The Fool's Speech and Its Context:
Paul's Particular Way of Arguing in 2 Cor 1013*

Jan Lambrecht

It would seem that in 2 Cor 1013 the Fool's Speech begins in 11,22 and ends in 12,10. What is the connection between the foolish discourse and its broad context? Chapters 1013 constitute a substantial, very emotional part of Paul's second letter to the Corinthians of which 13,12-13 brings the final epistolary greetings and blessing. Therefore, one should probably not expect too much of a rigid, balanced structure, i.e., not a rhetorical dispositio nor another type of strict organisation of the various items. Yet, both recurring vocabulary and ideas surprisingly, strikingly suggest that a somewhat cyclic, 'enveloping' train of thought is present. Can it be depicted objectively, without forcing the spontaneous character of Paul's way of writing here? Can the theological relevance of such an arrangement be indicated?

We will begin by reflecting upon some characteristics of the Fool's Speech and the introduction to this text. The second section will be devoted to the context, especially to the different 'rings' which can be detected in the surrounding passages. The final section then will attempt to formulate theological insights and conclusions which appear to be validated by the analysis1.


I. The Fool's Speech

Paul's foolish discourse is often interrupted and, moreover, its focus in boasting changes more than once. A lengthy introduction to it and a retrospection inform the reader of the basic characteristics of Paul's particular manner of arguing. A schematic preview of the data may be useful:

a) The Fool's Speech (11,2212,10):

Reflexive interruptions in 11,23b.30-31; 12,1a.5-6.9de-10
Shifts in boasting at 11,23b.27.28.30; 12,1b.7.

b) Announcements (11,1-21):

Tolerate me in a little foolisness (vv. 1-4)
I too will boast in folly (vv. 16-18)
Since you tolerate others, I too dare to boast (vv. 19-21)

c) Retrospections (12,11a and 19a)

1. Interruptions in 11,2212,10

Paul's foolish discourse of 11,2212,102 is not of one piece. It is several times obstructed by what can be called 'reflexive interruptions'. This hardly surprises the readers after the breaks and hesitations present in 11,16-21, the preceding passage. Already in 11,23b Paul interrupts himself and repeats an introductory idea: 'I am talking as if out of my mind' (cf. his last reference to it in 11,21). At the end of the catalogue of hardships (11,23b-29), before continuing his discourse, Paul again pauses in 11,30-31 and inserts several ideas:

If boasting there must be, I will boast of the things [that manifest] my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus he who is blessed for ever! knows that I am not lying.

A third interjection comes in 12,1, immediately after the brief report of the flight from Damascus (11,32-33); it announces more boasting: 'There must be further boasting. Although it is no use, yet I will come to the visions and revelations of the Lord'. In 12,5-6 a fourth, lengthy interruption appears:

About this [person] I will boast, but about myself I will not boast, except about my weaknesses. But if I want to boast I will not be foolish, since I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain in order that no one esteem me above what he or she sees of me or hears from me.

In 12,7-9abc Paul then continues his discourse and speaks of the thorn given in his flesh, the beating of Satan's messenger, and of his prayer for deliverance and Jesus' answer. He adds in vv. 9de-10 a fifth and conclusive reflection:

Most gladly, therefore, I rather will boast of my weaknesses in order that the power of Christ may come to rest upon me. That is why I am well pleased with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints [endured] for Christ. For whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

It would seem that boasting of weaknesses is still foolish boasting (cf. 12,11: 'I have become foolish; you forced me [to it]').

2. Shifts in 11,2212,10

With regard to Paul's boasting one should pay due attention to the shifts within 11,22-33, at vv. 23b, 27, 28, and 30. These shifts provide us, it would seem, with five types of boasting defined by the object Paul boasts about. (1) In vv. 22-23a, while comparing himself with his opponents and enumerating his Jewish and Christian titles, he visibly boasts as a fool, according to the flesh, not according to the Lord (cf. vv. 17-18). (2) Within the catalogue of hardships itself, Paul proves his superiority over the opponents by listing in vv. 23b-26 a great number of adverse circumstances, external difficulties. Yet after the twofold 'more often' in v. 23b the opponents are no longer referred to explicitly. (3) Within that same catalogue, in v. 27, he points to his own toils and labors, to hardships which are more directly connected to his daily life as God's servant, and then, (4) in vv. 28-29, to his personal active one would say: most 'active' endeavor. (5) Finally, in vv. 32-33 a situation is depicted where Paul's utter weakness, i.e., the absence of his own power, is emphasized: his escape from Damascus with the help of others. In v. 30 he had announced: 'If boasting there must be, I will boast of the things [which manifest] my weakness (ta_ th=j a)sqenei/aj mou)'. Yet in this particular event, just as in all other hardships, he has also experienced God's effective help3. Thus Paul successively boasts of titles, of adverse circumstances and persecutions, of toils and hardship in his way of life, of his apostolic care and of his, as it were, miraculous liberation. One can rightly ask the question whether the expression ta_ th=j a)sqenei/aj mou (11,30) adequately covers all that is listed in vv. 23b-334.

In 12,1-10 Paul speaks of his personal life, no longer of his apostolic endeavors5. A shift is also present here. After having resumed his boasting, now about visions and revelations (v. 1), he breaks off the report of one such vision (vv. 2-4) abruptly and instead goes on: in order that I might not be unduly elated through those revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh; notwithstanding my prayer, that messenger of Satan did not go away from me. Paul receives the Lord's answer: 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness' (v. 9a). One thus notices the contrast between abundant privileges and a lasting personal suffering. At the end of the discourse Paul even dares to say: I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses; finally, by way of summary: I am content with weaknesses and hardships and persecutions for the sake of Christ. The power of Christ dwells in Paul; whenever he is weak, then he is strong (cf. vv. 9b-10)6. We see that there is, again, a shift with regard to the object of boasting: boasting of revelations and of weaknesses.

