Saturday Series: 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 (concluded)

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, continued

Last week, under the heading of Literary Criticism (and Composition Criticism), we explored our passage (2 Cor 6:14-7:1) from the standpoint of Pauline authorship, both in terms of the immediate context of 2:14-7:4, and the letter of 2 Corinthians as a whole. In particular, at the close of the prior study, I gave consideration to the place of the passage within the entire letter, on the theory that our canonical book was, in fact, composed as a single letter by Paul. Compilation theories are common among critical commentators, and are plausible (more or less) to some degree, but they all face considerable difficulties with relatively little hard evidence to support them. At the same time, the structure and flow of 2 Corinthians, considered as a single letter, is also problematic.

Last week, I noted that there is a consistent (and apparently straightforward) letter at the core of 2 Corinthians, one centered on the financial collection for the Christians in Jerusalem (chaps. 8-9); it could plausibly be reconstructed as follows: 1:1-2:13; 7:5-16; chaps. 8-9; and 13:11-14 (or a comparable closing). What distorts this clean structure are the two lengthy discussions on Paul’s apostolic status and relationship to the Corinthians—2:14-7:4 and 10:1-13:10—which fit uneasily into the formal epistolary and rhetorical pattern, and which largely account for the shifts in tone and emphasis. Both of these lengthy sections could serve as the core of letters themselves, with a self-contained structure that extends and distorts the outline of 2 Corinthians when taken as a whole. Thus, the critical view that one or both of these sections come from separate letters. But what of the possibility that they were both authored by Paul as part of the same letter (i.e. our canonical 2 Corinthians)? This could have a considerable bearing on the place and purpose of 6:14-7:1, and so should be examined in a bit more detail.

If, in fact, the financial collection for Jerusalem is the center of the letter, and Paul’s main purpose for writing, then the two ‘digressions’ on his apostolic status (in connection to the Corinthians) could be related to this. Is it possible to explain the letter’s (current) structure on this basis? and what, then, is the relationship? To begin with, in the structure of the letter as we have it, the two apostolic ‘digressions’ are embedded as part of the sections that bracket the central instruction regarding the collection for Jerusalem:

    • Extended Narration (narratio)—1:15-7:16
      [2:14-7:4—Excursus on Paul’s relationship (as an apostle) to the Corinthians]
    • Main Proposition (propositio) and Arguments (probatio) with Exhortation (exhortatio?)—8:1-9:15
    • Extended Exhortation (exhortatio), with concluding Argument/Appeal (peroratio)—10:1-13:10

Moreover, in spite of the differences in tone and style between the two apostolic discussions, they share a number of features and details in common, and are clearly related to the same basic subject—Paul’s role and status as an apostle to the Corinthians believers. Let us briefly consider the structure of these two sections—first, the discussion in 2:14-7:4:

    • 2:14-7:4—Excursus on Paul’s relationship (as an apostle) to the Corinthians
      • Basic proposition (2:14-17)
      • Issue 1: On Ministers and letters of recommendation (3:1-18)
      • Issue 2: On the honesty/sincerity of true apostles (such as Paul) in the preaching and ministry (4:1-6)
      • Issue 3: On the (physical) suffering of apostles such as Paul for the sake of the Gospel (4:7-5:10)
      • Exhortation/Appeal to the Corinthians, regarding Paul’s role as Apostle (5:11-6:10)
      • Personal (Concluding) Appeal by Paul (6:11-7:4)

Second, that in 10:1-13:4:

    • 10:1-13:4—Extended Exhortation (exhortatio): Excursus on Paul’s relationship (as an apostle) to the Corinthians
      • Initial Appeal and Statement (10:1-6)
      • Issue 1: The nature of Paul’s (apostolic) authority—theme of boasting introduced (10:7-18)
      • Issue 2: Comparison between Paul and other would-be Apostles who are influencing(?) the Corinthians (11:1-12:13)
      • Issue 3: Paul’s apostolic authority—exercise of discipline (12:14-21)
      • Closing appeal (13:1-4)

