APOSTOLIC SUFFERING

 


Did Paul view his suffering as an apostle as beneficial?

1. Partial Precedents to Paul's Explanation of the Suffering of the Righteous as Pedagogical
   1.1. Psalms
   1.2. Thanksgiving Hymns (Hodayot)
   1.3. Psalms of Solomon
2. The Explanation of the Suffering of the Righteous as Pedagogical in Paul's Writings
   2.1. The Pedagogical Explanation in the Context of Paul's Self-Defense in 2 Corinthians
       2.1.1. 2 Cor 10-13
              A. Paul as "Weak"
              B. Paul's Self-Defense against the Charge of Being Weak
              C. Paul's "Thorn in the Flesh"
       2.1.2. 2 Cor 4:7-12
   2.2. The Pedagogical Explanation in 2 Cor 1:8-11
3. Conclusion
Notes

 


Paul explains his suffering as having a pedagogical purpose, for suffering is the means by which it becomes and remains unambiguously clear that his success as an apostle is due exclusively to another power. Suffering is a manifestation of human frailty and limitation. So when a suffering apostle successfully evangelizes a city, performing signs and wonders as a confirmation of the message, it is palpable to all—including the apostle—that it is "the power of Christ" (hê dunamis tou Christou) (2 Cor 12:9) or "the all-surpassing power of God" (hê huperbolê tês dunameôs…tou theou) (2 Cor 4:7) that works through him and, consequently, that his role in the whole endeavor is merely instrumental. This is the only conclusion that could be drawn, since all would accept the premise that suffering ensues from powerlessness, and such powerlessness is incommensurate with the results achieved by the apostle. In Paul's view, continued success in his apostolic work is conditional upon his continued realization that the apostolic ministry is not a cooperative venture, a human and divine synergism. When he understands that his contribution as an apostle is only that of a beggarly instrument, he is in a position to appropriate that other power. Suffering, therefore, serves the pedagogical role of inculcating this attitude of dependence on that other power, for, since suffering has powerlessness as its condition, in suffering a person is brought undeniably face to face with his need of another power.(1)


1. Partial Precedents to Paul's Explanation of the Suffering of the Righteous as Pedagogical

 

The explanation that the righteous suffer for pedagogical reasons is unique to Paul, having no clear precedents or parallels.(2) There is nonetheless material that at least anticipates Paul's pedagogical explanation of the suffering of the righteous, inchoately pointing in that direction. In Psalms, Psalms of Solomon and Thanksgiving Hymns (Hodayot), texts in which personal reflections on the ways of God with the nation and with individuals abound, the righteous often cry out to God in a state of helplessness. Similarly, there are many expressions of gratitude for God's salvation; these past deliverances serve as a basis for the hope of future deliverance. There are also general confessions to the effect that God is the savior of those who take refuge in him. From these, the way leads naturally to Paul's fuller development of the idea that God wills that an apostle experience enough powerlessness for the purpose of being convinced that the power for apostolic accomplishment comes from without and is not an inherent capacity. When the righteous find themselves in a position of helplessness, cry out to God and then experience God's deliverance, the pedagogical effect is that they come to know with experiential certainty that God alone has power enough to save and that human efforts are utterly ineffectual. It is a short step from here to Paul's conclusion that God actually wills this pedagogical benefit for an apostle as the condition for the appropriating that other power.(3)


1.1. Psalms

 

Many of the canonical psalms are classified as psalms of lament. These are individual appeals to God for help given in the first person singular and sometimes ending in an explicit declaration that God will render aid as requested.(4) (Those that do not end with an explicit declaration can still be said to be expressions of implicit confidence, insofar as the author expects God to hear and respond; true despair is silent.) Ps 64, for instance, begins with a plea that God hear the supplicant and protect him from the enemy (64:1). The psalm ends with the confident expression that God will destroy the psalmist's enemies, thereby relieving him of his distress: "But God will shoot them with their own arrows; suddenly they will be struck down" (64:7) (see also Pss 4, 6, 10, 28, 54, 55, 57, 59, 64, 71, 109).(5)

 

Other of the canonical psalms are individual thanksgivings to God for assistance already received.(6) In Psalm 18, for example, the psalmist describes how he cried out to Yahweh: "In my distress I called to Yahweh; I cried to my God for help" (18:6). In response to this appeal, Yahweh is described poetically as coming down from heaven accompanied by celestial and meteorological phenomena and rescuing the petitioner from his difficulty: "He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes who were too strong for me" (18:17). The psalmist goes on to establish the principle that God deals with all the righteous who take refuge in him after this fashion (18:25-31). (Some psalms combine both lament and thanksgiving [Pss 9, 22, 31, 66]).(7) It is clear that the conception of God as responding to the cry of the helpless righteous is a leitmotiv in the canonical psalms, being found in about one third of them. Correlative to this rendering of God is the human being as powerless and totally dependent.


1.2. Thanksgiving Hymns (Hodayot)

 

The same conceptions of God and the human being in the Psalms find expression in the Thanksgiving Hymns (Hodayot). In many of these compositions, the authors declare their absolute dependence on God's mercy for protection from all peril, including persecution by enemies. In 1QH 10[2].31-38, for example, the founder recounts how he was rescued by God from the evil designs of his enemies, "the seekers of smooth things" (10[2].32): "But you, my God, helped the soul of the poor and needy against the hand of the one who is stronger than he is; you have redeemed my soul from the hand of the mighty" (1QH 10[2].34b-35a; see 14[6].19-29). The experience of salvation in the past provides warrant for confidence of continued protection for the founder and the community under his leadership (1QH-a 12.22-27; see 14.17b-18, 29-32). Not surprisingly, the self-designation of "a creature of clay," occurs with some frequency in the Hodayot.(8) Such a term signifies the sinfulness and weakness of all human beings in contrast to God (1QH 9.21; 11.23-24; 12.29; 19.3; 20.26, 32; 21.10-12; see also 18.5 and 5.21).(9)


1.3. Psalms of Solomon

 

References to God's granting mercy and protection to the righteous who call out to him in times of trouble occur in Psalms of Solomon.(10) The author of Ps. Sol. 5:11, for example, asks: "Who is the hope of the poor and needy but you, Lord? And you will listen. For who is good and kind but you, making the soul of the humble person happy by the opening of your hand in mercy?" Similarly, in 15:1a the author recalls, "When I was afflicted, I called on the Lord's name; I expected the help of the God of Jacob and I was saved." He then declares, "For you, O God, are the hope and refuge of the poor" (15:1b). (See also 1:1-3; 2:35; 4:23-25; 12; 13:1-6.)


2. The Explanation of the Suffering of the Righteous as Pedagogical in Paul's Writings

 

In 2 Cor 1:8-11 Paul writes of having been rescued by God from a situation of extremity, when he was at the point of total despair. In these circumstances Paul was conscious of being the object of God's providential care. He says, "We do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, about the afflictions that we suffered in Asia, that we were burdened far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life....but...he [God] has delivered us from such deadly peril and will continue to deliver us." The exact nature of Paul's affliction is not disclosed in the letter, but, whatever it was, it drove him to complete despondency. But from this humanly hopeless situation God delivered Paul, and he is certain that God will also deliver him from similar situations that arise in the future.

 

In his view of God as the deliverer of the helpless righteous, Paul resembles those authors of the Psalms, the Thanksgiving Hymns and Psalms of Solomon. This rendering of God agrees with his own experience. Yet it is arguable that to be delivered from undeserved suffering is second best to never being allowed to enter such a situation in the first place. In fact, it would seem that it would be a greater manifestation of God's mercy if he prevented the righteous from ever entering into circumstances in which they must cry out to him for deliverance. The suffering righteous may even have grounds for accusing God of negligence. Perhaps, reflecting upon this apparent incongruity in God's dealings with the righteous, Paul uncovers a reason for which God allows the righteous to suffer: suffering is the most effective means by which the attitude of dependence is inculcated, without which there is no access to another power. The pedagogical explanation for the suffering of the righteous comes to expression most prominently in Paul's Corinthian correspondence.