Paul's foolish discourse contains a whole range of objects for boasting, indeed.

3. Announcements in 11,1-21

In 11,1-21 Paul hesitatingly and repetitively announces what he is going to do in his speech. Two passages merit our special attention: vv. 1-4 and vv. 16-21 (cf. pa/lin le/gw in v. 16).

In vv. 16-18 and 21b five elements can be distinguished: (1) Paul makes an explicit appeal: 'accept me...' (v. 16); (2) He manifests his decision to boast; (3) he considers boasting a foolish action and, therefore, excuses himself by admitting it; (4) however, he is convinced that properly speaking he is not a fool; and (5) Paul refers to other people, his opponents: 'Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast' (v. 18; cf. v. 21b). The logical connection between those five elements can be paraphrased in the following way: 'Although I am not really a fool, if you think I am, accept me then as a fool, for I want to boast; I admit that boasting is not appropriate, but since others glory I am going to do it as well'7. As far as terminology is concerned two items which characterize Paul's discourse should be mentioned: the vocabulary of foolishness (a)frosu/nh, a!frwn; cf. parafronw=n in v. 23) and that of boasting (kauxa/omai, kau/xhsij).

In 11,1-4 Paul has already been pleading: 'If only you would tolerate me in a little foolishness; yes, do tolerate me' (v. 1). The Corinthians should tolerate him since he is jealous for them with God's jealousy; he is afraid that the opponents may lead them astray from the sincerity and the purity which Christians, as a chaste virgin, must have toward Christ (vv. 2-3). His fear is well grounded since the Corinthians readily tolerate newcomers who preach another Jesus, a different spirit and gospel (v. 4).

A similar reproach of 'toleration' comes up anew in vv. 19-21a: 'After all, you gladly tolerate fools since you are so wise. For you tolerate it when some enslave you ... To my shame I admit that we have been too weak for that'. The verb a)ne/xomai ('to tolerate') is repeated in vv. 19 and 20 (cf. v. 1, twice, and v. 4). The Corinthians tolerate the opponents who are fools and dare to boast; therefore, Paul will speak as in folly and dare to boast as well. The Corinthians must 'tolerate' Paul's foolish boasting.

4. Retrospection in 12,11a and 19a

Paul writes in 12,11a: 'I have become foolish; you forced me [to it]. In fact, I ought to be commended by you...'. Apparently the discourse proper is finished. Paul looks back at what he has been doing. 'I have been a fool!' (NRSV-translation): his speaking was foolish. The reason why he has done it was the behavior of the Corinthians. They tolerated the opponents and, so, they as it were forced Paul to boast of himself, just as the opponents are boasting. Paul adds that, as a matter of fact, the Corinthians should have been the ones to commend him.

Yet in 12,11b-18 Paul goes on defending himself. Therefore, in v. 19a he cannot but ask: 'Are you thinking again that we defend ourselves before you?' Through this question he indirectly qualifies not only vv. 11-18 but his whole foolish discourse as an apology, and an apology it really is. But at the same time he can say: 'in God's sight we speak in Christ; beloved, all [is done] for your upbuilding' (v. 19b; cf. the qualification in v. 6: 'I will not be foolish, since I will be speaking the truth').

There can be no doubt: 12,11a and 12,19a are retrospective.


II. Three Rings in the Context

Within the larger context the introductory vv. 1-4 and 16-21 of chapter 11 as well as the retrospective clauses of 12,11a and 19a are obviously connected with the Fool's Speech. But what about the rest of that context? Is the whole of what surrounds the discourse related to it and, if so, how? Our impression is that a kind of ring composition exists, a concentric way of arranging verses and passages. An anticipative diagram of the rings may help the reader:

Exhortation (10,1)
     Authority (10,2-18)
  Denial of inferiority (11,5-12)
      The Fool's Speech (11,2212,10)
  Denial of inferiority (12,11b-18)
     Authority (13,1-10)
Exhortation (13,11)

The analysis will proceed in three steps, from the outer verses in chapters 10 and 13 towards the text-units which are closer to the center, i.e., to the Fool's Speech.

1. A First Ring: Exhortation in 10,1 and 13,118

An anacolouthon. There appears to be a change in the train of thought between 10,1 and 10,2. In v. 1a Paul writes: 'I myself, Paul, appeal to you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ'. The reference to Christ's meekness and gentleness suggests that Christ is in one way or another an example for Paul's attitude and, even more, that the apostle is going to request from the Corinthians a moral conduct similar to that same example. Above all, the meekness of Christ and his gentleness furnish an authoritative grounding for Paul's exhortation. Verse 1b, grammatically a relative clause which qualifies the subject 'I', alludes to a reproach at the address of Paul: 'I who admittedly [am] humble when face to face among you, but when absent bold toward you'. But the verb 'I beg' of v. 2 does not seem to continue or concretize the appeal of verse 1a. It is rather linked with the content of v. 1b: 'Yet I ask [you] that when present I do not need to be bold [towards you]...'. Moreover, in the whole of vv. 2-6a Paul defends himself against those who think that he is walking according to the flesh, and he produces threats. Although he is walking in the flesh, the war that he is going to wage will not be according to the flesh9.

