6. Warning: Paul May Have to Be Severe in Using His Authority When Present (13:1–10)

1This will be my third visit to you. “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” 2I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, 3since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. 4For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God's power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God's power we will live with him to serve you.

5Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? 6And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. 7Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong. Not that people will see that we have stood the test but that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. 8For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. 9We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection. 10This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.

13:1 Paul warns the Corinthians that on his next visit he will be putting them on trial. “This will be my third visit to you” translates “the third time I am coming to you” (see 12:14). To make it fit certain chronological theories, some have tried to interpret this phrase to mean the third time I have planned to come to you. But the plain sense of the text is that Paul's next visit to Corinth will be his third, and his reference in the next verse to when he was with them a second time confirms this reading.

According to Acts 18:1–17, Paul had an extended mission in Corinth when he founded the church. The second visit was painful and short. It was unplanned and undertaken to quell rebellion in Corinth. Paul's grievous confrontation with an individual in the church caused him to cut the visit short. Though he sounds annoyed and disturbed in this section of the letter and paints an alarming picture of a church infested with strife and immorality, he has been successful enough through the severe letter and the personal intervention of Titus, and, he trusts, through this letter, to reestablish his authority over the church. He therefore warns them that he comes ready to punish every disobedience and to purge all pockets of resistance. But he will not be acting alone because he cannot act without some base of support. Those who are obedient in the church will act in concert with him (10:6; see 1 Cor 5:3–5).

Paul abruptly cites Deut 19:15 in a slightly abbreviated form: “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (see also Num 35:30; Deut 17:6). The assumption behind the law is that it is better for someone who is guilty to go unpunished because of a lack of the requisite number of witnesses than to harm an innocent person's reputation with reckless charges. This principle is applied elsewhere in the New Testament (see Matt 18:16; John 8:17; 1 Tim 5:19; Heb 10:28). But how does Paul's third visit relate to the rules of evidence? By saying that no one can be condemned without the testimony of two to three witnesses, Paul tips his hand that he has every intention to bring charges against them on this next visit (see 12:19).

What are the two or three witnesses? Some argue for a literal understanding of the text so that Paul warns the Corinthians that he will open a court of inquiry that will evaluate the misconduct of wrongdoers and that due process will be used. Others, from ancient times to modern, take the reference to the rules of evidence in a figurative sense and understand Paul to be referring to his visits. His next visit will be the third and decisive witness against the troublemakers. Although widely held, this view fails to explain why Paul would regard his first visit in which he founded the church as constituting a witness against them. He did not work in their midst to gather evidence against them but to evangelize them. The third visit also is not to gather evidence but to confront them. Paul would also be taking strange liberties with the text of Deut 15:19 that clearly refers to persons and not events if this view were accurate.

Others argue that Paul applies the law of the witnesses to the threefold warnings issued to them, for example, those found in 1 Cor 4:21, the second visit and the severe letter, and 2 Cor 13:2. Van Vliet contends that the rule of the two or three witnesses was used in Palestinian Judaism to support the requirement that person suspected of wrongdoing should be carefully forewarned of the possibility of punitive action against them. The text becomes a kind of proverb. Furnish accepts this conclusion and writes, “In this context Paul's quotation of the rule makes good sense: he will have given them the requisite two or three warnings, to Corinth.” But would the Corinthians have been aware of such a recherché usage of the text?

Harvey points to the citation of the rule elsewhere in the New Testament (Matt 18:16; 1 Tim 5:19; John 8:17) and claims that it “marks the point at which a private dispute becomes a matter for public arbitration: from now on strict rules of evidence will apply.” This is how Paul uses it here. Paul is saying: “My next visit will be the occasion for our dispute to be settled publicly.” Paul will take disciplinary action according to the biblical principles governing a judicial proceeding (see 1 Cor 6:1–6). He can call three witnesses against them—Titus and Timothy, for example, and even God. Can they call three legitimate witnesses against him? They should remember that the law also warns that malicious, dishonest witnesses will be punished in the way they intended for the falsely accused to be punished (Deut 19:16–19).

13:2 Paul reminds them that he is not suddenly springing this threat on them; he has warned them before. “The second” (to deuteron) can be connected to being present with them a second time or to forewarning them a second time. The natural order of the words argues for it being related to when he was with them. He gave this warning when he was present the second time. Paul's use of the perfect tense for the two verbs, “I warned (proeirēka) those who sinned previously (proēmartēkosin),” implies that the warning from that second visit still stands and that those who sinned have not fully repented because their sin still stands. Has the warning gone unheeded? Did his rivals meddle in some way and forestall their repentance?

