Campbell, Constantine R. Advances in the Study of Greek: New Insights for Reading the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2015. 253 pp. Pb; $34.99.  Link to Zondervan   A Short Interview with Campbell

Campbell’s Advances in the Study of Greek intends to fill a significant gap in the education of a student of New Testament Greek. Most first year Greek classes are concerned with the details of the language (vocabulary and basic syntax). If students move on to intermediate Greek they are only introduced to linguistics in a very general sense.

Campbell, AdvancesChapter 1 is a history of Greek studies beginning the nineteenth century with George Winer.  The chapter consists of short paragraphs describing a particular scholar’s contribution to the field. For the modern linguistics, Campbell includes two pages on Saussure and another page and a half on Noam Chomsky. He considers Porter’s (1989) and Fanning’s (1990) to be “genuine advances in Greek scholarship” in the modern era (45).

Chapter 2 introduces the reader to linguistic theory, although the majority of the chapter is on functional linguistics as applied the study of New Testament Greek. The field of linguistics is rarely taught as a part of a New Testament Greek curriculum primarily because the focus of these classes is pragmatic exegesis of a text for sermon preparation. Campbell recommends Cotterell and Turner (IVP, 1989), Silva (Zondervan, 1990) and Black (Baker, 1995) as the best introductions for New Testament students.

Chapter 3 covers lexical semantics and lexicography. While most students are familiar with a lexicon such as Bauer (BAGD or BDAG) and possibly Louw and Nida, very little time can be spent in a basic Greek class looking at the methodologies used to create these resources. Most students treat a lexicon like a menu of possible meanings; they scan down the list until they see something that sounds about right. Campbell reviews the comments made by Frederic Danker and John A. L. Lee on the practice lexicography in order to show the difficult problem of defining words.

Chapter 4 deal with one of the more obscure issues for a student of New Testament Greek, deponency and the middle voice. One of the more difficult things for beginning Greek students to understand is the middle voice, primarily since it does not do much of anything. Throughout the twentieth century grammarians have slowly questioned describing the middle voice as “deponent,” culminating in Bernard Taylor’s paper in the Danker Festscrhrift (Biblical Greek Language and Lexicography, Eerdmans, 2004). Taylor’s complaint is the Latin category deponent was imported into Greek grammars. This issue was taken up at a 2010 SBL session in which all four presenters agreed the standard definition of deponency is flawed and ought to be replaced. Aside from the apocalyptic sign of four presenters at SBL agreeing on something, the issue is still undecided.

Chapter 5 wades into debate over verbal aspect, “the most controversial and volatile area of research in Greek studies today” (131). Campbell wrote a short monograph on this issue (Basics of Verbal Aspect, Zondervan, 2008) and some of that material is briefly summarized here. Verbal aspect refers to the kind of action (Akionsart) described by the tense of a verb. Most of the focus has been on the aorist although Campbell includes the perfect tense in this chapter. After briefly surveying the work of a dozen studies of Akionsart in recent years, Campbell shows how this often obscure topic relates to narrative structure and “planes of discourse.” While there is more work to be done, Campbell admonishes students of New Testament Greek to be engaged in this on-going discussion.

Chapter 6 covers idiolect, genre and register. Dialect refer to the style of a group, idolect refers to the style of a single writer. As Campbell observes, it is possible to read a few lines and recognize N. T. Wright or John Calvin because they have linguistic and syntactic features that characterize their writings. Genre and register are sometimes synonymous, but Campbell uses register to narrow genre to a particular situation. He uses the online genre of a blog as an example. Some blogs are personal journals intended for friends and family, but others are official statements from major news outlets like the New York Times. The genre is a “blog” while the register is the particular application of the genre. Applying this to the study of the New Testament, Campbell observes that genre and form account for “convergent aspectual patterns” (why things are similar in the gospels or Pauline literature) while idiolect and register account for “convergent aspectual patterns” (why things are different in the gospels or Pauline literature). These observations may be beneficial when examining the Synoptic Problem or the authenticity of epistles.