There is a general similarity in terms of structure: an initial statement, followed by three issues/arguments addressed by Paul, ending with a forceful exhortation/appeal. Admittedly, there are also significant differences, especially in terms of the thrust of each discussion. In particular, in 10:1-13:4 Paul uses a much stronger (and harsher) tone, similar in style and language to what we find in Galatians; as in that letter, Paul focuses on specific ‘opponents’, other (outside) leaders/ministers who are influencing the congregations he helped to found. There remains considerable scholarly debate as to just who these other (would-be) apostles are, along with the exact nature of Paul’s conflict with them. Based on the data in 2 Cor 10-13, we may plausibly determine the following details: (a) they were Jewish, (b) they came from outside the initial apostolic mission that founded the congregations, (c) they came with noteworthy credentials (commendatory letters), (d) they had a charismatic emphasis (more so than Paul), and perhaps were also more eloquent and impressive as speakers. It is unlikely that these were Palestinian Jewish Christians (from Jerusalem, etc); they appear to have been from the wider Hellenistic Jewish world, perhaps similar in background to Apollos. Interestingly, unlike in Galatians, Paul mentions no specific theological or doctrinal differences; his attack on them has more to do with how he viewed their personal character and understanding of the apostolic ministry.

Though it requires reading between the lines a bit, I believe the situation addressed by Paul in 10:1-13:4 is also in view in the earlier discussion of 2:14-7:4. In particular, the importance he gives to the question of letters of recommendation in chapter 3 is noteworthy. In an age when communication was extremely slow (and could be unreliable), transmission and presentation of letters played a key role in establishing a person’s legitimacy, qualifications, and intent. We also know from early Christian writings of the issues surrounding traveling ministers, the difficulties faced in establishing their pedigree and character, etc., including the potential danger an illegitimate itinerant minister could pose to a congregation. See, for example, chapters 11-13 of the so-called “Teaching (Didache) of the Twelve Apostles”. Apart from all other concerns, it was natural that a missionary like Paul would be highly protective of the congregations he played a role in founding. Moreover, from 1 Cor 1:10-17, it would seem there was a tendency among at least some in Corinth to identify themselves strongly with specific apostolic figures, in a partisan way that Paul found troubling. This could help us understand how influence from other outside ‘apostles’ could have quickly taken hold at Corinth, especially if such persons had impressive recommendations and/or demonstrated exciting charismatic abilities.

I think it may be possible to reconstruct a scenario that could explain why Paul writes as he does, including the two lengthy apostolic discussions. He wishes to see the effort of the financial collection for Jerusalem, so important in his mind, be carried through to completion (1 Cor 16:1-4, etc). However, significant problems had arisen which have disrupted and strained his relationship with the Corinthian congregations. He mentions one specific issue in 2:5-11, but it is clear that the conflict goes deeper and is more serious than this. He would not write so extensively defending and explaining his apostolic role and status, in relation to the Corinthians, were this not the case. Based on a careful reading of both apostolic discussion sections, it is possible to isolate two major (and likely related) issues: (1) the influence of other ‘apostles’ from outside who raised questions regarding Paul’s behavior and qualifications, etc, and (2) accusations/suggestions of misconduct by Paul. It is proper to consider them in this order and weight, since that is how Paul treats them in both discussions:

    • Extended discussion, with arguments, illustrations, etc, on Paul’s apostolic status and qualifications, both in relation to the Corinthians (emphasized in 2:14-7:4), and in comparison to these other ‘apostles’ (emphasized in chaps. 10-13)
    • At the close of the discussion, mention of accusations of misconduct, along with an implicit, but forceful denial.

