How People are Led Astray
Text and Exposition
4“For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully. 5 For I consider myself not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles. 6 But even if I am unskilled in speech, yet I am not so in knowledge; in fact, in every way we have made this evident to you in all things.”
4 εἰ μὲν γὰρ ὁ ἐρχόμενος ἄλλον Ἰησοῦν κηρύσσει ὃν οὐκ ἐκηρύξαμεν, ἢ πνεῦμα ἕτερον λαμβάνετε ὃ οὐκ ἐλάβετε, ἢ εὐαγγέλιον ἕτερον ὃ οὐκ ἐδέξασθε, καλῶς ἀνέχεσθε. 5 λογίζομαι γὰρ μηδὲν ὑστερηκέναι τῶν ὑπερλίαν ἀποστόλων. 6 εἰ δὲ καὶ ἰδιώτης τῷ λόγῳ, ἀλλʼ οὐ τῇ γνώσει, ἀλλʼ ἐν παντὶ φανερώσαντες ἐν πᾶσιν εἰς ὑμᾶς.
As Paul describes the deception that he fears for his readers, he gives us two more reasons for boasting; “for” (v.4) as Paul says, they were already tolerant of false teachers, and “for” (v.5ff.) Paul’s competence in the knowledge of God.
1.) FALSE MESSAGES
4“For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.”
To understand Paul’s concern and how people are led astray in general we should begin the exegesis with Paul’s ironic point at the end of this verse, “you bear this beautifully” (καλῶς ἀνέχεσθε). Paul’s use of irony has been seen throughout the letter (e.g. 10.12; 11.1, 7, 8, 16, 19-21). Apostasy always begins with compromise. This is exactly what Paul is confronting them about. In fact, for the Corinthians, tolerance of false and abusive teachers had gotten out of control:
2 Corinthians 11:16–21 16 “Again I say, let no one think me foolish; but if you do, receive me even as foolish, so that I also may boast a little. 17 What I am saying, I am not saying as the Lord would, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of boasting. 18 Since many boast according to the flesh, I will boast also. 19 For you, being so wise, tolerate the foolish gladly. 20 For you tolerate it if anyone enslaves you, anyone devours you, anyone takes advantage of you, anyone exalts himself, anyone hits you in the face. 21 To my shame I must say that we have been weak by comparison…”
The Corinthian’s tolerance of abusive teachers was of paramount importance since they brought with them false doctrine false messages of salvation that cannot save. This is precisely what Paul was “afraid” of in v.3, that they would be “led astray” by messages that have no power to save. For Paul this would spell apostasy for the church. Paul describes this potential for apostasy in any of several scenarios all ending in the same place spiritually speaking i.e. deceived away from following Christ. We should also notice that like the serpent’s deception of Eve, the intruders in Corinth and in general hardly ever come with a message altogether different from the truth for, just as Paul came with Jesus, Spirit, and gospel; so too the false teacher has their own version of Jesus, Spirit, and gospel. The similarity however is only surface level. While the false teachers may have used similar terms to Paul, their doctrinal distinctions were a perversion of the truth.
1.1, Falling away from orthodoxy
The first of these is a failure to continue in the apostolic faith, “another Jesus whom we have not preached” (ἄλλον Ἰησοῦν… ὃν οὐκ ἐκηρύξαμεν). The Jesus that Paul and the apostles preached is the Jesus of Scripture (Acts 4.12; 2.32, 36; 9.22; 17.3). Any deviation from this understanding of who Christ is and what He has done fails to meet the standards of orthodoxy. Whether it was the Gnostics of John’s day (1 John 1.1-4; 4.1-3), the Judaizers of Paul’s letters (Gal. 2.15ff.), or the Jesus of Muslims, the Cults, or the Liberals— the image of Jesus must adhere to the Biblical Jesus if He is going to have any power to save from sin. A false Jesus leads to false salvation, false hope, false joy, and false peace. As much as the Muslim world may express their deep respect for Jesus as a prophet; that version of Jesus offers no hope and thus; as the universal witness of Islam reflects; no peace with God.
