More thoughts on 2 Corinthians 2:14-16

But thanks be to God, who in Christ Jesus always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.  For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.  Who is sufficient for these things?  2 Corinthians 2:14-16

I have to return to the same verses with more thoughts that have been tumbling around in my head.  There is an alternative view (perhaps) to the triumphal procession idea that I read about.  The view I have always pictured is that we are in the victory parade as soldiers of Christ.  He won, we win.  We can hold our heads high because of that.  Enter a different perspective worth chewing on:

Moyer Hubbard from the Talbot School of Theology writes in his blog,  (

“The implication of this verse, as I was taught as a young Christian, was that Christ the victorious general was leading me as a member of his conquering army in a grand victory parade. The rendering of the King James Version gives even greater cause for optimism: “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ.

The difficulty with these translations, and many others besides (NIV 1984, NJB, NKJV, RSV, ESV, NASB), is that there are no examples from Greek literature where the verb thriambeuo (to triumph) ever means this. If we were to render this clause in accordance with the only attested meaning of this Greek construction, we would have to follow the NLT, or perphas the most recent NIV or TNIV: “But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in his triumphal procession.”

This translation…leads to a drastically different understanding than the one commonly accepted. In 2:14-16, Paul alludes to one of the most spectacular and important celebrations in antiquity, the Roman Triumph…The pageant included plunder taken from the enemy, the victorious soldiers, and especially captured soldiers and leading officers of the enemy. The captives would be led before the chariot of the conquering general, to the mockery and taunts of the onlookers.

This is precisely how Paul describes himself in 1 Corinthians 4:9: “It seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena.” The imagery of 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 actually represents Paul’s theology of the cross in its most vivid and arresting form. As the analogy of the Roman triumph and the incense-filled parade route continues in verses 15 and 16, we find Paul portraying his crushed and vanquished apostolic ministry as the means through which the aroma of the crucified Christ is mediated to those around him. Paul understood the paradox that God’s strength is most potently displayed through his own weakness and suffering for the sake of Christ.

What is clothed in metaphor in 2:14, is later stated explicitly: “So, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

Paul’s words may be difficult to comprehend — even Peter thought so (1 Pet. 3:16) — but they bear witness to an important principle: God ministers more powerfully through our tragedies than our triumphs. It is the broken vessel that reveals the treasure within (2 Cor. 4:7-12).”

Paul talked about always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus can be made known in our bodies.  We carry the fragrance of Jesus, which includes both the life of Jesus and the death of Jesus.  John 15:18 reads, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you.”  

That’s the death of Jesus part that we carry.  In Philippians 3:10-11 Paul proclaims, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, becoming like Him in His death and sharing in His sufferings that I might obtain the resurrection from the dead.”  We share in Christ’s sufferings as a part of us being identified with Him now.  This is why Paul asked the question in 2 Corinthians 2:16, “Who is sufficient for these things?”

It is one thing to face your own struggles that are common to everyone, but as followers of Jesus, we can face a second layer of struggles, and it is related to being mistreated, hated or persecuted for being a Jesus fragrance bearer.  In 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 Paul answered his own question of ‘who is sufficient?’ by writing “our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent by the Spirit who gives life.

target-on-our-backsOur ability to be Christ bearers comes only by the power of God, by His Holy Spirit working within us.  We have a target on our backs before Satan and the people who are enemies of God.  We stink like death and they don’t want us around.  We are not sufficient in ourselves to handle the mistreatment, rejection and scorn.  But with the ministry of the Spirit (read 2 Corinthians 3–the whole chapter) we are more than adequate.  We are commissioned by God, as 2 Corinthians 2:17 and we are sent by Him to go to the places and people that are uniquely around each one of us.

We take the hits in Jesus’ name, sharing in His sufferings, knowing that our lives are not our own–we belong to Him as conquered and captured soldiers, heading for death.  That is where our life is found.  This is one of the many ironies of the Christian life.

About Martha

I am an avid student of the Bible, having studied it diligently for over 40 years. More than that, I love Jesus and want to know Him and to show Him in my life. I am currently in the education field as an Elementary Principal, having degrees in School Counseling and Administration. I have a post graduate degree in Child and Adolescent Mental Health from Bethel University in St. Paul, MN. I have also gone to Bible school at the Columbia Graduate School of Bible and Missions (now Columbia Biblical Seminary) in Columbia, South Carolina and spent summers in youth ministry as well as five years as a youth director in a Baptist General Conference church. View all posts by Martha

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