A surprising Turn

As chapter 10 begins, Paul has started the last section of the letter; it runs through chapter 13. For centuries, scholars have been puzzled by this section, for it really doesn’t seem to fit; this is another section in defense of Paul’s apostolic ministry, but unlike the first section of defense that was based around Paul’s love for the Corinthians, this one adopts a harsh tone, and is laced with sarcasm− why would Paul do that now?

In the past, a great many scholars believed that chapters 10-13 were the contents of Paul’s harsh letter that was referred to back in the beginning of the letter. Yet in more recent times, scholars have mostly moved away from that view in favor of a view that after Paul had sent Titus and the others to Corinth with his letter (chapters 1-9) he received more bad news from Corinth about the same issues as before, became very angry, and then wrote chapters 10-13 as an additional letter.

More recently another view has come into vogue, this one originates with experts of Greek literature of the period. In this view, Paul’s earlier defense of his ministry was directed at the majority of the church who were inclined to be most receptive to Paul, as opposed to the outside agitators and the minority of hardline members who were less likely to be receptive. Paul would, in essence, make his peace with the receptive majority, explain himself and set the table to renew his appeal for the offering. With that accomplished, he would then single out the agitators and hard liners and blast them with all guns in a furious broadside to completely discredit them in the eyes of the majority.

So, which of these views is correct?

I can’t say for sure for the simple reason that we don’t have any clear evidence to support any of these views, other than the fact that right when we come to what should be the end of the letter, the part where we would expect to find Paul’s final greetings, he went off on his opponents. Objectively then, that’s all we can say for certain.

Since I am not an expert on first century Greek literary technique, I really am not in a position to confirm or deny the claims of the most recent theory, but I can tell you that being trained in rhetoric myself, that’s how I would go about it today if I were in Paul’s situation. I would reconcile with the majority who are likely to side with me, and then discredit the opposition; yes, it would be persuasive if done right. The tricky part is to make fools of the opponents without going so far that my allies would be put off.

Did they use the same rhetorical tactics then that we use now?

Sadly, the answer is… sort of.

Since we really can’t be sure, I’ll just leave the “why” open to your interpretation, and deal with the “what” as we go through this rather raucous section.

We’ll dive into it next time; see you then!

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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4 Responses to A surprising Turn

  1. Wally Fry says:

    Don, thanks for taking some of these difficult passages, that often come with theological explanations that normal people can’t even understand, and putting them into words the regular Joes of the world can get!

  2. Steve B says:

    “As chapter 10 begins, Paul has started the last section of the letter; it runs through chapter 13. For centuries, scholars have been puzzled by this section, for it really doesn’t seem to fit; this is another section in defense of Paul’s apostolic ministry, but unlike the first section of defense that was based around Paul’s love for the Corinthians, this one adopts a harsh tone, and is laced with sarcasm− why would Paul do that now?”
    Does it really matter what ‘scholars’ think? Who wrote scripture and what is its purpose?

    2Ti 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
    So with that in mind, isn’t it more appropriate to say that “God adopts a harsh tone and is laced with sarcasm” and for what purpose? Maybe a bit of correction or reproof.

    Just a thought or two.

    Steve

    • Don Merritt says:

      What this or that scholar may say isn’y all that important. BUT recognizing the context in which a passage falls is very important when we try to apply it to life.

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