BRUNO BAUER: Criticism of the Pauline Letters – III. Third and Last Section – a. 2 Corinthians

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by Neil Godfrey

Criticism of the Pauline Epistles


B. Bauer

Third and Last Section

The Second Letter to the Corinthians.



The Opening.

1: 3-11.

What drives the author, the supposed apostle, to speak at length about his distress and suffering in the opening? Is he trying to show that a man who suffers so much cannot be as worthless as the people and opponents in Corinth thought, and thus to change their opinion? However, he assumes their sympathy and even hopes that their intercession (v.11) will continue to save him from the death that threatens him daily. 

So did he want to show that there was still something in common between him and the Corinthians, despite all the misunderstandings and disputes? But he does not hint that he wants to use the commonality of suffering for this purpose – he simply assumes it as the most valuable commonality among believers, and the late author has used the familiar and common idea of the apostle’s suffering and martyrdom very unsuccessfully for the opening of a letter that is filled with almost nothing but strife and quarrels.

 As misguided as the overall structure of the opening is, its individual parts are just as aimless. For example, in verses 6 and 7, the apostle’s suffering and comfort are for the benefit of the Corinthians – through his suffering and comfort, they themselves are lifted up and comforted in their own suffering – thus his suffering is representative – but this idea is immediately confused with the other idea that they share the same sufferings he is experiencing, that they endure them patiently, and that their patience results in their comfort.


When the Apostle further speaks of his sufferings (vv. 8-11), he only throws out unclear and superficial allusions. Did he perhaps rely on the bearers of the letter to provide details? But could he himself write in such a vague and confused manner even under this assumption? Especially if he counted on the Corinthians’ intercession, should he not have clearly and explicitly stated what it was to be directed towards? Instead, he says he is suffering in Asia – how indefinite! He asks the Corinthians to assist him with their intercession so that he may be saved from “such a death” (v. 10) – what ambiguous and unstable specificity, if Asia is the scene of his suffering! Finally, how bombastic he speaks when he gives the reason why they must cooperate with their intercession for his salvation: “so that the grace bestowed on me by many persons might be acknowledged by many with gratitude for me”! What insecurity of consciousness the embarrassed author betrays when in this closing sentence, which is not prepared by anything, he introduces the elements that are brought into the discussion all at once unnecessarily twice.

The structure of the introduction corresponds to the fate with which the author transitions to the topic.



The Topic.

1: 12 – 2:17.

It is indeed, as the apologists say, a “swift transition” when the author in verse 12 uses a “for” to move on to his defense against the Corinthian opponents – but this transition is not only swift but also unnatural.

With his “for,” the author acts as if he wants to add an explanation or justification to the beginning or its concluding sentence – and he moves on to his defense.

He addresses his opponents in Corinth – but doesn’t say who they are and what they have against him!

Just a moment ago, in verse 11, it was still self-evident that the Corinthians would give him their intercession – but now, all of a sudden, he assumes that he has nothing more, or at least nothing more important, to do with them than to fight a quarrel.

He appeals to his opponents (v. 12) about the sincerity and simplicity of his conduct – but he also wants to speak later about the truths of faith; therefore, he adds the assurance that he did not walk in “carnal wisdom” in the hope that this qualification would stimulate the idea of doctrine.

And what are the accusations that the Corinthians made against him? They are said to have belittled him (v. 15-16) because of the change in his travel plans, and therefore accused him of dishonesty, variability, and unreliability!

What petty quarreling! Should a man engage in this? To launch into an excursus on God’s “yes, yes, no, no” in response to refuting a petty rancor and counter-arguing his reliability?


His plan (v. 15-16) was supposed to be to visit Corinth twice – but after his first letter to the Corinthians (C. 16, 5-7) his plan was completely different – he only wanted to visit them once and for a longer time!

So on what basis did his opponents make their accusations? On the first or second plan? But how did they know about the second one?

He even calls this second plan his initial plan in v. 15 – but initially, in his first letter to the Corinthians, the plan was different – which means that the author of the second letter to the Corinthians cannot firmly establish the assumptions of the first letter – he did not write the first letter.

In v. 15, he speaks of the “grace” of his second visit – how affected! Only a later writer would use such language.

He wants to justify in v. 17 his previous failure to come, the omission of his trip, the change in his plans, but instead of giving the reason immediately, which he only develops in v. 23 – that he did not come precisely because he wanted to spare the Corinthians – he anxiously turns back and forth, wondering if he might have made his plan lightly.

So the accusation was that he made plans carelessly? What a petty quarrel! He is the one who creates this quarrel, and its emptiness is reflected in the fact that he immediately loses himself in it.

When he asks if he used “levity” *) when he made his plan, he wants to refer to something assumed and implied by his opponents, he wants to prove that the levity they accuse him of is an impossibility – but he should have explained this assumption and implication of his opponents, instead of just alluding to it with an article.

*) τη ελαφρια


Immediately after this brief reference to his opponents’ presumed opinion, he drifts into the general question of whether it is his way to follow the voice of the flesh in his decisions, so that his yes is no and his no is yes – but since nothing in this context leads to the charge of presumption that is based on their yes or no, and since the author wants to refute the charge of inconstancy and immediately afterwards (v. 18) affirms his constancy, it is clear that he has made a false turn to the reminiscence of that evangelical saying about the reliability of a mere yes or no. Actually, he should have said: so that my yes is yes and my no is no.

Now let us use the author’s vaguely held assurance of the reliability of his word to the Corinthians (v. 18), even though it only concerns the firmness of his intentions, to launch into an excursion on the firm foundation and consistent agreement of his doctrine with itself (v. 19-20) – he may well lose himself in an unmotivated turn of phrase – but how can he also appeal (v.19) to the well-known preaching of Silvanus and Timothy and their proven reliability for the Corinthians? If the Corinthians were not faithfully devoted to him, how could they trust his pupils more? If the Corinthians doubted his authority, what significance could his pupils have for them?


The late author, on the other hand, made a mistake – he thought it would be visually appealing to group the Apostle’s disciples around him.

Finally, after the author has circled around the themes of the reliability and consistency of his preaching and God’s promises in a dogmatic excursion on the efficacy of God in believers in general (V. 21-22), he returns to the old accusation in V. 23, as if it were still on everyone’s mind, and swears with a solemn oath that he only did not come to them to spare them – but can the fact that his truthfulness is doubted by petty souls really justify the use of such a strong oath: “I call God as witness against my soul”? Must he swear so strongly when he wants to assert the steadfastness of his yes and his no against petty quarrelers? If he has to deal with such petty malice, must he really lower himself to their level with a terrible oath?

