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Paul's Temporal Thinking: 2 Cor 2.14–7.4 as Paraenetic Autobiography

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 March 2021

Troels Engberg-Pedersen
University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Theology, Department of Biblical Studies Karen Blixens Plads 16, DK-2300 Copenhagen S, Denmark. Email:
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A precise temporal (and sometimes topographical) scheme is found behind Second Corinthians at three levels: (i) 1–7 (past: Ephesus → Macedonia), 8–9 (present: Macedonia), 10–13 (future: Macedonia → Corinth); (ii) 2.12–7.16 (Troas (2.12–13) → the Hellespont (2.14–7.4) → Macedonia (7.5–16)); (iii) 2.14–7.4. For (i)-(ii), see 1 Thess 1–3 and 2.17–3.10. For (iii), I detail this temporal structure: (a) 3.1–18 → 4.1–6; (b) 4.7–5.10 → 5.11–13; (c) 5.14–6.10 → 6.11–7.4, viz. (a) Paul's initial call and (b) his life in the present and future → his general missionary practice, including to ‘you’, and (c) his now directly addressing ‘you’ with strong paraenesis.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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1 See Mitchell, M. M., ‘Korintherbriefe’, Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, vol. iv (ed. Betz, H. D. et al. ; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2002 4) 1688–94Google Scholar, at 1689–90.

2 For an excellent overview and discussion, see Schmeller, T., Der zweite Brief an die Korinther (2 Kor 1,1–7,4) (EKK viii/1; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener/Patmos, 2010) 1938Google Scholar.

3 For arguments for and against the unity of 2 Corinthians as a whole, Reimund Bieringer's thorough discussion remains basic: see Bieringer, R. and Lambrecht, J., eds., Studies on 2 Corinthians (Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum Lovaniensium 92; Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1994) 1253Google Scholar.

4 See Malherbe, A. J., ‘Exhortation in First Thessalonians’, Novum Testamentum 25 (1983) 238–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Also A. J. Malherbe, Paul and the Thessalonians: The Philosophical Tradition of Pastoral Care (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987).

5 For the general meaning of θριαμβεύοντι, see Schmeller's careful discussion, Der zweite Brief, 154–9. He does not, however, particularly note the connection between 2.13 and 2.14 with regard to the idea of being on the move.

6 To give but one example of the helpfulness of Schmeller's commentary, see his comment on this (Der zweite Brief, 384): ‘V. 4 bereitet die Wiederaufnahme der Erzählung, die nach 2,13 abgebrochen worden war, in 7,5ff vor. Wegen dieser engen Beziehung zum folgenden Text wird V. 4 manchmal sogar von den VV. 2f getrennt und als Einleitung der Texteinheit 7,4–16 angesehen … Das ist keine sinnvolle Lösung, denn der Vers hat vor allem abschließenden Charakter: Die Appelle in 6,11–13 und 7,2f laufen hier in einer vorweggenommenen Zuversicht aus, was ihre Erfüllung betrifft … Diese Zuversicht wird ab V. 5 mit dem Bericht des Titus verknüpft. V. 4 hat also die Funktion einer Brücke ’ Note that I translate παρακαλεῖν as ‘to encourage’ so that it may cover both Paul's ‘comfort-encouragement’ as in 2 Corinthians 1 and 7 and his ‘exhortation-encouragement’ as used elsewhere, e.g. at 2 Cor 5.20 and 6.1.

7 I presented the following reading in a paper (unpublished) entitled ‘The Unity of 2 Corinthians as Reflected in the Account of Paul's and Titus’ Travels Between Ephesus, Macedonia and Corinth’, given at the SBL Annual Meeting in San Francisco in 2011. There I also noted that this reading had already to some extent been hit upon by Philip Edgcumbe Hughes (as I only realised after I had reached it myself). See P. E. Hughes, Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians (New International Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962) xix–xxi.

8 I miss a proper appreciation of this point in scholarship in general. However, Margaret M. Mitchell at least notes this of 2 Cor 2.14–7.4: ‘This letter has as its dominant motif the procession, a traveling parade of Christ's ambassador (5.20) on his way to Corinth.’ See M. M. Mitchell, ‘The Corinthian Correspondence and the Birth of Pauline Hermeneutics’, Paul and the Corinthians: Studies on a Community in Conflict. Essays in Honour of Margaret Thrall (ed. T. J. Burke and J. K. Elliott; Novum Testamentum Supplements 109; Leiden: Brill, 2003) 17–53, at 29–30 (emphasis added). But she should have said this: on his way from Troas to Macedonia.