1.2, Falling away from true Spirituality
Another road which leads to apostasy is false spirituality. Paul warns against receiving, “a different spirit which you have not received” (ἢ πνεῦμα ἕτερον λαμβάνετε ὃ οὐκ ἐλάβετε). The world today will gladly receive spiritual things. It is incredible on a single college campus how many spiritual varieties one can find. However, all such spiritualities which are not rooted and born out God’s own Holy Spirit will always fail to convey the spiritual blessings of true salvation. In the world’s eyes, being spiritual is in vogue. Yet, if that spirituality leads one to the Christ of Scripture it is no longer tolerable in the secular world. The “spirit” (πνεῦμα) of the false teachers was a spirit of fear (Heb. 2.14-15), bondage (Gal. 2.4; 4.24), doubt (cf. 2 Tim. 1.7; 1 John 2.26, 27) and condemnation (Rom. 8.1, 15; 1 John 3.20; cf. 2 Cor. 7.3). Ultimately, the vast spiritual varieties that the world has to offer are impotent to save and to sanctify. The beautiful antithesis of these false spiritualities is found in Paul’s New Covenant ministry of the Spirit:
2 Corinthians 3:18 18 “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
1.3, Falling away from the gospel
As one commentator has put it, “Jesus-Spirit-gospel is an apt summary of Christianity” (Harris; p.744). These terms go together. Jesus is the gospel, the Spirit is not only the Spirit of Jesus (Rom. 8.9; Phil. 1.19) but also the Spirit promised in the gospel (cf. John 16.16), and the gospel is good news of redemption through the Son of God Jesus Christ, who pardons our iniquities and grants us eternal life based upon the merits of His cross work. Although the Pauline opponents utilized similar terms, similar ideas, and claimed to “preach” the gospel— it was a “different gospel” (ἢ εὐαγγέλιον ἕτερον). Because it is a false message a false gospel it offers a false Jesus and imparts a false spirit which is not the Spirit of God but the spirit of Antichrist (cf. 1 John 4.3).
The apostolic gospel can never be replaced, reinvented, re-imagined, renovated, or replaced with anything else. It is not the a liberal gospel, social gospel, or a psychological gospel— a therapeutic gospel. All of these forms of gospel preaching do not have Christ at the center as Savior and Lord but self. The modern gospel is all about self; self is most important not God, self is what can save the self, self must never be made to feel shame or even more so guilt. But of course the problem with the world today is that even admitting the need to be saved by a ‘Savior’ is not ‘healthy’. Deeper still is the illusion of many people today who think they are ‘self savable’. Man employs therapeutic techniques of every kind in the attempt to deliver themselves from their sense of ‘wrongness’ or spiritual emptiness. Because of the erosion of sin as an anthropological reality, the moral foundations of conscience are further diminished. David Wells has pointed out, the type of mindset now dominating modern man’s assessment of sin as no longer being a matter of guilt but of ‘shame’:
“In the psychiatric literature, as well as in the wider culture, the transition to the language of shame from that of guilt really signals the secularization of our moral life. What it suggests is that any moral discomfort, any inward pangs that are the result of our actions, should be construed as relational problems not moral ones. They should be resolved along the horizontal plane of psychological understanding rather than against the vertical realm of theological knowledge. It is we who will dissolve our own shame, not God. It is we who will do it by technique, for when all is said and done, what is awry is simply the way we are viewing ourselves.” (David F. Wells. Losing Our Virtue, Why the Church Must Recover its Moral Vision. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999) p.140).
The gospel is redemptive, historic, transformative, Christocentric, Theocentric, and Trinitarian (John 14-17). In terms of the Trinity, the gospel originated in the eternal decrees of God (Eph. 3.9-11), it is the redemptive pact of the Godhead where the Father adopts (Eph. 1.5), the Son redeems (Eph. 1.7), and the Spirit applies (Eph. 1.13-14). In terms of redemption, the gospel is promissory (Gen. 3.15; 12.1-3; 1 Pet. 1.11-12), remedial (Rom. 3.21-26), and realized in time and space at the cross (1 Cor. 15.1-3). There is only one gospel:
Galatians 1:6–9 6 “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”
2. FALSE TEACHERS
5“For I consider myself not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles.”
