Reconstructing the Letter of Tears

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2 Cor 1:12-14 is marked as a unit by inclusion [1] (καύχησις ἡμῶν ... καύχημα ὑμῶν). The passage begins with a boast: Paul has conducted his ministry in general, and his ministry toward the Corinthians in particular, ‘with transparency and godly sincerity, not with worldly wisdom but by the grace of God’. The paragraph concludes with an expression of hope, that the Corinthians will come to understand Paul fully, as they have already understood him in part: that they will take pride in him, just as he will take pride in them, on the Day of the Lord. Now, as Watson points out,

This hope is mentioned in connection with what Paul ‘writes’, and unless the two things are entirely unconnected, he must mean that they have begun to realise from what he has previously written about himself that he can be their cause of boasting, and that he hopes that they will realise this more fully from what he is now writing. He thus announces his intention of giving them cause for boasting in the present letter, and this must involve an account of his apostolic ministry. [2]

This deduction is supported by the word play on ἀναγινώσκω / ἐπιγινώσκω ('read' / 'understand'), in 1:13a: what Paul writes is what they read (ἀναγινώσκω) they understand (ἐπιγινώσκω); what they have understood in part (ἀπὸ μέρους),  he hopes that they will now come to understand fully (ἕως τέλους). The previous letter to which Paul is referring, from which they have already understood in part, is clearly the Letter of Tears.[3] By 5:12 Paul has, he believes, achieved his goal of enabling them to understand fully for, as Watson notes, in 5:12 Paul summarizes his argument ‘in words which must deliberately recall 1:14’:[4] ἀφορμὴν διδόντες ὑμῖν καυχήματος ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν (‘[we are] giving you an opportunity to take pride in us’; cf. 1:14, καύχημα ὑμῶν ἐσμεν).[5]

The argument of 2 Cor 1:15-5:10 consists of the following subunits:

  1. 1:15-2:4, the apostle's decision to postpone his planned visit to Corinth was not irresponsible, nor did his actions contradict his words; rather, his actions were grounded in his trust in the faithful of God, who has given a binding guarantee both of his own ultimate salvation and that of his addressees. As he made clear in the Letter of Tears, his decision was motivated by love: he wished to spare the church.
  2. 2:5-11, a digression in which he calls for the offender, whose actions provoked the crisis, and who has since been excluded from fellowship, to be restored to fellowship.
  3. 2:12-13, in which he recounts his overwhelming anxiety as he journeyed to Macedonia in search of Titus, and news from Corinth.
  4. 2:14-3:6, in which he portrays his ministry as an epiphany procession which mediates the life-giving presence and power of the crucified and risen Christ to those who are being saved, and which is patterned after the Second Exodus of OT prophesy. His own apostolic sufferings are portrayed as the incense that announces to bystanders the saving presence of the deity, and the aroma of a sacrifice pleasing to God.
  5. 3:7-4:6, in which he shows that his ministry has a glory far greater than that of Moses, a glory that transforms believers into the likeness of Christ; that he is able to act with a boldness that was not possible for Moses; and that, unlike his opponents, his heart has been enlightened with the knowledge of the presence and saving power (glory) of God in the πρόσωπον of Christ.
  6. 4:7-12, in which, alluding once more to his recent sufferings, Paul portrays his own fragile, mortal body as the site of an ongoing epiphany of the crucified and risen Lord.
  7. 4:13-5:10, Paul's attitude towards suffering and death in the service of the gospel.

In the crisis, instead of travelling to Corinth, Paul had chosen to stand with the church before the coming judgment, to subject himself with them to the severe discipline that God himself would now inevitably impose; this decision had resulted in his 'Affliction in Asia' (1:3-11). The 'ground of boasting' which the apostle presents in 1:15-5:13, therefore, amounts to this: that when faced with the Corinthians’ rebellion over the disciplining of the incestuous man, rather than punishing the church, he had performed for them a Passion Play, presenting afresh the gospel with such power that they had been brought to repentance (cf. 7:5-16). One might expect to find, therefore, that the literary unit 2 Cor 2:14-7:4 takes up elements of the Letter of Tears, in order to construct a more complete account of the apostle’s handling of the crisis. In particular, one might expect that such material would play a key role in the introductory subunit, 2:14-3:6, and that this material would be taken up again early in the body of the discourse. Furthermore, it would not be surprising, if Paul were to refer again to the letter in his concluding subunit, 6:11-7:4. Such references, I believe, may indeed be found in 3:2, 3, 3:7 and 7:3.

Avoiding a broken heart (2 Cor 2:2; 3:3)

During his affliction in Asia Paul likely identified with figure portrayed in Psalm 69; furthermore, 2 Cor 2:17; 4:2 echo Jer 23:9-40, and there are striking parallels between Paul's own situation and that faced by Jeremiah. It is of special interest, therefore, that there are links between Psalm 69:21, Jer 23:9, and Paul's thought in 2 Cor 2:2. Jer 23:9 reads, 'My heart is crushed within me (נשׁבר לבי בקרבי): all my bones shake. I have become like a drunkard, like one overcome by wine, because of the LORD, and because of his holy words' (NRSV). Faced with the pronouncement of Yahweh’s judgment on the people, the prophet cries out that his heart is ‘broken’ or ‘crushed’. It was precisely in order to avoid finding himself in such a position that Paul avoided an early visit to Corinth (1:23-2:2): he feared that, had he returned and confronted the church, he would have had no alternative than to carry out the threat he had made when he was last with them (13:2): instead of building up, he would have had to tear down what he had built (2 Cor 10:8; 13:10; cf. 1 Cor 5). In 2 Corinthians he emphasises repeatedly his love for the church,[6] and such an act would surely have broken his own heart. His enemies would have poured scorn upon him and it seems likely that, in contemplating Jer 23:9, he would have been reminded also of Ps 69:21(20), and applied it to his own situation: 'Insults have broken my heart (שׁברה לבי) so that I am in despair: I looked for pity, but there was none: and for comforters, but I found none' (NRSV) [7] The ‘broken heart’ motif, expressed in terms of the verb שׁבר (Qal ‘break’), [8] occurs in the MT in Pss 69:21(20); 147:3; Jer 23:9 (Qal); Pss 34:19(18); 51:19(17); Isa 61:1 (Niphal). In Pss 34:19; 51:19; 147:3 and Isa 61:1, the context is of promise: Yahweh is close to the broken-hearted, and will help them. In Ps 69:21 and Jer 23:9, however, the context is of lament. Had Paul come to Corinth and disciplined the church, he would have left himself without comforters: ‘For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but the one I have grieved?’ (2 Cor 2:2).  Compare again Ps 69:21, ‘I looked for pity, but there was none: and for comforters, but I found none.’ In his despair, Paul had become convinced that the Letter of Tears and the representations of his envoy Titus had been rejected, and that God's judgment had fallen upon both himself and on the church.

