Thursday, March 22, 2007

"My grace is sufficient for you."

Speaking of "a thorn in the flesh," Paul writes that he "beseeched the Lord three times that it would be removed from him," but that the Lord replied "my grace is sufficient for you." This is one of our translations at least. This phrase has generally been interpreted to mean that Paul should basically learn to live with his "thorn" and accept God's "grace" and be content with it.

But, this is not what Paul wrote nor what he meant. Remembering that Paul's thorn was a man who was tormenting the church, one can easily see from 2 Corinthians, that Paul's thorn was indeed removed.

Paul said that he was given "a thorn in the flesh," "lest I should be exalted above measure." In the Aramaic language (Paul's native tongue), the word for "exalted" is sageb "to raise up." Paul, here makes a play on words using this same Aramaic word in two senses. Sageb can also mean or "to defend" in the sense of raising up out of the way of danger. "To defend" is precisely the meaning of the Greek word arkeo, which is used in the Greek texts and normally translated as "sufficient."

What Pauls is saying in his clever wordplay is that he was given a "thorn in the flesh" so that he would not be "overly raised up" by men, and, though he asked God three times to remove the "thorn," God's reply was, "my grace will raise you up." A good English translation is "my grace will avail you."

In another wordplay, Paul contrasts the notion of "grace" with "rest." To the Semitic mind, "grace' is derived from the concept of "the hospitality of the nomad's camp" (Hebrew - chanan) where perfect shalom (harmony) is to be found. This is also what is meant by the Greek word (episkeenoo - to camp with) translated as "rest."

Yet another clarification is needed in order to explain this complex text. The word that Paul uses for "made perfect," or "made complete," is teleitai, the passive present form of the word teleioo. Now, although this word is often translated as "to make complete" or "to make perfect," the intent here is the passive form of "to accomplish."

mou gar dunamis en astheneia teleitai - "for my powerful deeds, with weakness are accomplished." What this means is that God, no matter how powerful he is, does not perform powerful acts without the help of his comparatively weak servants.

A better translation...

(7) ...that I should not be exalted (raised) too much, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, that I should not be exalted (raised) too much.
(8) Concerning this thing I implored the Lord three times, that it might depart from me.
(9) And he has said to me, "The hospitality of my camp will avail (raise) you: for my powerful deeds are accomplished with weakness." Most gladly therefore, I will rather rejoice in my weakness, so that the power of Christ may camp upon me.
(10) Because of this, I take pleasure with weaknesses, with insults, with dire needs, with persecutions, with distresses, for the sake of Christ. For when I may be weak, then I am capable.

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