2 Corinthians 12:14–18 – The Problem with Patronage

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.

6 thoughts on “2 Corinthians 12:14–18 – The Problem with Patronage

  1. This series of posts about Paul, the Corinthians and patronage are quite insightful and thought provoking as to what prevails nowadays in regards to teaching the Word of God for money… Unfortunately, money is all that matters in many religions, behind the closed doors. What a shame…

  2. It is a quite interesting scenario for Paul and the church of Corinth to be in. It reminds me of an older vs. younger brother scenario about presents in the family. Philippi, the loving grandmother in this example, gave Paul the gift of financial support and Paul accepted this gift. The Church of Corinth, the grandmother on the other side of the family that he never saw, also offered the same gift to Paul but he had refused. Paul refused the gift of the Corinthian church because he felt as if his relationship with them had been tainted due to the events that happened when Paul did not return to the church while he was angry with them. Paul doesn’t want to be a burden to the church in accepting patronage in a meaning that was almost as if Paul felt guilty for not returning to the church. In the blog post, “The Problem with Patronage” by Phil Long, he explains that when Paul uses the word, “burden” it translates from Greek into something like being “dead weight.” This makes me believe that Paul refuses the money because he feels guilty about not visiting the Church a second time while they were struggling. He feels as if he needs to earn back their trust and that’s why he desires a relationship with them as a gift rather than a gift of monetary value. Paul also refuses the gift because he wants to avoid a relationship where he puts money over the spiritual value of the Church, and also avoiding a obligation to the church. Paul wants his churches to see him as equally supportive of al the congregations.

  3. If I could take the chance to draw a broader conclusion from Paul’s refusal to take patronage from the Corinthian church, I’d say that the lesson here is that money can cause a lot of problems. Paul refuses their money because it comes with strings attached. Paul doesn’t want to be limited in his ministry so he can’t accept, but his refusal is taken as an insult. It’s a lose-lose situation for Paul. And money still causes problems at church, just like it does in other areas of life as well. Money has the potential to damage relationships. In Paul’s case, this jeopardizes his relationship with the church in Corinth, the exact outcome he was trying to avoid when he refused the money.

  4. It seems that the Corinthians have had an incorrect view of money’s role in ministry from the very beginning. It doesn’t help that the patron-client view dominated Greco-Roman culture at the time, so they were pretty much hindered from the get-go, but it takes years, and unnecessary accusations toward Paul, for them to, hopefully, understand what they should use it for. Paul says that he won’t accept monetary support/patronage, but that they ought to pay their ministers and full-time workers. I would agree that at face-value this seems quite contradictory, but the contextual reason was that Paul just did not want the church to have a misdirected focus. If they were supporting him through a patron-client relationship, then they would be boasting in the fact that their support went to “the Apostle Paul, Christianity’s greatest.” Paul knew this, so he avoided their support, but makes sure to distinguish that giving support to the brothers and sisters around the world is something that they should still do. This is very different from the relationship he was trying to avoid because it more about giving to support a mission, rather than giving to bring glory and honor upon yourself.

  5. I think that it depends on how a Pastor reacted and treats the gifts and if he has made a prompt on how much he wanted, I think the motive of the giver also matters.
    The problem of patronage comes from multiple places. The first one comes in focus in the Galitia when the churches had factions because they thought that who you were being taught by was more important that the actual message. The second problem comes from concept that the Roman world had that if you accept a gift then you owe them back, basically you became a patron and them your clients and as clients they have a say in what you do and say, so in short they have control over you.
    I think the motive of most church goers who give are that they just want to take care of the pastor as a thank you for caring for their spiritual needs and that they want to take care of the church itself.

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