The ones who have sinned could include a variety of persons: those causing the disruption in the church, those involved in sexual sins, and those involved in associations with idolatry, though none of these categories is mutually exclusive. Paul also warns “any of the others” (literally, “all the rest”). This category could include those whom he may find guilty of sin when he comes for the third time. The construction of this verse (translated literally) consists of a series of three parallel phrases linked by “and.”

I have said beforehand

and

I do say beforehand

when I was present the

and

now being absent

second time

to them that have sinned before

and

to all the rest

In this structure “all the rest” would embrace those who have also sinned.

But “all the rest” might also include those “who by their indifference to or leniency toward immoral conduct on the part of church members have tacitly condoned it.” To Paul's mind there are no “innocent bystanders” in what has happened at Corinth. “Standing by” implies toleration and makes one a party to the sin. Paul's aggravation with the Corinthians’ tolerance of even outrageous sins bursts forth in 1 Cor 5:1–2 when he expresses dismay and surprise that they are not mourning about the man living with his father's wife. He fully expects Christians to be active in disciplining fellow members who have sinned (1 Cor 5:5) as well as merciful in forgiving those who repent (2 Cor 2:5–11). They are not to ignore sin or to sit back and wait for some member of an ecclesiastical hierarchy to handle matters. The church can only maintain its holiness if its members discipline the fallen believer with spiritual discernment and Christian love.

Paul has acted with gentleness in dealing with the Corinthians and once even retreated rather than force a showdown. Now, he has given sufficient warning and has sufficient support to act firmly. He will not spare them. What punishment he will inflict is not specified, but a precedent appears in 1 Cor 5:5, where the sinner is to be handed over to Satan, which is then defined as dissociation in 5:11 (cp. 2 Thess 3:6). The command not to eat with those who bear the name of Christ but are “sexually immoral, greedy, idolaters, slanderers, drunkards or swindlers” (1 Cor 5:11) implies that they are barred from participation in the Lord's Supper. If Paul implies that they will be subject to divine judgment if he does not spare them, then it may involve sickness and even death (1 Cor 11:29–32).

13:3 Paul rebuts a demand on someone's part in Corinth for proof that Christ is speaking through him. It is a grievous insult to him to imply that he needs to go through another “trial” period to prove whether or not he satisfactorily meets the conditions of being a genuine apostle. Why do they demand such proof? Besides their complete confusion about what makes an apostle sufficient, Paul's earlier restraint in dealing with wrongdoers may have fanned their doubt. Perhaps they expected him to be more heavy-handed in dealing with the rebels and mistakenly inferred from his forbearance that he either lacked sufficient authority or lacked the courage to use it. Some may have attributed his meekness and gentleness to his being a weak-kneed flatterer, which caused them to question his suitability as an apostle.

Meekness and gentleness were not virtues in a Corinthian culture marked by pitched battles for social supremacy over others. Ruthlessly bludgeoning one's social rivals was the rule. The Corinthians therefore may have expected some miracle of power from Paul against adversaries who so boldly opposed him. They may have thought that an apostle would be a lot tougher, louder, bolder, and more fiery. He would unleash shafts of lightning, hailstones of wrath, and raging tempests to lay waste the opposition. Something along the order of what happened to Elymas, who was struck blind for trying to thwart Paul (Acts 13:11), would have provided convincing proof that Christ's power was indeed working in him. The Corinthians’ confusion about Paul comes from their failure to see proof that the crucified and resurrected Christ is working in him in his weaknesses (5:20; Rom 15:18). They find his weakness distasteful. But Paul's weakness fits the paradigm of Christ's crucifixion. If this displeases or mystifies them, then there is some serious flaw in their faith. They do not understand the full implications of the cross and resurrection.

They have demanded proof that Paul is sufficient for his task as an apostle, but Paul will turn the tables on them and demand proof that they are truly in the faith. The important question is not whether Christ is speaking in Paul but whether Christ is living in them. When Paul does not spare those who have sinned, they will get all the proof that they want that Christ speaks in him; but it will not be something to welcome. Yet they already have plenty of proof that Christ speaks through him if they would only reflect on what Christ has done among them already. They need to “look at what is before your eyes” (10:7). “He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you.” It is a miracle of God that a church was planted and grows in such a city as Corinth, and they cannot deny that they have experienced the power of Christ in their midst through signs, wonders, and mighty works (12:21; 1 Cor 12:4–11). How did this experience of Christ's power come to pass? Paul was the first to come to them with the gospel of Christ (10:14). The proof that Christ is speaking in Paul is in the pudding, unless they would exclude the pudding as evidence.

