Editor's Section

Channelling Ambition

I make no secret of my disenchantment with most of our Reverend Doctors and Distinguished Professors.

There's a few who are outstanding, mind you, but there are a lot what ain't.

Young people brought up in a safe Christian environment with strong (generally male) leaders can have their proper ambitions deflected and diluted.

Those who were not brought up in a safe Christian environment may be seduced into thinking the respectable and respected traditional "leadership" is something to emulate and a status to desire.

It is highly probable that Paul was not successful in winning against the alienation of affections we read about in his second letter to the Corinthian church.

That must never prevent us from keeping our eyes and our thoughts fixed on Jesus.

Super Apostles

I hope this little study will assist in changing focus from reading Paul's letter as if it were just a religious text to seeing it as a powerful defence of his apostleship, which was under serious attack from wannabe superstar clergymen.

This makes a different kind of study of Paul's second letter to the Corinthians. To get the most of this study you should have an interlinear New Testament text. Unless you can work in Greek, in which case a Greek text will be plenty. An interlinear text is one that has the original language on one line and the translation below. It allows readers with little or no Greek to get a feel for the process of translation.

You will also need a highlighter felt tipped pen in the colour of your choice.

The Finger Points!

It's in all of us, men more than women perhaps, to lust after the badges and medals.

(And the robes and and the titles)

(And the adulation, and the seats at the head table)

(And of course the power)

Paul's second letter to the Corinthian church is the antidote.

Now you need to learn a Greek word. That word is super or perhaps hyper. It is the word from which our English words derive. Interestingly, our term superstar is not far removed from the title Paul uses of his opponents in Corinth - Super-apostles. We are not sure whether they actually used this title for themselves or if Paul uses it derisively and sarcastically. Another possibility is that the title was used by some Corinthians for these leaders. In any case, Paul's second letter to the Corinthians is a defence of his own apostleship and a rebuttal of some of the things the Super-apostles said about him.

We can pick out some of their comments from Paul's letter. He was said to be "out of his mind" (2 Corinthians 5:13); "bold when away and writing letters, timid when face to face" (2 Corinthians 10:1, 10); "not a trained speaker" (2 Corinthians 11:6). Readers are encouraged to go through 2 Corinthians (with a different coloured marker!) to highlight other criticisms leveled against Paul.

Perhaps reflecting Jeremiah's commission as a prophet (see Jeremiah 1:10: "See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.") Paul says the Lord gave him his authority "for building you up, not for tearing you down" (2 Corinthians 10:8 and 13:10) . This also reflects the Lord's desire in the exercise of authority in Jeremiah 24:6 and 7: " - - - I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart."

Super is used mainly three ways in the Greek. With the accusative case it means superior to, with the genitive case it means on behalf of and in compounds it makes the word a superlative (as you would expect!) I did not do a computer count of the occurrences of the word but a manual snoop through Paul's two letters to the Corinthians gave me these results:


Letter super+accusative super+genitive super in compounds
1 Corinthians 2 7 4
2 Corinthians 3 26 16


1 Corinthians is about half as long again as 2 Corinthians but has far fewer uses of super. And I could find no rhyme nor reason to the scattered uses of super in the first letter. But in the second letter Paul's intention can't be missed. From my point of view it is interesting to note the obvious tone of Paul and contrast it to the calm and solemn tones in which it is usually read in church. Paul is excited, angry, passionate, sarcastic - anything but calm and solemn. I think if Paul were to read his letter in church today with the feelings he felt as he wrote it they'd throw him out!

In compounds super is used in various ways in 2 Corinthians. As an appellation for his apostolic pretender opponents Paul uses the word superlian. This is a combination of super and lian which means exceedingly. Clearly a pejorative term, it might be translated super exceedingly or beyond measure. You can readily appreciate the sarcasm in Paul's calling his opponents the beyond measure apostles.

But there is one instance of super that I did not include in the chart. It isn't in the chart because it doesn't fit in any one category. It is also, not by coincidence, the climax of 2 Corinthians. And it is an example of Paul defending himself with blazing and utterly withering sarcasm.

Drama Suggestion

When your church is doing a series on 2 Corinthians, you might include this word study.

And if there is someone in your church with drama training, experience or inclination, a passionate reading of Chapter 11 could really bring scripture to life.

In 11:23 Paul says, "Are they [the beyond measure apostles] servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am super! "

I put the last three words in bold because I think Paul would be shouting them if he were speaking directly to the Corinthians.

Translations bland this out. The NIV just says "I am more".

The reference to being out of his mind harkens back to chapter 5 verses 12 and 13 where he begins to contrast his apostleship to the pretenders in earnest. Paul is saying his superiority as an apostle comes from all the things he has done and continues to do super, or on behalf of, the Corinthians. Apostolic superiority comes from service, not from calling yourself super.

Then he bears down on the argument further by listing his personal credentials in terms of the physical deprivations, punishments and fatigue he has undergone for the sake of the gospel.

I might suggest that translators make things more difficult for themselves by attempting to make scripture bland enough for reading in churches! This translational tinge actually removes the cutting edge of passion that the Lord very deliberately put into our Bible.

Lest the reader think some translators are not conscious of their future audience (and paying customers) let me relate to you an eye-opener I had in my first year of seminary. The seminary I went to was a leader in the NIV translation. One of our New Testament professors was on the team that was translating John's gospel. He brought to an Exegesis class a sample of John chapter 2 verses 1 to 11, the Wedding Feast at Cana where Jesus changes the water into wine.

Now, this was back in the days when American evangelicals (it was an American seminary although I am English born and grew up in Canada) were mostly anti-alcohol (which is not a bad stance to have, by the way) and there was even some dispute as to whether wine in the New Testament was alcoholic or just grape juice.

In John 2:10 there is the Greek word methusthosin, which means intoxicated by alcohol. As I recall, the trial translation the professor brought to class had "drunken well" as their English version. My current NIV says "have had too much to drink".

Most of us were just learning Greek at the time but there was one bright spark at the back who had studied Greek as an undergraduate. He asked the professor what the word really meant and the professor answered, "drunk".

"So why didn't you translate it that way?" asked Bright Spark.

The answer has stayed with me ever since: "We didn't think the church was ready for it".

So you see, Bible translation is too important to be left only to the experts. Perhaps in the way that war is too important to be left to the generals (and policing to the police!). Now let's return to Paul and the Super Apostles.

Read through and you will understand better the application of super. A very sad commentary on the failing of shepherds emerged during the slaughters of Rwanda. I was in an evangelical Anglican church in London one evening when it was announced that after the service and coffee there would be a meeting with two Bishops from Rwanda. They had fled their country and their sheep and they were in London en route to Canada. I have forgotten whatever they had to say. But their presence in the safety of London while their sheep were being massacred and were massacring said it all.

Don't chase the title if you aren't prepared to do the job. "Super" does not come as a free prize in a box of cereal.

In a "Christian" world awash with Reverend Doctors, Reverend Doctor Doctors, Fathers, Reverend Professors and Distinguished Professors the slaughter and suppression of humans outside the Constantinian buildings accelerates.