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J. B. Lightfoot :: The Mission of Titus to the Corinthians

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THE mission of Titus, which occupies so prominent a place in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, has been the subject of much discussion with regard to its object and relation to other communications of St Paul with the same Church, especially the similar and almost contemporaneous mission of Timotheus. The explanation here offered has not, as far as I have seen, been anticipated: it is certainly not the view maintained by the most recent critics, English or German. At the same time it seems so far to recommend itself by its simplicity, and to offer so adequate a solution of all the difficulties which the problem presents, that it can scarcely have failed to suggest itself to the minds of others beside myself [1].

But perhaps it may not be superfluous to say a few words on the previous communications of St Paul with the Church of Corinth, not only by way of introduction to my immediate subject, but also because they offer considerable difficulties in themselves.

It must have been some time during St Paul's three years' residence at Ephesus (from A.D. 54 to 57), that he received information of the critical state of the Corinthian Church, which he had himself founded a few years earlier. His presence seemed to be required, and he accordingly crossed the Ægæan, and paid a short visit to the capital of Achaia, returning to Ephesus to complete his missionary work there. This seems to be the most probably account of St Paul 's second visit to Corinth, of which little more than the fact is recorded. For though the circumstance is not noticed by St Luke, yet his silence is easily accounted for, supposing it intentional, when we reflect that his object was not to write a complete biography of St Paul, but a history of the Christian Church, and that he has accordingly selected out of his materials such facts only as throw light upon Christianity in all ages-representative facts, as we might call them; while on the other hand, if it be supposed that he was unacquainted with the circumstance, this supposition again is easily explained from the short duration of St Paul's stay at Corinth, and the facility of intercourse between the two coasts of the Ægæan. At all events, there are passages in the epistles (e.g. 2 Cor. xii. 14; xiii. 1, 2) which seem inexplicable under any other hypothesis, except that of a second visit-the difficulty consisting not so much in the words themselves, as in their relation to the context [2]. It appears necessary therefore to abandon the opposite view, chiefly known as the English student through the advocacy of Paley, who seeks to explain these passages on the ground of a visit designed, but never actually paid.

The Apostle's visit seems not to have been effectual in checking the evils which called for his interference. It would appear that the shameless profligacy, for which the city was proverbial, had already found its way into the Christian community. He therefore wrote to the Corinthians, warning them to shun the company of offenders in this kind. This letter, which was probably brief and of no permanent interest to the Christian Church, has not been preserved, and we only know that it was written, from a passing allusion to it in a subsequent epistle [3]-the First to the Corinthians in our Canon. It was probably in this lost letter that he informed them of the design, which he at this time entertained but was afterwards obliged to abandon, of paying them a double visit, on his way to and return from Macedonia (1 Cor. xvi. 5; 2 Cor. i. 15).

How long an interval elapsed before St Paul again communicated with the Corinthian Christians, we cannot ascertain; but it was towards the close of his stay at Ephesus, that he dispatched Timotheus through Macedonia on his way to Corinth, though apparently with some apprehensions that he might not reach that city, and not long after addressed a second letter to them-the First Epistle of our Canon. This he placed in the hands of certain brethren, whom he expected to arrive at Corinth a little before of at any rate not later that Timotheus (1 Cor. xvi. 10-12), so that they might return together, and rejoin the Apostle in company. Have we any means of discovering who these brethren were?

It seems more than plausible in the first place, that Timotheus never reached Corinth, but was detained in Macedonia so long, that he had not advanced beyond this point, when he was overtaken by St Paul on his way from Ephesus to Achaia. At all events he must have been in St Paul 's company when the Second Epistle was written, as his name appears in the salutation, and there are sufficient grounds for concluding that this Epistle was sent from Macedonia. But there are numerous reasons for supposing that this was the limit of Timotheus' journey. In the first place: St Paul himself in announcing this projected visit of Timotheus to Corinth, has evidently some misgivings as to its fulfillment, and consequently speaks of it at uncertain, ean de elthê Timotheos (1 Cor. xvi. 10). Probably he foresaw circumstances which would detain his missionary on the way. Secondly, Timotheus is represented in the Acts (xix. 22) as being sent with Erastus into Macedonia, as if the sacred historian were not aware of his journey being continued to Corinth. Thirdly: if Timotheus had actually visited Corinth, he must have brought back some information as to the state of the Church there; and, if he arrived, as was expected, subsequently to the receipt of the First Epistle, he must have been able to report on a subject which lay nearest to the Apostle's heart-the manner in which his letter was received by the Corinthian Christians. But we do not find this to have been the case. For while in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians St Paul dwells at great length on information derived from another source-the epistle in fact arising entirely out of this-there is not the slightest inkling of any knowledge obtained through Timotheus on any subject whatever. And fourthly, in one passage where St Paul is enumerating visits recently paid to the Corinthians by the Apostle himself or by his accredited messengers, the name of Timotheus does not occur, though it could scarcely have been passed over in such a connexion (2 Cor. xii. 17, 18).