Often times, false teachers will have such a grip on the corporate consciousness of people that no manner of mind control and spiritual abuse will snap people out of their mindless devotion to their authority. Pseudo-Christian cults like the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witness, Christian Science, Seventh Day Adventists, the International Church of Christ, Oneness Pentecostals, Unitarians and various other cults all have similar mind control techniques. Likewise, prosperity preachers who use doctrine as a means of fulfilling their idolatrous devotion to money, control people through their empty words which promise physical blessings and the satisfaction of felt needs:
Titus 1:10–11 10 “For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, 11 who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain.”
T.D. Jakes, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, TBN, the 700 Club, Joyce Meyers, Rick Warren, Ed Young Jr., Rob Bell, and several other con artists who pawn themselves off as ministers of the Word of God have scores of gullible people, deceived people, and often times well meaning people who follow them without any discernment whatsoever. Nothing can be worse than a false teacher except maybe those that give them a platform to spread their false teachings. This has also been a systemic problem connected with false teaching. Not just the false teachers themselves but those who have itching ears to hear them (cf. 1 Tim. 4.1). This problem has been with God’s people from long ago:
Isaiah 30:9–11 9 “For this is a rebellious people, false sons, Sons who refuse to listen To the instruction of the Lord; 10 Who say to the seers, “You must not see visions”; And to the prophets, “You must not prophesy to us what is right, Speak to us pleasant words, Prophesy illusions. 11 “Get out of the way, turn aside from the path, Let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”
As Isaiah declared, at the root of the problem with those who follow false teachers is a hatred of the knowledge of God and his “instruction” (Is. 30.9).
Here the Proverb is fulfilled, “How long, O naive ones, will you love being simple-minded? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing And fools hate knowledge?” (Prov. 1.22). The equivalent of Paul’s itchy ear listeners is found in Jeremiah’s maddening assessment of the dismal spiritual climate of his day:
Jeremiah 5:30 30 “An appalling and horrible thing Has happened in the land: 31 “The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule on their own authority; And My people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it?”
The false teachers in Corinth only had a view to the immediate effects of their practice. They cared nothing for the long term effect of the ministry, the eternal effect of the ministry, the eschatological effect of the ministry (2 Cor. 5.6-10). Because they had no concern for God’s approval (10.18), they were ready to use any and every underhanded tactic to dissuade the church away from Paul’s authority. In fact, every manner of deceptive tactics were being used in Corinth in an attempt lead people away from seeing Paul as a legitimate apostle painting him as a false apostle and making themselves the true link between Corinth and Jerusalem. Thus, not only was Paul’s message challenged and corrupted but so was his leadership and authority. This has been present throughout the letter. He has been questioned as to his motives in changing his travel plans (1.17), the nature of his New Covenant ministry and seeking selfish commendation (3.1-3), the purpose of his sufferings (4.7-12), the integrity of his financial dealings (8.20), the severity of his letter writing (2.4; 10.10), and living according to the flesh (10.2). Here Paul is being accused of being “inferior” (ὑστερέω) to others and thus, incompetent. Paul rejects this caricature and defends his competence in the ministry. This verse forms yet another reason why Paul is willing to boast about his ministry; precisely because he “was not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles” (μηδὲν ὑστερηκέναι τῶν ὑπερλίαν ἀποστόλων) — a thought he will repeat again (12.11).
Paul’s reasons for boasting in his competence is not only due to the fact that he needed establish his equality with the other apostles but it was also due to the fact that his opponents, the false apostles, were painting Paul as being inferior to them. This was another tactic of the false teachers in Corinth i.e. to discredit Paul’s competency. It seems that they were doing this by attacking his unique place among the “apostles” (ἀπόστολος) here called, “eminent apostles” (τῶν ὑπερλίαν ἀποστόλων). These “eminent apostles” were probably those in Jerusalem who were purported to be “pillars” (στῦλος) by the early church (cf. Gal. 2.9). The “false apostles” (ψευδαπόστολος) in v.13 no doubt were trying to drive a wedge between Paul and Jerusalem in order to gain the allegiance of the Corinthians thereby leading their minds astray from the truth.