Though less attention is given to the latter, it would seem to be the point that is most relevant for connecting the two apostolic discussions to the central matter of the financial collection for Jerusalem. The suggestions of misconduct occur at roughly the same point in each discussion—at the close of his arguments and in the context of the concluding appeal. In this first discussion, it happens to occur directly after 6:14-7:1 (a point to be further considered below), in 7:2ff. As I noted previously, Paul gives a concise three-fold denial of misconduct toward the Corinthians, using three verbs:

    • “we treated no one unjustly” (oudéna ¢dik¢samen)
    • “we corrupted no one” (oudéna ephtheíramen)
    • “we sought to have more (from) no one” (oudéna epleonekt¢¡samen)

In the second discussion, he addresses the matter in more detail, in 12:14-18:

“See, this (is the) third (time) I hold (myself) ready to come toward you, and I will not numb [i.e. weigh] you down—for I do not seek the (thing)s (that are) yours, but you. … And it must be (then), (that) I did not weigh you down; but (surely) (operat)ing under (an) all-working (cleverness), I took you with a trick! No, by any (one) whom I se(n)t forth toward you, did I seek to get more (from) you through him? I called Titus alongside and se(n)t him forth (to you) together with the brother; Titus did not (make) any attempt to get more (from) you (did he)? (and are we) not (moving) in the same track?”

Paul’s language here needs to be understood in light of the wider discussion in 2 Corinthians (especially here in chaps. 10-13), where Paul emphasizes that he did not burden the Corinthians with requests/demands for financial assistance (to support his ministry work)—on this point, see 11:7-11; 12:13, and the similar discussion in 1 Cor 9:1-18. The specific verb used in 12:14 (also 12:13 and 11:9) is katanarkᜠ(“numb down”), synonymous with katabaréœ (“weigh down”) in verse 16. This should have been viewed as a sign of Paul’s love and concern (his heart opened wide, 6:11); and yet, it appears to have played a part in suspicions and accusations against him. Twice in 12:17-18 (see the italicized words above), the verb pleonektéœ is used in this regard. It means simply “hold/have more”, but is often used in the sense of seeking to gain/get more from others (i.e. act greedily), sometimes with the harshly negative connotation of deceiving/defrauding others. This is one of the three verbs in Paul’s three-fold denial in 7:2 (see above), which would seem to confirm that the wrongdoing (adikía, “injustice”) of which he is suspected and/or accused relates primarily, if not entirely, to the idea that he is trying to get hold of money from the Corinthians through deception. If this is so, then it almost certainly is connected with the fundraising effort for Jerusalem (chaps. 8-9).

The accusation or suspicious criticism against Paul may have been along the following lines: He claims that he doesn’t ask any money of you for himself, but can you be sure he isn’t trying to defraud you with this collection? What if he is trying to trick you with these requests for money? Given the harshness of Paul’s attack in 10:1-13:4, it is likely that these other ‘apostles’ were at least partly responsible for spreading suspicions of this sort. As such, his collection efforts (and any accusations regarding them) cut right to the heart of his relation to the Corinthians as an apostle. Thus, he felt it necessary to expound and explain this to them in considerable detail—the nature of the apostolic ministry, and what it means for he (and his fellow missionaries) to be specially chosen and sent forth (i.e. an apostle) by God to proclaim the Gospel. At some level, he must have been hurt by any suspicions or accusation against him, however unfounded, and this comes through, especially in the first discussion, in the concluding exhortation/appeal (6:11-7:4), when he declares:

“Our mouth has been opened up toward you, Korinthians, our heart has been made wide; you are not in a narrow space in us, but you have (only) a narrow space in your inner organs (for us)! But (to give us) the (same) wage (back) in exchange, as (my dear) offspring, I say to you—make wide (your hearts) also to us, …. make space for us!

The striking difference in tone between 2:14-7:4 and 10:1-13:4 has been noted numerous times, and this, too, can perhaps be explained in context of the Jerusalem Collection (chaps. 8-9). Since the Collection is foremost in mind, central to the letter and Paul’s purpose for writing, it would make sense that he waited until the matters regarding it were addressed before embarking in his polemic against the would-be apostles that were influencing the Corinthians. In other words, the two apostolic discussions are, in effect, two halves of a single line of argument separated by the matter of the Collection. In the first half (2:14-7:4) Paul presents himself as a true apostle, whom the Corinthians should regard in their proper relationship to him; in the second half (10:1-13:4), Paul compares/contrasts himself with these would-be ‘false’ apostles. We may view this as two sides of the same conflict.