In 3:3 Paul brings to a remarkable climax the ‘letter of recommendation’ imagery of 3:1-2: he does not need letters of recommendation such as his opponents evidently have, since the Corinthian church is itself  his letter, written in his heart (ἐγγεγραμμένη ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ἡμῶν). It is becoming known, he says, that the Corinthians are a letter from Christ, drawn up by himself, ‘written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on tablets that are fleshly hearts’. Given the polemical edge of 3:1, it seems clear that οὐ μέλανι (‘not with ink’) alludes to his opponents’ letters of recommendation: their letters are from mere humans, and written with mere ink, whereas Paul’s letter is from the divine Christ, and written ‘with the Spirit of the living God’.[9]  The sense of the second antithesis requires careful reflection, however. The awkward expression πλαξὶν καρδίαις σαρκίναις makes best sense if σαρκίναις is taken with καρδίαις rather than with πλαξὶν:[10] ‘on tablets which are fleshly hearts’. This phrase, ‘fleshly heart’ (καρδία σαρκίνη) occurs in the LXX only in the parallel  new covenant traditions of Ezek 11:19 and 36:26, in each case in opposition to ‘stony heart’ (καρδία λιθίνη).[11] On the basis of this clear allusion to Ezekiel, one might therefore have expected that the antitheses would run something like this: ‘Written, not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on hearts of stone, but on hearts of flesh.’ However, πλαξὶν λιθίναις is a clear allusion to the stone tablets of the Law (Exod 31:18 LXX, τὰς δύο πλάκας τοῦ μαρτυρίου πλάκας λιθίνας ‘the two tablets of wtiness, stone tablets’); Exod 34:1 LXX, δύο πλάκας λιθίνας).[12]  R. P. Martin comments, ‘Paul has innovated in a remarkable way: he has assimilated “heart of stone” to “tablets of stone”, with the latter phrase used to connect with Moses’ law’.[13] There have been a number of attempts to explain this move. Georgi maintains that, in addition to their letters of recommendation, Paul’s opponents had also appealed to the Decalogue as an introductory letter.[14] But there seems to be no evidence that the Decalogue was regarded as a letter, still less as Moses’ letter of recommendation.[15] Räisänen refers to ‘a well-known Rabbinic association’ (Leviticus Rabba 35.5): it is proper that stone should watch over stone (the law over the stone heart, identified with the evil inclination):[16]

His thought flies from the stone heart to its opposite number, the heart of flesh; this he mentions as a contrast to the stone tablets, omitting to mention the heart of stone altogether. The reference is thus to the new life created by Christ with his Spirit in the hearts of the Corinthian believers - by Christ with his Spirit, and not by the law for which the tablets of stone here stand. [17]

But since 3:1-3 forms the centre of the carefully constructed ring composition 2:14-3:6, it seems likely that Paul would have taken the same care over the construction of 3:1-3 as he clearly took over 2:14-17 and 3:4-6. [18] Patte proposes that the Corinthians, as the end-results of Paul’s ministry (διακονηθεῖσα ὑφ' ἡμῶν), are made the semantic equivalent of the motivation of his ministry by means of a double metonymy, a metonymy of the end results with the entire ministry, and a metonymy of the motivation of the ministry, the paradigm of which is the Law, with the entire ministry.[19]  Hence the prophecy of Jer 31:33 is fulfilled in Paul: the Law is written in his heart.[20] Paul does state explicitly that he wrote the Letter of Tears in order to make known to the church his surpassing love for them (2:4; cf. 7:3), and elsewhere he states that love is a fulfilment of the Law (Rom 13:8-9). Nevertheless, while Patte's proposal does seem to illuminate Paul's thought, the final, climactic element of the unit 2:14-3:6, 'the Spirit makes alive', together with Paul's self-description as the letter's amanuensis, writing with the Spirit of the living God,  surely demands an allusion to the Spirit-indwelt hearts of the Corinthians. They are his letter, it is the life of Christ in their community that commends his ministry.

On closer inspection of the antitheses, the tension intensifies. In light of the echoes of OT covenantal traditions, and in view of the polemical edge of 2:17 and 3:1, Paul’s description of his letter of recommendation as ἐγγεγραμμένη … πνεύματι θεοῦ ζῶντος ... ἐν πλαξὶν καρδίαις σαρκίναις ('written … with the Spirit of the living God … on tablets that are human hearts'), one is clearly invited to consider what is being insinuated about Paul's opponents. The answer seems inescapable: their letters are ἐγγεγραμμένη ... μέλανι ... ἐν πλαξὶν λιθίναις ('written … with ink … on stone tablets')! Hooker comments, 'Paul has jumped from one image to another; put them together, and is clearly in a mess, for while it is possible to speak metaphorically of the Spirit of God writing on people's hearts, it really is not much use trying to write on stone with ink!' [21]

