Paul Unmasks His Opponents
Sometimes extraordinary circumstances can push us to abandon scruples that we otherwise cling to tenaciously. For example, when one of our children takes a tumble, our aversion to the sight of blood is forgotten. The sound of a fire alarm and the smell of smoke at night cause us to disregard our usual sense of modesty. In Paul's case, news of a worsening situation at Corinth leads him to abandon his normal aversion toward self-praise and proceed in chapter 11 to do the very thing that he eschewed earlier in the letter--boast in his ministerial achievements. He certainly is not comfortable in doing so, as "I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it" (12:11) shows. His willingness to lay down his scruples indicates how desperate the situation at Corinth had become.
The circumstances that drove Paul to commend himself are spelled out in 11:1-5. I am afraid, he says, that . . . your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ (v. 3). His converts are being led--as we say--down the garden path by rival missionaries, and they are not even aware of what is going on (vv. 18-21). Paul's motivation is thus pastoral rather than personal in nature. It is his concern for the Corinthians' spiritual welfare, and not for his own reputation, that pushes him to engage in self-praise.
But why must he resort to boasting? Why not just expose the intruders for the frauds they are and leave it at that? Unfortunately, by the time the news reached Paul, the intruders had already made significant inroads at Corinth. This was largely because of the Corinthians' penchant for impressive credentials (vv. 21-23), fine-sounding words (v. 6) and extraordinary shows of power (12:12). So in order to win the congregation's ear, Paul must match the opposition point for point: What anyone else dares to boast about . . . I also dare to boast about (11:21).
The reasons for indulging him are three: first, Paul's divine jealousy for the Corinthians' purity; second, their willingness to put up with an aberrant message; and third, because he is in no way inferior to his rivals. I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy, Paul states (v. 2). Earlier Paul used the term zelos of the Corinthians' "zeal" on his behalf (7:7, 11). But here it more likely means "jealousy"--yet of the divine sort rather than what we commonly think of as a human failing. The word denotes an intense concern for a person's honor or reputation. God's jealousy for Israel's reputation among the nations is a good example (e.g., Ex 20:5; Is 26:11; 42:13-17). Paul's jealousy stems from the fact that he promised the Corinthians to one husband, to Christ . . . as a pure virgin (v. 2). In ancient Near Eastern culture, parents typically chose a wife for their son and arranged for the marriage by legal contract. It was then the responsibility of the father of the bride-to-be to ensure his daughter's virginity during the betrothal period. Betrothal was considered almost as binding as marriage itself. The betrothed couple addressed each other as "wife" and "husband" (Deut 22:23-24; Joel 1:8), and sexual faithfulness was expected. To this end, a bloodstained cloth was exhibited as proof of virginity on the wedding night (Wright 1982:743-44).
Israel as the betrothed of Yahweh is a familiar theme in the Old Testament (Is 54:5; 62:5; Ezek 16:9-22; 23:27; Hos 2:16-20). In the New Testament the bride-to-be is the church and the groom is Christ. As church founder, Paul pictures himself as the Corinthians' spiritual father, whose responsibility it is to ensure their faithfulness betoeen birth (betrothal) and Christ's return (consummation), when the church will be presented as a pure virgin to her groom. But something now threatens to rob the Corinthians of their purity. Other suitors are on the scene, seeking to lure them away from fidelity to their betrothed. Paul's fear that their minds may somehow be led astray is well founded. The form of the conditional at verse 4 connotes fact (ei + indicative). Someone has come to Corinth and is successfully depriving Christ of a loyalty that is rightfully his. It is likely that only a small number have become prey to the intruders' ploys at the time Paul writes. But there is the real danger that the church as a whole may be carried along, as Paul's use of the second-person plural pronoun makes clear (hymon, v. 3).
The Genesis 3 account of how the serpent deceived Eve into eating the forbidden fruit serves as a ready illustration of what Paul fears is going on at Corinth: just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning. Deceived translates a compound verb that has the intensified meaning "thoroughly" or "utterly deceived" (exhpatesen). Eve's thorough deception is attributed to the serpent's cunning. The basic meaning of the noun panourgia is "capable of all work" (pan + ergon). In the New Testament it refers to someone who uses his ability unscrupulously and resorts to trickery and slyness.
