2 Corinthians 10-13
New American Bible (Revised Edition)
IV. Paul’s Defense of His Ministry[a]
Accusation of Weakness.[b] 1 Now I myself, Paul, urge you through the gentleness and clemency of Christ,[c] I who am humble when face to face with you, but brave toward you when absent, 2 [d](A)I beg you that, when present, I may not have to be brave with that confidence with which I intend to act boldly against some who consider us as acting according to the flesh. 3 For, although we are in the flesh, we do not battle according to the flesh,[e] 4 for the weapons of our battle are not of flesh but are enormously powerful, capable of destroying fortresses. We destroy arguments(B) 5 and every pretension raising itself against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ, 6 and we are ready to punish every disobedience, once your obedience is complete.(C)
7 (D)Look at what confronts you. Whoever is confident of belonging to Christ should consider that as he belongs to Christ, so do we.[f] 8 (E)And even if I should boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for tearing you down, I shall not be put to shame. 9 [g]May I not seem as one frightening you through letters. 10 For someone will say, “His letters are severe and forceful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.”(F) 11 Such a person must understand that what we are in word through letters when absent, that we also are in action when present.(G)
12 [h]Not that we dare to class or compare ourselves with some of those who recommend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.(H) 13 But we will not boast beyond measure but will keep to the limits[i] God has apportioned us, namely, to reach even to you. 14 For we are not overreaching ourselves, as though we did not reach you; we indeed first came to you with the gospel of Christ. 15 We are not boasting beyond measure, in other people’s labors; yet our hope is that, as your faith increases, our influence among you may be greatly enlarged, within our proper limits, 16 so that we may preach the gospel even beyond you, not boasting of work already done in another’s sphere.(I) 17 (J)“Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.”[j] 18 For it is not the one who recommends himself who is approved,[k] but the one whom the Lord recommends.(K)
Preaching Without Charge.[l] 1 If only you would put up with a little foolishness from me![m] Please put up with me.(L) 2 [n]For I am jealous of you with the jealousy of God, since I betrothed you to one husband to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.(M) 3 But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve[o] by his cunning, your thoughts may be corrupted from a sincere [and pure] commitment to Christ.(N) 4 For if someone comes and preaches another Jesus[p] than the one we preached,(O) or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it well enough. 5 [q](P)For I think that I am not in any way inferior to these “superapostles.” 6 Even if I am untrained in speaking, I am not so in knowledge;(Q) in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.[r]
7 [s]Did I make a mistake when I humbled myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you without charge?(R) 8 I plundered other churches by accepting from them in order to minister to you. 9 And when I was with you and in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my needs. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way.(S) 10 By the truth of Christ in me, this boast of mine shall not be silenced in the regions of Achaia.(T) 11 [t]And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!(U)
12 And what I do I will continue to do, in order to end this pretext of those who seek a pretext for being regarded as we are in the mission of which they boast. 13 [u]For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, who masquerade as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan masquerades as an angel of light. 15 So it is not strange that his ministers also masquerade as ministers of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.