2.1. The Pedagogical Explanation in the Context of Paul's Self-Defense in 2 Corinthians

 

Paul argued in 1 Corinthians that the Corinthians' view of themselves as "already full, rich and reigning" (4:8), in contradistinction to the apostles who, unlike them, were fools, weak and dishonored (4:10), foundered on the fact that full eschatological reversal still lay in the future. But Paul's comments in 1 Corinthians did not ease the tension between him and the Corinthians over the issue of what constituted an apostle. In fact, the seed of the Corinthians' misgivings about Paul came to full fruition with the arrival in Corinth of men whom Paul identified as "false apostles" (11:13-15), also referred to as "super-apostles" (11:5; 12:11), a term probably coined with a touch of irony by Paul,(11) reflecting the high esteem with which they were held by some in the Corinthian church.(12) In the view of many of the Corinthian believers, these men belied Paul's theologomena, for they were much more in line with the Corinthians' expectation of what an apostle ought to be.(13) Perhaps some suspected that Paul was merely making virtue out of necessity.(14)

 

Paul eventually succeeded in convincing the majority of the Corinthian believers of his right to be called an apostle. Through his "severe letter" (2 Cor 2:4; 7:8) and to some extent his "painful visit" (2 Cor 2:1-2), he was able to regain ground lost to the "super-apostles." But, although the majority of the Corinthian Christians may have recanted their former disapproval of Paul, there remained a "recalcitrant minority."(15) When he writes 2 Corinthians, it appears that there are a significant few who still denigrate Paul's claim to be called an apostle, and still give their support to "the false apostles, the deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ" (11:13), as Paul calls them. They are still convinced that Paul does not have the necessary qualifications to assume any position of honor and responsibility, least of all that of an apostle. In the context of his attempt to convince his lingering opposition in the Corinthian church that his claim to being an apostle is justified, Paul gives expression to the pedagogical explanation of the suffering of the righteous. His desire is that his opponents make a paradigm shift, that they rethink the criteria of apostleship. When they properly understand God's ways among human beings, they will see how inextricably bound up "weakness" is to apostleship.(16) They will thereby understand the pedagogical value of suffering.


2.1.1. 2 Cor 10-13

 

Although there are anticipations of it in the earlier part of the letter,(17) 2 Cor 10-13 is Paul's apology for his right to claim apostolic status against his remaining detractors in the Corinthian church. At the close of his letter, Paul turns his full attention to his residual opposition.(18)


A. Paul as "Weak"

 

It seems that, in contrast to the "super-apostles," the Corinthians affixed to Paul the disapprobious label of "weak" (asthenê); this encapsulated their overall appraisal of him, disqualifying him thereby from being considered an apostle (2 Cor 10:10; 11:21, 30; 12:5).(19) Paul appears to be quoting from the one who still heads up the opposition against him when he writes, "For he says, 'His letters are weighty, but in person he is weak'" (10:10; see 2 Cor 10:9; 1 Cor 2:1-3). Similarly, when he remarks sarcastically that he, unlike his opponents, was too "weak" to exploit the Corinthians, Paul seems to be turning an accusation leveled against him on its head (11:21).(20) The same use of irony to refute the charge of being too "weak" occurs in 2 Cor 13:9: Paul says that he and his colleagues rejoice when they are "weak," but the Corinthians are strong, because their prayer is for the perfection of the Corinthians. Finally, standing behind Paul's paradoxical assertions that he boasts in his weakness is the negative assessment that he is too "weak" to be a bona fide apostle (11:30; 12:5).(21) This charge of being "weak" is still retained by a significant minority at the time of Paul's writing of 2 Corinthians.

 

It is possible to determine which traits constitute weakness for Paul's remaining opponents. From what Paul says in his own defense in 2 Cor 10-13, one can reconstruct the apostolic ideal formerly held by the most of the Corinthians and still retained by a minority, to which, unlike Paul, these false apostles or super-apostles are believed to conform.(22) For Paul's detractors, the opposites of these traits are what it means to be "weak."(23) In general, it seems that to be "weak" means to be lacking in those traits associated with "successful" people.

 

For Paul's remaining opponents, a qualification for being an apostle is having ample rhetorical skill; from a Greco-Roman perspective, it makes sense that an apostle be a rhetorician, since he is called to persuade others. But this is an area in which Paul lacks conspicuously. He concedes in 11:6 that he is "unskilled in speech" (idiôtês tô logô). The phrase "unskilled in speech" may be an accusation originating with his opponents(24) or Paul may have adopted the expression as an euphemistic synonym for the accusation that "his speech is contemptible" (ho logos exouthenêmenos), which does originate with his opponents (10:10).(25) To be "unskilled in speech" (idiôtês tô logô) is to have no rhetorical ability, which would generally disqualify a man from being deserving of a hearing. (Thus, one can only assume that those to whom Paul is being compared have a reputation as rhetoricians.) That not being a rhetorician is generally considered to be a manifestation of his weakness is clear from what Paul writes in 1 Cor 2:3-4: "And I came in weakness, in fear and in trembling to you; and my speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom." In this passage, he connects his appearance as "weak" with his lack of rhetorical skill.

 

Paul also has the reputation for being diffident to the point of being pusillanimous when present in person, but cocky and even pugnacious in his letters. The indictment against him is that he is a coward, whose comportment can only be authoritative from a distance, when writing letters. This character flaw is part and parcel of Paul's weakness (10:9-10). A variation of the same accusation occurs in 10:1: Paul seems to be quoting from his opponents when he describes himself as "timid in your presence, but bold when absent from you." Since Paul is probably quoting from his opponents, the term tapeinos ("timid") is intended to have a negative sense, in which case it is a synonym for "weak."(26) Unlike Paul, the true apostle is a man who exudes such strength in person that people are led naturally to submit to his authority, thereby obviating the need to send vilifying letters. It should be pointed out that Paul's lack of rhetorical skills no doubt feeds into his reputation of lacking self-confidence, because to the average person the two are usually causally related.

 

Paul's detractors also expect an apostle to have a boldness befitting the office. Paul is accused of insulting the Corinthians by not taking financial support from them; this is considered a snub, probably because, in refusing support, Paul has deprived them of the honor of supporting an apostle (11:7-9; 12:13-14). Since he sarcastically remarks that he and his associates were too weak to exploit the Corinthians, it seems that Paul's refusal to take funds is put down to the problem with his weakness: he so lacks this apostolic boldness that he cannot bring himself to exact material support from the church (11:19-21).

 

The super-apostles, to whom Paul was compared unfavorably, are also renowned for their spirituality proficiency. From what Paul says in his own defense in 12:11-12, it seems that they have a reputation for being able to perform signs and wonders, which is confirmed by letters of recommendation from other churches (see 3:1). In addition, these men can boast of having received "visions and revelations." That Paul feels compelled to relate his own revelatory experience, undisclosed for fourteen years, implies that he is being compared unfavorably in this respect (12:1-7; 5:13). No doubt, Paul's supposed spiritual inadequacies are seen as symptoms of his weakness.

 

The explanation of Paul's weakness once proffered by the Corinthians and still retained by his residual opposition is provided in 10:2; in this passage, Paul alludes to the fact that the Corinthians considered him to be "living according to the flesh." Although all the nuances of this charge are now lost to us because of our ignorance of the full identity of Paul's opponents, nonetheless, it is clear that Paul is being accused of operating in the natural realm, cut off from the power of the Spirit. Probably, for Paul's remaining opponents this goes a long way in accounting for his "weakness." Something similar is probably meant by the charge that Paul and possibly his associates do not "belong to Christ" (10:7).


