Paul Defends the Corinthians
2 Corinthians 12:11 says,
11 I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me. Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am a nobody.
Though Paul was writing to the Corinthians, he was writing as if his critics were reading his letter. Since he intended that copies of his letters should be sent to other churches, as was the usual practice, Paul knew that eventually many critics would read them. It was not the Corinthian church (as a whole) that “compelled” Paul to speak foolishness. Paul’s critics were the ones who foolishly thought that their genealogical credentials qualified them as apostles, and this is what “compelled” Paul to “become foolish” in response.
If genealogy was what was required to be a true apostle, Paul “should have been commended” by his critics, because his genealogy was impeccable by their own standards. Likewise, he had been educated by Gamaliel and had been a staunch Pharisee. He knew all the Jewish doctrines by heart and understood their reasonings. He was more educated in Jewish traditions than most—if not all—of his Jewish critics who claimed to be apostles. Hence, Paul was not “inferior to the most eminent apostles,” those most highly esteemed among them.
The fact that Paul had been able to shed the bias of Jewish superiority from his early days is actually quite remarkable. By no means was Paul alone in this, but there is no doubt that he was the leader of the New Covenant gospel, which rejected the flesh as having any value in determining one’s place among the “chosen” remnant of grace (Rom. 11:6, 7).
This issue, which had already institutionalized racial and gender divisions in Judaism, as set forth by the dividing wall in the temple, was the same issue that threatened to divide the church in the first century. Paul stood strong against this fleshly-minded double standard. Unfortunately, this same issue has again arisen in the latter days. I believe it will be resolved once and for all when Hagar-Jerusalem is cast out with her children of the flesh, as Paul says in Gal. 4:25, 30.
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:12, 13,
12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles. 13 For in what respect were you treated as inferior to the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not become a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!
Paul was speaking of himself, of course, for he was the one who had performed signs and miracles in the Corinthian church. Though he was not alone in this (for we know that Luke was with him and perhaps others as well), he certainly includes himself in this.
During the time that the Corinthian church was being established, Paul did not treat the Greeks as being “inferior” in any way. He gave them equal status to “the rest of the churches”—probably a reference to other churches where Jewish believers predominated. After all, most of the churches, even those established by Paul, had begun with a few Jewish converts from a local synagogue. Yet God did signs and wonders among them ALL, without respect to their genealogy.
In fact, this precedent began much earlier when Philip went first to Samaria (Acts 8:5, 6) and later when Peter went to Caesarea to the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:1, 24, 28, 44-46). Luke eagerly recorded this in his account in the book of Acts in order to show that this impartiality was a foundational truth, revealed by the Holy Spirit in the early beginnings of the church (Acts 10:34, 35).
Financial Support for Paul’s Ministry
In 2 Cor. 12:13 Paul says that the only way in which he treated the Corinthians differently was in the matter of monetary support. He refused to be paid by the Corinthian church, but relied upon other churches and even upon his own labor for his support. His statement, “Forgive me this wrong!” should be taken as ironic, not as a literal apology. (Today we might say in English, “Well, EXCUSE ME!!”)
Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 12:14,
14 Here for this third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not be a burden to you; for I do not seek what is yours, but you; for children are not responsible to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.
Paul was not intending to visit the Corinthian church in person but to come to them via his letter. Recall that earlier, in 2 Cor. 1:23 and 2:1 he had already told them that he was not going to visit them prior to his Jerusalem mission trip. In fact, he was writing this letter while he was making his way toward Jerusalem.
The apostle speaks to them as a loving, spiritual father. Since the Corinthian church was his spiritual child, it was fitting for him not to make them responsible to support their spiritual father, but for the father to support the children. This is how he defends his practice of not taking their money in support of his ministry.
Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 12:16,
16 But be that as it may, I did not burden you myself; nevertheless, crafty fellow that I am, I took you in by deceit.
Again, Paul was using irony in calling himself “crafty.” He was expressing the views of his critics, who claimed that Paul had craftily deceived them by his gospel and his teaching about the impartiality of God. He says in 2 Cor. 12:17, 18,
17 Certainly I have not taken advantage of you through any of those whom I have sent to you, have I? 18 I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Titus did not take any advantage of you, did he? Did we not conduct ourselves in the same spirit and walk in the same steps?