The difficulty cannot be resolved simply by asserting that the antitheses of 3:3 were not meant to be read in parallel, but rather as independent statements; nor can the problem be dismissed by assuming that the letter imagery is no longer in view in the antitheses, for Paul introduces them with a restatement of his letter metaphor: ‘For it is becoming known that you are a letter from Christ, drawn up by us’. Moreover, when read against its OT background (which certainly includes Jer 31[38]:31-34), the second antithesis makes a forceful contribution to Paul’s polemic; for as Thrall points out, in the context of Ezek 36:26-27 LXX, ‘the word λίθινος requires a figurative, and a pejorative connotation, i.e., “lacking feeling”, whilst the “fleshly heart” is the sensitive, feeling heart’.[22]  Hence, the phrase ἐν πλαξὶν καρδίαις σαρκίναις evokes Paul’s fatherly love and concern for the church which he has founded in Corinth,[23] as well as locating the origin of this love in the fulfilment in his own heart of the new covenant promises of Ezek 11:19; 36:26 and Jer 31:33. His ministry is motivated by a love for the Corinthians, who were engraved in his heart by the Spirit when he founded the church. His opponents’ ministry, on the other hand, is motivated by the evil inclinations of their stony hearts; they are unbelievers and idolaters (cf. 2:17), subject to the curses of the old covenant, and are incapable of love. The final antithesis makes a powerful point, then, whether one reads πλαξὶν καρδίαις σαρκίναις as a reference to Paul's own heart, or to the hearts of the Corinthian believers. If Paul is in fact in control of his imagery, perhaps in some way he is deliberately employing ambiguity?

It is certain that Paul intended his argument to be rhetorically effective. It must follow that the OT traditions form part, but only part, of the background of the apostle’s thought; for when read against that background alone, the imagery breaks down. As has been noted, the second antithesis, when read in terms of Paul's own heart, implies a sharp contrast between the motivation of the apostle's ministry and that of his opponents; but unless the mind is diverted from the question of the nature of the opponents' letters, the force of the rhetoric will be lost. Perhaps, then, in the shared symbolic universe of Paul and his readers, a clear connection between the stone tablets of the Law and Paul’s heart, a vivid image that moves the argument forward. 'Such an image, it is suggested, was created in the Letter of Tears.

In the immediate context of 3:1-3, Paul has alluded to the call of Moses (2:16c), and in 2:17 he echoes Jeremiah’s struggle with false prophets. It has been noted that Moses’ experience on Sinai when he received the first set of stone tablets, which he subsequently destroyed as he saw the Israelites worshipping before the golden calf (Exod 32:19), closely paralleled Paul’s own situation when he composed the Letter of Tears. Furthermore, though there is no reference in the OT to the heart of Moses, there is a reference in Jer 23:9 to the heart of Jeremiah, and  it has been noted that there is a unique link in the MT between Jer 23:9 and Ps 69:21, and that Paul probably had the latter text in mind when he wrote 2:2. Had he returned to Corinth to confront the church’s rebellion, as Moses confronted the Israelites, Paul too would have brought a severe judgment upon the community that he had founded, and his enemies would have laughed him to scorn. Like Jeremiah pronouncing judgment on Israel, he would have suffered a broken heart. Now by means of  שׁבר / συντρίβω, [24] Jer 23:9 may also be linked, in the MT and in the LXX, to the description in Exod 32:19 of Moses breaking the stone tablets of the Law. It is suggested that Paul had reflected on the respective experiences of Moses and Jeremiah, and had made this connection.

The following hypothesis is proposed: in the Letter of Tears, Paul compared the Corinthians with the Israelites worshipping before the golden calf (a theme he had taken up from 1 Cor 10:7), and had compared his own situation with that of Moses on Mount Sinai after he received the first set of stone tablets. Stimulated by Jer 23:9 and the שׁבר / συντρίβω connection with Exod 32:19, he made a remark to this effect: ‘Moses broke the stone tablets of witness, but if I come to Corinth now, I will break my own heart!’ (cf. 2:2; Ps 69:21).The point of the remark, in its original setting in the Letter of Tears, would have been the following: the Israelites had broken the (old) covenant, indulging in idolatry and sexual immorality, and Moses had responded by breaking the stone tablets of the covenant, thereby pronouncing judgment upon the people; and he then punished them severely. In the same way, Paul knew that, should he return to Corinth while the church was in open rebellion, he would be forced to pronounce judgment upon them, and to punish them severely (1:23; 13:2). But then, like Jeremiah, he would suffer a broken heart. He had therefore decided to stay away from Corinth, and to intercede for the church as their leader and corporate representative, just as Moses had interceded for Israel (Exod 32:32) – but with one important difference: he. He would neither pronounce judgment on them nor punish them, but would stand with them before God. He announced this decision in the Letter of Tears and revealed that, he could expect to suffer covenantal discipline (1:6; 2:4; 7:3). Thus his allusion to this remark in 2 Cor 3:3 would evoke his great love for the Corinthians, and would recall the great suffering which he had endured on their behalf.

In 3:1-3 the letter imagery then develops as follows: the Corinthians are Paul’s letter of recommendation, a letter engraved on his heart, known and read by everyone; they are a letter from Christ, drawn up by the apostle,

a letter written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God,
not on stone tablets [which Moses broke], but on tablets that are fleshly hearts (and my heart would have broken, if I had come to Corinth).

In support of this proposal, the following points may be made:


Paul’s Solidarity with the Church (2 Cor 3:2; 7:3)

In 2 Cor 7:3, having stated that he does not mean, by what he has just said, to condemn his readers, Paul reminds them again of his love for them: ‘For I have said before [– and the statement stands -] that you are in my heart, to die together and to live together.’ During the recent crisis, Paul believed,  the church had faced the prospect of divine judgment, and the apostle had faced it with them (1:7); indeed, he had become convinced that death would be the outcome (1:8-9a). Though Paul’s image, ‘you are in my heart’ certainly recalls 3:2-3, he says nothing of the Corinthians dying with him; on the contrary, in speaking of his sufferings on their behalf he says, ‘So, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you’ (4:12). Especially in view of the echo of the Letter of Tears in 3:3, it seems almost certain that in 3:2 also, when he refers to his love for the Corinthians, Paul alludes to the letter, and that in announcing in the Letter of Tears his solidarity with the church he had used language close to (or, if ὅτι marks a quotation, identical with) that of 7:3 – ‘You are in my heart, to die together and to live together.’

