Good morning! Today we finish out the book of Second Corinthians, and the ending doesn’t seem to follow logically from the start. Whereas yesterday we read Paul’s painstaking efforts to ingratiate himself with the Corinthians again, today in 2 Corinthians 10-13 Paul is anything but ingratiating! I tend to agree with those who say (most of) this is from another letter that has been grafted into 2 Corinthians.
Back in college, one of my classmates dressed up for Halloween as the “inner nurse”. Her costume was a pair of scrubs turned inside-out, and pinned to it were notes with the sort of things nurses must think on a regular basis, but suppress for the sake of their calm, healing professions. (Imagine: “that call light is on again??”, “what in God’s name is that smell?”, or “I’ve already cleaned up vomit twice today, so let’s keep it together, huh?”) Well today we get what I can only assume is “the inner Paul”. This reads like what he would send in a 2am text message to Corinth after a night on the town, telling them what he truly thinks of them. Paul is condescending, arrogant, defensive, sarcastic, threatening, and altogether uncharitable to those who will read his letter. He does ask them to indulge him in “a little foolishness” and to treat this as mere boasting, but this feels far too pointed to be fake.
As near as I can tell from reading between the lines, Paul is responding to several charges brought against him in a previous letter by some in the Corinthian community. The first is that he was a freeloader (or received more money than he should have) on his last stay. The second is that other evangelists are better and more impressive than he. The third is that he’s not done enough for the spread of the gospel, seeking his own gain instead. I trust that you can understand Paul’s heated replies to these charges without much interpretation from me. Suffice it to say that he boldly denies and rejects each critique as he receives it, not mincing words in the slightest. (This makes a very odd sequel to his chapter on reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5!) Even Paul’s final words and blessing seem cold, though perhaps they are the best he can muster at the time, and are written to support the idea of reconciliation even though he’s found the practice of it more than he can manage all the time.
Paul may well have hoped that such a letter would be lost in the garbage dump of history, the way some of us want to undo the action after too-hastily sending an angry email. However, here it is in these on-so-human “character lines”, ironically preserved for millennia in the same pages of sacred literature that have justifiably made Paul famous in the first place. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Galatians 1-2. Thanks for reading!