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2 Corinthians 7 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

Paul's Parental Pride in the Corinthians Proves True

Much scholarly effort has been expended on determining the identity of the one who did the wrong (v. 12). The injured party is somewhat easier to ascertain: Paul is usually thought to be the probable candidate. But some have proposed Timothy (or another of Paul's coworkers). It is argued that the public challenge of Paul's authority occurred after he left Corinth and was directed at him through Timothy, his second-in-command. Otherwise he would have looked like an apostle turned coward (see, for example, M. J. Harris 1976:309). Yet this is exactly what some have been saying about Paul. He is "timid when face to face, but bold when away" (10:1). This is not to say that Timothy was not involved in some way. The fact that Titus replaced him as Paul's representative at Corinth by the time the severe letter was written (2 Cor 7:5-13) is indeed suggestive. But for Paul to use the language of a "painful visit" (2:1), "grieved me" (2:5) and "I gave you a warning when I was with you the second time" (13:2) indicates a direct versus indirect challenge. The alternative would have been to stay and discipline the Corinthians, which Paul was willing to do only as a last resort. Far from being cowardly, leaving could well have been the prudent course of action in a potentially explosive situation.

The offender's identity is more problematic. Use of the singular points to a single individual, and the masculine (ho adikesantos) is indicative of gender. Beyond this the clues are scant. The individual in question has traditionally been identified with the Corinthian man who was involved in a sexual liaison with his stepmother at the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians (1 Cor 5:1-5). The identification has been made primarily on the basis of parallel references to the activity of Satan, the authority of Christ and the corporate nature of the discipline (Lampe 1967:354). This proposal has been almost universally abandoned of late, and for good reasons. For one, the wrong committed is one that Paul takes personally, as "if someone has caused me grief" (2:5), "what I have forgiven" (2:10) and similar phrases make clear. Two, it is wholly inappropriate that Paul would offer to personally forgive someone who had been engaged in a form of sexual activity considered heinous even in Gentile circles (5:1, "of a kind that does not occur even among the pagans").

A more recent variation is that the incestuous person mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5 retaliated against Paul's call for excommunication (1 Cor 5:3-5, 13) by challenging his authority to issue such a directive (Kruse 1988:129-39). But the fact that Paul is willing to downplay the offense makes this construal improbable ("if there was anything to forgive," 2 Cor 2:10). An alternative suggestion is that the offender is the person in 1 Corinthians 6:1-10 who was accused of defrauding other members of the congregation. To be sure the same term is used (adikeo). But beyond this, further parallels are lacking. And why Paul would construe this as a personal insult is not immediately evident.

The arguments also go back and forth on whether the guilty party was a member of the congregation or an intruder. In support of the latter is the fact that the whole church had been wronged by this individual (2:5). Moreover, if the man had been an insider, it would have been difficult for the church to prove "their innocence at every point" (7:11; Barrett 1970:154-55). But would the church have been in a position to exercise discipline if an outsider had been involved? And could an outsider have jeopardized Paul's standing in the community and caused the amount of pain that he did? Paul does not say in what exact way he was wronged. But from 13:3 we can surmise that it amounted to a public demand to provide proof that Christ was speaking through him.

The Corinthians' demonstrative support caused Paul to feel much better about things (v. 13). Actually, at this point he shifts back to the first-person plural that he has used throughout 2:14--7:2. His coworkers are once again included: By all this we are encouraged (v. 13). The tense is perfect (parakeklemetha). When he and his coworkers heard the news of the Corinthians' obedience to the directives of the letter, they were, and remained, encouraged.

Most translations place a full stop here and begin a new thought with the last part of verse 13 (LB, RSV, NRSV, NASB, TEV, NIV, NEB, REB). By all this would then point back to the earnest behavior of the Corinthians, and the second half of verse 13 would introduce a second reason for encouragement: In addition . . . we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was. The cause of Titus's happiness was that his spirit has been refreshed by the Corinthian congregation (by all of you). The tense is once again perfect. Titus had been and remained refreshed (anapepautai). The verb translated refreshed (anapauo) actually means to cause to cease, stop or rest. The central idea is to bring about relief or relaxation. The implication is that Titus had ventured to Corinth with a certain amount of apprehension, perhaps due to negative reports that he had heard about the church. Such reports, however, did not come from Paul. He had done nothing but boast repeatedly (perfect tense, kekauchemai) to Titus about the Corinthians (v. 14). On the other hand, Timothy might well have had a different report to give (1 Cor 16:10-11, "see to it that [Timothy] has nothing to fear while he is with you"). It also appears that travelers from Corinth regularly made their way to Ephesus and from time to time brought disturbing news about the church (1 Cor 1:11; 5:1; 11:18).

