“Big Headed” Boasting & 2Corinthians

7 12 2008
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It’s very easy to have a “big head”… to be proud,  and for this to spill over into boasting about your achievements before others. In the period of the New Testament this was an even greater danger because it was a society where your honor meant everything. People were trying to promote their honor in everything, and so there was a real danger they may end up promoting it themselves. Not that this was acceptable. A reading of Plutarch’s comically titled essay “On Praising One’s Self Inoffensively” makes it clear (contrary to Jewett and Esler’s recent discussion on this subject) that boasting was not allowed, except in certain circumstances. Paul boasts in his letters and speaks of others boasting, particularly in 2Corinthians. In my opinion Plutarch’s essay is one of the best preparations for understand 2Corinthians. It is essential reading for the exegete, and anyone who wants to promote themselves without others hating you :)!!! Here is a quick summary of the essay to get you started:

It was permissible to boast when “defending your good name or answering a charge” (540C). Also when a person was downcast by circumstances, it is right for them to rise again and triumphing over disaster by standing “upright in fighting posture ‘Like a boxer closing in,’ using self-glorification to pass from a humble and piteous state to an attitude of triumph and pride” (541B). More subtly, “by most harmoniously blending the praises of his audience with his own [a person removes] the offensiveness and self-love in his words” (542B). Then again, by “letting part of it rest with chance, and part with God” a person may rightly boast of what they have done (542E). Someone may also “throw in certain minor shortcomings, failures, or faults, thus obviating any effect of displeasure or disapproval” (543F). In yet another way, one ought to consider “whether a man might praise himself to exhort his hearers and inspire them with emulation and ambition… For exhortation that includes action as well as argument and presents the speaker’s own example and challenge is endued with life: it arouses and spurs the hearers” (544). “But there are also times when in order to overawe and restrain the hearer and to humble and subdue the headstrong and rash it is not amiss to make some boast and extol oneself” (544). It was also appropriate to speak of one’s achievements “where important issues are at stake” and the errors of some other boastful person must be undermined. In this case “Such praise is best shown for what it is when true praise is set beside it” (545E).

Posted by Bruce Lowe.

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