Even if this line of interpretation is essentially correct, how does 6:14-7:1 relate to it? In the previous study, I laid out a possible contextual relationship, relating the injustice (adikía) that characterizes the non-believer (6:14ff) with the accusation/suspicion that Paul has acted unjustly (vb. adikéœ, 7:2). As it happens, there is a similar sort of dynamic at the end of the second apostolic discussion; note the following comparative outline:

    • First appeal—for the the proper relationship between Paul & the Corinthians (6:11-13 / 12:14-18)
    • Warning against behavior that is improper for believers, drawing upon traditional ethical-religious instruction (6:14-7:1 / 12:19-21)
    • Second appeal—picking up and restating the substance of the first appeal (7:2-4 / 13:1-4)

Due to the harsher tone of 10:1-13:4, the warning in 12:19-21 seems less out of place than in 6:14-7:1, and it also happens to resemble more closely the type of traditional ethical instruction (utilizing standard vice lists) Paul gives elsewhere in his letters (Gal 5:19-23; Rom 1:29-31; 13:13; 1 Cor 5:9-11; 6:9-10). Even so, a strong argument can be made that 6:14-7:1 and 12:19-21 play the same role in both sections, and are evidence for the careful construction of those apostolic discussions within the setting of the letter as a whole. Though the context is less clear in the case of 6:14-7:1, it is strikingly evident in 12:19ff:

“In (what has) passed, do you consider that we are giv(ing) an account of ourselves to you? (It is) down before God in the Anointed {Christ} (that) we speak—and all th(ese thing)s, loved (one)s, (are) over [i.e. for] your (be)ing built (up). For I am afraid (in) no (little) way (that), (in my) coming, I should not find you like I wish (you to be), and I should be found like you do not wish (me to be)…”

In other words, the purpose of the apostolic discussions—both here and in 2:14-7:4—despite their apologetic character, where Paul seems to be defending his apostleship, is to the restore and preserve the proper relationship between Paul and the Corinthians. Note the important reciprocal language he uses: “For I am afraid … (that), (in my) coming, I should not find you like I wish (you to be), and I should be found like you do not wish (me to be).” Both sides of the relationship are threatened. This reflects a key theme that runs through both Corinthian letters—the importance of unity among believers, and how this aspect of our Christian identity is threatened by divisions and partisanship. In 12:20b, Paul neatly summarizes this disruption of unity through the popular ‘vice list’ format.

As in the case of 6:14-7:1, it is fair to refer to this as a description of what should not be present among believers (pístoi, those trusting)—rather, such disputes and divisiveness would more properly be characteristic of non-believers (ápistoi, those without trust). Moreover, the kind of immaturity that would lead to such division—including, to be sure the influence of the ‘false apostles’ and suspicions/accusations against Paul—might equally show one prone to more basic immorality and improper behavior. Again, as in 6:14-7:1, Paul refers to the immorality characteristic of non-believers, here indicating more directly that this may be a genuine problem for some Christians at Corinth (12:21). Thus, while Paul may deal with such ethical-religious matters in more detail in 1 Corinthians (5:1-13; 6:9-20; 10:14ff), it is not necessarily out of place here in 2 Corinthians, where the very character of what it means to be a true believer in Christ (in unity with others) is being addressed.

Conclusion

It may be helpful here, in conclusion, to bring together the strands of our study by way of a brief summary.