For these reasons we may infer with extreme probability, that Timotheus, finding it advisable to prolong his stay in Macedonia, was prevented from carrying out his original intention of visiting Achaia, before he joined St Paul. For, though each of these arguments separately is far from conclusive, they seem when combined to form such a body or circumstantial evidence, as fully to justify this verdict. Again, if this conclusion be admitted, it simplifies the problem, and the subsequent communications of the Apostle with the Church of Corinth becomes easily explicable. This consideration is of course not without weight.

On the other hand attempts have been made to impugn some of these arguments. It will be as well to dispose of these before proceeding.

In answer to the second argument, it has been maintained that the journey of Timotheus to Macedonia (Acts xix. 22) was different from, and subsequent to, his mission to Corinth. If such a method of reconciling the accounts can in any way be avoided, it should not be resorted to. The philosopher's rule with entities should be the historian's with facts. They should not be necessarily multiplied. Here so far is there from being any necessity, that it is not easy to account for these repeated journeys, which moreover in some degree perplex the chronology, there being a difficulty in compressing all the events within the given time.

In the statement on which my third argument is based, I am at issue with Wieseler (Chron. p. 58) in a matter of fact. I can therefore only state the case and leave it for the judgment of others. He argues thus. The language with which the Epistle opens (i. 12-ii. 11) was evidently prompted by St Paul 's distress at the opposition which his former letter had occasioned. Now this language describes his state of mind before the arrival of Titus. Therefore some other messenger must have reached him meanwhile from Corinth. Who can this messenger have been but Timotheus? With Wieseler's hypothesis as to the composition of the Second Epistle nothing more than the vague apprehensions and misgivings, which would naturally arise in the Apostle's mind as to the manner in which a condemnatory letter, expressed in such fearless and uncompromising language-written moreover in much affliction and anguish of spirit (2 Cor. Ii. 4)-would be received in a community where the most flagrant irregularities prevailed, and there his own apostolic authority was denied by a considerable number, and perverted to factious purposes by others. Surely the language would have been far different; his fears would have been far more clearly defined, if he had actually received tidings; especially if these tidings had been brought by a messenger as trustworthy as Timotheus.

The fourth argument has been answered on the supposition that St Paul in 2 Cor. xii. 17, 18 is only speaking of those who took part in the collection of alms, and that, as the mission of Timotheus was quite independent of any such object, his name is properly omitted. But where does it appear that the list of names is so restricted? The word epleonektêsen, judging from the context, seems to refer rather to the abuse of the Corinthians' hospitality, than the gathering of the contributions. Meyer again accounts for the omission of Timotheus' name on the ground that only the most recent visits to Corinth are here alluded to. Yet granting that his view is true, as probably it is, still the visit of Timotheus must have preceded that of Titus by a few weeks at most, and could not have been omitted on this account. The same able critic even considers that any mention at all of Timotheus in the third person would be quite out of place, when his name is found in the superscription of the letter (on 2 Cor. xii. 18, cf. Einl. § 1); and Mr Alford urges the same argument, though less strongly (Vol. II. Prol. p. 56). It is a sufficient reply to Meyer to observe that, whether out of place or not, it is what St Paul has done elsewhere (e.g. 1 Thess. iii.3, 6), and what therefore he might be supposed to do here.

On the other hand, the direct arguments which have been employed by those who consider it improbable that Timotheus should have abandoned his design, so not seem to have much force. Mr Alford for instance considers the purpose of his mission is stated in 1 Cor. iv. 17, to be 'to plain and precise to be lightly given up.' That the mission should have been entirely abandoned is certainly unlikely. That is should have been transferred to other hands, when it was found incompatible with the discharge of Timotheus' duties in Macedonia, so far from being an improbable supposition, seems to commend itself by its very probability. Again it is suggested by Meyer, and here too Mr Alford endorses the suggestion, that the abandonment of the intended journey of Timotheus would have furnished another handle for the charge of fickleness against St Paul, and that we should have found the charge rebutted in the Second Epistle. This reason will probably not be considered of sufficient weight to counterbalance the amount of evidence on the other side. For if we take into account that the charge would lie primarily at the door of Timotheus, and not of the Apostle himself-that St Paul in announcing the design had expressed some doubts as to the possibility of its fulfillment-that the objects of the mission were not abandoned when it was found impossible for Timotheus to carry them out-and lastly, that the messengers sent by St Paul in his stead had a satisfactory explanation to offer to the Corinthians of this change of purpose-we can hardly suppose that the most captious of Paul's enemies would have thought it worth their while to employ such a lame expedient to injure his credit. In short, this case is no parallel at all to the circumstance of which his opponents did avail themselves to bring him into disrepute (2 Cor. i. 17).

