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Paul's Triumphal Procession Imagery (2 Cor 2.14–16a): Neglected Points of Background

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 December 2014

George H. Guthrie*
Union University, 1050 Union University Drive, Jackson, TN 38305, USA. email:


This article seeks a fresh assessment of Paul's pompa triumphalis imagery at 2 Cor. 2.14–16a by probing a number of neglected aspects of both lexical and cultural background. Included are (1) an analysis of the use of θριαμβεύω in the Greco-Roman literature, with special attention given to claims made concerning the word's use with direct objects; (2) a lexicology of ὀσμή and εὐωδία in literatures of the period; and (3) a probing of the language of ‘salvation’ in the passage, with attention given to a feature of the triumphal procession parades that has until now failed to garner attention in investigations of the passage.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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1 A few scholars disagree with the majority on the latter point. See, for instance, Duff, P. B., ‘Metaphor, Motif, and Meaning: The Rhetorical Strategy Behind the Image “Led in Triumph” in 2 Corinthians 2:14’, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 53 (1991) 7992Google Scholar and Egan, R. B., ‘Lexical Evidence on Two Pauline Passages’, NovT 19 (1977) 3462Google Scholar. Duff allows that the triumphal procession might be in view but insists that the imagery should be considered as connoting other associations as well, perhaps including an epiphany procession.

2 A distinction is made between a ‘major triumph’, the topic of our discussion here, and a ‘minor triumph’, in which the triumphator went on foot (e.g. Plutarch, Crass. 11.7). On the triumphal procession, see for instance Versnel, H. S., Triumphus: An Inquiry Into the Origin, Development and Meaning of the Roman Triumph (Leiden: Brill, 1970)Google Scholar and Östenberg, I., Staging the World: Spoils, Captives, and Representations in the Roman Triumphal Procession (Oxford Studies in Ancient Culture and Representation; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009CrossRefGoogle Scholar).

3 Marshall, P., ‘A Metaphor of Social Shame: ΘΡΙΑΜΒΕΥΕΙΝ in 2 Cor 2:14’, NovT 25 (1983) 304Google Scholar.

4 For a summary of various positions on offer, see for example Furnish, V. P., ii Corinthians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (The Anchor Bible; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1984) 174–5Google Scholar; or Hafemann, S. J., Suffering and Ministry in the Spirit: Paul's Defense of His Ministry in ii Corinthians 2:14–3:3 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990) 1719Google Scholar.

5 See especially Marshall, ‘A Metaphor of Social Shame’, 317.

6 E.g. Egan, ‘Lexical Evidence on Two Pauline Passages’; Breytenbach, C., ‘Paul's Proclamation and God's “THRIAMBOS” (Notes on 2 Corinthians 2:14–16b)’, Neotestamentica 24.2 (1990) 257–71Google Scholar. Furnish understands the image primarily to communicate that the apostolic ministry involves one being put on public display (Furnish, ii Corinthians, 174–5; see the caveat at 175).

7 Duff, ‘Metaphor, Motif, and Meaning’, 83.

8 For example, Thrall, M. E., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, vol. i (International Critical Commentary; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1994) 194–5Google Scholar.

9 Hafemann, Suffering and Ministry, 23–34. Especially among English-language scholars Hafemann's position has garnered the greatest following by means of his monograph, Suffering and the Spirit: an Exegetical Study of ii Cor. 2:14–3:3 within the Context of the Corinthian Correspondence (WUNT; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1986)Google Scholar, and its further iteration in Suffering and Ministry in the Spirit: Paul's Defense of His Ministry in ii Corinthians 2:14–3:3 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990)Google Scholar.

10 Hafemann, Suffering and Ministry, 31 (emphasis original).

11 Marshall, ‘A Metaphor of Social Shame’, 314–16.

12 For examples where the term is used with prepositional phrases that communicate the object of a triumph, see e.g. Appian, Bell. civ. 1.80; Plut., Ti. C. Gracch. 1.21.2.

13 Hafemann, Suffering and the Spirit, 33.

14 Williamson, L., ‘Led in Triumph: Paul's Use of Thriambeuō’, Interpretation 22 (1968) 319–20Google Scholar.

15 Hafemann's statement simply reads ‘with a direct object alone’, but as noted below there are several examples of the verb occurring with a direct object that is not personal.

16 Speaking of Pompey, the text reads: καὶ Τιγράνην τὸν Ἀρμενίων Βασιλέα γενόμενον ἐφ᾿ ἑαυτῷ Θριαμβεῦσαι σύμμαχον ἐποιήσατο … (‘and when he had the power to lead Tigranes, king of Armenia, in triumphal procession, he made him an ally …’).