Coherence with the Explicit References ( 2:3, 4; 7:8, 9, 12)

In 2 Cor 2:3 Paul says, ‘I wrote this very thing, so that when I came I should not have sadness from those who ought to make me glad. I wrote, trusting in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all.’ ‘This very thing’ must refer back at least to vv. 1-2; he will have written to the effect that, ‘I have made up my mind not to return to you bringing sorrow. For if I cause you sorrow, who will make me glad, if not the one who has been made sorrowful by me?’ This recalls both Ps 69:21, ‘Insult has broken my heart past cure. I hoped for sympathy, but in vain, for consolers -- not one to be found’ (NJB), and another statement in the Letter of Tears, ‘if I come to Corinth now, I will break my own heart’, which itself echoes Jer 23:9. It has been noted that Ps 69:21 and Jer 23:9 are uniquely thematically and verbally linked in the MT, suggesting that Paul may have read them as mutually interpreting texts. Paul’s ‘trusting in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all’, expresses the confidence he felt when he wrote (cf. 7:14), that the letter would succeed in its purpose, and warm relations would be restored.

In 2:4, Paul says that he wrote, ‘out of great affliction and anguish of heart, through many tears, not to cause you sorrow, but to make known to  you the abundant love that I have for you’. Paul’s anguish reflects the extreme gravity of the situation he addressed: the church was implicated in the sin of incest, and he feared the Lord would judge them severely. Paul’s purpose in writing was to make known to the church his great love for them; this recalls his statement in the letter, that they were in his heart, and that he was ready to die with them.

The reconstruction also sheds light on 2 Cor 7:12. Paul says he wrote to them, ‘to reveal to you your earnest concern for us before God.’ In the Letter of Tears Paul had declared that, rather than inflict severe discipline on the church, as Moses had done when he broke the stone tablets of the covenant, he was ready to die with them in the impending judgment. He said this, confident that the church would act speedily to prevent this outcome – they would experience, and act upon, earnest concern for him before God.

Paul stresses that it was not his purpose in writing, to cause sorrow (2:4), and he says that, for a time, he regretted that it did in fact have this effect, though the sorrow it produced had a positive outcome (7:8-10). These statements cohere well with the above reconstruction.

The Letter of Tears and the Testament of Reuben

The provenance, date and composition history of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs continues to be debated. [25] Though an Aramaic source for the Testament of Levi has been found at Qumran, [26] and fragments of a Hebrew version of TNaph 1 1:6-12, [27] M. De Jonge, Hollander and Kugler agree that the Testaments as we know them today are a Christian composition of the 2nd Century. [28] It will be argued that in their exegesis of Genesis the authors of the Testaments used the Letter of Tears, along with 1-2 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians, as an authoritative source.

Thematic and verbal parallels between the Testaments and the undisputed Pauline Corpus include the following:

2 Cor 6:14-15 // TLevi 19:1

And now, my children, you have heard all things; therefore, choose for yourselves either the darkness or the light ( τὸ σκότος τὸ φῶς), either the law of the Lord or the works of Beliar (Βελιάρ). (TLevi 19:1, tr. Evans)

The Sin-Exile-Return (SER) pattern of Israel's history plays a prominent role in the Testaments (TLevi 14-16; TJud 18:1; 22-23; TIss 6; TZeb 9:5-7; TDan 5:7-9; TNaph 4:1-3); the SER theme is also present in the catena of 2 Cor 6:16b-18. [29] The Return is associated with the rise of the messianic kingdom (TLevi 18; TJud 24 [24:1-3; TZeb 9:8; TDan 5:8-13, and the Messiah is opposed by Beliar (TLevi 18:12; TDan 5:12; TZeb 9:8). Moreover, Levi says, ‘Choose for yourselves light or darkness, the Law of the Lord or the works of Beliar ( τὸ σκότος τὸ φῶς, νόμον κυρίου ἔργα Βελιάρ)’ (TLevi 19:1). Cf. 2 Cor 6:14-15, τίς κοινωνία φωτὶ πρὸς σκότος; τίς δὲ συμφώνησις Χριστοῦ πρὸς Βελιάρ (‘What fellowship can light have with darkness? What common ground has Christ with Beliar?’).

1 Thess 2:16 // TLevi 6:11

There is a striking verbal and thematic parallel between 1 Thess 2:16, ἔφθασεν δὲ ἐπ᾽ αὐτοὺς ὀργὴ εἰς τέλος, and TLevi 6:11, ἔφθασε δὲ ὀργὴ κυρίου ἐπ᾽ αὐτοὺς εἰς τέλος. Taking up the story of the rape of Dinah (Gen 34), Levi maintains that his slaughter (with Simeon) of the Shechemites had been ordered by a holy angel (TLevi 5:3). The angel identified himself as ‘the angel who intercedes for the family of Israel, so that they will not in the end (εἰς τέλος) be struck down’ (5:6). Levi attempted to persuade Jacob not to receive the sons of Hamor into the family of Israel, and he justifies his slaughter of the Shechemites, citing their past sin (6:8-10); God’s wrath came upon them in the end (εἰς τέλος, 6:11). In 1 Thess 2:15-16, on the other hand, just as Levi had attempted to prevent the Shechemites uniting with the tribe of Israel and becoming followers of Yahweh, and being unsuccessful he had killed them, believing he was serving God, so the Jews are attempting to disrupt Paul’s Gentile mission. Their past sins can be traced back centuries: they killed both the prophets and the Lord Jesus Christ, and they also persecuted the apostles. Now the measure of their sins has filled up, and the wrath of God has finally (εἰς τέλος) come upon them. [30] M. de Jonge comments, [31] ‘On the basis of what is found elsewhere I am inclined to think that the present wording of T. Levi 6:11 did indeed undergo influence from 1 Thess 2:1-16.’