And how insidiously he takes back the strong statement he just made as an unfounded assertion the moment after! His explanation in V. 23 is based on the assumption of his unrestricted power to punish as Lord and Judge – how anxious it is, therefore, when he adds in V. 24: “Not that we lord it over your faith!” How can the Corinthians acknowledge and feel the good intentions of his sparing them if he has no judicial power over them?

The sneaky hierarch will finally reveal himself when he speaks of the open rebellion that the Corinthians dared to commit against the condemnation of the unclean made by the author of the first letter.


Slowly and through a multitude of anxiously intertwined phrases, he makes his way to the point where he finally has to admit his defeat and tries in vain to overcome the open rebellion through his feigned concession.

Explicitly, he says in 2 Corinthians 2:1, “I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you.” As if he had only felt sorrow the first time he was with them and won them over, as if the victory he achieved in their conversion could have been a cause for sorrow

In his fear, he has made a mistake. Clearly, he assumes, like the author of the first Corinthians, that before the composition of that letter, the apostle had only been to Corinth once. Since he also wants to immediately follow the assumptions of the first letter, he must also maintain the assumption that during the period between its dispatch and the composition of the second, the apostle did not touch Corinth, and yet he speaks of his presence in Corinth, which was associated with sorrow? Certainly, but he also avoids saying a single word about the sorrow he felt at that time. He does not dare to say outright that this sorrowful presence in Corinth was his first and only one up to this point, and he has made it possible, through this cautious reserve, for it to gradually become the second presence of the apostle in Corinth until the end of the letter (2 Corinthians 12:14, 13:1).

So anxiously and depressed does the author continue that in his reflection in verse 2, he does not dare to form the corresponding clause, “who will then give me joy?” to the introduction: “For if I grieve you.” He feels that he is not giving the correct conclusion that corresponds to the introduction. Instead of forming the required clause, he makes a new start with “And who will give me joy if not the one who was grieved by me.” He speaks in his anxious and embarrassed way as if he only had the Corinthians in the world and writes so bombastically and vaguely that he completely loses his Corinthians in the indifferent concluding participle.


Now, his argument about the Unchaste, who is handed over to Satan in the first letter?

So, he wrote to them (in his earlier letter), so that before his arrival, the cause of the distress would be removed? At that time, “he had confidence” in them, that his joy would be theirs – meaning that they would obey him in everything to please him?

He speaks as if his trust had been completely justified – and they did not justify it – they did not support his judgment of the Unchaste.

“I write to you,” he continues in verse 4, “in great distress and anguish of heart” – but he does not say a word about what caused the distress that would justify the severity of his first letter – he also does not give any hint as to what his first letter expressed about his anxious mood at that time.

Furthermore, “I did not write to make you sad,” he says – so they are really sad – even to tears (2 Cor 7:8)?

On the contrary! They took the matter rather lightly and forgave the offender, while the author of the first letter was not concerned with causing or preventing sadness, but with removing evil – not with his personal relationship to the Corinthians, but with a moral necessity.


When the author finally gets to the subject of the offender who was handed over to Satan in his first letter, he continues to circle around the keyword “distress” and refers to him as “someone who has caused distress” in the most refined way possible. He says that the offender did not distress him, but to put it mildly, “partially distressed them all” – “partially,” whereas a man who is certainly progressing would have said “basically, actually all of you.”

Then, he states in verse 6 that it is sufficient that the majority of the congregation has reproached the offender – thus assuming that the Corinthians did not fulfill his demand, and he is satisfied with their leniency towards his severity. He submits to them, does he not? Does he subject himself to their opposing judgment?

What would have been the consequences for the Apostle if he had written the first letter or even the second letter! First, he handed over the offender to Satan, and now he admits that his step was too daring and hasty, that he did not calculate everything and did not know the congregation. He takes back his step and accepts the opposite of what should have happened according to the demands of his first letter. Even more! He wanted to perform a miraculous punishment in his first letter, and now he must admit that it did not happen, and he must approve that the Corinthians accepted the offender’s plea for mercy without further consequences.

The Apostle did not write either the first or the second letter, and the author of the former could not have written it. Instead, the latter speaks as a wavering man who wants to control the hierarch of the first letter and yet maintain and ensure his authority, but who ultimately exposes himself to danger, only to miss his goal in the end.


Is the evil really healed if he covers it up and agrees with the frivolity with which the community has treated it? Is the matter really settled if he now conceals the evil that he once handed over to Satan and bows to the leniency that entered against his will?

The supposed apostle even stoops so low as to adopt the Corinthians’ perspective, pushing his approval of the leniency they showed the offender so far that he (v. 7) even makes the demand that they “rather forgive and comfort him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.”

He is jealous of the Corinthians’ autonomous action. In order to also have something to do with it, to also participate, he demands that they do even more of what is in the eyes of the author of the first Corinthians letter a punishable crime – they should forgive even more – forgive! And they have not forgiven the offender in opposition to the severity of their own moral view, but in opposition to the murderous severity demanded by him, the apostle! – So that the offender may not be overwhelmed by despair! – And with the forgiveness, the matter has long been settled!

He is not yet at rest! He demands in v. 8 that they should confirm their love for that person in a legally binding manner – as if their autonomous decision had not long since been executed! He absolutely wants to insert his intervention and create the appearance that what they are doing on his request is giving their autonomous decision full validity. He wants to save the exterior, remain the supreme authority, and yet oversteps his bounds in his words, demanding that they remain masters and sanction their love!


He justifies in verse 9 his right to the current intervention by stating that he had written to them from the beginning in order to test their faithfulness and unlimited obedience – he acts as if the test had been successful, and they had shown disobedience!

As an addition to their forgiveness, in verse 10 he adds his own – as if their disobedience could be transformed into obedience by his forgiveness! As a reason for his leniency, he cites the necessity to counteract the schemes of Satan, which aim at the destruction of the church (verse 11) – as if unity is secured when discord is covered up – as if Satan must be defeated when the sacrifice that was supposed to be handed over to him is taken away from him by the soft-hearted sympathy for the offender!


After this unfortunate discussion about the disobedience of the Corinthians, the author (verses 12-13) suddenly returns to his earlier remark (verse 4) about his inner restlessness, without, however, detailing or justifying this return. At that time, he says, he had no peace in his heart when he came to Troas and “a door was opened to him in the Lord” – but this parenthetical statement remains idle, has nothing to do with the statement about his fear, and is and remains a mechanically inserted keyword from the first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 16, verse 9).


Therefore, in Troas he was plagued by unrest to such an extent that he went to Macedonia because he did not find Titus – thus, he expected him – expected him with news from Corinth? Indeed! For in 2 Corinthians 7:5-7, he meets him in Macedonia and is uplifted by his comforting news about the favorable attitude of the Corinthians – but according to the assumption of the first letter, Timothy was sent to Corinth, and the author of the second letter says nothing about a change in plans or about a new mission for Titus after Timothy had returned – he believes he is in the best harmony with the assumptions of the first letter.