A conclusion can already be drawn. In 10,1-6 there is a substantial change with regard to more than one aspect. In v. 1a Paul appears to announce a moral exhortation. But from v. 1b onwards he speaks of an accusation brought forward against him and he defends himself. Opponents and critics of his person have entered the scene. At the beginning of the chapter one expects that the Corinthians would be exhorted to a better Christian life. But, certainly from v. 2 onwards, Paul seems to be very much occupied with himself and his enemies; he indicates how he himself acts and will act as an authoritative apostle. Paul wants to show that he does not lack boldness. He will oppose his enemies and demolish their arguments and pretension; his weapons will prove powerful. Only at the very end, in v. 6b, do the addressees come back to the forefront; their obedience must have reached completion before Paul can effectively deal with the opposition. Then, Paul will be ready to punish every disobedience.

'Parakalo4 ' in 10,1a. The beginning of 10,1 is very solemn: au)to_j de_ e)gw_ Pau=loj parakalw= u(ma=j. Paul employs the verb parakalw= frequently. As is well known the range of meanings of this verb is wide: from exhorting and appealing to comforting and consoling. Besides 2 Cor 10,1, Paul employs parakalw= three more times with the preposition dia/ followed by a genitive: Rom 12,1; 15,30 and 1 Cor 1,1010. The last three verses are very similar (see, e.g., the vocative address and the infinitive construction or i#na-clause)11. Of course, the content of the appeal differs: in 1 Cor 1,10 Paul exhorts the Christians to be united; in Rom 12,1-2 he urges them to conduct a Christian ethical life; and in Rom 15,30-32 he makes the more specific appeal to strive together with him in prayer for the good outcome of his plans for the future. Now, as far as 2 Cor 10,1 is concerned, the parallelism is obvious, but only to a certain extent. The absence of 'brothers' or the presence of the emphatic au)to_j... e)gw_ Pau=loj should not disturb us but at the end of v. 1a there is the brusque interruption: no infinitive construction, no indication of the content of the appeal. It would seem, therefore, that at the beginning of 2 Cor 10,1 Paul intends to do what he does in the three other passages, namely to formulate an exhortation to moral Christian life. But while writing 'by the meekness and gentleness of Christ' his attention seems to be diverted; he remembers the slanders against his person which his opponents and critics are spreading. The 'humble' Paul of v. 1b, as well as the Paul 'walking according to the flesh' of v. 2b, was their misrepresentation of him. He must have realized that their way of portraying him was, perhaps against their own intention, but, as a matter of fact, a caricature of Christ being meek and gentle.

What Paul asks of his Christians in Corinth in v. 2 is certainly a change of attitude and behavior. They should conduct themselves in such a way that he is not forced to show against them the same boldness which he counts on showing against the intruders. But is this the content of the appeal which he had in mind when he wrote v. 1a? Hardly! One cannot but assume that what is actually requested from the Corinthians in v. 2 has a narrower scope; it becomes focused on the struggle between Paul and the opponents, and, of course, also on the sides which some Corinthians are taking. The specific aim is the removal of all disobedience and the completion of the Corinthians' obedience to Christ. It is no longer the exhortation to an authentic life as Christians which he originally intended to give when he composed v. 1a.

Parakalo4 in 13,11. At the end of the letter, in 13,11, Paul employs the verb in the passive: parakalei=sqe12. It must be translated by a paraphrase such as 'heed my appeal, listen to my appeal, take my appeal to heart'. The verb itself does not indicate the content of that appeal, but the other imperatives in the same verse provide very clearly what is requested from the Corinthians: 'rejoice, mend your ways ... be of the same mind, live in peace'. Is this not the kind of moral exhortation which we were entitled to expect at 10,1a? More indications are present in the verses which precede 13,11.

Moral references in 12,1913,10. Paul's return to exhortation in 13,11 is not unprepared. At the end of 12,19, after the solemn declaration 'In God's sight we speak in Christ', he adds: 'beloved, all [is done] for your upbuilding' (cf. 13,10). Then, in a rather unexpected way, in 12,20-21, Paul gives a list of numerous sins still existing in Corinth (cf. 13,2). He announces his intention 'not to refrain' from severe action when he will come to them for the third time (cf. 13,1-4 and 13,10). The injunction of 13,5 is most probably not without a note of moral insistence: 'Examine yourselves [to see] whether you are in the faith; test yourselves'. An ethical urgency is evident in Paul's prayer of 13,7: 'We pray God that you may do no wrong ... that you may do what is good', and also in the statement at the end 13,9: 'What we pray for is this, your improvement'. God gave him authority 'for building up and not for destroying' (13,10).

Content. The first elements which point to a ring composition are small to the extreme: 10,1a and 13,11. Yet both verses certainly contain moral exhortation; they as it were 'frame' the whole of chapters 1013 (and thus also the Fool's Speech). As ethical admonition, verses such as 10,1a and 13,11 are typical of a Pauline letter. The explicit exhortation of 13,11 is being prepared in 12,1913,10. Since Paul's self-defense is not without a call to obedience; a more or less hidden warning and hortatory tone is present in the whole of chapters 101313. Yet one should distinguish between this specific appeal and a more general parenesis14.

2. A Second Ring: Paul's Authority in 10,2-18 and 13,1-10

Chapter 13 refers back to chapter 10 in many respects. We may mention the following headings: motifs, vocabulary and time reference. The two chapters can be considered, to some degree, as framing and including the middle chapters 11 and 12.

Motifs. A number of motifs are present in both chapter 10 and chapter 1315:

(1) Paul speaks of his absence and presence at Corinth (10,1.2.11 and 13,2.10) and of his future (third) coming (10,2.4-6.11 and 13,1.2.10).

(2) In both chapters he threatens to show boldness, to be severe and not to spare anyone at his coming (10,2.11 and 13,2.10)16.

