2 Corinthians 8 – Generosity and Greek Grammar

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Today’s Passage: 2 Corinthians 8

My preferred Bible translation is the NASB, but I have to admit it’s not without its drawbacks. It presents a more literal translation wherever possible and reflects the original languages more closely than the NIV. But as a result, I find some passages to be not immediately accessible, and it takes some time and effort just to figure out what’s going on. Like, oh say, this chapter.

I mean, just look at this stuff! Paul writes, “But now finish doing [the work] also, so that just as there was the readiness to desire it, so there may be also the completion of it by your ability” (11). As far as I’m concerned, that is the most Greek way conceivable of saying…whatever Paul is saying. And even the NASB has made concessions in its translation. That phrase “finish doing the work?” It’s literally “finish the doing.” And “there was” and “there may be” aren’t even present in the original Greek! In ancient Greek you don’t even always have to supply the word “to be”–sometimes you can just have two nouns and it’s a complete sentence! No modern English-speaking human speaks like this. And of course they don’t–Paul didn’t write it in English.

It’s a reminder that Paul wrote this letter a world away, a Jew in the Roman Empire composing words in Greek to the fledgling churches of a new religious movement. And yes, the same omnipotent God, who put on flesh and came to earth to convey his truth to us in the person of Jesus Christ, can enter our own modern space and time to communicate the truth of the gospel to us. But if we want to understand where we came from, where we’re going, and what Paul’s words to the Corinthian church mean for us, we’ve got to do the work, we’ve got to study, we’ve got to make the effort to learn about Paul’s word.

So I broke out Matthew Henry’s commentary. And between the text and the commentary, here’s what I’ve managed to piece together about the situation.

Paul has good things to say about the Macedonian Christians, who are giving generously to the poor and needy in the church at large. The Macedonians have supplied their charity with enthusiasm, and apparently, a year ago the Corinthians had a similar attitude. Paul describes them as “the first to begin a year ago not only to do this, but also to desire to do it” (10). “A year ago” is about the amount of time elapsed between Paul’s first and second letters to Corinth. But the money the Corinthians want to give needs to get from where it is to where people need it. Enter Titus: “So we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well” (6). Paul is sending Titus to make the collection. He’s a reliable guy with a passion for the task.

But even if I didn’t know any of that–if the chapter had confused me, and I hadn’t taken the time to parse out what’s going on, whether through external resources or direct concentrated study of the text–there’s still something worthwhile I could have taken away from it. Wow, putting the big significant lesson in the final paragraph: way to bury the lede, Jackson. But this verse hit me right on the first pass: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (9). You think about that: Jesus Christ, as God, creator of the cosmos and owner of everything, comes to earth as a human, subjecting himself to human customs and conceptions of property rights. The King of the Universe becomes a carpenter, and beyond that, gives himself to you. Now that’s generosity. You can talk about the example of the Macedonian churches, of the Corinthians, of Titus, but Jesus Christ is generosity incarnate. There’s your good example.

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