17 The reference to ‘54.8’ is a misprint. The text reads: τοῦτον Αἰμίλιος ἐθριάμβευσε καὶ κατέστρεψεν ἐνταῦθα τῆς Ἀντιγονικῆς βασιλείας ἡ διαδοχή … (‘Aemilius led this one in triumphal procession and here destroyed the royal succession of the Antigonids …’).

18 Speaking of Romulus, the text reads: ἀλλ᾽ ἔθνη προσηγάγετο πολέμῳ καὶ πόλεις κατεστρέψατο καὶ βασιλεῖς ἐθριάμβευσε καὶ ἡγεμόνας (‘but in war he subdued nations, destroyed cities, and triumphed over kings and governors’). This could refer to leading the kings and governors in triumphal procession (Hafemann, Suffering and the Spirit, 26), but one would have to ask whether Plutarch would have conceived of Romulus leading in such a parade. The parallelism in this part of the text may point to ‘triumphed over’ (i.e. ‘defeated’) as the appropriate meaning.

19 οὐ γὰρ ἐδόκει Ῥωμαῖον ἄνδρα βουλευτὴν θριαμβεύειν (‘he did not think it appropriate to lead in triumph a man who was a Roman senator’).

20 ὁ μὲν γὰρ Καῖσαρ θριαμβεύσας τὸν Ἀδιατόριγα μετὰ παίδων καὶ γυναικὸς ἔγνω ἀναιρεῖν (for Caesar, after leading in triumphal procession Adiatorix, along with his wife and children, determined to put him to death’).

21 He refers here to the text from Strabo.

22 Breytenbach, ‘Paul's Proclamation and God's “THRIAMBOS”’, 262.

23 Ibid.

24 E.g. Plutarch, Aem. 5.5, 35.2; Ti. C. Gracch. 2.17.1; Mar. 24.1, 27.5; Appian, Bell. civ. 2.13.93, 4.38.

25 E.g. Plutarch, Aem. 30.1–2, 31.1, 32.1; Ant. 12.1.

26 E.g. Livy 2.16.1, 3.63.9; Cicero, Off. 2.28.

27 E.g. Hafemann, Suffering and Ministry, 23.

28 The heading is offered with a nod towards Attridge, H. W., ‘Making Scents of Paul’, Early Christianity and Classical Culture: Essays in Honor of a. J. Malherbe (ed. Fitzgerald, J. T., Olbricht, T. H., White, L. M.: Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2003), 7188CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

29 Hafemann, Suffering and Ministry, 35–46.

30 Ibid. 40–1; Thrall, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 198.

31 Gen 8.21; Exod 29.18, 25, 41; Lev 1.9, 13, 17; 2.2, 9, 12; 3.5, 11, 16; 4.31; 6.8, 14; 8.21, 28; 17.4, 6; 23.13, 18; Num 15.3, 5, 7, 10, 13–14, 24; 18.17; 28.2, 6, 8, 13, 24, 27; 29.2, 6, 8, 11, 13, 36; Jdt 16.16; Sir 24.15; 50.15; Ezek 6.13; 16.19; 20.28, 41; Dan 4.37.

32 See Sinnott, A. M., The Personification of Wisdom (Society for Old Testament Study Monographs; Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005 5) 123–5Google Scholar. This passage occurs as part of the fifth of Sirach's vignettes in which Wisdom is personified.

33 See Allison, D. C. Jr, Testament of Abraham (CEJL; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 2003) 40CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

34 Although see the variant at Arist., Rhet. 1.11.5.

35 E.g. Plut., Quaest. conv. 1.8.3; Quaest. nat. 23; Lucian, Fug. 1; Xen., Symp. 2.2; Arist., Rhet. 1370a.20–4.

36 E.g. Plut., Quaest. conv. 1.6.1, 4.2.2, 5.8.1; Alex. 4.1; Xen., Symp. 2.3; Lucian, Jupp. trag. 44; Polyb., Hist. 12.2.

37 The term ὀσμή only occurs alone one time with reference to sacrifices (Lev 26.31); in that case the sacrifices can be read as a ‘stench’ to God, which is probably why the word is employed.

38 There are twenty-three cases where ὀσμή is used apart from εὐωδία. Other occurrences include Job 6.7 (smell of a lion); 14.9 (smell of water); Sir 39.14 (incense); Jer 25.10 (perfume); 31.11 (aroma of Moab); Dan 3.94 (smell of a fire).

39 Alleg. 3.235; Cher. 1.117; Abel 1.23, 44; Cain 1.161; Plant. 1.133; Ebr. 1.106, 190–1; Confu. 1.52; Migr. 1.188; Fug. 1.191; Somn. 1.47–9, 51; Mos. 1.105; Prob. 1.15; Contempl. 1.53.