Paul’s Boast: His Labors. 16 [v]I repeat, no one should consider me foolish;[w] but if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little.[x] 17 What I am saying I am not saying according to the Lord but as in foolishness, in this boastful state. 18 Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. 19 For you gladly put up with fools, since you are wise yourselves. 20 [y]For you put up with it if someone enslaves you, or devours you, or gets the better of you, or puts on airs, or slaps you in the face. 21 To my shame I say that we were too weak![z]
But what anyone dares to boast of (I am speaking in foolishness) I also dare. 22 [aa]Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.(V) 23 [ab]Are they ministers of Christ? (I am talking like an insane person.)(W) I am still more,[ac] with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, far worse beatings, and numerous brushes with death. 24 Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one.(X) 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep;(Y) 26 on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure.(Z) 28 And apart from these things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is led to sin, and I am not indignant?(AA)
Paul’s Boast: His Weakness.[ad] 30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 [ae]The God and Father of the Lord Jesus knows, he who is blessed forever, that I do not lie. 32 At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus, in order to seize me, 33 but I was lowered in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.(AB)
1 I[af] must boast; not that it is profitable, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I know someone in Christ who, fourteen years ago (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows), was caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I know that this person (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows) 4 was caught up into Paradise and heard ineffable things, which no one may utter.(AC) 5 About this person[ag] I will boast, but about myself I will not boast, except about my weaknesses. 6 Although if I should wish to boast, I would not be foolish, for I would be telling the truth. But I refrain, so that no one may think more of me than what he sees in me or hears from me 7 because of the abundance of the revelations. Therefore, that I might not become too elated,[ah] a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.(AD) 8 Three times[ai] I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me,(AE) 9 [aj]but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,[ak] in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.(AF) 10 Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ;(AG) for when I am weak, then I am strong.[al]
Selfless Concern for the Church.[am] 11 I have been foolish. You compelled me, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I am in no way inferior to these “superapostles,”(AH) even though I am nothing. 12 [an]The signs of an apostle were performed among you with all endurance, signs and wonders, and mighty deeds.(AI) 13 [ao]In what way were you less privileged than the rest of the churches, except that on my part I did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!(AJ)
14 Now I am ready to come to you this third time. And I will not be a burden, for I want not what is yours, but you. Children ought not to save for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 I will most gladly spend and be utterly spent for your sakes. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? 16 But granted that I myself did not burden you, yet I was crafty and got the better of you by deceit.(AK) 17 Did I take advantage of you through any of those I sent to you? 18 I urged Titus to go and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not walk in the same spirit? And in the same steps?(AL)
Final Warnings and Appeals.[ap] 19 Have you been thinking all along that we are defending[aq] ourselves before you? In the sight of God we are speaking in Christ, and all for building you up, beloved. 20 For I fear that[ar] when I come I may find you not such as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish; that there may be rivalry, jealousy, fury, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.(AM) 21 I fear that when I come again[as] my God may humiliate me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, immorality, and licentiousness they practiced.
1 This third time I am coming[at] to you. “On the testimony of two or three witnesses a fact shall be established.”(AN) 2 I warned those who sinned earlier[au] and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not be lenient, 3 [av]since you are looking for proof of Christ speaking in me. He is not weak toward you but powerful in you. 4 For indeed he was crucified out of weakness, but he lives by the power of God. So also we are weak in him, but toward you we shall live with him by the power of God.
5 [aw]Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless, of course, you fail the test. 6 I hope you will discover that we have not failed. 7 But we pray to God that you may not do evil, not that we may appear to have passed the test but that you may do what is right, even though we may seem to have failed. 8 For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. 9 For we rejoice when we are weak but you are strong. What we pray for is your improvement.
11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the holy ones greet you.(AP)
13 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the holy Spirit be with all of you.(AQ)
- 10:1–13:10 These final chapters have their own unity of structure and theme and could well have formed the body of a separate letter. They constitute an apologia on Paul’s part, i.e., a legal defense of his behavior and his ministry; the writing is emotionally charged and highly rhetorical. In the central section (2 Cor 11:16–12:10), the apologia takes the form of a boast. This section is prepared for by a prologue (2 Cor 11:1–15) and followed by an epilogue (2 Cor 12:11–18), which are similar in content and structure. These sections, in turn, are framed by an introduction (2 Cor 10:1–18) and a conclusion (2 Cor 12:19–13:10), both of which assert Paul’s apostolic authority and confidence and define the purpose of the letter. The structure that results from this disposition of the material is chiastic, i.e., the first element corresponds to the last, the second to the second last, etc., following the pattern a b c b′ a′.
- 10:1–18 Paul asserts his apostolic authority and expresses the confidence this generates in him. He writes in response to certain opinions that have arisen in the community and certain charges raised against him and in preparation for a forthcoming visit in which he intends to set things in order. This section gives us an initial glimpse of the situation in Corinth that Paul must address; much of its thematic material will be taken up again in the finale (2 Cor 12:19–13:10).