(3) The motif of obedience-disobedience on the part of the Corinthians which is explicitly spoken of in 10,6 also seems to be present in 13,1-2.5.9-10.

(4) In 10,9-11, but also in 13,10, Paul mentions his earlier letters and/or his actual writing.

(5) In both chapters Paul contrasts the themes of humility and boldness, of weakness and power: see 10,1-6.10 and 13,3-4.8-9.

(6) Moreover, utilizing an almost identical wording, in 10,8 and 13,10 he points to the authority17 which the Lord has given him for building up and not for tearing down (cf. 12,19c: 'all [is done] for your upbuilding'). The reference to Jeremiah can hardly be missed.

(7) In 10,18 one meets the motif of test and approval, which is dominant in chapter 13 (see 13,3.5-7)18.

(8) 'To belong to Christ' in 10,7 recurs in the slightly different expressions of 13,5: to be living in the faith; Jesus Christ is in you (cf. 13,3: 'Christ is speaking through [e)n] me').

Vocabulary. In view of the presence in both chapters of all these motifs, it should not surprise us that there is a similarity in their respective vocabularies as well: e.g., present and absent, power and powerful, authority and building up, 'not for destruction', letters or writing, faith and test19. Given these parallels, E.-B. Allo can justly affirm: 'L'"apologie" des 4 chapitres font un tout trs harmonique, o la fin rejoint le commencement'20.

Time dimension. Finally, in contrast to chapters 1112, which contain Paul's 'foolish' boasting only about what he was (and is) and all that he did and suffered in the past, chapter 10 as well as chapter 13 mainly look to the future21. Paul announces his third visit to Corinth. He states how he is going to act there and what his attitude will be. In an entreating yet warning style, he also writes to the Corinthians about what he expects from them: obedience, self-examination and improvement. All this primarily concerns the future.

Content. The similarities between 10,2-18 and 13,1-10 are too numerous and too specific to be explained by purely accidental repetition. In composing these clearly corresponding chapters Paul brings about a second ring which further includes the Fool's Speech. However, a conscious and deliberate composition by Paul does not mean that he intended a strict concentric structure.

What is the main theme of this second ring? In view of the attacks and reproaches against his person, Paul is ready to manifest his authority (cf. 10,8.11 and 13,10; see also 12,19); he will not refrain from using it (13,2). This authority is given him by the Lord, not for destroying or tearing down the Corinthians but for building them up (10,8 and 13,10). But, if needed, Paul will punish every disobedience (10,6), he will deal with the Corinthians by the power of God (13,4). In fact, that is why he writes this letter while absent so that, when present, he may not have to act severely (13,10).

In chapters 10 and 13 Paul defends himself against the charge of weakness. In 10,12-18 he compares himself with the intruders polemically: in contrast to them he is not boasting beyond measure. Because of the work done in Corinth the Lord recommends him. In chapters 10 and 13 Paul is not boasting about his weakness nor is he speaking paradoxically of strength in weakness, that is: not yet in chapter 10, no longer in chapter 13. The tone in these chapters is that of severe admonition. Paul refers to his authority and announces his future decisively bold intentions. He mentions his anticipative resurrection power; it will be a proof that Christ is speaking through him (cf. 13,3-4).

3. A Third Ring: Denial of Inferiority in 11,5-12 and 12,11b-18

Just as for the second ring we will first deal with the common motifs in the two passages and then point to their identical or similar vocabularies. A third, noteworthy feature here will be the consideration of the sequence of the motifs.

Motifs. No less than nine recurring motifs can be listed.

(1) Both in 11,5 and 12,11b Paul emphasizes that he is in no way inferior to the super-apostles22.

(2) Twice, be it rather differently, he also admits that something was lacking in his appearance during his stay at Corinth: 'Even if I am unskilled in speech' (11,6a; cf. 10,10); 'even though I was nothing' (end of 12,11; probably in a more fundamental sense).

(3) His reference to 'knowledge' and the fact that he has 'made that clear' to the Corinthians 'in every way and in all things' (11,6) can be compared, it would seem, with the reference to 'the signs of the apostle' which were done among the Corinthians (12,12): in both cases Paul wants thus to deny his so-called inferiority.

(4) It strikes the reader that immediately after this emphasis on not being inferior Paul speaks of his refusal of support (11,7-12 and 12,13-18).

(5) Within that context of preaching the gospel free of charge the mention of 'sin' (a(marti/a) and 'wrong' (a)diki/a) appears unexpectedly in the two passages: 'Did I commit a sin...?' (11,7), and: 'Forgive me this wrong' (12,13).

(6) In both passages, too, Paul emphasizes that he did not burden the Corinthians: see 11,7.9 and 12,13.

(7) He admits, however, of having received support from elsewhere: see 11,8-9 (Macedonia) and 12,13 (other churches).

(8) In both contexts Paul also stresses his firm intention not to burden Corinth in the future, i.e., not to change his way of acting in this matter: see 11,9-10.12 and, in a less pronounced but still clear way, 12,14 ('I will not burden you').

(9) Twice he explains his specific behavior of refusing sup-port as a sign of genuine love of the Corinthians: see 11,11 and 12,15.

Vocabulary. One should not only look for the identical grammatical forms nor, necessarily, for the same nuances of meaning. The fact that the same or similar or oppositional wording appears is in itself significant: to be inferior; the super-apostles; sin and wrong; to humble oneself and to spend (or be spent); to be exalted; churches; not to burden; brother(s); to love23.

Again, in view of all these correspondences, both in theme and wording, it would seem that in Paul's composing procedure pure coincidence must be excluded.