B. Paul's Self-Defense against the Charge of Being Weak

 

In 2 Cor 10-13, Paul meets the accusation of being weak still retained by the unrepentant minority in two ways. First, he denies that he is any less qualified to be an apostle than the so-called super-apostles are. Unlike his rivals, Paul is unaccustomed to boasting in his accomplishments, so that, it would seem, few realize how favorably Paul would compare to the super-apostles using their own criteria. Although at first glance he may appear to be their inferior, Paul is convinced that when all the facts are known it will be evident that he is easily their equal or even their superior. Yet Paul is reticent about what he is doing. In his so-called "Fool's Speech," he writes, "What I am saying I say not according to the will of the Lord, but as a fool in this boasting self-confidence. Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast" (11:17-18). Apparently, Paul reasons that, unless they know that he is not only as qualified as his rivals to be an apostle but even more so, his lingering opposition will interpret his protestations as motivated simply by resentment. So Paul lists all the indicators that his claim to apostleship is valid, all the while professing his lack of ease in doing so (11:23; 12:1, 11). He reluctantly explains that he is as much a Hebrew, an Israelite and from the seed of Abraham as they are; in addition, he is even more of a servant of Christ because of the hardships that he has endured for the sake of his Master (11:21b-29; see 2 Cor 6:4-5). Paul also has them recall that the signs of the apostles were performed in their presence through him (12:12).

Second, Paul defends himself against the accusation of being weak by refuting the specific charges viewed by his remaining opponents as indicators of his weakness. The strategy is to disprove the conclusion by demonstrating that the warrants supplied for it are groundless. He reminds them that he does have the necessary knowledge to be an apostle, even if he is not a rhetorician: "Even if I am unskilled as a speaker, I am not in knowledge" (11:6). Possessing such knowledge more than compensates for a lack of rhetorical skill. He also explains that he is not a coward. The Corinthians mistake "the gentleness and forbearance of Christ" (10:1) exemplified in him in his dealings with them for weakness or its synonym, timidity. He also wants the Corinthians to reassess the so-called evidence of his weakness that he writes severe letters; in his view, his "boldness" can be demonstrated from afar without implying cowardice.(27) At the end of the letter, he warns them that, if he encounters opposition from anyone upon his third visit to them, he will exercise the spiritual authority entrusted to him (13:3, 10); this would certainly prove that he is not a coward. In response to the charge of lacking the boldness befitting an apostle allegedly evinced in his refusal to accept financial support from the Corinthians, Paul sarcastically remarks, "For you gladly tolerate fools, being wise yourselves. For you bear it if a man makes slaves of you, or consumes you, or takes advantage of you, or exalts himself, or hits you in the face. To my shame, we were too weak for that" (11:19-21). Ironically, in Paul's view, their expectation of how an apostle should behave has resulted in the Corinthians' exploitation by men who are not true apostles (see also his explanation in 12:14-18). Finally, in response to the accusation that, unlike his opponents, he has no record of visions and revelations, Paul says that he can also boast of having received superlative visions and revelations, because some fourteen years previous he was caught up into the third heaven (12:1-2). This fact, apparently, is little known among Paul's churches because of his reluctance to disclose it.

 

Paul submits to the exercise of demonstrating his superiority to his opponents only in order to lead his readers to an unexpected and ironic insight; his ultimate aim is to lead his remaining detractors among the Corinthians to a position where they can effect the desired paradigm shift. He transforms the pejorative judgment of being weak into a badge of honor. Contrary to their way of thinking, Paul would have his detractors believe that God actually requires apostles to be weak, and, if they are not naturally so, he will take measures to make them so.(28) Thus, he does not intend, as they may think, that they admit him into the class of the super-apostles on the basis of his superlative qualifications and great accomplishments. (This is the source of Paul's reticence about his strategy of answering his critics by self-commendation: he fears that they may draw the wrong conclusion.) Rather, he wants them to come to the conclusion that all boasting is incompatible with apostleship (except, of course, boasting in the Lord), since the disposition to boasting reveals a misconception of the very nature of apostleship. Rather, apostleship is exercised in the context of human weakness, which provides no grounds for boasting. In the process of attempting to effect this paradigm shift in his readers, Paul's pedagogical explanation for the suffering of the righteous comes to expression.

 

In Paul's understanding, apostles are merely instruments used by God to bring salvation to human beings. As such, they offer nothing to God.(29) Thus, different from the super-apostles, Paul says that if he must boast at all he will boast only in his weaknesses (see 12:5; 11:30). (In using the plural, Paul no doubt intends the particular ways in which "weakness" manifests itself.) What he means is that he will only boast in what God does through him in spite of his weakness. Ironically, for him the true apostle is one who is weak, and, therefore, unimpressive, and by a sort of reverse logic this is something in which to boast.


C. Paul's "Thorn in the Flesh"

 

It seems strange, however, that, after arguing that he is not weak, Paul would suddenly say that he will boast only in his weaknesses. How can Paul both be not weak and have weaknesses at the same time? In explication of this paradoxical position, Paul relates that, after the experience of hearing and seeing extraordinary and ineffable things, when he was caught up into the third heaven, he was afflicted by a "thorn in the flesh," a messenger of Satan. He explains that the Lord refused to remove it from him, in order that he might not become justifiably conceited because of the "abundance of revelations," the privileged nature of his experience. The Lord said to him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power achieves its purpose in weakness." Because of his superlative experience, Paul ran the risk of disqualifying himself for apostolic service by becoming conceited, by entertaining delusions about his own importance.(30) Consequently, God made him weak by the imposition of this affliction, in order to remind him constantly of his need for dependence on another power.(31)

 

Thus, contrary to the claims of his detractors, Paul would argue that he is not naturally weak; rather, God has made him weak by means of this "thorn in the flesh."(32) Whatever it is, Paul's "thorn in the flesh" must be known to the Corinthians, and probably provides warrant for his opponents' judgment of him as weak.(33) Although he would have no choice but to concede that this "thorn in the flesh" is indeed a manifestation of weakness, Paul no doubt would hasten to add that it was imposed on him from without, by God, and that without this he would be as impressive as the "super-apostles." (In fact, Paul's view seems to be that, apart from this "thorn in the flesh," there is no basis to conclude that he is "weak.") In other words, because Paul was so dangerously close to disqualifying himself as an apostle through conceit, God artificially imposed upon him a weakness, which to others may wrongly appear as endemic to him.(34)

 

Earlier in 2 Corinthians, Paul's gives the same sort of interpretation to his undignified escape from Damascus by being lowered from the city wall in a basket. Having compared himself favorably to the super-apostles in 2 Cor 11:21b-29, he steps back, and, in a sense, retracts what he has just said: "But if I must boast, I will boast in the things that show my weakness." He then relates this incident as a counterbalance to his previous "boastings."(35) In his view, God intentionally humiliated him in this way in order to give him a much-needed sense of the need of reliance on another power. Paul did not leave the city as a conquering hero, but stole away surreptitiously under the cover of darkness.

 

