Paul’s Sufferings

Paul’s Sufferings March 31, 2004

Thomas S. Schreiner has some intriguing comments about Paul’s descriptions of his suffering for the gospel in Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ . For example, he cites 2 Corinthians 2:14, where Paul gives thanks to God as the one who “always leads us to death in Christ and manifests through Him the fragrance of the knowledge of him in every place.” The imagery is drawn from the Roman practice of leading captured enemy soldiers in proceession before taking them to execution, and points out that many commentators resist the obvious sense of the text, which puts Paul in the position of a captive on the way to his death. Schreiner suggests this take on the passage: “The metaphor is illuminating if Paul refers to his suffering as an apostle. The adversaries charged that Paul’s sufferings disqualified him. Paul responds that his sufferings are chartered by God himself. Not only are his afflictions planned by God, they are the means by which the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ is emitted to the world. It is instructive that Paul shifts from the image of the triumphal procession to sacrificial imagery (2 Cor 2:14-16), for sacrificial language evokes the theme of suffering as well. The fragrant aroma that reaches the world is emitted from Paul as the suffering apostle.”

Further Schreiner rightly understands the “marks” that Paul bears on his body as the physical scars from the multiple beatings and attacks he endured (Gal 6:17). These marks, he suggests, are the apostolic alternative to circumcision: “the marks that Paul bears on his body were inflicted because he refused to submit to the mark of circumcision.” He also points out that “bear” in this passage is the same word that John uses for Jesus bearing the cross. Thus, we have the sequence of circumcision transformed into the circumcision of the cross, which in turns has its analogue in the marks that Paul has on his body because of his service to the Crucified against the circumcision.

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