Sequence. In this third ring there is even more than motifs and vocabulary. A remarkable identical order, a parallel sequence of data is present in 11,5-15 and 12,11b-18. We mention five consecutive elements: First, notwithstanding apparent weaknesses (although unskilled in speech, 11,5; even though being nothing, 12,11) Paul is not inferior to the super-apostles; second, Paul has proved his 'equality' by wisdom (11,6) or signs (12,12); third, refusing support is extensively dealt with immediately after this; fourth, Paul makes known his intention not to burden the Corinthians in the future; fifth, not burdening them should be interpreted as loving them.

Of course, differences in length and wording must be allowed in such compositions. Moreover, the parallelism is not carried through until the end. Each of the two passages has its own surplus. In 11,9 Paul explains how Macedonia has helped him while in 11,12-15 he expansively and bitterly deals with the opponents, those deceitful workers who apparently receive support and want Paul to do the same. On the other hand, in 12,16-18 Paul defends himself against the Corinthians' suspicion that he may have defrauded them through Titus and the brother he sent, visibly with regard to the collection; such a reference is not present in the first passage.

Content. The data gathered in the preceding paragraphs are so abundant as well as so significant that one is led to postulate, for this third step too, a somewhat concentric composition, whether or not this is intended as such by Paul.

The most strange yet remarkable feature is the double and presumably not accidental link between the idea of denial of inferiority and his preaching free of charge. In the opinion of the Corinthians the apostle Paul must have been considered as inferior to his opponents. Lack of boldness and rhetorical capacities when he is present certainly constitutes one of their reasons (11,6a; cf. 10,1b.10). Paul twice immediately reacts. In 11,6b he replies: I am not inferior in knowledge; we have made that clear to you; in 12,12 he protests: the signs of the apostle were done among you. One can follow such an argument.

But how does refusal of support enter the scene? Paul must have offended the Corinthians, probably because in accepting help from other churches he humiliated that of Corinth, probably also because by his refusal of gifts he denied the sympathy and friendship of the richer people of the community, and further maybe also because through his manual work he socially abased himself. In its own way our analysis has established and confirmed that Paul's refusal of support happened to be in Corinth an extremely sensitive issue (cf. also 1 Cor 9). Obviously, notwithstanding Paul's protest, it was not taken as a token of love24.

It must strike the readers of chapters 1013 that in the 'denial-of-inferiority' sections Paul is not boasting foolishly nor boasting of his weaknesses, i.e., not yet in 11,5-12 and no longer in 12,11b-18. He openly defends himself; he wants to prove that in no way is he inferior. Therefore, he points to his wisdom which, he says, is manifest, to his wonders and miracles, and to his preaching free of charge in order not to burden the Corinthians and to show his real love of them.

III. Structural and Thematic Considerations

Three insights which result from this lengthy analysis may be formulated. We shall consider first Paul's composition of chapters 1013 (discourse and context), then the main themes which 'frame' the Fool's Speech, and finally two specific passages which, it would seem, more explicitly relate to this discourse.

1. Results Regarding Structure

It has been put forward that the Fool's Speech properly begins in 11,22 and ends at 12,10. In 11,1-21 the Speech possesses its extended introduction. It may be claimed now that, roughly speaking, three circles of texts frame the discourse by way of a ring composition: an inner ring (11,5-12 and 12,11b-18), a middle ring (10,2-18 and 13,1-10) and a very small exhortative outer ring (10,1 and 13,11; 13,12-13 forming the epistolary closing).

However, a warning is needed at once. One should not exaggerate the structural qualities of these chapters. In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul is writing very emotionally in the last four chapters. The Fool's Speech itself is not a tight unit. This discourse is often interrupted, and 'foolish boasting' as such does not possess a sustained unique object (cf. the shifts). Again, as we saw, the introduction to the Fool's Speech in 11,1-21 is all but smooth: hesitation and breaks hence a new start in 11,16 and repetitions.

Although the context certainly presents concentric features, one must in no way present chapters 1013 as an enveloping composition of which, so to say, the central d-core (the speech) is surrounded by neatly delineated a b c and c' b' a'-sections (the three rings). There is no evidence that Paul wanted a rigid, formal ring composition. To be sure, after the discourse Paul most probably consciously repeated themes and language taken from the context before the discourse, and he does this in an inverse order. However, his manner of composing is too loose and probably too spontaneous to postulate on the part of Paul an explicitly intended cyclic arrangement.

2. The Main Themes in the So-Called Rings

The thin outer ring (10,1 and 13,11) is one of exhortation, that is, an appeal to moral Christian life. Paul mentions Christ's mercy and gentleness. Exhortation constitutes a normal ingredient of the Pauline letter. In 2 Corinthians, however, this is not developed. The appeal to a worthy Christian conduct is interrupted before it could really begin. One could claim that moral exhortation is replaced by self-defense, pleas to obedience and also threats. Only at the very end of the letter Paul, explicitly by the verb in 13,11 but no doubt already in 12,19b13,10, returns to the ethical problems of the Corinthian community. The outer ring is meant for the Corinthians. This hortatory inclusion is, one should say, almost unconnected with the Fool's Speech itself.