Chapter 7 and 8 form an introduction to discourse analysis, a field which has grown more popular in the past few years. Campbell first describes the system developed by M. A. K. Halliday, then contrasts this method with Stephen Levinsohn and Steven Runge. Discourse analysis goes beyond the sentence to understand the pericope, paragraph and wider units of a text. It is a holistic approach that tries to look at the big picture before moving to the details associated with exegetical method. As he has throughout the book, Campbell begins with a short survey of discourse analysis (SIL, Nida, Louw, etc.) Levinsohn uses connectives and other signals in the text to indicate how the text flows. His often obscure method has been critiqued by Stanley Porter, in fact, many of Campbell’s own criticism is drawn from Porter. Levinsohn’s student Steven Runge applies his method to the entire New Testament and some of his tools are available only through Logos Bible Software. Runge is more functional and he has applied his method to the entire New Testament. Campbell considers Runge’s work a “significant step forward for the advancement of discourse analysis with New Testament studies” (189), although there are some limitations because of his focus on sentence and clause rather than larger units.

Chapter 9 discusses the pronunciation of Greek, suggesting Erasmus may not have been correct (or was even joking) when he developed his system for pronouncing Greek. In fact, Campbell observes it is difficult to mount a serious argument in favor of the Erasmian pronunciation (204). It is simply inaccurate and any defense of the system is purely pedagogical (Dan Wallace, for example). Chris Caragounis, for example has challenged the pronunciation of some of the letters (β, γ, δ, ζ, θ, χ, η, υ, ω) as well as some of the diphthongs. Campbell provides a chart based on John A. L. Lee’s work with several alternative pronunciations, such as β as “v as in van.”

Finally, chapter 10 makes a series of suggestions for teaching Greek as well as how to maintain the formal education is over. Campbell weighs several methods for learning Greek such as Rod Decker’s Koine Greek Reader (Baker 2014) and immersion methods like Randall Buth’s Living Koine Greek (Biblical Language Center, 2007).

Conclusion. I have tried to introduce some of these issues in my second year Greek classes, but to this point there is no single textbook which incorporates basic syntactical issues like verbal aspect with linguistics and discourse analysis and even more obscure topics like pronunciation and idiolect. This book would make an excellent supplementary textbook in a second year Greek class since it introduces topics students will encounter as the advance in their language skills.

 

NB: Thanks to Zondervan for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Worship Me

 

Always read your life-verses in their proper context…

Liftin, Duane. Paul’s Theology of Preaching: The Apostle’s Challenge to the Art of Persuasion in Ancient Corinth. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015. 392 pp. Pb; $40.00.   Link to IVP

In recent years interest in Greco-Roman rhetoric has exploded for Pauline scholars. Liftin is somewhat responsible for this interest since he published a similarly-titled monograph in 1994 (St. Paul’s Theology of Proclamation: 1 Corinthians 1-4 and Greco-Roman Rhetoric; SNTS Monograph Series). As he states in the introduction to this new book, prior to the twentieth century, interpreters understood “words of wisdom” in 1 Cor 1:17 as a reference to Greco-Roman rhetoric and philosophy. Due in part to growing interest in Gnosticism, the first half of the twentieth century understood “words of wisdom” in the light of Gnostic mythology. Paul’s opponents were “gnostic pneumatics” who downplayed the significance of the Cross. In this book, Liftin argues the earlier view was correct. When Paul describes his own mission as preaching the Cross “not with words of the wise,” he has Greco-Roman rhetoric in mind.

Lifton, Theology of PreachingThe first part of Liftin’s book is an introduction to Greco-Roman Rhetoric. In these early chapters Liftin attempts to avoid the “wearisome minutia” typically found in introductions to rhetoric. This is not a monograph-length book on rhetoric, so he illustrates the main features with one or two key original Greco-Roman texts. He also avoids the tendency to reduce rhetoric to techniques for manipulation or simple ornamentation. Liftin argues rhetoric was so pervasive in first-century Corinth Paul could not avoid using some aspects of rhetoric even if he has a negative assessment of the impact some orators have had on his Corinthian churches.

After a short chapter tracing the history of rhetoric from Socrates to the Second Sophistic movement, he demonstrates the goal of rhetoric is persuasion. A successful orator used all possible means of persuasion to “create or produce belief in their listeners” (73). This required the orator to know a great deal about human psychology and their audiences worked. In chapters 3-5 (The Power, Reach and Genius of Rhetoric), Liftin shows how this power to sway an audience provided a foundation for power in Greco-Roman society. Virtually everyone in the Greco-Roman world understood what good rhetoric was and treated the best speakers with honor. In fact, the audience was the ultimate judge of a successful orator.