On the whole then, so far from finding anything conflicting in the evidence with regard to this mission of Timotheus, is seems that, combining the hint of the possible abandonment of the design in the First Epistle, the account of the journey to Macedonia in the Acts, and the silence maintained with regard to any visit to Corinth or any definite information received thence through Timotheus in the Second Epistle, we discover an 'undesigned coincidence' of a striking kind; and that it is therefore a fair and reasonable conclusion that the visit was never paid.

By whom then was this mission fulfilled? At the close of the First Epistle (xvi. 11, 12) certain 'brethren' are mentioned, who appear to have been the bearers of the letter, and whom St Paul expected to rejoin him in company with Timotheus. The Apostle had urged Apollos to accompany this mission to Corinth (v. 12), but he for reasons easily intelligible had declined, considering that his visit would be unseasonable. Now there is no mention of the names of these brethren in the First Epistle, but we find St Paul subsequently after his departure from Ephesus at Troas awaiting the return of Titus from Corinth with tidings of the reception of his letter there (2 Cor. ii. 12), and falling in with him at length in Macedonia (2 Cor. vii. 6). From this we might have supposed that Titus was alone. But from another allusion to this mission in the Second Epistle we find he was accompanied by a 'brother,' whose name is not given (2 Cor. xii. 18) [4]. What more probable than that Titus and 'the brother' accompanying him of the Second Epistle, are 'the brethern' of the First?

But why is Titus not mentioned by name? Might we not rather ask, why he should be so mentioned? His name never occurs in Acts. His influence on the interests of the Church at large was probably not so great as that of Tychicus or Trophimus, certainly not as that of Apollos or Timotheus. He is brought into prominent notice in reference to the Churches of Corinth and Crete in particular; but we should doubtless be wrong in judging of his position in the Christian Church by the special importance with which he is invested in regard to individual communities. The fact that an Epistle of St Paul bears his name leads us almost unconsciously to assign a rank to him which he probably did not hold in the estimation of his contemporaries. Titus then does not appear to have had a church-wide reputation at this time, and there is no reason to suppose that he was known specially to the Christians at Corinth. If so, the omission of his name presents no difficulty, and it is in accordance with St Paul 's manner to speak thus of his fellow-labourers (2 Cor. viii. 18, 22). No doubt Titus' strength of character was well known to the Apostle when he dispatched him upon this difficult mission, but it only approved itself to the Corinthians during his stay among them; and his earnestness and devotion, which there, raised him so far above his colleague, in such a manner as to show that 'the brother' who accompanied him had sunk by his side into comparative insignificance.

Titus then, we may suppose, had been selected by St Paul as one of the bearers of the letter, that in the event of Timotheus being unable to prosecute his mission to Corinth, it might be fulfilled by one who would act in the same loving and devoted spirit. But there is one link yet to be supplied. How did Titus communicate with Timotheus? How was it known that Timotheus would be detained in Macedonia? Here we are left to mere conjecture; but it seems not improbable that Titus and his companion took the less direct route to Achaia by way of Macedonia. They certainly returned that way, and there was, as far as we can see, no more reason for haste in the one case than in the other. And if it was the apprehension of danger which deterred them from crossing the open sea at that early season of the year, they would have much more cause to entertain such fears on their journey thither than on their return, when the season was farther advanced. Probably the greater security of the indirect route was thought to compensate for the advantage, in point of time, gained by sailing straight across the Ægæan [5]; while the opportunity of communicating with Timotheus would be an additional motive in influencing their choice.

If the view here taken be correct, it will overthrow all Wieseler's chronological results with regard to the interval between the writing of the First and Second Epistles. The facts are few and lead to no satisfactory conclusion; but as far as they go, they do no conflict with anything I have advanced.