- 10:1–2 A strong opening plunges us straight into the conflict. Contrasts dominate here: presence versus absence, gentleness-clemency-humility versus boldness-confidence-bravery. Through the gentleness and clemency of Christ: the figure of the gentle Christ, presented in a significant position before any specifics of the situation are suggested, forms a striking contrast to the picture of the bold and militant Paul (2 Cor 10:2–6); this tension is finally resolved in 2 Cor 13:3–4. Absent…present: this same contrast, with a restatement of the purpose of the letter, recurs in 2 Cor 13:10, which forms an inclusion with 2 Cor 10:1–2.
- 10:2b–4a Flesh: the Greek word sarx can express both the physical life of the body without any pejorative overtones (as in “we are in the flesh,” 3) and our natural life insofar as it is marked by limitation and weakness (as in the other expressions) in contrast to the higher life and power conferred by the Spirit; cf. note on 1 Cor 3:1. The wordplay is intended to express the paradoxical situation of a life already taken over by the Spirit but not yet seen as such except by faith. Lack of empirical evidence of the Spirit permits misunderstanding and misjudgment, but Paul resolutely denies that his behavior and effectiveness are as limited as some suppose.
- 10:3b–6 Paul is involved in combat. The strong military language and imagery are both an assertion of his confidence in the divine power at his disposal and a declaration of war against those who underestimate his resources. The threat is echoed in 2 Cor 13:2–3.
- 10:7–8 Belonging to Christ…so do we: these phrases already announce the pattern of Paul’s boast in 2 Cor 11:21b–29, especially 2 Cor 11:22–23. For building you up and not for tearing you down: Paul draws on the language by which Jeremiah described the purpose of the prophetic power the Lord gave to him (Jer 1:9–10; 12:16–17; 24:6). Though Paul’s power may have destructive effects on others (2 Cor 10:2–6), its intended effect on the community is entirely constructive (cf. 2 Cor 13:10). I shall not be put to shame: his assertions will not be refuted; they will be revealed as true at the judgment.
- 10:9–10 Paul cites the complaints of some who find him lacking in personal forcefulness and holds out the threat of a personal parousia (both “return” and “presence”) that will be forceful, indeed will be a demonstration of Christ’s own power (cf. 2 Cor 13:2–4).
- 10:12–18 Paul now qualifies his claim to boldness, indicating its limits. He distinguishes his own behavior from that of others, revealing those “others” as they appear to him: as self-recommending, immoderately boastful, encroaching on territory not assigned to them, and claiming credit not due to them.
- 10:13 Will keep to the limits: the notion of proper limits is expressed here by two terms with overlapping meanings, metron and kanōn, which are played off against several expressions denoting overreaching or expansion beyond a legitimate sphere.
- 10:17 Boast in the Lord: there is a legitimate boasting, in contrast to the immoderate boasting to which 2 Cor 10:13, 15 allude. God’s work through Paul in the community is the object of his boast (2 Cor 10:13–16; 2 Cor 1:12–14) and constitutes his recommendation (2 Cor 3:1–3). Cf. notes on 2 Cor 1:12–14 and 1 Cor 1:29–31.
- 10:18 Approved: to be approved is to come successfully through the process of testing for authenticity (cf. 2 Cor 13:3–7 and the note on 2 Cor 8:2). Whom the Lord recommends: self-commendation is a premature and unwarranted anticipation of the final judgment, which the Lord alone will pass (cf. 1 Cor 4:3–5). Paul alludes to this judgment throughout 2 Cor 10–13, frequently in final or transitional positions; cf. 2 Cor 11:15; 12:19a; 13:3–7.
- 11:1–15 Although these verses continue to reveal information about Paul’s opponents and the differences he perceives between them and himself, 2 Cor 11:1 signals a turn in Paul’s thought. This section constitutes a prologue to the boasting that he will undertake in 2 Cor 11:16–12:10, and it bears remarkable similarities to the section that follows the central boast, 2 Cor 12:11–18.
- 11:1 Put up with a little foolishness from me: this verse indicates more clearly than the general statement of intent in 2 Cor 10:13 the nature of the project Paul is about to undertake. He alludes ironically to the Corinthians’ toleration for others. Foolishness: Paul qualifies his project as folly from beginning to end; see note on 2 Cor 11:16–12:10.
