2 Corinthians 12 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

The Matter Is Summed Up

His boasting now concluded, Paul repeats that the Corinthians forced him to engage in this foolish exercise: I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it (v. 11). The verb "to drive" (anankazo) means to "cause" or "compel" someone with everything from a bit of friendly pressure to brute force (Grundmann 1964b:345). Paul's point is that only the strongest kind of pressure could have forced his hand. If it had been only his own reputation at stake, it would have mattered little. But it was his status as an apostle that was in jeopardy and, with it, the gospel itself. Plus, he should not have had to do his own boasting--especially since the Corinthians had witnessed firsthand God's power at work in his ministry (1 Cor 2:4-5). They should have been ready and willing to speak up on his behalf--in fact they were obligated to do so (imperfect tense, wpheilon; see the note): I ought to have been commended by you.

Two reasons are given: one, Paul is not in the least inferior to the "super-apostles" (v. 11), and too, the Corinthians had witnessed the things that mark an apostle (v. 12). This is the second time in these chapters Paul has avowed that he is in no way inferior to the "super-apostles" (see 11:5). Some identify the "super-apostles" with the Twelve (see the commentary on 11:5). But Paul may simply be citing his opponents' own self-designation--or perhaps the Corinthians' estimate of the intruders. After all, his rivals claim to have the power of the Spirit at their disposal (11:4; 12:12) and extraordinary visions and revelations to their credit (12:1). Yet as Paul has shown in chapters 11:22--12:5, he in no way compares unfavorably with them. In fact, if truth be told, he is far superior--although he is careful to say merely that he does not "fall below" (hysterhsa) them.

Why Paul should feel the need at the end of verse 11 to tack on the statement even though I am nothing (ei kai ouden eimi) is puzzling. Ei + indicative connotes fact in someone's eyes. So Paul could be saying that in the eyes of the world--and maybe even in the eyes of some of the Corinthians--he does not amount to much. The opposition has already alleged that he lacks formal letters of reference, his speaking amounts to nothing and in person he is unimpressive (3:1-3; 10:10). Or it may reflect his own personal estimate. While he was not the least bit inferior to the other apostles, he always attributed his success to the grace of God within him (1 Cor 15:10). In and of himself he was the "least apostle" and the "foremost of sinners," because he had persecuted the church of God (1 Cor 15:9; 1 Tim 1:15).

Not only had the Corinthians seen that he was not one whit inferior to the other apostles, but they had also witnessed in Paul's ministry the things that mark an apostle (v. 12). The Greek is literally "the signs of the apostle." The basic meaning of shmeia is a mark or token by which a particular person or thing is recognized (Hofius 1976a:626). Paul undoubtedly is thinking of deeds that validated his preaching. What deeds would these be, though? The NIV, TEV, JB and Phillips understand them to be the signs, wonders and miracles that Paul says were done among the Corinthians with great perseverance (v. 12). This fits the biblical data. Jesus' own ministry--and that of his disciples--was accredited by "miracles, wonders and signs" (Mk 3:13-15 and parallels; Acts 2:22).

Signs and wonders also regularly accompanied the early church's proclamation of the gospel (Acts 2:43; 5:15-16; 8:6-8; 9:32-42; 15:12). In this respect Paul's ministry was no different. That word and mighty deed were inextricably linked is clearly attested in Luke's account of the missionary journeys. Miracles were performed in virtually every city that Paul visited (Paphos [Acts 13:6-12]; Iconium [14:3]; Lystra [14:8-10]; Philippi [16:16-18]; Thessalonica [1 Thess 1:5]; Corinth [1 Cor 2:4]; Ephesus [Acts 19:11-12]; Troas [20:9-12]; Malta [28:1-10]). In fact, Paul in his letters says repeatedly that his preaching was not merely one of word but of "power and the Spirit" (for example, Rom 15:19; 1 Cor 2:4; Gal 3:5; 1 Thess 1:5).

The deeds that were worked among them are specified as signs, wonders and miracles. The differences, though slight, are to be noted. When grouped with spectacular phenomena, shmeion ("sign") has the meaning "miraculous sign" and signifies an event that contradicts the natural order of things (Hofius 1976a:626). Healings and casting out of demons, presaging the messianic age, come readily to mind as examples of miraculous signs. In extrabiblical Greek teras ("wonder") is used of portents or wonders that elicit fear or horror (Hofius 1976b). The sun turning to darkness and the moon to blood fall into this category (Mt 28:45, 51; Acts 2:19-20). Dynamis ("miracle") refers to strength or ability and is generally used of the mighty acts of God--like the parting of the Red Sea (Ex 14:15-31) or the violent earthquake in Philippi that loosed the chains of Paul and Silas (Acts 16:26).

