Holy Trinity

Cultivate siblingship and flourishing

three races of women representing the holy trinity
Trinity by Kelly Latimore; from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, Tennessee; licensed under CC0.

June 4, 2023

Second Reading
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Commentary on 2 Corinthians 13:11-13

First-century writers were not thinking in terms that would occupy theologians of the third and fourth centuries, so it would be a mistake simply to read those later debates and credal formulations back into the New Testament writings. Even so, New Testament materials occasionally bear witness to the Triune God. This happens sometimes in less-well-developed ways, such as the narrative trinitarianism of Mark’s prologue, with its disclosure of the agency of God (the Father), of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and its exploration of relations among these three (Mark 1:1–15).1 We easily recall Jesus’ directive in Matthew’s Gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …” (Matthew 28:19). Paul, too, can speak in ways that point toward belief in the Three-One God,2 so the benedictory reference to the Lord Jesus Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit in 2 Corinthians 13:13 finds a comfortable home in Paul and in the New Testament as a whole.

The lection set for today comprises the conclusion of Paul’s letter, with these three verses recapping the apostle’s overarching message to the Corinthians. His summary emphasizes especially two concerns: (1) the patterns of thinking, believing, feeling, and behaving that should characterize community life; and (2) the divine resources on which they should draw for faithful life. Of course, these are closely intertwined. The former is possible only because of the latter.

Life patterns

Staccato-like, Paul names the life patterns the Corinthians should pursue:

  • “Rejoice!” The NRSV translates Paul’s opening word of encouragement (chairete) as “farewell.” This is possible, but he has just used the term with its sense of “rejoice,” and it has appeared several times earlier in the letter.3 Accordingly, there is every reason to think the apostle is summarizing by calling the Corinthians to rejoice. Typically, this term identifies the expected response to God of those who receive and participate in God’s saving work. Irrespective of his sometimes-critical instruction in this letter, then, Paul clearly regards his audience as members of God’s redeemed people. Note, too, that he begins his conclusion by referring to the Corinthians as “brothers and sisters” who (according to Greco-Roman notions of siblingship) would seek to avoid conflict by refusing judgmentalism and overcome conflict through practices of compassion and forgiveness.
  • “Be restored!” This rendering by the NRSV could also be translated as “set things right” or even “reconcile.” Clearly, the apostle is asking his Corinthian family to respond to his letter by taking action to correct problematic dispositions and practices.
  • “Encourage each other!” Paul’s language is clipped, so his directive could be “Listen to my appeal” (NRSV) or “Encourage each other” (NRSV note). If we take the former translation, then Paul is summarizing the letter by urging reconciliation among the Corinthians (see 5:20). If we take the latter, Paul would be calling the Corinthians to express their siblingship through other-oriented encouragement.
  • “Agree with one another!” More woodenly, Paul urges the Corinthians to think the same thoughts (see Philippians 2:2; 4:2). This speaks to the status of these Christ-followers as “brothers and sisters,” people whose lives are conjoined and interdependent, and for whom typical notions of structured hierarchy are replaced with commitments to mutuality.
  • “Live in peace!” As the consequence of reconciliation, peace is more than the absence of strife. Rather, it refers broadly to well-being and human flourishing, thus signifying human wholeness and health in a thriving community. This is what Paul desires of these Christ-followers.
  • “Greet one another with a holy kiss.”4 Paul calls for a practice of such theological significance that it serves as a fitting summation of a letter concerned with reconciliation. In the Roman world, a public kiss on the cheek, forehead, or hand generally served as a visible, physical, practical indicator of inclusion, honor, and kinship.5 A “holy kiss” of greeting moves people into a space defined by familial relations made possible through reconciliation. Practices like the “holy kiss” are embodied theology—they not only exhibit but also construct the reality they represent.

Divine resources

We would be badly mistaken were we to imagine that Paul concludes by saying if the Corinthians were to embrace these dispositions and practices, then “the God of love and peace will be with you” (13:12). Here and, indeed, throughout Scripture, God’s love and peace precede and fuel human response. God’s presence is already and always “with you,” establishing the context for and enlivening human responses of reconciliation with God and with each other.

Paul’s tripartite blessing has the feel of a liturgical formula (13:13). He speaks of the grace that comes from the Lord Jesus Christ, the love that comes from God, and, most probably, the fellowship that the Holy Spirit creates and nourishes. (It is possible that Paul refers in this last instance to fellowship with the Holy Spirit, though it is also possible to hear both readings.) On the one hand, this blessing provides a précis of God’s liberative action, whereby human beings are reconciled to God through Christ’s graciousness and so experience God’s love and receive the Holy Spirit who works among them to cultivate siblingship and flourishing (see 5:11–6:10; 1:22; 3:3, 6, 17–18; 5:5). On the other hand, it provides a strong reminder that Paul’s expectations for these Christ-followers are not based on his confidence in human capacities but on the active presence of Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit.



1. See now Hallur Mortensen, The Baptismal Episode as Trinitarian Narrative Proto-Trinitarian Structures in Mark’s Conception of God (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2020).
For example, Romans 1:3–4; 1 Corinthians 12:4–6; Galatians 4:4–7. See Wesley Hill, Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015).
3. 2 Corinthians 2:3; 6:10; 7:7, 9, 13, 16; 13:9.
4. See Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; compare 1 Peter 5:14.
5. See, for example, Luke 7:45; 15:20; Acts 20:37.