Saturday Series: 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 (part 4)

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, continued

In last week’s study, we examined 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 from the standpoint of the critical theory that the passage is an interpolation, i.e. a secondary addition to the text. In particular, the apparent non-Pauline features—those considered unusual or atypical of Paul—were discussed (following the prior examination of the vocabulary and other details in Parts 1 and 2). This study came under the heading of redaction criticism—that is, the passage as included in the text by an editor/redactor, a view often related to the theory that 2 Corinthians as a whole represents a compilation of two or more letters by Paul (for more on this, see below).

Composition Criticism

This week, we will be considering 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 from the standpoint of Pauline authorship; our discussion now falls under the heading of composition criticism—i.e. how the passage came to be authored (or composed) in the context of the letter as we have it. The study will be divided into four sections:

    1. The structure and content of 2:14-7:4 and the (current) location of 6:14-7:1
    2. Pauline authorship of 6:14-7:1 and how it might relate to 2:14-7:4
    3. The overall context of 1:1-7:16 as a unified composition (and how 6:14-7:1 fits in)
    4. Questions regarding the letter as a whole (including chaps. 8-9 and 10-13)
1. The Structure and Content of 2 Cor 2:14-7:4

Nearly all commentators (even those who view 2 Corinthians as a compilation) consider 2:14-7:4 (excluding 6:14-7:1) to be a unified composition and part of a single letter. It is for this reason, as we discussed last week, that the inclusion of our passage in the middle of this section—i.e. after 6:13 instead of 7:4—is so problematic for any interpolation/compilation theory. It will be useful now to examine briefly the structure and content of 2:14-7:4 as a whole. Most commentators and New Testament scholars today recognize that Paul, in his letters, makes use of common rhetorical (and epistolary) techniques in presenting his arguments and exhorting his readers, etc. I will be discussing the structure of 2 Corinthians in this light in the sections below. Generally we may describe the rhetorical thrust of 2:14-7:4 as deliberative, centered on two interrelated themes: (1) Paul’s relation to the Corinthians as an apostle, and (2) the importance of this relationship being maintained and/or restored. Here is how I would divide this section as a whole:

    • 2:14-17—Basic proposition: Paul and his colleagues as apostles who are honest and sincere in their ministry
    • 3:1-18—Issue/Argument #1: On letters of recommendation (for apostles/ministers)
      • Illustration: The written tablets of the Old Covenant, in relation to the New (homiletic exposition)—letter vs. Spirit (vv. 3, 7-18)
    • 4:1-6—Issue/Argument #2: On the honesty/sincerity of true apostles (such as Paul) in the preaching and ministry
      • Illustration: Light vs. Darkness (blindness), alluding to the Mosaic veil in the prior illustration (vv. 3-6)
    • 4:7-5:10—Issue/Argument #3: On the (physical) suffering of apostles such as Paul for the sake of the Gospel
      • Illustration 1: The death and resurrection of Jesus—the participation of believers in it (4:10-15)
      • Illustration 2: The inner vs. outer nature of the human being (esp. the believer) (4:16-18)
      • Illustration 3: The body as a house or tent (i.e. clothing) that perishes, to be replaced by one that is imperishable (at the resurrection) (5:1-5)
      • Illustration 4: At home vs. away from home—i.e. believers in the present world (of suffering) vs. the future life in Heaven (5:6-10)
    • 5:11-6:10—Exhortation/Appeal to the Corinthians, regarding Paul’s role as Apostle
      • 5:11-15—His ministry is centered on proclamation of the Gospel
      • 5:16-21—Effect of the Gospel: The life of believers is new in Christ, and does not depend on the ‘old’ standards of the world; as an apostle, his ministry serves this dynamic of making things new.
      • 6:1-10—The Corinthians must receive, realize, and act according to this new identity in Christ (vv. 1-2), which includes recognizing Paul’s relation to them as an Apostle (vv. 4-10)
    • 6:11-7:4—Personal Appeal by Paul
      • 6:11-13—First statement (“make wide [your hearts] to us”)
      • 6:14-7:1—Illustration (?) from Scripture (Lev 19:19)—Homiletic exposition/exhortation {disputed passage}
      • 7:2-4—Second(?) statement (“make space for us”)