The mere mention of Titus causes him to burst into jubilation – so Titus really brought him such uplifting news from Corinth – did the news of Titus really give him the occasion to play his three-fold game with the catchword “smell” (V. 11-16) – did he really see from the events in Corinth that God through him was spreading the scent of his knowledge throughout the world, that he himself was a fragrant aroma of Christ to God, i.e. a pleasant sacrifice, that finally his apostolic atmosphere was a scent of life to life for believers, and a scent of death to death for the lost?

He even boasts very expressively: “And who is equal to such a task?” he asks in verse 16 – that is, I alone am able to breathe in and spread life and death around me – not the multitude of heretics who distort orthodox doctrine (verse 17) – he alone has this power of life and death – and he has just realized that he is powerless and impotent against the crime that was formally condemned to death in the first letter!


The author has already forgotten about the deep concern that he had previously mentioned, and is now focused on one thing – he wants to praise the apostle and his ministry.

The Ministry of the Spirit.


The telling “again” in verse 1 – (“do we begin again to commend ourselves?”) – proves that the author of the present letter did not write the first letter, for in it, the didactic discussion of the system of faith and morals did not allow for the preoccupation of the apostle with himself, and the author, when he related the apostle to the faction leaders, spoke as a mediator, even as a weak syncretist.

The author of the first letter knew of the factional strife, he even took it for granted, but he could not describe it; the contradictions surrounded him, but in his consciousness, they were blunted, and it was precisely his indifferentistic attitude, which made him unable to fight, that enabled him to draw the dogmatic sum from the factional struggles.

The same man wanted to place this sum under the authority of the apostle to the Gentiles – he wanted, for example, in his treatise on meat offered to idols, to assert freedom, but he again gave it up, along with the authority of the anti-Jewish champion of Jewish scruples, and after having unsuccessfully alluded to the conflict between the apostle to the Gentiles and the apostle to the Jews at the beginning of his letter, he demanded that the decision about the value of teachers be left to divine judgment.


The author of the second letter, on the other hand, wants to fight – let’s see if the outcome is favorable to him; he wants to intervene in the dispute between the law and the gospel – let’s see if as an original hero or as a follower, as a creative spirit or as a weak reformer!

A man who is somewhat sure of his cause will actually, like the Apostle of this letter, engage in a detailed discussion of whether he, like “some,” needs letters of recommendation to the Corinthians. If Paul, really fighting for possession of the Corinthians with church factions and their leaders who sought to expand their influence, can he come to the question of whether he needs letters of recommendation from them? Can he really, even if only letters of recommendation to the local congregation are considered, move in the figurative excursus, into which he immediately runs after that introductory question, only in the assumption that it concerns letters of recommendation from the Corinthians? A man who is in a real, living, personal struggle and must strictly focus on the question at hand – is he able to hold onto the starting point so loosely that he first calls the Corinthians his letter, written on his heart and known and read by everyone – that he then calls them a letter of Christ, which is taken care of by him, yes, by him, the apostle – and that finally, at the end of this sentence, he lets the letter be written into the hearts of the Corinthians?


Impossible! Or does one still want to assert the opposite? Then show me just one authentic letter of a world-historical figure in which the clarity of thought and language is not equally great (for that is and remains impossible) but can only be found in a remotely similar way.

In a time when factions were fighting for supremacy and disputing over which one represented the Catholic expression of the collective consciousness, the Paulinist wants to say that he doesn’t need this party spirit, his proof is the existence of the Church, the enduring and lasting scripture of Paul – (for his master’s deeds testify for him) – but he is so dependent on the fact that the letter is addressed to the Corinthians that he lets the apostle speak as if Corinth were his only deed and possession, and his clumsiness alone is to blame for confusing the starting point and goal with each other when transferring the later church usage of letters of recommendation into the early times of the community.


Let him now, while just establishing it as a certain and beyond doubt fact that the Corinthians are his, that they are even Christ’s letter, make his anxious assertion of his faithful confidence that it is so, in V. 4 – let him lose himself in an anxious and far-reaching restriction in V. 5 – (“not that we are competent in ourselves” and so on) – in a restriction for which there was not the slightest reason and which itself remains floating – in a restriction whose turns remain unclear and presupposes contrasts that he cannot even shape. —–


Enough! With a casual relative clause, he comes to the topic that now occupies him, to the parallel and contrast of the two testaments.

Despite a lot of floating and cumbersome phrases, this explanation is clear in general, at least pointing out what the author wanted to say with it. Therefore, we don’t need to go into detail and we just ask ourselves the question: where did the impulse for this digression on the contrast between the Old and New Testaments come from?

Does the author really have opponents who venerate the law? But where does he say that? Has he dropped a word during his previous back and forth, which could form a real impulse for this explanation? Or does he make an application to his opponents in Ephesians 4:1? Not even that! What he lets follow his explanation is only a moral application in general – in short, no fighter, no hero, only a reflecting dogmatist. And if in a casual parenthetical clause in verse 6 – (“for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life”) – he assumes the contrast between the Old and New Testaments, which he wants to explain later, as known from the outset, he proves himself that this contrast was already given to him as a finished dogma.



The Ministry.


Despite the insignificance of the content of this chapter, we will proceed from verse to verse and demonstrate the formlessness that pervades the whole, even in the smallest details, and the weakness of the power of expression that is characteristic not only of the author but of Catholicism in general, the victorious expression of Christianity.

By using the formula “Therefore, since we have this ministry” (v. 1), the author returns to the far-reaching explanation of 3:6-9 to allow the Apostle to speak of his personal leadership, and in the following phrase, “we do not lose heart,” he speaks so generally that he includes believers in the expression of the majority. He had just spoken of the glorification of all believers (3:18), and while this category of the whole still echoes in his mind and even dominates him at this moment, he is also thinking of another category of the whole, namely, the behavior of the teachers of his time.

From avoiding cowardice, he moves to refraining from secret shameful behavior (v. 2) without saying what prompted him to make this turn. The following addition does indeed show that he means by “secret shameful behavior” the dishonesty and distortion of the Word of God; the former should be the general expression, the latter the specific one, but he has formed an untenable generalization.

In the same breath, the Apostle expresses his conviction that “by the open statement of the truth” he commends himself to the conscience of all people – what a hypochondriac he is! What dependence on judgment – what self-contemplation in people’s judgments!


“Before God” he recommends himself at the same time – how insidiously he draws the appeal, after it has long hovered before the tribunal “of the people”, with a half turn to the divine judgment!