In the case of the Corinthians, the deception is of a corrupting kind. The NIV and RSV's led astray is not really the sense. The verb phtheiro means "to destroy," "to seduce" or "to ruin." A corrupting influence that leads to intellectual and spiritual ruin is most likely the idea (Martin 1986:333). Some think that Paul is drawing on a current Jewish legend that Satan had sexually seduced Eve (as in 2 Enoch 31:6). But the focus in these verses is on a seducing of the mind (ta noemata), not a corrupting of the will. Paul's fear is that as Eve was led astray by the cunning argumentation of the serpent, the minds of his converts may be similarly seduced by the trickery of his rivals.
The intruders' goal is to divert the Corinthians from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ (v. 3). The Greek is literally "a whole-heartedness toward Christ" (apo tes haplotetos tes eis ton Christon; compare 1:12; 8:2, 9-11, 13). Haplotes ("sincere") in the New Testament denotes personal wholeness or undividedness. As the bride-to-be is wholly focused on her intended spouse, so the church is to be wholly undivided in its devotion to Christ. If kai tes hagnotetos (set off by square brackets in the Greek text) is part of the original text, then the church's devotion is to be marked not only by undividedness but also by "purity." Paul used the noun earlier of the moral blamelessness that is to characterize the life of the gospel preacher (6:6). Here it most likely signifies the kind of circumspect or chaste behavior that is to mark the life of the church.
A second reason for Paul to play the fool is the Corinthians' willingness to put up with rivals who present a different message: If someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, 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 easily enough (v. 4). That Paul is dealing with a concrete situation and not just a hypothetical possibility is indicated by the form of the conditional (ei + the indicative). Comes to you suggests outsiders rather than opponents within the Corinthian congregation itself. Whether the singular (someone) points to the group's ringleader (Martin 1986:335) or is a generic reference to the group as a whole (Furnish 1984:448) is debated. The fact that Paul speaks of his opponent as "they" before and after verse 4 makes the latter the likely option. It is clear that the intruders came to Corinth of their own accord, rather than being sent at another church's behest. And they preached a message that the church has readily received: "you welcome it with open arms!" (JB). Unfortunately, it is not the message Paul had preached to them. Herein lies the difficulty. There is something defective about their preaching--so much so that Paul labels it different (allon) and "strange" (heteron; v. 4).
Verse 4 is one of the most scrutinized verses in the whole of chapters 10--13. In large part this is due to its perceived importance in identifying the Corinthian intruders and their teaching. In reality, though, the clues are few in number, and the terse "another Jesus/spirit/gospel" does not offer much help. Nonetheless, the triad is disturbing. As is typical of much false teaching in the church down through the centuries, the language of Paul's rivals has a very familiar ring to it. Yet what they mean by Jesus, spirit and gospel is so radically opposite to what Paul preached that nothing will do but to call it a different message.
What the intruders' preaching amounted to is difficult to assess. "Another Jesus" has commonly been understood to refer to Jesus either as a Hellenistic wonderoorker (along the lines of the Greco-Roman "divine-man") or as a Jew who modeled obedience to the Mosaic law. It is hard to know whether by a different spirit Paul meant a human attitude (NIV, JB, Phillips, RSV) or the Holy Spirit (TEV, NEB). If the former, a spirit of legalism or an attitude of false spirituality could be the idea. A lifestyle antithetical to the gospel and someone's having fallen under the influence of evil spirits are also possibilities. From its position betoeen Jesus and gospel, it seems probable, though, that pneuma denotes the Holy Spirit.
But in what sense was Paul's rivals' preaching different? Did they overemphasize their capacity for visionary and ecstatic experiences? Or did they lay claim to authoritative prophetic utterances, tongues, special revelations and the like? A different gospel sounds very much like the language Paul uses to describe the preaching of the Judaizers in his letter to the Galatian churches (compare "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved"--Acts 15:1). Yet the topic of circumcision and law-obedience is strangely absent from 2 Corinthians. So we do well to look elsewhere for an explanation of Paul's language.
