You are hereII Corinthians, Part II.

II Corinthians, Part II.

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By Sam - Posted on 30 November 2004

by Samuel Frost
Our last post certainly engendered some good conversations. Some of it had to do with the “context” and “meaning” of a text. I am perplexed to know how one can get “meaning” from a text without evaluating the particles, phrases and words! This appears to be impossible, and if anyone can know the “meaning” of a context part from syntax, I would really love to know! Is it by osmosis? Does one just sleep with the Bible underneath their pillow hoping that its “meaning” will just be absorbed by the mind? I digress.Our last post certainly engendered some good conversations. Some of it had to do with the “context” and “meaning” of a text. I am perplexed to know how one can get “meaning” from a text without evaluating the particles, phrases and words! This appears to be impossible, and if anyone can know the “meaning” of a context part from syntax, I would really love to know! Is it by osmosis? Does one just sleep with the Bible underneath their pillow hoping that its “meaning” will just be absorbed by the mind? I digress.As stated before, I am accepting of the general consensus of commentators when I say that 2.14-6.13 forms a unitary section. Thus, the context of 5.1-10 is embedded within that section and is, thus, to be interpreted as such.

Now, we will, in this second part, outline the sub-units of this section and see if a rhetorical pattern helps our understanding of the overall context:

I. 2.14-3.6

This sub-unit speaks of the apostles’ ministry (along with their fellow-laborers). It is “through us” that God spreads the “fragrance of the knowledge of him” (2.14). That is, the apostles preached the gospel of Christ, and it was to them that the keys of the kingdom were given. They are the “foundation” of the church (Eph. 3.1-ff).

2.15 gives us a glimpse as to how Paul saw the effect of their ministry on others. The two verbs (participles) used by Paul are most telling. Paul sees the world divided into two groups: “those being saved” and “those who are perishing.” The present passive forms of these two verbs note the transitional period of time in which Paul lived.

For those perishing, Paul’s gospel was a “smell of from death to death” (ek thanatou eis thanaton). To those being saved, having the knowledge of Jesus was working “from life to life” (ek zoes eis zoen) These are two key phrases in that Paul will speak of the process of being saved in terms of “being transformed in to his likeness from glory to glory” (apo doxes eis doxan - 3.18). “From life to life” and “from glory to glory” are equal phrases. Likewise, “being saved” and “being transformed” are both speaking of the same salvation process in Christ. When one heard Paul’s gospel, one began to enter into a transformation; that is, one was “being saved” and was a “sweet aroma” to God. This process is from glory to its eschatological end in glory. As we shall see in a later article, this was a bodily transformation; i.e., the transformation took place as one resided in the body of Christ.

That Paul saw his ministry as directly from God himself is because he saw the time he lived in as “the fullness of the time.” That meant that the new covenant had arrived, according to the prophets. Paul’s descriptive phrases for the new covenant and, in contrast, the old, are most revealing for the rest of passages before us.

Already, Paul has divided two classes, two peoples, and as we shall soon see, two covenants. This dualistic schema in Paul’s letters is found throughout. Flesh/Spirit; natural/spiritual; old/new; life/death; perishing/being saved all designate Paul’s understanding of the times. They are covenantal expressions.

For our framework, the “perishing” of the old covenant (Hebrews 8.13) marked the “end” of this transition from “life to life” and “death to death.” Those who were in process of “being saved” were coming to “the life” of the new aeon. Those who were “perishing” were those who refused “life” in coming aeon. The “present evil age” was quickly coming to an end, and those who failed to come to the Gospel would “perish” (a common NT word).

In 3.2-6 our thesis becomes plainly seen. “our letter ye are, having been written in our hearts, known and read by all men, 3 manifested that ye are a letter of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not in the tablets of stone, but in fleshy tablets of the heart, 4 and such trust we have through the Christ toward God, 5 not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything, as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God, 6 who also made us sufficient to be ministrants of a new covenant, not of letter, but of spirit; for the letter doth kill, and the spirit doth make alive” (Young’s Literal). The phrases “been written on our hearts;” “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God;” “tablets of stone” “fleshly tablets of the heart” are nothing more that new covenant terms of the dawning new aeon. In Jeremiah 31.33 and Ezekiel 36.26,27 the same phraseology is found.

Further, Paul explicitly mentions in this context the “new covenant” (Jeremiah 31.31). It is here that Paul, again, makes a dualistic distinction: “the letter” and “the spirit.” He has done this previously in Romans 7.6. Regardless of what letter one reads from Paul, his theology is always the same.