After he has extensively developed in chapters 3 and 4 the fact that his gospel is hidden only in the lost, he wants to justify it in verse 5 with a “for” – (“for we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ, the Lord”) – but this justification is in itself baseless and also superfluous, since he has just attributed the blindness of the lost to the activity “of the god of this world” – Satan, who owes this name to the Gnostics.

Suddenly, in a confused and completely unsuccessful sentence, in which he drags the verb belonging to the subject along in an unmotivated relative clause *), he justifies in verse 6 his right to proclaim the gospel – God has shone it into his heart – but only the later apologist could have formulated this common saying, and even then with this ornate and overloaded formation of words – (“for the illumination of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”).

*) ος ελαμψεν

Just as suddenly, in verse 7, he comes to the description of the weakness of the human vessel in which the power of God is located – without reason – without any objection based on his sufferings preceding it – all the more unnatural since according to the general basic assumption all believers are destined to suffer and even the suffering of the Lord was based in the divine order of salvation and the world – nothing but the later play with an opposition that is based on the dialectic of the assumed Paulinism and that also formed the constant struggle for life of the heathen apostle.


With the sentence in verse 12, “So then death is at work in us, but life in you,” the conclusion is supposed to be given, but instead the matter takes on a new, unprepared direction. Until now, the contrast between suffering and victory, between constant dying and miraculously wrought revivification in the person of the apostle, was concluded. Now the contrast is between his death and the Corinthians’ life – a contrast that is even less prepared, as the dying was previously bodily and the life is now spiritual.

Instead of remaining with the Corinthians, the apostle suddenly turns back to himself in verses 13-14 and expresses his conviction that he too will attain to life – but he has just previously (verse 11) already secured his life completely, that is, carried out this contrast as far as it is enclosed in his person.

And how ornately he justifies his conviction that he too will penetrate into life! He says that he has the same spirit of faith as well – as if faith could still be a question for him!

Only after an extensive digression, in which he deduces his preaching from his faith and proves the necessity with which it follows from the Old Testament citation “I believe, therefore I speak,” does he come to the initially intended conclusion from his faith to his resurrection – thus after a very misguided turn, as the apostolic activity of the hero stems from his calling and from the conviction that is based on the entire state of the world and on the actual necessity of the calling of the Gentiles, i.e. from a conviction that is not solely concerned with his personal interest and the affairs of his inner spiritual life.


As we pass by, we note that the author (v.14) expects a collective resurrection with the Corinthians, while the author of the first Corinthian letter still hoped to experience the parousia of Christ. Let us now continue with the confusion of the line of thought.

The author has long since left behind his historical struggles, whose deadly force brought about the life of the Corinthians, when he (v.13-14) derived from his personal faith the certainty of his future resurrection. But he realizes that he has not developed the connection between his daily dying and the revival of the Corinthians; therefore, he returns to it in v.15 and now says that all of this – everything that can only be his future resurrection guaranteed in his faith – happens for the sake of the Corinthians!

With “therefore” (v.16) – “Therefore, we do not lose heart” – he would like to go back even further and once again draw the conclusion, present the personal behavior that follows from the significance of his office – and he speaks (v.16-18) about the insignificance of temporal tribulation that all believers must have in view of the future glory.


Furthermore! The confusion in the last discussion, the entanglement of the spiritual life that he brings to the Corinthians with his sufferings, and the resurrection to life that is certain for him personally in his faith, primarily arises because he rushes towards the following discussion on the resurrection – and now, as he stands close to his goal, as he should firmly and securely make the transition, he speaks (v.16) of the daily, ongoing renewal of the inner self!

But enough of that! He has reached his goal!


The Heavenly Body.


His readers also know the goal, it is before their eyes – it is the dogma of the heavenly body, which takes the place of the earthly body after death. It is so firmly established that he only briefly mentions it with his catchwords and uses the formula “for we know” as the well-known proof for the invalidity of his previous discourse on the excellence of eternal glory.

(So he is not the author of the first Corinthian letter, because while the author of the first letter calmly and confidently still hopes to experience the Parousia, he (the author of the second letter) desires the dissolution of his earthly body into the heavenly body (without any intervention of death, but also without any consideration of the Parousia) – while in the first Corinthian letter, the glorification of the deceased takes place at the Parousia, the author of the second letter imagines it such that the heavenly body immediately takes the place of the earthly body for each individual after death.)


The author assumes that his theory of the heavenly body is so well-known to his readers that he immediately presents the keywords in metaphorical form at the beginning of his explanation, relying on the fact that his readers will immediately think of the twofold body when he speaks of the God-wrought building and the eternal house not made by human hands, which the believers will inhabit after the destruction of the earthly dwelling. According to his view, this theory is so familiar to readers that he immediately expresses his desire for the heavenly body to be given to him without the intervention of death, so that the new garment will consume the old one almost naturally and painlessly, since possession of the new body will make the dissolution of the old one hardly noticeable.

He has strayed away from the actual topic very quickly and even presents this digression to his desire as the justification for the previously assumed doctrine of the dual body with the clumsy transition in verse 2 – (“for in this we sigh”) – as commonly known!

In the midst of this sigh, he makes the statement in verse 3 that we will not appear naked – (meaning that we will certainly rise again, since he considers continued existence and resurrection possible only under the condition of corporeality) – thus, he suddenly refutes opponents without introducing them, doubts which he does not really present!

Finally, he wants to prove in verse 5 that his sighing refers to a real, not just a dreamed-of good, stating that he and the believers have been prepared by God to receive the heavenly body – forgetting that he has already established the assumption on which his sighing was based as established at the beginning of this explanation in verse 1.


Although this retrospective justification takes the turn as if it were to conclude the digression on his sighing, the author begins in a different form to express his longing to depart from earthly life and be with the Lord in verse 6, and he continues in verse 8, where he ends with this turn, to describe his desire to leave this life as the expression of his bold courage – as if courage were not rather to be proven in the struggles of this life! He wanted to speak of bold courage and instead expresses the painful concern*) in verse 6 that as long as one is in the body, one is separated from the Lord!

*) V. 6 θαρρουντες ουν παντοτε και ειδοτες

As high as the confusion has risen, the author is still not satisfied – he knows how to raise it even higher. After expressing his “courageous” wish just now to dwell at home with the Lord rather than to wander in the foreignness of bodily life, he wants to draw the conclusion with “therefore” **) and in this conclusion he puts both cases, whether one is at home or abroad, as indifferent in verse 9 – “therefore we strive to please the Lord, whether we are at home or abroad”!

