Does 2 Corinthians 12:16 mean Paul was dishonest?


by Shawn Brasseaux

Someone emailed this author to complain that, on the basis of 2 Corinthians 12:16, she concluded that the Apostle Paul was a false prophet, a liar, a fraud. The Bible says in that verse: “But be it so, I did not burden you: nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile.” Is God’s Word claiming here that Paul was deceitful?

The verse is merely sarcasm. It is not that Paul lied, was dishonest, or was hypocritical. Someone can strategize and be totally honest. “Crafty” can mean “skillful, clever, shrewd, having sharp power of judgment.” A crafty person is not necessarily evil or malicious. For example, we can see God’s craftiness in 1 Corinthians 3:19: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written [Job 5:13], He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.” God in His wisdom (true wisdom) outsmarts sinful man in his “wisdom.” Now, “guile” is trickery or deceit, and this is true of the Corinthians but certainly not descriptive of Paul!

Consider 1 Thessalonians chapter 2: “[1] For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain: [2] But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention. [3] For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: [4] But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. [5] For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness: [6] Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.” To accuse God’s Apostle of the Gentiles, Paul, of dishonesty or evil, is to be most dishonest with Scripture. Would the Holy Spirit actually lead Paul to admit he lied? Utter nonsense!

If we read 2 Corinthians 12:16 with its context, all will make sense: “[15] And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved. [16] But be it so, I did not burden you: nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile.” In verse 15, can you not sense Paul’s tenderness, his charity, his genuine care and immense love for these precious saints at Corinth? He was willing to expend his time, energy, and resources to evangelize them and edify them. How did they react? They were callous and indifferent toward him!! He had entered Corinth knowing they would take advantage of him, that they would not appreciate him, that they would be ungrateful and greedy, but he visited them anyway to win them to Christ! (He “put them to the test”—and they failed!) Read chapters 10–13 of 2 Corinthians. Paul has to defend his apostleship, for some saints at Corinth are questioning and challenging his God-given office!!

Let us face it, friends. Some “Christians” just hate the Apostle Paul—and that was true of a segment of the Corinthians 20 centuries ago. The lady who emailed this author is one of the many modern examples. She was willing to grab and pervert any verse she could in order to attack and discredit Jesus Christ’s “apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13). “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I [Paul] write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant (1 Corinthians 14:37-38).

Also see:
» Was the Apostle Paul a false prophet?
» “If any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant?”
» Do we study only Paul’s epistles?