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Essay: Peddlers for Profit
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Essay: Peddlers for Profit

Written January 2004

 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.  2 Corinthians 2:17

People's behavior during New Testament times was not a lot different than the way people act today.  Perhaps the morality was a bit more ungodly then, but not so much that it isn't easy to imagine how it was.  Roman culture in the first century A.D. was an every man for himself culture different from today's American culture only by degree; Christian Americans can get a general picture of the Greco-Roman age by watching how non-Christians behave.  This cultural rule of thumb affected all areas of life, including religion; America has its greedy televangelist just as New Testament Corinth had its unsavory preachers.  Paul challenges the Corinthians in this very area and tries to close the door on false apostles. 

In 2 Corinthians 2:17, the apostle Paul was confirming to the Corinthians that he was a man of integrity, a man of his word, and one who would not lead them in a false direction but keep them on the straight path to God.  He was contrasting himself to something the people of that day would readily recognize the professional hawker, the Stoic, cynic, or some other philosophical minded individual out to make a fast buck through his oratory skills.

In the language of the day, koine Greek, the word Paul used for peddle was kapeleuo, which means exactly as the NIV translates it - to act as a peddler, peddle for profit (Goodrick 1999).  The popular King James Bible translates it as 'corrupt.'  A little more depth is added to the word when another source is consulted - W. E. Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.  Vine says that kapeleuo means more than just to peddle, that 'hucksterizing' would be a more appropriate rendering in this passage (1952:242).  James Thompson in his commentary says that this Greek word was also used by philosophers to describe inauthentic philosophers who sold their teaching for money (1970:40).  Paul could have had any one of these meanings in mind when he penned the verse, each meaning seems to fit the situation in Corinth.

Street venders were as popular then as they are now in some parts of the world.  People had items to sell and street corners and sidewalks were the ideal places to hawk their wares.  Its good marketing strategy to provide a service that is in demand and to go to where the people are requiring that service.  Capitalism throughout history has proven this to be true.  The market place, the forum, or especially during the Isthmian games would have been great places to make money through the hawking of their wares.

At this point in history, the New Testament age, philosophers had been around for well over 600 years (Bell 1998:161).  Oratory skills of persuasion and argument were highly prized skills throughout the Greco-Roman world.  Many a man made his living on the power of his "peculiar gifts... in which understanding and imagination, rational and instinctive forces were united in a fruitful combination" (Zeller qtd in Bell 1998:162).  Training in public speaking began at an early age for the boys who attended school.  According to Bell, the young boys would began by learning great portions of Homers Iliad and Odyssey, once this was perfected, they would start learning the hows of effective speech delivery (1998:239).  Art found from the Greco-Roman period has many examples of young boys and teens practicing rhetorical presentation.

Ben Witherington goes into some detail about these false apostles who were accosting Paul.  He says that they were proud Jews, but he cautions that they are not to be confused with the Judaizers of Galatia, and that they believed themselves to be Christians and even had letters of recommendation, perhaps from Jerusalem (1995:346).  Also, these men might have fancied themselves to be sophist, a new and exciting form of rhetoric capturing interest of the men in Corinth and other places (1995:349).  It is feasible that they might have felt threatened by Paul, who cared nothing for the glamour and wealth afforded to men of great oratory persuasion.  Perhaps they were puzzled by Paul because he wasnt out for wealth and fame as others were, Paul was presenting life-saving words of wisdom for free, not even accepting the support of a wealthy patron or donations from other Christians.

Whitherington presents a different argument made by C.K. Barrett in his book, Paul the Controversialist, and although Witherington disagrees with this assessment, it is worth mentioning.  It seems that Barrett thinks there is evidence to suggest that Paul was widely hated for destroying the connection between Christianity and Judaism.  These false apostles, which may have been many in number, went around to Paul's congregations spreading malicious stories about him and inciting the people against him (1995:347).  This thought by Barrett could be one of the reasons that some people were turning their backs on Paul and going to the false apostles.  Some have suggested that perhaps James, the Father of the Jerusalem church, sent them out with their letters for this very purpose.  It must be noted that this theory doesnt appear to be widely accepted.

The apostle Paul didn't just lay down and take it.  He acknowledged that perhaps he was lacking in the oratory skills department, but that was okay, because he wanted nothing to come between the Corinthians and Jesus.  He wanted them to believe in Jesus as Savior not because he convinced them with his exalted capacity for delivering God's word, but for the word itself.  Paul even went so far as to not accept any money from them at all, distancing himself from the "behavior of these unscrupulous hucksters" (Tasker 1971:59).  Paul says of the super-apostles he is railing against: "They practice cunning and deceit and tamper with Gods word (4:2), and prey on the people (11:13)" (Thompson 1970:39-40). 

Paul then admonishes the Christian Corinthians for so easily turning on him: 

But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.  For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.   2 Corinthians 11:3-4

These peddlers of the faith, oratorical giants, masqueraders of Christ's apostles, are being compared to Eve and her deception by Satan.  Perhaps the people of Corinth were deceived because of their natural inclination to believe gifted orators, or perhaps it was because of their relative youth as children of God.  We might never know in this lifetime why they chose to follow false apostles, just as we may never know why some American Christians decide to follow self-promoting, greedy, golden-voiced preachers today.  Peddling Gods word will always be a lucrative business.

Bibliography

Atkinson, Stuart. Real Diamon[d]s are Forever. Bible Teaching Resources. 2001. Retrieved January 11, 2004 from http://www.mpc.org.au/resources/resources/20010701.html

Barnett, Paul. The Message of 2 Corinthians. The Bible Speaks today. John R. W. Stott, gen. ed. 1988. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity.

Bell, Albert A., Jr. Exploring the New testament World: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Jesus and the First Christians. 1998. Nashville: Nelson.

Goodrick, Edward W., and John R. Kohlenberger III, eds.    Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance. 2nd ed. 1999. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

New International Version Study Bible. 1995. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Scott, James M. 2 Corinthians. New International Biblical Commentary, Vol. 8. 1998. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

Tasker, R.V.G. The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. Tyndale New Testament Commentary. 1971. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Thompson Chain-Reference Bible. King James Bible. 1964. Indianapolis: Kirkbride.

Thompson, James. The Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians. The Living Word Commentary, Vol. 9. Everett Ferguson, ed. 1970. Austin: Sweet.

Vine, W.E. Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. 1952. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Witherington, Ben, III. Conflict & Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians. 1995. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.