Finally, on this passage, the same transitory aspects are seen where the tenses of the verbs “kills” and “make alive” are present. For Paul, the “letter” (the law of Moses) was presently “killing.” Alternately, Paul’s Gospel, when believed, was “making alive.” This is, for Paul, resurrection language rooted in the coming new aeon. “Making alive;” “from life to life; “being saved;” and “making alive” have all the same reference to the resurrection of the dead. The old age was coming to a close, and the new age of resurrection life, eternal life, was coming “soon.” Indeed, it was already present. The process had begun. The beginning of the end had arrived, and the end was “at hand.”

Ben Witherington III, professor of biblical and Weslyan studies at Ashland Theological Seminary, Ashland, Ohio, will close this article out. He wrote, “The issue here is not the Old Testament but the Old Covenant, specifically the Mosaic covenant…the ministry of the letter, that is, the Law, kills fallen people (cf. Romans 6-7), while the ministry of the Spirit gives them life” (Conflict & Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, Eerdmans/Paternoster, 1995), 379. It is precisely this dualistic covenantal framework (found in Romans as well) that scholars are starting to see. However, if this is the case, then “life” and “death” cannot mean physical life and death. This, as we shall see, will not “fit” the concept found here. For Paul “life” was “in Christ” and “death” was “separation from God.” When one was put “outside the city” for having defiled the Law, they were covenantally “unclean” and “cut off.” Paul’s whole opening argument here is to show that his Jewish antagonizers (which the larger subject matter of the letter), under Law, are in fact “cut off” from God and defiled precisely because they keep the “letter” and have not the “spirit.” They have circumcision “according to the flesh” but not “according to the Spirit” of the new covenant. God was inviting Israel, and through Israel, the world to be “reconciled” (II Cor 5.17-ff). By showing Himself righteous through keeping his promise to Israel, God was making a “new creation” people (II Cor 5.18), a “new Israel” that included both Jew and Gentile. This “one new man” (Eph 2.9) was being “made alive” from reign of the death and the sin. The transition from “death” to “life” would “soon” be consummated and “finished.” Those who joined with the new covenant people of God would come to “fullness of the life” whereas those who failed to join would “perish.” “Perish” here obviously cannot mean “physical death.” Quite simply, if that were the case, then everyone “perishes” since everyone physically dies! These are terms of status before God. One was either “alive” before God or was “perishing.” Yet, we know that empirically, if one were to look at Paul or look at a pagan, one could not physically distinguish them. These are spiritual designations. We will take this up in the next article.

davo's picture

great stuff Sam, keep em' rollin' :)

leslie's picture

There is no such thing as a 'non-physical' body. Paul talks about the resurrection in terms of the EVENT, not a concept. It is universal so that all men will STAND before Christ. He separates the PEOPLE - not spirits. It is they, themselves, and selves are complete - body, soul and spirit. After Christ's resurrection He made it a point of proving that He was not a bodiless 'spirit.' He ate, drank and was touched. "See, it is I, myself!" He is the first of the resurrection.

You continue to attack the core of Christianity and call it wisdom. Christians call it something else.

Brother Les

davo's picture

Zorro: There is no such thing as a 'non-physical' body. – The "body" of biblical evidence is "literally" against you.

Zorro: Paul talks about the resurrection in terms of the EVENT, not a concept. – When you experienced the EVENT of the rebirth [assuming you have], what physically changed about yourself – is this a new concept you are proposing?

And Terry is quite correct: Jesus was not the first to rise from the dead, physically – though rise physically indeed he did; yet Acts 26:23 shows that "physicality" was not the reality nor the concept that was in mind in relation to resurrection.

davo

Jer's picture

Davo:
"The 'body' of biblical evidence is 'literally' against you."

Jer:
Correct and witty, Davo. I wonder why people keep "resurrecting" these same arguments ;)

chrisliv's picture

Because, they focus on the seen that was not "eternal." Just like the Jews.

Perfect love casts off fear, yet for them to loose the "seen" in favor of the unseen is a fearful situation to those who love the flesh.

They focus on the "seen" and strive to convince themselves they will seek it. All their teachings concerning the "physical body" are absoultely opposed to the teachings of Christ, from the very beginnings of Matthew, and especially into the book of Hebrews.

God Bless
Nate

Terry's picture

"He is the first of the resurrection."

