• Brian Myers

Can't Tear Me Away from My God


The following article is based on a paper written for my Pauline and Catholic Epistles class.

II Corinthians 11:1-11

Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States

Brothers and sisters: If only you would put up with a little foolishness from me! Please put up with me. For I am jealous of you with the jealousy of God, since I betrothed you to one husband to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts may be corrupted from a sincere and pure commitment to Christ. For if someone comes and preaches another Jesus than the one we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it well enough. For I think that I am not in any way inferior to these “superapostles.” Even if I am untrained in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.

Did I make a mistake when I humbled myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached the Gospel of God to you without charge? I plundered other churches by accepting from them in order to minister to you. And when I was with you and in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my needs. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way. By the truth of Christ in me, this boast of mine shall not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!

Historical Literary Approach

Literary Context

These verses on which I will focus in this article, II Corinthians 11:2-4, appeared at the beginning of Paul’s attack against opponents he referred to as super-apostles. Paul began in verse 1 by asking the Corinthians put up with a little foolishness for he is about to boast. The next three verses did yet not appear to contain foolish boasting; the foolish boasting begins in verse 5. Though he had indicated his intent to speak foolishly, he began quite seriously.[1] Rather, Bultmann and Barret suggested that these three verses provide the justification for Paul’s request in verse 1.[2]

Paul was about to make some harsh statements, but these verses put those statements into context. Paul loved the Corinthians and was about to speak foolishly out of concern for their wellbeing. Barret paraphrased the text as “I ask you to put up with me: for I am, and have reason to be, really concerned about you; for you put up with a false apostle who preaches a false Gospel; for I am equal to the highest apostles of all.”[3]

Historical, Social, Cultural, Religious Information

These justifications Paul provided for his boasting followed established conventions for boasting. For example, Plutarch listed reasons one may boast including “to invite imitation, to counter the praise of evildoers, to refute slander, to serve the audience, and so forth.”[4] While following these conventions, Paul boasted of his weakness and suffering which were not values promoted by the surrounding culture of his day.

Paul provided the image of a betrothal as the context for this rhetorical attack of his opponents. Betrothal at the time was legally binding unlike modern engagements.[5] The betrothal was part of a marriage, but the woman had not yet moved into her husband’s home and they were not yet sexually active.[6] After the period of betrothal, the bride’s father would escort his daughter from his home to the bridegroom’s home where she was presented to and accepted by the bridegroom.[7] After the betrothal was established and before the father escorted his daughter to the bridegroom’s home, it was the father’s legal responsibility to safeguard the bride’s virginity.[8] Paul used this image as a metaphor for his responsibility to safeguard the Corinthians’ pure devotion to Christ against the teachings of the super-apostles.

Similar concerns may have influenced Paul’s refusal to accept payment from the Corinthians for his ministry to them. In his culture, wealthy patrons would extend patronage to teachers, artists, and philosophers and in so doing gain honor for themselves. The recipients of the patronage obviously benefited from the increased financial resources. “But the reception of patronage came at a price, because the recipient became a client, one who was obliged to respond to the patron’s whims and wishes.”[9] Perhaps just as Paul did not want to be distracted from Christ by the influence of a patron, he did not want the Corinthians to be distracted from Christ by the influence of a super-apostle.

Words, Themes, or References Needing Explanation

Several of the sources I studied referenced textual concerns regarding verse 3 which appears in the lectionary as “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts may be corrupted from a sincere and pure commitment to Christ.” The challenges relate to the end of the phrase which in Greek is τῆς ἁπλότητος καὶ τῆς ἁγνότητος τῆς εἰς ‹τὸν› Χριστόν which translates to a sincere and pure commitment to Christ in the lectionary.