3.) FALSE CREDENTIALS
6“But even if I am unskilled in speech, yet I am not so in knowledge; in fact, in every way we have made this evident to you in all things.”
False teachers often pride themselves on false credentials when they are actually disqualified in the most basic credential of all i.e. “knowledge” (γνῶσις). They did not have a proper view of Christ, the Spirit, and the gospel and thus they had no saving knowledge of God. Their doctrine was not the doctrine of Christ (cf. 2 John 9), neither stemming from Christ nor consisting of Christ, it was the doctrine of demons:
1 Timothy 4:1–2 1 “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron,”
This passage fits well with the context of 2 Corinthians for it reveals the true and satanic origin of the false teacher’s views who are regarded as agents of Satan (11.15). These false teachers were probably unwilling to confront Paul directly and probably unwilling to engage Paul theologically or on an apologetic level. Instead, they focus on a stylistic issue and try to tear down his “speech” (τῷ λόγῳ) as “unskilled” (ἰδιώτης). It is no surprise therefore that down to this very day, the majority of people will always choose style over substance since most people most often are impressed first by style, eloquence, wit, humor, cultural relevance, and intelligence, psychologizing and philosophizing etc. At this point there is both a concession and a conflict. Paul admits that he might be “unskilled in speech” (ἰδιώτης τῷ λόγῳ) “but” (strong adversative, ἀλλʼ), he rejects the notion that he is “unskilled” (ἰδιώτης) “in knowledge” (τῇ γνώσει) (Note two consecutive Dative of Respect constructions).
In everything (ἐν παντὶ) Paul had made it “evident” (φανερώσαντες) that his knowledge of the gospel was comparable to the most eminent apostles and stood shoulder to shoulder with even the most revered apostles like James, Peter and John:
Galatians 2:6 6 “But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me.”
The reason for Paul’s confidence was not pride but power. God’s powerful call revealed His Son in Paul from whom also he was taught the gospel (Gal. 1.11-12, 15). Paul’s credentials were just as much owing to God’s grace as the rest of the apostles (1 Cor. 15.10 cf. Rom. 12.3; 15.18; 1 Tim. 1.15-16).
In presenting the power of his theological acumen, Paul reflects the prophetic picture given of New Covenant ministers in Jeremiah 3:
Jeremiah 3:15 15 “Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding.”
The New Covenant minister is to mirror God in his passion for the sheep:
Ezekiel 34:15 15 “I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest,” declares the Lord God.”
Christ himself is set forth as the messianic prototypical Shepherd who rules God’s flock for the purpose of obeying God’s word (notice the bibliocentric nature of Christ’s ministry):
Ezekiel 37:24 24 “My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them.”
In every area of the Christian life Paul’s knowledge of the gospel bore true. Whether practical Christian living (2 Cor. 2.9), or theological depth and wisdom (1 Cor. 2.6) Paul’s knowledge of the gospel was undeniable and unrivaled by the most seasoned and respected apostle. In every conceivable way, Paul’s knowledge of the gospel proved to be comprehensive and irrefutable. What he lacked in style he supplemented with tangible truth. Paul’s knowledge was not only comprehensive but also demonstrative. It was not a hidden cryptic elitists knowledge reserved only for insiders (e.g. Gnosticism), Paul’s knowledge was “evident” (φανερόω) i.e. it was clearly laid out in plain sight with no strings attached.
Unlike many modern day cults who shy away from transparency, Paul’s gospel was open for all to see. In fact, a full disclosure of the mysteries of the gospel was Paul’s greatest goal (1 Cor. 4.1; Eph. 3.4; Col. 1.27; 2.2; 4.3; cf. Acts 20.27). To the Colossians he wrote:
Colossians 1:25 25 “Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God,”