13:4 Paul gives further proof that Christ speaks by showing the parallels between himself, as a man in Christ, and Christ. “For to be sure (kai gar) he was crucified in weakness” parallels “likewise (kai gar) we are weak in him.” “Yet (alla) he lives by God's power” parallels “yet (alla) by God's power we will live with him.” Paul does not use the future “will live” elsewhere to refer to the resurrection life, so the future tense here does not imply some eschatological scenario—that we will live with him in the resurrection. He is talking about his future relations with the Corinthians. In the last clause Paul adds “unto you.” The verb “to serve” is not in the Greek text; and the NRSV translation “in dealing with you” better captures Paul's thought (see GNB “in our relations with you”). Paul asserts that weakness covers all of his relations with the Corinthians. But weakness does not mean impotence. As God's power overcomes weakness in raising the seemingly vanquished Jesus from the dead and making him victorious over all, so God's power works in Paul's weakness in his dealings with the Corinthians, thus overcoming this weakness with divine power.

This verse exposes the key difference between Paul and the Corinthians: they do not perceive power in the same way. The Corinthians understand power as something exerted by assertive, domineering, forceful personalities who boisterously and tyrannically wield authority. The apostle sees divine power perfected in weakness. Barrett comments, “Since Paul, like all his fellow-Christians, lives in this age, on the side of death, it is to be expected that the main sign of Christian existence will be weakness—that is, the same kind of vulnerability that Christ himself chose to adopt.” The Corinthians need to see the whole picture and look at things the way Paul does: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (4:18). The crucifixion displayed an apparent helplessness that caused the spectators to taunt Jesus to show them some miraculous display of power or to pull off some miraculous escape that would finally convince them that he was the Son of God. A spectacular show of worldly power on the cross—the kind they wanted to see—would have proven only that Jesus was some kind of superman, but not the Messiah, the Son of God. Just as his tormentors suspected, nothing happened. His eyes closed, his head went limp, the breathing spasms stopped. The bystanders could not see that his weakness came from his voluntary sacrifice to give his life for others in absolute obedience to God. They also could not believe that God would deliver one whom they dismissed as so contemptible. The resurrection showed the power of God working in the most abject human weakness—death, even death on a cross. It also revealed that “the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength” (1 Cor 1:25) and that God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the strong (1 Cor 1:27).

Unlike the Corinthians, Paul recognizes that God does not allow Christ's followers, and especially apostles, to bypass Christ's way of weakness that seems so foolish to the world. As Christ's ambassador, he will continue to be given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested (4:11). The Corinthians still fail to grasp that, with God, weakness and power are two sides of the same coin. Some Corinthians have dismissed Paul because he is weak, and they think that they are strong (1 Cor 4:10). Paul admits to his weakness and glories in it because he knows that he is weak in Christ and that it continually proclaims his saving death and the power of God (4:11). His weakness is “a reflection of his fellowship with the Lord and of his participation in his death and resurrection.” What he knows and they do not is that “Christians do not merely imitate, follow or feel inspired by Christ, but actually live in him, are part of him, dwell supernaturally in a new world where the air they breathe is his Spirit.” By sharing Christ's weakness, he shares the same divinely ordained paradox that constituted the life and destiny of Jesus Christ: comfort from suffering, life from death, strength from weakness, wisdom from foolishness. Divine power transforms the opposites from one to the other. If he is weak in Christ, he is powerful, because God's power is made perfect in weakness and because God has already shown that power in Christ. Consequently, Paul wears his weakness as “a badge of honor” because it becomes “the platform from which the power of God is exhibited in the world.”

13:5 If some in Corinth are asking what proof Paul can provide that Christ speaks in him, he turns the question around and challenges them to conduct a spiritual audit on themselves to see how they check out as Christians: “Test yourselves”; “Prove yourselves.” They should be examining themselves, not cross examining him. Paul plays on the verb “to prove” (dokimazō, 13:5; see 8:9; 25) and the adjectives “proven” (“approved,” dokimos, 13:7; see 10:18) and “unproven” (“fail the proof,” “unapproved,” “counterfeit,” adokimos, 13:5, 6, 7). He tells the Galatians that each one should test (dokimazō) his own work, then he might have a boast, but only in himself, not by comparing himself to someone else (Gal 6:4). Paul uses the adjective dokimos to refer to Apelles who is “tested and approved in Christ” (Rom 16:10, NIV). He tells the Corinthians that he beats his body to make it his slave “so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified (adokimos) for the prize” to warn them that no one can slide by God's judgment (1 Cor 9:27; see 3:13). Hebrews 6:8 contains a vivid picture of what “failing the proof” entails: “But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless (adokimos) and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.”

