Friday, October 2
2 Corinthians 10:1-11: We come now to the lengthy self-defense for which it is arguable that this epistle is most remembered. If Paul had inappropriate partisans at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:12-13), so he had his critics, and now he will proceed to answer them.
He begins with irony, perhaps even sarcasm, apparently referring to those who think him humble only in his personal presence but overly bold as a writer (verses 1,10). His critics regard him as sinful (“walk according to the flesh”) in this respect (verse 2).
Paul admits to fleshly limitations (verse 3), an admission earlier conceded in his image of the clay vessels (4:7) and later described as a thorn in the flesh (12:7). Being “in the flesh,” however, is no worse than being “in the world” (1:12). It is simply the human condition of frailty.
Paul shifts his metaphor from walking to warring (verse 3) (or from the Odyssey to the Iliad, as it were—from life as journey to life as struggle). Combat is the more appropriate metaphor for what Paul has to say (verses 4-6). If no evil forces were arrayed against us, walking might be an adequate metaphor for life, but this is not the case.
The real enemy is intellectual arrogance, a trait that Paul addressed at depth in First Corinthians. This intellectual arrogance is what renders impossible the true “knowledge of God” (verse 5; 2:14; 5:6). Hence, a person’s first obedience to Christ is an obedience of the mind. The context of this point is Paul’s authority as an apostle, an authority on which he is prepared to elaborate at some length in the rest of the epistle (verses 7-8). To prepare for this elaboration, Paul devotes the second half of this chapter to a consideration of true and false boasting. This section sets up the remaining chapters of this book.
Saturday, October 3
2 Corinthians 10:12—11:4: Paul starts with obvious irony (verse 12) that one scholar translates as “Well, I really cannot muster the courage to pair myself [enkrinai] or compare myself [synkrinai] with certain persons who are distinguished by much self-commendation [synistano–3:1; 4:2; 5:12; 10:12,18; 12:11].” Unlike these persons, nonetheless, Paul has special claims on the Corinthians as the founder of their congregation (verse 14; 1 Corinthians 3:6,10).
Thus he starts his self-defense against the criticisms of certain roaming preachers who have stirred up controversy at Corinth since his last visit to the place. From Acts and 1 Corinthians we know that Apollos and Cephas had done some evangelization in the city, but it is clear that Paul does not have these men in mind. It is impossible to determine who his critics were.
Was Paul accused of jealousy with respect to those critics? Evidently so, but he explains the motive, nature, and justice of this jealous (verse 2). This jealousy is for Christ, not himself; it is an expression of loving pastoral concern, for he fears the spiritual seduction of the Corinthians (verse 3). After all, the latter have shown themselves disposed to receive and accept new versions of the Good News (verse 4), preached by these itinerant evangelists whom he mockingly calls “hyper-apostles” (verse 5; 12:11) and, more seriously, “false apostles” (verse 13).
Sunday, October 4
2 Corinthians 11:5-21: It appears that Paul’s humble demeanor at Corinth, where he was supported by his own labor (Acts 18:3; 1 Corinthians 4:12; 9:18) and the financial support received from Macedonia (verse 9; Philippians 2:25; 4:10-20), made him the object of derision among his critics (verse 7). This suggests that Paul’s critics at Corinth may have enjoyed a higher social status, even as they accepted the support of the Corinthians. Since Paul did, in fact, accept support from other churches, it would seem that he had early sized up the spirit of the Corinthians and concluded that to accept their support would not be prudent in this case. Sometimes, after all, financial support comes with certain undisclosed obligations that will eventually render the recipient a debtor.
Using some of the harshest expressions to come from his pen, Paul commences his autobiographical apologetic, recounting at length the various sufferings and trials attendant on his ministry. He is aware that his readers may regard his comments only as an exercise in foolishness (verse 16).
With sarcasm Paul comments that the Corinthians are already accustomed to tolerate foolishness, themselves being so wise (verse 19; 1 Corinthians 4:10). Their tolerance is so great that they have already been outrageously treated by the false itinerant teachers (verse 20). Their enslavement (katadouloi) at the hands of these teachers puts us in mind of the earlier situation in Galatia, where “false brothers” brought free Christians back under the slavery of the Law (katadoulousin–Galatians 2:4). The Corinthians have been similarly mistreated.
Monday, October 5
2 Corinthians 11:22-33: It becomes clear that Paul’s opponents are Jews, but so is he (verse 22; Philippians 3:5). They claim to be servants of Christ, but Paul’s credentials are stronger and more credible, and he proceeds to list them. Not only has he been beaten and imprisoned (Acts 16:22-23); he has also often been in danger of death (verse 23. Paul’s list here contains some details not found in the Acts of the Apostles. From the latter work we would not have suspected, for instance, that Paul had already suffered shipwreck three times (verse 25) prior to the occasion described in Acts 27.
