2 Corinthians 1-3

Good morning! Today we move from First to Second Corinthians, written some months or years later. This letter reflects a season of pitched conflict with the Corinthian church, and Paul is working hard to get back credibility among them. Paul references “all the saints throughout Achaia” in his opening salutation, which some scholars suggest is a way of calling attention to the greater community of supporters that Paul has in the region around Corinth, beyond the city itself. The structure of the letter is odd: a conciliatory section at the beginning leads toward a financial pitch in the middle. However, the final part of the letter is inflammatory again and doesn’t seem to flow from the former, suggesting that perhaps the end of this book is a separate, earlier letter (perhaps even the hostile one sent during that prior controversy). Whatever the history of its composition, the book has been canonized as one letter. Today the first three chapters show Paul seeking reconciliation with the Corinthian community.

“Consolation” shows up everywhere in the opening lines—ten times in verses 3-7 alone! Paul refers to some life-threatening calamity in Asia, and then the delay of his scheduled visit because he doesn’t want to reopen wounds from the past. He explains the painful way that he wrote to them previously (after 1 Corinthians, presumably) by saying that it came from his “distress and anguish of heart and with many tears” (essentially arguing that he wasn’t in his right mind). He offers an olive branch to some person in their community with whom he had much disagreement, now encouraging them to forgive him as well. Paul uses a fascinating metaphor at the end of chapter 2: what might it mean to be “the aroma of Christ to God”? Enterprising biblical scholars have dug up cultural references in this time to the “long-nosed God”, suggesting that perhaps Christ’s “aroma” would fool the olfactory judgment of God and permit sinners to pass as saints. This is more than we can dig into here, but sniff around for more details if you’re interested!

Seeking to offer a vision of what’s possible together in Christ, Paul refers in chapter 3 to a story from Exodus 34, where Moses needs to veil his face after being in the presence of God, lest his glory overwhelm the other Hebrews. Paul suggests that if the (legal) Torah’s transmission through the human Moses brought glory, how much greater the glory of the (spiritual) salvation conveyed through Jesus? Furthermore, the veil that Moses used is not needed with Christ, who empowers his followers to grasp what normal humans could not. Indeed, Christians will take on the same glory as Christ, glowing with the radiance of salvation. Happy reading!

Read 2 Corinthians 1-3.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is 2 Corinthians 4-9. Thanks for reading!

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