Dieter Georgi. The Opponents of Paul in Second Corinthians. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986.
This book is a 1986 English translation of Georgi’s 1964 work in
German, with new epilogues in which Georgi clarifies and refines his
positions. The book is about the apostle Paul’s opponents in II
Corinthians2:14-7:4 and II Corinthians 10-13, the superapostles about
whom Paul complains.
Some scholars have argued that the superapostles were associated with
the Jerusalem church, where James and Peter were influential, and that
the letters of recommendation that the superapostles presented to the
church in Corinth were from the Christian church in Jerusalem. Some
contend that Paul was fighting the legalism of the Jerusalem church in
writing II Corinthians, particularly the Jerusalem church’s (alleged)
attempt to get Gentile Christians to be circumcised and obey the law of
Moses. Georgi, however, disagrees with this view, noting that the issue
of legalism does not come up in II Corinthians. Georgi still believes,
however, that the superapostles’ activity was related to Judaism,
particularly Hellenistic Jewish apologetics and missionary activity.
According to Georgi, in the New Testament period, there were
itinerant Jewish missionaries who prophesied and impressed people with
their magic and wonders. Not only did itinerant Jewish missionaries do
this, but so did wandering philosophers and teachers. They got money
from people who were impressed by their works, and they competed for
prominence and influence. Moreover, within Jewish Apologetic
literature, such as Philo, there is the concept of a divine man: a
person so in tune with God that he actually partakes of the divine.
This was true of Moses, according to Jewish Apologists, and the hope was
expressed that others, too, could partake of the divine, as Moses did.
Jewish Apologetic literature also stressed biblical interpretation as a
way to experience the divine, and it revered antiquity, claiming that
it represented the old and the true.
It is against this background that one can understand the
superapostles in II Corinthians, Georgi argues. The superapostles were
trying to impress the Corinthian church with their wonders and power,
and the Corinthian church was responding by paying them, showing their
appreciation that the superapostles were working in their midst. The
letters of recommendation that the superapostles were bringing were not
from the Jerusalem church, as far as Georgi was concerned, but were from
other places, and they were a way to advertise the power of the
superapostles; George states that the superapostles actually wanted a
letter of recommendation from the Corinthian church, as well! The
superapostles also maintained that interpreting the law of Moses could
lift the Corinthian Christians to higher spiritual levels, transforming
them from one degree to another. Moreover, the superapostles admired
Jesus on account of Jesus’ wonders.
According to Georgi, Paul in II Corinthians is responding to these
sorts of claims and beliefs. Paul contrasts himself with the
superapostles by saying that, while the superapostles wanted money for
their wonders, Paul did not demand money from the Corinthian church but
got a job to support himself. While the superapostles were primarily
interested in their own prestige, Paul cared for the Corinthian church
and had a relationship with it. The superapostles stressed impressive
wonders, and they tended to skip over Christ’s crucifixion when they
talked about Christ, focusing instead on Christ’s power. Paul, however,
emphasized humility, how God shined forth in Paul’s own weakness, and
the importance of Christ’s crucifixion. The superapostles looked to the
law of Moses as a path to spiritual progress, noting its antiquity as
an indication of its authority. Paul, by contrast, said that the Old
Covenant of condemnation was nullified, and that it was by looking to
Christ that believers spiritually progress. Paul, according to Georgi,
was quite revolutionary in supporting the new over the old.
A number of scholars might question some of Georgi’s claims. First,
there is debate about whether or not Second Temple Judaism even had an
active missionary program (see here).
Georgi is on the “yes” side of this debate, but there are scholars on
the “no” side. Second, there is debate about whether Christianity was
unique (or at least rare) in terms of its miracle claims, and whether
pagans and other non-Christians in the New Testament period technically
performed miracles (see here and here).
Some scholars, therefore, might challenge any notion that Hellenistic
Jewish missionaries were out there doing miracles, competing among
themselves and with other itinerants. Third, while Georgi refers to
Apollonius, who did miracles, Apollonius’ story was written a few
centuries after the New Testament period and may reflect Christian
I also have questions about whether or not Georgi can conflate
itinerant Jewish missionaries with things written in Philo about the
divine man, or biblical interpretation.
Still, I do think that Georgi’s case is plausible. The itinerant missionaries could have
agreed with Philo about the divine man and biblical interpretation.
Georgi also refers to Jewish magicians in the Book of Acts, which was
the New Testament period, and so such a phenomenon may very well have
existed in the time of Paul. In my opinion, the wonder-workers in
Josephus whom Georgi discusses also deserve consideration; there is some
debate about whether or not they were miracle-workers in the sense that
Jesus and the early Christians were, but I think that there is good
reason to believe that they were, on some level.
There were other issues in Georgi’s book that intrigued me. First,
there was Georgi’s argument on page 12 that II Corinthians 7:1 was not
from Paul but may reflect the thoughts of Palestinian Jewish
Christians. In II Corinthians 7:1, there is an exhortation to people to
purify themselves of defilement of flesh and spirit, and Georgi
contends that this sentiment differs from Paul, who maintained that the
flesh was corrupt rather than calling for Christians to cleanse it.
Whether or not Georgi is correct that there is a contradiction here
could probably be debated, but I like it when scholars talk about
diverse ideas in Scripture. Second, Georgi interacts with such issues
as the cessation of prophecy in Second Temple Judaism, as well as how a
belief in miracles could coincide with rationalistic attempts to
downplay miracles (particularly in Josephus). Georgi makes a pretty
convincing case that pneumatic activity was alive and well in Second
I decided to buy this book. I got it for 17 cents on Amazon, and I
am glad that I gobbled it up, since the next lowest price was in the $10
range! I think that this book will be useful to me in terms of my own
area of research, which concerns Gentile conversion to Judaism.
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