**) διὸ

After a common saying (verse 11) about the judgment that the Lord will judge each person according to his deeds, the author, the supposed apostle, returns to his position before people in general and before the Corinthians with the concluding particle “thus” – “since we know the fear of the Lord” – and notes that he thus seeks to persuade people (of the righteousness of his conduct), but that God is manifest and also hoped to be manifest in the conscience of the Corinthians – what a connection! Assuming that he has spoken only of himself, especially in the common saying about judgment, was the fear of the Lord, to which he attaches such great importance, a major part of the preceding topic? Can fear really determine him to such an extent in his apostolic activity? And what anxiety and constant worry about his recognition! A man who truly accomplishes great things and is convinced that he is following a great inner calling should be so anxious about people’s recognition?


And this whining for recognition, the apostle is supposed to defend, excuse, and teleologically explain against the accusation that it is self-praise! The author, who has in mind his later talk about the self-glorification of the apostle, even leaves out the actual accusation and its defense: “that is not the case, I am not going too far, I am not speaking too strongly,” in the transition to this explanation – (so anxious he is inwardly preoccupied with these apologetic expressions!) – and dictates to the apostle only the justification of his defense: “for we are not promoting ourselves,” to the pen.

No! The apostle does not want to recommend himself, he just wants to give the Corinthians a reason to praise him again, as they have forgotten his merits – so it is still only about his glory, about his recognition!


The author believes that certain people are raving about the apostle, and he describes them as those who “boast to the face and not in the heart.” However, he forgets to mention who these people are boasting about, or rather, he is unable to clarify the opposition and say who these people are boasting about since it cannot be the Corinthians themselves (as it does not refer to the name given by the apostle), and he cannot say that these opponents are boasting about themselves, as the opposition he wanted to create would have been as twisted and meaningless as it already is.

From this circling around unexplained keywords in pointless and unclear oppositions, we highlight only one incidental point.

We see the apostle defending himself in verse 13 against the charge that he is overstepping his bounds, without any motivation or even presentation of this accusation – a charge that preoccupies the author later and is already in his mind here. The love of Christ, whose urging he claims excuses him in verse 14, may further lead him to an excursus on the life-giving power of the death of Christ and the goal to which the new life should be directed and dedicated, in verse 15 – we do not ask for coherence – nor do we ask for it when he draws the conclusion from the preceding with the phrase “so that” in verse 16 and takes the latter for itself alone.

“So that from now on we know no one according to the flesh, even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.”


“So that we” *) – but he doesn’t say a word about why he speaks of himself alone with such emphasis and why this conclusion from a sentence that dealt with believers in general should concern him alone.

*) ωστε ημεις

“From now on” – how? from now on, when he writes this? Has he only now formed an opinion**) about the power of Christ’s death and the purpose of the believing life?

**) V. 14 [corrected from 15] κρίναντας

No! He means: from the point where I learned to judge in this way – where I judged for the first time – as if that point were now – as if the discovery of that judgment were his conversion – as if this judgment were not rather formed from pre-existing dogmatic keywords!

“He no longer judges anyone by the flesh from now on” – by the flesh? Does he have Jewish-minded opponents in mind who judge people based on the perceived advantages of their natural descent? Cr doesn’t say a word about it!

And did he really perceive Christ in a fleshly way up to a certain point? But when? When did the turnaround happen? He doesn’t want to say that earlier than Zude, he had formed a fleshly image of the Messiah – but rather as a Christian, he initially saw the Redeemer in a fleshly way – so when was that? How long did it last?

The author himself could not say, for at this moment he confuses two things – he has the historical development of Christian consciousness in mind, and he imagines it in such a way that the “fleshly” perception of the person of Christ prevailed earlier, and he simply makes this history of the apostle, whom he still wants to secure the credit for being the originator of the spiritual perception and preaching even in this confusion of subjects and ideas.


One more thing! In the concluding sentences (v. 17-21), the author, instead of moving forward, allows himself to be pushed and confused by individual keywords in ever new directions. In v. 19, he presents God in a way that is closer to Docetism as the immediate cause of reconciliation, with Christ only as the bearer of the effective God – he wants to prove to us again that he did not write the first Corinthians letter, in which Christ (1 Corinthians 15) is the independent mediator of history and through his free act brings about the absolute rule of God.




In the last closing sentence (Chapter 5, verse 20), the Apostle, as an ambassador of Christ, urged the Corinthians to devote themselves to reconciliation. Therefore, when he moves on to the actual exhortations in Chapter 6, verse 1, the continuing resonance of this statement forces him to make the transition with particles *) that give the appearance that he is adding something new to the previous statement. He wants to say that not only are we doing this (urging you as ambassadors of Christ), but also this (urging you as fellow workers). However, what follows is nothing new, but only an inflated repetition of what was said before.

*) συνεργουντες δε και παρακαλουμεν


Furthermore, he does not say whose co-workers he is referring to – whether the other apostles, the leaders of the Corinthian community, or the community itself – he has taken a cue from the first letter to the Corinthians, where (chapter 3, verse 9) the apostles are God’s co-workers, without adding the necessary further specification.

He has hardly introduced this exhortation when he launches into an excursus on the ministry, which must be firmly maintained in every kind of suffering and is, in fact, asserted against death, tribulation, and poverty – thus an excursus (verses 5-40) that can refer to the apostle alone and is worked out according to the image assumed historically – with which, let the commentators with their infallible acumen determine when, if at all, the apostle thought of himself with the contrast between his poverty and enrichment and enriching power (verse 40), we only note that the author, rather, borrowed those celestial praises of the gospel and the contrast along with the preceding account of unsuccessful mistreatment and the turning of sorrow into joy.

After a affected and unfounded address to the Corinthians (verses 41-43), the author returns to his exhortation – he urges them (verses 14-17) to avoid communion with unbelievers and with idols – but he does not say a word about how this condemned communion manifests itself; the most likely thing is that he is thinking of the discussion in the first letter about participation in pagan sacrificial meals, but he has left this reminiscence unfounded and even given it a false turn, as if the freethinker, with his unscrupulous enjoyment of sacrificial flesh, confesses himself as a follower of idols!



Once again, the topic is the adulterer!


The matter of the adulterer does not leave him in peace. After having resolved it by submitting to the rebellious decision, he now gives it a new turn by praising the submission and obedience of the Corinthians.

At the beginning (v. 2-3), the miracle worker, who in the first letter acted decisively in the name and with the power of Christ, still wriggles before the outraged community. He can’t assert enough that he hasn’t wronged anyone, ruined anyone, or unjustly taken advantage of anyone – what an inappropriate category in this context! – but with repeated references to the comforting news that Titus is said to have brought him from Corinth (v. 4-7), he suddenly praises their contrition, rejoices (v. 8-9) in their godly sorrow, and after the aside on divine and worldly sorrow (v. 10), he revels in their transformation.