Paul concludes his account of the origin of his "thorn on the flesh": "Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ (hê dunamis tou Christou) may rest upon me" (12:9; see 13:4). The process of reasoning upon which this conclusion depends is as follows: Paul wills to have the power of Christ rest upon him because he knows that no one, including himself, has any inherent capacity for apostolic ministry; he knows he has no such inherent capacity because his "thorn in the flesh" has made him weak and thereby serves to reminds him continually of his inherent incapacity. So, hypothetically, if others boast in their strength, Paul will boast in his weaknesses, because to do so is to be in a position to receive the power of Christ. (Actually, Paul can only boast in the "weakness" of his "thorn in the flesh," which probably manifests itself as "weaknesses.") When he writes in 2 Cor 12:10 that, "When I am weak, then I am strong," Paul means that only when he knows that he is weak does the possibility of relying on that other power, the power of Christ, open up. Without this ever-present reminder of his inherent incapacity, this possibility would be closed off, because the possibility is actualized only as a function of the human will. The confession of his inherent incapacity is a pre-condition of the ingression of the power of Christ.(36) The pedagogical effect of his "thorn in the flesh," therefore, is invaluable to Paul's apostolic ministry; his affliction prevents his entering into a state of illusory and unfruitful self-confidence, which would cut him off from the power of Christ.(37) Paul explains that the pedagogical benefit of the "thorn in the flesh" is also derivable from other sources; it is only one example from one of several classes of human experience useful for inculcating dependency on another power. His list includes "weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties" (12:10).(38) (As mentioned, in 2 Cor 11, Paul gives the example of his undignified escape from Damascus.) As argued above, weaknesses are personal inadequacies, ways in which a person falls short of a heroic ideal. Whatever his "thorn in the flesh" is, it is detrimental to Paul's claim not to be weak. The other elements in the list originate from without, being causally tied to human powerlessness as their condition: each is imposed on a person powerless to prevent its imposition. So whatever serves to bring the apostle up short, whatever confronts him with the paucity of his own resources to meet the exigencies of his apostolic vocation is useful to the end of inculcating an attitude of dependency on another power. Nothing succeeds like success in breeding self-confidence; self-confidence would not be self-confidence unless the self-confident one is convinced of the sufficiency of his innate abilities. According to Paul, however, there is no place in the apostolic ministry for self-confidence for reasons already stated. So when Paul experiences success in his ministry as the apostle to the gentiles, God strategically forestalls the natural movement to self-confidence occasioned by his success by enforced weakness, as well as by "insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties."

 

Those things that serve to bring Paul up short often entail suffering. If his "thorn in the flesh," which is a manifestation of weakness, is some sort of physical ailment, it would produce certain unpleasant effects. But even if it is not, it must still issue in some sort of suffering, for Paul recounts that the purpose of his "thorn in the flesh," as a messenger of Satan, is to torment (kolaphizein) him (12:7). The "insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties" routinely borne by Paul likewise issue in suffering. There is nothing as useful as suffering to drive home the point of one's inherent incapacity, because suffering brings one face to face with one's frailty and limitations.(39) Thus, suffering functions to counterbalance the effects of success by reminding Paul that his success has not come from himself, but only through the power of Christ.(40) As a result, he is in a position to appropriate that other power. This is the pedagogical benefit of suffering.


2.1.2. 2 Cor 4:7-12

 

Although in 2 Cor 11:23-29 he relates the hardships that he has borne as a servant of Christ as an indicator of his apostleship, Paul, it seems, has suffered a little too much for his detractors in Corinth. The fact that Paul includes references to his sufferings as part of his self-defense in 2 Cor 11 implies that his remaining opponents view this as a genuine mark of an apostle. The hardships that he has experienced would not detract from his claim to be an apostle, but actually commend him as such, since they would be an index of his service for Christ.(41) Nevertheless, it appears that Paul's opponents in Corinth are uncomfortable with the frequency and the severity of his hardships, and, as a result, are reluctant to be identified with him. In their view, Paul and his associates ought to move much more effortlessly through the Mediterranean basin winning converts and thwarting their opponents. He does not fit their heroic ideal of an apostle. J. T. Fitzgerald has ably demonstrated that suffering was accepted as a mark of the sage in Hellenistic culture.(42) Since Paul's opponents were influenced by the Hellenistic notion of wisdom and wisdom teachers, it would come as no surprise if they associated suffering with being wise; suffering would serve to demonstrate their mastery over their peristaseis, thereby showing themselves superior to the common run of humanity. Nevertheless, their suffering would not be so intense and so debilitating as to obscure their status as wise, as in the case of Paul; unlike him, they would remain relatively unaffected by their afflictions, unhindered in their work.

 

In 2 Cor 4:7-12, however, Paul defends his excessive suffering as being valuable beyond measure. He begins in 2 Cor 4:1-6 by describing the nature of the ministry to which he and his associates have been called. They do not behave deceitfully and do not falsify the word of God. Rather, they commend themselves to the consciences of all people in the sight of God by clearly setting forth the truth. Paul says that, although the gospel may be veiled, it is only veiled to those who are perishing, whose eyes the god of this age has blinded. He insists that he and his colleagues do not preach themselves, but the Lord Jesus Christ. In 2 Cor 4:7, Paul then says that he and his co-workers "have this treasure in clay containers." He compares the gospel of which he is a servant to a valuable content, a treasure, whereas he and his fellow servants of the gospel are merely common and fragile containers used to hold this valuable content.(43) As a metaphor of the apostolic vocation, this is apt: although they are common and fragile men, as all human beings are in the sight of God, Paul and his colleagues have been called to "give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (4:6). This is why the gospel is veiled to those who are perishing. They only see the clay containers and not their contents, and are thereby offended. The commonness and fragility of Paul and his associates are displayed through their excessive suffering. They are not heroic figures, who by their own strength are immune from such a fate; in fact, in God's sight, there are no such people.

 

Yet, while not relieving the apostles of this excessive suffering, nevertheless, God preserves them. Paul writes, "In every way we are afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed but not despairing; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed" (2 Cor 4:8-9). The apostles seem always to be on the verge of being overwhelmed by the suffering resultant from their commonness and fragility, and thereby of being rendered ineffectual, but are never actually overcome. It is this model of apostleship that Paul's residual opposition Corinthians find objectionable. They cannot fathom how men who are constantly teetering on the brink of personal collapse can be genuine apostles.

 

Paul's opponents have a point. Why would God operate in this manner? Why, as they assume, would God not choose glorious containers to hold the gospel, the glory of God? It only seems right that a container be appropriate to its content. Paul provides a justification for God's ways in 2 Cor 4:7: "We have this treasure in clay containers in order to show that the all-surpassing power (hê huperbole tês dunameos…tou theou) is of God (tou theou) and not of us." In other words, God's design is that all-including the clay containers themselves-should know that the power manifested in Paul and his co-workers comes exclusively from God.(44) If the apostles were Herculean in stature, there would always be the risk that any success would be construed as a divine-human synergism. But, when they operate as common and fragile human beings, being rescued constantly from perilous situations, it is clear that God's power alone is responsible for the success of the apostles.

 

Although he does not say so explicitly in 2 Cor 4:7-12, probably, Paul would see the pedagogical benefit of being reminded by means of excessive suffering that "the all-surpassing power is of God and not of us" as instilling an attitude of dependence on another power. As Paul makes clear elsewhere in 2 Corinthians (2 Cor 10-13), being of this attitude is the condition for the release of the power of Christ in his apostolic ministry.

 

What Paul says in 2 Cor 4:7 relates to his earlier statements in 1 Cor 1-3, made in the context of his handling of the Corinthians' dispute over their leaders. Paul's statement that he and his colleagues are merely common and fragile clay containers recalls his interpretation of the roles played by the leaders in the Corinthian church: "What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted and Apollos watered, but God caused the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who causes the growth" (1 Cor 3:5-7). In Paul's view, all who have leadership roles in the church are nothing more than mere instruments through whom God works, so that no distinctions can be made among them. They make no contribution to the outcome-the growth; only God does this. Paul describes his own initial success at Corinth in accordance with this model of apostleship. He explains that when he came he was unimpressive, being full of fear and trembling, and did not speak with "loftiness of speech or wisdom" (2:1). But this was in accordance with the will of God, in order that none who believed would have done so because of the winsomeness of the instrument: "My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but in the demonstration of the Spirit and power, in order that your faith might not depend on the wisdom of human beings but on the power of God" (2:4-5).


2.2. The Pedagogical Explanation in 2 Cor 1:8-11

 

The previous articulations of the pedagogical explanation of the suffering of the righteous are prompted by Paul's need to defend his claim to apostleship against his remaining detractors in the Corinthian church. He attempts to justify the validity of his claim to apostleship in response to his alleged incompetence. There is, however, another statement of the pedagogical argument that does not seem directly related to the dispute over Paul's right to be an apostle.