Neither Paul nor Titus nor any other man from Paul’s team took advantage of the Corinthians. In other words, none of them took any financial support for their labor in that church. Apparently, Paul was extra careful in this matter, knowing that, if at all possible, his critics would use the issue against him.
Hence, not only Paul himself, but also the rest of the team followed the same rule and refused to take any money from them—even though technically they had every right to receive compensation for their labor.
2 Corinthians 12:19 says,
19 All this time you have been thinking that we are defending ourselves to you. Actually, it is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ; and all for your upbuilding, beloved.
Paul had spent much time in this letter defending himself—his apostleship, his impartial New Covenant teachings, and his monetary policy. But in reality, Paul affirms, he has been “speaking in Christ,” that is, telling them the mind of Christ in these various controversies.
His purpose was to edify them, strengthen their faith, deal with immorality, and teach them the Scriptures as if Christ were doing the teaching in person.
In the final verses of 2 Corinthians 12, Paul tells the church (and us as well) what he was trying to avoid by his strict monetary policy.
He begins by saying in 2 Cor. 12:20, 21,
20 For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there may be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances; 21 I am afraid that when I come again, my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality, and sensuality which they have practiced.
Paul wanted to be in unity with the Corinthian church. He did not want to come to them only to find that they had been swayed by the doctrines and malicious statements being made by the false apostles. Paul did not want to come to them only to find that they were not what he wished them to be.
Likewise, he did not want them to be taken by surprise and disappointed by his own teachings.
Paul wanted to make sure the church understood precisely where he stood on these important issues. To prevent embarrassing surprises, he communicated with them by letter and by messengers.
Paul knew that human nature had a way of causing problems—even among Christians. It was too easy to follow the desires of the fleshly soul (the “old man”). If he allowed the Corinthian church to slide into immorality and carnal thinking, he might be horrified and embarrassed when he came again into their midst.
Did Paul Ever Return to Corinth?
Paul may not have seen (in person) his Corinthian friends ever again. He was on his way to Jerusalem, where he would be detained for two years (58-60 A.D.) and then brought by ship as a prisoner to Rome. The shipwreck forced Paul and the crew of the ship to remain on the island of Melita (Malta) over the winter months before they were able to complete their trip in the Spring of 61.
Paul would remain in Rome for another two years awaiting trial before Nero (Acts 28:30). In 63 A.D. he was acquitted with the help of Seneca, Nero’s philosopher and tutor, with whom he struck up a friendship. Upon his release, he then went to Spain and to Britain, where he preached the gospel before returning through Gaul (France) and Helvetia (Switzerland) to Macedonia in 64 A.D.
In 65, Nero ordered Seneca to commit suicide, and in 67 Peter and Paul were brought to Rome for trial and executed for being part of an illegal (unrecognized) religion. Peter’s wife was executed first in order to pressure Peter into renouncing Christ in order to save her life and his own as well. Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea quotes Clement’s Miscellanies, Book VII, saying,
“We are told that when blessed Peter saw his wife led away to death, he was glad that her call had come and that she was returning home, and spoke to her in the most encouraging and comforting tones, addressing her by name: ‘My dear, remember the Lord.’ Such was the marriage of the blessed, and their consummate feeling towards their dearest.” [Eccl. Hist. III, xxx]
Peter himself was then crucified upside down at his own request, because he did not believe he was worthy to meet his death in the same manner as Jesus had been crucified. The Romans granted his request.
Paul was then beheaded, for he was a Roman citizen. Roman citizens were privileged and had the right to be beheaded instead of being crucified.
Whether or not Paul ever visited the Corinthian church again is unknown. From the time he returned from his fourth missionary trip to Spain and Britain in 64 until his arrest and execution in 67, Paul had three final years of ministry. He certainly had opportunity to visit them from 64-67. But whatever Paul accomplished during those years is shrouded in mystery, covered over by the sands of time.