The Fool's Speech and Its Context:
Paul's Particular Way of Arguing in 2 Cor 10–13*
It would seem that in 2 Cor 10–13 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 10–13 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
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 (11,22–12,10):
Reflexive interruptions in 11,23b.30-31;
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.
c) Retrospections (12,11a and 19a)
1. Interruptions in 11,22–12,10
Paul's foolish discourse of 11,22–12,102 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
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
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
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 11,22–12,10
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.
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
Denial of inferiority (11,5-12)
The Fool's Speech (11,22–12,10)
Denial of inferiority (12,11b-18)
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
'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
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 12,19–13,10. 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 10–13
(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 12,19–13,10. 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 10–1313. 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
(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
(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 très harmonique, où la fin rejoint le
Time dimension. Finally, in contrast to chapters 11–12,
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
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
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.
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
(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 10–13 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 10–13
(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 10–13 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 12,19b–13,10, 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
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 10–13, 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 (11,22–12,10) 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
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 10–13. 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).
particular way of arguing in 2 Cor 10–13 is visible in the Fool's Speech
(11,22–12,10) 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 11–13 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
* 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 10–13
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 10–13",
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 10–13 (WUNT II/56; Tübingen
1993) 22-23, e.g., distinguishes between the Fool's Speech in a broader sense
(11,1–12,13) and its 'Kernteil', i.e., the Fool's Speech proper (11,21b–12,10).
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 persönlichen Verhältnis zu Christus über'.
6 Cf. LAMBRECHT, Second Corinthians, 204-205.
7 Cf. ibid., 194.
8 For the whole of this paragraph see LAMBRECHT, "Paul's
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. MÜLLER,
"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 10–13, 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 12,19–13,10 primarily as the parenetical framework, while 10,7–12,18
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 12,19–13,10 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. PRÜMM, 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
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
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)
oi)kodomh/n (v. 10) (cf. 12,19:
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)
(v. 7); dokimh/ (v. 3); dokima/zw
5, 6, 7)
See LAMBRECHT, "Dangerous Boasting", 330-331, esp.
20 E.-B. ALLO, Seconde épître aux Corinthiens (EtB;
Paris 21956) 240. Cf. also M.-A. CHEVALLIER, "L'argumentation
de Paul dans II Corinthiens 10 à 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/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)
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 11,1–12,13, see HECKEL, Kraft
in Schwachheit, 27-29; C. STRÜDER, Apostolische Schwäche in kräftiger
Sprache. Die Rhethorik der Narrenrede (Unpublished seminar paper: Pontifical
Biblical Institute; Rome 2000).