9 This again, I believe, has not been seen before, not even by myself in Cosmology and Self in the Apostle Paul: The Material Spirit (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010) 198–205. There I was concerned with the role of the pneuma in 2.14–7.4. That point is highly relevant to the interpretation of the whole passage that I will give here. But the temporal structure of the passage eluded me then.

10 This and the next section basically recapitulate what I have stated elsewhere in a FS essay to be published in 2022.

11 For the identification of 2.14–17 as the beginning of our text, see Schmeller, Der zweite Brief, 152.

12 ‘For everything is for your sake.’

13 Thus Schmeller passim together with many others.

14 Similarly, chapters 10–13 are not primarily a self-defence, but a piece of paraklēsis that is grounded in a self-defence. The paraenetic character comes out clearly at both beginning (10.1–2) and end (13.5–11).

15 This description of his sincerity matches later developments in the text: for ‘coming from God’ compare, e.g. 3.4–18; 4.1, 6; 5.5, 18; for ‘facing God’ compare e.g. 5.15 (Christ, not God) and 5.20.

16 Schmeller, Der zweite Brief, 168 (‘the glorious and hidden service’).

17 Schmeller, Der zweite Brief, 306 (‘the ministry of reconciliation’).

18 Schmeller, Der zweite Brief, 361 (‘exhortation to reconciliation’).

19 Schmeller, Der zweite Brief, 168 (‘the glorious ministry for the new covenant’).

20 Schmeller, Der zweite Brief, 250 (‘the hidden new life’).

21 For the rhetorical centrality of the inventio, see Cicero's De inventione. Regarding the two first parts of rhetoric, Cicero says this (1.7.9): ‘Invention (inventio) is the discovery (excogitatio) of valid or seemingly valid arguments (res verae aut veri similes) to render one's cause plausible. Arrangement (dispositio) is the distribution (distributio) of arguments thus discovered (res inventae) in the proper order’ (my own translation based on the LCL).

22 Schmeller, Der zweite Brief, 169 sees this and rightly translates διακονηθεῖσα in 3.3 as follows: ‘dem [the letter] unser Dienst gilt’.

23 Schmeller, Der zweite Brief, 183 sees that the aorist in ἱκάνωσεν speaks for seeing Paul to be referring to his call. He does not, however, extend this to characterise the whole of 3.1–4.6.

24 Schmeller (e.g. Der zweite Brief, 179–80) agrees on this.

25 For this idea compare again Galatians, where Paul claims that the Law could not ‘generate life’ (3.21).

26 Compare again Galatians (5.1, 13).

27 Schmeller, Der zweite Brief, 248 rightly argues that Paul is speaking of his own call in 4.6.

28 For ‘or’, compare 1 Cor 15.51, which allows for resurrection without previous death. This idea may also lie behind Paul's statement in 2 Cor 5.1 that ‘we know that if the earthly tent that is our house is destroyed, we have a building from God etc.’.

29 As far as I can tell, Schmeller (ad loc.) does not make this point clear.

30 I take the ‘us’ (ἡμᾶς) of 4.14 to refer primarily to Paul himself precisely because he goes on to add ‘together with you’.

31 So also Schmeller, Der zweite Brief, 271 (‘ein Gelenkstück zwischen 4,7–15 und 5,1–10’).

32 Compare the beginning of 4.16: ‘So we do not lose heart …’.

33 Cf. Schmeller, Der zweite Brief, 283: ‘Die in 4,16–18 bereits angedeutete Zukunftsperspektive tritt ab 5,1 in den Mittelpunkt.’

34 This is in agreement with Schmeller's conclusion from his careful discussion of the various readings on offer, Der zweite Brief, 286.

35 ‘Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others’ and ‘We are not commending ourselves to you again.’ This ‘we’ can only be Paul himself.