How can he be the "first" of the resurrection if the resurrection is of physical nature? Whatever happened to all the people physically resurrected before him?

davecollins's picture

Sam,
In debating this issue I have noticed one glaring problem...
People tend to read a chapter at a time and in each chapter they read, they create a new "context." With this issue, it is a matter of taking the immediate context of 2 Cor 4:7-16 and saying chapter 5 adds to those verses, or starting where you say, in chapter 2, and letting the whole create the context. What is the context?

2-3..That Paul has a ministry to preach the "ministry of righteousness" and it's everlasting glory. That the "ministry of death" is fading and has a fading glory.

4 That Paul, because he is a member under this "ministry of death," is being persecuted for preaching this ministry of righteousness." Notice he does not say the Corinthians are "suffering death daily" rather that HE is suffering the death so THEY might live daily?

5 That Paul wants to be free from the "tent"and to receive a house "not made with hands eternal in the heavens." Hebrews says the exact same thing, a "tabernacle not made with hands (that is not of this creation)." Hebrews is NO DOUBT speaking of the new covenant. So why does it speak of the "physical body" here, but the covenant in Hebrews? Why is Paul suffering? Because he is preaching something more glorious and those of the fading glory don't like it? So if Paul was free of the Judaizers and their temple, would it be safe to say that he would be free of the persecution they gave him?

If the "hope of salvation" for the Christian was universal, why is Paul dealing with his death daily? Why doesn't he give THEM some reason to want out of the physical body? He said it was him currently dying daily so they could "LIVE."

If we take the context as a whole, chapter 3 discusses the covenant, chapter 4 says his suffering in the flesh is worth it because he is looking at "what is unseen" and eternal. WHich in chapter 3 he just described as the new covenant.

So, he wished to be free of the "ministry of death" so that he would be "further clothed with life.

1 COr 15 says the same thing....
Here is the rule:

1 COr 15:50
Brothers, I tell you this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom and corruption cannot inherit incorruption"

KEY! If flesh and blood = corruption in this verse, then the kingdom = incorruption in thisverse, and that rule applies all through the next few verses!!!

What they inherited was the kingdom, which brought eternal life. It is the kingdom, the covenant, which allowed men to be made alive. It has nothing to do with receiving a remake of the physical body.

Nate

Sam's picture

Nate,

Discourse analysis, properly called, provides immediate contexts with subtexts. I am following commentators that see that the "overall context" is 2.14-6.13. There are, as admitted, "sub-texts" within this larger section. The point is, it is not at all inappropriate to view II Co 5.1-10 within II Co 3, which begins the discussion. In fact, it makes sense when understanding "letter-writing" that one tends to "develop" their argument as they go along, building off of each successive point in the letter. If, then, we approach these letters (epistles) as letters, then we must submit ourselves to the rhetoric of letter-style: beginning, middle and end. Why, then, would one attempt to start in the middle and read back, or even ignore, the beginning and the end? Do you write letters like that? I don't. Rhetorical criticism, based on an analysis of typical Roman letters of Paul's time (of which the Elephantine Papyrii share in style), show that Paul wrote with a beginning, middle, and end of his letters. They were not disjointed thoughts having no coherency, but were, rather, highly specialized, highly sophisticated letters of doctrinal matters. In short, II Co 5 makes no sense apart from the larger context of what words surround it.

Samuel Frost

davo's picture

Sam,
Sorry Bro, that is a lot of "fancy talk" for me.

Paul in the first verse of 2 COr 4 says that he "faints not" because his eyes are on his ministry of preaching the new "ministry." Then he goes into what he is suffering and showing why it is a challenge not to "faint." However Paul himself brings the topic back to verse 1 of chapter 4, likewise chapter 3, when he says that he counts his suffering worth it (faint not) because of his eyes being on the eternal, which had been previously discussed as the "ministry of righteousness."

So it is Paul which leaves the immediate context of his chapter 4 discussion, physical suffering, and redirects his topic back to chapter 3 when he discusses his sufferring being worth it because of the eternal covenant he cannot see, which is eternal in verses 17-18.

So when Paul begins chapter 5, he is NOT referring to his physical body, but the thing he just said that was unseen and eternal for which he is sufferring and that he is waiting for; the consummation of the "ministry of righteousness."

The hope of salvation is universal in the church pre-AD 70, yet the aspect of physical suffering and "dying daily" while suffering was personnal and NOT universal, because he specifically said that he died so they could live. The hope of salvation was not death or a new physical body.

God Bless
Nate

Sam's picture

Oh I agree! :) Without the "fancy talk." !

Sam

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