 

Early in 2 Corinthians, Paul relates a devastating, but unidentified experience that he and his colleagues underwent in Asia (This assumes that the use of the first person plural means that Paul was not alone). The experience was so burdensome that it was beyond their ability to bear it, so that they felt themselves to be under a sentence of death. They even gave up all hope of survival: when he says that they "despaired of life itself" (1:8), Paul probably means that they were ready and even expecting to die. Whatever it was, this perilous situation must have been something other than being the focus of the hostility of the riotous mob in Ephesus, because Paul's life was never really in danger during that incident (Acts 19:23-41).

 

Being led to the point of despairing of life itself and then being rescued by God from the situation that led him to despair has an important pedagogical benefit for Paul. The value is in direct proportion to the suffering experienced. He explains that the purpose of this crushing experience was "in order that we might not have confidence in ourselves but in God who raises the dead" (1:9). In other words, finding himself in a situation outside his control, one of intense suffering likened unto being under a sentence of death, and then seeing God rescue him and his associates from this has driven home for Paul the reality of his own powerlessness and, conversely, his need to rely on another power.(45) This type of experience serves to delineate clearly the distinction between his inherent lack of power and that other power working through him.(46) As Roetzel puts it, "The proper antidote to such boasting, Paul suggests, is the brutality of human experience itself."(47) Without experiences like this, Paul would have the tendency to confuse that other power with his own native ability, which is fully understandable, since human beings are often inclined to think better of themselves than is actually warranted. But, ironically, to do so would result in a lack of power, because a condition for appropriating another power is the will to do so. But the will to do so has for its condition the realization of one's need of another power. The experience of powerlessness fosters such a realization.


3. Conclusion

 

In 2 Cor 10-13, Paul attempts to convince his remaining opponents among the Corinthians that, contrary to first impressions, he is as qualified as the "super-apostles," who have infiltrated their church. Ironically, however, considering oneself to be thus qualified is to be patently unqualified in God's estimation. All human beings offer nothing to God. In Paul's view, the realization that this is the human condition is the single qualification for being an apostle. Without this insight, there would be no will to rely on another power; without the will to rely on another power, no human being could accomplish anything, because the power of Christ power is manifested only through the one who wills that it be so. Entertaining delusions about one's own importance in the divine economy of salvation by wrongly imagining that the apostolic calling is a divine-human synergism is to disconnect oneself from that other power. This is why Paul is glad to suffer under the burden of his "thorn in the flesh." The same is true of other types of suffering, those deriving from "insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties." Such suffering continually reminds him of his need for dependence on another power. Suffering has a pedagogical benefit. In 2 Cor 4:7-12, Paul interprets his excessive suffering as the means by which all would know that the power at work in him and his colleagues is from God. Having realized that he is comparable to a common and fragile clay pot, Paul is in a position to appropriate that power by an act of the will. The same result issued from his experience of intense suffering described in 2 Cor 1:9: being brought to the point of utter despair drives him to rely on God alone.

 

 

 

 

 

Footnotes

 

(1) R. Tannehill recognizes this dimension to Paul’s understanding of Christian suffering, but partially distorts it by interpreting it in Bultmannian fashion as a corollary of Paul’s view of justification by faith. Sin is defined primarily as self-dependence leading to the possibility of boasting, whereas justification by grace through faith is the renunciation of all self-dependence and the very possibility of boasting. Suffering as participation in Christ’s death has the positive function of preventing "the believer from trusting in himself and so falling back into the old life" (Dying and Rising With Christ [BNZW 32; Berlin: Topelmann, 1967] 77). Although it does have conceptual parallels to his teaching on justification, Paul’s pedagogical explanation of the suffering of the righteous is applied specifically to Christian service.

(2) See, for example, K. T. Kleinknecht, who finds no important tradition-historical antecedents to Paul’s reflections on his apostolic suffering in 2 Cor 10-13 (Der leidende Gerechtfertigte. Die alttestamentlich-jüdische Tradition vom ’leidenden Gerechte’ und ihre Rezeption bei Paulus [WUNT 2, 13; 2d ed.; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1988] 289-95).

(3) J. T. Fitzgerald claims that there are Stoic parallels to the idea of divine power enabling a human being to remain imperturbable in the midst of all afflictions (Cracks in an Earthen Vessel [SBLDS 99; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988] 80-82, 170-72). This is misleading, however, because, insofar as Stoicism pantheistically identifies God with reason, to say that God enables a man is the same as saying that a man as reasonable enables himself. Paul’s theology is too different for his views on suffering to be compared so facilely to Stoicism, as Fitzgerald tends to do.

(4) See Pss 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 13, 14, 17, 25, 26, 27 (7-14), 28, 35, 38, 39, 40 (14-18), 42, 43, 51, 54, 55, 57, 59, 61, 64, 69, 71, 77 (1-16), 86, 88, 102, 109, 120, 130, 139, 140, 141, 142, 143.

(5) It is interesting that in Ps 71, another psalm of lament, the author does not find suffering in itself to be problematic, so long as God acts to restore him: "Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up" (71:20).

(6) See Pss 18 (1-31), 30, 32, 40 (1-12), 41, 63, 92, 94 (12-23), 111, 116, 136, 138.

(7) In most of the psalms of lament and the psalms of thanksgiving the distress experienced by the psalmist is caused or at least aggravated by the actions of his enemies.

(8) See H. Lichtenberger, Studien zum Menschenbild in Texten der Qumrangemeinde (SUNT 15; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1980) 77-80. Human beings are innately sinful and weak and, therefore, dependent upon God to be obedient. The founder says, "And the path of man is not secure except by the spirit that God creates for him, to perfect the path of the sons of man, in order that all his creatures know the strength of his power" (1QH 4.31-32). In this passage, the spirit is the principle of obedience implanted in human beings by God. (By it a person’s way is made perfect.) Naturally, being a witness of this transformative process leads to becoming unambiguously cognizant that God, or "the strength of his power," is the sole causal agent enabling obedience. Knowing firsthand the inherent weakness and sinfulness of human beings will naturally lead one to a recognition of God’s power at work in a person "perfecting his path." When a person is found to obey God habitually no other conclusion can be reached than that God has made this possible by a principle of obedience, "the spirit that God creates." This is similar to Paul’s view that those who observe a "weak" apostle accomplishing great things will be led to attribute the apostle’s success to God at work in the apostle. Nothing is said in 1QH 4.31-32, however, about the recognition of one’s weakness and sinfulness as the condition for appropriating "the spirit that God creates."

(9) The idea of God’s power set in contrast with human powerlessness is explicitly set forth in 1QM 11.4-5, where the author declares, "Truly the battle is yours and the power from you. It is not ours." This is a confession that God alone will effect the eschatological destruction of the sons of darkness and salvation of the sons of light.

(10) See G. Maier, Mensch und freier Wille (WUNT 12; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1971) 304-305; J. Schüpphaus, Die Psalmen Salomos: Ein Zeugnis Jerusalemer Theologie und Frömmigkeit in der Mitte des vorchristlichen Jahrhunderts (ALGHJ 7; Leiden: Brill, 1977) 107-16.

(11) See C. J. Roetzel, "’As Dying, and Behold We Live’ Death and Resurrection in Paul’s Theology," Int 46 (1992) 5-18, esp. p. 7.