Betz ties the parallel challenge in Gal 6:4, “Each one should test his own actions,” to the famous Delphic maxim, “know yourself.” He comments that “self-examination meant the scrutinizing of one's own conduct of life … exclusively, not a comparison with others.” This is Paul's answer to those who dare to commend themselves by comparing themselves to others. They are to know themselves in Christ and to examine themselves by the faith.

“To see whether you are in the faith” may also be translated “to see whether you are holding the faith” (RSV). “Faith” here does not refer simply to trust in Christ, which is its primary meaning in Paul's usage, but to the whole Christian way and truth (see Titus 1:13; 2:2). It is not a matter of examining their doctrines, however, but of bringing their conduct and thinking into conformity with their belief in Christ.

We have interpreted Paul's statement in 1:24 to mean that they stand firm by faith, but others take it to be an affirmation that they stand firm in the faith. Even if this latter interpretation is correct, this challenge at the end of the letter, “see whether you are in the faith,” does not mean that his former confidence in them is now shaken. If it were, he could hardly expect them even to want to administer such a test, let alone to grade it responsibly. The suggestion of doubt, “to see whether” is part of his exhortation for them to shape up before he arrives so that he can be pleasantly surprised by their moral reform and their good order.

Paul does not give them a checklist of items to inspect to ascertain whether they are approved or in the faith. We might assume that such a list would involve theological, ethical, and social criteria. For example, he has told them in 1 Corinthians, “no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor 12:2). He warned, “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Cor 6:18), and, “Flee from idolatry” (1 Cor 10:14). He berated them for ignoring and mortifying the poor at their Lord's supper, “Do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” (1 Cor 11:22). But given the Corinthians’ high opinions of themselves as “spiritual ones,” (1 Cor 3:1), Paul may be taking for granted that they will conclude that Christ is indeed in them (Rom 8:9–11; Gal 2:20). He does not think that they will fail themselves on the test. The jeopardy is real (see 1 Cor 10:12); their conduct has been unseemly for those who are in Christ. But they could not test themselves unless they were true Christians.

The summons to test themselves will therefore authenticate Paul's ministry to them when they conclude that Christ is in them. This conclusion should lead them to recognize that just as they belong to Christ, so does Paul (10:7). Barnett is correct, “their verdict about themselves will likewise be their verdict about him.” If they approve themselves, they must also approve Paul who brought the gospel to them. If Christ is in them, it was Paul who first preached Christ crucified to them. But Paul has spelled out another criterion earlier in the letter for determining if one is approved: “The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test [hē dokimē] and be obedient in everything” (2:9). If they are to pass as those who are approved, they will be obedient to Paul, particularly in his commands about appropriate Christian conduct. Christian behavior is the touchstone for determining whether those who claim to be Christians really are. Hanson comments, “A Christian's conduct, then, is a very good ready reckoner for determining his relationship to Christ, and a much better one than his religious experience.”

13:6 The interpretation of the previous verse is confirmed by what Paul says in 13:6. It may seem a puzzling jump in logic to write “Test yourselves to see if you are living in the faith” and then to conclude “I trust [lit., “I hope”] you will discover that we have not failed the test.” How does testing themselves relate to Paul passing the test? The two are obviously intertwined in his mind. If they pass the test and know that Christ is in them; then their apostle passes the test as well (see 10:15). Paul is the one who betrothed them to Christ (11:2), and they are the seal of his apostleship in the Lord (1 Cor 9:2) and his letter of commendation in Christ for all the world to read (3:1–3). If they fail the test, then all Paul's work among them has been in vain (1 Cor 3:12–15). If they pass the test, it confirms that he is a genuine apostle.

“I hope that you will know” (gnōsesthe, NIV, “I trust that you will discover”) takes us back to the theme statement of the letter: “And I hope that, as you have understood (“knew” epegnōte) us in part, you will come to understand fully (“know fully,” epignōsesthe) that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1:13b–14). They should now know that he is genuine and not counterfeit. If they recognize his genuineness, they will respond accordingly to what he demands. If they do not, they call into question their genuineness and their own spiritual discernment.