The Greek phrase translated here as a sincere and pure commitment is τῆς ἁπλότητος καὶ τῆς ἁγνότητος. Some ancient copies of texts included only τῆς ἁπλότητος, but Kurek-Chomyzcz presented extensive evidence that the longer phrase should be preferred.[10] The remainder of the sentence also presented challenges. While the lectionary includes “sincere and pure commitment”, both τῆς ἁπλότητος and τῆς ἁγνότητος are nouns and there is no word in the Greek which would translate as commitment. This word was added by the translators. Stegman suggested these nouns should be translated as sincerity or uprightness and as purity respectively.[11] Furthermore, Stegman suggests that the preposition εἰς translated as ‘to’ would be better translated as ‘in’. Therefore, a better translation of verse 3 may be “I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts may be corrupted from the uprightness and purity in Christ.”

Connections with Biblical and Extrabiblical Texts

Paul’s reference to Eve and the serpent is an obvious reference to Genesis 3, but this is just one of many connections in these verses to other Biblical texts. When Paul said “I betrothed you to one husband”, it suggested that he was acting in the role of the Corinthians father. This was an image used in several other verses including I Corinthians 4:15 and II Corinthians 6:13.[12] Paul’s fatherly concern for the Corinthians made him jealous of them, but he went even farther writing his jealousy was “the jealousy of God”. The jealousy of God is a theme referred to throughout the Old Testament. For example, both Exodus 20:5 and Deuteronomy 5:9 said explicitly “I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God”.[13]

The relationship of God to his people was frequently described using the image of marriage. This image was especially used throughout the prophetic tradition and was referenced by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea.[14] This image was naturally extended to describe the relationship of the Church to Christ, perhaps most famously in Ephesians 5.[15]

The image of betrothal was a natural image to describe the early Church’s developing understanding of the Kingdom of God as already-but-not-yet. The image of betrothal captured the idea that the marriage had already begun but it had not yet been consummated. The consummation of the marriage would be at Christ’s second coming as described in Revelation 21:2 which said “I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”[16] The image also carried a moral weight because a betrothed bride had a responsibility to remain pure until her wedding. Similarly, the Church had the responsibility to remain immaculate while waiting for the Parousia as suggested in I Corinthians 1:8, Philippians 1:10, and I Thessalonians 5:23.[17]

Furthermore, if Paul was operating in the role of the father of the bride in this image, he had a responsibility to protect her virginity as suggested by Deuteronomy 22:15 and Sirach 42:9-12.[18] Paul felt a similar responsibility to protect the Corinthians’ “sincere and pure commitment to Christ”. Some commentators suggest Paul’s reference to the serpent’s deception of Eve was a reference to an extrabiblical idea that Eve was sexually seduced by the serpent.[19] For example, in IV Maccabees 18:7‑8 a mother explains how she remained a virgin before her marriage and did not allow the deceitful serpent to defile the purity of her virginity.[20] While it may be a stretch to suggest that Eve was literally sexually seduced and even impregnated by the serpent, adultery does serve as an effective image for idolatry as suggested by Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea.[21] The image of a betrothed bride putting up with another man effectively illustrated the gravity of the Corinthians’ decision to put up with another gospel.

Hermeneutical Approach

Paul’s Message to the Addressees

It is difficult to understand exactly how the super-apostles misrepresented Christ from the text, but if Paul viewed the Corinthians’ acceptance of this distorted Gospel as a father would view his daughter’s infidelity then it is easy to understand why Paul would attack the super-apostles. In these verses, Paul applies the marriage imagery frequently applied to the whole Church as previously described to the local church in Corinth.[22] “Sexual language is often used in religion to explicate the intimate relationship of worshipers and deity because it describes one of the closest relationships that can exist among human beings.”[23] If Stegman was correct in his interpretation of verse 3 described above, then the best example of how this intimacy with God is lived out is Christ’s single-minded integrity in faithfulness to God.

