2 Corinthians 2.10-11


In his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul claims to be aware of Satan’s intentions, but it is not clear whether he is speaking simply of Satan’s master-function as tester of faith and morals.

The context is as follows.  Paul confesses that he himself intended to put the Christians at Corinth to the test:  he wrote to them severely, in order to see how obedient they were.  Let us look at the full text:

I wrote you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.  But if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but to some extent—not to exaggerate it—to all of you.

This punishment by the majority is enough for such a person; so now instead you should forgive and console him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.  So I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.

I wrote for this reason:  to test you and to know whether you are obedient in everything.  (2 Cor. 2.4-9)

The traditional interpretation of this passage is that Paul is referring to the fifth chapter of his first letter, in which he ordered the Corinthians to hand the incestuous culprit over to Satan.  If so, he is saying here that the punishment that he received at the hands of Satan is sufficient, and it is now time to begin the hoped-for reconciliation and recuperation.

Many scholars in recent times reject this interpretation in favor of a different culprit—someone, let’s say, who had slandered Paul on a recent visit.  But in any case Paul does go on to speak of Satan:



Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive.  What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ.  And we do this so that we may not be outwitted by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his designs.  (2 Cor. 2.10-11)

The Greek for “designs” is noemata, which is translated as cogitationes in the Vulgate.  It refers to “purposes,” in an unfavorable sense.  The word translated here as “outwitted” could also be rendered as “cheated,” for it has the overtones of “taking advantage of someone with a fraudulent intention.”  We note that Paul reverts to using “we” in this last sentence, perhaps to include the co-author of 2 Corinthians, namely, Timothy.

Our question must be, does Paul (or do Paul and Timothy) think that Satan is underhanded in his methods and intentions, and do his intentions extend beyond his Divine mandate as Adversary to test the morals of human beings?  If so, what about his own morals—is he not immoral in employing “dirty tricks”?

Paul notes here that he is on the look-out against Satan’s tactics.