In chapter 6 (The Appraisal of Rhetoric) Liftin argues audience in the first century were experienced listeners and were capable of critiquing an orator even if they were not specifically trained in rhetoric. Just as most sports fans are able to critique the performance of their team despite not being professional athletes, most people had enough experience listening to orators they could make a judgment on the speaker’s skills. In Chapters 7-8 Liftin contrasts the hazards and rewards of rhetoric.

The second part of this book applies this history of rhetoric to 1 Corinthians 1-4. This opening section of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is the only place in Paul’s letters where he expresses anything like a “theology of preaching.” In addition, Paul makes some dismissive remarks concerning the “wisdom” of this world. Liftin points out the usual arguments about Paul’s education in rhetoric are not as important to his goals since he has argued for the pervasiveness of rhetoric in the first century. It does not matter if Paul was a professionally trained orator or not, he was being judged in ways consistent with the Greco-Roman world by the Corinthians and found wanting.

Liftin reconstructs the situation in Corinth as follows. Paul preached the Gospel in Corinth, people responded and a community was established. After Paul left and Apollos arrived the church began to have reservations about Paul with respect to his deficient public speaking. He was unskilled, something Paul admits in 2 Cor 11:6 (Liftin has an excursus defining what he means by “bad rhetoric”). Since the Gentile Corinthian believers were part of a culture which highly honored rhetorical skills, the church was embarrassed by Paul’s poor skills and began to look elsewhere for apostolic guidance. Specifically, Liftin thinks Apollos is was an eloquent speaker who “unwittingly” caused a division in the church (p. 156). 1 Corinthians 1-4 is therefore Paul’s response to criticism of his ministry style. Over several chapters Liftin supports this contention with careful observation and exegesis of the text of 1 Cor 1-4.

LiftinThe third part of this book offers some analysis of Paul’s ministry model and suggestions “appropriate strategies” for applying the “Pauline model.” While the Greco-Roman world sought to use rhetoric to persuade an audience by means of their own skills, Paul “disavowed the task of inducing belief in his listeners” (p. 263).  For Paul, it is the Holy Spirit who prompts faith in a listener, not “words of wisdom” as judged by contemporary standards. Paul is only the herald of the Gospel, someone who presents the truth of the Gospel. It is the power of God who brings a listener to belief. If this is the case, then there are two important implications. First, there is a certain ambiguity of “persuasion.” Paul certainly wanted to persuade, but he did not resort to the strategies of the Sophist to achieve this goal. Second, a good herald must adapt to the audience. This is exactly what Paul claims to do in 1 Cor 9:19-23. Paul is functioning as any herald might when he is “all things to all men.”

Liftin deals with the problem of Paul’s consistency in chapter 18. When Paul decries use of rhetoric, is he not employing a classic rhetorical style? If the goal of rhetoric was to persuade, then Paul’s letters have to be considered examples of rhetoric since they are trying to persuade an audience. Liftin thinks his “limited definition” of what Paul rejected defuses this criticism of Paul. Paul is not saying he rejects all forms of rhetoric since this would be virtually impossible if he was going to communicate the Gospel. Paul’s denial of rhetorical skills means he shifted the power of his speech away from himself to the Holy Spirit. To a large extent, Paul’s rhetorical skills gave the Holy Spirit “something to work with” for bringing people to Christ.

Paul’s missionary model is therefore humble and servant oriented. Paul was a herald announcing the Good News, leaving the power of persuasion to the message preached rather than then messenger.

Liftin includes five appendices. First, Liftin comments on the relationship between Paul, Apollos and Philo. Although he things “Philo might have written 1 Corinthians 2:13 almost as comfortably as the Apostle Paul” (p. 326), he ultimately rejects Philo as a source for the “words of wisdom” in Corinth. Appendix Two briefly discusses the Book of Acts as a source for background to 1 Cor 1-4, concluding Acts is reliably complements 1 Corinthians, but Acts is inadequate for the rhetorical skills of Apollos.  A third Appendix concerns Paul’s Epistemology.