This bewildering array of possibilities points up the difficulties inherent in a reconstruction process such as this. Several of Paul's remarks in chapters 10--12 do, however, offer some helpful guidelines. Are they Hebrews? Are they Israelites? (11:22) shows that the intruders are Jewish; but the lack of references to circumcision and the Mosaic law indicates something other than a Judaizing opponent (see above). The absence of theological argumentation suggests that doctrinal orthodoxy is not at stake. Indeed, most of Paul's efforts in 10:7--12:13 are spent combating the assertion that he possessed inferior credentials, not that he (or anyone else) preached an inferior gospel. It is also clear from the context that these intruders put great stock in things like an outoard show of the Spirit, oratorical ability and heritage. "Signs, wonders and miracles" are "things that mark an apostle" (12:12). "Visions and revelations" are grounds for boasting (12:1). Eloquent speech (10:10; 11:6) and the proper heritage (11:22) are sources of pride. This fits with the epithet super-apostles (v. 5) and the portrayal of the intruders in chapters 1--7 as those who seek to legitimize their authority through letters of recommendation and who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart (5:12).
Putting all of this together, it is a reasonable conjecture that Paul's rivals were Palestinian Jews who, claiming the backing of the Jerusalem church, came to Corinth carrying letters of reference and sporting an impressive array of credentials (such as visions, ecstatic experiences and revelations). They sought to sway their audience through polished delivery and powerful oratory. They combined this with an outoard show of the Spirit, appealing to the prominent role of the miraculous in Jesus' ministry. The intruders' focus on the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, compelling rhetoric and Jesus the wonderoorker may well be what Paul cryptically refers to as "another Jesus/Spirit/gospel." If so, their approach is not much different from what we call "power evangelism" today.
This raises the question of what constitutes a proper manifestation of the Spirit in the gospel ministry. To be sure, there is a place in preaching the gospel for persuasion and the working of "signs, wonders and miracles." Paul himself sought to reason with his listeners (Acts 9:29; 18:4). And he did preach a word accompanied by power, conviction and the Spirit (Rom 15:19; 1 Cor 2:4; 2 Cor 12:12; Gal 3:5; 1 Thess 1:5). But the role of the miraculous was to validate, not displace, the gospel; and persuasion functioned to convince that "the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead" (Acts 17:2-3).
It is all too easy for an audience to fasten on an outoard show and miss the intended message. This is why Paul concentrated on preaching "Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2). By focusing attention on what he was saying and not on how he said it, Paul prevented his listeners from getting distracted from the truly important.
William Barclay tells the story of a group of people at a dinner party who agreed that each should recite something after the meal. A well-known actor rose and, with all the resources of elocution and dramatic art, recited the Twenty-third Psalm. He sat down to tremendous applause. A quiet man followed him with his own recitation of this psalm. At first there were a few snickers. But by the time he had ended, his hearers had fallen into a stillness that was more eloquent than any applause. When he sat down, the actor leaned across the table and said, "Sir, I know the psalm, but you know the shepherd" (Barclay 1954:247). Similarly, Paul's opponents may have spoken with great skill and ability, but Paul preached from personal conviction. He knew the real Christ.
A third and final reason for Paul's playing the fool is the fact that he does not think himself in the least inferior to these super-apostles (v. 5). Think translates a term that means "to draw a logical conclusion" from a given set of facts (logizomai; Eichler 1978:822-23). A candid appraisal of Paul's credentials shows that he measures up at least as well as his rivals. Paul does not say that he is superior to these super-apostles--merely that he does not fall below them (hysterhkenai).
The mention of "super-apostles" is intriguing. The phrase appears nowhere else in the New Testament. To whom is Paul referring? Some think that it can scarcely be other than the Jerusalem apostles, whose authority the Corinthian intruders invoked. Would this then be Paul's own sarcastic description of their exalted view of the apostles? Or is he merely quoting the intruders'--or even the Corinthians'--estimate of the Twelve? Alternatively, "super-apostles" could be the intruders' own exaggerated appraisal of themselves--or even the opinion of the Corinthian church itself (McClelland 1982:84). On the whole, the latter seems preferable. Elsewhere Paul is careful to support and show respect for the Twelve, while further on he does not think toice about calling the intruders deceitful workers (v. 13) and servants of Satan (v. 15).
From 1 Corinthians 1--3 it is clear that the Corinthians placed a great deal of importance on oratorical skill. In this respect they are not much different from many churches today that are more interested in the outoard wrapping than with what is in the package. In Paul's judgment, however, his knowledge more than compensated for any perceived lack (v. 6). Gnwsis most likely refers to an understanding of the trutes of the gospel and insight into God's purposes, rather than to a "message of knowledge" spoken during worship for the edification of the church (1 Cor 12:8). It may be, though, that Paul is merely saying that he does "know what [he is] talking about" (Phillips) whereas his rivals do not.
