FOR READERS: I have just started a new blog: xtremejesus.co which is intended to contribute to political and social debate from the point of view of the Jesus tradition. Some have found difficulty in accessing the site from their search engines and browsers. At present, Google Chrome gives it easily.
MEANWHILE, this old faithful blog continues to explore Paul’s Corinthian correspondence day by day. At present it is dealing with 2 Corinthians. I’m assuming that all his Corinthian letters were sent from Ephesos. The news headline is a reminder of the world we live in. The great amount of commentary on this site can be accessed by date from the archive, or by googling emmock.com and adding either a scripture reference or topic, e.g.: emmock.com John 3:16; or emmock.com punishment.
2 Corinthians 7Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
7 Therefore, my dear friends, since we have these promises, let us purify ourselves from everything that can defile either body or spirit, and strive to be completely holy, out of reverence for God.
2 Make room for us in your hearts — we haven’t wronged anyone, we haven’t corrupted anyone, we haven’t exploited anyone. 3 I am not saying this to put blame on you, for I have already said that you have a place in our hearts, whether we live together or die together; 4 that I am very confident in you; that I am very proud of you; that you have filled me with encouragement; and that in spite of all our troubles, I am overflowing with joy.
5 For indeed when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest. On the contrary, we faced all kinds of troubles — altercations without, apprehensions within. 6 But God, who encourages the downhearted, encouraged us with the arrival of Titus! 7 However, it was not only his arrival which encouraged us, but also how encouraged he was about you, as he told us how you long to see me, how distressed you are over my situation, how zealous you are in my defense — this news made me even happier!
8 If I caused you pain by my letter, I do not regret it. Even if I did regret it before — for I do see that that letter did distress you, though only for a short time — 9 now I rejoice not because you were pained, but because the pain led you to turn back to God. For you handled the pain in God’s way, so that you were not harmed by us at all. 10 Pain handled in God’s way produces a change of heart towards God which leads to deliverance, and there is nothing to regret in that! But pain handled in the world’s way produces only death. 11 For just look at what handling the pain God’s way produced in you! What earnest diligence, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what readiness to put things right! In everything you have proved yourselves blameless in the matter. 12 So even though I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of either the one who did the wrong or the one wronged, but so that before God you could see for yourselves how deep is your devotion to us. 13 This is the reason we have been encouraged.
Besides our own encouragement, we had the even greater joy of seeing how happy Titus was, because all of you set his mind at rest. 14 For I had boasted a little about you to him, and now I have not been made to look foolish. On the contrary, just as everything we have said to you is true, so too our boasting in front of Titus has proved true. 15 And his affection for you is all the greater as he remembers how ready you were to obey and how you received him with reverence and respect. 16 I am glad that I can have such complete confidence in you.
We don’t of course have the Corinthians view of the correspondence and are therefore unable to check Paul’s version against theirs, but we can see that Paul wants them to see it positively, and therefore provides them with a positive interpretation of what has happened. We can deduce that a) the Corinthian Assembly disciplined one of its members, maybe for sexual behaviour, possibly for serious disrespect to Paul; b) accepted Paul’s role as one of the original emissaries of Jesus and c) dissolved the cliques which were dividing the Assembly. Obviously that looks like a victory for Paul and he is at pains to suggest that it’s actually a victory for everyone. The Corinthians have found out how to deal with a divergence from the Gospel and they done so with speed and thoroughness. Paul has been reassured about his role as emissary of Jesus but has also benefited from a demonstration of the respect and affection of the Corinthians.
Paul doesn’t want the issue to seem simply personal and so he mentions Titus, who represents the wider Assembly of Jesus. The Corinthians have by their actions demonstrated that Paul’s pride in them is fully justified. Some of this seems a little clumsy to me, but it’s clear that Paul wants the Corinthians to feel good about what they’ve done.
Given that these letters would have been read aloud in the Assembly, we can see that they constitute a new form of public
communication. The nearest secular equivalent would be letters from Roman office holders to subordinates. We don’t have many of these but those we have reveal a much briefer and more authoritarian language, as is appropriate in a hierarchy. Paul words have to do more work, because there is no recognised hierarchy in the messianic Assemblies, and he therefore has to persuade. His whole rhetoric has to be geared to winning hearts and minds as he has no other weapons. (I am reminded of the story of an aide of President Johnson who remonstrated against some particularly brutal bit of Johnsonian pressure, “But Mr President, we’re supposed to be winning hearts and minds!” Johnson looked at him and drawled, “Son if we’ve got them by the balls, the hearts and minds will follow”) Paul was creating communities of faith, in which that kind of pressure could not be used, because there were no power structures. Paul’s vehemence and passion are the language of equality.