In the fourth appendix Liftin discusses the implications of his study for contemporary preaching. This chapter is adapted from his 1977 Christianity Today article. He makes some pointed critiques of “gatherings centered on a charismatic, pseudo-celebrity communicator who revels in the spotlight” and other manipulative strategies used to wear people down and force people into an emotional response (p. 348). In contrast to this, the preacher “should do everything possible to build comprehension of the reality of Christ’s claims upon the listener” (p. 349). Amen and amen.

The final appendix suggests several “Broader Implications” of Paul’s ministry model with respect to the Church Growth movement. The appendix was originally an address to the American Society for Church Growth (ASCG) in 1995. Liftin is critical of marketing strategies used by churches in order to stimulate growth. Rather than presenting the Gospel as a product to be marketed, driven by the need for results, churches must be “obedience driven” (358).

Conclusion. Liftin admits early this book requires “tolerant readers” (p. 29). There are lengthy citations of primary sources in the first part of the book in order to illustrate some aspect of rhetoric. In order to keep the text readable, he placed technical material in a series of short excurses scattered throughout the book. These text-boxes are indexed in the table of contents and tend to be no more than a page or two.

This is a stimulating and challenging book operating at two levels. On the one hand, Liftin provides an academic introduction to Greco-Roman rhetoric as a background for reading 1 Corinthians 1-4 in a proper cultural context. But at another level, Liftin wants to challenge the churches to be faithful to God in their preaching of the Gospel. His call is to reject the sin of the Corinthians who used their culture to judge the success of the Gospel. In the end, it is this topic which needs to be addressed more directly by Liftin.

NB: Thanks to Intervarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Building a Church

Building a Church

Looking back on everything he has written thus far, Paul says his defense of himself is really intended to “upbuild” (ESV) the church.  Paul considers his letter to be a legal defense against an attack coming from his opponents in Corinth. He describes it as an apology in the legal sense of the word (ἀπολογέομαι). Acts 24:10 uses the word for Paul’s legal defense before Felix, the Roman governor. Paul has been defending himself, but not for the purpose of winning the argument with the church and proving himself to have been in the right all along. His goal in this defense is to build up the church in Christ.

The word Paul uses is used for buildings or structures (οἰκοδομή), the ESV uses the odd word “upbuild” the NIV has “strengthening,” the KJV has “edifying.” Paul uses this metaphor frequently to refer to things that “build up” the church in contrast to tearing down the church (1 Cor 14:12, spiritual gifts, 14:16, orderly worship). In Romans 15:2 it refers to speech which “builds up” a neighbor.

Paul has used architectural metaphors in 1-2 Corinthians several times (the temple of the Holy Spirit, etc.) Sometimes to construct something new old things must be destroyed. Old structures need to be demolished and the ground needs to be properly prepared for a new structure to be built. Edification therefore requires Paul to occasionally knock down old ways of thinking (especially the pagan worldview of the Corinthian church) before he can build up the church to maturity.

Change EverythingIf the church felt they had been wronged by Paul or they were offended by his change in plans, it was because their suspicions about Paul were wrong or the accusations coming from the opponents were wrong. Paul’s defense in the last few chapters was to allay their fears so that their anger with Paul will no longer hinder their maturity in Christ. If Paul has hurt the church, it is because it as necessary to tear down their existing ways of thinking in order to replace those structures with a Christ-like world view.

This is a very difficult aspect of ministry to get right since most people in the church feel attacked if a pastor tries to deal with tough issues from the pulpit. I think Paul has it right, he preaches Christ crucified seeks to apply the death and resurrection to all aspects of life. In my experience, preaching through the text of the the Bible will raise issues in context churches need to hear.

To a large extent, any pastor who is leading a congregation needs to worry less about their reputation or legacy than the spiritual growth of their congregation. A pastor who is seeking to pad out a resume for the next (bigger and better) church has completely missed the point of being a servant of Jesus Christ.