Eight times Paul speaks of “dangers” (verse 26) to describe the circumstances of his many travels. The culminating danger is that of betrayal by “false brothers” (cf. Galatians 2:4), a term that may include the critics he is answering.
All of these things have been endured in the context of Paul’s tireless ministry to the churches, a source of constant inner solicitude (verse 28). Inwardly identified with the plight of these churches, Paul suffers all that they suffer (verse 29; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
This mention of weakness (verse 29) brings the Apostle more directly to his theme—namely, power made perfect in weakness (verse 30). He recalls the humiliation and indignities endured throughout his ministry, beginning with his narrow escape while being lowered over a city wall in a basket (verses 31-33; Acts 9:23-25). Hardly any man is weaker or more dependent (with apologies for the pun) than a man being lowered in a basket.
Tuesday, October 6
2 Corinthians 12:1-10: The variant readings in the manuscripts for verse 1 testify to the difficulties felt by many copyists, over the centuries, when they came to the beginning of this verse. Those difficulties admitted, the correct sense seems to be: “Though it serves no good purpose, further boasting is necessary.”
Paul mentions the spiritual revelations of which he has been the recipient, even in mystical rapture (verse 2). These experiences surely included the direct revelation that he received from the risen Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:8; Galatians 1:16), also recorded by St. Luke (Acts 9:4-6; 22:6-8; 26:13-18). Speaking of an especially lofty experience fourteen years earlier, Paul’s sense of reserve prompts him to shift to the grammatical third person, as though he were speaking of someone else.
These spiritual revelations strengthened Paul in the apostolic ministry (Acts 18:9-10), and he would soon receive another one (22:17-22).
The mysterious character of such revelations is conveyed by Paul’s ironic expression “unspeakable sayings” (arreta remata–verse 4). The sheer ineffability of these experiences is mirrored in the irony with which Paul speaks of them. Thus, he is unable to say whether or not he was still in his body during the occurrence. Indeed, it is almost as though they had happened to someone else, a pers
on distinct from powerless, frail Paul (verse 5).
The Apostle breaks off speaking of himself in this regard, lest his readers entertain too high a view of him. Such experiences, after all, had to do with his relationship to Christ, not his relationship to the Corinthians, as he had reminded them earlier (5:13).
Moreover, the Lord had taken care to humble Paul, so that he would not take personal satisfaction in those lofty flights of the soul (verse 7). His human weakness—“in the flesh”—was afflicted by a skolops, a torturing thorn, which he further describes as a satanic messenger that pounded the Apostle with closed fist (kolaphize). A comparison with Job, bodily afflicted by Satan with God’s permission, comes naturally to the mind of the student of the Bible, and perhaps Paul had something like this in mind.
Paul’s description indicates a bodily ailment of some severity—perhaps epilepsy, a diagnosis suggested by comparing this text to the description of the little boy in Mark 9:20. Whatever it was, nonetheless, this repeated or sustained experience was so humbling to Paul that he prayed for its removal (verse 8). Indeed, like our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemani (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42), Paul prays three times that it will be removed.
Like Jesus in the Garden, furthermore, Paul’s prayer, when God heard it, was rewarded with more than it sought (cf. Hebrews 5:7-10). Through this painful experience, and the prayer prompted by this experience, Paul discerned the working of divine grace in his life; he learned that his weakness was the locus and occasion in which the power of the risen Christ—“the Lord” (verse 8)—was revealed. He was instructed by this experience; it taught him, in his very flesh, that divine power is rendered perfect in infirmity (verse 9).
This experience, transformed in prayer, provided Paul with a sustained and renewing paradigm for all his life in Christ, an interpretive key capable of opening many doors otherwise closed. He found that it had sustained him in every sort of suffering and misfortune (verse 10). Through this insight “the power of Christ” (he dynamis tou Christou) was active in his life and ministry. In his weakness he was strong.
Wednesday, October 7
2 Corinthians 12:11-21: In the second half of this chapter Paul finishes his self-defense and expresses his ongoing concern for the spiritual state of the Corinthians. He seems hesitant and perhaps embarrassed by the lengthy glimpse into his soul that he has just shared with his readers.
Nonetheless, he calls on the Corinthians to remember that his presence among them demonstrated the marks of authentic apostleship (verse 12). These marks included miracles. Indeed, theologians have recognized in this verse the essential features of an authentic miracle. First, it testifies to God’s omnipotence (dynamis). Second, it is a “wonder,” an act beyond ordinary expectation (teras). Third, it serves as a revelatory “sign” (semeion. Only here and in Romans 15:18-19 does Paul ever speak of miracles associated with his ministry, though Luke describes some of them in the Acts of the Apostles. We should observe that Paul did not include these miracles in his “boasting.”
