Reader Questions: Paul and the “Super Apostles”

I recently received this question:

Loved your teaching about 2 Corinthians 12 and the context why Paul wrote this. Can you direct me to the verses that show the criticism he took for always having trouble and not having visions so he was not spiritual enough so Paul writes chapter 12. Thanks

The Teaching

The teaching you’re referring to is from a series we did at White Fields called “I Could Never Believe in a God Who _______”, in which we addressed many of the common hurdles people face in believing in and following Jesus. That message was: “I Could Never Believe in a God Who Does Not Answer My Prayers”

The Radio Show Podcast

I’m guessing you probably heard this message on our radio program: Be Set Free. We recently started podcasting the radio program, which means that you can subscribe to the podcast and never miss a broadcast; each day’s message will be delivered directly to your phone. And as of just recently, that podcast is available on Apple Podcasts as well – check it out here: Be Set Free Radio on Apple Podcasts

The Answer

Here is a good summary of the issue with links to many of the relevant verses:

In addition to calling into question Paul’s motives in organizing a collection for believers in Judea (8:20–21; cf. 2:17; 12:14–18) and questioning his personal courage (10:10–11; 11:21), Paul’s opponents had argued that Paul suffered too much to be a Spirit-filled apostle of the risen Christ. Paul argues that his weakness as an apostle is the very means by which believers are comforted (1:3–11) and God in Christ is made known in the world (2:14–17; 4:7–12; 6:3–10; 11:23b–33). Paul’s sufferings embody the cross of Christ, while his endurance amid adversity, with thanksgiving and contentment, manifests the resurrection power of the Spirit (12:7–10). Paul’s suffering as an apostle is thus the very means God uses to reveal his glory (1:3–4, 11, 20; 4:15; 9:11–15; 10:17–18).

ESV Study Bible, Introduction to 2 Corinthians

What this summary doesn’t give is the verses which talk about the criticisms Paul was receiving. Those criticisms are addressed in 2 Corinthians chapters 10-12, in which Paul defends his ministry.

In these chapters it is very clear that Paul feels uncomfortable defending himself, but he does so because he feels that it is necessary to counter the narrative being spread by the “super apostles”: a term Paul uses sarcastically to describe certain people who had come around or rose up within the Corinthian church and were promoting themselves as spiritual authorities, which included trying to tear down Paul as an authority figure in the minds of the Corinthian Christians. This is particularly sad in light of the fact that Paul was the one who founded the church in Corinth.

Based on the ways in which Paul defends himself and his ministry, we become aware of what their criticisms must have been. It becomes clear that they taught some form of the “prosperity gospel” which states that the proof of spiritual maturity is triumphalism: i.e. that a person will not suffer physical, psychological, or financial difficulties. If someone does suffer such difficulties, it is assumed that there must be something wrong with them. This is the same accusation that was leveled against Job in the Book of Job.

Apparently the “super apostles”, whom Paul identifies as false apostles in Chapter 11, accused Paul of being weak, and said that his sufferings were proof that he was not as spiritual or did not have the authority or blessing of God upon his ministry, like they did. Paul instead chooses to boast in his weaknesses, because through them God receives glory through his life, rather than him. The triumphalist “super apostles” – in other words, sought to bring glory and attention to themselves rather than to God.

In chapter 12, Paul reluctantly shares about a vision he had of Heaven. The reason Paul shares this vision, which until now he had kept to himself, was to prove to the Corinthians that he did have spiritual visions and experiences. The only impetus for this must have been that the “super apostles” claimed that Paul didn’t have supernatural visions, which they apparently claimed was proof of their superior spirituality. Paul responds by saying, “No, what they’re saying about me is not true, and here’s an example – but I don’t go around boasting about these things, rather the only thing I want to boast in is Christ; I want to bring attention and glory to Him rather than to myself.”

Thanks for the question! 2 Corinthians is one of my favorite books of the Bible, and I look forward to teaching through it at some point in the future at White Fields.

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