“For some say, ‘Paul’s letters are demanding and forceful, but in person he is weak, and his speeches are worthless!’ Those people should realize that our actions when we arrive in person will be as forceful as what we say in our letters from far away” (2 Corinthians 10:10-11 NLT).
In philosophical terms, the false teachers within the Corinthian church were engaging in an Ad Hominem attack against Paul the Apostle. “Ad Hominem” is a Latin term that means “to the man” and it describes an attack upon the reputation, authority, appearance, personality, or another aspect of someone’s character without respect to the merit of his or her argument.
While Paul surely did not appreciate the characterization given to him in the passage quoted above, he could at least take solace in the fact that his opponents had to resort to such tactics in the absence of any substantial argument against his teaching. Nevertheless, these verses offer some insight into the way that others may seek to engage those who represent Christ today.
You see, this passage appears to describe a first-century attempt to “build a narrative” as a way of discrediting Paul and his message. This involved an effort to associate Paul with a negative personality trait (weakness) and characterize his speaking style as worthless (NLT), despicable (HCSB), and utterly contemptible (AMP). Notice that these characterizations had nothing to do with the actual content of Paul’s message; instead they served as tools that were designed to help diminish Paul’s influence.
Of course, those who possessed a basic grasp of Biblical history were surely aware that God had done some of His best work through others who had little to offer. That list included a reluctant public speaker (Moses), a fearful future military leader (Gideon), and a prophet who felt he was too young for the job (Jeremiah). Other examples included Jesus’ own disciples, a group comprised of four fishermen, a tax collector, a skeptic, a political extremist, and four nobodies. Therefore, anyone who sought to invalidate Paul’s authority on the basis of these qualities despite the evidence of God’s hand upon his ministry did so at their own risk.
Knowing this information can help us identify and respond to similar attempts today. In the words of one commentator, “Like so many who judge things according to the outward display of this world, Paul’s opponents interpreted meekness as weakness, forbearance as cowardice, and gentleness as indecision… or at least they had sought to induce the Corinthians to place this interpretation on Paul’s character.” (1)
(1) Constable, Thomas. DD. Notes on 2 Corinthians 2017 Edition (10:9-10) “http://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/2corinthians/2corinthians.htm” Copyright © 2017 Thomas L. Constable.