Again employing sarcasm, Paul asks the Corinthians to pardon him for not being burdensome to them. Unlike the other churches in his ministry, they had not been obliged to support him (verse 13; 11:7-12).
Perhaps the most notable feature of verse 14 is Paul’s parental attitude toward his converts at Corinth. This parental aspect of the Christian ministry is what has prompted most Christians, over the centuries, to address their pastors as “Father” (1 Corinthians 4:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:11).
Even in his self-defense Paul has not been self-seeking. All has been done, even his “boasting,” for the sake of the flock at Corinth (verse 19). Still, the Apostle fears that his coming third visit to Corinth may not go well (verse 20). It seems clear that, in Paul’s mind, not everyone at Corinth has repented of the sexual sins that caused all the trouble in the first place (verse 21; 1 Corinthians 5:1-11; 6:12-20).
Thursday, October 8
2 Corinthians 13:1-14: Throughout this letter Paul had played the theme of power made perfect in infirmity, a truth manifest in the condition and circumstances of his own life. The grasping of this truth is what prompted the Apostle, as he reflected on his ministry, to assume the extraordinary autobiographical style characteristic of this epistle.
Through this sustained experience of power made perfect in infirmity Paul learned, on his own pulses, the mystery of the Cross, and in the present reading he proclaims this mystery explicitly. The weakness in question is the weakness of Christ’s sufferings and death: “He was crucified in weakness.” The power in question is the power of Christ’s Resurrection: “He certainly lives by the power of God.” To live in Christ, therefore, is to test and live out the experience of that truth: “For although we are weak in Him, we shall certainly live with Him, with respect to you [eis hymas], by the power of God” (verse 4). When Paul will appear again before the Corinthians, he may seem weak to them, but they will experience in him the power of Christ (verse 3).
However, rather than simply wait for this godly disclosure, the Corinthians should meanwhile put themselves to the test. They should examine the evidence in their own lives to discern whether they are really believers, whether Christ is truly among them (verse 5). Paul is not anxious what other think of him; he is concerned, rather, with the spiritual health of his readers at Corinth (verse 7).
In verse 11 all the imperative verbs are in the present tense, the tense that in Greek signifies repeated or continuous action. That is to say, this is an exhortation to sustained effort with respect to moral renewal and the cultivation of the common Christian life. This is the only verse in Holy Scripture that contains the expression “the God of love.”
Friday, October 9
1 Chronicles 21: Despite their nearly identical stories of David’s census, we perceive a great difference between the Chronicler and the author of Samuel. Whereas in 2?Samuel 24 the account of the census appears to be set apart, as it were, and treated outside the sequence of the narrative, the Chronicler puts it right here in the middle of David’s career.
This difference is only apparent, however. In Chronicles the story only seems to come earlier in the reign of David, because the Chronicler has skipped so much of that reign. On the other hand, in the next nine chapters he will include a great deal of material that is not found in 2?Samuel, material that relates entirely to David’s plan for the coming temple.
Comparing this chapter with its parallel in 2?Samuel 24, we note the Chronicler’s inclusion of angelic powers, both the evil angel “Satan” and the remark about the angel of the pestilence (v. 20).
The Chronicler thus ascribes David’s temptation to “Satan” (v. 1), a demonic figure with whom the Jews became familiar during the Babylonian Captivity and the Persian period. This “Shatan” is well documented in Zoroastrian literature of that time, and he appears in the postexilic books of Job and Zechariah. The name means “adversary,” as in Numbers 22:22. In due course Satan will be recognized as identical with the serpentine tempter who seduced our first parents (cf. Wisdom 2:24; John 8:44; Rev. 12:9; 20:2).
As an expression of David’s pride, ambition, and hubris, the census is regarded by both 2?Samuel and 1?Chronicles as something less than his finest hour. Even Joab, hardly a moral giant, recognizes that something is not quite right about it (vv. 3, 6; compare 2?Sam. 24:3).
With respect to the census itself, we observe that the tribe of Levi is no
t included. This exclusion may have to do with the purpose of the census, which was to provide a “database” for Israel’s military conscription. Members of the tribe of Levi were not subject to that conscription.
Benjamin’s exclusion evidently had to do with the fact that the census was not completed, because of the plague that came as a punishment.
The story of this plague, here as in 2?Samuel, leads directly to the site of the future temple (vv. 18–27). This is the point that is of greatest interest to the Chronicler. As we have noted, this interest in the “Father’s house” provides the basis for the Chronicler’s entire history.
The Chronicler alone identifies the site of the future temple as the place where Abraham went to offer Isaac in sacrifice (v. 18; 2?Chr. 3:1; Gen. 22:2).