40 Questions Logos Bible Software partners with Kregel this month to offer Thomas Schreiner ‘s  40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law (Kregel, 2010) for their “Free Book of the Month” promotion. Schreiner explains the “interplay between Christianity and biblical law.” Schreiner is well-known for his Baker Exegetical commentary on Romans and the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on Galatians. He serves as professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and was the president of the Evangelical Theological Society in 2014.

This book is part of Kregel’s “40 Questions” series. Schreiner therefore follows a Q&A format in order to cover a wide variety of questions about the relationship of Christians and the Law, such as What Does the Word Law Mean in the Scriptures? Does the Old Testament Teach That Salvation Is by Works?  Does Paul Teach That the Old Testament Law Is Now Abolished?  Is the Sabbath Still Required for Christians?  Should Christians Tithe?

Bateman WarningIn addition to this free book, Logos is offering Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews (Kregel, 2007), edited by Herbert W. Bateman IV.  Bateman begins the book with a lengthy essay introducing the reader to the Warning Passages in order to set up the debate. The four views covered in the book are the “classic Arminian” by Grant Osborne, the “classic Reformed view” by Buist Fanning, the “Wesleyian Arminian view by Gareth Lee Cockerill and the “moderate Reformed view” by Randall Gleason. As is typical of these four-views books, each author responds to each position, and George Guthrie offers a concluding comment. More than most texts in the New Testament, exegesis of these passages in Hebrews is very much influenced by theological perspectives, so this book offers a balanced survey of the options.

So for 99 cents you can have two excellent books representing conservative Evangelical biblical scholarship. Both are worth owning and reading. But Logos is also giving away a copy of Logos 6 Bronze along with the six 40 Questions books published in the Logos library (a $670.90 value). Head over to Logos and get the two free/almost free books and register to win Logos 6.

 

1923 CarnivalThe June Carnival has arrived at William Ross’s blog. William has done a great job gathering links to excellent BiblioBlogs in the month of June, on a wide variety of topics. Everyone should find something of interest, go check it out. Click all the links and tell William what a great job he did.

Philly Joe Jones

Philly Joe Jones

In other Biblioblog news, Jim West has a chronological The Return of the Avignonian Carnival. While his usual sharp wit is on display, he does refer to the “the heretical official carnival hosted by the non-heretical Phil Jones (or one of his minions).” I am Phil Long, Philly Joe Jones was the drummer for the Miles Davis Quintet. I can see how people might get us confused.

Brian Small offers his monthly Hebrews Highlights, including his response to Felix Cortez’s RBL review of Small’s book, The Characterization of Jesus in the Book of Hebrews (Brill, 2012).

Peter Kirby’s Christian Origins is now aggregating biblioblogs and providing a nice digest of links for the week categorized into “Top 20 Biblical Commentary Posts,”  “Top 15 Biblical Criticism Posts” and “Radical Criticism Posts.” The site also indexes comments. Peter has not been blogging much and the top 50 list seems dormant again.

In personal blog news, I started a Biblical Studies Flipboard Magazine. If you are using Flipboard on your iPad or phone, feel free to follow me. I also have a few papers on Academia.edu if you are using that excellent site. I wrote an article on the New Perspective on Paul and posted a copy there, and many of my book reviews are collected on the site.

I am the “keeper of the Carnival List.” If you want to host a Carnival, please contact me.  The July 2015 will be hosted by Lindsay Kennedy (@digitalseminary) at My Digital Seminary  and August 2015  will be Bob MacDonald (@drmacdonald) at Dust. Both would appreciate any nominations for those carnivals.

Carnivals are a great way to attract attention to your site if you are new blogger, but more importantly it gives you a chance to highlight the best and the brightest in the world of bibliblogs.  If you would like to host a Carnival in 2015 or early 2016, send me an email (plong42@gmail.com), on DM on twitter (@plong42) or a comment on this post and I can contact you. September through December 2015 are still available, usually November and December are good months for BiblioBlogs because of the national SBLAAR and ETS meetings.

Paul has refused to accept gifts from the Corinthian church in order to avoid a patron/client relationship. Rather than patronage, Paul describes his relationship with Corinth as a parent and child (12:14b-15).

