Saturday, October 31, 2009

Triumphal Procession

2 Corinthians 2:14

"But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere."

The Greek word translated "triumph" or "triumphal procession" (thriambeuo) is used in the NT only here and in Colossians 2:15. Most agree that the term refers to the Roman custom in which a victorious general would lead his conquered captives in triumphal procession, often to their execution.

The most probable interpretation is the one which recognizes an obvious paradox in Paul's use of this metaphor. On the one hand, it is God who leads Paul (and by extension, others who likewise preach the gospel as he does) in triumph. Yet, on the other hand, to be led in triumph by someone else implies captivity and suffering. Paul Barnett provides this helpful explanation:

“There is paradox here, as implied by the metaphor ‘lead [captive] in triumph,’ which points at the same moment to the victory of a conquering general and the humiliation of his captives marching to execution. The metaphor is at the same time triumphal and anti-triumphal. It is as God leads his servants as prisoners of war in a victory parade that God spreads the knowledge of Christ everywhere through them. Whereas in such victory processions the prisoners would be dejected and embittered, from this captive’s lips comes only thanksgiving to God [v. 14a], his captor. Here is restated the power-in-weakness theme (cf. 1:3-11) that pervades the letter. . . . [Thus], to be sure, his ministry is marked by suffering, but so far from that disqualifying him as a minister, God’s leading him in Christ as a suffering servant thereby legitimates his ministry. Christ’s humiliation in crucifixion is reproduced in the life of his servant” (150).

Thus Paul is not boasting of his victories but compares himself to conquered captives who are being treated rudely and subjected to humiliation while yet in the glorious service of God. Paul asserts that it is precisely in his weakness and suffering as a captive slave of Christ that God receives all the glory as the One who is triumphantly victorious

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