“But be that as it may, I did not burden you. Nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you by cunning!” (2 Corinthians 12:16).
Since Paul the Apostle’s decision to forego financial support from the Corinthians made it impossible for his opponents to claim that he was seeking to enrich himself at their expense, it appears they turned to a similar (but equally unsupportable) charge. Paul alludes to that charge in 2 Corinthians 12:16 and we can use it to help identify the probable accusation against him.
It seems the charge against Paul amounted to a reverse form of money laundering. “Money laundering” is a term that describes the process of disguising a source of income in order to give it the appearance of legitimacy. For instance, a criminal might attempt to funnel the profits from an illegal enterprise through a legitimate business organization in order to make those profits appear legal. Thus, the “dirty” money generated by a criminal activity is “laundered” to make it look clean.
Admittedly, that’s a lot to infer from this verse so lets consider this portion of Scripture in greater detail. First, we should remember that Paul was heavily involved in organizing a project to collect funds for the Christian community in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1-3). Although Paul worked to ensure financial transparency with regard to that offering (2 Corinthians 8:16-21), there was always the possibility that some might question where that money might ultimately go.
For those who were intent on discrediting Paul, this offered an opportunity to speculate upon any number of theories that ended with Paul diverting a portion of those funds for his own personal use- all while he was allegedly ministering to the Corinthians at no charge. One Biblical paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 12:16 illustrates this idea more fully: “Some of you are saying, ‘It’s true that his visits didn’t seem to cost us anything, but he is a sneaky fellow, that Paul, and he fooled us. As sure as anything he must have made money from us some way'” (TLB).
In their opinion, Paul must have reversed the money laundering process by siphoning funds from a “clean” source (the collection for the saints in Jerusalem) and turning it into something unethical. Others might simply call it theft. But much like a martial art form that turns an opponents’ force against him, Paul dealt with such criticisms in a forthright manner here in 2 Corinthians 12:16 and turned them back against his accususers. We’ll see Paul go on to call two witnesses to his defense next.