Paul’s message to the Corinthians was first a reminder that when they accepted the Gospel he preached to them, they entered a committed relationship with Christ not unlike the committed relationship a woman entered with a man when she was betrothed to him. Furthermore, as betrothal is a state of expectation for the coming marriage, so too the Corinthians should have been living in a state of expectation for the coming Parousia.[24] Like a woman awaiting her husband must avoid even the slightest hint of impurity with another man, so the Corinthians awaiting the second coming of Christ must avoid even the slightest hint of acceptance of another gospel. As the best example of how to live in such a pure devotion to God, Paul offered the single-minded integrity in Christ.[25] The Corinthians were to conform themselves to Christ’s example.

The serpent tempted Eve by telling lies about God; one could even say Eve received from the serpent another god.[26] Eve was deceived by the false gospel from the serpent. Similarly, these super-apostles were advocating a false understanding of who Christ is. This false understanding must have in some way misrepresented the single-minded integrity of Christ. If the Corinthians put up with this other Jesus, then they would be straying from the devotion to God demonstrated by the true Christ’s devotion to God which was as pure as a betrothed bride’s devotion to her bridegroom. Paul exhorted them to recommit themselves to the Christ he had preached to them, for even if was untrained in speaking, he had made plain to them in all things that he was not lacking in knowledge.

Interpretation in Church History

I initially expected commentary on this passage to expound on the potency of the image of marital intimacy as a reflection of our intimacy with God. I was somewhat surprised that commentary actually focused on the image of virginity as a reflection of our purity while awaiting the second coming of Christ. While this theme was common in the contemporary commentary on the passage, it denominated traditional commentary. Augustine exclaimed “the church is a virgin; she is a virgin, may she be a virgin. Let her beware of the deceiver, lest he turn out to be a corrupter. The church is a virgin.”[27]

The Patristic commentators on this passage focused not on physical virginity but on virginity of the heart. Augustine asked “why does Paul address all these different people as a ‘chaste virgin,’ unless he is referring to their faith, hope, and love?”.[28] He also suggested that while the serpent did not physically defile Eve, he did take the virginity of her heart.

The Patristic commentators also recognized the differences between physical virginity and spiritual virginity. Chrysostom wrote “note the difference between human brides and the church. In the world, a woman is a virgin before her marriage, when she loses her virginity. But in the church, those who were anything but virgins before they turned to Christ acquire virginity in him. As a result, the whole church is a virgin.”[29] Augustine reflected on how the Church has children in spite of her virginity. He claimed “the church, then, like Mary, has inviolate integrity and incorrupt fecundity.”[30]

Meaning for Today’s Church

This passage was prompted by a false gospel proclaimed to the Corinthians, and today there is still no shortage of false gospels being proclaimed with great success.[31] While the sexual revolution may have robbed the image of virginity before marriage of its potency and our modern engagements are quite different than ancient betrothals, marriage still implies exclusivity.[32] The bitter sting of divorce all too common in today’s culture and even the pain of a cheating engaged fiancée still render this passage meaningful. As Paul was impelled by his loving care for the Corinthians to protect them from harm and to exhort them to remain true to their promise,[33] so the Church today is impelled to help her members remain committed to the true Gospel.

Today we may understand Paul’s use of this marriage imagery to refer both to the relationship of the Church as a whole with Christ and to the relationship of individuals with Christ.[34] “We are thus called to grow in giving over our lives more and more to Christ. This can be a painful process as we become aware of values, interests, habits, and relationships that compete with our single-hearted devotion to him.”[35] As the Corinthians welcomed the super-apostles and were in danger of having accepted a different gospel, we need to be aware when are in danger of accepting values, interests, habits, and relationships that are at odds with the true Gospel. This does not mean we are called to retreat from the world or from human relationships; rather, it means we must transform the world and our relationships by loving with the love of Christ.

It is important to foster intimacy with Christ to better understand how to love with the love of Christ. “Intimacy with Jesus is also important because it inculcates a more profound knowledge of who he is. Getting to know the beloved and growing in love go hand in hand, as any happily married couple can attest.”[36] Some commentators have suggested that the reference to Eve in this passage presupposes Paul’s understanding of Christ as the New Adam. While this is not necessary from the text,[37] there may be some fruit in reflecting on the connections.