In 10,2-18 and 13,1-10 we meet a Paul who is in an argumentative mood. Twice he rewrites a text from Jeremiah with regard to his e)cousi/a (10,8 and 13,10). He points to his apostolic authority that the Lord has given him for building up and not for tearing down. He intends to boast of that authority (10,8). He thinks of the Corinthians, those who accuse him of lack of boldness and of contemptible speech. These Christians are influenced by false apostles. Paul defends himself: he will fight back and announces severe action (10,2-6); he, too, belongs to Christ (10,7); through comparing himself with his opponents, he points out the legitimacy of his authority in Corinth (see 10,12-18). Notwithstanding visible human weakness Paul is sure that he possesses the power of God. He will not fail to meet the test (see 13,1-6). He announces his future visit; he will act in full authority and, if needed, severely (13,10). Angry mood, comparison with the opponents, mention of future boasting: all this is not 'foolish' boasting and certainly not boasting of his weakness. These utterances, however, reveal Paul's conviction of being a legitimate, duly authorized apostle.

The inner ring consists of 11,5-12 and 12,11b-18. We noted that the introduction to the discourse is to be found in 11,1-4.16-21, the brief retrospections in 12,11a and 12,19a. In the inner ring itself Paul deals with the Corinthians' false opinion that he is inferior to the super-apostles (11,5 and 12,11b). In both sections, before and after the discourse, he emphasizes that he is not of lower rank and less importance. He tries to prove this: he is at least as good as his opponents; he points to his wisdom which was made manifest (11,6) and to the 'signs' done in Corinth (12,12). Twice also, immediately after that explicit claim, he suddenly defends his apostolic preaching without cost (11,7-12 and 12,13-18). The Corinthians have visibly misinterpreted it, he argues; in fact, refusing support is a manifestation of his authentic love. One may ask why Paul does not mention this generous attitude in his foolish discourse; he could have boasted about this 'weakness'. Yet he seemingly is of the opinion that this serious matter which interrupts the very introduction to the foolish discourse and will appear again, surprisingly, soon after the discourse, does not lend itself for boasting in a foolish way.

So three main items moral exhortation, personal authority, and denial of inferiority are the concerns which enclose the Fool's Speech. By themselves they do not lead to foolish boasting. Yet in an essential way they complete the portrait of a Paul who in his speech boasts foolishly and boasts paradoxically of weaknesses.

3. Boasting, Comparing, and Attacking

Within the broad context two passages appear to stand in closer connection with the foolish discourse. In 10,8.12-18, verses rather far off from the Fool's Speech, and in 11,3-4.12-15.18-20, verses close by, Paul appears to be preparing his boasting and speaking as a fool.

In 10,8 he tells the reader that he is going to boast 'rather much'25 about his authority and, then, in 10,12-18, while protesting that he 'does not dare compare himself with others nor recommend himself' and while accusing those people of being 'not wise' and boasting 'beyond measure' (10,12-13), Paul in fact compares his apostolic competence with that of his opponents and is already boasting, be it not, he claims, 'beyond measure in the labor of others' (10,14-16). The reader understands that in the final analysis Paul himself is the one who boasts of the Lord and who is approved and recommended by the Lord (10,17-18). Vocabulary as well as content are not so different from what he later promises to do in boasting foolishly.

According to Paul his opponents disguise themselves as 'apostles of Christ' (11,13). The characterization is very much like that in the discourse itself. At the beginning of the Fool's Speech, after three brief initial questions about origin, he asks by way of climax: 'are they servants of Christ?' (11,23a). Paul reacts to the implicit positive answer by saying talking as if out of his mind 'I am more' (11,23c). The whole speech which continues unto 12,10 functions as a proof not of his equality but of his superiority in comparison with these opponents. The extremely negative picture of them in 11,3-4 ('just as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning'), in 11,12-15 (boasting people, 'false apostles, deceitful workers', 'servants' of Satan) and in 11,18-20 (tyrannical intruders) constitutes Paul's proximate psychological preparation for his foolish discourse of boasting, itself an indirect but fierce attack.

It should be noted that major characteristics of Paul's apostolic behavior remain outside the Fool's Speech: his belonging to Christ (10,7), the foundation of the Corinthian community (10,12-18), his wisdom (11,6), the refusal of support (11,7-12 and 12,13-18), the signs of an apostle (12,12), his power of God (13,4). All this could have been part of his 'foolish' boasting just as that of origin, circumstances and revelations. It appears that the shift toward weakness has prevented that.

Five conclusions can be drawn from this study, the first three already well-known. First, chapters 1013, rightly considered as a united major and self-contained part of Paul's second letter to the Corinthians, are far from monolithic, certainly streamlined in sections but not as a whole. Second, the Fool's Speech itself (11,2212,10) is not of one piece; it is characterized by many shifts in the content and it is often interrupted by reflexive remarks and new starts. Third, notwithstanding pleas, hesitations and interruptions, 11,1-21 can be called the introduction to the Fool's Speech.

Fourth, the wider context contains a very small hortatory frame (10,1 and 13,11), a double defense of Paul's apostolic authority (10,2-18 and 13,1-10), and also a double clarification of his conviction that, notwithstanding outer appearance and refusal of support, he is not inferior to the other missionaries (11,5-12 and 12,11b-18). One can speak, therefore, of three unequal rings which loosely surround the discourse, each with its own thematic emphasis: parenesis, authority, denial of inferiority.

Fifth, in 10,8.12-18 and 11,3-4.12-15.18-20, Paul compares himself with opponents, blames and denigrates them; it would seem that in these small sections Paul prepares himself, through comparison and invective, to proceed to something he does not like to do, that is, to boast in a foolish way26. However, the boasting of titles gives way, almost at once, to boasting of hardships and weakness.

