Second Corinthians: Power in Weakness - Six Sessions Bible Study

03-28-2018Book ReviewKevin Perrotta


Time at work, family obligations and commitments to friends may interfere with your desire to attend Bible study. It is understandable. The pace of daily life is a green light with only rare glimpses of the red stop sign, but your friends and fellow parishioners at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glendale invite you to come when you can. Welcome.

Corinthians. Who Are These People?

By the first century A.D., Corinth is easily a cosmopolitan city. This is primarily the result of Corinth’s lucky geography. Situated on an isthmus between the Gulf of Corinth and the Saronia Gulf, the city quickly became a shipping hub. What was so lucky? Corinth’s port, Lechaeon, was simply the shortest route from the Adriatic to the Aegean Sea, and by extension, the shortest route from Europe to Asia. Like an economic magnet, this attracts Romans, Greeks, Phoenicians, Syrians, Egyptians and other traders from the near and far east all-eager to ship and receive goods. The great market place, marked by a monumental gateway, rings with t voices speaking in a dozen of languages. Just south of the market place gateway, there is a speaker’s rostrum, ready to entertain the ideas of teachers, pilgrims, philosophers and missionaries, like Paul, whose beliefs reverberate in the curious ears of many a visitor, trader and local resident.

There is an established Jewish community too, most likely developed inadvertently when the Emperor Claudius, in 50 A.D., expelled the Jews from Rome when violent riots erupted between traditional Jewish factions and emerging Christianity. These believers in “Chrestos” mar the peaceful order decreed by Claudius. Paul also finds a sizable Christian enclave in this potent commercial center. Aided by two Jewish converts, Aquila and Priscilla, the small group of believers in Jesus eventually blossom into Paul’s most successful church.

Are Paul’s Second Batch of Letters to the Corinthians Hard to Follow?

Many biblical scholars consider Paul’s second Letters to the Corinthians the most personally revealing of this apostle to the Gentiles. Read carefully, his letters offer insight into the man who wrote, or perhaps more accurately, dictated them. One moment Paul vents his boiling over frustration, uncertainty, and then turns the page, he is pouring out his affection and relief at his wayward flock. This corybantic emotional tone and the letters apparent lack of order offer plenty of speculation to New Testament historians and researchers.

With patient reading, three aspects of the letters emerge. Yes, the Corinthians are upset with Paul. The great missionary changes his travel plans, delaying an expected return visit. Eventually, there is a resolving of this ill will. Next, Paul is collecting for the stricken Jerusalem church struggling with hunger due to a drought. Finally, Paul defends his ministry against the incursions of new group Christian missionary interlopers. There is a lack of smooth transitions from one issue to the next, and Paul’s classic rhetoric style, while philosophically apt for first century receivers of Paul’s missives, may not be especially comfortable to modern readers.

Notice that Paul employs writing devices to hammer at his opponents. His style in second Corinthians finds echoes in Romans 8:31-39 and in Philippians 4:11-19. He uses the classic barrage of questions, serious and ironic challenges to these false preachers’ spiritual credentials, as well as hurling well-targeted insults. This follows by paradox heaped upon paradox plus many appeals to his own authentic experiences as a true apostle to Christ Jesus. With a bit of careful reading, Paul’s tactics are not hard to spot. Think of it as written swordplay. Follow Paul as he jabs, thrusts and parries with words as his blade.

Paul’s Secret Weapon.

To create a church using the raw material of weak human beings, many with limited understanding of Christ and many who are tottering between emerging Christianity and traditional Judaism, absolutely requires the constant reliance upon the Holy Spirit. For Paul, this embryo church tests the limits of suffering, anxiety, pain and frustration. Paul views this struggle, as the proving grounds for the Holy Spirit, for creating a Christian community cannot be merely a human endeavor. The labors of Paul, the families converted to Christ, the new disciples of the faith, and all those who look to use Christ as their model—all these believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to guide and direct young Christianity through its tumultuous beginnings.

The ‘Super Apostles’

In the second series of letters to the fledgling Christians of Corinth, Paul worries yet again that his evangelistic work is undone. He does not use the term ‘Judaizers’ as he did in Galatians. This new frustration he describes as the ‘super apostles’ [2nd Corinthians 11:5]. What does this designation reveal?

These so-called Christian preachers enter Corinth not to support Paul but to oppose him. The ‘super apostles’ boldly pass through the city gates, preach in the market places [agoras] or in the neighborhoods, and instead of working to support themselves, they gladly and unhesitatingly accept goods and services from the community. This is not Paul’s practice. He insists in providing for his basic needs and those of his evangelizing assistants via his skill as a tentmaker. Perhaps these wandering preachers claim authority from Jerusalem, or maybe even carry letters of introduction from the Jerusalem community, but Paul is unimpressed. Paul does not criticize his fellows in Jesus’ holy city, but his letters to Christ’s flock in Corinth are on the attack.

These ‘super apostles’ consider themselves superior to Paul. They are more dynamic speakers, and they are filled with their own self-importance having tasted success with the people on the streets. Yet, Paul is no fool. He again rejects their claims. Paul’s response is equally bold. The characterization is blunt and swift. “For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, who masquerade as apostles of Christ” [2nd Cor 2:13].Furthermore, Paul is utterly convinced that “Their end will correspond to their deeds” [2nd Cor 2:15].

Power in Weakness

One of Paul’s most effective weapons is his personal testimony. Towards the end of chapter 11, he deftly reveals the role of the cross in his own life. Paul insists that wisdom is learned through suffering. His experiences, the beatings, imprisonments, dangers and humiliations, are not failures, but true apostolic credentials. Additionally, Paul’s visions, revelations, and ecstasies did not tempt him to pride, but to humbleness. He is a willing and happy slave to Christ. Paul makes known a stunning experience, “a thorn in the flesh…an angel of Satan, to beat me”[2nd Cor 12:7]. This revelation is transforming. God’s power is made perfect in weakness. In the end, there is an quiet and unmistakable clarity in Paul boast of his weaknesses. Paul writes, “I boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me” [2nd Cor 12:9].