Of what exactly was Titus the beneficiary? It is possible that he had been spiritually refreshed from his time with the Corinthians (NIV, KJV, NKJV, NASB). Paul often speaks this way about his own visits to his churches (Rom 15:32; Philem 20). Titus could also have been the recipient of the kind of generous hospitality that Christians became renowned for in the first century (that is, physically refreshed). But it is more likely that "his mind" had been "put at ease" and his worries removed by the congregation (most translations). After all, his mission was hardly the kind to be eagerly anticipated. He had to deliver a letter of reprimand to the church and act in Paul's stead in carrying out its dictates. Paul's own mind had needed to be set at ease about the church just too years earlier (1 Cor 16:18), and even then the relief was short-lived (2 Cor 2:5). So regardless of his boasting, this is a church that would give even the most gifted minister pause.

Titus, however, was quite a capable deputy. Greek by birth (Gal 2:3), he had been converted at some point through Paul's ministry ("my true son," Tit 1:4). The first time his name appears he is a traveling companion on Paul's second postconversion trip to Jerusalem (Gal 2:1-3). He was also involved in the acrimonious exchange betoeen the Antiochian leadership and some from the Pharisaic wing of the Jerusalem church who came to spy on the free exchange betoeen Jew and Gentile in the church at Antioch (Gal 2:4-5).

The fact that Titus was selected for such a delicate mission at Corinth speaks volumes. That he would agree to visit Corinth after Paul's humiliating experience is remarkable, and the results of his mission bear marked witness to his abilities. Not only was he able to reinforce the dictates of the severe letter, but he was successful in reviving the church's flagging collection efforts (8:6). And if Romans 15:26 is any indication, on his second visit to Corinth Titus was able to consolidate Paul's authority and bring the collection to a completion (2 Cor 8:6, 16-24; 12:18).

Paul slips back into first-person singular at verse 14: I had boasted to [Titus] about you. It may have been that Titus's colleagues had been less hopeful than Paul about the Corinthians. But Paul typically provides more hope than a situation warrants (Martin 1986:242). And in the final analysis, the church did not embarrass him. The text is literally "I was not put to shame." The root aisch- referred originally to that which is ugly and disgraceful. So the verb aischyno came to mean that which disgraces or shames (Link 1978:562). Titus returned relieved and encouraged by his visit to Corinth, so that Paul had not been shamed. In fact, all that Paul had said to Titus about the church proved to be true (v. 14). It is one thing to be told something about someone; it is another to experience the truth of it oneself. Along similar lines, Job said of God, "My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you" (Job 42:5).

It may seem as if Paul is belaboring the point. Yet Titus is going to be sent back to Corinth to complete the collection. Paul consequently does all he can to reinforce the mutual benefit and friendly feelings betoeen Titus and the Corinthian church. But he cannot let an opportunity like this pass, so he adds that this shows everything we said to you was true (v. 14). Paul uses this occasion to strengthen his own case regarding the veracity of his dealings with Corinth. If his statements to Titus about the Corinthians were true, then his claims about himself and his ministry must also be true.

Memories are powerful things. As Titus dwells on his time at Corinth, his affection for the church becomes all the greater (v. 15). This is as it should be. We often like to take a stroll down memory lane, particularly if our memories are good ones. Titus took this stroll, and what came immediately to mind was how the Corinthians had received him. Two aspects are noted. In the first place, they had been obedient (v. 15). Did Titus make some demand of them (as suggested by Plummer 1915:228)? Or is he thinking of how they complied with the dictates of the severe letter (Furnish 1984:398)? Paul does not really say. What he does say is that it was not an obedience grudgingly given, for it was accompanied, in the second place, by fear and trembling. This is a strong phrase. It occurs four times in the New Testament (1 Cor 2:3; 2 Cor 7:15; Eph 6:5; Phil 2:12) and is used by Paul to describe the way he felt during his founding mission at Corinth (1 Cor 2:3). It may say something about the state of nervous anxiety the Corinthians had worked themselves into (Bratcher 1983:81). But the implication is that the church recognized Titus's official capacity and obeyed him as they would Paul.

The story is told of a little boy who was riding his tricycle furiously around the block over and over again. Finally a policeman stopped and asked him why he was going around and around. The boy said that he was running away from home. Then the policeman asked why he kept going around the block. The boy responded, "Because my mom said that I'm not allowed to cross the street." The point is clear--obedience will keep you close to those you love.

Paul ends on a promising note: I am glad I can have complete confidence in you. A different word for confidence is employed than earlier in the chapter (see v. 4). The verb this time is tharreo (to be of good courage, cheerful, ("to be of good courage," "to be cheerful," "to be confident") confident). Paul used it in chapter 5 of maintaining a cheerful attitude toward death, knowing that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (5:6, 8). Here it refers to the confident attitude he has toward the Corinthians. Hughes calls Paul's pronouncement "the delicate pin around which the whole of the epistle pivots" (1962:282). The Corinthians have taken a step in the right direction. They followed Paul's directives with regard to the offender. They even exceeded his expectations with their earnestness, mourning and zeal on his behalf (v. 7). This affords Paul the perfect opportunity to expand their vision and encourage complete loyalty to him in the future.

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News of the Corinthians' Obedience

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