The Corinthians themselves had been endowed with knowledge (1 Cor 1:5). So they should have been the first to recognize that Paul possessed it too, especially since he had made this clear to them in every way possible (v. 6). But like so many of us today, the Corinthians got caught up in the outoard form and appearance of things and lost sight of what was truly important.
It also rankled the Corinthians that Paul, unlike his rivals, preached the gospel of God free of charge (v. 7). Why did he do it? The intruders claimed it constituted an admission that he was a second-rate apostle. But Paul categorically denies this (I do not think I am in the least inferior, v. 5). In fact, he has already made it plain to the Corinthians that he waived support so as not to hinder reception of the gospel message (1 Cor 9:12). He did not want the gospel associated with a solicitation for money and rejected for that reason. Paul also refused to accept support in order to undercut the opposition (2 Cor 11:12). Like the Sophists of his day, a fair number of itinerant preachers showed more interest in lining their pockets than in proclaiming the truth. In doing so, they were in effect treating God's message like so much cheap merchandise (2:17 TEV).
Paul's response in verses 7-12 is noted for its biting sarcasm. Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel . . . free of charge? (v. 7). Far from seeking to humiliate the Corinthians, he desired in fact to elevate them. With elevate Paul is probably thinking of the privilege of receiving the gospel and sharing in its riches (Bertram 1972:608). This same thought appears in slightly different form in 8:9, where Paul states that "though [Jesus] was rich, yet for [our] sakes he became poor, so that [we] through his poverty might become rich." Alternatively, he may be thinking of how the Corinthians had been elevated from a life of idolatry and sin (Bratcher 1983:117; M. J. Harris 1976:387).
Their elevation was made possible through Paul's own "lowering." Tapeinos means "low in stature or size." Paul may well be thinking of how he supported himself through a manual trade while planting the church at Corinth. It is quite likely that he came to Corinth initially to ply his trade as a tentmaker prior to the Isthmian games (Acts 18:2-3). He drew on the trade that was native to his home province of Cilicia--working with goats'-hair cloth, which was used to make cloaks, curtains, tents and other articles intended to give protection against the damp. The idea that Paul lowered himself by doing this is not his own. It undoubtedly was the estimate of his critics at Corinth. Within Judaism, manual labor was not denigrated. In fact, it was part of Paul's training as a rabbi that he be able to support himself through some form of manual labor. The attitude in Greek society, however, was quite different--especially among the upper classes. For the educated or the person of high social standing to have to do manual work was considered personally demeaning. The distinction betoeen "blue-collar" (manual laborers) and "white-collar" workers in American society reflects much the same prejudice.
At some point Paul received sufficient funds from the Macedonian churches that he was able to drop his trade and give his full attention to evangelism ("when Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching"--Acts 18:5). His reason for accepting their monetary help, he says, was to be better able to serve the Corinthians (2 Cor 11:8). It was his policy not to accept support from the church at which he was currently ministering. But once he left the area, he felt free to receive monetary gifts. Yet in the case of the Corinthian church, he continued to refuse financial assistance even after his departure.
Paul calls the money he received from the Macedonian believers support that he obtained by "robbery." The term opswnion (literally "what is appointed for buying food") was commonly used in the first century of a soldier's pay or a state official's salary (Heidland 1967c:592). Here it refers to wages that would be one's due for services rendered. Paul says, however, that to receive these wages was in effect to "rob" the Macedonian churches. How so? The verb sylao, occurring only here in the New Testament, is a military term that means to "strip bare" or "deprive [a fallen enemy] of arms." Paul is making a bold statement. His ministry at Corinth was at no cost to the Corinthians because he had, as it were, plundered other churches of their funds instead of expecting the Corinthians to support him. What form this plundering took is debated. Quite likely it means that the Macedonian churches could not afford to give what they did but gave regardless.
Paul also reminds the Corinthians of how even after his personal funds were depleted and he began to feel needy, he still did not burden any of them (v. 9). Hystereo (needed something) means "to lack" or "to go short." During his stay in Corinth Paul reached the point of lacking the basic necessities of life--food, clothing and shelter (compare v. 27).