- 11:2 Paul gives us a sudden glimpse of the theological values that are at stake. The jealousy of God: the perspective is that of the covenant, described in imagery of love and marriage, as in the prophets; cf. 1 Cor 10:22. I betrothed you: Paul, like a father (cf. 2 Cor 12:14), betroths the community to Christ as his bride (cf. Eph 5:21–33) and will present her to him at his second coming. Cf. Mt 25:1–13 and the nuptial imagery in Rev 21.
- 11:3 As the serpent deceived Eve: before Christ can return for the community Paul fears a repetition of the primal drama of seduction. Corruption of minds is satanic activity (see 2 Cor 2:11; 4:4). Satanic imagery recurs in 2 Cor 11:13–15, 20; 12:7b, 16–17; see notes on these passages.
- 11:4 Preaches another Jesus: the danger is specified, and Paul’s opponents are identified with the cunning serpent. The battle for minds has to do with the understanding of Jesus, the Spirit, the gospel; the Corinthians have flirted with another understanding than the one that Paul handed on to them as traditional and normative.
- 11:5 These “superapostles”: this term, employed again in 2 Cor 12:11b, designates the opponents of whom Paul has spoken in 2 Cor 10 and again in 2 Cor 11:4. They appear to be intruders at Corinth. Their preaching is marked at least by a different emphasis and style, and they do not hesitate to accept support from the community. Perhaps these itinerants appeal to the authority of church leaders in Jerusalem and even carry letters of recommendation from them. But it is not those distant leaders whom Paul is attacking here. The intruders are “superapostles” not in the sense of the “pillars” at Jerusalem (Gal 2), but in their own estimation. They consider themselves superior to Paul as apostles and ministers of Christ, and they are obviously enjoying some success among the Corinthians. Paul rejects their claim to be apostles in any superlative sense (hyperlian), judging them bluntly as “false apostles,” ministers of Satan masquerading as apostles of Christ (2 Cor 11:13–15). On the contrary, he himself will claim to be a superminister of Christ (hyper egō, 2 Cor 11:23).
- 11:6 Apparently found deficient in both rhetorical ability (cf. 2 Cor 10:10) and knowledge (cf. 2 Cor 10:5), Paul concedes the former charge but not the latter. In every way: in all their contacts with him revelation has been taking place. Paul, through whom God reveals the knowledge of himself (2 Cor 2:14), and in whom the death and life of Jesus are revealed (2 Cor 4:10–11; cf. 2 Cor 6:4), also demonstrates his own role as the bearer of true knowledge. Cf. 1 Cor 1:18–2:16.
- 11:7–10 Abruptly Paul passes to another reason for complaints: his practice of preaching without remuneration (cf. 1 Cor 9:3–18). He deftly defends his practice by situating it from the start within the pattern of Christ’s own self-humiliation (cf. 2 Cor 10:1) and reduces objections to absurdity by rhetorical questions (cf. 2 Cor 12:13).
- 11:11–12 Paul rejects lack of affection as his motive (possibly imputed to him by his opponents) and states his real motive, a desire to emphasize the disparity between himself and the others (cf. 2 Cor 11:19–21). The topic of his gratuitous service will be taken up once more in 2 Cor 12:13–18. 1 Cor 9:15–18 gives a different but complementary explanation of his motivation.
- 11:13–15 Paul picks up again the imagery of 2 Cor 11:3 and applies it to the opponents: they are false apostles of Christ, really serving another master. Deceitful…masquerade: deception and simulation, like cunning (2 Cor 11:3), are marks of the satanic. Angel of light: recalls the contrast between light and darkness, Christ and Beliar at 2 Cor 6:14–15. Ministers of righteousness: recalls the earlier contrast between the ministry of condemnation and that of righteousness (2 Cor 3:9). Their end: the section closes with another allusion to the judgment, when all participants in the final conflict will be revealed or unmasked and dealt with as they deserve.
