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
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.