The life of an itinerant laborer was hard. A craftsman who stayed in one place and developed a regular clientele had to work from sunup to sunset every day to make ends meet. To be constantly on the road, as Paul was, meant that each time he went to a new town he had to start afresh. Opposition from competitors only increased his difficulties (Murphy-O'Connor 1991:112). It is not surprising, then, that he should often have been in want. But he was determined not to burden the Corinthians (v. 9). The verb (katanarkao) means to "press" or "weigh heavily" on someone. Rather than place the burden of his daily needs on the shoulders of the Corinthians, the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what [he] needed (v. 9).
Paul resolutely refused to abandon his policy of offering the gospel free of charge: I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so (v. 9). In fact, his adamancy takes the form of an oath: As surely as the truth of Christ is in me, nobody . . . will stop this boasting of mine (v. 10). Paul calls this refusal to accept support from the Corinthians his "boast"--that is, something he can be proud of. His boasting is not limited to Corinth but extends into the regions of Achaia. The Greek term for "region" (klima) normally refers to a district within the province. Here, though, it denotes the province as a whole (Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich 1979). No one in the province of Achaia will be able to stop this boasting (v. 10). The verb phrassw means to "stop up," "bar" or "stifle." The picture is of a dammed river or a roadblock. No matter what tactics Paul's opponents use, they will never be able to effectively blockade his policy of offering the gospel without charge.
Some suggest that verses 8-10 must be viewed against the patron-client relationship that existed in the first century, where to accept money from a donor was to place oneself under the obligation of gratitude to them (Judge 1980:214; Stambaugh 1986:113-27). If this is the primary background, then Paul refused to accept funds from the Corinthians so as not to put himself in a position of indebtedness to the church. This is not to say that Paul did not see himself as a servant of the church. He affirms this quite strongly elsewhere (1 Cor 3:5; 2 Cor 3:6; 6:4). But it is a known fact that a Christian worker's relationship to a local church changes when he or she moves from volunteer to paid staff. The tentmaking pastor, like Paul, has greater freedom to move in the direction God is leading. The salaried worker may feel obligated to follow the lead of the congregation or the denominational hierarchy. Consequently, staff workers can find themselves in situations where pleasing their church and pleasing the Lord are in conflict.
In verse 7 Paul said that his refusal to live at the Corinthians' expense was driven by a desire to elevate the Corinthians. Now in verse 11 he identifies an additional motive: his deep love for the church. Paul's critics claimed just the opposite. His refusal to accept support was evidence to them that he did not love the Corinthians: Why [do I refuse support]? Because I do not love you? (v. 11). Paul's response once again takes the form of an oath as he calls upon God's knowledge of his heart as a witness in this matter: God knows I do! So far from being a sign of indifference, his refusal to accept support is actually evidence of his love for the Corinthians. It is not as if Paul has not made this abundantly clear to the church. His purpose in writing them a severe letter was so that they might know the depth of his love (2:4). Indeed, they have such a place in his heart that he "would live or die with" them (7:3).
But Paul is away from them now. And his rivals are the ones who have the Corinthians' ear. So he determines that he will keep on doing what he is doing--he will continue to boast in the fact that he preaches the gospel free of charge (11:12). On the surface this statement sounds odd. Did Paul not say at the end of chapter 10 that the person who wants to boast should boast in the Lord (10:18)? In Paul's case, though, the intent is not to draw attention to himself but to undercut the boasting of the Corinthian intruders who wanted to be considered his equals in the ministry: I will keep on doing what I am doing, Paul states, in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about (v. 12).
To cut the ground from is literally "to cut off" (ek + kopto). The image is of severing branches from a tree or cutting trees out of a wood. Today we might use the analogy of pulling the rug out from under someone's feet. The ground or rug that Paul aims to deprive his opponents of is an opportunity to be considered equal with him (v. 12). It is the Corinthians' perception that concerns him. The term aphorme (opportunity) was used in Hellenistic Greek of a starting point or base of operations for an expedition, and then more broadly of the resources needed to carry through on an undertaking. Paul's rivals wanted the church to believe that Corinth was within their legitimate sphere of ministry and hence part of their authorized base of financial support. One can easily see why Paul's policy of waiving support would have caused his rivals some consternation. And while they could assert that such support was a sign of apostolic legitimacy (12:11-13) or that Paul's refusal was evidence that he did not care about the Corinthians (11:11), the fact remained that they were a financial burden and he was not (Plummer 1915:308). Sooner or later the Corinthians would come to realize this.
