Saturday, 12 December 2015
Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I.
2 Corinthians 11:22
In Paul’s “boasting” out his defense against his accusers, he now contrasts himself with them. What is evident is that they matched each of these things that he will now describe and they boasted of their status because of it to the Corinthians. They claimed a special right and status because of this heritage and therefore they were more worthy to be listened to and followed. Be advised that nothing has changed today. As you read these words, know that the exact same arguments are used by the exact same category of people to sway others to their own misguided use of Scripture.
He begins with, “Are they Hebrews?” This points to the special status of those who have “crossed over,” which is what the term Hebrew implies. They thus claimed the cultural privilege of being of this pure stock. They were probably born and raised in the land of Israel, spoke the Hebrew language, and read the Scriptures in that language. In contrast, they would claim that Paul was merely a knock-off of this pure line who mostly used the Greek translation of the Scriptures and who was born outside of the land of Israel.
However, Paul defended his status as a Hebrew. He was “a Hebrew of the Hebrews” (Philippians 3:5). He was born to Hebrews who were born in the land. He could rightfully claim that he descended from the same pure line. He also was trained under Gamliel and knew the Hebrew Scriptures in the original language. Just because he was born in Tarsus in no way affected his pure genealogy. Rather, it gave him something more than they possessed because he could unite the pure doctrine of the Hebrews with the languages and experiences of the world beyond Israel. Thus, he was more qualified than they were to bring the message to the Gentiles. In essence, Jesus made no mistake in His selection. He was no knock-off, but was rather eminently qualified to be called a “Hebrew.” Thus his words, “So am I.”
He next asks, “Are they Israelites?” They came to the church at Corinth boasting in this national status. Israel is comprised of the 12 tribes of people who descended from Jacob. They had gone down to Egypt and lived in bondage; they were delivered out of there by God’s hand; they were taken to Sinai where they received the law; and God spoke through His prophets of Israel to the people of Israel. They claimed this special status as a point of boasting to those at Corinth. “We descend from this great tradition of people who are the recipients, stewards, and interpreters of God’s law.” Paul notes in his defense, “So am I.” In Philippians 3, he gives even greater detail when he says that he was “circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin” (verse 5).
Thirdly, he questions, “Are they the seed of Abraham?” The false apostles noted that they could trace their lineage back to Abraham, just as the genealogy found in Matthew does for Christ Jesus. They could then say to those at Corinth, “See, we have the same credentials as the Messiah as far as our birthright and heritage. We are His same stock and are His brothers because Abraham is our father. Surely we have the right stuff to properly train you and guide you into all perfect knowledge.” In response, Paul says, “So am I.”
In his “boasting” to those at Corinth, Paul has thus far successfully defended that he is in no way “at all inferior to the most eminent apostles.” Rather, he meets and exceeds them in these external boastings of the flesh. He has incrementally arranged these points to show that he is a Hebrew, thus meeting the nationality they claimed to possess. He was an Israelite, thus being an honored and special relative to God’s chosen people who received the law and the covenants. And he was of the seed of Abraham, thus entitled to all of the messianic privileges associated with that great father of the faith.
But Paul’s message, the gospel message, is not one based on these things. It is one based on faith in the finished work of Christ. The Corinthians held onto the false apostles because of the externals, but it is the internal which makes one right with God. Paul needed them to first get beyond the externals by showing that he was as qualified as them. After this, he will have proven that they had no advantage over him in their boasts.
Life application: When you evaluate someone who is a teacher, the last thing you should be looking for is their worldly status. Who cares if someone is a Jew? Who cares if they read Hebrew or Greek? Who cares if they have a doctorate degree in theology? None of these things mean a thing if their message isn’t in line with truths found in the Bible. Don’t follow pope, preacher, priest, or pastor because of their externals. Instead, follow God’s word and listen to the one who is willing to place that above all else.
Heavenly Father, forgive us for following spiritual leaders because of their external attributes, but who don’t follow Your word. Help us not to get caught up in their nationality, level of education, or rank in a particular denomination. Instead, prompt us to listen to those who will properly honor and rightly divide Your word. If Pope Pontificator, Dr. Deuteronomy, or Pastor Puffed-Up is unwilling to stand on Your word alone, then give us the wisdom to turn from that false teacher and to search out one who will. To Your glory we pray. Amen.