This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology. You can visit my web pages here, but note that they are not kept up-to-date.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Ivar Vegge on Paul's confidence and Titus-Timothy

Ivar Vegge's influential monograph, "2 Corinthians - A Letter about Reconciliation" (WUNT2 2008), argues convincingly that Paul's expressions of confidence should not be taken at face value but are a rhetorical tactic to encourage the Corinthians to live up to those expectations. Expressions of confidence are a kind of "idealized praise" that sets the addressees up as their own example to follow. By expressing confidence in the Corinthians, Paul makes them more receptive to his appeal by making them feel that they are being encouraged rather than rebuked. Vegge shows that this style of rhetoric was common in the ancient world. This insight goes a long way towards explaining why Paul's tone is so different in 2 Cor 7, compared to 2 Cor 10-13. I highly recommend the book.

In 2 Cor 1:13-16 we read,
I hope you will understand until the end - 14 as you have already understood us in part - that on the day of the Lord Jesus we are your boast even as you are our boast. 15 Since I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you  might have a double favour
Paul here says that he made his travel plan with confidence that the Corinthians would boast in him. Now, Vegge follows the conventional assumption that the tearful letter announced that the travel plan of 2 Cor 1:15-16 had been cancelled. This would give the following sequence, as recalled by Paul:

1. Paul was confident that the Corinthians would boast in him so he planned to visit them (2 Cor 1:14-15).
2. Paul's confidence was dashed by the Corinthians, so he had to cancel the visit.
3. Paul boasted to Titus about the Corinthians (2 Cor 7:14).
4. Paul wrote a tearful letter "in order that your zeal for us might be made known to you before God" (2 Cor 7:12).
5. Paul sent the letter with Titus to Corinth, cancelling his promised visit.
6. Paul's boasting about the Corinthians was justified (2 Cor 7:14-16).

Thus Vegge himself writes,
The rhetorical point in 1:15 is that the Corinthians themselves were the reason he had to cancel the visit. His earlier confidence in them was frustrated by them. (p177)
The problem here is that it would have been counterproductive for Paul to draw attention to earlier misplaced confidence. If Paul is here telling the Corinthians that they had let him down they would have responded with defensiveness and anger. This would have undermined Paul's purpose of achieving reconciliation. Vegge has shown convincingly that Paul's rhetorical tactic elsewhere in 2 Corinthians is to emphasize that his confidence had been well founded (e.g. 2 Cor 7:14-16), yet he would have us believe that Paul does the  opposite in 2 Cor 1:13-15. If Paul refers to earlier frustrated confidence here it would contradict Vegge's main hypothesis. If not, what would? Given the rhetorical function of expressions of confidence, the travel plan of 2 Cor 1:15-16 was not abandoned because of anything that the Corinthians had done wrong. It must have been abandoned for another reason. A further problem with Vegge's (conventional) reconstruction is that 3 and 4 look suspiciously like a duplicate of 1. Paul's confidence that the Corinthians would boast in him (1:14) looks very like his confidence that they would realize their zeal for him (7:12).

Vegge's difficulties have arisen out of his assumption that the tearful letter canceled Paul's visit. All is resolved when we realize that the travel plan had to be abandoned only after Paul ran out of time because of Titus's delayed arrival in Corinth. The sequence, as recalled by Paul, then becomes:

1. Paul sent Titus to Corinth with the tearful letter, announcing that he would visit them soon (and again after going to Macedonia). He was confident that his letter would make them zealous for him so that he would be able to visit them soon without it being a painful visit.
2. Titus was delayed so Paul had to cancel his visit because there was no longer time.

This greatly simplifies the sequence, and makes rhetorical sense. My mentioning his confidence in them, Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to live up to that confidence, as they had started to do. The sequence is confirmed by 1 Corinthians, which was written when Titus-Timothy was on his way to Corinth. Paul hoped that Titus-Timothy would encourage their zeal for him so that his next visit need not be painful (1 Cor 4:15-21). When Paul wrote there was no longer time for more than a passing visit, so he rather apologetically cancelled the visit that Titus-Timothy was about to announce (1 Cor 16:5-9). Now, this assumes that Titus and Timothy were one and the same person, which I argued in JSNT (2001). On page 20 Vegge gives a good summary of the sequence of events that my paper advocated. However, without explanation he writes, "The identification of Titus with Timothy is strained". How is it "strained"? He does not say. Perhaps he was put off by the fact that I (tentatively) partitioned 2 Corinthians. I no longer do so. Also, if the Titus-Timothy hypothesis were wrong, we would expect the (very simple) sequence of events that follows from it to run into difficulties at some point. But there is nothing in Vegge's book that contradicts that sequence, with one possible exception which I will now discuss.

I place no visit by Paul to Corinth between the writing of 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. On page 25 Vegge says that Hyldahl's rejection of this "interim visit" "does not stand up to scrutiny". Does Vegge give evidence for the interim visit? Not really. He merely refers us to page 88 where he writes, "Nothing in 1 Corinthians indicates that Paul has been in Corinth two times before he writes this letter (an argumentum ex silentio)." As Vegge admits, this is merely an argument from silence, and it hardly justifies his confidence on the next page when he writes "Paul must have carried out his visit at a point after 1 Corinthians."

Curiously, Vegge seems to equate Titus with Timothy when he writes, "When Paul sends Titus instead of coming in person (1 Cor 4:14-17), this could easily be interpreted as a confirmation of the fact that Paul did not dare to come back to Corinth." p263. Vegge here illustrates how well our information in 1 Corinthians about Timothy's future mission to Corinth matches what we learn about Titus's past mission in 2 Corinthians.

In conclusion, Vegge's insights do not speak against the Titus-Timothy hypothesis, but almost require it. Vegge, Titus-Timothy is your friend.

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