Paul states that these marks of an apostle were done among the Corinthians (v. 12). The verb is a Greek term that means to "achieve" or "work out" (kateirgasthe), The passive voice implies that this was God's doing and not Paul's (Zerwick 1963:no. 236; Blass, Debrunner and Funk 1961:no. 130 [1]). The aorist tense suggests a specific occasion--quite likely the founding visit, which lasted about eighteen montes (Acts 18:1-18). Paul's rivals, in all probability, also claimed the working of miraculous signs, wonders and mighty deeds. What distinguished Paul from them is captured in the phrase with great perseverance (en pase hypomone). Hypomonh here, as in 6:4, means "to stand firm" or "to hold one's ground" in the face of difficulties. The implication is that Paul faced serious opposition while preaching the gospel in Corinth. Luke records only the initial resistance from the Jewish leadership (Acts 18:6). He does, however, include the fact that one night Paul received a vision from the Lord, telling him to keep speaking and not be afraid (18:9-10). This would indicate that opposition was most definitely there--even though the details are not provided.

The only so-called mark that was missing at Corinth was Paul's acceptance of any kind of financial support from the church: How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? he asks (v. 13). The other churches could be all the Gentile congregations that Paul had founded (as in 11:28) or just the Macedonian churches (11:8-9). The only other churches that he mentions accepting support from are the latter ones (Phil 4:15-16).

Paul's persistent rejection of support must have really upset the Corinthians, given that it is mentioned toice in these chapters (11:7-12; 12:13-18; compare 1 Cor 9:1-18). One wonders if the church's real concern was Paul's credibility or their own. If the genuineness of Paul's apostolate were questioned, would it not impact them too? This would explain why Paul goes on to ask their pardon for this alleged injustice (Furnish 1984:556): Forgive me this wrong! The Greek term adikia commonly signifies a concrete wrong or an unjust action--like theft, incest or wrong treatment of parents (for example, Josephus Antiquities 3.274; 16.1; Against Apion 2.217)--although it can refer more generally to a harm or injury (as in Testament of Solomon 13:4). In any case, the Corinthians thought that by rejecting their support Paul had done them a personal injury.

Regardless of their feelings, Paul announces that during his forthcoming visit he will maintain his policy of financial independence. Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you (v. 14). Now is perhaps more accurately translated "Look!" (idou; "behold" in KJV; "here" in RSV, NEB)--a particle that aims to arouse the attention of the listener (compare 5:17; 6:2, 9; 7:11). Paul is trying to draw the Corinthians' attention to the fact that this will be his third visit. His first visit was an eighteen-month stay that saw the establishment of the Corinthian church (Acts 18:1-18). The second visit was a painful one for Paul. While he was there, someone in the congregation publicly insulted him and challenged his authority, demanding proof that Christ was speaking through him (13:3). The church, meanwhile, sat by and did nothing to support him (see the introduction). Now he will be making a third visit, and he promises that he will continue to not be a burden on them. Burden translates a verb that means to "grow numb" under a heavy weight (katanarkao). While the Corinthians looked on Paul's refusal of support as a personal injustice, he saw it as an opportunity to relieve his children of the undue weight of his daily needs.

Other itinerant preachers invoked the well-accepted tenet that laborers are worthy of their wages. Paul himself argues for this in 1 Corinthians 9. But his relationship to the Corinthian church is not merely that of a laborer to a boss. Paul is the Corinthians' spiritual father. And children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children (v. 14). Philo calls it "the natural order of things" (On the Life of Moses 2.245).

In Paul's day, the father in particular was obliged to provide support for his children (Martin 1986:441). The Greek verb employed for this kind of support is to "store" or "lay up" as treasure (thhsaurizo; Hauck 1965:138). It implies something more than helping someone out financially. The idea is of setting aside money in an intentional way and for a specific purpose--much like a trust fund or savings account today. This set Paul apart from his rivals, who were only out to exploit the Corinthians for personal gain (11:20). It also distinguished him from itinerant preachers of the day who had an eye only for what would be financially profitable. What the Corinthians can't seem to grasp is that Paul is not like other itinerant preachers; he is not after their money but them. What I want is not your possessions but you (v. 14).