40 So Martin, R. P., 2 Corinthians (Word Biblical Commentary; Waco, TX: Word Books, 1986) 47–8Google Scholar.

41 So e.g. Breytenbach, ‘Paul's Proclamation and God's “THRIAMBOS”’, 266–7; Kügler, J., Bechmann, U., Wünsche, P., Die Macht der Nase: Zur religiösen Bedeutung des Duftes, Religionsgeschichte, Bibel, Liturgie (Stuttgart: Verlag Katholisches Bibelwerk, 2000) 149Google Scholar.

42 Versnel, Triumphus: An Inquiry, 95.

43 ἐπὶ δ᾽ αὐτῷ θυμιατηρίων πλῆθος, καὶ ὁ στρατηγὸς ἐπὶ τοῖς θυμιάμασιν, ἐφ᾽ ἅρματος καταγεγραμμένου ποικίλως, ἔστεπται μὲν ἀπὸ χρυσοῦ καὶ λίθων πολυτίμων.

44 μετὰ δὲ τοὺς χοροὺς τούτους κιθαρισταί τ᾽ ἀθρόοι καὶ αὐληταὶ πολλοὶ παρεξῄεσαν: καὶ μετ᾽ αὐτοὺς οἵ τε τὰ θυμιατήρια κομίζοντες, ἐφ᾽ ὧν ἀρώματα καὶ λιβανωτὸς παρ᾽ ὅλην ὁδὸν ἐθυμιᾶτο (‘and after these groups of dancers came a crowd of lyre players and a lot of flute players, and after them the people taking care of the incense censers in which aromatic herbs and frankincense were burned to produce fragrant smoke along the whole route’).

45 Breytenbach, ‘Paul's Proclamation and God's “THRIAMBOS”’, 267–8.

46 In Josephus' account of the Jewish War (J. W. 7.72) we note that upon Vespasian's homecoming in Rome (just prior to his triumphal procession with Titus) the city was filled with incense like a temple.

47 In line with this use of the imagery, verse 14 and verses 15–16a communicate accordant ideas with slightly different orientations. Both parts of the passage deal with the role and effect of authentic apostolic ministry. In both, the ministry relates to God and Christ and has an impact ‘in’ the world. In verse 14 God is praised for acting through Paul, in relationship with Christ, as an agent of the gospel message. In verses 15–16a the posture of Paul before God is the primary orientation, but the powerful impact of that posture before God, as the gospel goes forth, is elaborated upon as the apostle's ministry dichotomises humanity into ‘those being saved’ and ‘those being destroyed.’

48 Wolff, C., Der zweite Brief des Paulus an die Korinther (Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1989) 56Google Scholar.

49 For the background on the captives in the parade, see especially Hafemann, Suffering and Ministry, 19–29.

50 E.g. Plut., Regum 39.6, 72.2; Sert. 15.1; Cat. Min. 62.3, 71.2; Comp. Pel. et Marc. 3.1; Fab. 9.2; Apophth. Lacon. 2.38.4; Polyb., Hist. 11.9.

51 Demosth., De pace 18.

52 Plut., Apophth. Lacon. 2.22; 2.23.1; Crass. 25.11; Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Ant. Rom. 8.12.4; Hdt., Hist. 3.14.11; Plato, Leg. 728b. Also in Philo, Cher. 130; Leg. 3.225; Fug. 1.27, and in the LXX at Wis 18.5–7, Amos 2.14–15 and Jer 31.8.

53 Note that Livy emphasises that it was the throng of those liberated from captivity, not the enemy captives, who were the focus of attention in the parade.

54 Plutarch, Flam. 13.3–6; also see his Regum 77. 2 and Livy 34.52.11–12. The translation is taken from Plutarch: Plutarch's Lives (ed. Perrin, B.; The Loeb Classical Library, vol. x; Cambridge, MA/London: Harvard University Press/W. Heinemann, 1921) 361–2Google Scholar (emphasis added). The final two sentences of this translation render the following in Plutarch: μεγάλῳ καὶ φιλοπολίτῃ κεκομισμένον ὃ δὴ δοκεῖ πρὸς τὸν θρίαμβον αὐτῷ πάντων ὑπάρξαι λαμπρότατον. οἱ γὰρ ἄνδρες οὗτοι, καθάπερ ἔθος ἐστὶ τοῖς οἰκέταις ὅταν ἐλευθερωθῶσιν, ξύρεσθαί τε τὰς κεφαλὰς καὶ πιλία φορεῖν, ταῦτα δράσαντες αὐτοὶ θριαμβεύοντι τῷ Τίτῳ παρείποντο.

55 J. M. Scott helpfully draws a parallel between the triumphator's chariot in the pompa triumphalis and God's throne chariot in Jewish tradition, which chariot early Christianity conceived as shared with the Christ in exercising sovereignty over the world. See The Triumph of God in 2 Cor 2:14: Additional Evidence of Merkabah Mysticism in Paul’, NTS 42 (1996) 265–70Google Scholar.