Bible Experiment II Corinthians
Oh man, I am falling asleep at the switch with this Biblionomicron, Bible Experiment thing I promised myself I would complete from beginning to end. What is it? I am going through every single book of the Bible and seeing if it makes sense, reading it literally and seeing if it makes sense to a devout Christian in this day and age. Occasionally get atheists, Hindus, Buddhists, stoping through and pinging me about this and that. Which is great. It has been a fantastic platform for discourse and dialogue on our different perspectives and opinions about religion, faith and the larger questions of spirituality.
For me personally though, one of the most interesting pieces I’ve found while walking through this experiment is my investigation of whether or not the entirety of the Bible tells a single coherent story or not. Many non-Christians declare the Old Testament as a story about a God that is filled with vengeance and hate that doesn’t align or conform to the ideas of the New Testament. But so far, I have not found that to be true at all. But that the Bible is a single vision and story of the Creator of the universe who set his plan in motion in order to redeem us to himself in spite of our amazing idiocy at every turn.
History of Second Corinthians
Apostle Paul is the author of 2nd Corinthians. Curious how we know this? See 1:1 – “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth, and all the saints who are throughout Achaia.” Ok? But also 10:1 – “Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ…”
And as we discussed in previous books already, who was Paul? Well, Paul, or Saul… is an interesting character. And he has taken no small amount of grief for how he came to be an apostle. We first see him lighting it up at the tail end of the gospels, and is the prime mover of the book of Acts. He was attacking the Christian movement throughout Jerusalem on behalf the Pharisees. Saul studied under one of the most storied schools of the Pharisees, the school of Gamaliel. He was Roman via his father. And he was a Pharisee himself… a rabid spitfire of a Pharisees. He was intent on defending the Jewish faith from all comers. But all that changed when God got ahold of him on the way to find an persecute the fledgling little-Christs of the region. Saul had recently presided over the stoning of Stephen, and then God asked why he was persecuting Him. And from there on out, Paul was a spit fire for Christ.
But even to this day he is the apostle that gets the most grief and guff from the world at large. Have you read any of Anne Rice’s Vampire chronicles? I think it was in the book Vampire LeStat where Anne totally disembowels poor Paul and attempts to discount his conversion or the authenticity of his walk. It happens everywhere, even today. But knowing that Paul was a frothing, full-tilt Jewish Pharisee, the son of a pharisee (Acts 23:6) and the most unrelenting denier of Christ there ever was should color our perspective for his conversion. Disbelieve the vision. Disbelieve the voice from heaven. But look at Paul’s life and transformation. He went from killing Christians, to dying as a Christian. (Nero condemned Paul to death by decapitation. Tertullian in his Prescription Against Heretics (200 AD) writes that Paul had a similar death to that of John the Baptist, who was beheaded.) He went from being a disbelieving Pharisee, focused on the law, to becoming a believing Christian focused on the marvelous grace of God poured out for us by Christ on the cross for each of us. It is possibly the single most radical transformation in the Bible.
And if you take a moment, and look at conspiracies, and the way that conspirators sing like song birds once the light of day hits them, you should know that Paul’s conversion was legit. For we know that Paul willingly died for his faith. His letters that walked him closer and closer to his death declare the urgency of his faith and the fervor with which he believed.
II Corinthians Context
The time of the writing is in the fall of 57AD – about 22 years after Christ’s death and resurrection – and is written somewhere in Macedonia. And it is also only a few months after the writing of 1 Corinthians… which was most likely written in the spring of 57AD. Paul had started the church in Corinth back in 52AD when he had made a visit there during his second missionary journey. He had stayed in the region for almost two years. (Which, you can read more about in Acts 18:1-18 if you are curious.)
But, please note that this second letter to the Corinthians is actually a third and a fourth letter. Wait, what? Alright, I’ll slow down… Here are the letters that Paul wrote to the Corinthians as I understand them:
- The Warning Letter, or Previous letter referred to 1 Cor 5:9
- 1 Corinthians, we covered last time.
