Weak enough to lead: Paul’s response to criticism and rivals in 2 Corinthians 10–13: a rhetorical reading
Roberts, Mark Edward
This examination of the rhetorical form and logic of 2 Corinthians 10–13 accounts for the macro-rhetoric of the discourse, showing how it responds coherently and potentially effectively to the criticism that Paul is a weak leader and to the effect of rival ministers at Corinth. The discourse both denies and agrees with the criticism: Paul is not weak in any way that prevents his performing his apostolic commission; but Paul is weak in ways essential to his re-presenting Christ to the Corinthians (e.g., he is weak rhetorically, in his humble and low-status presence, and in his avoiding severity and embracing “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” as he expresses authority). In this positive weakness lies Paul’s conflict with his sophistic rivals, whose hubristic manner of leadership has de facto imported another Jesus, spirit, and gospel into the church. The discourse begins forcefully with appeal to believers and the threat of divine war against the rivals (10.1–6). It calls the Corinthians to examine the evidence regarding the criticisms, which it rebuts with three claims (10.7–11). A first section of rhetorical proof (10.12–11.21a) supports those claims and proves why Paul cannot compare his ministry with the rivals, through an ongoing synkrisis that rehearses Paul’s history with the Corinthians and contrasts his ministry against the rivals’ activities. The Fool’s Speech (11.21b–12.10) proves both that Paul is not weak (through a hardship list that boasts, foolishly and kata sarka, that he is a better servant of Christ, 11.21b–11.29) but simultaneously divinely weak (boasting of his weaknesses, en kyrio, with a climactic divine oracle that valorizes the weakness critics disdain, 11.29–12.10). Rivals now forgotten, the remainder of the discourse resumes the opening appeal that the Corinthians mend their ways, allowing Paul to continue to be weak—exercising his authority without severity, for their upbuilding, not their destruction. Throughout, the study also supports other pertinent topical theses.
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