Roman FatherIn the Corinthian letters, Paul uses parent/child metaphors frequently, more than in any other of his letters. One reason for this is his desire to avoid patron/client language, but also because the family relationship reflects the body of Christ. If we are indeed new creations in Christ, then the image of brothers and sisters in Christ becomes the driving factor in our relationships with each other. Paul did not want to create a hierarchy in which he was the distant father figure who dispensed prestige and honor to his children, nor did he want the church to think Paul was a poor relative in need of assistance!

The children are not required to “save up” for their parents. This is not the daily needs of children, but rather the family responsibility for building wealth to pass down to the children. In a Greco-Roman context, family name and wealth was extremely important. The father was responsible for creating wealth and prestige for the family and the family name. This wealth and prestige could then be passed down to the children with they were mature enough to contribute to the honor of the family.

In fact, children were not able to contribute to the family honor until they were mature. Paul may be implying the role of the Corinthian church is to grow in maturity themselves! This is consistent with  how Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthians began, they were still immature and not able to move on to the “deeper things.” In 1 Cor 4:14-15 Paul describes himself as a father to the church, even if thy have many other teachers.

Within the metaphor, Paul is the patron/father figure who is doing everything he can to create an environment where the Corinthian children can grow to maturity and contribute to the family for themselves. Looking ahead to the next generation, they will “have children” and the church’s responsibility is to maintain and grow the wealth and honor of the family so they too can grow to maturity.

Paul is willing to spend everything he has for the church because he loves them as his dear children. Paul sees his relationship with the church in terms of a family in which he is like a parent and the church are children. He does not want to accept patronage from the church because it changes the relationship and would give the Corinthian church certain privileges over Paul.

This is a powerful image of the relationship of a pastor and congregation. While Paul does want churches to care for the needs of the people who serve in the church, his model for ministry is a caring parent who does everything to give the children want they need to succeed. Pastors who considered the local church their personal kingdom or use the church to enhance their own wealth and prestige have failed to follow the model Paul gives here in 2 Corinthians or the model of humble service demonstrated by Christ.

 

Once of the main reasons Paul wrote 2 Corinthians is because he cancelled his plans to visit the church (1:15-2:4). Paul’s reasons for the change in plans was to spare the church. He was angry with them and knew the visit would be painful indeed. Instead of a visit, Paul wrote a “tearful letter” and sent Titus to deliver it to the church.

His change in plans contributed to a rift between Paul and the church. Although the letter and Titus’s visit seems to have settled the church, Paul’s absence gave and opportunity for opponents of Paul make serious accusations against him. These “super-apostles” claimed higher authority than Paul primarily because Paul was not a polished orator and was always suffering some sort of calamity. They may have accused Paul of trying to extort money from the church by means of a collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem. Paul is forced into a foolish exercise of boasting in this weakness (11:1-12:13). Having concluded his boasting, and putting the claims of the “super-apostles” into perspective, Paul finishes the letter by telling the Corinthians he will visit them for a third time.

Money BiblePaul’s intention is to travel back to Corinth for a third time, but he does not intend to be a burden to the church.  Paul did not accept support from the Corinthian church, and this seems to have been a source of some conflict with the congregation. He did accept financial support from Philippi, but directly refused support from Corinth. Paul has already said he does not intend to be a burden (2 Cor 11:9). The verb Paul uses (καταναρκάω) refers to being a “dead weight” so Paul might mean, “I do not want to take money from you if I am not going to work for it,” as if the church wanted to offer him a retainer fee for his services as an apostle!

The background here is the patron/client relationship in the Roman world. If the church gave Paul gifts, then Paul has an obligation to the church. They are his patron, and he is their client. Paul wants to avoid the perception of patronage, so he refuses to take money from the Corinthians.

If the Corinthian church gives Paul support, then they are his benefactors. They could potentially boast in their support of Paul in the way a Roman would boast in the any public benefaction. Since the Christians are not yet building churches, there is no way for a Gentile Christian to offer a gift to the church in a way that makes sense in their culture. If they were worshiping a particular god, they could offer to pay for a sacrifice or a new statue of the god or to improve the temple in some way. Naturally they would get “their name on the plaque” and everyone would know they had benefited the community in this way.

There is nothing a Roman Christian can do to show his generosity to the church other than to contribute to the needs of the poor, and that is something which would not bring honor to a person in a Roman context. Really the only thing the church could do is to support Paul as his patron, a relationship Paul does not want to encourage at all!

