Study Guide

The False Apostles in Corinthians

The False Apostles

These guys are bad news… at least according to Paul. To him, they're just walking around the church undoing all the good and holy work he's done. Hey, Paul was here first, guys!

Minor Bad Guys

This is pretty much the one-size-fits-all category for all Paul's detractors in Corinth. Since we're visiting with them over the course of at least three different letters, it's not like every single naysayer in the city would fit into once nice little group.

There seem to be different levels of disagreement. In 1 Corinthians, Paul is slightly annoyed by some "arrogant people" who are quietly spreading around rumors that Paul's not actually all he's cracked up to be (1 Corinthians 4:19). But in the first half of 2 Corinthians, stuff starts to get real:

  • "We are not peddlers of God's word like so many" (2 Corinthians 2:17). Oh, selling God's wares? Not a good idea guys.
  • "Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we?" (2 Corinthians 3:1). Paul don't need no stinkin' letters.
  • "[We are] giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart" (2 Corinthians 5:12). Some ammo for you, Corinthians.

Right. So these groups are pretty annoying to Paul, but nothing he can't handle. He's not going to get his toga in a twist about them too much.

The Real Baddies

But the poop really hits the fan in the last section of 2 Corinthians. These naysayers get called out as "false apostles" and Paul is pretty ticked that the Corinthians are listening to them. So who are they?

  • They come from a Jewish background (2 Corinthians 11:22).
  • They're bad-mouthing Paul's preaching (but praising his letter writing… yeah, we guess he is pretty good) (2 Corinthians 10:10).
  • They love to brag about how spiritual and holy they are (2 Corinthians 10:12). Ugh.
  • They are moving in on Paul's territory (2 Corinthians 10:14-16). He was totally in Corinth first, so back off.
  • They are even in league with Satan (2 Corinthians 11:13-14). Oh, they are so going to Hell in a hand basket.

Okay, so they are terrible, awful people who are definitely not in God's good books, right? Well, maybe not…

Were They Really That Bad?

It's important to point out that all we know about the false apostles is what Paul tells us about them. We don't have any of their letters, so we have to rely on Paul to accurately recreate the arguments his opponents would have made. Hmmm. Anyone knows from watching a political debate that the guy you're running against isn't going to be the most truthful about your record.

To be fair, these guys may have had some legitimate questions about Paul. It's possible that they were questioning his motives out of pure love for Christ and the gospel. Paul portrays them as opportunists who want to move in on his turf and warp the word of God. He even says they're servants of the Devil. Harsh. But maybe they just wanted to engage in an honest debate with Paul about their differences.

But Paul has clearly come out on top. Just look at the numbers. Paul = seven books of the Bible. False apostles = none. Sorry guys, into the footnotes of history you go.