The first Adam sinned because he followed the example of Eve. Having been deceived by the serpent, she ate the apple and then Adam joined her in sin. As we grow in intimacy with the New Adam and grow in a profound knowledge of who he is, then it will be easier to identify deceptive proclamations. As we recognize Christ’s single-minded integrity and devotion to God, we have a new example to follow. As sin came to all people through the first Adam’s imitation of a bad example and our ongoing imitation of their original sin of accepting another understanding of who God is, so virtue can come to all people through imitation of the New Adam’s single-minded devotion to God and rejection of any other understanding of who God is.

Reflection

Nothing you could say could tear me away from my guy, Nothing you could do 'cause I'm stuck like glue to my guy. I'm sticking to my guy like a stamp to a letter, Like birds of a feather we stick together, I'm tellin' you from the start I can't be torn apart from my guy.

Nothing you could do could make me untrue to my guy, Nothing you could buy could make me tell a lie to my guy. I gave my guy my word of honor to be faithful, and I'm gonna, You best be believing I won't be deceiving my guy.

As a matter of opinion I think he's tops, My opinion is he's the cream of the crop; As a matter of taste to be exact he's my ideal as a matter of fact.

No muscle-bound man could take my hand from my guy. No handsome face could ever take the place of my guy. He may not be a movie star, but when it comes to bein' happy we are. There's not a man today who could take me away from my guy.

Mary Wells recorded My Guy in 1964 and the song reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. In 1999 the song was inducted to the Grammy Hall of Fame. Part of the popularity of the song was certainly the catchy musical style, but there is also a truth in the song that resonates with listeners. There should be nothing you could say or do or buy to tear a wife away from her guy. In this passage from II Corinthians, Paul uses this loyal commitment as an image of our loyal commitment to Christ.

When we read the Gospels and reflect on the way Christ lived his life, it is clear that Christ lived with a single-minded devotion to his Heavenly Father. Nothing you could say could tear him away from his God. Nothing you could do could make him untrue to his God. Not even nailing him to a cross. The Corinthians also had this example to look up to, but Paul was concerned they were being led astray.

We do not know the exact situation of the Corinthians, but looking at today’s world we cannot deny that Paul’s concern is warranted. Even today there is no shortage of super-apostles who are leading people away from Christ. Today they don’t usually go by the name of apostle, but they are no less deceptive than the serpent in the garden. When we who are committed to Christ as Mary Wells is committed to her guy encounter other suitors vying for our attention, we need to react with Christ’s single-minded devotion and maintain our sincere and pure commitment.

When hardened atheists present troves of data and statistics suggesting we should put our faith in science, we respond that there’s nothing you can say that would make me turn away from my God. When we hear stories in the news about horrific violence perpetrated by people of another race or religion and we are encouraged to respond in any way other than loving our enemies, we respond that there’s nothing they can do that make me untrue to my God. When we are presented with an opportunity to bend the truth in the office to get ahead and increase our wealth, we respond that there’s nothing you can buy that would make tell a lie to my God. When a dreamy heartthrob invites us to spend the night while his parents are out of town, we respond that no handsome face could ever take the place of my God.

It isn’t always easy to resist the deceptions that our culture promotes. But following the example of Christ means being willing to conform ourselves the cross if that’s what it takes imitate his since and pure commitment to God. Several artists have recorded covers of My Guy since Mary Wells’ original recording, but the highest profile appearance of the song was in the Sister Act in 1992. In this movie Woopi Goldberg sings a rendition substituting my guy with my God. Let us join in the song and recommit that there’s not a man today who could make me turn away from my God!

[1] Schelkle, “Paul’s Boast on His Own Behalf,” 158.