- 11:16–12:10 Paul now accepts the challenge of his opponents and indulges in boasting similar to theirs, but with differences that he has already signaled in 2 Cor 10:12–18 and that become clearer as he proceeds. He defines the nature of his project and unmistakably labels it as folly at the beginning and the end (2 Cor 11:16–23; 12:11). Yet his boast does not spring from ignorance (2 Cor 11:21; 12:6) nor is it concerned merely with human distinctions (2 Cor 11:18). Paul boasts “in moderation” (2 Cor 10:13, 15) and “in the Lord” (2 Cor 10:17).
- 11:16–29 The first part of Paul’s boast focuses on labors and afflictions, in which authentic service of Christ consists.
- 11:16–21 These verses recapitulate remarks already made about the foolishness of boasting and the excessive toleration of the Corinthians. They form a prelude to the boast proper.
- 11:20 Paul describes the activities of the “others” in terms that fill out the picture drawn in vv 3–4, 13–15. Much of the vocabulary suggests fleshly or even satanic activity. Enslaves: cf. Gal 2:4. Devours: cf. 1 Pt 5:8. Gets the better: the verb lambanō means “to take,” but is used in a variety of senses; here it may imply financial advantage, as in the English colloquialism “to take someone.” It is similarly used at 2 Cor 12:16 and is there connected with cunning and deceit. Puts on airs: the same verb is rendered “raise oneself” (2 Cor 10:5) and “be too elated” (2 Cor 12:7).
- 11:21 Paul ironically concedes the charge of personal weakness from 2 Cor 10:1–18 but will refute the other charge there mentioned, that of lack of boldness, accepting the challenge to demonstrate it by his boast.
- 11:22 The opponents apparently pride themselves on their “Jewishness.” Paul, too, can claim to be a Jew by race, religion, and promise. Descendants of Abraham: elsewhere Paul distinguishes authentic from inauthentic heirs of Abraham and the promise (Rom 4:13–18; 9:7–13; 11:1; Gal 3:9, 27–29; cf. Jn 8:33–47). Here he grants his opponents this title in order to concentrate on the principal claim that follows.
- 11:23a Ministers of Christ…I am still more: the central point of the boast (cf. note on 2 Cor 11:5). Like an insane person: the climax of his folly.
- 11:23b–29 Service of the humiliated and crucified Christ is demonstrated by trials endured for him. This rhetorically impressive catalogue enumerates many of the labors and perils Paul encountered on his missionary journeys.
- 11:30–12:10 The second part of Paul’s boast, marked by a change of style and a shift in focus. After recalling the project in which he is engaged, he states a new topic: his weaknesses as matter for boasting. Everything in this section, even the discussion of privileges and distinctions, will be integrated into this perspective.
- 11:31–32 The episode at Damascus is symbolic. It aptly illustrates Paul’s weakness but ends in deliverance (cf. 2 Cor 4:7–11).
- 12:1–4 In the body or out of the body: he seemed no longer confined to bodily conditions, but he does not claim to understand the mechanics of the experience. Caught up: i.e., in ecstasy. The third heaven…Paradise: ancient cosmologies depicted a multitiered universe. Jewish intertestamental literature contains much speculation about the number of heavens. Seven is the number usually mentioned, but the Testament of Levi (2:7–10; 3:1–4) speaks of three; God himself dwelt in the third of these. Without giving us any clear picture of the cosmos, Paul indicates a mental journey to a nonearthly space, set apart by God, in which secrets were revealed to him. Ineffable things: i.e., privileged knowledge, which it was not possible or permitted to divulge.
- 12:5–7 This person: the indirect way of referring to himself has the effect of emphasizing the distance between that experience and his everyday life, just as the indirect someone in Christ (2 Cor 12:2) and all the passive verbs emphasize his passivity and receptivity in the experience. The revelations were not a personal achievement, nor were they meant to draw attention to any quality of his own.