Their behavior, Paul says, is not surprising, since Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light (v. 13). The genitive can denote material (that is, an angel made of light) or quality (a shining angel), but the latter is the predominant use in the New Testament. Angelic appearances are described as like lightning (Mt 28:3), gleaming (Lk 24:4) and shining (Lk 2:9). The Greek term translated masquerade means to "alter" or "change the outoard appearance" of a person or thing. Satan dons the outoard guise of an angel of light in an attempt to conceal his true being. Nothing is said in the Old Testament about such an ability. For this Paul is drawing on a Jewish legend similar to what is found in the Life of Adam and Eve 9:1 and in the Apocalypse of Moses 17:1-2. In the former passage Satan transforms himself into the brightness of angels and pretends to grieve with Eve, who sits weeping by the Tigris River; in the latter Satan comes to Eve in the form of an angel at the time when the angels are going up to worship God and tempts her to eat of the fruit of the tree.
If Satan finds it advantageous to masquerade as an angel of light, it is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness (v. 15). Paul's statement is sobering. Church leaders can seem genuine in appearance and profession and yet in actuality be Satan's minions. How one sees through the outoard guise to the inner truth is not stated. But it is clear to Paul that the Corinthian intruders have disguised themselves in this fashion. The charge is a serious one. If the Corinthian intruders really are Satan's servants, then they are not merely Paul's opponents but also enemies of Christ. Paul said as much in the earlier part of this chapter, when he expressed his fear that the Corinthians were being seduced from their undivided commitment to Christ.
For the enemies of Christ only judgment waits: their end will be what their actions deserve (v. 15). The idea that all will have to give an account of themselves before God is thoroughly Jewish and one that Paul repeats elsewhere (for example, Rom 2:5-11; 1 Cor 3:10-15; 2 Cor 5:10; Gal 6:7-10). Many Jews believed that their deeds determined their ultimate destiny (Hahn 1978a:1149). For the Christian, however, judgment is defined in terms of rewards and punishments, not destiny or status (1 Cor 3:13-15; 2 Cor 5:10). Our labors may go up in a heap of smoke when subjected to divine scrutiny, but each of us individually will escape--albeit by the skin of our teeth ("as one escaping through the flames," 1 Cor 3:15). For the Corinthian intruders, however, Paul offers no such hope. Their works will determine their end. The term telos in this context denotes end result or ultimate fate (Schippers 1976:61). They have done Satan's work; to Satan's fate they will go (Martin 1986:353). What this fate will be Paul does not say. Elsewhere, though, he states that the enemies of the cross of Christ will face eternal destruction, shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power (Phil 3:19; 2 Thess 1:8-9).
There is one qualification, however, that Paul insists on. They are not to receive his self-confident boasting as from the Lord (v. 17). The NIV translation self-confident is by no means certain, since examples of hypostasis used in this way are lacking (compare JB "certainty"; KJV, RSV, NSRV, REB "confidence"; Phillips "proud"). Of the possible meanings, the too preferable ones are "purpose" (as in "in this plan to boast") and "undertaking" (as in "in this matter of boasting"; Bratcher 1983:122). On balance, the latter is to be preferred.
In this matter of boasting Paul does not want to be taken as talking as the Lord would. The phrase is literally "according to the Lord" (kata kyrion). What exactly does this mean, though? Paul could be saying that in boasting about his ministerial achievements he is not talking as the Lord would (NIV). But it is more likely that kata kyrion means "with the Lord's authority" (RSV, JB, Phillips) or "what the Lord would have me say" (TEV). The bragging Paul is about to engage in is not something the Lord would approve of; hence he does not presume to speak ex cathedra (as an apostle). Boasting of this sort is not the way of the Lord but rather the way of the world (v. 18). The Greek is literally "according to the flesh" (kata sarka)--a favorite phrase of Paul's (five times in 2 Corinthians). Typically it denotes operating the way the world does or being driven by human standards (compare 1:17; 5:16; 10:2, 3). When it comes to human pride, the way of the world is to boast in personal accomplishments. Many brag in this fashion, so Paul will too (v. 18).