They have shown “zeal” (v. 11) and did not think to follow his command! They tried to “justify and excuse” themselves – and instead left him to figure out how to justify his violent action! He praises their anger over the wrongdoer – and they forgave him! – their fear – and they did not shy away from God’s punishment or the apostle’s rod! – their longing (presumably to see him) – and they acted as they pleased and left him to himself! – their zeal for the apostle and against the guilty party – their assertion of right – the purity of their behavior and conduct in the whole matter – and they took the side of the evil against the apostle!

Yes, he took the whole matter with the wrongdoer from the outset only to put it in their hands, so that (v. 12-16) their zeal for him would come to light, and he is pleased that they have passed the test so admirably. He was not serious about making the wrongdoer unhappy and delivering him to Satan – that is, the author wants to say – he is not the terrible and irritable hierarch as the author of the world’s first letter has tried to portray him.


The Collection.

8 – 9.

The collection for the “saints” in Jerusalem, mentioned in the first Corinthian letter, is a welcome opportunity for the author of the second letter to try his antithesis art on a new subject, that is, to overstretch the opposites to such a degree that they miserably collapse.


He cannot find words grand enough to describe the zeal with which the Macedonians have already gathered their collections in 1 Corinthians 8:2-5 – he describes in lofty and affected language how they have sacrificed themselves in their poverty, how they have given beyond their means voluntarily and without any urging. He wants to contrast this with the tardiness of the Corinthians, whom he calls upon to do the same with a series of similarly ornamented and clumsy phrases, even resorting to flattery (verse 6-11) to encourage them to do good.

If this elaborate antithesis makes the whole thing suspect, if the supposed contrast rests on the assumption that the Macedonians were simply self-sacrificing – deeply poor, then the author finally destroys his own work in a ruthless way.

The antithesis was initially based on the assumption that the Macedonians had simply sacrificed themselves voluntarily – but soon after (in 2 Corinthians 9:2-4), he tells the Corinthians that he actually incited the Macedonians to perform the act of love by presenting to them the Corinthians’ own example, by portraying their long-standing willingness. Initially, he wanted to provoke the Corinthians through the admirable and superlative example of the Macedonians – now he admits that he incited the Macedonians through the praise of the Corinthians. First, the Macedonians were the means by which he wanted to influence the Corinthians – now it comes down to the good will of the Corinthians being the means by which he influenced the Macedonians!


But at least the Corinthians who appear in this letter knew very well how unfounded their reputation was – even the supposed apostle knows and betrays his internal anxiety and insecurity when he adjures them (9:3) not to shame his praise of their willingness – the anxious calculation with which he promises them God’s blessing and the powerful intervention of the prayers of the supporters for their help (9:6-14) reveals how little he trusts their willingness – in short, he cannot maintain any of his assumptions, cannot execute them purely, and has not even cut off the dangerous, all-destroying conclusion that the willingness of the Macedonians may be a mere invented means to kindle their own enthusiasm, just as the praise of their willingness has stimulated the Macedonians.

Finally, the fact that the author attributes to the apostle himself and to the Greek communities a relationship with the “saints” of Jerusalem is evidence of the artificiality of the whole mechanism.

We will leave aside the question of whether the believers in Jerusalem were all poor, whether they suffered particularly or alone under the pressure of unbelievers – but if the author in 8:14 hopes to make the Corinthians willing by reminding them how they can help the lack of the saints in Jerusalem in the current world by using their (worldly) abundance, then those saints (in the future of completion) would help them with the abundance of their (spiritual) goods – then we can seriously ask whether this is truly Pauline.


If furthermore the apostle sends with Titus, who is supposed to prepare the collection of the Corinthians, another brother whom the communities have expressly given him as a companion on his journey abroad, so that (v. 19-20) any suspicion regarding his collection and handling of the collection may be cut off from the outset, then the questions become even more dangerous and the whole thing collapses hopelessly before their appearance.

So the communities that have assigned a companion to the apostle on his journey abroad, i.e., the communities in the Holy Land, are the communities, the true communities, while the outlying communities are not actual communities, only the diaspora, scattered shoots of the true, real community? So the Holy Land is also the true focus of Paul’s apostolic work – his true home, the center around which he moves? He does not work independently and by virtue of his divine calling alone, but the Palestinian communities had the authority to assign him a deputy for a business abroad? The communities of the Holy Land had such a secure and self-evident authority over the outlying shoots that they could levy a contribution of their own authority and immediately send agents to collect it? And the apostle is so weak that he takes an official companion as a guarantee against suspicion and slander?

Rather, this entire mechanism is the product of the same apologetics, the same Judaism, which we have traced in the Acts of the Apostles and which made the Pauline revolution even more useful to the Church by subjecting it to the ideal representative of the statutory, the original community in Jerusalem.


(By the way, we note that in his unfounded manner, in 9:22-23, the author announces another assistant – also a worthy man and delegate of the communities – after Titus and that companion, without thinking that the Corinthians could not possibly know who the first and second worthy men were, unless he specifically named them.)


Apology of the Apostle.

10 – 12.

The vehement and outbursting behavior which the author suddenly adopts from the beginning of the tenth chapter contradicts the anxious restlessness and concern that he has expressed so far about the reception of his first letter, to such an extent that we are justified in turning Semler’s assumption, that the following from chapter 10 is actually a third letter from the Apostle, into the suspicion that a later hand added this part to the author’s anxiety work.

The style in this second part is almost always firm, the movement abrupt, the language harsh, while the author in the first part twists and turns anxiously to create the appearance of the best harmony between him and the Corinthians.


When the author in chapter 7 described the divine sadness that a first letter had caused, his issue with the Corinthians had been resolved. Nevertheless, in chapters 10-12, he still sees fit to speak “harshly” and seriously against those who did not recognize his apostolic authority and who must have had general support among the Corinthians, if he feels it necessary to defend his apostolic reputation in a letter to them. With this argumentative defense, he therefore risks the reconciliation that had just been concluded in chapter 7 being called into question again.

As much as can be said for the assumption that the work of a later hand begins with chapter 10, there are still overwhelming reasons to support the unity of the author.

It is true that the discussion of his personal dignity in this new section calls into question the previous conclusion of reconciliation. However, the author has also previously, for example in chapter 7, when he depicted complete harmony between himself and the Corinthians, spoken as if their mutual agreement on the same matter had already been established beyond all doubt. Furthermore, after thoroughly discussing the tax issue in chapter 8, he makes an attempt in 9:1 as if he is only now beginning to speak on the matter. It is true that the language in this new section is harsh and severe, but it still suffers from the confusion that characterized the earlier part of the letter and occasionally becomes as anxious and evasive, especially in the excursus on the wondrous ecstasy (12:1-6), as it was before.


