One of the biggest benefits of going through Paul’s letters in Greek hasn’t been a flood of nuance — though there are some ideological or traditional distortions in the translations, for the most part they seem to be perfectly good — but simply being forced to slow down and study things in detail. Nowhere has that benefit been greater than in 2 Corinthians, where the fun ranting part in 10-13 has always led me to underplay the first 9 chapters, which actually contain some really interesting material that provide the greatest support for a “liberation” reading of Paul.
2 Corinthians provides the greatest detail concerning one of Paul’s greatest goals, which also seems to motivate his writing of Romans: the collection for the poor of Judea. Put briefly, it appears to be a desire to fulfill the prophecies that the nations will bring tribute to Israel — but it does an end-run around the powers and authorities of both groups, instead going for a grass-roots level offering from the poor of the nations to the poor of Israel. Perhaps this can inform what we’ve been discussing in previous posts about Paul’s call for the Gentiles to abandon idolatry: instead of stopping with that purely negative gesture, favoring the poor (particularly the poor of Israel) becomes a concrete way of identifying with the God of Israel.
What’s unclear to me is how we should understand what Paul was doing in Corinth and how he managed to attract an apparent critical mass of rich or powerful “converts.” He says over and over again that the Corinthians are his “boast” — perhaps getting the rich and powerful to go along with his mission represents a kind of tour de force (navigating the camel through the eye of the needle, so to speak)? And perhaps allowing other, poorer churches to provide support instead of letting the rich Corinthians keep him as a kind of “court philosopher” was a strategic move to humble them?
Another thought: exactly who was in charge of compiling these letters? Read the rest of this entry »