36 Incidentally, note how the ‘we’ in 3.18 works in the same way as the ‘all of us’ in 5.10.

37 By contrast, Schmeller (Der zweite Brief, 307) sees 5.11–13 as an ‘Überleitung’ to the new section (5.11–6.10) on Der Dienst der Versöhnung (306). I believe that this possibility is excluded not just by the general structure we have discovered of first on Paul himself, then on the consequences for his preaching, including to the Corinthians, but also, and in particular, by the similarity of 5.11–13 to 4.1–2, which precisely begins the latter half of this structure. Διὰ τοῦτο, ἔχοντες τὴν διακονίαν ταύτην of 4.1 (‘Therefore, since we have this ministry’, where διακονία has been the theme of what precedes) is very close to Εἰδότες οῦν τὸν φόβον τοῦ κυρίου of 5.11 (‘Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord’, where φόβος has been the theme of the preceding verse). And 4.1–2(6), as everybody agrees, belongs with 3.1–18.

38 The basic argument for finding this ‘revelation’ in Paul's present is that he speaks of it as occurring ‘in our mortal flesh’ (4.11). This can only refer to the present. Contrast Schmeller, Der zweite Brief, 262, who both claims that Paul is straightforwardly speaking of his ‘Auferstehungsleben’ (‘resurrection life’, which lies in the future) and also says: ‘Bereits in der Gegenwart antizipiert Paulus das Auferstehungsleben’ (emphasis added). The latter is closer to the truth – which is that Paul claims that the ‘Auferstehungsleben’ is already beginning to be seen in his mortal body. After all, he has received the pneuma.

39 Quoting Blass–Debrunner–Rehkopf, Schmeller (Der zweite Brief, 314 n. 47) argues that the aorist in ἐξέστημεν may have a ‘general’ sense (‘wir haben uns auf Verzücktheit eingelassen’, ‘wir sind von Sinnen gewesen’). But even then, the Corinthians must have had some idea of what he is referring to.

40 Incidentally, I see this as the basic idea behind the inner connection of theology and ethics in Paul.

41 See Schmeller, Der zweite Brief, 318.

42 See Schmeller, Der zweite Brief, 341–2.

43 See again Schmeller, Der zweite Brief, 318.

44 The latter is Schmeller's position, as we saw. Behind it lies the following understanding of 5.11–6.10: ‘In diesem zweiten Abschnitt innerhalb der Apologie, der mit dem ersten (3,1–5,10) Ähnlichkeiten im Aufbau hat, werden erneut die Größe (5,11–21) und die paradoxe Verborgenheit des paulinischen Dienstes (6,1–10) behandelt.’ What is missing here is (a) an understanding of the direction of it all towards the Corinthians, which only comes with full force in 6.11–13, and (b) a full understanding of the ‘paradoxe Verborgenheit’, corresponding to what we found in 4.7–15. After all, the Paul of the latter half (6.6–10) of his self-description in 6.3–10 is very far from being just ‘hidden’.

45 For the meaning of συνέχει here, see Schmeller's careful discussion, Der zweite Brief, 321 n. 76, in favour of the translation ‘beherrscht’. I personally prefer the same translation as at Phil 1.23.

46 This, too, is well argued by Schmeller, Der zweite Brief, 321–2.

47 ‘… and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation’.

48 See again Schmeller, Der zweite Brief, 318, for discussion and the same conclusion.

49 Well argued by Schmeller, Der zweite Brief, 318, who speaks of the ‘abstraktere, lehrhaftere Ausrichtung’ of this text.

50 Not noted by Schmeller.

51 Compare the fine discussion in Schmeller, Der zweite Brief, 329–30. He rightly speaks of an ‘Ausweitung der Perspektive’ in 5.14–15, 5.16–17 – and 5.18–19. But Paul everywhere begins from himself.

52 It is one of the absolutely crucial facts about the whole of 2.14–7.4 that Paul directly employs the core notion of paraklēsis in only two places: here and at 6.1. The importance of this cannot be overstated.

53 In addition, it belongs at the same abstract, theological level as the rest of 5.14–21, which is why Schmeller is certainly right in taking 5.21 together with what precedes. That also explains why Paul's ‘we’ here refers to all human beings.

54 This ties in closely with the point I made in Cosmology and Self that through Paul's mouth blows the material pneuma, which is directly aimed at the Corinthians (cf. 6.11–13): see n. 9 above. Incidentally, this explains, I believe, why in 3.4–4.6 Paul went back to his own reception of the pneuma at Time 1 as the first moment in his temporal scheme in 2.14–7.4 as a whole: his aim was to identify the moment when he received (from God) what he is now going to blow into the Corinthians again, namely, the pneuma.