1 Cor 7:5 // TNaph 8:7-10

The Testament of Naphtali speaks much of the divine τάξις (‘order’, ‘state of good order’) [32] of creation. For example,

The nations went astray, and abandoned the Lord, and changed their order (τάξις), and obeyed trees and stones, following spirits of error. But you will not be so, my children, recognizing in the firmament, in the earth, and in the sea, and in all created things, the Lord who made all things, that you not become like Sodom, which changed the order of their nature (τάξιν φύσεως αὐτῆς). (TNaph 3:3-4, tr. Evans). [33]

This general concern for good order includes a concern for the correct timing of one’s actions: ‘So then, my children, let all your works be done in order (ἐν τάξει) with good intent in the fear of God, and do nothing disorderly in scorn or out of its due time (ἔξω καιροῦ αὐτοῦ)’ (TNaph 2:9, Evans). The Testament closes with the following words:


For the commandments of the law (ἐντολαὶ τοῦ νόμου) are twofold, and through prudence they must be fulfilled. 8 For there is a time for a man to embrace his wife, and a time to abstain from that (καιρὸς ἐγκρατείας) for his prayer (εἰς προσευχὴν αὐτοῦ). 9 So there are two commandments; and, unless they be done in their order, they cause sin (ἁμαρτίαν παρέχουσιν). So it is likewise with the remaining commandments. Therefore, be wise and sensible in God, understanding the order of His commandments, and the rules of every deed, so that the Lord will love you'. (TNaph 8:7-10, Evans)

Deming comments, ‘Here we see the dichotomy between sex and prayer put forth as the paradigmatic example of how a follower of God must be careful to discern the structure of God’s will in the “last times”.’ [34] TNaph 8:7-10 has much in common with 1 Cor 7:5, ‘Do not deprive one another, except by mutual agreement for a limited period (πρὸς καιρόν), so that you can devote yourselves to prayer (τῇ προσευχῇ). Afterward you should resume your sexual relations, so that Satan may not tempt you through lack of self-control.’ Common features include the following:


    1. Paul permits abstinence ‘for a time’ (πρὸς καιρόν); in order that the couple may devote themselves ‘to prayer’ (τῇ προσευχῇ). Naphtali asserts that there is a time to abstain from sexual relations (καιρὸς ἐγκρατείας ) [35]for the sake of prayer (εἰς προσευχὴν αὐτοῦ).
    2. Paul says that, after a period of sexual abstinence for the purpose of prayer, the couple must resume normal relations, lest Satan tempt them through lack of self-control. Naphtali says that the couple must not go beyond the proper time of abstinence, for this will cause sin.
    3. Paul stresses that his counsel is not a command (v. 6); Naphtali maintains that his counsel is a twofold commandment of the law.


So the Testament of  Naphtali agrees with Paul’s counsel, and uses some of the same language, although there is a difference over the legal status of the counsel. Deming notes also the close parallel between TNaph 2:10a, ‘For if you bid the eye to hear, it cannot (ἐὰν εἴπῃς τῷ ὀφθαλμῷ ἀκοῦσαι, οὐ δύναται)’, and 1 Cor 12:17a, εἰ ὅλον τὸ σῶμα ὀφθαλμός, ποῦ ἀκοή; (‘if the whole body were an eye, how would there be hearing?’).

2 Cor 6:18 // TJud 24:3

and you will be sons (καὶ ἔσεσθε αὐτῷ εἰς υἱοὺς) in truth to him, and you will walk in his commands from first and last. (TJud 24:3, tr. Evans)

The citation of  2 Sam 7:14 in 2 Cor 6:18, καὶ ὑμεῖς ἔσεσθέ μοι εἰς υἱοὺς, resembles that in TJud 24:3 more closely than it does the LXX. TJud 24:3 has καὶ ἔσεσθε αὐτῷ εἰς υἱοὺς, 2 Sam 7:14 LXX has καὶ αὐτὸς ἔσται μοι εἰς υἱόν).[36] In TJud 24:3 the promise of divine adoption occurs in the Testament of Judah in a context of the return from exile and the coming of the Messiah, who will receive God’s Spirit and will himself ‘pour the spirit of grace upon you’ (v. 2).  This will result in their obedience to God: ‘you will walk in his first and final decrees’ (v. 5).  Paraenesis against idolatry and sexual immorality is a prominent theme in the Testaments, and both are associated with Beliar (e.g. TReub 4:6-7). All these themes are integral also to the thought of 2 Cor 6:14-7:1. It is noteworthy that Βελιάρ is an NT hapax legemenon, and that there are twenty-nine instances of the term Βελιάρ in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs but only five other instances in the rest of the extant Greek Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.[37]

2 Cor 7:10 // TGad 5:7

For true repentance according to God ( γὰρ κατὰ θεὸν ἀληθὴς μετάνοια) destroys ignorance, and drives away the darkness, and enlightens the eyes, and gives knowledge to the soul, and leads the mind to salvation (πρὸς σωτηρίαν). (TGad 5:7, tr. Evans)

The language of TGad 5:7 bears a striking resemblance to the thought and language of 2 Cor 7:10, where Paul speaks of the positive impact on the Corinthians of the Letter of  Tears: γὰρ κατὰ θεὸν λύπη μετάνοιαν εἰς σωτηρίαν ἀμεταμέλητον ἐργάζεται. [38]

The following parallels between the narrative of the Testament of Reuben, the golden calf narrative of Exod 32-34 and the Corinthian correspondence are therefore of particular interest:

1 Cor 6:12, 18 // TReub 5:3-5

Also, concerning them, the angel of the Lord told me, and taught me, that women are overcome by the spirit of fornication more than men, and they plot against men in their heart; and by means of their dress they first deceive their minds first, and by the glance of the eye they instill poison, and then through the accomplished act they take them captive. 4 "For a woman is not able to dominate man. 5 Therefore flee fornication (φεύγετε οὖν τὴν πορνείαν), my children, and command your wives and your daughters, to not dress their heads and face because every woman who deceives treacherously in these things has been reserved for eternal punishment. (Treub 5:3-5, Evans)


The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs open with the Testament of Reuben, which contains an account of Reuben’s adultery with his father’s concubine Bilhah (Gen 35:22; cf. 49:4), an offence which he describes as τὴν ἀνομίαν τὴν μεγάλην, ‘this great lawlessness’ (3:11). The account is followed by exhortations against πορνεία (here, unlawful sexual intercourse). The parallel with the offence described in 1 Cor 5:1 is obvious. After dealing with the disciplining of the offender (5:1-13), and an (in all likelihood related)  lawsuit (6:1-11), [39] Paul returns to the issue of sexual immorality, condemning intercourse with escort girls in the idol temples (6:12-20). [40] Rosner has pointed out that the phrase φεύγετε τὴν πορνείαν occurs in the extant ancient Greek literature only in TReub 5:5 and in 1 Cor 6:18a, apart from patristic citations of 1 Cor 6:18. Moreover, just as Paul transitions from the sin of incest with one’s stepmother to sexual immorality with prostitutes, so the Testament of Reuben transitions from the Reuben-Bilhah episode to a concern with sexual immorality with women who adorn themselves like prostitutes; and as Paul responds to the slogan, 'All things are permissible for me' with 'but I will not be mastered by anyone' (ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ ἐγὼ ἐξουσιασθήσομαι ὑπό τινος, 6:12), so Reuben warns his sons not to allow themselves to be taken captive by a woman. Even though the verb φεύγω was ‘a characteristic watchword in paraenesis’,[41] and occurs elsewhere in the Testaments in hortatory material, these verbal and thematic links strongly suggest literary dependence.

1 Cor 5:1,2 // TReub 1:10

And I did not drink wine and strong drink, and meat never entered my mouth, and I ate no pleasant food; but I mourned (ἤμην πενθῶν) over my sin, for it was great, such as has not been in Israel (οἵα οὐ γέγονεν ἐν Ἰσραὴλ). (TReub 1:10, tr. Evans)

Reuben characterises his sin as πορνεία (1:6) ‘such as has not been in Israel’ (οἵα οὐ γέγονεν ἐν Ἰσραὴλ, 1:10); Paul characterises the incestuous affair as πορνεία τοιαύτη πορνεία ἥτις οὐδὲ ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν (‘immorality such as is not [permitted] even among the Gentiles’; 1 Cor 5:1). [42]Furthermore, Reuben mourned over his sin with Bilhah (ἤμην πενθῶν), and Paul rebukes the Corinthians for failing to mourn (οὐχὶ μᾶλλον ἐπενθήσατε, 1 Cor 5:2) over the incestuous affair that was taking place in their midst.

The combined weight of these parallels is in my view sufficient to establish literary dependence: either Paul knew and was influenced by a Greek version of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs which, though subsequently it must have undergone further redaction, influenced the passages just cited; or the authors of the Testaments knew 1 Thessalonians and 1 and 2 Corinthians, and were influenced by them. Now in the Letter of Tears, if our reconstruction is correct, Paul drew a parallel between himself , as he contemplated a disciplinary visit to Corinth to deal with their rebellion over the incestuous man, and Moses on Mount Sinai, as he was told of the golden calf rebellion. It is significant, therefore, that the following, additional parallels exist between the narrative of the Testament of Reuben, the golden calf narrative of Exodus 32-34 and 2 Corinthians:

Letter of Tears // Exod 32:10-13, 35 // TReub 1:7

For I say to you that he struck me with a great wound upon my loins for seven months; and if my father Jacob had not prayed for me to the Lord, the Lord would have destroyed me. (TReub 1:7 Evans)

Because of his sin with Bilhah, says Reuben, the Lord struck him with a severe illness, and if Jacob had not interceded for Reuben, the Lord would have killed him (TReub 1:7). Because of the Israelites’ sin with the golden calf, Yahweh struck them with a plague, and if Moses had not interceded for then, Yahweh would have destroyed them (Exod 32:10-13, 35). Because of the Corinthians’ solidarity with the incestuous man, Paul feared, the Lord wanted to destroy the church in Corinth, and the apostle hoped that his intercession would avert this (Letter of Tears).

2 Cor 1:12; 3:7, 12-13  // Exod 34:29-35 // TReub 4:2-3

For until my father's death I had no confidence to look into his face (παρρησίαν ἀτενίσαι εἰς τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ), or to speak to any of my brothers, because of the disgrace. Even until now my conscience ( συνείδησίς μου) distresses me about my sins. (TReub 4:2-3, tr. Evans) [43]

Because of his guilt and shame over his sin with Bilhah, until his father’s death Reuben lacked the boldness (παρρησία) to gaze on Jacob’s face (ἀτενίσαι εἰς τὸ πρόσωπον). Paul, commenting on Exod 34:29-35, says that because of the people’s guilt and shame following the golden calf episode, when Moses returned to the camp with the second set of stone tablets the people were unable to gaze upon his face (ἀτενίσαι εἰς τὸ πρόσωπον Μωϋσέως, 2 Cor 3:7); and until his death Moses wore a veil so that they would be unable to gaze upon (ἀτενίσαι) [the glory of] his face  [44] (vv. 12-13). Unlike Moses, however, as Christ’s envoy Paul does not veil the glory that is manifest in his own bodily presence, but acts with great boldness (παρρησία), enduring mortal danger in order that the Corinthians might gaze intently upon Christ’s glory manifest in the apostle's mortal body (2 Cor 3:12-13; 4:7-12). Furthermore, in commenting on his handling of the recent crisis – his decision to associate himself, in solidarity with the church, with the sin of the incestuous man – Paul speaks of his clear conscience (συνείδησίς, 1:12). Reuben, by contrast, speaks of the distress inflicted by his συνείδησίς because of his sin with Bilhah (TReub 4:2-3).