    • That there are a significant number of unusual or atypical details—words, phrases, style, points of emphasis, etc—in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, compared with the other undisputed Pauline letters, seems rather clear, as documented especially in our first study and in the separate note on 7:1.
    • For many commentators, these differences suggest that the passage is a non-Pauline interpolation, and thus not part of the original text. Such views are often related to the theory that 2 Corinthians is a compilation of letters (or parts of letters) by Paul.
    • The passage may be characterized as Jewish Christian homiletic material, based on a verse from the Torah (Lev 19:19), with a poetic exposition that includes a short chain (catena) of Scripture references, and concluding with a forceful exhortation (7:1) for believers. See our second study, as well as the article on 6:14-7:1 and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
    • There is evidence that Paul not infrequently made use of various sorts of traditional material—creeds, hymns, baptismal formulas, vice lists, Scripture catena, etc—which likely were not entirely his own creation, but reflect the early Christian tendency to adapt and promote traditional ways of thought and expression. A strong argument can be made that just such traditional material/expression was utilized by Paul in 6:14-7:1—this would explain many of the apparent differences in vocabulary and style, without excluding Paul as final author.
    • All interpolation theories face the profound difficulty of explaining just why 6:14-7:1 was included at its current location, especially since nearly all commentators consider 2:14-7:4, at least, to be part of a single letter. Though not without its own problems, the theory that Paul himself included the material as part of his line of argument/exhortation at the end of 2:14-7:4 is preferable. It does, however, require that some attempt be made to explain the sudden shift in tone by which our passage appears to interrupt the flow between 6:13 and 7:2.
    • Compilation theories for 2 Corinthians as whole, while plausible in varying degrees, remain highly speculative and ultimately rest on slight support. In terms of the external evidence (manuscript tradition, early versions, etc), there is no indication whatever that 2 Corinthians ever existed in a form different than our canonical text. If it is a compilation, it had to made early on, well prior to the middle of the 2nd century. Thus, it is at least worth seriously considering, on objective grounds, the possibility that Paul intended, and wrote, the letter as we have it.
    • The difficulties of structure, as well as the shifts in tone and style, are largely due to the two lengthy discussions on Paul’s apostolic status—2:14-7:4 and 10:1-13:4—which extend and distort the epistolary (and rhetorical) form of the letter. If original to 2 Corinthians, these sections surround the central discussion in chapters 8-9, on the financial collection for Jerusalem, and would have to be connected with it in some fundamental way.
    • The two apostolic ‘digressions’, while differing in tone and emphasis, share many key themes in common, as well as a basic outline—(1) initial statement, (2) discussion of three issues (with arguments, illustrations), and (3) a concluding exhortation/appeal. The primary subject in each is that of Paul’s role as an apostle, and his relationship, as such, to the Corinthians. These parallels strongly indicate careful authoring, with each discussion set within the structure of the letter, surrounding the matter of the financial collection.
    • Toward the end of each apostolic discussion, Paul mentions suspicions/accusations of wrongdoing on his part. Similarities in language suggest that more or less the same issue is being addressed in each discussion, and that it involves deceit/fraud related to the financial collection (on this, see above).
    • Connected with this, in each apostolic discussion, Paul includes a warning to the Corinthians regarding behavior that is improper for a believer, framing it in traditional religious-ethical terms: (a) Jewish Christian homiletic in 6:14-7:1, and (b) Greco-Roman/Jewish ‘vice lists’ in 12:19-21. Such behavior contrasts with how a true believer should behave—indeed, it is characteristic of non-believers.
    • Thus, in each instance, as part of his appeal regarding his apostolic status (and relationship to the Corinthians), Paul includes a warning to the Corinthians that they not behave like unbelievers—acting in a divisive and (potentially) immoral way. There should be unity among believers, which involves preserving the divinely ordained relationship between a true apostle (Paul) and the congregations he helped to found. The restoration/preservation of this relationship was essential for the completion of the fundraising mission for Jerusalem, but ultimately points to deeper issues as well—regarding Christian identity and how believers ought to think and act in relation to one another.

While these critical studies do not resolve all of the questions surrounding 6:14-7:1, nor of 2 Corinthians as a whole, I hope they have served to demonstrate ways that critical methods and approaches can elucidate a Scripture passage. By confronting serious critical questions head on, without glossing them over or brushing them aside, it only strengthens our understanding of the Scriptures, giving us, I believe, more insight into the inspired text and how it came to be produced. The purpose of these Saturday Studies is to introduce any and all interested readers to the techniques and methods of Biblical Criticism, and how they may be applied to our study of Scripture. Next week, we will shift are attention to an entirely different area of the Scriptures. I hope you will join me for this new study!