Does Paul's statement represent an inconsistency? After all, he accepted support from the Macedonian churches (Phil 4:15-16). In fact, it was a gift from the Macedonian churches that had allowed Paul to set aside his trade and devote himself completely to evangelism during his first stay in Corinth (Acts 18:5). The important thing to see, however, is that Paul is not articulating a guiding principle for his ministry in general. He is giving a rationale for why he refused to accept support from the Corinthians specifically. A rumor was circulating in Corinth that the Jerusalem collection was Paul's way of tricking them into supporting him (12:16). If he had taken their money, it likely would have been misunderstood. The Macedonian churches, on the other hand, were spiritually mature enough to equate giving with ministry (8:4). Then too, they had their priorities straight. They gave themselves first to God and only thereafter to Paul (8:5).

This, anyhow, is the bottom line for Paul. He, and he alone, is the Corinthians' spiritual father. So it is only right that they not have to support him. And like the responsible parent that he is, he will sacrifice for them (v. 15). The thought is even stronger. The opening I is emphatic: I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. The human father stores up for his children. Paul not only does this (spend) but does it to the very limit of his capability (expend). There is a play on words here that is difficult to capture in English. Both verbs are found only here in Paul's writings. The first verb, dapanaw, denotes spending money for or on something. The second verb is a compound of ek + dapanaw and means to "exhaust" or "wear out." Spend and expend nicely catch the sense (NIV; compare JB).

What Paul expends is not merely his finances but himself--that is, his time, energy, affection, reputation and, if need be, his health (Tasker 1958:182; Martin 1986:443). And he does it all for you (v. 15). The Greek is literally "on behalf of your souls." In the New Testament the "soul" is the seat of life and embraces all the earthly concerns that a person takes constant care over (see Mt 6:25, "Do not worry about your life [literally `soul'], what you will eat or drink"; Harder 1978:682-83).

Paul takes pleasure in expending himself on their behalf, and he gives of himself to the Corinthians very gladly. The adverbial form of hedys ("pleasant to taste") means "with pleasure" or "merrily." All he asks in return is a fair exchange for his efforts--the kind of exchange that parents expect from their children: If I love you more, will you love me less? (v. 15). And why shouldn't they love him? If he loves them even more than a parent loves his or her children, then how can they love him any less than children would love their parents (M. J. Harris 1976:399)? Paul has the younger child in view here. Adult children do indeed have a responsibility to support their parents. In fact, Paul says elsewhere that they are obligated to provide for any relative in need, and not just their parents (1 Tim 5:8, 16).

So what was standing in the way of a fair exchange betoeen the Corinthians and Paul? From verses 16-17 it would appear that the rumor mill is to blame. Gossip is classified as one of the detestable sins in the Old Testament (Prov 6:19)--and rightfully so. It is like a weed that, once it takes root, is almost impossible to eradicate and if left untended will take over an entire lawn. The gossip may not even be true. But the mere suspicion of fiscal or moral blame can cause irreparable damage--like mud thrown against a clean wall, it may not stick but it always leaves a mark.

In this case, the perpetrators are the Corinthian intruders. When all other efforts to compromise Paul's financial integrity failed, it seems they resorted to innuendos and hearsay about misappropriation of collection funds. The gist of what they said is found in verse 16: crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery. The Greek term for crafty means "capable of anything" (pan + ourgos). In the New Testament it is used of someone who uses his or her native ability unscrupulously, not unlike the con artist today. The insinuation is that Paul's collection effort was merely a sly way--or trickery--to get the churches to contribute to what in truth was a Paul-and-company fund. The word translated trickery (dolos) refers properly to bait used to catch a fish. The bait, in this case, was the story of how the believers in Judea were in desperate need of the Corinthians' help. And the Corinthians fell for it hook, line and sinker (elabon, "taken in")--at least initially.

The Corinthians must have wanted to think the worst of Paul to give credence to gossip such as this. They clearly turned a blind eye to all the precautions he had taken. For one, he had insisted that the collection occur prior to his coming so that he not be involved in the actual handling of the monies (1 Cor 16:2). Two, he had instructed the Corinthians to appoint their own representatives to accompany the collection, exempting him from any blame regarding the transportation of the funds (1 Cor 16:3). And three, he sent a trusted colleague to finish the collection effort, rather than going himself (2 Cor 8:6).