Kugel has demonstrated that many features of the Testament of Reuben’s narrative can be explained as the product of (an admittedly somewhat imaginative) exegesis of the text of Genesis. [45] In particular, noting Philo, De mutatione nominum 1.210, Kugel suggests that the authors of the Testaments may have found warrant for Reuben’s illness, and for Jacob’s intercession, in Moses’ blessing on the tribe of Reuben, ‘Let Reuben live, and not die, and may his numbers be many’ (Deut 33:6). Philo takes these words to be the words of Jacob, though they were spoken by Moses. Kugel suggests therefore that some interpreters ‘thought that these words of Moses were in fact an allusion to a time when Reuben was still alive and in danger of dying, and that Moses was quoting a  prayer of Jacob. [46]

If De Jonge and Kugler are right, that the Greek Testaments  are a 2nd century Christian composition, then all the parallels cited above, including those between 2 Cor 1:12; 3:12-13 and the Testament of Reuben, may be simply explained by the dependency of the Testaments on 1 Thessalonians and the Corinthian correspondence – including the Letter of Tears. In particular, the Christian authors, who presumably regarded Paul’s letters as equally authoritative with the OT Scriptures, will have identified the sin of Reuben with the incestuous affair in Corinth, and followed Paul in drawing parallels between his affair and the golden calf episode. Hence, it is suggested, using both the text of Genesis and the Corinthian correspondence, they constructed the following parallels:


Exodus 32 / 2 Cor 3:7, 12-13

Testament of Reuben

Because of the making of the calf, the Lord wanted to destroy Israel

Because of his sin with Bilhah, the Lord wanted to kill Reuben

Moses interceded  for Israel; Paul interceded for the Corinthians

Jacob interceded for Reuben

Because of the making of the calf, the Lord struck the people with a plague

Because of his sin with Bilhah, the Lord struck Reuben with a great blow in his loins

Because of their guilt and shame, the Israelites were unable to gaze on Moses’ face

Because of his guilt and shame, Reuben was unable to gaze on his father’s face


This striking set of parallels between Paul and the Testaments, especially those that involve the Exodus narrative, cannot be explained on the basis of Paul’s literary dependence on an early Greek version of the Testaments. Rather, we may infer that the Christian authors of the Testaments were familiar with 1 and 2 Corinthians and, it would seem, the Letter of Tears, and treated them as source texts alongside the Old Testament. Though the Letter of Tears is now lost, the extant Greek Testament of Reuben seems to confirm our (partial) reconstruction.


It is proposed that certain key elements of the Letter of Tears may be summed up conceptually (not necessarily verbally) as follows:

The argument also supports the conclusions of de Jonge and of Kugler, that the Greek version of  the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, though unquestionably dependent upon earlier Jewish sources, was the work of Jewish-Christians. The authors were familiar, not only with 1 Thessalonians and 1 and 2 Corinthians, but also with the Letter of Tears.

[1] ‘The structural device of inclusion is defined by Harvey as 'the use of the same words to begin and end a discussion’; J. D. Harvey, Listening to the Text 102.

[2] F. B. Watson, Paul's Painful Letter 337-38.

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] The variant ὑμῶν in 5:12 (א B p46 33 g vgms), which is accepted by Collange (Énigmes 248), is not likely to be original. Barrett comments that it could mean, ‘All that I am and do is on your account; what may look like self-commendation is truly for your benefit, and it thus provides you with something to boast about on your own account’ (Second Epistle to the Corinthians 162 n 1). But as he notes, this would require ὑπέρ ὑμῶν αὐτῶν or ὑπέρ ἑαυτῶν.

[6] 2 Cor 2:4; 6:6, 11; 11:11; 12:15; cf. 2:2-3; 7:4, 6-7 etc.

[7] The LXX has “My soul has waited for reproach and misery; and I waited for one to grieve with me, but there was none; and for one to console me (καὶ παρακαλοῦντας), but I found none”. Cf. Lam 1:21; here too the sufferer has been struck by God.

[8] HALOT s.v. שׁבר 4.

[9] The antitheses seem to be best understood as a comparison of writing materials; see below.

[10] Plummer, Second Epistle 82-83.

[11] NA26 lists Ezek 11:19; 36:26 and Prov 7:3 for 2 Cor 3:3, but not Jer 31.  The linguistic link between Jer 31 and 2 Cor 3:2-3 is admittedly tenuous (Räisänen, Paul and the Law 244 n 87); however, as Räisänen concedes, an allusion to Jer 31 becomes quite probable on the assumption that 'Ezek 11:19 (36:26) and Jer 31:31ff belonged, in Paul's mind inseparably together, so that the "fleshly heart" (Ezek) without further ado brought to his mind the "law written on hearts" of Jeremiah as well'  (Paul and the Law 244).  This assumption is almost certainly correct: the return to the ἱκανός motif of 2:16c in 3:4-5 suggests that already Paul has in mind his competence as a minister of the new covenant (cf. Thrall Second Epistle to the Corinthians I 226 n 265, against Hafemann).

[12] Baird, Letters of Recommendation 347-48. Stockhausen (Moses' Veil 52-53) suggests that ἐν πλαξὶν λιθίναις does not refer to the tablets of the law, but to the breastplate of the high priest, in which were set twelve precious stones inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, and which was worn upon the heart of Aaron and his successors whenever they entered the holy place (Exod 36:14-25 LXX; v 21 has ἐγγεγραμμένα εἰς σφραγῖδας).  Thus the Apostle wore their names inscribed on his heart and brought them continually before God in prayer; at the same time the image of the twelve stones, bearing the names of the tribes, would explain the image of an epistle ‘known and read by all people’.  However, (1) if he wished to allude to the stones of the breastplate, why speak of ‘stone tablets’, a term which is certain to evoke the tablets of the law, and not just ‘stone seals’?  (2) the verb ἐγγράφω was widely used for the writing of letters, whether they were inscribed on stone or written with ink on papyrus (Danker II Corinthians 52), and would not necessarily bring to mind Exod 36:21.