13:7 Paul hopes that the Corinthians will come to know that he has not failed the proof, but he prays to God for their ethical rectitude (see 12:20–21). This complicated sentence may be graphed as follows.

We pray to God

that you not do anything bad

not that we might appear approved

but that you might do the good

and [even though] we might be as unapproved.

This statement means that if this letter stimulates their moral reformation, he will have no opportunity to prove his authority through some external display of apostolic power when he returns to Corinth. He will therefore still lack proof, in the eyes of some, that he can be bold in person. All he wants, however, is their obedience. He has no desire to demonstrate through some kind of apostolic showdown that Christ speaks in him. Therefore, he corrects what he says in 13:6, “And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.” His passing or failing the test is not at issue, and he does not want them to get the wrong impression that it is uppermost in his mind. His goal as an apostle is not to maintain his own reputation or to set himself up on a pedestal for all to revere but to make others worthy for Christ.

Paul is therefore less concerned to appear as a tried and true apostle than that the Corinthians prove to be tried and true Christians by resisting all evil. He does not have any need to display his power or to show that he can be just as severe in person as he is in his letters. If the Corinthians submit to the truth of the gospel, he will maintain his usual “weak” presence among them. The result of their obedience, therefore, may mean that he will still appear to some to be a failure as an apostle. He will not be putting on airs, or slapping them in the face (11:20–21), the kind of things that some wrongly believe demonstrates the proper authority of an apostle. They may yet be tempted to regard him as too humble when face to face with them (10:2). But God judges realities not appearances, and Paul is indifferent about proving his own merit as long as the church remains obedient to Christ (10:6). To be vindicated as a forceful and dynamic apostle through visible demonstrations of power before a church that fails in its basic Christian calling does not even qualify as a hollow victory. It instead would mean abject failure. Their faithfulness to Christ is a living testimony of his genuineness as an apostle; but, more important, they are to be ambassadors of Christ to a strife-torn, egocentric, power hungry, and immoral world. If they are the mirror image of the pagan world surrounding them, what good are they to God? A church riddled by factions and chasing after falsehood is hardly fit for ministry to the world. Like worthless (adokimos) land that produces only thorns and thistles, it will be scorched (Heb 6:8).

13:8 The truth is expressed in 13:4. Christ “was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God's power; likewise we are weak in him, yet by God's power we live with him.” This truth cannot be changed even if it may be unpalatable to the Corinthians’ tastes. Paul will not tamper with the truth (2:17; 4:2; 6:7) to make things easier for himself (see Gal 2:5, 14) or easier for his congregations. He cannot change his spots as a weak apostle and will not change his mode of working or preaching to please them. He also cannot adjust the truth to excuse the Corinthians’ sins and errors. This parenthetical statement makes clear that true apostles are controlled by the truth and not preoccupied with themselves.

13:9 The Corinthians regard Paul as weak and boast of their own strength (see 1 Cor 4:10). Paul may be repeating in this verse a Corinthian slogan and bending it around the gospel so that it comes out meaning something quite different from what they intended. In 12:10 he reports the lesson he learned from the stake in the flesh: when I am weak, then I am powerful because God's power is perfected in my weakness. In 13:4 he lays down the principle that Christ's weakness in his death and resurrection by the power of God strengthens us. Here Paul draws out the implications of his weakness for the Corinthians, something he has already explained in 4:10–12. He rejoices when he is weak because that is how God's power works in him most powerfully and has the most powerful effect on his converts. This verse therefore complements what Paul has said earlier: “Death is at work in us, but life is at work in you” (4:12).

Paul continues to explain why he will not be disappointed that he will not get to use his heavy artillery to destroy opposing battlements, thereby showing himself to be a mighty apostle if they are obedient. Rather than pick a fight, he sends this letter hoping that there will be no frenzied battle at all. In his mind a “weighty” letter that creates godly repentance beats a “weighty” face-to-face confrontation any day.

Paul therefore prays that they not do wrong (13:7) and for their “perfection.” The noun translated “perfection” (katartisis) appears only here in the New Testament. The verb form (katartizō) is more common and is used for restoring something to its original condition or to make it fit for its purpose. It is used to refer to restoring the walls of a city, preparing fabric so that it is ready to wear, preparing a remedy, preparing a vessel (Rom 9:22), or preparing a body for sacrifice (Heb 10:5). It is also used for resetting a dislocated bone, outfitting a boat, equipping a child for adulthood with a solid education, or fully training a disciple to reach his teacher's level (Luke 6:40). The noun katartismos appears in Eph 4:12 for equipping the saints for the work of ministry. The verb form also appears in the New Testament with the sense of restoring something that is damaged, such as fishing nets (Matt 4:21; Mark 1:19), supplying what is lacking in a church's faith (1 Thess 3:10), restoring those who have suffered from persecution in this world (1 Pet 5:10), and restoring a church member who is caught in a sin (Gal 6:1). This last usage best fits the context of Corinthians. Paul is not talking about their “perfection” but their “reclamation.” The use of this word here assumes that something is not right. The Corinthians need reconditioning, restoring (see the use of the verb in 13:11, “mend your ways” REB). They need to re-knit their relationship with Paul, their relationship with one another, and their relationship with the crucified and resurrected Christ.