If this context is correct, then Paul’s refusal of patronage would be seen as a kind of insult, and likely a painful insult at that. If Paul is “their apostle” then he ought to be thrilled to receive a gift! Paul says he does not want their possessions, but a genuine relationship with them.

The difficulty for a contemporary reading of Paul’s relationship with Corinth is that Paul does encourage paying those who minister. If a church as the need for one or more full-time staff members, it is important for the church to pay them appropriately. But can the pastor/congregation relationship devolve into a patron/client relationship? If a pastor puts a paycheck before the spiritual needs of his congregation, then there is a serious problem with the relationship with the church.

Paul’s real “thorn in the flesh” identified at last….

Paul's Real Thorn...

 

 

A thornThe “thorn in the flesh” is directly related to Paul’s “great revelations.” This is not something Christians need to fear, Paul is unique in salvation history as the apostle to the Gentiles, and his visionary experience is unique as well. The “thorn” is a metaphor emphasizing the ongoing, painful nature of the oppression.

The noun Paul uses (σκόλοψ) refers to any kind of splinter or thorn that works its way into the body, but the thorn is also called a “messenger of Satan” of “angel of Satan.” By describing the thorn this way, Paul may be referring to a person who was harassing him, continually causing him to suffer.

This messenger “harasses” Paul. This verb (κολαφίζω) is a violent physical beating, the same word is used for Jesus’ beatings in Matt 26:67 and Mark 14:65.  Since it is not clear what Paul means by this thorn, Christians have suggested the beatings are not physical. Suggestions include: hysteria, depression, headaches, severe eye trouble, malaria, leprosy, and even a speech impediment (See BDAG for scholars associated with each suggestion). If this is a physical illness, it could be a sign of God’s judgment; the opponent could use something like this to call into question everything Paul teaches!

God allowed Paul to endure this suffering in order to keep him humble. This is an ongoing torment of some kind, since Paul prayed three times to have the thorn taken from him. The purpose of the thorn is to keep Paul from being exalted because of his visionary experience. The verb (ὑπεραίρω) refers to developing an “an undue sense of one’s self-importance” (BDAG). The thorn therefore was given to keep Paul from getting a big head about how important he is!

The only response to this prayer given by the Lord is “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  This is one of the most memorable verses in the New Testament and has helped many people through extremely difficult times. Like Paul, people who suffer physical or emotional torment consider this verse a great comfort since God’s grace is all they need. But notice it God’s grace does not guarantee Paul will be rescued from his thorn in the flesh! In fact, the comfort of this verse is that despite intense suffering, God’s grace is all Paul wants or needs!

It is when Paul is weak the power of God is most clearly seen. If Paul were an elite orator or a well-trained sophist, or a prophet who has the most glorious of visions, then the success he had in Corinth would be all his; he would easily slip into the error the opponents are making and glorify himself.

It is not that we ought to forego any preparation for ministry and only appoint the most unprepared people to serve; but when that preparation becomes a platform for boasting then the Lord is no longer glorified. Paul therefore concludes this chapter the same way he started in 2 Cor 13, boasting in his suffering all the more!

What is Paul’s point by boasting in his suffering in 12:10? As he concluded after his catalog of suffering in chapter 11, Paul claims his suffering proves he is a true apostle (and the “super apostles are not). As Barrett concludes, “The real point is that the requirement of self-sacrifice … marks out the true apostle from the false” (284-5). The pastor who works two jobs to serve a small country church is nearer to Paul’s model, his imitation of Christ, than a pastor who asks for 65 million for a private jet.

Would a Mega-Church pastor give up his wealth to care for a small inner city congregations for little or no money at all? Jesus gave up everything, as did Paul;  but Paul’s opponents would not. What makes them spiritual leaders is their wealth and prestige, the exact opposite of Paul’s point here in 2 Corinithians.

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About Me

Phillip J. Long

Phillip J. Long

I am a college professor who enjoys reading, listening to music and drinking fine coffee. Often at the same time. Author of Jesus the Bridegroom(Wipf & Stock 2014).

My book Jesus the Bridegroom is now available from Amazon in paperback or Kindle

ACI Profile for Phillip J. Long

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