[2] Jan Lambrecht, “Paul, the Corinthians, and the Super-Apostles (11:1-15),” in Second Corinthians, ed. Daniel J. Harrington, Sacra Pagina Series 8 (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1999), 179.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Keener, “11:1-21a: Forced to Folly,” 221.

[5] Stegman, “Paul vs. the ‘Superapostles,’” 238.

[6] Lambrecht, “Paul, the Corinthians, and the Super-Apostles (11:1-15),” 173.

[7] Schelkle, “Paul’s Boast on His Own Behalf,” 159.

[8] Stegman, “Paul vs. the ‘Superapostles,’” 238.

[9] Ibid., 244.

[10] Dominika A Kurek-Chomycz, “Sincerity and Chastity for Christ: A Textual Problem in 2 Cor. 11:3 Reconsidered,” Novum Testamentum 49, no. 1 (2007): 56, accessed April 15, 2017, http://proxy.ohiolink.edu:9099/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=reh&AN=ATLA0001567482&site=ehost-live.

[11] Stegman, “Paul vs. the ‘Superapostles,’” 198.

[12] Ibid., 238.

[13] Schelkle, “Paul’s Boast on His Own Behalf,” 158–159; Keener, “11:1-21a: Forced to Folly,” 225.

[14] Stegman, “Paul vs. the ‘Superapostles,’” 239; Keener, “11:1-21a: Forced to Folly,” 226.

[15] Schelkle, “Paul’s Boast on His Own Behalf,” 161.

[16] Ibid.; Stegman, “Paul vs. the ‘Superapostles,’” 239.

[17] Schelkle, “Paul’s Boast on His Own Behalf,” 159.

[18] Keener, “11:1-21a: Forced to Folly,” 225.

[19] Thomas D. Stegman, “Christ’s Integrity and Innocence (2 Cor 11:3),” in The Character of Jesus: The Linchpin to Paul’s Argument in 2 Corinthians, Analecta Biblica 158 (Rome: Editrice Pontifico Instituto Biblico, 2005), 197, 203–204, https://books.google.com/books/about/?id=vIiFb0QvYSkC.

[20] Keener, “11:1-21a: Forced to Folly,” 226.

[21] Ibid.; Stegman, “Paul vs. the ‘Superapostles,’” 239.

[22] Ernest Best, “II Corinthians 11:1-6: Paul’s Jealousy for the Corinthians,” in Second Corinthians, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1987), 101; Schelkle, “Paul’s Boast on His Own Behalf,” 161.

[23] Best, “II Corinthians 11:1-6: Paul’s Jealousy for the Corinthians,” 101.

[24] Francis T. Fallon, “Foolishness and Yet Truth: 2 Cor 11:1-12:13,” in 2 Corinthians, New Testament Message 11 (Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1980), 93.

[25] Stegman, “Paul vs. the ‘Superapostles,’” 198.

[26] Pelagious in Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians as quoted in Gerald Bray, ed., “11:1-6 Paul’s Apparent Foolishness,” in 1-2 Corinthians, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament VII (Downers Grive, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 287.

[27] Ibid., 286.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] H. Stephen Shoemaker, “2 Corinthians 11:1-21,” Review & Expositor: An International Baptist Journal 86, no. 3 (August 1989): 408, accessed April 15, 2017, http://rave.ohiolink.edu/ejournals/article/345875144.

[32] Thomas D. Stegman, “Paul vs. the ‘Superapostles’: 2 Corinthians 11:1-15,” in Second Corinthians, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2009), 242.

[33] Karl Schelkle, “Paul’s Boast on His Own Behalf,” in The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, trans. Kevin Smyth, New Testament for Spiritual Reading 14 (New York: Herder and Herder, 1969), 158.

[34] Stegman, “Paul vs. the ‘Superapostles,’” 242.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Craig S. Keener, “11:1-21a: Forced to Folly,” in 1-2 Corinthians, New Cambridge Bible Commentary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 226.

#Scripture

© 2020 by Brian Myers