This outline shows that 2:14-7:4 admirably forms the torso of a letter with a deliberative rhetorical thrust (i.e. seeking to persuade/exhort the reader with regard to current/future action):

Unfortunately, the situation is more complicated when 2:14-7:4 is considered in the context of 1:1-7:16 (on this, see below). How exactly does 6:14-7:1 relate to this outline for 2:14-7:4? It appears to have little, if anything, to do with the specific matters being addressed—of Paul’s relationship (as an apostle) to the Corinthians. As most commentators recognize, the transition from 6:13 to 6:14ff is sudden, appearing to interrupt the line of thought most abruptly. Nothing in 2:14-6:13 would prepare us for the style and tone (and subject matter) of 6:14-7:1. As I mentioned last week, 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 seems to have much more in common with Paul’s discussion(s) in 1 Corinthians (e.g. 5:6-8; 6:19; and 10:6-13) than anything we find in 2 Corinthians.

Perhaps a clue is to be found in the immediate context. In the letter as we have it, 6:14-7:1 is bracketed by two similar, and more or less synonymous, exhortations by Paul:

    • “make wide (your hearts) also to us” [platýnth¢te kai hymeís] (end of 6:13)
    • “make space [i.e. in your hearts] for us” [chœr¢¡sate hymás] (beginning of 7:2)

As commentators have noted, removing 6:14-7:1 yields a relatively smooth and consistent statement by Paul; for example, I translate with the temporary join indicated by italics and a vertical bar:

“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! We treated no one unjustly, we corrupted no one, we (desir)ed to seize much from no one. …”

At the same time, it must be admitted that 6:11-7:4 represents the climax of the composition (defined here as 2:14-7:4), and, if such a dramatic piece of exposition as 6:14-7:1 belongs anywhere in this work, it would be just where it is currently located, in the middle of the climactic appeal. But does it truly belong there? To make a fair determination, let us now consider what Paul, as author, might have intended with this passage, and possible arguments for its inclusion at the point where we have it (between 6:13 and 7:2).

2. Pauline authorship of 6:14-7:1 and its current location

We have already examined some of the apparent “non-Pauline” features of this passage—words, expressions, style and points of emphasis that would seem to be unusual or atypical of Paul. These are significant enough to raise legitimate questions regarding authorship, and cannot simply be brushed aside. However, we have also seen enough genuine Pauline features to establish the possibility that he is ultimately responsible for the passage. A reasonable solution would be that Paul is here making use of traditional Jewish Christian material—in style and tone, if nothing else—adapting a piece homiletic exposition (on Lev 19:19), and applying it to his Corinthian audience. While this seems fair enough, and is more or less the explanation I would adopt, there is at least one serious challenge to Pauline authorship/use that must be addressed. This is the strong idiom of ritual purity in 6:14-7:1, with the corresponding emphasis on the need for believers to separate from non-believers. According to some commentators, this line of thought and mode of expression runs contrary to Paul’s own, based on evidence from his other (undisputed) letters. I addressed this argument in the previous study (see also the separate article on 6:14-7:1 and the Dead Sea Scrolls), but is worth outlining again here the most relevant passages where Paul draws on the idea of (ritual) purity from the Pentateuch/Torah, and uses it in a similar context of exhorting believers to avoid close association with immorality and/or ‘idolatry’. The passages are:

    • Rom 6:12-13, 19—there is perhaps a faint allusion to the purity of sacrificial offerings (i.e. service at the altar) in the idea of believers presenting themselves before (vb paríst¢mi, lit. “[make] stand alongside”) God (cf. also the quasi-ritual context of the image in 2 Cor 11:2); it is noteworthy that v. 19 contains the same juxtaposition of dikaiosýn¢ (“righteousness”) and anomía (“lawlessness”) that we find in 2 Cor 6:14 (see below).
    • 1 Cor 5:6-8—Passover imagery (esp. that of unleavened bread) is applied to believers, exhorting them not to associate with persons engaged in sexual immorality (vv. 1-2, 9-13f); the main difference with 2 Cor 6:14ff is that here it directed specifically against believers engaged in sinful behavior and not non-believers.
    • 1 Cor 6:19—the bodies of believers are identified (symbolically) with the Temple, which had to be kept ceremonially pure (a primary concern of the Torah purity laws); here we find perhaps the closest example of ritual purity meant to symbolize believers separating themselves from the immorality of the surrounding society (vv. 9ff, 13-18).
    • 1 Cor 10:6-13—the application of the Golden Calf episode (Exod 32; note the implicit context of ceremonial purity in 19:10-15) to the very matter addressed in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, namely, believers separating from the idolatrous culture around them (vv. 7-8, 14ff).