(12) There are some who hold that Paul’s opponents in 2 Corinthians are the same as those in 1 Corinthians (see, for example, K. Fischer, Die Bedeutung des Leidens in der Theologie des Paulus. Diss. Berlin, 1967, 35-57; W. Schmithals, Die Gnosis in Corinth (2 ed.; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1965); ET Gnosticism in Corinth [Nashville: Abingdon, 1971]). But this seems mistaken. That Paul’s opponents in 2 Corinthians infiltrated the church some time after its founding is supported by the following evidence. In 2 Cor 10:6, Paul distinguishes the Corinthians, whose obedience will be complete, from his opponents, whose disobedience will be punished, suggesting that they are not a part of the original congregation. In 2 Cor 10:12-18, Paul disputes the intruders’ right to be in Corinth, since they are infringing on his territory; this implies that they arrived sometime after the founding of the church. Finally, in 2 Cor 11:4, Paul describes his opponents as those who came to the Corinthians and preached another Jesus than the Jesus that he and his associates preached. (See E. Käsemann, "Die Legitimät des Apostels. Eine Untersuchung zu II Korinther 10-13," ZNW 41 [1942] 33-71; G. Friedrich, "Die Gegner des Paulus im 2. Korintherbrief," Abraham unser Vater. Juden und Christen im Gespräch über die Bibel. Festschrift für Otto Michel zum 60. Geburtstag [ed. M. Hengel and P. Schmidt; Leiden: Brill, 1963] 181-215; D. Georgi, Die Gegner des Paulus im 2. Korintherbrief. Studien zur religiösen Propaganda in der Spätantik [WMANT 11; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1964]; ET The Opponents of Paul in Second Corinthians [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986]; C. K. Barrett, "Paul’s Opponents in 2 Corinthians," NTS 17 [1970/71] 233-54; J. Sumney, Identifying Paul’s Opponents [JSNTSup 40; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1990].)

(13) Contrary to Käsemann, the "false apostles" (11:13-15) probably should be identified with the "super-apostles" (11:5; 12:11) ("Die Legitimät des Apostels," 37-52; see also C. K. Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians [London: Black, 1973] 28-32; 274-79; id., "Paul’s Opponents in 2 Corinthians"; R. Martin, 2 Corinthians [Waco, TX: Word, 1986] 340-42; S. Hafemann, Suffering and Ministry in the Spirit. Paul’s Defense of His Ministry in II Corinthians 2:14-3:3 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990] 147-48). (M. Thrall offers a slightly different variation of this position, arguing that Paul supposed that some of the "super-apostles," i.e., original apostles, may actually have been present in Corinth ["Super-Apostles, Servants of Christ, and Servants of Satan," JSNT 6 (1980): 42-57].) Käsemann’s point that Paul would hardly compare himself to men whom he has dismissed as servants of Satan ignores the fact that not all of the Corinthians view these men in these terms ("Die Legitimät des Apostels," 42). Since a minority within the church still favor these intruders over Paul, contrary to his better judgment, Paul is compelled to lay his credentials alongside what they claim as their credentials, in order to prove his equality or superiority to them using their own criteria. (As will become evident, Paul’s reluctance stems from the fact that this list of criteria is deficient in one very important respect.) So, for example, when Paul calls them "servants of Christ," (11:23) he means those who claim to be servants of Christ and are accepted as such by some of the Corinthians, but who are not actually (contrary to Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 292-94; "Paul’s Opponents," 237; Thrall, "Super-Apostles, Servants of Christ, and Servants of Satan," 51). He no doubt reasons that only when those comprising this obstreperous minority within the Corinthian church are convinced that he is not inferior to these men will they consider his claim that these men are in fact preaching another Jesus (11:4). Until such a time anything that Paul say against these men will be put down to petty rivalry. Sumney argues convincingly that the context of the so-called "Fool’s Speech" in which Paul refers to the super-apostles makes it probable that these are his opponents in Corinth (11:1-12:13) (Identifying Paul’s Opponents, 159-60). First, the use of the term u`perli,an is consistent with Paul’s satirical tone in this section. Second, since in this context he is disputing with his opponents, it would be incongruous for Paul to mention the Jerusalem apostles in the prologue (11:5) and epilogue (12:11) of the Fool’s Speech. Third, the probable connection between 11:5 and 11:6 means that Paul is answering in 11:6 one of the alleged indicators of his inferiority to the super-apostles. It does not seem likely that Paul would be comparing himself to the Jerusalem apostles in 11:5-6 (see also Thrall, "Super-Apostles, Servants of Christ, and Servants of Satan," 45).

(14) The exact identity of these "false apostles" and their theological differences with Paul has long been a topic of debate among scholars; unfortunately, no consensus has emerged (see the discussion of positions in Martin, 2 Corinthians, 326-56). For my purposes, I shall forego a determination of the exact identity of these intruders; rather, as much as possible, I shall be satisfied with only what can be clearly inferred about them from 2 Corinthians, however many unknowns still remain. For a similar approach, see G. Barth, "Die Eignung des Verkündigers in 2 Kor 2:14-3:6," Kirche. Festschrift für Günther Bornkamm zum 75. Geburstag (ed. D. Lührmann and G. Strecker; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1980) 258-60; D. Black, Paul, Apostle of Weakness. Astheneia and Its Cognates in Pauline Literature (New York: Peter Lang, 1984) 85-88. My general orientation to the question of the identity of the Paul’s opponents in 2 Corinthians is as historically cautious and conservative as that proposed by Sumney (Identifying Paul’s Opponents).

(15) P. Hughes, Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962) xxv. I agree with Hughes that the postulation of two audiences-the reconciled majority and the obstinate minority-explains the differences in tone and content between 2 Cor 1-9 and 2 Cor 10-13.

(16) See J. H. Schütz, Paul and the Anatomy of Apostolic Authority (SNTSMS 26; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975) 165-86.

(17) Sumney includes as "Explicit Statements" concerning Paul’s opponents at Corinth 2 Cor 2:17; 3:1b; 5:12, and finds allusions to them in 2 Cor 1:13-14; 1:12, 17; 2:16b; 3:1a; 3:5-6a; 4:2-3; 4:7-9; 5:11; 5:16; 6:3-4; 4:5; 7:2 (Identifying Paul’s Opponents). It should be noted, however, that Sumney holds that 2 Cor 1-9 and 10-13 are two different letters, even though the opponents in each are the same.

(18) H. D. Betz argues that, in spite of its distinctly Christian elements, Paul’s self-defense in 2 Cor 10-13 relies heavily upon what he calls the tradition of Socratic humanism (Der Apostle Paulus und die sokratische Tradition [BHT 45; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1972]). (In this he adopts Windisch’s methodological point of departure of explaining 2 Cor 10-13 against the background of Hellenistic traditions). According to Betz, the accusation against Paul by his opponents at Corinth is that he is a goes, a religious deceiver or charlatan (19). In order to refute this charge, Paul consciously identifies with the Socratic tradition; his goal is convince the Corinthians that he is a true philosopher, whereas his opponents are mere Sophists. In fact, maligned by what he considers to be rhetoricians in the bad sense, Paul, in good Socratic tradition, refuses to defend himself in like manner. Thus, although he renounces apologia in 2 Cor 12:19, according to Betz, Paul is really saying that he has renounced the use of rhetoric to defend the truth, as all true philosophers have, beginning with Socrates (18). Form-critically, Betz identifies 2 Cor 10-13 as an instance of this sort of apologia, from the tradition of Socratic humanism, with well-established Topoi (39). The major weakness of Betz’s hypothesis is the absence of direct evidence that Paul appeals to the tradition of Socratic humanism in his self-defense. As Betz himself recognizes, Paul never mentions Socrates in 2 Cor 10-13; rather his appeal is to the example of Christ (2 Cor 10:1) (66-67). (Betz believes, however, that this can be explained away.) In other words, the evidence presented by Betz is circumstantial, and, given the probability that Paul was only marginally influenced by Hellenism in his theology, such data should probably be interpreted differently. The parallels with Stoic and Cynic philosophy in 2 Cor 10-13 are superficial or accidental, and do not reflect the influence of the former on Paul’s thought.

(19) See E. Güttgemanns, Der leidende Apostle und sein Herr. Studien zur paulinischen Christologie (FRLANT 90; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1966) 95-96.

(20) There is another related accusation brought against Paul. When he writes, "I am in no way inferior to the super-apostles, even though I am nothing," what he probably means is "even though they claim that I am nothing" (12:11) (contrary to H. D. Betz, who thinks that Paul chooses the designation as a means of identifying with the Socratic humanistic tradition [Der Apostle Paulus und die sokratische Tradition, 121-22]). Nonetheless, it seems that being weak was the main idiom chosen by the Corinthians to express their contempt for Paul.