Lack of perfect organisation does not prove lack of unity and absence of inner connections. Therefore, one must not deny the prevailing coherence of 2 Cor 1013. In 12,19 Paul claims: 'In God's sight we speak in Christ; beloved, all [is done] for your upbuilding'. This basic intention applies, of course, to the emphasis present in the three rings: moral exhortation, personal authority and denial of inferiority (vilification of the opponents included), but equally to what he expounds in his Fool's Speech, boasting foolishly, and then paradoxically boasting of his weaknesses. In a lengthy discourse, surrounded by an equally extensive context, Paul shows how the power of Christ is made perfect in his human weakness. Paul depicts his so-called weaknesses but also, in them, his God-given human strength: whenever Paul is weak, then he is strong (cf. 12,9-10).


Paul's particular way of arguing in 2 Cor 1013 is visible in the Fool's Speech (11,2212,10) as well as in its context. The speech is interrupted more than once and there are shifts regarding the object of boasting. The introduction to the speech (11,1-21) is not straightforward and two brief retrospections (12,11a and 19a) should not go unnoticed. The major topic in this study, however, consists in the indication of three rings within the context of the Fool's Speech: (1) 10,1 and 13,11 (moral exhortation); (2) 10,2-18 and 13,1-10 (Paul's defense of his authority); (3) 11,5-12 and 12,11b-18 (Paul denies inferiority). Yet from the presence of these enveloping rings a strict concentric structure of 2 Cor 1113 cannot be deduced. Special attention must also be given to 10,8.12-18 and 11,3-4.12-15.18-20. In these passages Paul, by comparing and attacking, seems to prepare his boasting as a fool in a more direct way.


* On May 22, 2001 the substance of this text was given in Italian as a farewell address at the Pontifical Biblical Institute of Rome.

1 This study of structure and line of thought in 2 Cor 1013 employs, and sometimes cites, the following of my previous publications: J. LAMBRECHT, Second Corinthians (SP 8; Collegeville 1998); ID., "Dangerous Boasting. Paul's Self-Commendation in 2 Corinthians 1013", The Corinthian Correspondence (ed. R. BIERINGER) (BETL 126; Leuven 1996) 325-346; ID., "Paul's Appeal and the Obedience to Christ: The Line of Thought in 2 Corinthians 10,1-6", Bib 77 (1996) 398-416; ID., "Strength in Weakness. A Reply to Scott B. Andrew's Exegesis of 2 Cor 11.23b-33", NTS 43 (1997) 285-290. The last three articles are reprinted in ID., Collected Studies on Pauline Literature and on the Book of Revelation (AnBib 147; Rome 2001) 107-129, 131-148 and 149-156.

2 Some exegetes propose 2 Cor 11,21b as the beginning, but in that verse Paul is still describing what he is going to do. U. HECKEL, Kraft in Schwachheit. Untersuchungen zu 2. Kor 1013 (WUNT II/56; Tbingen 1993) 22-23, e.g., distinguishes between the Fool's Speech in a broader sense (11,112,13) and its 'Kernteil', i.e., the Fool's Speech proper (11,21b12,10).

3 Cf. LAMBRECHT, Second Corinthians, 198; ID., "Strength in Weakness", 288-290.

4 It seems almost impossible that, after u(pe_r e)gw/ (11,23), Paul in vv. 23-29 only refers to human weakness and not simultaneously, if not primarily, to his God-given human endurance and strength.

5 HECKEL, Kraft in Schwachheit, 307: 'Nach seinen Berufserfahrungen in Kapitel 11 geht er [= Paul] in 12,1 zur privaten Seite seiner Existenz und zu seinem persnlichen Verhltnis zu Christus ber'.

6 Cf. LAMBRECHT, Second Corinthians, 204-205.

7 Cf. ibid., 194.

8 For the whole of this paragraph see LAMBRECHT, "Paul's Appeal".

9 One cannot exclude the possibility that, through his use of the first person plural in vv. 2b-6a, Paul intends to refer also to Timothy (cf. 1,1). Yet the radical refusal of an 'epistolary we' here by M. MLLER, "Der sogenannte 'schriftstellischer Plural' neu betrachtet. Zur Frage der Mitarbeiter als Mitverfasser der Paulusbriefe", BZ 42 (1998) 181-201, esp. 196-197, is hardly justified.

10 2 Cor 5,20 ('God appealing through us') is different from the other texts in grammar and content.

11 Seven items can be listed: (1) a connective particle (de/ or ou]n); (2) the subject of appeal (Paul); (3) the addressees (Christians); (4) the vocative address ('brothers'); (5) the dia/ plus genitive phrase which through this reference to God or Christ grounds the appeal; (6) an infinitive construction (or its Koine substitute with i#na); (7) the 'moral' content of the appeal.

12 The meaning of the same verb in 2 Cor 12,8 and 12,18 is clearly different: 'About this one I begged (pareka/lesa) the Lord three times that...' and 'I urged (pareka/lesa) Titus and, together with him, I sent the brother'.

13 On the hortatory character of 2 Cor 1013, cf. V. FURNISH, II Corinthians (AncB 32A; Garden City 1984) 48 and 580.

14 HECKEL, Kraft in Schwachheit, 9-10, considers 10,1-6 and 12,1913,10 primarily as the parenetical framework, while 10,712,18 can be characterized as an apologetic comparison with the opponents (cf. p. 43: in 12,19 a 'Gattungswechsel' occurs from apology back to parenesis). It would seem, however, that in 10,1-6 as well in 12,1913,10 the distinction mentioned in our text between general and specific is needed. Of course, both types of exhortation cooperate in the 'upbuilding' of the Corinthians.

15 Cf. LAMBRECHT, Second Corinthians, 158-159.

16 It should, however, be noted that in chap. 13 Paul has in mind not only those Corinthians who favor his opponents, but also those who have gravely sinned previously and do not repent (13,2; cf. 12,20-21).