As positive evidence for the unity of the author, we can finally point out in the first part the keyword of self-praise of the Apostle, which only receives its explanation in the execution of this second part, as well as the briefly mentioned antitheses on the sufferings and heavenly life force of the Apostle – antitheses that are only now fully developed.



“I, Paul, myself” – the author wants to say: now Paul himself, the true Paul, appears as he really is – with these words the Apostle moves on to the request that if anyone accuses him of being humble before the Corinthians in person, but bold and confident when he is away from them, they should not force him to justify the accusation and the general perception of him *) as someone who should always appear with unshakable confidence in all circumstances, and when he returns, to be bold and unscrupulous against his opponents and slanderers.

*) Ch. 10:2  λογίζομαι

Thus, the author immediately forgets the assumption he just made and wrote himself in the beginning of this section, and overturns the initial accusation with its opposite.

Nevertheless, the more this unnatural change of assumptions and the confusion of contradictions, the more this lack of planning demonstrates the artificial nature of the entire plan, the more the author himself reassures us against doubts about the validity of our argument that his work is based on the interests of a later time.


After the antithesis of the second accusation has displaced that of the first, or rather in the same breath in which he presents the second, he gives the accusation (v.2) a twist, stating that the apostle “walks according to the flesh” (i.e. acts on his own authority, following only his own interests), without however saying what this autonomy, this dictatorship of his own interests consists of. He actually has the later accusation in mind, the one made against Paulinism in contrast to the negation of those who submitted to the statutory, the positive, tradition, and established order.

Despite the contradictory appearance, the author has his apostle say in v.7 that he belongs to Christ as much as others do. However, he does not say in what this contradiction of appearance consists and who the others are who want to belong to Christ alone and preferentially – he writes so unclearly because he drags the opponent of the law into the later dispute about the connection of the apostles with Christ and about the value and superiority of the original apostles, and assumes that the dispute itself is widely known. To put it briefly, he borrowed an isolated catchword from the polemic of the first Corinthian letter.

“But the letters,” his opponents object – “they are impressive, in them he overestimates himself, whereas in his actual, historical appearance he is weak and insignificant” (v.9-11) – really? “The letters”? So the Corinthians received a whole series of letters from the apostle, so that the letters could become a category for them?


When the late author wrote, it was only then that there was a series of Pauline letters, and as such, the letters were generally known, and there was a debate about their value, as well as the historical legitimacy of their supposed author.

The apostle is (v. 12) above all reproach – standing alone for himself – he does not measure himself against others, only against himself – he has his God-ordained standard and calling to which he must adhere.*) However, the author immediately confuses this clear statement by combining it with an apologetic explanation that the apostle, satisfied with the divinely determined measure that led him to the Corinthians and, as he surely hopes, will lead him further, never wants to gain fame in a foreign sphere of influence (10:13-16).

*) The words συνιᾶσιν, ἡμεῖς  (v. 12, 13) are a later addition, destroying the coherence and stemming from a reader or copyist who did not understand the meaning of this explanation.

For him and the Corinthians, there could be no doubt that he had indeed reached them with his calling and measure. However, the idea that he would hopefully and surely surpass them stems only from the late Paulinist’s assumption of his master’s universal recognition. Finally, the idea that he never mixes in a foreign sphere of influence takes us back to the time when Paulinism and the Petrine faction of Judaism were fighting over the extent of their domains.


In the midst of an endless discourse on the folly in which he wishes to engage and which they would only reluctantly allow him to do (C. 11, 1) – with which he wants to justify the accusation that he is foolish in his speech (V. 6) – which would actually do them a favor since they are willing to tolerate fools (V. 19) – the supposed apostle conducts a multitude of negotiations, among them the most serious, in which it is about the salvation of his readers.

But does he really speak foolishly or was it time to indulge in folly when it comes to strengthening the wavering Corinthians in the simplicity of their devotion to Christ – when the danger of the times has risen so high that there are false teachers who preach a different message and spread a different gospel (V. 3-4), and when among the pseudo-apostles there is even one who regularly interferes with the work of the apostle to the Gentiles and whose coming the Corinthians can only be prepared for? *)

*) V. 4 ὁ ἐρχόμενος, which in this determination can only be Peter of the later tradition, who always follows Paul the iconoclast, to destroy his work.

Rather, the author was mistaken when he allowed a category, which in essence only referred to a part of the following exposition, to extend too far and subsume the discussions of true life issues.

He might well call the exposition on his principle of not accepting anything from the Corinthians (C. 11, 7-15) a foolish talk, as long as he had carried it out clearly and coherently, for even ordinary folly has its method.


From the beginning, it is already a mistake when he calls his not accepting anything from the Corinthians for his support a self-abasement, in contrast to the fact that they were elevated by his preaching of the gospel (V. 7), while he immediately after (V. 10) calls it his boast in Achaia.

In the first Corinthians letter (1 Cor. 9:12), the others, his opponents, live off the gifts of the congregations to whom they preach their gospel. Now, all of a sudden, they work for nothing, just like him, thinking it necessary to forego any support from the Corinthians to avoid any pretext of greed. But he lives off the gifts of the Macedonians. Thus, the reason that determined his behavior towards the Corinthians had no validity with the Macedonians? Were there no false apostles in Macedonia who disputed with him for possession of the congregations and tried to strike him with the charge of self-interest?

Furthermore, the false apostles followed his example of disinterestedness, so that they would be found to be the same as him in all respects (V. 12), yet they accused him of greed. Is his disinterestedness just his expedient against their suspicion of the intentions that guided him in his work?

What a confused tangle of the pettiest intrigues! Or rather, into what a labyrinth has the author entangled himself through a couple of keywords of the first Corinthians letter!


Those false apostles whom he calls the “super-apostles” in 2 Corinthians 11:5, i.e., the original apostles, boasted of being Hebrews, Israelites, or Abraham’s descendants – I am that too, he replied in verse 22. But he does not say what that name and its emphasis mean – the author did not understand how to give shape to the later accusation that Paulinism was actually just a refined heathenism and the apologetic response of the Paulines that they did not think of detaching themselves from the context of tradition with their master, and to give this negotiation a proper footing on the standpoint of his master.


When the apostle boasts of his sufferings (V. 23-33), we leave it to the acumen of commentators to explain how he could have spent twenty-four hours on the seabed like a second Jonah – and we also gladly leave it to them to resolve the dispute about whether the solemn oath in V. 31, which follows the conclusion in V. 30 that the apostle only wants to boast of his weakness, still stands as evidence of the insignificance of this enumeration of his trials, or whether it is meant to confirm the sincerity with which he boasts of his weakness, or whether it is intended to support the lingering reference to his Damascus adventure (V. 32-33).