The data for determining the relative chronology of this period are these; (1) St Paul stayed at Ephesus 'for a season' after sending Timotheus into Macedonia (epeschen chronon, Acts xix. 22). (2) Timotheus had left before the First Epistle was written (1 Cor. iv. 17; xvi. 10). (3) There is an allusion which makes it not improbable that the First Epistle was written shortly before Easter (1 Cor. v. 7, 8). (4) St Paul here declares his intention of setting out to visit Corinth quickly (iv. 19). (5) We also learn from the same source that he expected to stay at Ephesus till Pentecost (xvi. 8): and lastly (6) there is a reason to suppose that he was subsequently led to hasten his departure. It is not evident indeed that his life was endangered by the tumult at Ephesus [6], but such an outbreak must have interfered with his preaching, and rendered his further stay there useless. At all events the language of St Luke places his departure in immediate connexion with this disturbance, in such manner as scarcely to leave a doubt that it was determined by this circumstance (Acts xix. 41; xx. 1). It is probable, therefore, that he left before he had intended; and this explains another incident. We find St Paul, after his hurried departure from Ephesus, expecting to meet Titus at Troas, and when he was disappointed of this hope, advancing into Macedonia, where he was ultimately joined by him. Wieseler (Chron. p. 59) uses this as an argument, that St Paul's departure cannot that taken place much earlier than he had originally intended; for otherwise he could not have expected to find Titus so soon at the place of meeting determined upon. This seems to be a mistake. There is no reason for supposing that they had agreed to meet at Troas. The true state of the case appears to be this. St Paul had intended to await the return of Titus and his colleague at Ephesus. Subsequently being obliged to hasten his departure, he calculated they would have advanced as far as Troas before they met. In this calculation he proved to be wrong.

If this view be correct, the hurried departure from Ephesus will obviously not affect the chronological question, which thus assumes a very simple form. We have the period from the writing of the First Epistle, shortly before Easter (if we may lay so much stress on a doubtful allusion), till after the feast of Pentecost, when St Paul expected to leave Ephesus, for the double journey of Titus, to Corinth and back. I have supposed that he went and returned by way of Macedonia. Even assuming that he traveled from Macedonia to Achaia by land, the interval is sufficiently great. Hug (Introd. II. p. 381) calculates the single journey from Corinth to Ephesus at thirty-one days, but then he allows a wide margin which is quite superfluous. But, if it be thought that in this case more time would be required, we may suppose that Titus took ship at some port of Macedonia (Thessalonica for instance), as St Paul seems to have done on one occasion on leaving Beroea (Acts xvii. 14; Wieseler's Chron. pp. 42, 43), and returned the same way. This would be a considerable saving of time, and the perils of the open sea would in great measure be avoided.

[1855.]


* From J.B. Lightfoot. Biblical Essays. London: Macmillan Press, 1893 and 1904, pp. 273-284. (All the Greek has been Transliterated.)

[1] This paper had been partly written and the substance of the whole collected, before Mr Stanley's book appeared. It was no slight satisfaction to me to find that with regard to one main point, the identification of the mission of Titus with that of the brethren mentioned in the First Epistle, the distinguished editor supports the view here maintained. Though as far anticipated, I have ventured to send this paper to the press, because the results were obtained independently, and, where they agree with those of Mr Stanley, are worked out more fully that his plan admitted.

I have alluded several times to Mr Stanley's book in my notes, chiefly where I have had occasion to differ from him; but I would not be thought to disparage so valuable a contribution to the history of the apostolic times. I would wish the same remark to apply to my mention of other distinguished names.

[2] I cannot think for instance, that Mr Stanley's explanation of the context of 2 Cor. xii. 14, triton touto hetoimôs echô elthein pros hymas, on the ground of the designed visit, is at all satisfactory. And yet he calls attention to the opposition between the tenses katenarkêsa and katanarkêsô, which leads to the true solution, 'I have not been burdensome to you... I am on the eve of paying you a third visit, and I will not be burdensome,' i.e. I will observe the same practice as on the two former occasions. But the appeal to his projected visit is as proof of his affection (for this is Mr Stanley's explanation) is quite out of place in this connexion, to say nothing of the ambiguity of expression. His interpretation of 2 Cor. xiii. 1 in relation to its context is scarcely less objectionable.

At all events, admitting Mr Stanley's explanations as possible, it must seen strange that the Apostle should twice have veiled his mention of his designed visit under language which applies at least as well (in 2 Cor. xiii. 1 triton touto erchomai, far better) to an actual visit, and in both cases have introduced it in a manner which so rudely interrupts the obvious train of thought.

