fill our absence by way of writing letters? (3) Paul uses harsh language against somebody (or a group) and targeting him (or them). He says: “we do not wage war according to human standards” (v. 3b); “we destroy arguments and every proud obstacle” (vv. 4b-5a); “we are ready to punish every disobedience” (v. 6a); “even if I boast a little… I will not be ashamed of it” (v. 8); “we do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves” (v. 12a); “we, however, will not boast beyond limits…” (v. 13a); “For we are not overstepping our limits when we reached you…” (v. 14a); “we do not boast beyond limits” (v. 15a); “our sphere of action among you may be greatly enlarged, so that we may proclaim the good news in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in someone else’s sphere of action” (vv. 15b-16); and “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (v. 17). Who is (are) Paul’s opponents in Corinth?

II Corinthians 11: (1) Paul writes: “I may be untrained in speech, but not in knowledge”. Was he referring about ‘rhetorical speech’ or ‘oratory’ or ‘persuasive talk’? Can we think that Paul’s spoken language was ‘rough and tough’ for his hearers? Do you think that Paul opted being absent from the churches intentionally and written letters due to this reason? (2) Paul’s love for the Corinthian church is evident. He says: “I proclaimed God’s good news to you free of charge”, “I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you” and “I did not burden anyone… I refrained and will continue to refrain from burdening you in any way”. Why did Paul love Corinthians more than other churches? (3) Paul distinguishes himself, a fool for Christ, from his opponents, the ‘super-apostles’, ‘boasters’, ‘false apostles’, ‘deceitful workers’, ‘fools’ and ‘disguising… apostles’. Read II Corinthians 11:21-29 carefully and make a list of Paul’s sufferings. It is really surprising! What is your opinion about this list of labours, imprisonments, floggings and near death experiences?

II Corinthians 12: (1) Paul talks about his exceptional revelation within an ‘inclusion’: “I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord” (v. 1b) and “…even considering the exceptional character of the revelations” (v. 7a). The parenthesis comprises Paul’s unique experience, as follows: “I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven–whether in the body… or out of the body I do not know… was caught up into Paradise” (vv. 2-4). Is Paul talking about his ‘conversion experience’ outlined in Acts chapters 9 and 22? While Luke reports everything (cf. Acts chaps. 9 and 22) from a third person’s point of view, Paul testifies from his own (first person’s) point of view. Am I right? (2) Paul’s “Theology of Boasting” categorizes between “Christ-centered Boasting” and “Self-centered Boasting”. (3) Paul says: “…to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given to me in the flesh… Three times I appealed to the Lord about this… but he (Jesus) said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you…'”. Can we assume a parallelism between Paul’s appeal to the Lord and Jesus’ prayer to the Father on the cross? (4) Paul talks: (a) about signs of ‘true apostles’ over against pretending ‘super-apostles’; (b) about his love for the Corinthians as their spiritual father; (c) about Titus as friend of their spiritual father; and (d) about his desire to visit them a third time and to build them as a whole.

II Corinthians 13: (1) Paul says, “For he (Jesus) was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God” (v. 4). Paul attributes dualistic tendencies in a dynamic way: Jesus’ human nature/earthly life was time of weakness, but that was temporary and confined until the time of crucifixion. Jesus’ all encompassing/eternal life as the Saviour of the world is controlled by the power of God. Paul attributes these natures, i.e., ‘temporary’ and ‘eternal’, in every Christian believers. (2) Some of Paul’s excellent pronouncements: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?” (v. 5); “For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth” (v. 8); “I may not have to be severe in using the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down” (v. 10b). (3) I think, Paul writes with his own hands from v. 10 to v. 13 or at least vv. 11-13. Traditional trinitarian (benediction) formula is found at v. 13.

(Image taken from http://www.shutterstock.com)

By Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India

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