- 12:7 That I might not become too elated: God assures that there is a negative component to his experience, so that he cannot lose proper perspective; cf. 2 Cor 1:9; 4:7–11. A thorn in the flesh: variously interpreted as a sickness or physical disability, a temptation, or a handicap connected with his apostolic activity. But since Hebrew “thorn in the flesh,” like English “thorn in my side,” refers to persons (cf. Nm 33:55; Ez 28:24), Paul may be referring to some especially persistent and obnoxious opponent. The language of 2 Cor 12:7–8 permits this interpretation. If this is correct, the frequent appearance of singular pronouns in depicting the opposition may not be merely a stylistic variation; the singular may be provoked and accompanied by the image of one individual in whom criticism of Paul’s preaching, way of life, and apostolic consciousness is concentrated, and who embodies all the qualities Paul attributes to the group. An angel of Satan: a personal messenger from Satan; cf. the satanic language already applied to the opponents in 2 Cor 11:3, 13–15, 20.
- 12:8 Three times: his prayer was insistent, like that of Jesus in Gethsemane, a sign of how intolerable he felt the thorn to be.
- 12:9 But he said to me: Paul’s petition is denied; release and healing are withheld for a higher purpose. The Greek perfect tense indicates that Jesus’ earlier response still holds at the time of writing. My grace is sufficient for you: this is not a statement about the sufficiency of grace in general. Jesus speaks directly to Paul’s situation. Is made perfect: i.e., is given most fully and manifests itself fully.
- 12:9b–10a Paul draws the conclusion from the autobiographical anecdote and integrates it into the subject of this part of the boast. Weaknesses: the apostolic hardships he must endure, including active personal hostility, as specified in a final catalogue (2 Cor 12:10a). That the power of Christ may dwell with me: Paul pinpoints the ground for the paradoxical strategy he has adopted in his self-defense.
- 12:10 When I am weak, then I am strong: Paul recognizes a twofold pattern in the resolution of the weakness-power (and death-life) dialectic, each of which looks to Jesus as the model and is experienced in him. The first is personal, involving a reversal in oneself (Jesus, 2 Cor 13:4a; Paul, 2 Cor 1:9–10; 4:10–11; 6:9). The second is apostolic, involving an effect on others (Jesus, 2 Cor 5:14–15; Paul, 2 Cor 1:6; 4:12; 13:9). The specific kind of “effectiveness in ministry” that Paul promises to demonstrate on his arrival (2 Cor 13:4b; cf. 2 Cor 10:1–11) involves elements of both; this, too, will be modeled on Jesus’ experience and a participation in that experience (2 Cor 9; 13:3b).
- 12:11–18 This brief section forms an epilogue or concluding observation to Paul’s boast, corresponding to the prologue in 2 Cor 11:1–15. A four-step sequence of ideas is common to these two sections: Paul qualifies his boast as folly (2 Cor 11:1; 12:11a), asserts his noninferiority to the “superapostles” (2 Cor 11:5; 12:11b), exemplifies this by allusion to charismatic endowments (2 Cor 11:6; 12:12), and finally denies that he has been a financial burden to the community (2 Cor 11:7–12; 12:13–18).
- 12:12 Despite weakness and affliction (suggested by the mention of endurance), his ministry has been accompanied by demonstrations of power (cf. 1 Cor 2:3–4). Signs of an apostle: visible proof of belonging to Christ and of mediating Christ’s power, which the opponents require as touchstones of apostleship (2 Cor 12:11; cf. 2 Cor 13:3).
- 12:13–18 Paul insists on his intention to continue refusing support from the community (cf. 2 Cor 11:8–12). In defending his practice and his motivation, he once more protests his love (cf. 2 Cor 11:11) and rejects the suggestion of secret self-enrichment. He has recourse here again to language applied to his opponents earlier: “cunning” (2 Cor 11:3), “deceit” (2 Cor 11:13), “got the better of you” (see note on 2 Cor 11:20), “take advantage” (2 Cor 2:11).
- 12:19–13:10 This concludes the development begun in 2 Cor 10. In the chiastic arrangement of the material (see note on 2 Cor 10:1–13:10), this final part corresponds to the opening; there are important similarities of content between the two sections as well.
- 12:19 This verse looks back at the previous chapters and calls them by their proper name, a defense, an apologia (cf. 1 Cor 9:3). Yet Paul insists on an important distinction: he has indeed been speaking for their benefit, but the ultimate judgment to which he submits is God’s (cf. 1 Cor 4:3–5). This verse also leads into the final section, announcing two of its themes: judgment and building up.