The biting sarcasm of Paul's next remark is unmistakable. Having begged their indulgence, he now points out that bearing with his senseless boasting should pose no great problem for them, since they are used to putting up with fools. Paul minces no words when it comes to the Corinthian intruders. In verse 13 they were labeled "false" and "deceitful"; now they are called fools (v. 19). The term fool (aphron, "unwise") denotes a lack of sense or reason (see the commentary on v. 16). The intruders are fools on account of the exaggerated opinion they have of their self-importance. And the Corinthians gladly put up with them, thinking themselves to be so wise (v. 19). The position of hedews ("gladly"), beginning the clause, heightens Paul's sarcasm: "Gladly you put up with fools." The Corinthians have been duped by the apostolic pretenders. Yet they think themselves so wise! The irony of the situation does not escape Paul--nor does the danger. The Corinthians should have seen through these apostolic pretenders, but they chose not to. Moreover, they did not merely turn a blind eye to what they were about but received them with pleasure.
Is Paul being too hard on the Corinthians? The next verse suggests that he is not. For although the Corinthians thought themselves so wise in their dealings with the visiting missionaries, they actually allowed themselves to be walked all over (v. 20).
Five terms sum up how the intruders were taking advantage of the congregation. First, they were "enslaving" them. Katadouloi denotes absolute subjection or the loss of autonomy (Rengstorf 1964:279). Because the term is used in Galatians 2:4 of Judaizers who sought to enslave the Galatian churches to the rules and regulations of the Mosaic law, some have argued for the same sense here. But there is no hint of a Judaizing polemic in chapters 10--13. Slaps you in the face, at the tail end of verse 20, suggests, instead, subjection to a domineering style of pastoral leadership (Furnish 1984:497). "Treats you like slaves" (Bratcher 1983:123) or "orders you around" (TEV) catches the idea.
Second, Paul's opponents are "exploiting" the church. The Greek term katesthio, commonly used of animals of prey, means to "eat up" or "devour." Paul undoubtedly is thinking of how the intruders set out to devour the Corinthians' finances. So C. K. Barrett's translation "eats you out of house and home" (1973:291) and the NJB's "eats up all you possess" may not be far off the mark.
Third, they are "taking advantage of" the church. In the realm of hunting or fishing, lambano means to "catch" or "take unawares" through the use of alluring bait (Zerwick 1993:558). Paul uses the verb in 12:16 to denote catching through trickery, which may well be its sense here.
Fourth, they "push themselves forward." The verb is literally "to hold or lift up" (epairo). The picture is of individuals who have a lofty or stuck-up opinion of themselves--constantly keeping their nose in the air.
Finally, they are "slapping" the church "in the face." The Greek verb dero means to "flay" or "skin" (as in "to beat a dead horse"). It usually refers to a physical beating or flogging (Mt 21:35; Mk 12:3, 5; Lk 12:47, 48; 20:10, 11; 22:63; Jn 18:23; Acts 5:40; 16:37; 22:19), but it is also used figuratively for insulting behavior.
The overall picture is appalling. It would be appealing to say that Paul is only anticipating what could happen at Corinth. But the form of the conditional at verse 20 connotes fact (ei tis + indicative). Some have indeed come to Corinth and are employing these kinds of browbeating tactics. Paul, however, will not stoop to such levels. To my shame, he admits, . . . we were too weak for that! Biting sarcasm is once again in evidence. It is probably best to put too weak in quotes. This is the voice of the opposition speaking rather than Paul's own self-estimate. He has been accused of being bold enough when away but timid when actually face to face (10:1).
We may be quick to scoff at a church like Corinth. How could a church permit itself to be browbeaten like this? What kind of wimps were they to so readily accept such leadership? But are the Corinthians really so different from some of our contemporary churches? A take-charge, strong-arm style of leadership is valued by many within evangelicalism today. Those who lead in this way typically claim to be exercising their God-given authority. Interestingly enough, though, Paul rejects this style of leadership in his own ministry ("not that we lord it over your faith," 1:24)--as do other New Testament writers (for example, see Mt 20:25-26; 1 Pet 5:3). In fact, the language of "bearing rule," "governing" and "exercising authority" is not used by the New Testament writers to describe the leadership role in the church. It is employed only of the apostles and the congregation, not of an individual within the local church context (Belleville 1993a).