Paul's response to the rumor of foul play is toofold. First, he calls on the Corinthians to bring forward specific evidence: Did I exploit you through any of the men I sent you? (v. 17). Pleonekteo (exploit) means to "take advantage" of someone with the intent to cheat. The verb translated I sent (apostello) is a technical term for the dispatching of an envoy on a particular mission or service. Here it is envoys in the plural: "those I sent you." Paul made a regular practice of using coworkers to represent him when he could not come himself. Those sent to Corinth include Timothy (1 Cor 4:17-18; 16:10-11), Titus (2 Cor 7:13-15; 8:16-17), "our brother" (12:18) and possibly Sosthenes (1 Cor 1:1). Paul's response is phrased in the form of a question that expects a negative response: "Surely (me) none of those I sent took advantage of you?" His confidence is based on a shared understanding about the envoy in Greco-Roman society. The envoy so closely represented the interests and actions of the sender that to see the envoy was, in effect, to see the one who sent him. And to judge the envoy was to judge the one who sent him. So if none of Paul's emissaries exploited the Corinthians, it is a sure thing that he is not out to exploit them either.

Paul's second response to the rumor of foul play is to recall a specific occasion when a trusted emissary had been sent: I urged Titus to go to you and I sent our brother with him (v. 18). The strategy is astute. The fact that Titus had to be urged to go suggests that he had ventured to Corinth with a certain amount of doubt regarding the outcome. Undoubtedly this was due to negative reports that he had heard about the church. Titus's visit, then, hardly smacks of a conspiracy to get through an agent what Paul declined to accept personally. Moreover, Titus had gained the Corinthians' respect and affection (7:13-15), and he had established a good working relationship with the church in the matter of giving (8:6). So if Titus, Paul's envoy, showed himself to be a person of integrity, then the Corinthians must credit the same to Paul. So sure is Paul that the Corinthians will agree with him that he uses the strengthened form of the negative (meti): "No way did Titus exploit you, did he?"

Titus did not make this visit by himself. Our brother had been sent with him (v. 18). Who this brother was and why he is mentioned at this point is something of a mystery. This is the second time in the letter that Paul has refrained from naming an envoy (8:18-24). Our points to someone with whom the Corinthians were familiar, and brother to someone they considered family. The verb sent (apesteila), a technical term for the dispatch of an emissary, indicates that the individual in question was not a member of the Corinthian congregation and that he came representing Paul. But beyond this, we are left in the dark.

Which of Titus's visits is Paul referring to here? By most accounts Titus, up to this point, has made only one trip to Corinth, when he delivered the painful letter and enforced its dictates (2:12-13; 7:5-16). The difficulty is that no mention is made in 7:13-15 of a traveling companion. But there Paul focuses on the obedience that Titus was able to muster and not on the collection itself. He may well have held out the hope that once the Corinthians' obedience could be secured, the collection effort could go forward. In this case, another person on the scene would have served as an additional safeguard against any suspicions of mishandling of funds.

Some propose that the visit mentioned in 12:18 is to be identified with the one mentioned in 8:16-24, where Paul announced his plan to send Titus in advance of his own arrival to complete what he had started on the previous visit. This, of course, presumes that chapters 10--13 were written separately and subsequently to chapters 1--9. Even so, Titus was to be accompanied by too brothers on this visit, and not one (8:18-24). And the brothers are described as representing their respective churches, not Paul (8:23). Could it be that Paul is referring to a third, unrecorded visit beyond those mentioned in chapters 7 and 9? Some think so, but there is scarcely enough time betoeen A.D. 54 and 56 to accommodate too visits by Paul, let alone three by Titus.

Having established what Titus did not do, Paul turns next to what Titus did do while at Corinth. He phrases his response in the form of a question that expects the answer yes: "Surely we acted in the same spirit, did we not? Surely we followed the same course?" (ou . . . ou; v. 18). "To act" is literally "to walk" (peripateo), a favorite word of Paul's for the Christian life. Paul dares the Corinthians to find evidence that he and Titus did not walk according to the same spirit (pneuma). Pneuma is sometimes used of the Holy Spirit, while at other times of the human spirit. R. V. G. Tasker, along with the LB, NEB and REB, capitalizes spirit and argues for the meaning "inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit" (1958:184). There is some support for this in Paul's assertion that his opponents proclaimed a "different" Spirit (11:4). But the parallel idea in the next clause of following the same course points to a human disposition. The TEV's "Did we not act from the same motives?" catches the idea. To phrase it another way, Paul asks, Did we not . . . follow the same course [ichnesin]? The image is graphic. Ichnesin refers to a set of footprints that mark a trail. Here it denotes the trail left by someone's conduct that others can mark and follow (Stumpff 1965:402). The idea is that Paul blazed a trail in matters of money that Titus then followed on his arrival at Corinth.

Next commentary:
Paul Threatens Punishment on His Next Visit

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