“I want you to know brothers that” 04

12 03 2009
Temple of Apollo -- Ancient Corinth
Image by John & Mel Kots via Flickr

2Corinthians has been a tough letter to understand, particularly in terms of structure. Not only does Pauljump around in his account of events, he also seems to change tone dramatically near the end. This has led people to think that more than one letter has been spliced together!

But it is worth noting that the strange structure parallels a strange purpose statement. Could there be something to this ? Check out what I mean:

2Cor 1:8 For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself.  9 Why, we felt that we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead;  10 he delivered us from so deadly a peril, and he will deliver us; on him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.  11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us in answer to many prayers.

If we add the thanksgiving prayer which is also about suffering and what can be learnt, I offer you this thought: Paul’s purpose is to recount his hardships to teach them to trust in God not people.

The reason why this might work is that the structure of the letter is very much tied to Paul’s experiences. Note too that he ends by challenging them about trusting in the “super apostles”. Lastly, “we” reflections occur almost twice as often in 2Cor as either Romans or 1Corinthians!

Any thoughts?

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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2 responses

12 03 2009
curtis sheidler

Reminds me of a report I did for a graduate class in classical rhetoric–essentially an in-depth review of Fredrick Long’s Ancient Rhetoric and Paul’s Apology: The Compositional Unity of 2 Corinthians. A really good read. Long argues–contra the liberal tendency to read 2 Cor as a composite of multiple letter fragments–that 2 Corinthians is ONE letter by ONE author, the Apostle Paul. Argues that the rhetorical style is complex because the rhetorical situation is complex and difficult to pin down.

We can tell from the first letter that the church in Corinth has a very diverse group of problems–factiousness, pride, false teaching, etc…it follows that they’d still have a lot of different lessons to learn when Paul writes them again later.

All this shows us what an enormous gospel Paul has! He can say in 1:7 that “our hope for you [i.e., the Corinthians] is unshaken.” What an odd thing to say about a group of believers as dysfunctional as the Corinthians! (Almost as odd as what Paul says about them in the opening of the first letter!) In the midst of all their issues, Paul is unwaveringly confident that the Gospel is ENOUGH for what ails them, and that God has His Hand upon the Corinthian believers for their good and His Glory.

What an amazing encouragement!!!

12 03 2009
Bruce Lowe

Thanks for that Curtis,
It is a great encouragement isn’t it! When you look at how dysfunctional the early church was it gives some hope and encouragement for the church today! I was so personally helped by 2Corinthians 1 growing up when I went through a hard time and realized how “this happened that we might not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead.”

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