(21) Earlier in 1 Corinthians the charge of being weak is associated with being "foolish" (moros) and "dishonorable" (atimos) (1 Cor 4:10). In contrast, the Corinthians are strong, wise and held in high esteem.

(22) Barth, "Die Eignung des Verkündigers in 2 Kor 2:14-3:6," 260-61.

(23) The fact that Paul takes over their definition of the word means that M. Barre’s interpetation of weakness to mean persecution is to be rejected ("Qumran and the ’Weakness’ of Paul," CBQ 42 [1980] 216-27). Since it is a term of reproach used by the Greek-speaking Corinthians, which Paul takes over and semantically transforms, Barre’s position that "to be weak" is a translation of the Hebrew kshl, "to stumble," is untenable. The same is true of J. Jervell’s interpretation of weakness as illness ("Der Schwache Charismatiker," Rechtfertigung. Festschrift für Ernst Käsemann zum 70. Geburtstag [eds. J. Friedrich, W. Pühlmann and P. Stuhlmacher; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1976] 185-98, esp. 191-92). Both fail to take into consideration that the term derives from Paul’s opponents and its meaning is to be inferred from what Paul says in his own defense.

(24) H. Windisch, Der zweite Korintherbrief (9th ed.; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1924) 331.

(25) Betz, Der Apostle Paulus und die sokratische Tradition, 57-69. Betz argues that Paul adopts the phrase idiotes to logo, "einen Topos aus der sokratischen Tradition" (66), for the purpose of calling to mind the traditional distinction between philosophers and Sophists: "Mit seinem ’Zugeständnis’ 11,6 rückt er automatisch auf die Seite der ’Philosophen’, während die, die als einen Mangel erklären, ebenso automatisch auf die Seite der ’Sophisten’ zu stehen kommen" (66). According to Betz, such terminology would be easily recognized by the Corinthians as deriving from Cynic philosophy and so serve to situate Paul’s self-defense in that ideological context, to which they would be sympathetic. His goal is to denounce the use of rhetoric in defending himself and so renounce all apologia. It is true that Paul would agree with a Cynic philosopher that rhetorical skill was inferior to knowledge, but he would do so for very different reasons (see 1 Cor 3-4). Thus, it is unlikely, contrary to Betz, that Paul intends that his readers understand himself to be aligning himself with Cynicism. As already indicated, Betz must explain the fact that Paul never explicitly refers to Socrates in his alleged use of the tradition of Socratic humanism.

(26) Betz argues that, in response to the accusation of being "weak" in person (10:10), Paul describes himself as tapeinos (10:1). This means that the term does not derive from his opponents, but originates with Paul, who characterizes himself in this way as a strategy by which to refute his opponents. Paul uses the term ironically, in order to turn the accusation on its head; he is implicitly appealing to the tradition of Socratic humanism, especially Stoic and Cynic philosophy, in which tapeino,thj is valued ironically as an indicator of the true philospher, as opposed to the Sophist. He writes, "Diese Verteidigung ist für Paulus deshalb so bedeutsam, weil er sich nicht nur durch den Rückgriff auf seine Christologie verteidigt, sondern zugelich auf eine bestimmte Tradition hellenistischer Kultur, die des ’sokratischen Humanismus’ zurückgreift, welcher offenbar besonders in der kynisch-stoischen Philosophie weitergegeben wurde" (Der Apostle Paulus und die sokratische Tradition, 55). In effect, according to Betz, Paul equates the accusation of being "weak" with that of being "timid," and then uses the latter ironically as part of his defense as a true apostle, insofar as an apostle is a type of true philosopher. Betz also points out that Paul’s defense is also inseparable from his Christologie: "Paulus setz seine ’tapeinotes’ in Beziehung zu Tod und Auferstehung Christi" (55). Also, according to Betz, Paul’s statement that he is bold when absent from the Corinthians (10:1) is a justification for his sending harsh letters; his goal is to convince them that he exhibits the correct balance between tapeinotes and boldness, which is also a characteristic of the true philosopher. While it is true to say that there are parallels between Pauline and Cynic anthropology, insofar as both seek to overturn human values, it is unlikely that Paul appeals to the tradition of Socratic humanism in his self-defense. Betz’s judgment that, "Fraglich ist aber, ob es sich um ein ’Zitat’ handelt. Die 1. Person sing. verbeitet eine solche Annahme" (46) is very fragile, for it is equally conceivable that Paul quotes his accusers but does so ironically by using the first person singular (as opposed to quoting directly from his opponents, as he does in 10:10). More importantly, Paul gives no explicit indication that he is drawing upon the tradition of Socratic humanism; he does, however, explicitly support his position on Christological grounds (10:1).

(27) Betz, Der Apostle Paulus und die sokratische Tradition, 56-57.

(28) See J. Cambier, "Le critère paulinien de l’apostolat en 2 Cor 12,6s.," Biblica 43 (1962) 481-518; Jervell, "Der Schwache Charismatiker," 197; see A. Schlatter, Paulus der Bote Jesu. Eine Deutung seiner Briefe an die Korinther (3 ed.; Stuttgart: Calwer, 1962) 668; Windisch, Der zweite Korintherbrief, 380.

(29) See Jervell, "Der schwache Charismatiker"; H. Windisch, Paulus und Christus. Ein biblisch-religiogeschichtlicher Vergleich (UNT 24; Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs’sche Buchhandlung, 1934) 188; L. Cerfaux, "L’antinomie paulienne de la vie apostolique" RevScRel 39 (1951) 221-35; Black, Paul, Apostle of Weakness, 129-167; 170-72; 234-40.

(30) Betz argues that Paul’s account of his journey to heaven (12:1-10) is "ironischer Polemik," being a self-parody, and is not intended to serve as "proof" of his apostleship (Der Apostle Paulus und die sokratische Tradition, 70-100; see also id., "Eine Christus-Aretalogie bei Paulus [2 Kor 12, 7-10] ZThK 66 [1969] 288-305). The irony consists in the fact that, after his experience, he is unable to prove that this event ever occurred: he heard "unutterable words," and did not receive a healing from his thorn in the flesh, an indicator of his "weakness." The parody of the miracle story is a well-known Hellenistic genre designed to expose the folly of human pride and pretension, which is Paul’s purpose in his self-parody. Paul’s actual intention is to refute the assumption that appeal to miracles is a legitimate means of proving one’s apostleship. According to Betz, Paul hopes that the Corinthians will draw the conclusion that, since his own miracle story is refutable, since it lacks definitive proof, so can also the miracle stories of his opponents; in other words, miracles stories are not even self-authenticating and therefore cannot serve as evidence for any other truth claim. This would have the effect of calling into question the credibility of Paul’s opponents when they appeal to their miracles as proof of their apostleship. Betz writes, "Wenn das, was als ’Evidenz’ ausgegeben wird, gleichwohl ’Betrug’ sein kann, läßt sich die Möglichkeit nicht abweisen, daß die Gegner des Paulus, die in so reichem Maße über derartige Evidenz verfügen, gleichwohl Betrüger sind" (94). It is certainly true that Paul eschews boasting (see Windisch, Der zweite Korintherbrief, 316), but he does believe that signs, wonders and miracles function as confirmations of the truth of the gospel for its hearers. Betz’s claim that Paul wants to demonstrate that all miracles stories are open to refutation is contrary to the New Testament’s position-including Paul’s-on the role of signs, wonders and miracles. Thus, it is probable that Paul genuinely intends his journey to heaven to function as proof of his apostleship, contrary to Betz.

(31) See Schlatter, Paulus der Bote Jesu, 666-69; H. Saake, "Paulus als Ekstatiker. Pneumatologische Beobachtungen zu 2 Kor, 12,1-10," Bib 53 (1972) 404-10.