The heathen apostle has yet another claim to fame – his visions and revelations. He wants to give an example, but he does it in a affected way, speaking of himself in the third person and inwardly rejoicing that his readers will already know who this marvelously favored man is – no, not only affected, but also timid and uncertain – the author speaks in such a vague manner precisely because he is unable to really express the supposed vision. The whole thing consists of meaningless phrases: “I know a man in Christ, whether in the body or out of the body, I do not know – God knows – such a one was caught up to the third heaven – and I know such a man, whether in the body or out of the body, I do not know – God knows – he heard unspeakable words,” etc.



Once again, the Apostle returns to the teleological explanation of his sufferings (V. 5-7) – they were given to him so that he would not be exalted by the ecstasies and revelations with which he was especially blessed – but in truth, he wants to arrive at the divine interpretation of the apparent contradiction, that is, at the Pauline axiom that grace reveals its superiority in human weakness. Therefore, he had to plead with God three times to remove the thorn from his flesh, to free him from the persecutions of the satanic angel, that is, from that suffering, to pull him out of that struggle that only Satan could provoke in him – therefore, God had to answer: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness!”



But he does not want to be completely weak – he has also proven himself to be a true Apostle, a miracle worker, among the Corinthians (V. 12-13) – a very dangerous title, after his intended miracle of power over the adulterer had completely failed!




Final section:


Even on his hierarchical supremacy, he does not want to give up completely.

Only when the hierarch “acts too grossly”, as he believes is happening in the first Corinthians, his Pauline liberalism arises – (so the main purpose of his letter is to remove the appearance that Paul had actually misused the power given to him by the Old Testament in a spirit of destruction) – despite all this, however, he still wants to connect the hierarchical authority system with his Pauline-colored liberalism.

As a hierarch, he therefore wants to speak sternly at last and threaten the rebels with the application of all means available to him under his punitive power – but unfortunately, he is just as unlucky in his wording as he has been so far.

It is now firmly established for him that he has been to Corinth twice already – presumably, the proceedings of the first Corinthians gradually turned into a stay in Corinth – so on his second visit, he had already “told them beforehand” that if he came again, there would be no mercy – that is, he had found alarming disorder on his second visit, and instead of intervening immediately, he only spoke of what he would do on his next return. Instead of showing his power, instead of performing one of his supposed miracles, he went away and showed the rebels his back with a threat! He could not master the community, found no point of contact, and now hopes to win by repeated threats!


All of these concerning consequences of his attitude do not bother him – he is only pleased with the power and strength of his threat. In fact, he says, “I will not spare, since you (v. 3) want to feel the Christ speaking in me,” meaning to test how strong he is in him.

At the same time, he returns to ironic mockery of his weakness (v. 4, 7, 9) – referring to a discussion that had already gone far beyond all limits. Immediately following this quarrelsome and meaningless banter, he adds the usual blessings (v. 11-13), which after such an unproductive and pointless discussion, naturally come across as very cold and meaningless.

One more thing: at the end of that final threat, he says (v. 10) “since he is absent, he writes them this, so that he does not have to apply sharpness when he returns with the power the Lord has given him, to build up and not destroy” – but if he can threaten and, to mention the miracle of the first letter no more, apply sharpness when he returns if necessary, then he must also have the power of judgment and destruction. It is therefore clear: the author has included here, as he has already done before (1 Corinthians 10:8), an apologetic turn of the later Paulinists, with which they sought to refute the accusation that their Master was only a spirit of destruction.






Reason to Doubt the Only Historical Date Marker in Paul’s Letters?

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by Neil Godfrey

Several discussions have broken out on “Biblical Criticism & History Forum” over the verses in 2 Corinthians describing Paul’s escape from Damascus by being lowered in a basket from a window in the city wall.

2 Corinthians 11:

30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me.33 But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.

This passage is the only explicit chronological marker in Paul’s letters. In this post I leave aside the question of which Aretas is being referred to and play the villain by looking at those arguments that raise doubts about the very authenticity of the passage.

First, a brief word in defence of its authenticity:

Against all these conjectures [against authenticity] one must object that manuscript evidence of an interpolation is lacking. “There is no evidence that the epistle ever existed without these verses at this point.”60 Nor is the difficulty alleviated by the hypothesis of a scribal gloss, which merely transfers the problem to the copyist who would have inserted the verses at this point.61

60 Plummer, Second Epistle, 332. [the link is to archive.org where Plummer suggests that if there is interpolation it may even have been made into the original letter by the Apostle himself]

61 Barrett, Second Epistle, 303. [again, like is to the relevant page in archive.org where this time Barrett sees a problem if we try to imagine a scribe inserting such a passage at this point.]

Welborn, Laurence L. “The Runaway Paul.” The Harvard Theological Review 92, no. 2 (1999): 122.

Welborn also posted a list of critics who have thought the passage should be deleted entirely:

  • J. H. A. Michelsen, “T Verhaal van Paulus’ vlucht uit Damaskus, 2 Kor. XI:32,33; XII: 1, 7a een interpolatie,” Theologisch Tijdschrift 7 (1873) 424-27;
  • J. M. S. Baljon, De tekst der brieven van Paulus aan de Romeinen, de Corinthiers en de Galatiers als voorwerp conjecturalkritiekbeschouwd (Utrecht: Boekhoven,1884) 159-61;
  • Windisch, Zweite Korintherbrief, 363-64;
  • Hans Dieter Betz, Der Apostel Paulus und die sokratische Tradition: Eine exegetische Untersuchung zu seiner “Apologie” 2 Kor 10-13 (BHTh 45; Tubingen: Mohr/Siebeck, n. 201.

What did they say?

In short, the episode is thought not to fit with the other experiences Paul has been writing about and it doesn’t seem to follow from the preceding words. It even seems to get in the way of what would otherwise be a coherent sentence. Paul insists that he will boast of his weaknesses, and then declares most emphatically that he is not lying …. and then, the basket escape. Is that not an odd scenario to follow a boast in weakness and an oath that he is not lying?

Remove the basket escape and we have Paul saying he will boast in his weaknesses, then swears he is not lying — then speaks of his vision and being taken up to the third heaven and being made to suffer a thorn in the flesh as a result. Does not that sound like a coherent line of thought? Where does the escape from Damascus fit?

Machine translations, with a little human polishing here and there, follow. Highlighting added for easier focusing on the main points.

First, for reference, here is the passage in context:

30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. 33 But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.

12 I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

The arguments quoted: Continue reading “Reason to Doubt the Only Historical Date Marker in Paul’s Letters?”