55 I am intrigued by the καί in front of παρακαλοῦμεν in this verse. To my ear, it brings out the difference I am after between Paul's own encouragement of the Corinthians in this verse and God's encouragement of them as spoken by Paul in 5.20.

56 In fact, he explicitly goes back to their ‘Time 1’: ‘we also encourage you not to have accepted the grace of God in vain’. I believe that the aorist in δέξασθαι points directly back to that primary event. Schmeller (Der zweite Brief, 341) seems to have sensed the change in 6.1. Commenting on (θεοῦ) παρακαλοῦντος in 5.20 and παρακαλοῦμεν in 6.1, he says: ‘Eindeutig ist die Wiederaufnahme von παρακαλοῦντος (5,20) durch παρακαλοῦμεν (6,1). Während Paulus zuvor als Gesandter Gottes aufgetreten war und dessen Aufruf weitergegeben hatte, verlagert sich jetzt der Akzent auf seine eigene Tätigkeit, die freilich eng auf Gott bezogen bleibt (συνεργοῦντες).’

57 I am fascinated by the general character of 5.14–21 (within the whole of 2.14–7.4), which nevertheless issues in an imperative (of ‘encouragement’) directed wholly explicitly at the Corinthians (5.20) – only to be followed, as we will see, in 6.1–7.4 by Paul's reaching his ultimate goal of issuing the strongest possible personalised and direct imperative (6.13 + 7.2) of ‘encouragement’ (cf. 6.1) to them. In this connection, note the following difference between his imperative in 5.20 and later. In 5.20, he urges the Corinthians to be reconciled to God, whereas later they are urged to respond to himself.

58 Schmeller (Der zweite Brief, 344) rightly rejects connecting the participles of 6.3–10 with παρακαλοῦμεν in 6.1, but then says: ‘Näher liegt es, in διδόντες den Ersatz eines finiten Verbs zu sehen’ (with a reference to Blass–Debrunner–Rehkopf). I just cannot make that fit my Greek ear. A participle is a participle.

59 It is noteworthy that the old chapter division at this point recognises the change.

60 This section basically recapitulates material from the FS essay referred to above in n. 10.

61 This has been very well seen by Schmeller. In his volume i (Der zweite Brief, 387), he says of 7.4 in relation to 7.5–16: ‘Vereinbar wird V. 4 mit dem Folgenden dann, wenn man berücksichtigt, dass hier wie dort Versöhnung nicht nur beschrieben, sondern auch betrieben wird … Die Äußerung von Trost und Freude ist an beiden Stellen nicht einfach nur eine Reaktion auf die erreichte Versöhnung, sondern zielt auf ihre Vertiefung und Ausweitung. In V. 4 wird das durch den Kontext und durch den Zusatz “in all unserer Trübsal” deutlich, der auch die mit der Gemeinde bestehenden Konflikte einschließen dürfte. Zu 7,5–16 gibt es eine Parallele in 2,5–11, die zeigt, dass auch nach dem Tränenbrief und der Rückkehr des Titus nicht alle Probleme gelöst sind. Die vollständige Versöhnung steht also noch aus, wird aber an beiden Stellen vorweggenommen. Die Erwartung, dass sie dadurch gefördert wird, ist in der antiken Briefliteratur … und Rhetorik … verbreitet.’ Schmeller also rightly refers here to Vegge, I., 2 Corinthians: A Letter about Reconciliation. A Psychagogical, Epistolographical and Rhetorical Analysis (WUNT ii/239, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008)Google Scholar.

62 In spite of this, it remains crucial to see that 2.14–7.4 is temporally situated by Paul not at all in the writerly present (as almost all scholars have taken it), but before his arrival in Macedonia as told in 7.5.That is what the whole of Paul's story in 2.12–7.16 is all about, a story that is just as clearly situated in the past as what he says in 1.8–2.11: he arrived in Troas, he left Troas for Macedonia, he reflected while travelling on his competence viz-à-viz the Corinthians, he arrived in Macedonia, etc.

63 I am grateful to Thomas Schmeller for helpful comments on an earlier version of this article.

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