(32) C. Marvin Pate offers an unconvincing interpretation of Paul’s discourse about his "thorn in the flesh"; in my judgment, Pate forces the data to conform to his hypothesis of the centrality of suffering as the means to the restoration of the Adamic glory (The Glory of Adam and the Affliction of the Righteous [Lewiston: Mellen Biblical Press, 1993] 108-42). Pate argues that Paul’s ascent to the third heaven or "paradise" represents a proleptic experience of the glory held in reserve for believers. Moreover, the power of Christ resting on Paul is a present participation in heavenly glory. Yet, Paul receives his "thorn in the flesh," which reminds him that the way to glory is through righteous suffering. Pate writes, "Paul’s mystic rapture to heaven and his subsequent thorn in the flesh is but another way of saying that Adam’s lost glory is restored through righteous suffering" (114). That Paul intends what Pate claims that he does is highly unlikely; there is no evidence that Paul is thinking that his ascent to "paradise" and his "thorn in the flesh" are as Pate claims. Pate then list what he considers to be parallels to this view from Jewish and Christian texts that associate suffering and the restoration of Adam’s glory. Apart from the fact that Adam does not figure prominently in many of the texts cited, Pate is unclear as to whether suffering per se is the cause of glory (i.e., salvation) or whether suffering and salvation are respective effects of obedience. In the texts that he cites, in this age obedience leads to glory or salvation. Although obedience may also lead to suffering in this age, suffering per se is not the cause of glory; rather suffering and glory are co-efficient of obedience. (It is possible that, in some cases, obedience may not lead to suffering but will still result in glory.) This clarification weakens Pate’s hypothesis of the inseparability of suffering and glory. Pate continues by seeking for non-existent allusions to Adamic theology in 2 Cor 12:1-10, and then offers an equally implausible interpretation of Paul’s "thorn in the flesh" as persecution from enemies; Pate claims that the term "thorn in the flesh" alludes to the tradition of Jesus’ persecution and crucifixion. Like Jesus, Paul must undergo suffering in order to receive glory. These elements of Pate’s exegesis are so tenuous as to need no refutation; he is clearly exceeding the limits of the evidence.

(33) See Saake, "Paulus als Ekstatiker," 407; Käsemann, "Die Legitimät des Apostels," 60.

(34) Jervell is correct in pairing extraordinary physical presence with qualifications for being a "Charismatiker" ("Der Schwache Charismatiker," 192). The exact identity of Paul’s "thorn in the flesh," however, still continues to be a matter of dispute among scholars; see Martin’s discussion of the various proposals (2 Corinthians, 412-16).

(35) See L. Cerfaux, "L’antinomie paulienne de la vie apostolique," 229; Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 303; R. Spittler, "The Limits of Ecstasy: An Exegesis of 2 Corinthians 12:1-10," Current Issues in Biblical and Patristic Interpretation (ed. G. F. Hawthorne; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975) 260.

(36) See Windisch, Der zweite Korintherbrief, 391-92; id., Paulus und Christus, 192-93, 232-34; E. Käsemann, "Gottesgerichtigkeit bei Paulus," ZTK 58 (1961) 367-78; ET "The Righteousness of God in Paul," New Testament Questions of Today (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1969) 168-82; Tannehill, Dying and Rising With Christ, 100. G. O’Collins confuses a logical precondition with a temporal precondition when he objects to this interpretation ("Power Made Perfect in Weakness," CBQ 33 [1971] 528-37, esp. p. 536). When he operates in the power of Christ, Paul does so as simultaneously weak; in his weakness he must learn to rely on another power. See also Güttgemanns’s two unconvincing objections to interpreting Paul as saying in 2 Cor 12:9 that a condition for having the power of Christ rest on him is his recognition ("boasting") that he is weak (Der leidende Apostle und sein Herr, 169-70).

(37) See Spittler, "The Limits of Ecstasy."

(38) Black interprets Paul as follows: "Weaknesses is most likely a general term incorporating within it the following four groups which may be considered evidences or manifestations of the infirmities of the apostle" (Paul, Apostle of Weakness, 158). I think that, given the context, it is more likely that these are discrete items. Weaknesses are the way in which Paul’s "weakness" manifests itself.

(39) See also Phil 4:13.

(40) Paul makes a similar point in his polemic against his opponents in 2:14-3:6. He describes the office of the apostle in 2:14-16a, and then asks, "Who is sufficient for these things?" His answer to this question comes in 3:5: "Not that we are sufficient to make any claims on our own, but our sufficiency is from God, who makes us sufficient as servants of the new covenant" (see Georgi, Die Gegner des Paulus im 2. Korintherbrief, 222; ET 231-32; Barth, "Die Eignung des Verkündigers in 2 Kor 2:14-3:6," 262-63). Barth argues further that Paul distinguishes himself from his opponents by saying that he is a servant of the new covenant, not of the letter but the Spirit (3:6-11). According to Barth, the contrast between letter and Spirit is one between a sufficiency for ministry whose validity is publicly demonstrable and one whose validity is concealed by suffering and weakness. Apart from being much too on the speculative side, Barth’s position ignores the fact that Paul provides proof for his claim to be an apostle in 2 Cor 10-13, albeit unwillingly. In order to make Paul appear more Stoic, Fitzgerald wrongly claims that Paul is actually boasting that he is sufficient to be an apostle; Fitzgerald misses the point of Paul’s statement, even though he recognizes that Paul makes "clear that this sufficiency is a charisma and not a natural possession" (Cracks in an Earthen Vessel, 164-65).

(41) Contrary to Hafemann, Suffering and Ministry in the Spirit, 75. Sumney argues that Paul’s list of hardships in 2 Cor 11:23b-33 is ironic, intended to overturn the criteria of apostleship. He claims that Paul’s statement in 11:30 ("If I must boast, I will boast in the things that show my weaknesses") indicates that the preceding is designed to refute his opponents’ claim to apostleship by positing antithetical criteria of apostleship. Sumney explains, "He mentions experiences which show the inglorious nature of his life and interprets them as evidence of his weakness (v.30). Verse 30 shows that Paul is not giving the proof the Corinthians expect. From what we have seen of the opponents, we may infer that they claim powerful, glorious lives as evidence of their apostleship. But Paul has agreed to compare himself with them, but his evidence for the legitimacy of his ministry is their evidence against him. So he is rejecting their criteria of legitimacy" (Identifying Paul’s Opponents, 155). It is more probable, however, that some suffering was considered a mark of apostleship by his opponents. Paul’s statement in 11:30 is intended to stand in contrast to his "boasting" in 11:22-29, a boasting that included some suffering.

(42) Fitzgerald, Cracks in an Earthen Vessel, chap. 3. Fitzgerald’s interpretation of 2 Cor 4:7-12, however, is inadequate, since he tries to equate Paul with the suffering sage, not noticing that Paul is actually undermining the Hellenistic assumption shared by his opponents that self-sufficiency is a mark of the true apostle, i.e., sage. Paul’s point is not that he remains undisturbed (maintaining his "composure" or "serenity") in his inner man in the midst of his peristaseis, because to all observers, he does not, and this is what his opponents find offensive. Rather, his point is that God never allows him to be destroyed. Fitzgerald at times brings out the differences between Paul and Stoicism, but does not recognize that these actually impair his thesis.

(43) Barre translates the phrase in 1QH 11.3 as "And you have manifested your might through a creature of clay." He points out that the contrast between the weakness of a human being and the might of God parallels 2 Cor 4:7 ("Qumran and the `Weakness’ of Paul," 220-22).

(44) See W. Schrage, "Leid, Kreuz und Eschaton. Die Peristasen-Kataloge als Merkmale paulinischer theologia crucis und Eschatologie," EvT (34 (1974) 141-75, esp. 152.

(45) W. Schrage, "Leid, Kreuz und Eschaton. Die Peristasen-Kataloge als Merkmale paulinischer theologia crucis und Eschatologie," 152.

(46) See E. Synofzik, Die Gerichts und Vergeltungsaussagen bei Paulus. Eine traditions-geschichtliche Untersuchung (GTA 8; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1977) 22-23.

(47) Roetzel, "’As Dying, and Behold We Live’ Death and Resurrection in Paul’s Theology," 10.

 

 

   

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