The last two examples from 1 Corinthians, in particular, are reasonably close to the basic message of 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, and serve to demonstrate, I think, that Paul was capable of addressing believers (and especially the Corinthians) in such a manner. However, if 6:14-7:1 genuinely comes from Paul (even if as an adaptation of traditional material), can any sense be made of its use at the current location in the letter? Why would Paul address his audience this way, at this point?

Much depends on the nature of the problems existing between Paul and at least some in the Corinthian congregations. The extent to which he emphasizes both (a) his role as an apostle, and (b) the sort of relationship the Corinthians ought to have with him, in 2:14-7:4, strongly suggests that there has been a breach in the relationship, to some extent. The wording he uses in the climactic appeal at 7:2 raises the possibility that there had been accusations of wrongdoing and, perhaps, misuse of his apostolic authority. He strings together three verbal phrases, forming a three-fold denial of any such wrongdoing on his part; each beginning with an emphatic oudeís (oudéna), “no one”:

    • oudéna ¢dik¢¡samen, “we treated no one unjustly”
    • oudéna ephtheíramen, “we corrupted no one”
    • oudéna epleonekt¢samen, “we (wish)ed to take more (from) no one” (i.e., acting greedily, etc)

It is possible—and admittedly, it is only a possibility—that the digression in 6:14-7:1 is connected in some way to these ‘charges’. The initial verb used in 7:2 (adikéœ, “act without justice, act/treat unjustly, injure”) is related to the initial noun (adikía, “[being] without justice, injustice”) that establishes the contrast (between believer and non-believer) in 6:14ff. Perhaps the point Paul is making, by utilizing the homiletic of 6:14ff, is: believers are not to be closely joined with non-believers, but should not separate from other believers (unless they behave like non-believers, cf. 1 Cor 5:9ff); how much more, then, should the Corinthians remain closely joined with an apostle and minister like Paul, who has not acted wrongly toward them, but has honestly and faithfully preached the Gospel that led to their experience of new life in Christ. This could also explain Paul’s wording in 7:3: “I do not say (this) toward bringing down judgment (on you)”, i.e. I am not saying you are acting like this (i.e. like unbelievers, 6:14ff), nor that you are making such charges against me (7:2), which would be wrong. If 6:14-7:1 is actually targeting immorality or idolatrous associations among the Corinthians, such as are mentioned in 1 Corinthians, then it would, indeed, seem to be out of place in its current location. But, if the point, by drawing the contrast between believer and non-believer, is meant to enhance and emphasize the unity and bond between believers (and between minister and congregation), then the inclusion of 6:14-7:1 here could perhaps be explained. We will take this up again in the concluding study next week.

3. The context of 1:1-7:16 (as a unified composition)

Even a casual reader will notice that, after the long discussion in 2:14-7:4, the following section (7:5-16) picks up where 2:13 left off. This has led some commentators to posit that two letters have been spliced together: (1) 1:1-2:13 + 7:5-16, and (2) 2:14-7:4. I must say that I find little evidence to support such a theory; in which case, it would be more plausible to view 1:1-7:16 as (part of) a unified composition. However, this does complicate the structure of the letter considerably, since 1:8-2:13 + 7:5-16 appears to serve as the narration (narratio) portion of the letter—i.e. narrating the facts and historical circumstances, etc, related to the matter being discussed. Normally this section precedes the main proposition (propositio), presentation of arguments (probatio), and exhortation (exhortatio); for a clear example of this order, following the tenets of classical rhetoric and epistolary form, see esp. the outline of Galatians. As I noted above, 2:14-7:4 appears to have the character of the main body of the letter—propositio, probatio, exhortatio—but, if 1:1-7:16 is a single composition, then 2:14-7:4 instead functions as a (lengthy) digression in the middle of the narratio. It also would seem to require additional material to make up the body of the letter; such material, of course, would be at hand with chapters 8-9ff of 2 Corinthians as we have it. Thus, it will be useful, at the close of this part of our study, to consider the structure of the entire letter (our current 2 Corinthians), to see how 6:14-7:1 might relate to it.