The image of their “restoration” best ties into Paul's task of upbuilding or edifying them. Paul wants to make them fit for their task as God's people in Corinth. Hebrews closes with the prayer that the God of peace may “equip (“perfect,” katartizō) you with everything good for doing his will” (Heb 13:20–21). The goal of the Corinthians’ restoration is that they will do what is pleasing to God (5:9).

13:10 Paul hopes (13:6) and prays (13:7, 9) for the Corinthians’ amendment, but the warning in 10:11 and 12:19–13:4 still stands in case they fail to change their ways. The warning serves the interest of the community. He will exercise the authority that God gave to him (10:8), but he does not relish having to be harsh with them. The adverb “harshly” (apotomōs) appears in a noun form in Rom 11:22 (apotomia) and refers to God's severity in lopping off the natural branches of the olive tree. Paul can and will take punitive measures. If destroying strongholds and demolishing arguments raised up against the knowledge of God (10:4–5) means destroying a church gravitating toward sham apostles and living lives steeped in vice, then so be it. He offers a final defense for the frank criticism of his letters (see 10:10). He writes sharply so that he will not have to act sharply. He would gladly come in the meekness and gentleness of Christ rather than as a disciplinarian with a rod in his hand. If they take offense at anything that seems harsh in his letters, they should remember that he does not want his return to provoke another painful clash that reopens the raw wounds of the past. He wants it to be a happy reunion that finally heals the rift between them.

Furnish identifies chaps. 10–13 as a separate letter and asserts that 13:10 articulates the purpose of that letter. Paul writes, he says, “to urge their re-commitment and their obedience to the gospel they have received from him.” Furnish then claims that this statement “is ill-suited as a description of the purpose of chaps. 1–9.” He bases this conclusion on the following arguments:

1. Nothing in chaps. 1–9 suggests that Paul is planning a visit to Corinth in the near future. But Paul does mention his coming visit in 9:4–5, and this argument assumes that Paul's travel plans would be laced throughout the letter rather than appearing, more appropriately, at the end, as they do in 1 Cor 16:5–12.

2. According to Furnish, nothing in chaps. 1–9 “suggests that he would find it necessary to deal harshly with the congregation if he were to come.” Paul does say that he wrote the severe letter to spare them a painful visit (1:23). He wrote to test them, and Titus reported that they responded well. But until Paul returns to Corinth again in person, he cannot assume that all is well at Corinth, in spite of the promising news from Titus. The admonition to be reconciled to God (5:20) and the harsh challenge to break completely with all associations with idols and cleanse themselves from bodily and spiritual defilement (6:14–7:1) reveals that Paul still has some serious reservations about their behavior. His defense of his sufficiency as an apostle and his weakness as an earthen vessel also reveals that Paul is not fully assured that all is well between them. He must still make the case that Christ speaks through him.

3. Furnish contends it “is unthinkable that Paul would sum up the purpose of any letter which included the kind of appeal found in chaps. 8; 9 (on behalf of the collection for Jerusalem) without the slightest further reference to that request.” This argument wrongly assumes that 13:10 sums up the purpose of the letter. No other Pauline epistle has a closing verse that sums up every issue in the letter. Nothing comparable to a purpose statement appears at the end of 1 Corinthians. Rather than being a purpose statement, this verse actually functions to conclude the section that began in 10:1–2 and restates the premise in 10:8. The purpose statement for the letter is to be found at the beginning of the letter in 1:12–14, not at the end. To expect Paul to recapitulate everything he said in a long letter in a final verse and then to argue that his failure to do so indicates that chaps. 10–13 belong to a separate letter is arbitrary. First Corinthians reveals that Paul has a tendency to deal with issues seriatim. Assuming that he does the same thing in 2 Corinthians would explain why mention of the collection (which, he says, he did not need to write about, 9:1) was not restated in the closing lines of the letter.

—New American Commentary