17 According to K. PRMM, Diakonia Pneumatos. Der zweite Korintherbrief als Zugang zur apostolischen Botschaft. Auslegung und Theologie (Rome Freiburg Vienna 1967) I, 577, e)cousi/a points to Paul's powerful and 'strafendes Einschreiten' both in 10,8 and 13,10.

18 Cf., e.g., HECKEL, Kraft in Schwachheit, 193.

19 We may enumerate the following terms. Compare:

2 Cor 10  2 Cor 13,1-10

tapeino/j (v. 1) 

(cf. 12,21: tapeinw/sei)

a)pw/n (v. 1 ) (a)po/ntej [v. 11])  

a)pw/n (vv. 2, 10)

parw/n (v. 2) (paro/ntej [v. 11])  

parw/n (vv. 2, 10)

dunato/j (v. 4)  

dunate/w (v. 3); du/namij (v. 4);dunato/j (v. 9)

e)n e(toi/mw| e!xontej (v. 6)  

(cf. 12,14: e(toi/mwj e!xw)

Xristou= ei]nai (v. 7)

 'Ihsou=j Xristoj e)n u(mi=n (v. 5)

peri_ th=j e)cousi/aj (v. 8)

kata_ th_n e)cousi/an (v. 10)

h|j e!dwken o( ku/rioj (v. 8)

 h$n o( ku/rioj e!dwke/n moi (v. 10)

ei)j oi)kodomh/n (v. 8)

 ei)j oi)kodomh/n (v. 10) (cf. 12,19:
...u(pe_r th=j u(mw=n oi)kodomh=j)

kai_ ou)k ei)j kaqai/resin (v. 8)

 kai_ ou)k ei)j kaqai/resin (v. 10)

e)pistolai/ (vv. 9-11)

 gra/fwn (v. 10)

pi/stij (v. 15)  

pi/stij (v. 5)

do/kimoj (v. 18)  

do/kimoj (v. 7); dokimh/ (v. 3); dokima/zw (v. 5); 
(vv. 5, 6, 7)

See LAMBRECHT, "Dangerous Boasting", 330-331, esp. n. 10.

20 E.-B. ALLO, Seconde ptre aux Corinthiens (EtB; Paris 21956) 240. Cf. also M.-A. CHEVALLIER, "L'argumentation de Paul dans II Corinthiens 10 13", RHPR 70 (1990) 3-15, esp. 13-14; P. ROLLAND, Bib 71 (1990) 73-84; J.D. HARVEY, Listening to the Text: Oral Patterning in Paul's Letters (Grand Rapids 1998) 215-216.

21 True, in 2 Cor 10,7-8 and 10,12-18 there are references to the past. Note, however, how in 10,15b-16 the future is envisaged. Furthermore, it would seem that at the end of 10,11 the future tense ('we will be') must mentally be supplied.

22 Cf. HECKEL, Kraft in Schachheit, 23: 'Wie durch eine Klammer zusammengehalten wird die Narrenrede von der Leitthese in 11,5 und deren Wiederaufnahme in 12,11' (cf. also, e.g., p. 305).

23 We compare:

2 Cor 11,5-12  

2 Cor 12,11b-18

mhde_n u(sterhke/nai (v. 5) 
(cf. v. 9: u(sterhqei/j, u(ste/rhma)

ou)de_n u(ste/rhsa (v. 11b)

tw=n u(perli/an a)posto/lwn (v. 5)
(cf. v. 13: yeudapo/stoloi)

tw=n u(perli/an a)posto/lwn (v. 11b)

h(marti/an (v. 7) (cf. v. 8: e)su/lhsa)

a)diki/an (v. 13) (cf. v. 16: panou=rgoj,  
do/lw|, and vv. 17-18: pleonekte/w)

e)mauto_n tapeinw=n (v. 7)

dapanh/sw kai_ e)kdapanhqh/somai (v. 15)

u(ywqh=te (v. 7)  

h(ssw/qhte (v. 13)

a!llaj e)kklhsi/aj (v. 8)

u(pe_r ta_j loipa_j e)kklhsi/aj (v. 13)

ou) katena/rkha ou)qeno/j (v. 9)  

ou) katena/rkhsa u(mw=n (v. 13)
(cf. 14: ou) katanarkh/sw)

oi( a)delfoi_ e)lqo/ntej a)po_
Makedoni/aj (v. 9)

 sunape/steila to_n a)delfo/n (v. 18)

a)barh= (v. 9)

ou) kateba/rhsa (v. 16)

ou)k a)gapw= u(ma=j (v. 11)

 ei) perissote/rwj u(ma=j a)gapw=n, h|sson
a)gapw=mai (v. 15)

24 On the passages on 'manual labor' and 'working' in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, see now A.J. MALHERBE, The Letters to the Thessalonians (AncB 32B; New York 2000), esp. 160-163 and 454-457.

25 It is possible that the expression perisso/tero/n ti is not used 'idiomatically' but 'comparatively' and means 'somewhat more', i.e., more than Paul ordinarily does. See P. BARNETT, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (NICNT; Grand Rapids Cambridge 1997), 473, n. 33 (with reference to P.E. Hughes). Luke 12,4 has the negation: they cannot do 'anything more' than kill the body.

26 It goes without saying that a loose and only partly concentric arrangement of the context, as well as the shifts and interruptions both in the discourse and the introduction to it, render an intended rhetorical dispositio very unlikely. For a rhetorical proposal regarding 11,112,13, see HECKEL, Kraft in Schwachheit, 27-29; C. STRDER, Apostolische Schwche in krftiger Sprache. Die Rhethorik der Narrenrede (Unpublished seminar paper: Pontifical Biblical Institute; Rome 2000).