[13] Martin 2 Corinthians 52.

[14] Georgi, The Opponents 136-37; cf. Belleville, Reflections of Glory 148-49;  Jervell 1960:179.

[15] Thrall, Second Epistle to the Corinthians I 228.

[16] Räisänen, Paul and the Law 244.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Heiny, S. B., 2 Corinthians 2:14-4:6:  The Motive for Metaphor; in SBL: SP 26 (1987) 1-21, 9, rightly observes that, just as the writing of letters of recommendation ‘intervenes between one person and another, in this way making it more difficult for them to see in one another the presence of God’, so also the writing of the Decalogue intervenes ‘between God and persons, in this way making it less likely that God’s word will be in the hearts of persons’.

[19] Patte, D., A Structural Exegesis of 2 Corinthians 2:14-7:4 with  Special Attention on 2:14-3:6 and 6:11-7:4, in SBL: SP 26 (1987), 23-49, 37. Both the end-results and the motivation of Paul’s ministry are for him metonyms for his entire ministry.  The Corinthians, the end-results of Paul’s ministry (διακονηθεῖσα ὑφ' ἡμῶν), are also his letter of recommendation.  The juxtaposition of 2:17, 3:1 shows that, for Paul, the minister’s 'letter of recommendation' is closely associated with his motivation.  'The many' are motivated by the purely human motivation of financial gain, and they are recommended by letters of purely human origin.  Paul, on the other hand, is motivated by a sincerity which has its origin in God, and his letter of recommendation is also of divine origin (35, 37).  Moreover, the seat of motivation is the heart, and Paul’s letter of recommendation (the Corinthians) is written in his heart.  Hence both the motivation and the end-results of Paul’s ministry are in Paul’s heart, and both are from God.  Hence motivation and end-results are 'equal' to each other.


 37. For additional evidence of an echo of Jer 31(38):31-34 in 3:3, see on 3:1-3.

[21] Hooker, Beyond the Things that are Written 296; cf. Danker, II Corinthians 52, 'Paul's rivers of imagery flood their banks'; Heiny, Motive for Metaphor 20, 'The ἐπιστολή metaphor in 3:2-3 is more than contrived: it is tortured.’

[22] Thrall Second Epistle to the Corinthians I 226; BAGD s.v. λίθινος 2; s.v. σάρκινος 1.

[23] Cf. 1 Cor 4:14-15; 2 Cor 6:13; 12:14.

[24] שׁבר (‘break’, 'smash’) is in the Qal in Jer 23:9 and in the Piel in Exod 32:19; the Piel may indicate an intensified sense, ‘shatter’. The translation equivalent of the LXX, συντρίβω, corresponds quite closely to the meaning of the Hebrew.

[25][25] For a concise, recent introduction to the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs see Kugler, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs.

[26] For a recent reconstruction of the text, an English translation and a discussion of the relationship with Tlevi, see Kugler, From Patriarch to Priest.

[27] See Stone, The Genealogy of Bilhah.

[28] The majority hold that the Testaments are a Jewish composition with later, Christian interpolations.

[29] Beale, The Old Testament Background of Reconciliation 569-72. It is generally accepted that the catena is constructed from Lev 26:11-12; Ezek 37:27; Isa 52:11; Ezek 20:34 (or possibly 20:41); 2 Sam 7:14; Is 43:6; for discussion see Webb, Returning Home 31-58.

[30] On the story of Dinah in TLevi, see Kugel, The Story of Dinah in the Testament of Levi.

[31] De Jonge, in ‘Light on Paul from the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs?’, in White and Yarborough (eds.), Social World of the First Christians 113.

[32]s.v. τάξις 2.

[33] The Pseudepigrapha  (English), translated by Craig E. Evans, assisted by Danny Zacharias, Matt Walsh, and Scott Kohler, 2008; electronic text, as included in Bibleworks 8.

[34] Deming, Paul on Marriage 122.

[35] Note Paul’s use of the cognate verb ἐγκρατεύομαι in v. 9.

[36] Scott, Adoption as Sons of God 208. Scott has demonstrates that TJud 24:1-3 is thoroughly integrated into its context; Adoption as Sons of God 109-12).

[37] Sibylline Oracles 2.167; 3.63; Lives of the Prophets 4.7, 21; 17.2.

[38] Noted by R. H. Charles, The Greek Versions of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs xxxvii.

[39] See Deming, The Unity of 1 Corinthians 5-6.

[40] Winter, Winter, B. W., Gluttony and Immorality at Élitist Banquets: The Background to 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. Jian Dao 7 (1997) 55-67; After Paul Left Corinth 82-85.

[41] Conzelmann, First Epistle to the Corinthians 112.

[42] For the elided verb, see Winter After Paul Left Corinth 47-49.

[43] Hafemann, Paul, Moses 340 n 19, notes the verbal parallels with 2 Corinthians as 'of special interest'.

[44] εἰς τὸ πρόσωπον Μωϋσέως (3:7) is parallel with εἰς τὸ τέλος τοῦ καταργουμένου, 3:13, and has the same referent; see on 3:7, 12-13.

[45] Kugel, 'Reuben's Sin with Bilhah in the Testament of Reuben', in , pages 525-54 in Milgrom et al (eds.), Pomegranates and Golden Bells.

[46] Kugel, 'Reuben's Sin with Bilhah in the Testament of Reuben', in , pages 525-54 in Milgrom et al (eds.), Pomegranates and Golden Bells 542.