July 28, 2006

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

St. Paul: He suffers humiliation in Corinth

In the summer of 54, Paul traveled from Ephesus to Corinth to confront the Judaizers, the delegation from Antioch which was going to the Churches that Paul founded to tell them that they had to follow the Judaic laws. The confrontation didn’t go well.

The delegation told the Corinthians that Paul was sent by the Church at Antioch, but turned out to be a dishonest representative of that Church since he preached his own ideas and not the Judaism of the Church at Antioch.

Paul was humiliated. It wasn’t that the Corinthians believed what the delegation taught, it was that the Corinthians didn’t support Paul. Instead, they remained neutral in the dispute.

Paul was not making much headway in Corinth, so he decided to go to Philippi and Thessalonica to see what damage the Judaizers had done there, promising to return to Corinth. Around mid-July, he walked the 363 miles between Corinth and Thessalonica, one of the hottest places in Europe.

When he arrived in Thessalonica, though, he was relieved to learn that the Judaizers had made no inroads there. The Christians of Thessalonica and Philippi were faithful to Paul. They continued to be his most faithful communities, in contrast to that in Corinth.

At that point, Paul (perhaps on the advice of Timothy) decided that it would do no good for him to return to Corinth. He decided instead to return to Ephesus, which he did in the late summer of 54.

Once back in Ephesus, Paul wrote another letter to the Corinthians to try to explain his change of plans. This letter no longer exists, but references in what we now know as the Second Letter to the Corinthians allude to it. We know that Paul tried to win the sympathy of the Corinthians by telling them frankly that he had been hurt that they had not stood up for him.

Paul assigned this letter to Titus, who took it to Corinth. Paul then told Titus not to return to Ephesus, but to meet him in Macedonia.

Paul had a premonition that he wasn’t going to be able to stay in Ephesus—and he was right.

Something happened that forced Paul to leave Ephesus. Whatever it was, it was serious enough that Paul later wrote, “We despaired of life itself; indeed we felt that we had received the sentence of death” (2 Cor 1:8-9).

When Paul reunited with Titus, he learned that his letter to the Corinthians had had the effect he wanted. Apparently, the leader of the Judaizers had been ostracized and most of the Corinthians were on Paul’s side.

But not all. Those whom he earlier had alienated with part of his First Letter to the Corinthians were saying that Paul was untrustworthy. Paul felt that he had to send another letter.

However, by the time Paul and Titus were reunited, winter had set in. There was no way to get a message to Corinth until spring.

That gave Paul plenty of time to prepare his next letter. †


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