- Letter 3 – was a second lost letter. Or the “letter of tears” (referred to in 2 Cor 2:3-4 & 7:8)
- 2 Corinthians…
My best guess is that the Warning Letter is a lost letter of Paul’s to the Corinthians. (Though there is a compelling argument to be made that it is a reference to the current letter.) And I personally believe that the letter of tears is actually folded within 2 Corinthians, in chapters 10-13. The feeling of II Corinthians just changes out of the blue and feels all kinds of tagged on to me. Read 2 Cor 8 and 9 and then as you turn the corner into 10 and on tell me if you don’t feel like you’ve been hit by a skillet out of the blue. So personally? I believe that we still have the letter of tears, but that it has been appended to 2 Corinthians from chapter 10 through 13.
II Corinthians Purpose
Now, as to the purpose of the Corinthians letters it sort of feels like Paul was nuts to start a church in Corinth. And I actually think Paul also thought it was nuts. Corinth was a hedonistic smorgasbord. There was no concept of “Godly” living or any sort of propriety from either a Christian or Jewish standpoint. But you know what? Paul understood that that is where God was needed most. Just like today, God is needed most in the darkest corners of the world… not in the large cathedrals or monasteries. God has come to seek and save the lost.
I would like to point out one intriguing passage in II Corinthians 2:14 that might be of interest to a mixed crowd like the one reading this.
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifest through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.
Ok, stop there. Paul is saying that the message of salvation should be a sweet aroma. This capital L Life idea should be sweet. Those that are living for Christ should be living differently. (Which, we are not… not so much.) We should be chasing after the upside down kingdom. We should be assisting the widows, the orphans, the impoverished. We should be actively climbing DOWN the later while others cut, scratch, and claw their way to the top. And then he continues:
For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma of life to life.
Woah. Slow down there Tex. What? Well, he is saying, sure, Christians should be living compelling lives in this upside down kingdom. We should be backwards and strange. But realistically? We will actually smell like death to those who don’t believe. We won’t make sense at all. This upside down kingdom will just be one more bit of evidence that we are insane. But to those who are called? It will be all kinds of intriguing. What is this guy doing? Why is he doing it? Is there something bigger and better out there? Does this guy have it?
For we are not like many, peddling the word of God.
Stop! Right now, I am not trying to hawk the word of God to you. I’m not selling anything. This isn’t an Amway upsell ponzi scheme. I am not getting coupons or points or bonuses for telling you about God. I have been walking through the Bible, chapter by chapter, because I am overwhelmed by the goodness and grace that I find there. It is out of sheer joy that I tell you about what I have found and what Paul is sharing. I get it. Many of you will think it smells like death. And that breaks my heart. But some of you will find it compelling. Not me! The message. The good news of God’s grace for your life. So let’s take that whole verse over again from the beginning, but this time, not from the NASB translation but rather the NIV because it packs a better punch:
Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.
Ok, so the second half of this verse basically says, God knows that we aren’t speaking for profit. God knows that it is through Christ that we sincerely speak. And I promise to you, that I’m not trying to profit at all from this message that I am sharing with you… but know, I have been sent from God with this message for you.
So with all that said, the purpose and the context for the second letter to the Corinthians was to continue to encourage a church that is embedded in the culture today. To remind them that we have been blessed. To encourage them to not allow the world drag them backwards, with their pantheistic beliefs and their pagan rituals that run very counter to the ideas of Christianity. Which, might as well be a letter to you and me today. The world has decided that the gods of success, pride, and money are the gods to be chased after. And this later is a clarion call saying, no, it is the upside down kingdom that matters. The things that matter are generosity, and letting grievances go when wronged. It is the upside kingdom after all.
Have you had success in the rightside up kingdom? Was it everything you had hoped for? Did you get all the esteem, the money, the praise you were hoping for? No. The problem with the rightside up kingdom is that you can never have enough. Enough sex. Enough food. Enough glory. Enough land. Enough promotions. Enough of any of it. But in God’s upside down kingdom? It is all about relationship with Him. A life that is 100% about Him. Because it is He who has restored us back to Himself. It is He that paved the way to our reconciliation. And as a result I gladly and willingly tell you about this amazing gift of grace that we have been given. As a result I work a technology job building solutions to help pull impoverished people from the worst slums around the world instead of workign for Microsoft, Google, or any of the up and coming start ups in the world. Because my goal is the upside down kingdom. Seeing the orphan restored to parents. Watching as widows are cared and looked after.
But maybe that’s just me. I do know that the rat race of the right side up kingdom isn’t for me. That’s for sure.