- 12:20 I fear that…: earlier Paul expressed fear that the Corinthians were being victimized, exploited, seduced from right thinking by his opponents (2 Cor 11:3–4, 19–21). Here he alludes unexpectedly to moral disorders among the Corinthians themselves. The catalogue suggests the effects of factions that have grown up around rival apostles.
- 12:21 Again: one can also translate, “I fear that when I come my God may again humiliate me.” Paul’s allusion to the humiliation and mourning that may await him recall the mood he described in 2 Cor 2:1–4, but there is no reference here to any individual such as there is in 2 Cor 2:5–11. The crisis of 2 Cor 2 has happily been resolved by integration of the offender and repentance (2 Cor 7:4–16), whereas 2 Cor 12:21 is preoccupied with still unrepentant sinners. The sexual sins recall 1 Cor 5–7.
- 13:1 This third time I am coming: designation of the forthcoming visit as the “third” (cf. 2 Cor 12:14) may indicate that, in addition to his founding sojourn in Corinth, Paul had already made the first of two visits mentioned as planned in 2 Cor 1:15, and the next visit will be the long-postponed second of these. If so, the materials in 2 Cor 1:12–2:13 plus 2 Cor 7:4–16 and 2 Cor 10–13 may date from the same period of time, presumably of some duration, between Paul’s second and third visit, though it is not clear that they are addressing the same crisis. The chronology is too unsure and the relations between sections of 2 Corinthians too unclear to yield any certainty. The hypothesis that 2 Cor 10–13 are themselves the “tearful letter” mentioned at 2 Cor 2:3–4 creates more problems than it solves.
- 13:2 I warned those who sinned earlier: mention of unrepentant sinners (2 Cor 12:21 and here) and of an oral admonition given them on an earlier visit complicates the picture at the very end of Paul’s development. It provides, in fact, a second explanation for the show of power that has been threatened from the beginning (2 Cor 10:1–6), but a different reason for it, quite unsuspected until now. It is not clear whether Paul is merely alluding to a dimension of the situation that he has not previously had occasion to mention, or whether some other community crisis, not directly connected with that behind 2 Cor 10–13, has influenced the final editing. I will not be lenient: contrast Paul’s hesitation and reluctance to inflict pain in 2 Cor 1:23 and 2 Cor 2:1–4. The next visit will bring the showdown.
- 13:3–4 Paul now gives another motive for severity when he comes, the charge of weakness leveled against him as an apostle. The motive echoes more closely the opening section (2 Cor 10:1–18) and the intervening development (especially 2 Cor 11:30–12:10). Proof of Christ speaking in me: the threat of 2 Cor 10:1–2 is reworded to recall Paul’s conformity with the pattern of Christ, his insertion into the interplay of death and life, weakness and power (cf. note on 2 Cor 12:10b).
- 13:5–9 Paul turns the challenge mentioned in 2 Cor 13:3 on them: they are to put themselves to the test to demonstrate whether Christ is in them. These verses involve a complicated series of plays on the theme of dokimē (testing, proof, passing and failing a test). Behind this stands the familiar distinction between present human judgment and final divine judgment. This is the final appearance of the theme (cf. 2 Cor 10:18; 11:15; 12:19).
- 13:10 Authority…to build up and not to tear down: Paul restates the purpose of his letter in language that echoes 2 Cor 10:2, 8, emphasizing the positive purpose of his authority in their regard. This verse forms an inclusion with the topic sentence of the section (2 Cor 12:19), as well as with the opening of this entire portion of the letter (2 Cor 10:1–2).
- 13:11–13 These verses may have originally concluded 2 Cor 10–13, but they have nothing specifically to do with the material of that section. It is also possible to consider them a conclusion to the whole of 2 Corinthians in its present edited form. The exhortations are general, including a final appeal for peace in the community. The letter ends calmly, after its many storms, with the prospect of ecclesial unity and divine blessing. The final verse is one of the clearest trinitarian passages in the New Testament.