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2 Corinthians 5:16-21

2 Corinthians 5:16-21 is a crucial passage not only in the Corinthian correspondence, but in the Pauline corpus as a whole. This is primarily because it is laden with Pauline themes, such as new creation, in Christ, reconciliation and the righteousness of God. Paul speaks about not regarding anyone from a human point of view, this is the case because Paul initially knew Christ from this perspective. This does not mean that Paul had no interest in the historical Jesus as some scholars have suggested, rather, “What Paul is saying is that previously he had a completely inadequate knowledge of Christ—one based on a human point of view—but not now, his understanding of Christ is no longer limited in that way.”[1]

Knowing Christ kata sarka, Paul would have shared with other 1st Century Jews who expected Jesus to be a political and military messiah. The result was the failure to see Christ as the Messiah on God’s mission, reason being that he was using human eyes rather than God’s eyes.[2] As expected this led him to the wrong conclusion about Christ.[3] Paul changed his perspective, on the road to Damascus, after his encounter with the risen Christ. Paul no longer sees as before, as J. Paul Sampley states, “the old ways of looking, perceiving, understanding, and, more profoundly, evaluating, have to be let go and replaced with a new way of seeing and understanding.”[4] Knowing kata sarka, is not unrelated to living kata sarka just as knowing kata pneuma is related to living kata pneuma.

In verse 17, Paul states that “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation”. Murray J. Harris has summarized the possible readings of this phrase:

“(1) γίνεται … ἔστιν, “So, if anyone comes to be in Christ, there is a new creation” (Martin 135; similarly Moffatt);

(2) ἐστιν … ἔστω, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, let him be a new creature” (KJV)

(3) ἐ