4. The letter as a whole (including chaps. 8-9 and 10-13)

Upon examining chapters 8-9 and 10-13 we find two very distinct kinds of material: (a) instruction relating to the charitable collection for the Christians of Jerusalem (chaps. 8-9), and (b) a lengthy discussion on Paul’s status as an apostle, similar in some respects to that of 2:14-7:4, only much more pointed and harsher in tone, directed at specific opponents (and similar in style and manner of argument to Galatians). Thus, it is possible to isolate two structural lines, or strands, which make up the letter as we have it:

    1. A practical, and relatively straightforward letter, dealing primarily with the collection for Jerusalem, and
    2. Two lengthy treatments regarding Paul’s role and status as an apostle, and his relationship, as such, to the Corinthian churches

At first glance, these two strands seem to have little to do with each other; in particular, the harsh polemic of chaps. 10-13 appear at odds with the rest of the letter, which is why many scholars (including more traditional-conservative commentators) hold that chaps. 10-13 represent a separate letter from chaps. 1-9. If we were to remove 2:14-7:4 and chs. 10-13, temporarily, from the letter, a rather simple and straightforward outline emerges:

    • Greeting (Epistolary Prescript)—1:1-2
    • Introduction (Exordium)—1:3-11
    • Statement of the reason/purpose for writing (Causa)—1:12-14
    • Narration (Narratio)—1:15-2:13 + 7:5-16
    • Proposition (Propositio) [regarding the Collection]—8:1-7
    • Arguments/Instruction (regarding the Collection)—8:8-9:5
    • Exhortation (Exhortatio) [regarding the Collection]—9:6-15
    • Conclusion / Epistolary Postscript (?) cf. 13:11-14

The core of this letter relates to the Jerusalem Collection (chaps. 8-9). There have been some prior difficulties between Paul and the Corinthians, as he narrates (1:15-2:4); but, as was subsequently reported to him by Titus (7:5-16), to some extent at least, these seem to have been resolved. Now, following the preparatory work by Titus (8:6ff), Paul urges the Corinthians to complete their part in the Collection. How does 2:14-7:4 (much less chaps. 10-13) fit into this outline? As I have previously noted, a good number of commentators believe that 2 Corinthians represents a compilation of different letters from Paul’s Corinthian correspondence. Such theories, while interesting, and not entirely implausible, remain highly speculative, with little hard evidence to support them. Ultimately, though not without difficulties, it is easier to explain 2 Corinthians, as we have it, as a single letter. Assuming this, for the moment, how would 6:14-7:1 relate to the overall structure of this letter? The lengthy excursions regarding Paul’s role as an apostle, which clearly are of prime importance to the letter, at the same time distort the rhetorical picture. Commentators who accept the integrity of the entire letter, outline this complex picture in various ways. Here is a tentative outline on my part:

  • 1:1-2—Greeting (epistolary prescript)
  • 1:3-11—Introduction (exordium)
  • 1:12-14—Reason/purpose for writing (causa)
  • 1:15-7:16—Extended Narration (narratio)
    • 1:15-2:13—Initial narration: On the prior troubles between he and the Corinthians
    • 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)
    • 7:5-16—Concluding narration: On the expected resolution of troubles between he and the Corinthians
  • 8:1-7—Main Proposition (propositio), regarding the Collection for Jerusalem
  • 8:8-9:15—Arguments (probatio), in support of the Corinthians faithfully completing the Collection
  • 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)
  • 13:5-10—Concluding Argument and Appeal (peroratio)
  • 13:11-14—Closing/Benediction (epistolary postscript)

The (possible) relation of 6:14-7:1 to this outline will be considered carefully in next week’s study, which will bring our discussion of this provocative passage to a close. I hope to see you here next Saturday.