On the other hand, 1 Cor. xvi. 7 has been unjustifiably pressed into the service. The words ou thelô gar hymas arti en parodô idein have been interpreted, 'I will not now pay you a passing visit;' implying that he had done so before, and, as St Paul on his first visit to Achaia stayed eighteen months (Acts xviii. 11), necessarily alluding to a second and shorter visit. Against this Meyer alleges the order of the words, and de Wette repeats this argument. So far as I can see, the order would admit this interpretation well enough and Wieseler (Chron. p. 240) has a right to make use of the passage in spite of this protest. The real objection seems to be that the natural, if not the necessary, antithesis to arti 'just now' (when used of present time) is the future, and not the past. On this ground I should object to Mr Stanley's explanation, 'now according to my present, as distinguished from my late intention.'

[3] 1 Cor. v. 9 Egrapsa hymin en tê epistolê mê sunanamignysthai pornois: but as undue weight has been assigned to these words, as showing that a previous letter had been written, it will be as well to see how far they favour such a view. (1) No such conclusion can be drawn from the aorist egrapsa. That this word is frequently used in reference to the letter in which it occurs, any concordance will show; I must also confess myself unable to discern the latent 'philosophical' objections to its being so employed, even at the commencement of a letter (Davidson, Introd. II. p. 140, ed. 1); the grammar, at all events, seems unexceptionable. Cf. Martyr. Polyc. c. 1: egrapsamen hymin, adelphoi, ta kata tous martyrêsantas, where the words occur immediately after the salutation. (2) It is unnecessary to accumulate instances to show that ê epistolê may refer to the letter itself. (3) It has been found difficult to explain the allusion by anything which has preceded. This difficulty must be allowed: verses 2, 6, 8, do not supply what is wanted: but is it necessary to seek any references beyond the passage itself? Would it not be quite in accordance with this epistolary usage of the aorist to look for the explanation in the same sentence, so that the corresponding English to the words egrapsa hymin hê synanamignysthai would be, 'I write to you not to keep company'?

The only substantial argument in favour of a previous letter seems to be contained in the words en tê epistolê, which are quite superfluous in reference to the First Epistle itself, and the comparison with 2 Cor. vii. 8 makes the allusion to a previous letter more evident. This argument appears to be insuperable.

I suppose that the Chev. Bunsen's 'Restoration' of the 'Former Epistle of Peter' will carry conviction to few German and still fewer English minds (Hippol. i. p. 24, ed. 2, in Anal. Anten. I. p. 35 sq.), but it is perhaps worth while observing how completely his argument 1 Pet. v. 12 di' holigôn egrapsa, which he finds it necessary to refer to a former and shorter letter, is met by passages as Hebr. xiii. 22 dia Bracheôn epesteila hymin, Ignatius at Polyc. c. vii. (shorter Greek) di' holigôn hymas grammatôn parekalesa. For not only is the aorist used in both these passages in a way which M. Busen seems to think inadmissible, but the writers have also ventured to characterize their epistles as brief, though they considerably exceed in length that to which he considers such a term inappropriate.

[4] I am at a loss to discover why Mr Stanley says, 'This mission was composed of Titus and two other brethren' (on 1 Cor. xvi. 12). The Syriac version indeed in 2 Cor. xii. 18 reads the plural 'the brethren' (I assume this to be the case on Mr Stanley's authority, though I have not found any confirmation), but this has evidently arisen from a confusion with the subsequent mission, mentioned 2 Cor. viii. 16. Mr Stanley does not give his reasons elsewhere (2 Cor. viii. 16; xii. 18).

[5] The movements of St Paul in the following spring throw some light on this point. He had intended to sail direct from Corinth to Syria. His departure however was hastened by the discovery of a conspiracy against him, and he went by way of Macedonia, apparently on account of the early season of the year. He left Philippi meta tas hêmeras tôn azymôn (Acts xx. 6). Cf. Conybeare and Howson, II. p. 206.

[6] Wieseler considers it necessary to bring Timotheus back from Macedonia to Ephesus, because the plural in 2 Cor. i. 8 seems to show that he shared the danger with St Paul on the occasion of the outbreak. The question of the use of the plural is beset with difficulties; but, waiving this, the language of St Paul (thlipseôs, ebarêthêmen, exaporêthênai) must refer to something more than the mere momentary danger arising from the uproar. St Paul seems to have been subjected to a continuous persecution at Ephesus, which must have begun before the departure of Timotheus, and may have been shared by him. St Paul speaks in the First Epistle of his many adversaries (xvi. 9), and compares his struggles at Ephesus to a contest with wild beasts in the arena (xv. 32). It is strange that ethêriomachêsa should ever have been understood literally, when the same image is used 1 Cor. iv. 9 hôs epithanatious, hoti theatron egenêthêmen.





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